What is an Ides? Why beware?
I’ve heard this phrase before and have never understood it. So, I did what I always do…I researched it. It is from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, written in 1599. It is the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar, warning of his death.
Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the Ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.
When Julius Caesar was alive, the idea of the Ides being dangerous did not exist. Each month had an Ides and was not connected with death or foreboding. Not until Shakespeare, that is.
“The ides of March didn’t signify anything special in itself –
this was just the usual way of saying ‘March 15th’.”- Per The Phrase Finder
In Roman times, the calendar was arraigned around three named days-
• The Kalends (1st day)
• The Nones ( the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
• The Ides (The 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)
Interestingly, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, “The Ides of March are come”, implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.”
Caesar did die on the 15th of March, 44 CE. But, I think it is safe to say, he is the only one that needed to “Beware the Ides of March”.
I don’t understand people when they say that they love the rain. What is there to love about it? It makes what could have been a perfectly fine day miserable. It elevates what should be a regular sounding day to constant percussions of dripping and raises the volume on every passing car’s tires as they drive down the wet street. It blocks the sun’s rays and creates a hazy gloom of gray, turning the sky into an unrecognizable mass of depressing darkness.
If it has to rain, then let it. Let it be thunderous downpours that awake the senses. The kind that change the color of the day from blue to yellow, the kind that drowns out the sounds of everyday life and makes you open the window to listen to it. Make it rain so hard that it forces its sweet scent through your door cracks, penetrating the warmness of your home and pushing inward with cold, clean air.
If it has to rain, unleash it. Let it all out in torrents of thunderous applause. Force the boughs to sway from your strength, cause the leaves to dance with your heavy drops. Wake me up from inside my house and let me know you’re at my door knocking. Make me take notice of you. Draw me to the window to see you, to the door so that I may open it and marvel at you. Amaze me with your power and grace; show me your intentions.
If it has to rain, then bring it. I welcome an earsplitting crack of thunder, a flash of frightening lightning that streaks across the sky. I embrace fresh earth filling my nostrils, the splash of cold on my skin, the sweet taste on my lips. This is the kind of rain I love. Not the dreary mess of an all-day drizzle. Not the unending depression of never seeing the sun.
If it has to rain, so be it. But I will never love it. I will harbor that love for something that truly deserves it. A downpour, a torrent, a thunderous applause; those are the rains I love. You can keep your miserable showers Seattle. You can keep your drizzle, your misty muse, your never ending cloudy days. I’ll take your sudden summer soak; your stormy winter deluge. While you run from your cars huddled under your umbrellas, I will laugh at you and stand with my face turned up to the sky, my cheeks wet with nature’s tears.
If it has to rain, I accept it. But please, let me have my cloudburst. Surprise me with a drenching downpour. Break up the monotony with a thunderclap.
Then maybe I too can love the rain.
While attending the Scottish Highlands Festival in Enumclaw, WA, I met a man named Sven Redbeard. A tall, barrel-chested blacksmith dressed in traditional Viking garb, he beamed as he showed off his handy work. Historically accurate 5th and 6th century helms, hand hammered arrowheads, and primitive cooking pots filled the space in his booth.
As I wandered through the cultural displays looking for some connection with the era that I focus my writings on, the sunlight glinted off a particular piece I had been looking for. Nowhere else would I be able to put my hands on an actual helm that a Northman would have worn into battle. Any that have been unearthed by anthropology are now locked behind glass in museums far away from me. But I had done my research, and because of a particular You-Tube video, I knew that the piece I coveted would be within my grasp at this festival. And here it is, in all its glory. A true Viking helm for me to touch and feel, and to hold with my own hands.
I sidled up to it and took my phone out of my pocket, hoping no one would care if I took a quick photo. As I hit the button, Sven stood up from the camping chair he was sitting in (the only non-historic items there) and calmly walked up to me, explaining the piece to me and telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. He allowed me to ask my questions and even showed me the inside, something the museums and history books never show you.
I learned that he created the helm himself, with the help of fellow craftsmen at the festival, trading their particular skills with another to create gorgeous period weaponry and tools.
After he finished telling me about this helm and another he had on display, he explained the different types of arrowheads he had on display, explaining their shapes and how they were made. He showed me his tools and the pendant with his rune brand on it, explaining why he chose the particular runes to represent himself. He showed me his sword, his saex and introduced me to his beautiful wife.
All in all, his booth was by far the most interesting to me and I am glad that I stopped by. I hope I see him the next time I visit the festival, and maybe I’ll be able to go to the Viking Festival in Ballard, which I am sure a man named Sven Redbeard would never miss.
High atop a sea side cliff sits the unsuspecting target; a monastery, dark and sleeping. No one stands guard to protect her. Inside, the monks who lovingly care for her are performing their evening rituals. The sounds of their monotone prayers echo down her halls. Candlelight pours out of open windows, and the flickers of light allow glimpses of her cold stone walls. As the holy men prepare for slumber, they are ignorant of the danger that is creeping toward their fortress.
Far below the serene sanctuary of their god, a formidable ship filled with greed and heathens glide through the moonlit waves. The craft is unlike any sailed by the men on whose land they are invading. Her stem and stern each flaunt an extravagant dragon’s head. She is long and slender and can carry her men far across the oceans or glide along narrow inlets. Her freeboard is shallow, allowing her warriors to land on any flat beach.
Oleg, their chieftain, stands at the bow navigating his ship to a flat rocky beach between the towering cliffs. The men time their rowing to the lap of the inky waves, hiding their advance from the ears of the marked men. As they approach the shore, they withdraw their oars and ready themselves to land. As the ship glides up onto the beach the men leap over the edge into the shallow water to heave her up onto the foreign land. Her sturdy keel scrapes along the rocky shore. The sailors lay her gently to one side. They gather their shields and weapons, leaving her to rest in the moonlight. She has traveled a long distance to deliver her cargo, and her journey is only just beginning.
The invaders are from another realm, a severe frozen land that produces large brawny men who battle the elements and each other to survive. The doomed monks have no defensive tactics for the tenacious men who are sneaking up the sloping banks.
They bide their time, inching their way to the main building. Restless, they wait for the last flicker of candlelight to fade. Their eyes have adjusted to the darkness, an advantage they want to keep as they creep up on their prey. Several silent minutes pass as they crouch outside the monks’ doors. They wait with bated breath until the last candle is extinguished. Oleg’s faint whistle signals the men to attack.
With a mighty roar, they burst through the heavy wooden door with ease. Hacking it to pieces with their enormous axes, the door crumbles as if it is made of twigs and straw. The fearsome shouts of the warriors strike panic in the hearts of the monks, jolting them from their peaceful dreams and quiet slumber. The invaders scatter throughout the monastery with orders to kill with any means they see fit. With no sympathy, they methodically check each room and move toward the central hall. They murder the sleepy monks with no regard to their age, rank or humanity. The raiders are cloaked with the desire for gold and precious jewels; they have no need for mercy. The screams of dying men and murderous heathens fill the halls and echo into the night. But no one else is listening. The nearest village sleeps on, leagues away. No one is coming to save them.
As the intruders plunder their way through the monastery several surviving monks gather together in the central hall. Desperate, they mumble prayers under their breath as they search for weapons. Finding a few old rusty swords, they stand their ground as their attackers enter the hall.
The contrast of the two groups of men is stunning. On one side; meek and mild men determined to defend their books and holy relics. Draped in brown muslin, girded with a simple rope, these humble men live a poor existence to serve their god. On the other side; a band of thieves, dressed in leather armor, hungry for the gold that could buy them a better life. They worship a god of war, and a god who rules with a mystic hammer.
An invader named Stigr advances to lop off the head of the nearest frightened monk.
“Stop,” Oleg commands, “tie them up. We would get more by selling them.” He knows the value of a human life, the value of selling that life. The others agree and gather the monks together. Their hands and feet are bound with their own rope belts. He assigns a young warrior to watch over them.
“Veraag, if they try to escape, run them through with my sword.” Oleg hands his sword to his son. He kneels down to face the cowering monks, their hands bound and sitting on the cold stone floor of the central hall. With a grin he adds, “I just sharpened it.” The monks can see the glint of the blade with the moonlight pouring through the windows. It is smeared with the blood of their fallen comrades. His intent is clear, and he means it. The monks remain quiet and pray. Helpless, they watch as the pirates raid their precious shrines.
They gather silver cups, gold crosses and pry precious gems out of the monks’ sacred shrines. They search every building, leaving no loot behind. When the men are finally satisfied, they gather their bounty and lead the weary monks to the ship. They load their plunder into the hull, place their shields back into the rack and heave the boat into the sea. They load their captives and the raiders board their precious ship. They fit the oars back into the oar ports and as silently as they came they return back to the sea. As the vessel sails back to the northern lands, the monks gaze up at the monastery they love. The nightmare is real, their friends are dead, and their prayers have gone unanswered.
The invading men are silent and stern. They have been successful, although they
know it is not over yet. They need more raids to get the gold they seek. More gold, more raids, more death. Oleg decides to keep the shore in view; if they find another monastery or a sleepy village they will raid it too.
Half the men sleep and the other half row as the ship glides along the coastline. The moonlight reflects off the sea like dancing fairies in the night. The land casts a black veil over the fairy light, completely void of magic. It makes following the coast easier though, and Oleg keeps his eye on the dark shadow.
* * *
The first light of morning signals a change of rowers, and the men shuffle to their places. Soon the sound of snoring fills the ship’s salty air, drowning out the steady beat the oars make as they glide back and forth in the sea. Oleg appoints his son as watchman and settles down for a nap amongst his men.
As Veraag watches the coastline his mind wanders to his future. All the answers he knows will come with time, but still he dreams. He does not yet have the knowledge his father holds of the trade routes to the south. He lacks the connections he needs to travel to distant lands unharmed. And he does not have the loyalty of the men he needs to help him succeed as a king. As for love, he’s unsure if he’s ready for the pain it often brings.
He signals to his man at the steer board to follow the coast south, and gazes back out to the open sea. Mindlessly stroking the promise stone she gave him in his belt pouch, he thinks to himself. One day I will leave this sea behind and find adventure and loot of my own. I will make my own name known and I will be a king. But today he will guide his father’s ship and his father’s men to their next raid. And he will learn as much as he can from the closest thing to a king he knows.
As the ship sails south along the coast, the sun rises over the eastern cliffs of the island they are circling. As the early morning sun’s glow breaks the shadow of night, the black veil lifts from the land, revealing forests and open meadows. In the distance, Veraag spots what might be a group of houses. He rouses his father to look at it.
“Father, I see our next target. A village sleeps ahead,” he whispers to his king.
“How far away is it?” Oleg rubs his eyes, his voice groggy with slumber.
“We should approach it by mid morning,” Veraag answers.
“Wake me when we’re closer. Keep an eye out for scouts.”
Oleg returns to his dreams and Veraag to his post. As he looks on at the sleeping target, he feels his heart quicken at the prospect of an exciting morning after all.
About three years ago, I sat on my couch in my living room and flipped through Netflix looking for something interesting to watch while I folded my children’s laundry. It was the first year that all of them were old enough to be at school all day, and the house was too quiet, so I turned on a documentary for background noise called “Secrets of the Viking Sword”. As I folded my children’s clothes, a strange thing happened to me.
I sat down as the narrator told me of ancient weapons, secret methods of turning dirt into swords, and I watched as a man recreated a sword called the “Ulfberht” that no one could explain existed, yet science proved that it did.
It was beautiful, perfectly crafted by people whose history was never recorded. And if the rusty remains had never been found, maybe we would go on thinking that the people who created it were just as we have always thought they were – pagan, heathen, greedy, rapists. In other words; Vikings.
I watched that documentary three times, and I even took notes. I was fascinated. And as I learned more about the people who made such an amazing sword, my perspective changed.
Did you know that no one wrote down anything about the Northman’s history while it was happening? Sure there’s some letter from monks about their heathen ways, and some treaties they signed with nations who thought them illiterate. But it wasn’t until 200 years after the “Viking Era” that a man named Snurri Sturluson took up a pen and wrote down the stories he had heard passed down from generation after generation by word of mouth.
By then it was too late. History books had been written, ideas formed, by non-other than the monks who despised the pagan warriors and sought to convert them and collect their tithes for their church.
Charlemange and his pal the pope put forth a decree, sending missionaries to the north to convert the Northmen who ran the trade routes after they realized how much they were losing in taxes because the Northmen did not fall under their jurisdiction, as they didn’t belong to the church.
And so the conversion changed the Northmen and their forefathers were looked at with distaste by future generations.
But look at the beautiful sword they created, how masterfully they navigated their world, exploring new lands and cultures with gusto, blending their own flesh and blood with the world’s population. People I have talked to love to say that there is a Viking in their bloodline. How can everything they did be evil?
To me, as a Christian, I respect their conversion. But as a lover of history, I see the good in their old ways. I see men & women explorers, artisans, warrior of the rarest breed sought after by kings and queens for their own protection. I see beauty. And yes, they were harsh and brash, but really the whole world was at that time, even the monks.
That documentary changed the way I see ancient Scandinavia, and it sparked within me a love of Norse stories, culture, and history. I hope one day to publish the story I have worked on for the last two years, my version of a typical Northman exploring his world, but until then I’ll keep learning and writing, watching history unearthed as the “Ulfberht” was.
And maybe you could watch the documentary and tell me what you think about it. You don’t have to love it as much as I did. Leave me a comment and tell me if you have watched a documentary that changed the way you look at history, I would love to watch it too.
I’m not a certified “history buff”, reciting dates and names with ease and perfection. I am a history lover; in that most of my free time is spent reading, writing, and watching anything that has to do with some historical event.
With so much time spent in the past, I’ve noticed that I see the present with a different perspective. I see the reasons behind laws that don’t seem to make sense now. Why one group of people holds a grudge against another, and how we have come to the places we are as a society today.
I’ve also learned that the man who wields the pen shapes the way future generations see these events. For instance, take the way the America’s were “discovered”. Ships from the civilized continent of Europe landed on virgin land, claimed it as their own and built a new nation. For 200 years we have been taught and have educated our children about these heroes. Christopher Columbus, John Smith, the Pilgrims. And we have the names of the people who helped them to confirm our victory; Pocahontas comes to mind.
But take a step back from our history books. Focus your gaze on a different story teller and you get a completely different version. One full of greed, racism, and the decimation of the nations that did exist. If our history books were penned by a member of the Cherokee tribe who walked the Trail of Tears, how would our lessons about our country and its heroes change?
With this new perspective I find myself researching the authors of our history. Whose side were they on, who paid them, did they have an interest in the outcome? And I learn more about the event then I could have just reading about it.
It turns out that this is what I truly love, digging deeper until the truth reveals itself. And the truth is what sets me free, free from prejudice, free from misinformation, free to see the hidden beauty in the struggle.
I cannot rewrite history, nor am I qualified to. What I can do is share my findings with you, and that is even better – to tell a story from a new perspective and show the other side.