Modernity and the European Mind: Writing the Past, Constructing Identities location:University of Portsmouth date:16-17 June 2016
According to Walter Bagehot, English thought had been rarely ‘so unfinished, so piecemeal, so ragged’ as in the 1860s. This was the key to its success: ‘we beat the ideas of the few into the minds of the many’. Interestingly, Bagehot argues that, as such, the English are the true heirs of ancient Rome: in his view, the English rival the Romans ‘in real sound stupidity’. Bagehot was not alone in using the Roman past as a mirror and, indeed, an example for Victorian Britain. Most writers, however, were less cynical in developing this comparison. The rule of Caesar, in particular, was glorified by both positivist radicals and imperialist conservatives. Other writers used the Roman past as a backdrop for their interpretation of the history of the Church. Little attention has been paid to the way in which the Roman model was also mobilised by British Hellenists, however. In this paper, I will examine two such mobilisations. In The Life of Cicero (1880), Anthony Trollope’s portrayal of Cicero is influenced by the ideas of two important Hellenists: George Grote, who believed that in the Greek ideal of democracy as the co-existence of freedom and self-imposed restraint, and Frederick William Farrar, whose love of things Greek lay behind his attack on the idea of eternal torment in Eternal Hope (1878). In Marius the Epicurean (1885), Walter Pater combines his reflections on aestheticism with a setting, curiously, in ancient Rome, thereby associating his text with the Victorian tradition of popular novels set in Antiquity. This paper will particularly investigate how Pater relates his aesthetic ideas to the Epicureanism of the Roman poet Lucretius.