The Ides of March

Gregory DiPippo

March 15th, the Ides of March in the ancient Roman dating system, is of course the single most famous date in ancient Roman history, the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination. One of the great ironies of Roman history is that Caesar himself was one of the great rhetoricians of so-called Golden Age Latinity, but three of the most important primary accounts of his assassination are in Greek: those in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, and the Roman Histories of Appian and Cassio Dio. Here is Suetonius’ account from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

… diu cunctatus an se contineret et quae apud senatum proposuerat agere differret, tandem Decimo Bruto adhortante, ne frequentis ac iam dudum opperientis destitueret, quinta fere hora progressus est, libellumque insidiarum indicem ab obvio quodam porrectum libellis ceteris, quos sinistra manu tenebat, quasi mox lecturus commiscuit. Dein pluribus hostiis caesis, cum litare non posset, introiit curiam spreta religione Spurinnamque irridens et ut falsum arguens, quod sine ulla sua noxa Idus Martiae adessent: quanquam is venisse quidem eas diceret, sed non praeterisse.

Assidentem conspirati specie officii circumsteterunt, ilicoque Cimber Tillius, qui primas partes susceperat, quasi aliquid rogaturus propius accessit, renuentique et gestu in aliud tempus differenti ab utroque umero togam adprehendit: deinde clamantem, ‘ista quidem vis est!’ alter e Cascis aversum vulnerat paulum infra iugulum. Caesar Cascae brachium arreptum graphio traiecit conatusque prosilire alio vulnere tardatus est; utque animadvertit undique se strictis pugionibus peti, toga caput obvoluit, simul sinistra manu sinum ad ima crura deduxit, quo honestius caderet etiam inferiore corporis parte velata. Atque ita tribus et viginti plagis confossus est, uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito, etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse: καὶ σὺ τέκνον? Exanimis diffugientibus cunctis aliquamdiu iacuit, donec lecticae impositum, dependente brachio, tres servoli domum rettulerunt. Nec in tot vulneribus, ut Antistius medicus existimabat, letale ullum repertum est, nisi quod secundo loco in pectore acceperat.

 The Death of Caesar, by Vincenzo Camuccini, 1804 ca.; Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

… he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had proposed to do in the senate; but at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting which had already been waiting for him for some time, he went forth at almost the fifth hour; and when a note revealing the plot was handed him by someone on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after several victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the curia in defiance of portents, mocking Spurinna and reproving him as a false prophet, because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm; though Spurinna replied that they had indeed come, but not gone.

As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders, then as Caesar cried, ‘Why, this is violence!’ one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he realized that he was being attacked on every side by drawn daggers, he wrapped his head in his robe, and at the same time with his left hand he drew its lap down to his feet, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And thus was he stabbed with twenty-three wounds, with just one groan, but no word, uttered at the first stroke, though some have written that as Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said (in Greek), ‘You too, child?’ As they all fled, he lay lifeless for some time, and finally three slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with his arm hanging down. And among so many wounds, in the opinion of the doctor Antistius, none was found to be fatal, except the second one in the breast.

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