The middle of March is an auspicious time. On the one hand, there’s Pi Day (3/14), the annual celebration of the irrational number, 3.14159… that’s used to describe the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. On the other, there’s March 15th, the Ides of March.
The former drives math and science types straight to nerd-vana with the promise of terrible puns and geometric jokes. In reading through comments on the CNN.com report of Pi Day, there was an exchange between readers where one remarked that you couldn’t have doughnuts without pi (doughnuts being approximately circular — but also there’s a pastry pun in there somewhere). Another followed with the observation that you couldn’t have cops without doughnuts (Note: I love them, but never ate one in uniform — ever). Therefore, as a third reader concluded — pi keeps us safe. My thought: at least it keeps us “a-round.” Rimshot… remember to tip your waitress.
In a more historical and gory vein, there’s the ides of March. This concept, “ides,” has always troubled me. We know that the ides of March is the 15th. Which day of the month the ides falls depends on a complicated system of calculation proffered by Julius Caesar (i.e. the Julian calendar, the precursor of our Gregorian calendar). The ides of January, for example, is the 13th. The ides of March, May, July and October is the 15th.
The irony of the ides for Caesar stems from the well-known tragedy recorded by Roman historian Plutarch, but immortalized by Shakespeare. It was on this date the Roman “emperor for life” was murdered by his own senators at a meeting in a hall next to Pompey’s Theatre.
Caesar is murdered after having been warned by a soothsayer as he passes through a crowd. We all know Shakespeare’s famous line, “Beware the ides of March.” Of course Caesar had also chosen to ignore foreboding thunder and his wife’s nightmare foretelling his murder.
It’s pretty much the mother of all ‘I told you so’ cautionary tales for politicians. I wonder if those folks who decided this week should also be the annual commemoration of “Sunshine Week,” (the homage to open government and the Freedom of Information Acts) had their own symbolic caution in mind.
Stepping back a bit, we should also note this week is approximately the time of year the Romans celebrated the Lupercalia. This fact is mentioned in Julius Caesar as well as Plutarch.
In the first century A.D., Plutarch describes the Lupercalia as an important Roman festival. In particular, he likens it to the Spartan (Lacedaemon) Festival of Flagellations. As he recounts, a pair of naked men, faces smeared with blood, run through the town striking those in the crowd who had assembled to watch. And we wonder why Rome fell.
Shakespeare’s Marc Antony mentions the Lupercalia in Act III, scene 2 of Julius Caesar, “You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse…”
Perhaps paradoxically, I think I see how all of these threads of history, math and feasting fit together: While remembering your diet, go ahead and have that doughnut; just don’t beat yourself up about it.
If I can only figure out how St. Patrick works into it, I’ll have something.
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Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.