We got paid this morning, so I took the time to pay the bills since the first of the month. This is very appropriate, since in Roman times, today was the day in which you would settle up debts. You see, the Romans structured their year differently than we do – March, with the coming of spring, was actually recognized as the time of the New Year, and with that, you would not carry over debt into the new year.
Also, the Romans didn’t number each day of the month with a date, oddly enough. Instead, they had three main days, and would count back from those to tell you what today was. There were then Nones, which were the 5th, 7th, and 9th days before the Ides. The Ides, actually was usually the 13th of most months, except for March, May, July and October. Although not exact, it came close to the full moon of each month, and was imbued with lots of mysterious and mythical powers – like turning people into “lunatic,” the word, of course, meaning someone gone wild by the “luna” or moon. Finally there was the kalends, which was the first day of the next month. So, when you would ask what day it was, it might be “five before Kalends” or “two before Nones.” Kind of clumsy, but that’s the way they operated.
Actually, with the start of a seasonal New year, the Ides of March belonged to the god Jupiter, the top dog in the Pantheon of Roman gods. It was a day of animal sacrifices, and other rituals to chase away the old year. One particularly festive act came in beating an old man dressed in animal furs and chasing him out of town, so as to chase off the bad things of the last year. I don’t expect that will catch on in most neighborhoods in America.
So the Ides was a big day, and the Ides of March, even more so. That’s why, when legend tells us that a soothsayer stopped Julius Caesar and told him to beware of the Ides of March, he probably should have listened, or at least checked his standing in the polls. Caesar at that time was the most powerful person in the world, and had nearly assumed total power of the Roman Empire. The Senate – the elected leaders of the state – was on the verge of collapsing, and handing over all control to Caesar himself.
So, on the day of the Ides, Caesar spots the soothsayer, and sort of like a jerk, remarks, “So – the Ides are come…” to which the soothsayer has the last word by replying, “yes, Caesar, but not yet gone…” You see, there was a pretty strong buildup to the actions of March 15 that year. Caesar Julius had led as a general of the Roman Army for 8 years fighting in Gaul, what is now France, bringing victory and the expansion of Rome to the west. As he was returning victorious to Rome, the Senate demanded he disband his troops and enter the city as a civilian. Instead – in an action which has come to be known in our world as doing something from which there is no turning back, Caesar “crossed the Rubicon,” the small river that separated Gaul and Italy. He broke the law, defied the Senate, and sent the empire into civil war in 49 BC. By 44BC, he had either defeated or silenced all the opponents, and so was declared dictato perpetuo, or “forever dictator.” It was a big promotion, and did not necessarily bring the peace to Rome that was hoped for.
You see – Julius Caesar was kind of a jerk. The Roman Senate still operated, even though he was the dictator, and he continually demeaned and insulted the Senate leaders, even as they tried to honor him or bestow their approval of him. Again, had Caesar accepted their approval, it would have meant that he needed it, and was somehow to be controlled by it. He basically told them, “Nuts to you – I’m in charge on my terms!”
Let’s just say things were not happy in the land of Romulus and Remus. In 44 BC, after taking the title of dictator forever, and after having the interchange with the soothsayer, Julius made his way to the Senate, to the Theater of Pompey. Oddly enough, the structure was built to honor Caesar’s rival, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, in 52 BC. It was in that building that Pompeius himself was assassinated in 48 BC, only four years earlier. Makes you wonder who is charge of transitions around there…
And so there, in that place of republic power, a group of senators became a group of assassins, led by Julius’ good friend, Marcus Brutus. We have recorded the famous last words, “Et tu, Brute?” which means, “And you, Brutus?” Imagine the conflict of Brutus, needing to protect Rome from his best friend, and having to murder him as a result.
The big winner, chicken dinner, in all of this of course is the Ides. 2065 years later, we are still “bewaring” it, and recalling what it means, even if it has no superstition for us.
I can just imagine Julius Caesar, on that day, as things are coming down on him, to have remarked, “I just came here to see you all, and now it feels like I’m being attacked!”
Hopefully we can resolved our conflicts in not quite such a deadly way. I would hope our intention as we live together would be to live a bit more humbly than Caesar, and a bit more congenial than the assassins. Whatever conflict you may have in your life right now, don’t pull out the knives. I promise, if you do that, you’ll just spoil everyone’s day, even on the Ides…
Word for the day: assassin. Pronounced, as you know, ah-SASS-in, although in the Arab world it would be closer to ah-SAHS-SEEN. It indeed is an Arabic word, arising during the time of the Crusades, and it has been confused between two Arab words. In Arabic, or as many in Europe understood the word, hashishim, they were identified as guerilla fighters and murderers of leaders, and believed by the Europeans to have the courage to do so after consuming hashish, hence the word.
In fact, however, the Arab word is most likely asasiyyin, meaning “faithful follower of Islam.” They were indeed fanatics and radicals, but did so, in their minds to protect and defend Islam from the infidels or anyone who would denigrate the religion. So – you decide: hashishim, or asasiyyin. Either one means someone is going to have a disappointing outcome.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.