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Walter Pater

Marius the Epicurean
Macmillan, 1885


Pater's novel was painstakingly composed over the course of six years in the 1880s to stand as both the most complete exposition of his philosophy and as a concrete example of his aesthetic ideals. The narrative follows the fictional character, Marius, from boyhood through to his education and young manhood as he searches for the governing principles of a suitable life philosophy in the turbulent political and social landscape of Aurelian Rome (2nd century A.D.). Under this general framework, Pater is able to display his own particular version of the religious and philosophical issues of the time. Marius examines and rejects the principles of stoicism, hedonism, Heraclitean cosmology, the pagan Roman beliefs, and the ethics of Marcus Aurelius--even the ideals of Epicurus are unsatisfactory. Eventually, he clings to the nascent form of Christianity as his salvation, and more or less becomes a martyr to save a Christian friend. The personal justifications for his choice, however, are partially obscured by Pater's broader concerns in dealing with the pivotal historical moment during which art, morality, and science were all subsumed by the Christian religion. -Borders

- Borders , 12/19/2005

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