Idus Martiae

Today is the Ides of March and we’re entering the final straight before crossing the finishing line of term and collapsing in a sweaty mess into the arms of the Easter holiday. I’ve been ridiculously busy today so, being too knackered to think of anything else to post, I thought I’d tap into a priceless bit of British cultural history relevant to this auspicious day.

This is from the First Folio Edition of Carry On Cleo, and stars the sublime Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar delivering one of the funniest lines in the whole Carry On series. The joke may be nearly as old as me, but it’s still a cracker…

12 Responses to “Idus Martiae”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    It’s great, but even better IMHO is Sid James’ line in “Carry On Caesar” when he comes back into camp during his invasion of England and the troops cry “Hail Caesar!”, and he replies in broadest cockney “Hail, rain, sleet, gales – I’ve had it with this blooming country!” (This is not quite verbatim – I looked for this film in Sid James’ filmography in IMDB, Internet Movie DataBase, and astoundingly it’s not there).

    When I was a postdoc at U Glasgow 20 years ago I lived in a village on the south bank of the Clyde estuary opposite Dumbarton Rock; this was the western end of the Antonine Wall, which the Romans eventually gave up and evacuated south to Hadrian’s Wall. I imagined some legionnaire from the verdant olive groves of Tuscany standing atop this Rock in a howling winter gale and thinking “What the **** am I doing here?”


    • telescoper Says:


      As a kid I traipsed out along Hadrian’s wall many times on school trips to various locations. One thing I remember being told over and over again was that very few of the soldiers stationed there came from anywhere near Rome. The chaps stationed at Vindolanda, for example were all of Slavic or Germanic origin.
      It probably wasn’t top of the popularity stakes as a posting.


  2. Anton Garrett Says:


    OK, but I’ll bet the top of the hierarchy was ethnic Roman. I was at Vindolanda 18 months ago and was told that a lot more had been excavated than 20 years before, so do give it a visit sometime. Excitingly, a lot more still remains to be excavated.


  3. telescoper Says:

    I think I was there last time about 5 years ago. The thing that always fascinated me most were all the bits of rubbish that they found, including lots of little notes complaining about the quality of the food, weather, etc. Those little scraps of trivia bring the past so close because you know the person who wrote them wasn’t so very different from us today.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:


    After years of reading history books (after I grew up aged about 30), and some pondering on the scriptures of my faith, I have no difficulty believing that people are the same as long ago. Cultural differences can be startling and very great, but beneath even that is a core of commonality. This core, sadly, includes war and strife.


  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    The Vindolanda tablets are truly remarkable. For the benefit of readers of this blog, perhaps I should explain that they are thin sheets of wood that were used by citizens of the Roman empire for sending short letters, a little like modern postcards. People wrote messages on the wood, which would then be posted to addresses around the Roman empire. A collection of these ended up being dumped on some boggy ground at the Vindolanda fort in modern-day Northumberland. The very wet conditions preserved the wood from rot, and the tablets have been excavated over the past decades. Archaeologists have therefore been able to read everyday messages written nearly 2000 years ago. Example tablets are on display in the British Museum. I understand that the tablets provide the only surviving evidence that the Romans wore underpants beneath their tunics and togas.

    “Maaatron, take them away!”

    The tablets remind me a bit of the Oxyrhyncus Papyri: documents thrown on an ancient Egyptian rubbish dump. The desert conditions meant that the papyri survived buried in sand, being discovered at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th to provide invaluable written information about the ancient world, including early copies of the New Testament. And all that from rubbish. Which reminds me, I need to throw the rubbish out.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Yes, we might find the missing parts of Aristotle’s Poetics yet (as in The Name of the Rose).

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip: Enjoy the concert tonight – Anton

  8. Peter – I also remember my school trips to Vindolanda. It was always pouring with rain. I had a lot of sympathy for the Roman soldiers who had to suffer that.

    Sadly, I never quite appreciated having so much history on my doorstep. Now that I live far so away I’d love the chance to go back for a day trip to the Roman fort. I suppose I’ve got all the viking history here but its not quite the same thing.

  9. Anton I am afraid your memory is a little faulty. The quote you remember is actually from Carry on Cleo as well and it is from Sid James (via IMDB):

    Bilius: Hail, Mark Antony!
    Mark Antony: Hail – snow, rain, thunder, lighting – the lot! Julius in?
    [Gloria screams and runs out]
    Mark Antony: I see he is!

  10. “Over the heather the wet wind blows,
    I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

    The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
    I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

    The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
    My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

    Aulus goes hanging around her place,
    I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

    Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
    There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

    She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
    I want my girl and I want my pay.

    When I’m a veteran with only one eye
    I shall do nothing but look at the sky.”


  11. Anton Garrett Says:

    Kav: That explains a lot, many thanks. I don’t think Mark Antony accompanied Caesar on his campaigns here as he did in Gaul, but that wouldn’t stop the Carry On team.

    Which nicely brings matters full circle to Peter’s previous blog entry featuring an AE Housman poem, plus the fact that Housman’s “On Wenlock Edge” is about how the weather was equally filthy when the Romans were there.


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