Essay Competition: Thornton Wilder’s novel The Ides of March

Essay Competition on
Thornton Wilder’s novel, The Ides of March.
For students reading the writings of Julius Caesar
in Advanced Placement Latin and other secondary school Latin courses

Tappan Wilder, nephew and literary executor of the works by the distinguished American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), has observed that even before the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, his uncle Thornton Wilder was fascinated by questions on the nature of moral authority and leadership. As an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Air Force in North Africa and Italy, Thornton Wilder witnessed up close the dark chapters of history brought about by Mussolini and Hitler. In 1948, three years after the Second World War had ended, former Lieutenant Colonel Wilder poured his thoughts about statecraft and virtue into The Ides of March, a novel set in late republican Rome, starring Julius Caesar and co-starring Cleopatra, Catullus and Clodia, among other colorful characters of the time.

In recognition of Thornton Wilder’s celebrated novel about Julius Caesar as a political leader, we invite Advanced Placement and other secondary school students reading the writings of Caesar in Latin to participate in an essay competition based on The Ides of March. A distinguished panel of Latin scholars and teachers, Roman historians, and specialists in Wilder’s writings will judge the essays, and announce the winners by April 21, 2016—Rome’s birthday. Student authors of prize-winning essays and their Latin teachers will be awarded gift certificates from HarperCollins, publisher of Wilder’s The Ides of March (redeemable in books only).

Contest Prizes:
For the student participants:
1st Prize: 10 paperbacks (~$150)
2nd Prize: 7 paperbacks (~$105)
3rd Prize: 5 paperbacks (~$75)
Books to be selected from the Harper Perennial Modern Classics list.

For the teachers of the winning students:
5 paperbacks (~$75)
Books to be selected from the Harper Perennial Modern Classics list.
All participants will receive a special certificate from the Thornton Wilder Society and the Wilder family, and winning essays will be posted on the Society’s website.

We ask that students answer the following three questions in their essays and support their thesis with quotes from the novel. Footnotes and a bibliography should be included when appropriate.
1) Does Wilder’s highly dramatic and bestselling “novel in letters” about Caesar’s last days still speak to readers today, and, if so, in what ways does the novel address contemporary concerns?
2) Does it transport us to another time and introduce us to timeless questions of how we live and rule?
3) Finally, how does this novel relate to Caesar’s own writings about his distinctive military experiences?

Please submit essays—which should be typed, double-spaced and no more than 2000 words in length (including footnotes and bibliography)—as electronic attachments in PDF format by April 1, 2016, to Professor Judith P. Hallett, University of Maryland, College Park, at

The Ides of March Cover