1.26 DONE [#4] Marcus Aurelius by François Fontaine. (François Fontaine. Marc Auréle. 1991) nonfiction history
This book was not written by a historian, but by a politician. François Fontaine is a EU official and an amateur in history. To a certain degree, this only makes the book more interesting. So, traditional historians compare the Aurelius' Roman empire with the Roman republic and with the Athenian democracy and conclude that Rome was ruled by despotism. Fontaine, on the other hand, compares the empire with the modern democracies and from his point of view the empire was rather liberal and open. Freedom of speech, local self-government, etc. So, for Fontaine, Aurelius is an ancient analog of a president. Life-long, but why not?
Talking about the Roman "colonialism", Fontaine quotes Aelius Aristides: "The world has become a common motherland for all people. Barbarians and Greeks can travel safely wherever they want. You [Romans] have enhanced life, brought law and order." He describes Roman Gallia as a calm peaceful land protected by Rome. "The image of a province crucified and tortured by the conquerors is a myth," says he.
These views are quite common among the lovers of the Roman history (including myself), and they are not completely wrong. Fontaine makes some factual errors, like saying that Aristotle and Plato were teachers of monarchs, or when he talks about the deification of the emperors: "The deification was almost automatical and only the emperors like Nero or Domitian were not proclaimed divine." These errors are, however, few.
What is worse is that Fontaine does not reach his goal. He fails to show Marcus Aurelius. We learn about historical events of this epoch, some rumors about Cassius Avidius and Faustina, some basic facts about the Roman culture, but every time the author attempts to describe Aurelius as an emperor, as a man or as a philosopher, he miserably fails. He doesn't attempt to analyze whether the politics of Aurelius was a direct consequence of his philosophy (as, for example, P. Noyen wrote in his Marcus Aurelius, the Greatest Practician of Stoicism) or there is a gap between them (as G. R. Stanton wrote in Marcus Aurelius, Emperor and Philosopher). He says nothing on the specific features of the Aurelius' stoicism or on the influence of Epicurus on Aurelius. He finds the time for a professional diatribe against Russia (?!), saying: "May this fruit of the Byzantine reincarnation of the empire searches for its roots wherever they want: lack of measure is their hereditary problem, not ours," but not for the specific lexicon of stoicism, knowledge of which is a must for any reader of Aurelius.
And finally, when the author attempts to make conclusions, he at last throws away the historian's hat and returns to the politician's self-righteous tone. He makes a great discovery stating that he has found the root cause of the fall of Rome: the Roman society did not believe in the "spirit of changes" and technology, while our civilization followed this way and developed a new culture, based on unlimited (sic!) expansion. He has also discovered the only true heir of the magnificent Rome. Of course, it's ex-Gallia.
I give this book 4 stars out of 9. It's an easy reading with a moderate number of errors. By no means a "must read", but might be interesting for a relaxing dilettante. Like me.
- State "READING"
ISBN: 5-235-02787-6 DDC: 94(37)(092) BBK: 63.3(0)32-8
- Марк Аврелий / пер. с фр. Н. Н. Зубкова; Вступ. ст. Т. А. Бобровниковой. - М.: Молодая гвардия, 2005. - 319 с.: ил. - (Жизнь замечательных людей: Сер. биогр.; Вып. 942).