As he was writing The Ides of March, Thornton Wilder admitted to being “absorbed by Existential philosophy and its literary diffusion.” Specifically, Wilder studied the philosophy of Kierkegaard and Sartre, whose work—which promoted the autonomy of the individual over religion and society in a seemingly amoral and absurd world—spoke to many members of the post-War generation. Wilder found Caesar’s era apt to delve deeply into these Existentialists’ questions about love and religion, which act as the central preoccupations of Ides.
In the postscript to her internationally bestselling novel Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), Belgian writer Marguerite Yourcenar states that she chose Hadrian as her subject partially because he lived in an era in between Gods (the Roman Gods were no longer worshipped; Christianity had not yet taken hold). To Yourcenar, this godless period bore many parallels to the post-World War II era—and so while considering the philosophical and religious problems of the Hadrianic epoch, she would really be exploring those of her present.
How did the Roman world that Caesar and Hadrian inhabited (reimagined by Wilder and Yourcenar) serve to highlight Existential ideas popularized in Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, Heidegger’s Being and Time, and Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism? What parallels do we see in the post-World War II era (when Existentialism really began to thrive), and pre-Christian Rome? For references to antiquity in your course, it might be helpful to examine Edith Hamilton’s The Roman Way (which features writings from Cicero, Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Livy, Seneca, and Tacitus), and study Titus Lucretius Carus’s Epicurean poem On the Nature of Things—a poem which introduces a universe guided by chance as opposed to divine intervention.