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DSC Weekly Digest 15 March 2022: Beware the Ides of …

  • Kurt Cagle 
Attentato a Cesare durante le idi di Marzo
The knives are definitely out.

I blew it last week. I’ll readily admit it. Blame it on the flu or Covid or whatever the nasty bug was that confined me to bed for a day and fuzzy for a few. It’s not often that the 15th of March happens to come up on the same day as the weekly newsletter release, and I titled my last editorial “Beware Wishful Thinking.” Perhaps my mind was foreshadowing. Whatever.

“Beware the Ides of March” is a familiar refrain to English majors, Latin students, and history buffs as the day in 44 BC that a fortune-teller warned Julius Caesar about as he made his way home from his latest campaigns. Caesar, who had declared himself dictator a few months before at the head of his legions of troops during the Gaelic campaign, spoke before the Roman Senate. Many of the senators had become very concerned about Caesar’s concentration of power and had conspired to assassinate him. Originally planning to speak with the senators, Caesar had heard warnings and decided to wait them out, but when one of his generals, Mark Anthony, convinced him that he was being foolish, Caesar threw caution to the wind. Arriving at the Senate, he was accosted by petitioners, including Marcus Brutus, who then literally stabbed Caesar in the back. Plutarch, in his histories, indicated that as he lay dying, his last words were “καὶ σύ, τέκνον“, or “You too, child?”, which Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar changed to “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?”).

The event proved pivotal in the history of Rome. kicking off a civil war as generals and senators fell into different factions, and it would be more than a year before Mark Anthony would emerge as the next Emperor. If there are any lessons there, it would be to be careful of the laws of unintended consequences and to plan for exigencies.

On a linguistic note: The Roman Calendar was odd and likely inherited from the Etruscans (the very old peoples in the area now known as Tuscany). It was based on the Lunar calendars, which had alternating month days to take into account the lunar orbit rather than the solar one. The first of the month, the Kalends (from whence the term calendar), indicated the date of the new moon. The Nones occurred around the half-moon, typically around the 7th of March but it varied depending on the month. The Ides fell on the 15th of March, but could be the 13th in other months, and represented the full moon. What made the system particularly strange was that other days were calculated based upon the number of days prior to these named events. Thus, the 12th of March would have been Ante Diem III Ides Martias, or three days before the Ides of March.

From this, another warning: Dates are hard, but they are easier than they used to be. Also, be careful about assuming that everyone’s date notation (or any other similar conventions) are the same simply because you are familiar with your own. Data management is complex because it is built upon many, many unstated (and frequently unexamined) assumptions, and those assumptions can stab you in the back if you’re not watching the time.

Oh, by the way, while discussing things Latinate, I thought I’d mention my closing line for a moment. The term in media res translates to “In the middle of things”, which is exactly where an ontologist should be. On that note …

In Media Res,

Kurt Cagle
Community Editor,
Data Science Central

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