Monday, March 2, 2009

The Roman Mind

The Roman Mind: Studies in the History of Thought from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius
© 1956 M.L. Clarke
168 pg.

While Rome is known for its administrative prowess, author M.L. Clarke wants to remind us that they were thinkers, too: philosophers, borrowing from the Greek tradition. Their philosophies, while beginning in Greece, gained a Roman-ness to them when they were transmitted to Italy. After establishing background and introducing the reader to the two most influential philosophies adopted by Rome -- Epicureanism and Stoicism -- Clarke introduces us to the first true Roman philosopher, Cicero. We see in Cicero's time a Rome just beginning to be shaped by Greek philosophy, a Rome where traditional Romans have become strangers in their own city. Their culture is in the process of changing, and many are uncomfortable with this. But Greek philosophy and the Roman mind will meet and merge, and in the next chapter -- "Philosophy in Augustus' Time" -- we see that a distinctly Roman Stoicism has established itself, while Epicureanism -- once much more popular than Stoicism -- has exhausted itself and is fading into the bakcground.

This book is not simply about Roman philosophy, however. Clarke also addresses Roman religion, the Roman national spirit, the growth of political ideas, the idea of fate, and "Humanitas". All of these things work on the other, and Clarke makes this clear. The book ends with the death of Marcus Aurelius, the "last philosopher". In his epilogue, Clarke points out that Stoicism was a doctrine that was passed down from teachers to students -- and with the death of the last Stoic, Stoicism itself would pass on -- but not before shaping some of the new religion taking hold in Rome, that of Christianity.

I found the book to be well-written and quite interesting. It may be difficult for other people to find, though: I found it through my university's academic library.

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