Critics have often described Marius' intellectual path towards Christianity in Walter Pater's 1885 novel Marius the Epicurean as a Hegelian progression, in which Stoicism and Epicureanism operate as thesis and antithesis, and Christianity is the synthesis. While this basic model is correct, the readings have tended to underestimate the significance of Marcus Aurelius' Stoicism as both the vehicle for the advancement towards Christianity and as the object of critique. Pater implicitly critiques such admirers of Marcus Aurelius as Matthew Arnold and J.S. Mill, and the broad phenomenon of Victorian Stoicism, by showing the emperor to be both ineffectual, and to a surprising degree, politically compromised. The second half of this essay discusses how the novel's critique of both Stoicism and Epicureanism and its progress toward early Christianity occur through a set of death, dying, and mourning scenes. Pater dramatizes in these scenes how both Stoics and Epicureans insufficiently conceptualize death and improperly treat dead bodies by burning them after death; his version of second-century Christianity promises the resurrection of the dead, and so requires burial of dead bodies. Burial itself is a gesture of hope in the novel, and the ritual that precedes it is a means for Marius himself to join (if incompletely) a Christian community at the end.
Walter Pater's 1885 historical novel of imperial Rome, Marius the Epicurean, follows the short life of a young man who undergoes a rare intellectual journey. As we follow Marius through his career from the Italian provinces to the city of Rome, we see him try on, like a set of cloaks, several competing intellectual systems. Most prominent among these are Epicureanism, a doctrine that privileges individual perception of the material world and its pleasures, and Roman Stoicism, a complex philosophical system that (among other things) warns of the dangers of unconstrained pleasure and emotion. Marius' shifts between these systems happen not through rapid, turbulent changes, but through subtle alterations in his feelings, and these alterations are narrated through a deployment of free indirect discourse that is as sophisticated as any in nineteenth-century fiction. Never fully embracing any single system, he experiences each until he acknowledges a subtle dissatisfaction at the back of his mind, a creeping sense--or, to borrow Pater's oft-used term, an "impression"--that one system or another is lacking. Finally, at the end of the novel, Marius comes into contact with yet another belief system--second-century Christianity--and it captures his imagination as nothing had done before. Marius spends time with a group of Christians, but characteristically, never explicitly converts to Christianity. He never has a chance to, anyway, for he dies abruptly of a fever at the end of the novel while living with another group of Christians in an obscure rural village.
The novel's path towards Christianity has been aptly described as a Hegelian progression, in which Stoicism and Epicureanism (a broad term in Pater's usage that overlaps with a set of related belief systems) are thesis and antithesis, and Christianity is the synthesis. Some of the most important critical work on this novel and on Pater in general has addressed his almost explicitly Hegelian sense of history. Two of these three terms--Marius's initial Epicurean beliefs and the form of Christianity that Pater introduces near the end of the novel--have captured a large share of critical attention. Perhaps the most accomplished recent critical reading of the novel has been Carolyn Williams' typological approach to the Hegelian progression, in which she finds a set of submerged historical and textual continuities between Epicureanism and Christianity, despite the novel's final shift to a Christian mode. For Williams, "in the end pre-Christian, Christian, and even post-Christian seem not so different" (Williams 1989, 172). As a result, Marius' Christian "conversion" experience is not accomplished "fully, internally, as an expression of his own will" because there is no substantially different system of beliefs to which he can convert (231). (1)
Williams takes effort to distance Pater somewhat from the Epicurean beliefs espoused in the novel, but they remain at the center of Marius' typological argument in her treatment. Like other critics, Williams' emphasis on Epicureanism helps to make sense of the very difficult, seemingly ironic "conversion" at the end, and serves to situate the novel in the context of Pater's life and career: as many have noted, Pater's mainly positive depiction of Epicureanism in the novel is partly a self-defense against the fusillade of criticism that the Renaissance had received after its publication in 1873 for its emphasis on aesthetic pleasure and experience. (2)
These Epicurean-centered approaches to the novel are valid in broad terms but also incomplete, because they don't adequately confront the third term in the Hegelian progression of the novel, Stoicism. They tend to treat Stoicism as a relatively minor detour in the path toward affirming Epicurean values. (3) While it is clear that there are many continuities between Marius' Epicureanism and Christianity, the divergences that appear are several, and they are visible only in light of Pater's critique of what he saw as Stoicism's deficiencies and, interestingly, his recognition of its moral value. This essay will provide a more complete understanding of Pater's critique of Marcus Aurelius' imperial, self-destructive Stoicism, how this critique functions within the novel's progressive argument, and the extent to which he works against this critique. Each of these is necessary to fully grasp not only the turn to Christianity in the novel, but also its place in Pater's shifting lifelong argument about aestheticism. In addition, such an understanding will allow us to apprehend the radical potential of Pater's critique of Victorian Stoicism, with its attendant vision of ascetic manhood and imperially restrained bodies. As a result, Pater's response to his critics is going to look more complex, less an absolute defense of an earlier position than an extension of it into new terms--very idiosyncratic and strategic Christian terms.
The second major claim I am making in this essay is that the vehicle for the novel's critique of both Stoicism and Epicureanism and its advancement toward early Christianity is a set of death and mourning scenes. Pater dramatizes in these scenes how both Stoics and Epicureans insufficiently conceptualize death and improperly treat dead bodies. The turn to Christianity at the end occurs through another set of death and mourning scenes, in which the community joins together in a newly sensual elegiac order, and celebrates a new hope for the dead body: that of resurrection. Death scenes in Marius are pivotal to the intellectual plot of the novel, and serve to underscore the widespread Victorian obsession with issues of materiality and spirit, with corruption and resurrection. The way Epicureans, Stoics, or Christians imagine a dead body--the way they respond to the broad fact of death and the specific death of a loved one--tests the resilience of each of these belief systems.
1. Stoicism and Imperial Public Performance
Pater centers his critique of Stoicism on Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.), a figure of great appeal to mid-to-late Victorian writers. For John Stuart Mill, this second-century Roman emperor represented an ideal of secular moral and manly virtue without the mystical and "irrational" trappings of Christian martyrdom and sainthood. (4) He was necessarily a man of the world but reluctantly so, a participant in politics but one not sullied by his surroundings. Complementing the emperor's sympathetic qualities was the admirable rigor of his ascetic philosophy, as evidenced in his book the Meditations (written in the 170s C.E.). (5) In On Liberty (1859), Mill calls him an "Absolute monarch of the whole civilized world" who "preserved through life not only the most unblemished justice, but what was less to be expected from his Stoical breeding, the tenderest heart" (Mill 18:236). Mill argues further that Marcus Aurelius' mix of "tenderness" with a Stoic moral order presents an alternative to Christianity, a position that Matthew Arnold challenged in his 1863 essay "Marcus Aurelius." In this landmark essay, Arnold begins by challenging Mill's use of the Meditations as an alternative to Christianity, but at the same time Arnold advances Mill's formulation of the emperor as an admirable reconciliation of opposites: self-abnegation mixed with worldly power; Stoic. masculine "hardness" mixed with a self-effacing, pleasing "softness." This formulation is so successful for Mill, Arnold, and several later readers of the Meditations and of the emperor's career because it reconciles a broader Victorian desire for a masculinity that is both "hard" and soft, or to put it in related terms, both "muscular" and Christian. (6)
In Marius, Pater turns against both the body-denying philosophy that Marcus Aurelius promoted and the contemporary sentimental appeal of the emperor's supposedly kindly nature by arguing that his philosophy is literally a dead end, and the characterization of the emperor false. For Pater's Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism's disavowals of the world and its calls for self-denial are (however earnestly he may profess them) tools for a performance of imperial power. The tenets of the emperor's Stoicism perpetuate not just the rigorous personal discipline admired by Mill and Arnold, but also the trappings of state power; they provide rulers with a self-justification and they promote a sense of passive acceptance in the ruled. The Stoic emperor's external expression of control in administering the empire matches the internal regime of mental control that Stoic philosophy advises and that Victorian masculinity adopts as a model. Pater thus washes away much of the sediment of sympathy that has gathered to the emperor. In recasting Marcus Aurelius, Pater does show him to be a man with a gift for introspection, one who is prepared to make moral compromises in order to advance his own hold on power. Ultimately, the emperor's hypocrisy and self-destructiveness are seen to derive not just from outside political pressures, but from contradictions within his philosophy--from Stoicism itself.
In the chapter pointedly titled "Manly Amusement," Pater argues that Marcus Aurelius's "admirable" Stoic persona is at least in part a political performance aimed at the Roman masses. Here, Marius joins the audience at a Roman amphitheatre and watches a brutal display. Lucius Verus, co-emperor and adoptive brother of Marcus Aurelius, has arranged for a "grand public show" to celebrate his confarreation (a religious marriage ceremony) to Lucilla, Marcus Aurelius' daughter (1:233). As a dramatic finish to the day's events, Lucius Verus means to reproduce for the Roman audience a formal celebration of the "great goddess of Ephesus" (1:236), Diana, which he witnessed during the Parthian campaigns of 161-165 C.E. In its usual form, the ceremony features the flaying alive of a criminal who "acts" out the role of Marsyas, Apollo's lute-playing victim from the myth. The torture is designed to make the victim's suffering seem "ridiculous" in order to "stifle any false sentiment of compassion" in the audience (1:239). But Marcus Aurelius, the host for the day's events, has decided to follow his expressed principles and rules out the direct killing of any humans. No one will be flayed alive for "humorous" effect.
The emperor seems to preserve his integrity, but at the same time he concedes to the audience's thirst for blood by allowing other sorts of killing displays. His first concession is to allow the mass killing of animals, a practice which had been part of the original ceremony in Ephesus: "And the spectacle was, certainly, to end in the destruction, by one mighty shower of arrows, of a hundred lions, 'nobly' provided by Aurelius himself for the amusement of his people--Tam magnanimus fuit!" (1:236). (7) That "nobly," and the narrator's gush of Latin proclaiming the emperor's generosity, are not to be taken as straightforward. The emperor's gesture seems callous, not only because, as the narrator suggests, he gives this gift in order to appease his public, but because we have repeatedly been educated about the proper treatment of animals through Marius' example. From the beginning of the novel, Marius has identified with animals, showing "sympathy for all creatures, for the almost human troubles and sicknesses of flocks, for instance" (1:22). Marius's disgust at such displays is echoed by the narrator's sarcastic representation of the emperor's motivations.
When we see the emperor edit the full course of tortures in the Ephesian games--when we see him resist the urgings of his public and his own sense of "fraternal complacency" about his brother's wishes--we see his Stoic principles in performance (1:237). (8)
The philosophic emperor, having no great taste for sport, and asserting here a personal scruple, had ... provided that nets should be spread under the dancers on the tight-rope, and buttons for the swords of the gladiators. But the gladiators were still there. Their bloody contests had, under the form of a popular amusement, the efficacy of a human sacrifice; as, indeed, the whole system of the public shows was understood to possess a religious import. (1:239-40; italics added)
Although the emperor deprives the audience of their full measure of entertainment by having the gladiators' swords blunted, he nevertheless leaves functionally intact this most popular element of the public games. He will permit these games to maintain more than a trace of their original brutality by allowing gladiatorial combat on religious grounds. This sort of limited violence will retain the political "efficacy," if not the full reality, of a "human sacrifice"; it is a satisfactory mixture of spiritual advancement and big-budget thrills, with the real blood sport provided by the animals. The terms of this "defense" of the emperor's position expose his thoroughly political purpose by linking his religious performances with his political advancement. The consequences of this arrangement are suggested by the coating of (animal) blood left seemingly everywhere, to Marius' horror.
But the emperor's manipulation of his public persona extends far beyond his role as pontifex maximus. The foundation of his power is the popular notion that he is gentle, generous, and has exceptionally strong "personal scruples"--the sort of man who surely would have abolished gladiatorial combat for good had this practice not served a useful public purpose in increasing general piety. Pater shows in the emperor's public behavior a main reason for the overwhelmingly positive Victorian presentations of him, and then reveals this behavior to be self-interested and largely false. In this act of literary time travel he makes Mill and Arnold's attempts to reclaim the emperor look, at the very least, misguided. (9)
2. Stoic Death-Scenes
The amphitheatre scene, with its intimations of callousness on the part of the Stoic emperor toward dead and dying animals, is in fact the first of a set of death scenes that carry the full weight of Pater's critique of Stoicism (and later, Epicureanism) in the novel. In this critique, Stoicism is a device used by the emperor to project a false public honor, but is also flawed and self-defeating in itself; it requires both an assertion of independent subjectivity and absolute control over that subjectivity, expressed through the denial of anything that might threaten its internal coherence. Pater argues in these scenes that Stoicism leads to a sloughing off of all particularity, most prominently the needs of the human body--food, sex, and whatever idiosyncrasies of taste make us stand out in the world. The very real costs of this approach are illustrated most dramatically in the dead or dying body itself, and in the telling reactions of its real or supposed mourners.
In one such scene, the crowded funeral of Lucius Verus, Pater broadens the scope of his critique of Stoicism as a process of political aggrandizement and personal destruction. In the center of the Campus Martius in Rome, a great funeral pyre is erected and then set aflame to honor the co-emperor. The state ceremony proceeds in stately fashion until a telling show of bad faith at the end:
It had been a really heroic order, spoiled a little, at the last moment, through the somewhat tawdry artifice, by which an eagle--not a very noble or youthful specimen of its kind--was caused to take flight amid the real or affected awe of the spectators, above the perishing remains; a court chamberlain, according to ancient etiquette, subsequently making official declaration before the Senate, that the imperial "genius" had been seen in this way, escaping from the fire. (2:32)
The "mourners" take part in the ceremony with half-hearted artifice and little genuine feeling, and this sensibility is reflected, for a brief moment, in one of the stage properties of the ceremony. Few if any of the spectators believe that this ignoble eagle, this rather disappointing specimen, has departed with Verus' soul; the bird is a scrawny, pigeon-like creature, reflecting the shrunken state of their own hearts. The Stoic emperor (re)produces an imperial funeral ceremony for public consumption, and it is a hollow thing, save for the unlamented corpse at its center.
In this funeral scene gone awry, we witness a breakdown of imperial symbology that suggests a breakdown in Stoicism's "constructive" role in the mourning process. The emphasis on self-abnegation, combined with its underlying, pervasive self-concern, results in an inability to confront the significance of another's death. Thus, in this community of "mourners," there is no free exchange of grief. The potential for emotional communion that Julie Ellison locates in eighteenth-century Stoic narratives of loss is absent here, replaced by a set of scheming, monadic individuals. (10)
A key marker for the disconnection and self-obsession of the "mourners" in this funeral scene is the condition of the dead body of Lucius Verus: it is utterly destroyed by fire. The relatively new Roman death practice of cremation is pervasive in the novel, signaling an end to any corporeal claim left to the dead body, and the irreversibility of death. (11) Burning the body allows the senatorial audience to ignore the life that was manifested in it: they see not the whole remains of a living being, but only fragments of dead matter.
Pater critiques Stoicism as an excessively dualistic ideology that refuses to associate our bodies with our subjective selves," which in effect burns and sacrifices the body for the sake of a false spiritual hegemony. Exhibit number one in this critique is the prematurely morbid body of the emperor. As Marius observes, this "despiser of the body" (2:53) inflicts his "de contemptu mundi" (1:198) on himself:
Marius noted in ... the hands, and in the spare body generally, what was new to his experience--something of asceticism, as we say, of a bodily gymnastic.... [T]he flesh had scarcely been an equal gainer with the spirit. It was hardly the expression of "the healthy mind in the healthy body," but rather of a sacrifice of the body to the soul ... sacrifice, in truth, far beyond the demands of their very saddest philosophy of life. (1:191)
The emperor has expanded his disavowal of the demands of the body beyond the original Greek Stoic context; more than his philosophical predecessors, he seeks out the presence of death in life, discerning "a death's-head everywhere" (1:201). (12) A model of consistency, if nothing else, he spies this morbid visage in the mirror and embraces it, speeding the path to his own death by treating his body with contempt. In effect, the emperor is a walking, breathing corpse. (13)
3. An Epicurean Solution?
A clear alternative to Stoicism in the novel is a set of related belief-systems advocating the primacy of immediate sensual experience, which Pater places under the general rubric of "Epicureanism." I will assess below how Pater offers Epicureanism as an alternative and then critiques it, like Stoicism, through a series of death and mourning scenes. Epicureanism ultimately falls short in these scenes through a set of negative comparisons with Stoicism, which in some respects retains a surprisingly positive flavor in the novel. First, though, in order to make clear the significance of Pater's use of broadly Epicurean ideas, it is necessary to explain their individual functions in the novel and their relation to Pater's earlier career.
Marius studies specifically "Cyrenaic" (14) principles in the "Anima Vagula" and "New Cyrenaicism" chapters, but Epicureanism appears in other guises well before these episodes. As a boy, Marius visits a temple of the Roman god Aesculapius, run by a healing cult that has advertised its ability to cure "maladies of the soul" through the "subtle gateways of the body" (1:27). For these worshippers, the path to a mental or spiritual cure for disease requires the kind of generous cultivation of the body that Stoicism proscribes. (15) Marius also encounters two other, very different modes of practice and belief before encountering Cyrenaicism: these are Euphuism (16) and Heracliteanism. (17)
Aesculapianism, Euphuism, Heracliteanism, and Cyrenaicism share a set of common principles that Pater sets against the Stoic ethos of second-century Rome. All of these systems favor the body and its senses, or at least they pay attention to it as something other than a threat to be controlled or ignored. They promote the specific over the general, the practical over the abstract, and the spontaneous over the deliberate. Cyrenaic and related Epicurean modes of thought in this novel thus challenge the self-styled "Stoic" sympathies of Victorian British writers. More generally, they address the widespread Victorian interest in maintaining bodily integrity and the masculine ethos of rigor and honor that shaped it. Because of the shared terms and interests among these schools of thought in the novel, for the sake of convenience I will refer to all of them under the blanket term "Epicureanism" unless I note otherwise. (18)
At the center of the broader Epicurean argument in Marius is the radical empiricist claim that the operations of an individual's senses are the grounds for truth. "How reassuring," the narrator notes,
... after so long a debate about the rival criteria of truth, to limit one's aspirations after knowledge to that! ... where there was more than eye or ear could well take in--how natural the determination to rely exclusively upon the phenomena of the senses, which certainly never deceive us about themselves, about which alone we can never deceive ourselves! (1:138-39; italics in original)
Epicureanism appears to support the skeptical position that we cannot really know the substance of anything save through the limited medium of our own perceptions. The capacity of the senses to be a "conveyance of art ... in some degree peculiar to each individual character" becomes the focus, rather than the possibly depressing conclusion that as individuals we lack other, better faculties of knowing (1:143).
As I have noted above, the pro-Epicureanism material in Marius is at least in part a defense against the attacks on the Renaissance, in particular on the "hedonism" some critics located in the "Winkelmann" essay and the Conclusion. (19) Pater makes this plain in an extended passage in which the narrator describes how Epicureanism improves upon hedonism: "Not pleasure," he writes, at a typically outspoken moment, "but a general completeness of life, was the practical ideal" of this system (1:142). (20) This seemingly metaphysical philosophy, with its emphasis on pathe or sensation as the basis for reality, is really grounded in everyday experience. Marius's "New Cyrenaicism" is practical because it directs our attention to the individual details of life as each of us lives it, thus conferring a casualness and "normality" to aesthetic experience. A notion of selectivity still remains--the "aesthete" still chooses objects of beauty to observe and describe--but the aesthete's focus now expands beyond the empyrean region of great Western Art to include the beauties of the everyday world. Pater's Stoics, with their emphasis on cosmology and the universal, are limited to enduring the details of life and formulating ways to abstract them into insignificance; Stoicism thus becomes, despite its materialist claims, the more "metaphysical" philosophy in this analysis. (21)
James Eli Adams has argued that Pater's claim for the practicality of Epicureanism in Marius is an attempt to code his aestheticism as a "masculine" ascetic doctrine, what Adams calls an "eminently virile self-discipline" (Adams 185). (22) According to this reading, Pater presents a shifting defense against earlier charges of effeminacy and moral weakness (ones that led him to delete the "Conclusion" from the second edition of the Renaissance) by redefining his aestheticism as an orderly, self-policing and, above all, useful philosophy of life--all of these terms now connoting gentlemanly rectitude as opposed to the submissiveness of responding to random "impressions." This new emphasis on asceticism in Pater's thought (a trend also observed by Herbert Sussman (23)) is very useful in explaining Pater's redefinition of his aestheticism as a response to charges of effeminacy. In redefining his aesthetic project away from the appreciation of "great" art, he does seem to be responding to charges of preciousness. Still, I argue that Pater's path in Marius is less centrally a flight from these charges or towards defining a neo-traditional, ascetic "manliness" than a set of engagements with the claims of bodies, alive and dead, male and female. The gender and sexual dynamics of Pater's turn to Christianity advances past any earlier claims for masculine privilege, toward a model of free exchange of pathe among men and women.
For now, though, it is best to consider the rigor of Pater's new aesthetic model as a means of confronting the moral claims of Stoicism, surely Stoicism's most compelling contribution to the dialectical process in the novel. Throughout his critique of Stoicism in Marius, Pater maintains that its tragic weakness is its failure to measure up to its own stated ideals of moral rectitude and quietism. Stoicism is morally lacking in part because of its malleability as a political device for supporting centralized state power, evidenced in Marcus Aurelius' many public performances of his unassailable "purity." Stoicism supports submission to rule, disregard for the body, and a dangerously abstract relation to present human concerns.
The novelist Mrs. Humphry Ward [Mary Augusta Ward], Pater's friend and one of his more astute contemporary critics, complained in an early review of Marius that Pater "speaks of morals as if it were in terms of aesthetics." (24) The opposite is at least equally true. Early in the novel, Pater suggests an alternative to Stoicism's claim to moral seriousness by emphasizing that aesthetic experience has a moral function, for the "recognition of the beauty, even for the aesthetic sense, of mere bodily health ... operate[s] afterwards as an influence morally salutary" (1:41). During his visit to the Temple of Aesculapius, Marius draws this connection between health and goodness, or, more specifically, between the well-being evidenced on the surface and that experienced (phenomenologically) in the whole. This relation works not only between discrete individuals, but also between an individual and his or her own body. To look good and to feel good are, in a special sense, to be good. There is, he notes, "moral or spiritual profit in physical health, beyond the obvious bodily advantages one ha[s] of it" (1:28).
Pater's Epicurean aestheticism is radically individualistic. It affirms the vicissitudes of character and experience as the shifting basis for its reality principle. As he notes in a magisterial passage, personal liberty implies political liberty:
As other men are concentrated upon truths of number, for instance, or on business, or it may be on the pleasures of the appetite, so he [Marius] is wholly bent on living in that full stream of refined sensation. And in the prosecution of this love of beauty, he claims an entire personal liberty, liberty of heart and mind, liberty, above all, from what may seem conventional answers to first questions. (2:26)
Pater derives liberal political values from the respect due to differences in human "appetite." Morality in this case depends not on Kantian categorical imperatives or other absolutes that impinge on the individual from within or without, but upon the individual's absolutely independent judgment, based on the day-to-day experience of "refined sensation." Out of discrete acts of perception, a field of judgments emerges which will be diverse enough to reject "conventional answers" on issues including sexual object choice. At least implicitly, Pater thus appropriates a humanistic discourse to advance what Linda Dowling has called the "liberty" of the "homoerotic heart." (25)
We have seen how in Marius Pater defends Epicureanism by trumpeting its practicality, its engagement with everyday life, its independence, and its moral comprehensiveness, but he also subjects Epicureanism to a parallel critique on precisely these terms by comparing it negatively to Stoicism. Despite his fierce critique of Roman Stoicism in the novel, despite his argument that its claim for a "masculine" control over the body and mind is illusory and self-destructive, Pater nevertheless recognizes its rhetorical appeal and motivational force. Out of the confrontation between Stoicism and Epicureanism derives the Christianity that completes the dialectical progression of the novel. Most readings of this progression depict the turn to Christianity as some sort of engagement with Pater's stated Epicureanism--either as a turn away from it, a reinforcement of it, or something in between. What these readings miss is the equally important role of Stoicism in the turn to Christianity. Throughout this process, the vehicle that expresses the differences among these systems is the way each addresses the claims of dead and dying bodies.
4. Epicurean Death-Scenes
Epicureanism, Stoicism, and eventually, Christianity all make claims about the nature and value of the (gendered) physical body and the material world, and the value of sympathetic connection with others. The death and mourning scenes in Marius provide an environment for these principles to be tested fully. The three main areas of inquiry are the disposition of the mourner(s) toward the dead or dying man, the disposition of the dying man, and (once he has died) the treatment of the dead body. The different results in each case drive the intellectual plot and argument of the novel.
In the funeral of Lucius Verus, which I have described above, the co emperor's body is burnt to ashes. This is, for Pater, a prototypically Stoic scenario, for the material husk that should be spurned in life as a distraction is immediately eliminated as a candidate for imaginative sympathy, as at least a former vessel of life. Despite the dumb show of empty ceremony, Verus's body is soon forgotten, consigned to the flames because it fails to register for the senatorial audience as a genuine marker of a life foregone.
Turning now to the Epicurean death-scenes in the novel, we find, as one would expect, serious concern expressed about dead and dying bodies. From the beginning of the novel, though, Epicureanism betrays subtle limitations in its expression of sympathy, and this encroaching problem has to do with its built-in limitations in imagining the potential of the body itself. The best example of this phenomenon is in the death of Flavian, Marius' closest friend in the early chapters of the novel. In life, Flavian had seemed to embody the Epicurean ideal of material beauty as both subject and object: he had composed songs in appreciation of nature, and he had also embodied nature's beauty as a barely-veiled object of desire. As both subject and object he "had long been occupied with a kind of mystic hymn to the vernal principle of life in things" (1:104). However, as Flavian slowly dies of the plague, Marius, helpless with grief, finds him pathetically drained of vitality: "No longer battling with the disease, he seemed as it were to place himself at the strong disposal of the victorious foe, dying passively, like some dumb creature, in hopeless acquiescence at last" (1:117-18). In his last moments he appears frightened and confused, with an expression like that of "a smitten child or animal" (1:119). The death of Flavian's body is, from Marius' Epicurean perspective, a terrible loss of impermanent beauty. As several critics have noted, Marius shows his great devotion to Flavian by grabbing the plague-ridden youth's hand, in an act of "absolutely self-forgetful devotion" (1:118), but this act of extraordinary sympathy is also marked out for us as tragic in its finality. Soon after Flavian dies, Marius asks, "'Is it a comfort ... that I shall often come and weep over you?'--'Not unless I be aware, and hear you weeping!'" (1:119). A fully "sympathetic" connection with the dead requires not only a living observer but also a revived body, and such is nowhere to be found.
Because Epicureanism constrains itself to the body and its senses as the sources of human knowledge, it provides little consolation when the body is threatened with death. This materialist philosophy by its very nature is ill-equipped to bridge the metaphysical divide. Pater has prepared us for this conclusion from near the beginning of the novel, when Marius returns home, "brown with health" (1:41), from the Temple of Aesculapius, to find that his mother is dying. Once an Epicurean gets such a taste of death, the body changes from being a source of insight and a vector of desire to a reminder of our "future extinction" (1:123). Faced with this extreme circumstance, the Epicurean suddenly begins to look like his ostensible opposite, the Stoic. (26) Flavian echoes the despair Marcus Aurelius felt at the loss of his son, and like the centerpiece of an imperial Stoic funeral, Flavian's dead body is burned to ashes.
The radical subjectivity of the Epicurean position, its emphasis on "the closely shut cell of one's own personality " (1:146), results in an alienated exclusion from other minds. Of course, unlike Pater's version of a Stoic, who eagerly enforces his disconnection from suffering bodies, Marius is troubled by his distance from Flavian. As in a conventional elegy, Marius tries to remember as best he can all the virtues of his friend, but in this case his efforts seem incomplete. As an elegiac medium, Epicureanism lacks the capacity to turn commemoration into transformation, into an aufhebung in which the narrator experiences a transcendent sense of connection through an expression of loss.
The failure of Epicureanism as a medium of sympathy at the end of life lessens its effectiveness as a discourse of love, as a liberal discourse, and as an all-purpose corrective to Stoicism. (27) But Epicureanism was supposed to be an improvement on Stoicism; how can it be so incomplete? The central problem here is that, despite other claims to the contrary, Epicureanism fails to provide a basis for a cohesive moral system, and this lack again becomes evident in the context of Stoicism.
In its very structure, Epicureanism excludes community and consensus, which Pater acknowledges to be requirements for moral choice. Though Stoic morality is demonstrably self-destructive, body hating, hypocritical, and restrictive on the individual--it is simply dreadful--it is also, inescapably, cohesive and stable. Pater pays respect to the purity of what Linda Dowling has called the "ontic logos," as much as he does Epicureanism's charming but failed attempt to turn phenomenological experience into an ontic principle. By acknowledging the fault lines between his claims for Epicureanism's epistemological coherence and moral efficacy, Pater admits to a limited degree his opponents' charges that pure aestheticism is at best highly subjective and at worst morally obtuse.
In the shift to Christianity at the end of the novel, we can see that the fulfillment of Pater's corrective to Stoicism comes through a transformation of Epicureanism into a belief-system that is emphatically different while still retaining certain fundamental Epicurean attributes. In his version of early Christianity, Pater fosters a radical revisioning of the body as an object of perception, of desire, and as a gendered subject: in this account, Christianity transforms the meaning of death itself and the mourning practices that accompany it.
5. Pater's Christianity and the Burial of the Dead
Pater introduces Christianity into Marius not to espouse a conventional faith but to propose a solution to an intellectual and historical problem: Epicureanism, the belief-system that he uses to rebut Stoicism and its Victorian popularizers, has its own distinct limitations. In his reading, second-century Christianity overcomes Epicureanism's ethical and epistemological drawbacks while embracing the Epicurean love of the body and its privileging of sensual experience. It also sloughs off the Stoic obsession with self-control, bodily discipline, and purgation more thoroughly than Epicureanism could, for it challenges Stoicism's main location in Victorian culture on its home turf, which is the terrain of Christianity. Pater's version of second-century Christianity is a turn, then, against the ascetic, "Muscular Christianity" espoused by Charles Kingsley and others--but also more generally against a centuries-long ascetic impulse within Christianity.
Pater traces the origins of later Christianity's ascetic excesses to the period of widespread oppression of Christians that followed Marcus Aurelius' rule. Then, with the conversion of Constantine in 312 C.E. and the gradual incorporation of Christianity into the Roman state, "the puritanism, the ascetic gloom" of post-Antonine Christianity was exacerbated (2:118). In the brief golden age under the Antonines that preceded this era, "For a little while, at least, there was no forced opposition between the soul and the body, the world and the spirit ..." (2:118). Although Pater does not explicitly refer to Paul here, he seems to be indicating that later Christianity embraced incipient Pauline dualism, thus asserting wherever possible a distinction between the soul and the body. (28)
The chief innovation of pre-Constantine Christianity was, for Pater, its open celebration of materiality, which allowed for the celebration of difference among bodies as well as an ethical system that could organize them. In the novel, Pater's Christians envision human life as a renewable resource, capable of interpenetration, combination, and exchange among individuals and between genders. Epicureanism is limited by the mortality and isolation of the bodies that it had apotheosized (exclusively male ones, in this account); when faced with the death of a loved one, the Epicurean doctrine provides nearly as little consolation as a Stoic's does. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Pater dramatizes the shift from Epicureanism and Stoicism to Christianity by staging and re-staging scenes of death and mourning where the mourner, the dying body, and the corpse are each assigned new values.
In posing second-century Christianity as a solution to the problems inherent in Epicureanism and Stoicism, Pater is not arguing that it is a fixed and eternal answer. His argument is not grounded in traditional piety. As he indicates in a letter to Mrs. Humphry Ward in response to her review of Marius, in life Pater remained a serious (but engaged) doubter of the "supposed facts on which Christianity rests." (29) But his use of Christianity as part of an ideological history or anti-history in the novel does not necessarily make it opportunistic or confused, or merely the reflection of an historical inevitability, as has been charged by some critics. (30) The flowering of early Christianity holds a firm symbolic value for Pater as a representation of the potential for human advancement, when morality can be reconciled with desire to the detriment of neither.
In order to fully understand what is at stake in Pater's treatment of Christianity in the novel, we must consider the specifics of how Marius arrives at the threshold of conversion. Several critics have concluded that the novel's ending--in which Marius is arrested as a Christian but dies of the plague before he can face this charge in a Roman court and become a martyr--is ironic for its apparently anticlimactic quality. In this reading, the fact that Marius never makes a clear declaration of faith at any point suggests the halting, ambiguous nature of Pater's use of Christianity in the novel. I agree that Pater does not write as an active, committed Christian in any conventional sense, and indeed, Marius does not embrace Christian orthodoxy at the end, but I want to suggest that we can only understand what is at stake in Pater's endorsement of second-century Christianity by paying close attention to how Marius reaches the threshold of conversion--by means of a set of death and mourning scenes near the end. These scenes in themselves constitute a kind of polemic against Stoic, and to a lesser extent, Epicurean modes of elegiac witness.
Marius' turn to Christianity comes stepwise, as he witnesses Christian lives and deaths with increasing intensity and understanding, through new faculties of perception. In the first step, Marius begins to gain an understanding of Christianity through visual and aural experience, the key modes of Epicurean understanding. Cecilia, a Roman patrician, welcomes him on repeated visits to her house, home to a hidden Christian community. While touting the grounds, Marius observes the graves of recent martyrs interred there, and takes note of the fact that instead of being burned, their bodies have been buried. Since the death of Flavian, Marius has been disturbed by the memory of his friend's cremation. In response, he has developed an inchoate sense that burial is a preferable, more comforting practice, and now he finds this feeling validated by example:
Clearly, these people, concurring ... with the special sympathies of Marius himself, had adopted the practice of burial from some peculiar feeling of hope they entertained concerning the body; a feeling which, in no irreverent curiosity, he would fain have penetrated. The complete and irreparable disappearance of the dead in the funeral fire, so crushing to the spirits, as he for one had found it, had long since induced in him a preference for that other mode of settlement to the last sleep, as having something about it more homelike and hopeful, at least in outward seeming. (2:100)
His curiosity now provoked by this vision of these Christian gravesites, Marius begins to consider "by some gleam of foresight" why there is "a certain strange, new hope" represented in them (2:102). Burial, it seems, suggests resurrection. The dead body is now respected as a once-living principle that may live again, and its potential for triumph is all the more dramatic because in this case the dead body is that of a tortured martyr. Carolyn Walker Bynum has written on the centrality of the martyr-figure for resurrection theology from the second century:
Changes in resurrection metaphors to stress rot and rupture, followed by regurgitation and impassibility, suggest that the body that rises is quintessential a martyr's body.... Resurrection is victory over partition and putrefaction; it is both the anesthesia of glory and the reunion of particles of self. Resurrection guarantees not only the justice denied to the living; it guarantees the rest and reassemblage--the burial--denied to the dead. (Bynum 58)
In describing the promise of a reformation of the martyr's body into victorious wholeness, Pater draws upon a prevalent strain of Christian theology--its vision of the new life to come, which was partly inspired by the accounts of Christ's resurrection and reappearance before his disciples in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Dimly, as if by instinct, Marius begins to perceive a relation between burial, the promised resurrection of the martyrs' bodies, and the glorious resurrection of Christ, as he detects "an image of some still more pathetic suffering, in the remote background" (2:102-3). In this case, the burial of the martyr promises resurrection, even as in Bynum's example above, the language used to describe resurrection depends upon a notion of a long-promised burial.
In emphasizing resurrection through burial, Pater draws upon a subordinate tradition within Christianity that emphasizes the fully human and physical nature of the revived body. While Paul's vastly more popular, quasi-dualist position holds that the newly resurrected body is a purely spiritual (pneumatikos) entity rather than a lesser, quasi-physical (psychikos) one, (31) other biblical accounts such as Luke's can support a contrary position. Luke's risen Christ is fully physical: he tells his apostles, "See my hands and my feet that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39).
Just as the buried Christ is transformed into living "flesh and bones," so too dead matter is redeemed through the transformation of Christ's body and blood in the ceremony of the Eucharist. The Eucharist, like Christian burial, signals a general redemption "at last," "of old dead and dark matter itself ... of all that we can touch or see ... in strong contrast to the wise emperor's renunciant and impassive attitude towards them" (2:137). Through these analogous relations, all life is redeemed as a signifier of eternal life, and thus as a principle of hope. Perception, too, is redeemed as a vehicle not only of general understanding but also of self-transformation. Looking at these dead bodies, and hearing the hymns associated with the ceremony of the Eucharist has led to a new sensitivity to the immanence of all matter.
Through this and other Christian ceremonies in the novel, we can observe a key element in Pater's use of Christianity: through Christianity, Marius endorses sensual experience as part of a communal exchange. By joining together in simple prayer, as in the ceremony of the mass, or in a prayer service for a dead child, Pater's Christians consecrate bodies as objects that require joint appreciation and ministration. The attention they pay to the living bodies of other members of the group, to the body of Christ, to the Eucharist, and to the buried dead constitute a form of shared sensual experience, even a mutual desire. There is no separation in this Christian desire but a set of intersecting lines connecting across a larger communal whole.
But they share more than desire, for Pater's Christians also distribute among themselves a sense of common pain at the recent persecution of their brethren in Lyons. By spreading the pain among themselves and singing the Easter mass, they "relieve ... the tension of their hearts" and restore to their faces their "habitual gleam of joy, of placid satisfaction" (2:190). They seem to find solace not in the suffering or self-control displayed in the stories of these martyred bodies, but in a set of mysterious transformations that occur through shared experience: suffering is turned to joy even as food turns to flesh and the buried dead to the resurrected living. This Christian suffering (or "passion") is in a sense equivalent to joy because it will necessarily lead to it, just as a dead child recently buried in Cecilia's home may soon be brought back to life (2:189).
This model of shared experience and sensation, which turns suffering to joy, is a key element not only of Pater's critique of Victorian Stoicism but of his revision of Epicurean modes of thinking. Epicurean epistemology and ethics are based on the experiences of lonely monads, each of whom determine a private world. Pater's Christians, on the other hand, are inspired by stories of Christ's resurrection to form a communal order that does not overwhelm the individual's perceptions but instead enriches and reinforces them. That each individual is marked by an equivalent moral potential under Christ challenges the stratified Stoic social and ethical order, which was based on a human hierarchy that reflected a parallel cosmic hierarchy.
Thus, the ultimate test and justification for Pater's shift to Christianity in Marius concerns how this mode of belief shapes elegiac scenes. The way an Epicurean, a Stoic, or a Christian responds to the broad fact of death and the specific death of a loved one tests the essence of each of these belief systems: each promises a comprehensive approach to life, and each provides a model of the proper functioning of the human senses and emotions. In other words, through a practical encounter with death and loss, each system promotes what Foucault called a quintessentially late antique, quintessentially modern "care of the self," or what Martha Nussbaum has called a "therapeutic argument." (32) The Epicurean's "therapeutic" care of the self as an aestheticized, perceiving subject ends when it can no longer perceive, when it is no longer beautiful--when it is dead. With Stoicism, the care of the self in elegiac situations is manifested in control over the senses and the emotions. The Stoic's self-therapeutic technique of finding recourse in abstractions is exposed as flawed or futile in a series of death scenes, including those of Lucius Verus, of Marcus Aurelius' son, and of the animals in the amphitheatre.
The function of Pater's ancient Christians within the elegiac drama is significantly different, due to two linked phenomena that I have discussed: the doctrine of bodily resurrection and the communal experience of the underground Christian society. These combine to form a pervasive ethic of exchange, in which death is exchanged for life, and the suffering of the community is exchanged for joy through shared experience. For Pater, the Christian ethic of exchange stands in strong contrast to the Stoic's empty sacrifice. The sacrifice of the Christian martyr's body has both political value (in resisting the emperor's persecution) and the promise of a future exchange, where a resurrected whole body replaces the martyr's abused corpse. (33)
Pater's scenes of Christian elegy are distinctive in another important respect: they are no longer exclusively masculine. Pater's initial alternative to Stoicism, Epicureanism, rejects the ascetic impulse, but it also employs men only as its aesthetic perceivers and objects. In Pater's Christianity, women and men participate jointly in the circulation of desire, prayer, and hope, especially in elegiac scenes. But while some women may participate as individuals in Christian elegy, "woman" as a category plays a dominant and more problematic role in the representation of the community, and of mourning itself.
The prominent role of women in the early Church is exemplified in their role as leaders of new Christian households. Marius finds solace in Cecilia's home because as a domestic space it has a maternal quality, and Cecilia herself is associated with it. The connection between maternity, Christianity, and the home appears early in the novel, when the narrator tells us that Marius "relished ... returning to the "chapel" of his mother" (1:2 1). (34) This use of a tellingly Christian term in a pagan scene is what Carolyn Williams has termed a typological prediction of future developments. In addition to these associations between women as mothers, the domestic space of the house, and a woman-led house of God, there is also an association between women as brides and the Christian community as the bride of Christ. On his first visit to Cecilia's house, Marius notices that this female space "was like a bride adorned for her husband" (2:97).
At the same time, the linkage between the category of woman (as mother and bride) and Christianity conforms to a longstanding restrictive tradition of associating the feminine with sentiment. Yet Marius actively yearns not only to experience the touch of feminine love--he "came to think of women's tears, of women's hands to lay one to rest ... as a sort of natural want" (1:21)--but to manifest it. Even at the novel's beginning we can see his developing desire for "feminine" attainments. By staying inside the home with his mother and learning to play music, Marius gains a "feminine refinement" (1:21). Marius as a whole may be described as an attempt to reclaim "female" sentiment, "the central type of all love," for men as an alternative to Stoic-inflected Christian masculinity. And though sentiment retains its connection to the feminine through this attempt at transposing terms, it is nevertheless clearly a dominant, active principle, capable of changing souls through the agency of figures such as Cecilia. (35)
We now turn to Marius' final step in his approach toward Christianity, and it occurs through a conclusive elegiac scene, the drama of Marius' own death. How has he reached this point? Marius, along with his friend Cornelius, has been arrested by Roman soldiers and charged with being a Christian. He manages to bribe the guards to release Cornelius, but before he can be brought to Rome to face these charges alone, Marius falls ill with the plague. He is left to die in the care of a group of rural Christians, who take him inside and take care of him. For eight long, wonderfully complex paragraphs, the narrator delivers Marius' last thoughts--his sense of incomplete fulfillment, his uncertainties, and his hopes. He remains, in his own mind, an explorer, a student of various doctrines who has engaged on an "elaborate and lifelong education of his receptive powers" (2:219), one who has "ever kept in view the purpose of preparing himself towards possible further revelation some day--towards some ampler vision, which should take up into itself and explain this world's delightful shows" (2:219-20). His journey toward Christianity remains incomplete, as this "ampler vision" only appears partially at best, as "almost an ardent desire to enter upon a future, the possibilities of which seemed so large" (2:221; italics added). As Carolyn Williams has noted, history will proceed towards Christianity, but Marius seems to stay behind, receptive to the last but untransformed.
But this incomplete conversion in Marius' mind is countered by the treatment of his body, by an elegiac procedure in which he becomes the dead body that promises to be resurrected. The humble Christians gather around him and make his dying body the chief object of sensual attention, caressing it with their hands. They show "a care for his very body--that dear sister and companion of his soul, outworn, suffering, and in the very article of death" (2:222):
The people around his bed were praying fervently--Abi! Abi! Anima Christiana! In the moments of his extreme helplessness their mystic bread had been placed, had descended like a snow-flake from the sky, between his lips. Gentle fingers had applied to hands and feet, to all those passage-ways of the senses, through which the world had come and gone for him, now so dim and obstructed, a medicinable oil. (2:224)
As they rub sacramental oil into his body, the Christians reward Marius' acute physical receptiveness to the world around him, reminding him of what had been so precious to him as it dilates and then passes away. The question remains: by performing this ceremony and by feeding him the bread of the Eucharist--the ultimate symbol of transformation and resurrection--do they in effect convert him in death? For, after all, even as they mark his passing, chanting "Abii Abi!" (He dies! He dies!), they proclaim his Christian soul ("Anima Christiana!").
I don't think so. A Christian funeral does not a Christian make. Yet, throughout the novel, Marius has been searching for an ethic of exchange in which he could participate, wherein a community of individuals could compensate for each other's pain by investing new pleasures in each other. As he says late in the novel, "There have been occasions, certainly, when I have felt that if others cared for me as I cared for them, it would be, not so much a consolation, as an equivalent, for what one has lost or suffered" (2:183). In the ideological economy of this novel, this equivalence could occur only through apparent destruction: it requires a death, where the Christian community takes upon itself the suffering of the dying body and distributes equally a mutual love and the promise of renewal. Marius's death, then, provides, if not a conversion, nevertheless a profoundly quiet, indirect, but devastating final chapter to Pater's argument against Stoicism. (36) The ethic of sacrifice that is endemic to Victorian Stoicism ends with a serenely triumphant whimper.
Kansas State University
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(1) An early example of this kind of reading appears in William Sharp's unsigned review in The Atheneum, 28 February, 1885: "There is no real transition ... from refined and in some points greatly modified Epicureanism to Christianity" (Seller 115). Ernest Dowson discusses Pater's burial scenes in a letter to Arthur Moore dated 3 January 1889: "It seems to me the most fitting exit for the epicurean ... & one would procure it ... simply as an exquisite sensation, & for the sensation's sake" (Seiler 154).
(2) To some critics, Pater's treatment of Epicureanism also amounts to a more personal defense of his homosexuality: Richard Dellamora, Linda Dowling, and Vincent Lankewish have argued convincingly that Marius and Pater's other aesthetic-themed writings include coded references to homosexuality (see Dowling 1994; Dellamora 1990 and 1991; Lankewish, pp. 260-65). William Shuter, on the other hand, has urged caution in "decoding" Pater's homoeroticism. My view is that while Epicureanism in Marius may connote male-male desire, the novel's version of second-century Christianity allows desire to appear within a broader context of communal experience, wherein gender boundaries are equally traversed.
(3) For a notable exception, see Bassett.
(4) For other positive views of Marcus Aurelius, see William Wolf Capes, The Roman Empire in the Second Century: The Age of the Antonines (1876) and Stoicism (1880), F.W. Farrar, Seekers After God (1869), and Paul Barton Watson's biography, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1884).
(5) Pater calls this book "conversations with himself," but I use the more common term, the Meditations.
(6) See Rosen, pp. 17-21. On Victorian male askesis, see Adams (especially pp. 1-19) and Vance (especially pp. 214-21).
(7) Pater draws this detail from Capitolinus' short biography of the emperor in the notoriously unreliable Scriptores Historiae Augustae. Capitolinus writes, "In the matter of public games ... he was so liberal as to present a hundred lions together in one performance and have them all killed with arrows" (Scriptores 177). Where Capitolinus shows sincere praise, Pater tells the same story with withering sarcasm.
(8) Donald Kyle notes that tracts against human and animal killings in the arena were often presented by Stoic-influenced writers, including Cicero and Seneca (Kyle 3-5). Cicero famously criticized Pompey's games of 55 B.C.E.: "But what pleasure can it possibly be to a man of culture, when either a puny human being is mangled by a most powerful beast, or a splendid beast is transfixed with a hunting spear? ... Indeed the result was a certain compassion (misercordia) and a kind of feeling that that huge beast has a fellowship with the human race" (qtd. in Kyle 3).
(9) In a later scene, when the emperor's Stoic mentor, Cornelius Fronto, "expound[s] some parts of the Stoic doctrine" (2:4) to the Roman Senate on behalf of the emperor, we observe Stoicism's suspicious political success: "For Stoicism was no longer a rude and unkempt thing. Received at court, it had largely decorated itself: it was grown persuasive and insinuating, and sought not only to convince men's intelligence but to allure their souls" (2:4). No longer a doctrine promulgated by slaves and outcasts such as Epictetus, Stoicism is transparently a rhetoric attached to an imperial personality, and contains an imperial function.
(10) See chapters two and three in Ellison.
(11) Urn cremation became common in the first century B.C.E., according to Cicero and others. By 150 C.E., it was dominant in the Latin-speaking part of the Roman Empire (Hornblower and Spawforth, 432).
(12) As Jonathan Dollimore has noted, "Marcus Aurelius builds a whole philosophy of life upon the perception and the acceptance of, even the yearning for, oblivion" (Dollimore, pp. 32-33). Judith Perkins, too, has noted that "death held a smothering omnipresence" for Marcus Aurelius (Perkins 195).
(13) Interestingly, for Marius the experience of reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations is funereal:
[I]t was in truth a somewhat melancholy service, a service on which one must needs move about, solemn, serious, depressed, with the hushed footsteps of those who move about the house where a dead body is lying. Such was the impression which occurred to Marius again and again as he read, with a growing sense of some profound dissidence from his author. By certain quite traceable links of association he was reminded, in spite of the moral beauty of the philosophic emperor's ideas, how he had sat, essentially unconcerned, at the public shows. (2:51)
The process of reading the Meditations is no longer the inspirational, quasi-Christian, life-affirming act that some other Victorian readers describe. Rather, despite the merits of his work, reading it is like standing around at an over-long funeral service. The words have all the enervated momentum of a mid-afternoon eulogy, and Marius is left not just depressed but also rather bored. For a very different, more sympathetic reading of the Meditations by a Pater character, see Pater's unfinished 1888-1891 novel, Gaston de Latour, p. 87.
(14) Cyrenaicism was a school of philosophy founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, a former associate of Socrates, in the late fourth to early third century B.C.E. It bears notable similarities to Roman Epicureanism, but the Cyrenaics, as Martha Nussbaum has noted, "differed from Epicurus in their focus on immediate bodily sensations" (Nussbaum 512). They appear to have been closer to a "pure" hedonism than the Epicurean school ever was, and therefore closer to the "pure" hedonism charged by critics of the Renaissance. As Pater uses the term, though, Cyrenaicism's interest in bodily sensations produces a positive "stimulus towards every kind of activity, and prompted a perpetual, inextinguishable thirst after experience" (1:136). This turn toward activity and experience, for Pater, is a turn away from charges of Hedonism. In Marius, Pater often substitutes Cyrenaicism for Epicureanism, or places them beside each other as cognates. On Cyrenaicism and its genealogy, see Rankin and Tsouna-McKirahan.
(15) The ultimate goal was the "relieving of pain" (1:28), and this could be achieved by means of dreams. While sleeping in the adytum (the room specially designed for the "incubation" of dreams), the patient would receive from the god a recipe for a cure. There is also evidence that healing forces came from the chthonic power of the earth. (See Schouten, pp. 49-55 and Walton, pp. 16-17.)
(16) Marius encounters a literary analogue to Cyrenaic principles in the chapter "Roman Euphuism," as he reads from Apuleius' novel The Golden Ass. After reading the book, Marius posits a connection between formal perfection in literary texts and human bodies, concluding that the surface of a text or a person possesses the "true, though visible, soul or spirit in things" (1:92-93). Pater's technique in Marius and elsewhere shares the daringly stylized character of this writing but few of its deliberate techniques and none of its potential for bombast. One can understand its appeal for Pater as a mode of writing that calls attention to its own formal beauty and also advertises the artificiality of language itself. For a fine discussion of the uses of Euphuism by Pater and other late-nineteenth-century "decadents," see Osterman-Johansen.
(17) Heracliteanism was an early Greek materialist doctrine that valued nature in transition, locating the logos in the heady flux of the material universe. In fact, early Stoicism borrowed some of its concepts, and in the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius praises it (93; IV.46), but in Marius this doctrine of fluidity is set in opposition to the emperor's brand of Roman Stoic rigidity.
(18) Pater applies the term "Epicurean" quite broadly, for he seeks to define it as an aestheticizing impulse that spans history: "Every age of European thought," his narrator writes, "has had its Cyrenaics or Epicureans, under many disguises" (1:144).
(19) In the third (1888) edition of the Renaissance, Pater includes a footnote that makes the connection explicit: "I have dealt more fully in Marius the Epicurean with the thoughts suggested by [this conclusion]" (186).
(20) A few pages later, the narrator states his defense even more directly: "Really, to the phase of reflection through which Marius was then passing, the charge of "hedonism" ... was not properly applicable at all" (1:151).
(21) As Pater notes in an apposite passage in the "Anima Vagula" chapter, "Abstract theory was to be valued only just so far as it might serve to clear the tablet of the mind from suppositions no more than half realisable, or wholly visionary, leaving it in flawless evenness of surface to the impressions of an experience, concrete and direct" (l:141). In this formulation, any abstraction is valuable to the extent that it can eliminate other abstractions. The net effect will be a canceling out of distracting choices, clearing the way for the operations of the Epicurean mind.
(22) See Adams' discussion of Pater's "gentlemanly" ascetic aestheticism on pp. 183-216 of Dandies and Desert Saints.
(23) See Sussman (pp.173-202), who argues that for Pater, aestheticism "is a way of containing male-male desire by turning it inward" (183).
(24) A review (signed "M. A. W.") from Macmillan's Magazine (May 1885), from Seiler, p. 133.
(25) Dowling writes, "It would be Pater's great distinction always to conduct his campaign for the "liberty" of the homoerotic heart and intellect from within the boundaries of the Victorian liberal discourse, especially from within the legitimating urbanity and allusiveness of the humanist tradition" (Dowling 1996, 80). Richard Dellamora finds this spirit of homoerotic transgression expressed most profoundly in the character of Flavian, "a figure ... who crosses lines of class, indulges in unspecific corrupt acts, fashions an innovative art that prophecies a renaissance, and fancies himself to be one of a choice aristocracy of talent and physical beauty" (Dellamora 1989, 183). In a more recent essay, Dellamora comments on the linkage between "utilitarian philosophy, Liberal reform, and Greek studies" (Dellamora 1995, 25). See also Williams' excellent discussion of Pater's impressionism and Humean epistemology (Williams 2001, pp. 86-91).
(26) Indeed, at one point the narrator notes that Cyrenaicism is "a theory, indeed, which might properly be regarded as in great degree coincident with the main principle of the Stoics" (1:152). More commonly, the two systems coincide in the novel in their deficiencies in light of Pater's Christianity.
(27) It should be noted here that Marius recovers his Epicurean beliefs soon after Flavian's death; he finds that he must still "cling" to "the sentiment of the body, and the affections it defined" (1:125). Marius' "progress" toward Christianity is complex and indirect.
(28) It would of course be a gross oversimplification to label Paul's resurrection theology as strictly dualist, in the Platonic sense. I use the term "dualism" here advisedly, to describe a tendency in mainline Christian thought that Pater implicitly connects with Paul. Paul's "dualism" is in fact complicated by a number of factors, among them the linkage between Christ's resurrection and the potential for human resurrection (See 2 Corinthians 4:1 Off.)
(29) From a letter dated 23 December 1885 (Letters 65).
(30) The issue at hand in these critiques is Pater's handling of the relationship between Epicureanism and Christianity. Beginning with William Sharp's Atheneum review in 1885 (see note l, above), critics from a variety of perspectives have noted an apparent continuity between Epicureanism and Christianity, and have sought to separate them in response. Recent critics such as Jonathan Loesberg and James Eli Adams have read the development of Christianity in the novel as symptomatic of incommensurateness or undecidability in Pater's position, which makes for a novel of productively conflicted ambitions. Such readings, which approach the novel as what Joseph Carroll has called "a purposeful representation of unresolved conflicts," nevertheless tend to require a prior distinction between the two systems in order to demonstrate Pater's productive confusion of them (Carroll 320). My interpretation emphasizes those distinctions.
Carolyn Williams' reading is notable for blending Epicureanism and Christianity through her use of the metaphor of typology; as Epicureanism predicts Christianity, it is included within it, for in her reading Marius "must be both Christian and yet not Christian" (Williams 1989, 233). My reading asserts that there are measurable and important distinctions between Pater's Epicureanism and his Christianity, despite their notable proximity. These distinctions result from a three-way conversation between Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Christianity in the novel.
(31) See 1 Corinthians 15:44.
(32) See Foucault, e.g., p. 41 and Nussbaum, p. 7.
(33) Pater thus pits Christianity against Stoicism on the question of which system produces genuine expressions of human suffering. For his early Christians, at least, the suffering of martyrs is a private transaction with God that only incidentally inspires other Christians. Marius responds, in effect, to Marcus Aurelius' charge in the Meditations (in his only reference to Christianity, if indeed he wrote it) that Christians martyred themselves strictly for show (Meditations 271-72 [XI.3]) and he builds on the argument made earlier in the novel that Stoicism invalidates itself by its blatant public appeals. He notes that the suffering of the martyrs was not "a mere property of the stage" like the public disavowal of "one's own or other's pain, of death, of glory even, in those discourses of Aurelius !" (2:187). Whereas narratives of Stoic suffering in the novel are inherently contrived and occur between men, early Christian narratives of the suffering of martyrs occur between men and women, and are sincere and ultimately transformative.
(34) On maternal images in Marius, see Williams 1989, 215 and Ryan passim.
(35) In Lesley Higgins" judgment, while "Pater's texts do not extend female identities beyond existing gender boundaries," nevertheless "female figures are dexterously deployed to probe the emotional resonances of religious narratives, the historicity of identity, and the possibilities and consequences of cultural rejuvenation" (Higgins 38). While indeed the female figures in Marius are largely restricted to traditional mother-roles, Marius' desire not only to serve under Cecilia's maternal authority but to manifest "female" qualities is evidence of some flexibility in Pater's vision of gender identity.
(36) William E. Buckler has described the "near-universal critical dissatisfaction" with Pater's resolution of the novel and of Marius' life (Buckler 266). This dissatisfaction usually centers on the ending's ostensible lack of clarity, but as Buckler notes, the ending is quite clear: Pater's strategy is to use communal elegiac experience to delineate the differences between his Christianity and the Stoicism and Epicureanism that precede it, without committing his character to a full-blown conversion.