Burning, burial, and the critique of Stoicism in Pater's Marius the Epicurean

Lee Behlman

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5 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-169+269-270
JournalNineteenth Century Prose
Volume31
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2004

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