Critical Evaluation

Walter Pater’s novel was an answer to those who had misunderstood his views on art and philosophy. The novel is, in great part, a fictional rendering of Pater’s own struggle for a philosophical position, and the personality of Marius is a reflection of the author himself. The volume is also an appreciation of the culture of the second century of the Christian era in Roman Italy. Although sharply criticized by historians of fact, Pater’s careful study of the environment has caught the spirit of the times and the people. No one who has not some familiarity with the writers of the time, and before, can read with signal success the intellectual adventures and development of the young Roman who is the central figure of the book; the work is, to some extent, a veritable patchwork of ideas and even quotations from the classical authors who would be the basis of knowledge for a young Roman studying seriously during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

In his portrayal of Marius the Epicurean, Pater shows what might have happened to a young man of Marius’s sort during Marcus Aurelius’s reign. With precision and accuracy, he also unconsciously delineates the nature of a middle-aged, middle-class bachelor-scholar of about the year 1880. Pater thought that the purpose of higher education was to teach art and poetry, so he incorporates this philosophy into Marius’s development. Perhaps this is the reason that Marius the Epicurean contains more poetry—not from books and pictures, but from life as Pater saw it—than any of Pater’s other works....

(The entire section is 637 words.)