15 March 2010

St. Ides of March

2054 years ago today, Julius Caesar met his end at the hands of some former friends. The conspirators, inbred aristocrats all, were terrified of losing their power and inherited wealth to a populist dictator.

They justified their deed by casting Caesar as a tyrant. In a way he was, but what he really put an end was not the Roman "Republic" but 100 years of civil war between aristocratic factions, some of which were more willing to ally with the common people and some of which were crusty defenders of extreme aristocratic privilege. Caesar, despite his upper-class pedigree, became a man of the people as his career moved on. Read Michael Parenti's excellent book for more, or go straight to Plutarch here (Chapter 60ff).1

I get fed up with the misty-eyed idealization of the Roman "Republic", which was a cabal run by the landowning aristocracy that pointedly excluded the other 98% of the population. Shakespeare, who bought into this vision, inflicted it on the English-speaking world. Witness these clips from the 1953 version, with Marlon Brando as Mark Antony:

It's a very stiff and reverent treatment, but it gives you an idea of how solemnly people used to treat the moment.

Today's uses of the Ides of March are amusing for their variety. American cult leader Lyndon LaRouche used it to promote his webcast about Obama's imminent downfall. Project Chanology organized global protests against Scientology on the Ides of March 2008 (video). There's also episodes of "Party of Five" and "Xena Warrior Princess" that use the name, but I'm too proud to link to those.

There's also this White Stripes song, which seems to be more about love and malt liquor than Caesar, but whatever. I nominate St. Ides as the official drank of the Ides of March.2

1 It's meant to be read in tandem with the Life of Alexander, since Plutarch saw them as parallel figures. I recommend doing it, it sheds light on both of them. Augustus gets credit for the Pax Romana, but it would never have happened without Caesar.
2 "Rappers doing St. Ides Commercials" is a whole genre in itself. Check out Snoop and 2Pac shilling for blueberry flavor St.Ides! What?!?!


  1. Oh shit, i remember them St. Ides special brews. They were the cheapest booze at Pic N' Pac at San Pablo & Gilman. I never had blueberry though.

  2. For a treatment more sympathetic to Caesar and less flattering to the aristocracy, there is HBO's Rome series. Curious as to you reaction to that series, I imagine you have some criticisms.