*Rome. Center of the Roman Empire. When Marius first looks out upon Rome it appears to him as a “vast intellectual museum,” and that colors his view of all its various components—not merely its many pagan shrines, its multilayered tombs, and its many ruins, but its functioning institutions: the Forum, where the body of Aurelius’s brother Lucius Verus is set to lie in state before the tribunal before being conveyed to its funeral pyre in the Campus Martius; the Marmorata, where precious marbles are accumulated; the Appian Way, more cemetery than thoroughfare; the Field-of-Mars, colonized by public buildings that have reduced its grassy playgrounds to mere enclaves; and, most important, the Temple of Peace, part college and part club, in whose library the Diurnal (a primitive newspaper) is posted. Even the Arena, notorious throughout history as a public slaughterhouse, does not strike Marius immediately as a place of vulgar spectacle but as a religiously significant stage set for the contrivance of marvels and illusions. When Marius visits the imperial palace it is to receive the emperor’s manuscripts for copying and revision: the kind of journeywork which will, albeit at several centuries’ remove, provide the foundations of Europe’s Renaissance.
It is significant that Marius is happiest when he is able to remove himself temporarily from the hubbub of Rome itself to the clean air, clear light, and serenity of the Alban and Sabine hills. Two locations are of particular significance: the house near Cicero’s “haunted” villa at Tusculum where, as a fellow guest of the emperor’s son Commodus, he watches a...
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