The Ides of March

the ides of march

Et tu, Brute?

About 2000 years ago in Ancient Rome, on a lovely mid-March day when birdies were happily singing and the sun shone brightly high up in the sky, a bunch of conspirators mercilessly stabbed Julius Caesar in the back (quite literally). He was shocked to find his beloved friend amongst his murderers. “Even you, Brutus”, he whispered as life slowly left him. After he weakly uttered his last words on that spring day, all hell broke loose and a bloody civil war started.

But this is not the Ides of March event I want to talk about today.

We truly swear!

Picture another mid-March day, this time in 1848 in Budapest, Hungary. Another lovely day when birdies are happily singing and the sun shines brightly up in the sky. A young, thin little man – a poet – is running towards the popular Café Pilvax to meet with a few of his friends. This is no ordinary, friendly catch-up, though. Inspired by the unrest in other countries, they are preparing a revolution against Hungary’s rulers, the Hapsburgs!

Now, this scrawny little man (Sándor Petőfi his name is) stands up in the middle of that busy café and starts reciting his latest poem, National Song:

Rise, Magyar! is the country’s call:
The time has come, say one and all:
Shall we be slaves, shall we be free?
This is the question, now agree!
For by the Magyar’s God above
      We truly swear,
We truly swear the tyrant’s yoke
      No more to bear!

(translated by W. N. Loew)

An eventful day

After this, Petőfi and his friends are unstoppable: they go to the nearby law school and read the poem and a 12-point list of their demands to a crowd of excited law students. “What the Hungarian nation wants,” it echoes in front of the university, then they recite their demands: freedom of press, the abolition of censorship, independent Hungarian government, civil and religious equality, universal and equal taxation…

The crowd cheers and grows bigger and bigger as they move on, taking over a printer to get their demands on paper. Then they go to the National Museum reciting Petőfi’s poem and the 12 points. Next is the City Hall. They are ecstatic, cheering on, hoping that they will be able to get their points across to the “tyrants” of the country.

But shortly after the events of this exciting day, all hell breaks loose and a bloody war of independence starts.

The Hungarian spirit

Today the 15th of March – the Ides of March – is commemorated all around Hungary, and even amongst expat Hungarian communities in other countries. That day in 1848 is the symbol of the high-soaring Hungarian spirit: bravery, unity and the eagerness to change.  We honour these young, courageous people who dared to stand up to their oppressors and voiced their demands, trying to work towards a proud and free Hungary.

A bit of extra info

Hungarian cockade

On 15th March, we Hungarians wear a little piece of tricoloured cloth on our chest, above our heart: a cockade with our national colours, red, white and green. This little thing was and is the emblem of the revolution of 1848. The very first piece was made by Petőfi’s wife, Júlia Szendrey. Although history solely remembers her as the muse of the “Nation’s Poet”, she was great with words herself and was and excellent translator who brought the tales of Andersen to Hungarian readers for the first time.  

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