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Ides of March After-Party: Roman Drinking Songs?

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Ides of March After-Party: Roman Drinking Songs?

Ides of March After-Party: Roman Drinking Songs?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This day is March the 15th, the day that Julius Caesar was warned about. A soothsayer told him beware the Ides of March. Caesar paid no attention and you know what happened to him. He died on this day.

But what you may not know, says our correspondent Robert Krulwich, is what might have happened - might have happened after he died.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So let me set the scene for you. You probably remember this from school. Exactly 2050 years ago, March the 15th, the Ides of March 44 B.C., a group of Roman senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death. And tradition says that once Caesar was truly dead, these senators decided to have a little celebratory get-together.

Unidentified Man #1: Sort of like an apres slaying party as it was.

KRULWICH: Yeah, it was just like that, yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: Sort of like now that Rome is finally free, we can kick back with mugs of (unintelligible) ale sort of thing, right?

KRULWICH: I think you've got the idea, yes. So they drank an awful lot of beer-like wine and then together they sang the tradition apres slaying chanson "99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall." A very, very old song.

Unidentified Man #1: The song is that old?

KRULWICH: Oh yeah, absolutely. But remember, in Roman times the numbers 99, 86, 33; they hadn't been invented yet. Those are Arabic numbers.

Unidentified Man #1: Right.

KRULWICH: So when the senators sang this song, they had to do it in Roman numerals.

Unidentified Man #1: You mean letters?

KRULWICH: No, no. I mean numbers like V-I-I, X-I-I.

Unidentified Man #1: Those are the letters.

KRULWICH: So to honor Caesar's death today, why don't we sing it the way the senators did back in '44.

Unidentified Man #1: You mean, X-L-I-V.

KRULWICH: Yes.

(Soundbite of singing)

GROUP: (Singing) X-C-I-X bottles of wine on the wall, X-C-I-X bottles of wine. Let's take one down and pass it around, X-C-I-X bottles of wine on the wall.

Unidentified Man #2: I cannot serve you. You're not X-X-I yet.

GROUP: (Singing) X-C-I-I bottles of wine on the wall, X-C-I-I bottles of wine.

KRULWICH and Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Let's take one down and pass it around, X-C-I-I bottles of wine on the wall.

Unidentified Man #1: It seems rather repetitive, even in Roman times.

KRULWICH: Oh yeah, but there really were some pretty good moments in the song. You know, I particularly like 89 to 88.

GROUP: (Singing) You take one down and pass it around, L-X-X-X-V-I-I bottles of wine on the wall.

KRULWICH: And then again, listen to 38 to 37.

GROUP: (Singing) X-X-X-V-I-I-I bottles of wine on the wall, X-X-X-V-I-I bottles of wine.

Unidentified Man #1: What did they do at the end?

KRULWICH: Well, since the number zero, you remember, hadn't been invented yet -that happened later in India and with the Mayans - they didn't have a number below one to go to. So the song was actually a little bit hard to finish.

GROUP: (Singing) I bottles of wine on the wall, I bottles of wine. And we take one down and pass it around.

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, hey, no more bottle of wine. Nada. What to do?

Unidentified Man #1: What to do?

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, no more wine.

KRULWICH: Robert Krulwich, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Robert's cast includes Josh Kurz who sang and produced the song and Shane Winter, who composed the music.

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