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Saturday morning quotes 5.43: Ides of March

March 12, 2016



Just as, amid cabals of his treacherous court,
Suspecting each rich curtain of a knife,
A king broods heavily,
Even so, aware that flesh and bone are restless
With secret news and undefined intention,
Sits on his shaking throne my winter soul.

– H. C. Long, Poetry, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Dec., 1915), p. 133.

Ever since Shakespeare came up with the effective dramatic construct of the Soothsayer with “a tongue shriller than all the musicke” (The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, scene ii), the Ides of March have had an uneasy and ill-fitting association with portending doom. The Ides of March signified something quite different historically, before the season became tainted by Roman political machinations.

It turns out that the Ides of March originally marked the festival of the Roman deity, Anna Perenna—not to be confused with Anna Karenina, yet another tale of treachery and retribution.  March, the month of Mars, was the beginning of the old Roman year, and the festival of Anna Perenna fell on the occurrence of the first full moon of the year, the Ides of March.   As per Ovid, the festival was celebrated at the grove of the goddess and was renowned for much licentious merry-making involving libations and lechery.

And as for the murder of Caesar, scholars across the ages have attempted to unravel the crime:

“On the Ides of March the plebs celebrated the Annae festum geniale Perennae (corresponding  to  the  chief day of the  Hindu  Holi) near the banks of the  Tiber (Ovid, Fasti iii. 523-42, 675-96).  Rome was, therefore, empty of the lower classes.   Is  this  why  the  nobles chose the  day  for the assassination of Julius  Caesar?”

– C. M. Mulvany, The Classical Review, Vol. 19, No. 6 (Jul., 1905), p. 305

The current time of the year means something altogether different to adherents of the Christian religion, festivals of old Roman deities having become quite passé.  But as singers everywhere prepare for the rigors of Holy Week and a jubilant Easter, we slip in a slightly bawdy nod to the Roman festival with a song by Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c .1513 – 1556) who, like all thinking people of the 16th century, led a more integrated life and tempered his enormous output of sacred music with the occasional frivolity.

From our recording Au pres de vous,  we give you “Venes mes serfs et Bacchus adorons”. Enjoy.

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