Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean - His Sensations and Ideas, 2 vols. (Macmillan, 1st edn. 1885; 1921).

SEARCH: conscience, morality, aesthetic. Joycean: Is the death of Isabella supposed to shadow the death of Flavian and to raise the questions of the immortality of the soul? Certainly, the conjunction of soul and experience and conscience in A Portrait is peculiarly indebted to Pater. See also, The Renaissance, Epilogue [Conclusion], infra.

… the older and purer forms of paganism [3]

A sense of conscious powers external to ourselves, pleased or displeased by the right aor wrong conduct of every circumstance of daily life - that conscience, of which the old Roman religion was a formal, habitual recognition, was becoming in him a powerful current of feeling and observance … He brought to that system of symbolic [5] usages, and they in turn developed in him further, a great seriousness - an impressibility to the sacredness of time, of life and its events, and the circumstances of family fellowship; oif such gifts to men as fire, water, the earth, from labour on which they live, really understood by him as gifts - a sense of religious responsibility in the reception of them. [6]

The lad Marius … head of his family [8] … the religion of Numa, so staid, ideal and comely, the object of so much jealous conservatism [8]

pacem deorum exposcere … to secure the agreement of the gods [12]

But then, farm-life in Italy, including the culture of the olive and the vine, has grace of its own, and might well contribute to the production of an ideal character, like that of nature itself in this gifted region. Vulgarity seemed impossible. [15]

The severe and archaic religion of the villa, as he conceived it, begot in him a sort of devout circumspection lest he should fall short at any point of the demand upon him of any- [18] thing in which deity was concerned. [19]

A white bird, [his mother] told him once, looking at him gravely, a bird which he must carry in his bosom across a crowded public place - his soul was like that! [22]

the sort of mystic joy he had in the abtinence, the strenuous self-control and ascesis, which such preparation involved. [25] … first, early, boyish ideal of priesthood [25]

That almost morbid religious idealism … developed by … the circumstances of a journey [27]

Salus, salvation, for the Romans, had come to mean bodily sanity. the religion of the god of bodily health, Salvator, as they called him absolutely, had a chance just then of becoming one religion; that mild and philanthropic son of Apollo surviving, or absorbing, all other pagan godhead. … the body became truly, in that case, but a quiet handmaiden of the soul. [28]

[Influence of Flavian] Marius was acquiring what is the chief function of all higher education to impart, the art, namely, of so relieve the ideal or poetic trait, [53] the element of distinction, in our everyday life - of so exclusively living in them - that the unadorned remainder of it, the mere drift or débris of our days, comes to be as though it were not. [54]

The human body in its beauty, as the highest potency of all the beauty of material objects, seemed to him just then to be matter no longer, but, having taken celestial fire, to assert itself as indeed the true, though visible, [92] sould or spirit in things.

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, coming to Marius just then, figured for him as indeed The Golden Book: he felt a sort of personal gratitude to its writer, and say in it doubtless [93] far more than was really there … It occupied always a peculiar place in his remembrance, never quite losing its power in frequent return to it for the revival of the first glowing impression. [94] … it stimulated the literary motive … he saw himself a gallant and effective leader innovating or conserving as occasion might require [94]

the theory of Euphuism … ars est celare artem - is a saying, which, exaggerated by inexact quotation, has perhaps been oftenest and most confidently quoted by those who have had little literary or other art to conceal … [97]

From the natural defects, from the pettiness, of his euphuism, his assiduous cultivation of manner, he was saved by the consciousness that he had a matter to present, very real, [103] at least to him.

to know when one’s self is interested, is the first condition of interesting other people. [103]

‘A Pagan Death’

And, as usual, the plague brought with it the power to develop all pre-existent germs of superstition. [111]

Animula Vagula’; Animula, vagula, blandula; Hospes comesque corporis; Quae nunc abibis in loca?; Pallidula, rigida, nudula; - Emperor Hadrian to his Soul [123]

For most people, the actual spectacle of death brings into greater reality, at least for the imagination, whatever confidence they may entertain of the soul’s survival in another life. Marius … the earthly end of Flavian came like a final revelation of nothing less than the soul’s extinction. … Future extinction seemed just then [123] to be what the unforced witness of his own nature pointed to.

.. a novel curiosity as to what various schools of philosophy had had to say concerning that strange, fluttering being [the soul] … a genuine virility … kept him from … ennervating mysticism [and] a melodramatic revival of old religion or theosophy. [124]

.. what the sons of Plato had had to say regarding the essential indifference of the pure soul to its bodily house and merely occasional dwelling-place [125]

Heraclitus … Men are subject to an illusion … regarding matters apparent to sense. [128] What the uncorrected sense gives was a false impression of permanence or fixity in things, which have really changed their nature in the very moment in which we see and touch them. … it attributes to the phenomena of experience a durability which does not really belong to them. Imaging forth from those fluid impressions a world of firmly outlined objects, it leads one to regard as a thing stark and dead what is in reality full of animation, of vigour, of the fire of life - that eternal process of nature, of which at a later time Goethe spoke as the ‘Living Garment’, whereby God is seen of us, ever in weaving at the ‘Loom of Time.’ [128; Cf. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.]

Cf. ‘the Neu-zeit of the German enthusiasts at the beginning of our own century’ [48]

.. from confused to unconfused sensation … The one true being … it was his merit to have conceived, not as a sterile and stagnant inaction, but as a perpetual energy, from the restless stream of which, [129] at certain points, some elements detach themselves, and harden into non-entity and death … [130]

[universal idea of] perpetual change … the preliminary step towards a large positive system of almost religious philosophy … then as now … continual change … indicator of a sublter but all-pervading motion - the sleepless ever-sustained, inexhaustible energy of the divine [130] reason itself, preceding always by its own rhythmic logic, and lending to all mind and matter, in turn, what life they had. … “perpetual flux” ..

Heracliteanism had grown to be almost identical with the famous doctrine of the sophist Protagoras, that … the individual was the only standard of what is or is [131] not, and each one the measure of all things to himself. The impressive name of Heraclitus had become but an authority for a philosophy of the despair of knowledge. [132].

Aristippus of Cyrene … flammantia moenia mundi … [134] … translating the abstract thoughts of the master into terms, first of all, of sentiments. … The metaphysical principle, as it were, without hands or feet, becomes impressive, fascinating, of effect, when translated into a precept as to how it were best to feel and act; in other words, under its sentimental or ethical equivalent. [135]

What Marius say in him was the spectacle of one of the happiest temperaments coming, so to speak, to an understanding with the most depressing of theories; accepting the [136] results of a metaphysical system which seemed to concentrate into itself all the weakening traits of though in earlier Greek speculaation, and making the best of it; turning its hard, bare truths, with wonderful tact, into precepts of grace, and delicate wisdom, and a delicate sense of honour. [137]

.. consummate amenity in the reception of life. [137]

Mere peculiarities in the instruments of our cognition, like the little knots and waves on the surface of a mirror, may distort the matter they seem to represent. Of other people we cannot truly know even the feelings … each one of a personality truly unique ... How reassuring, after so long debate about the rival criteria of truth, to fall back upon direct sensation, to limit one’s [139] aspirations after knowledge to that!

Not pleasure, but a general completeness of life, was the practical ideal to which this anti-metaphysical metaphysic really pointed. And towards such a full or complete life, a life of various yet select sensation, the most direct and effective auxiliary must be, in a word, Insight. Liberty of soul, freedom from all partial and misrepresentative doctrine which does but relieve one element in our experience at the cost of another, freedom from all embarrassment alike of regret for the past or calculation on the future.. &c. [142]

Life is the end of life [143]

given that we never get beyond the walls of the closely shut cell of one’s own personality [146]

.. Let me be sure, then, … that I miss no detail of this life of realised consciousness in the present! [148]

this “aesthetic” philosophy … weighing the claims of that eager, concentrated, impassioned realisation of experience, against those of received morality. [149]

[to] the philosophy of pleasure … The charge of hedonism was not properly applicable [151]

He hardly knew how strong that old religious sense of responsibility, the conscience, as we call it, [155] still was within him - a body of inward impressions … to offend against which, brought a strange sense of disloyalty, as to a person.

amanuensis, near the person of the philosophic emperor [158]

What Marius then saw was in many respects, after all deduction of difference, more like the modern Rome than the enumeration of particular losses [173] might lead us to suppose; the Renaissance, in its most ambitious mood and with amplest resources, having resumed the ancient classical tradition there, with no break or obstruction, as it had happened, in any very considerable work of the middle age. [174]

… Rome was become the romantic home of the wildest superstition. [180] … if the comparison may be reverently made, there was something here of the method by which the catholic church has added the cultus of the saints to its worship of the one Divine Being. [182]

Triumph - Thriambos, the Dionysian hymn. [193]

‘The world within me and without, flows away like a river … therefore let me make the most of what is here and now.’ [Epicurean] ‘.. Therefore I will turn away from vanity: renounce: withdraw myself alike from all affections.’ [Aurelius, Stoic] [201]

[Marius judges Aurelius:] Yet, as he left the eminent company concerning whose ways he had been so youthfully curious, and sought, after his manner, to determine the main trait in all this, he had to confess that it was a sentiment of mediocrity, though of a mediocrity for once really golden. [229]

[Amphitheatres] That long chapter of the creulty of the Roman public show may, perhaps, leave the the children of the modern world a feeling of soelf-complacency. Yet … [242]

Trust the eye: Strive to be right always in regard to the concrete experience: Beware of falsifying your impressions. … [END VOL 1]

Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean, Bk II [Pts. 3 and 4], (Macmillan 1885; rep. 1921)


‘Stoicism at Court’: [commentary on Cornelius Fronto’s speech.] It was age, as abundant evidence shows, whose delight in rhetoric was but one result of a general susceptibility - an age mot merely taking pleasure in words, but experiencing a great moral power in them. … blowing loud kisses through the air sometimes, at the speaker’s triumphant exit from one of his long, skilfully modulated sentences. … But with all its richess, the higher claim of his style was rightly understood to lie in gravity and self-command, and an especial care for the [5] purities of a vocabulary which rejected every expression unsanctioned by the authority of approved ancient models.

…. the Stoic professor found the key to this problem in the purely aesthetic beauty of the old morality ... [6]

one great idea … the weightiest principle of moral action … the idea of Humanity - of a universal commonwealth of mind, which [9] becomes explicit, and as if incarnate, in a select communion of just men made perfect. … the world is as it were a commonwealth … the creation of a visible or invisible aristocracy … this supreme city, this invisible society whose conscience was become explicit in its inner circle of inspired souls, and whose common spirit, the trusted leaderd of human conscience had been but the mouthpiece, of whose successive personal preferences in the conduct of life, the ‘old morality’ had been the sum ..

[Marius goes beyond the speaker in searching himself for] its visible locality and abiding-place … It would be the fabric, the outward fabric, of a system reaching, certainly, far beyond the great city around him, even if conceived in all the machinery of its visible and invisible influences at their grandest … however well the visible Rome might pass for a figure of that new, unseen, Rome on high. [11]

Humanity … its aristocracy of elect spirits [11] … where were those elect souls in whom the claim of Humanity became so amiable, winning, persuasive - whose footsteps through the world were so beautiful in the actual order he saw … Where was that comely order, to which as a great fact of experience he must give its due; to which, as all other beautiful ‘phenomena’ in life, he must, for his own peace, adjust himself. [12]

‘Beata Urbs’ … The kingdom of Christ was to grow up in a somewhat false alienation from the light and beauty of the kingdom of nature, of the natural man, with a partly mistaken tradition concerning it, and an incapacity, as it might almost seem at times, for eventual reconciliation thereto. [29]

[Here Pater makes Marius anticipate Berkeley:] … ‘the creative incorruptible, informing mind’, supposed by Aristotle, so sober-minded, yet as regards this matter left something of a mystic after all. Might not this entire material world, the very scene around him, the immemorial rocks, the firm marble, the olive-gardens, the falling water, be themselves but reflections in, or a creation of, that one indefectible mind, wherein he too became conscious, for an hour, a day, for so many years? [69]

[Thus, at the end of Bk. 3, Marius has an apprehension of the Great Ideal running through all things, all things whose persistency in spite of our merely intermittent attention to them, is guaranteed by its existence and recurrence and participation in every individual thinking mind from age to age.]

Must not all that remained of life be but a search for the equivalent of that Ideal, among so-called actual things - a gathering together of every trace or token of it, which his actual experience might present? [72]

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