“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





27 April 2014


"When we have meat before us and such food we receive the impression that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian wine is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep's wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are. Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and where there are things which appear most worthy of our approval, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted. For outward show is a wonderful perverter of the reason, and when you are most sure that you are engaged in matters worth your while, it is then that it cheats you most  . . . "

This is from George Long's translation of Book V of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (above), who was born 1893 years ago on April 26th. He was the last of the 'Five good emperors,' and ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180AD. In Expidition Magazine, the journal of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Elizabeth Fentress, Caroline Goodson and Marco Maiuro have published a delectable paper, Wine, Slaves and the Emporer at Villa Magna, describing their findings during the excavations of Marcus' country house near Rome.

The following was written by the 21-year-old Marcus, and shows the fresh clarity of thought and observation which intensified in his writing as he grew older.

"We are well. I overslept a bit on account of a slight cold, but this seems to have subsided, so at the eleventh hour of the night until the third hour of the day I read from Cato’s De Agricultura, and wrote a little bit, less badly than yesterday, thank god ... So with my throat tended to, I set out for my father and stood by him at the sacrifice ... Then we set ourselves to the task of picking the grapes; we sweated, and rejoiced, and, as another author says, “we left the high-hanging vintage surviving.” …[T]he gong rang, that is, it was announced that my father had gone over to the bath. Having bathed, we therefore dined in the pressing room (we didn’t bathe in the pressing room, but, having washed, we ate there) and we happily heard the peasants bantering." (Fronto, Letters, book IV, letter 6, tr. M. Andrews)

When Cicero made the following comment on the writings of Julius Caesar (Brutus, 46BC), he could just as well be commenting on the crisp nature of Marcus' prose works, which were still, of course, unwritten:

“They are like nude figures, upright and beautiful, stripped of all ornament of style as if they had removed a garment.  His aim was to provide source material for others who might wish to write history, and perhaps he has gratified the insensitive, who may wish to use their curling-tongs on his work; but men of good sense he has deterred from writing.”

Curling tongs? This is the earliest reference to spin-doctoring I have yet discovered. 

My beloved Marcus was no spin doctor. Nor, due to his sparse grammar and acuity of thought, has he been doctored. Much. Most folks regarded as stoic these days have no idea of the blunt primary nature of his seminal and formative writings; many so-called stoics who've plied the years between him and me are only sophists who will never understand what that means, either.

This is as good a day as any to fill a krater and raise a toast to one of the greatest rulers, and thinkers, of all time.  

Go buy yourself a copy of the Meditations. Pity we have no Falernian to soften up the fresh tablet. Bring me a new stylus anyway.

1 comment:

orangeman said...

More cloudy wine, Whitey?