Bath Literature Festival joins in BRLSI’s Roman Theme

Charlotte Higgins, Philip Parker and Frank McLynn
Saturday 6th March: The Bath Literature Festival held its usual annual event at BRLSI, and the Roman theme for that day happily coincided with the Institution’s theme for the current year. A full audience in Elwin Room were treated to a lively discussion between authors Philip Parker and Frank McLynn, introduced by Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer of the Guardian and author of Latin Love Lessons.
Philip Parker read from his recent publication The Empire Stops Here, discussing at some length his reasons for its writing, and some of its highlights. His journey around the edges of the Roman Empire, taking some seven months, was justified by the fact that, once expansion had stopped, life at the centre was eclipsed by restlessness at the periphery, where most policies were initiated, and most plots to seize power were hatched.
The deeper purpose of his journey was to see, at those same edges where Roman vestiges have gloriously survived, how the Roman model had so obediently been observed in the smallest settlements, even though the Forum might barely measure one-third the dimensions of our Elwin room. This journey took Philip Parker from the cold expanses of Hadrian’s Wall through Europe, along the Danube and all the way down to Egypt, North Africa and Spain. It was a shame he did not show some of the fine photography, which appears in his book. He mentioned one historic figure in particular, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD121-180), the famed emperor-philosopher.
Next, Frank McLynn read from his fine recent publication Marcus Aurelius, an excerpt dealing with his last days, and the advent of his hopeless son and successor, Commodus. During later discussion he spoke particularly of Marcus’s philosophical ruminations in his private diary, Meditationes. His early life was heavily hypothecated by his windbag teacher of rhetoric, Fronto, a hypochondriac, who upstaged Marcus’s every complaint of illness with his own repeated moanings, yet sought favours for his sycophantic entourage.
To Fronto’s repeated chagrin, Marcus then progressed to the convoluted pastures of philosophy, where the painful admonitions of Epictetus and Stoicism held him in their lifelong thrall. McLynn holds a candle neither for Epictetus, nor his disciple, and castigates the stoic rule for its infuriating circularity. This brought melancholy to some in the audience. Sadly, within our rigid hour, no opportunity was found for Charlotte Higgins’ Latin Love Lessons to show us perhaps some of Ovid’s thoughtful recipes.
Martin Sturge