Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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...

(The entire section is 678 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Walter Pater. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. Includes considerable evaluation of Marius the Epicurean, which ranges from detailed stylistic analysis to questions of genre. Pater’s work is also evaluated as an inspiration to writers of the early twentieth century.

Crinkley, Richmond. Walter Pater: Humanist. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970. In the chapter analyzing Marius the Epicurean, the circular structure of the text and the diminished presence of the author is considered. Also delineates the decorative elements in Pater’s prose.

Iser, Wolfgang. Walter Pater: The Aesthetic Moment. Translated by David H. Wilson. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Examines the narrative structure of Pater’s portraits. Finds that significant narrative inconsistencies create a state of flux between past and present. Considers Pater’s theories on memory and history.

Monsman, Gerald. Walter Pater. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Combines a broad overview of Pater’s work with a more focused critique of the novels. The chapter on Marius the Epicurean points out the emphasis on inward vision rather than outward events.

Ward, Anthony. Walter Pater: The Idea in Nature. London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1966. Traces Pater’s explorations of a literary style that expresses the complexity of experience and the inconstancy of meaning. The recurrent quest for beauty in Pater’s fictional and nonfictional works is also considered.