MARCUS AURELIUS by Anthony Birney


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Young Professor Birney--History at Leeds--sets out to make the past comprehensible, as all good historians must, and proceeds, at least, to make it live. His subject is not Empire but emperor, one of the few famous enough in good works to stand out against the background of murder, chicanery, war and idiocy which seems to characterize our Roman heritage. The young scholar seems to feel strong sympathy with the young Marcus and this results in a judicious early chapter, using the correspondence between Marcus and his tutor, Fronto, illustrating the Emperor's intellectual growth as well as the qualities of kindness, restraint and quiet concern for the welfare of others which came to define his nineteen year reign. His Stoic beliefs stood him in good stead over the course of several foreign wars, but as his philosophically sophisticated Meditations were being composed, the signs of weakness at the edges of the Empire grew into real dangers. Just as paradoxical is the fact that the Christian religion, persecuted by this most morally concerned ruler, grew as it became martyred. These problems are discussed but not taken up into the fabric of the text, as are the period which preceded Aurelius' reign, a discussion of the changing concept of government, and possible ways of dealing with biographical material. Prof. Birney seems more concerned, however, with telling a life than interpreting it, and while that is not the whole job of the historian he has done that much well.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1966
Publisher: Little, Brown