“Beware the Ides of March.”
That’s today, in case you’re not up on your ancient Roman history.
“Ides” was a term for the middle of the month, usually around the 15th. The 15th of March, 44 BC, was particularly unlucky for one Roman ruler.
It was on that date Roman emperor Julius Caesar was murdered on his way to a festival in the city of Rome. He was stabbed 22 times by his political opponents even though he had been warned about the danger.
Today the site of one of the world’s most famous murders is literally in ruins. The overgrown area features some columns, steps, rocks and hundreds of stray cats. In fact, it’s a safety zone for a massive cat colony.
The spot is about 20 feet below street level and you can’t walk down there. A few years ago, my friends and I stood at the railing, peering at the rubble, trying to imagine the scene.
“Et tu, Brute?” I said, quoting the famous line from Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Julius Caesar.”
The line got no reaction except a smile from our tour guide who probably heard it 20 times a day. My high school classmates, however, thought I was muttering about men’s cologne.
What? Am I the only one among us who remembers lit class? Betrayed by his BFF, Brutus, Julius says with his dying breath, “Et tu, Brute?” And you, too, Brutus? Even you plotted against me? The phrase has come to mean a terrible betrayal.
“You know, I could’ve won on ‘Jeopardy!’ with that tidbit,” I said in my defense.
“When’s dinner?” one of them asked. The topic received a much more energetic reception than my attempt at Shakespeare.
“Linguine with clams sounds awesome” said one while someone else chimed in, “Last one to the minivan has to buy limoncello!”
(I think I’ll have a Caesar salad, said no one.)
Casting a parting glance at the ruins, I thought, if only Caesar had listened to the warnings.
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, a soothsayer warned Caesar in mid-February about the danger to his life. The soothsayer said the danger period would end on the Ides of March (March 15).
They met on that fateful day and Caesar said, "You are aware, surely, that the Ides of March have passed," and soothsayer said, "Surely you realize that they have not yet passed?" In other words, dude, it’s not over till it’s over.
Before Caesar had left his house that day, his wife, Calpurnia, said she’d had a bad dream and asked him to stay home.
But did he listen? No, and now people like me stop to look at the ruins (and cats) where he met his tragic fate.
Rome is rich in historic sites, and it seems everywhere you turn, there is another famous archaeological area. My friends who live there have grown immune to the awe of ancient ruins. For them, zooming along in their cars past the Colosseum is like driving down Veterans Parkway for us.
The spot where Caesar was murdered is kind of underwhelming and neglected. However, just a few weeks ago, the mayor of Rome announced the site is about to get a major facelift as a result of a commercial partnership with high-end fashion house Bulgari.
Because renovations are so expensive, the government frequently looks to corporations to help foot the bill. For example, a few years ago the luxury brand Fendi helped fund a renovation of Trevi Fountain in Rome. Seeing it before and after the restoration, I can tell you the fountain masterpiece is now stunning.
The renovation of Caesar’s site is predicted to be finished in a mere three years, including dealing with the cat shelter. Many observers are skeptical it can be done. Beware, indeed.