Monday, November 20, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus"

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus begins:
Ammianus Marcellinus, the last Roman historian of importance, born sometime between 325 and 330 A.D., joined the army at an early age, became a general and had the great good fortune to serve with one of the greatest men of that, or of any, age. When he left the army, he settled in Rome where he wrote his history of the Roman Empire from the accession of Nerva in 96 A.D., where the history of Tacitus ends, to the death of Valen nearly three hundred years later in 378 A.D. The history contained thirty-one books, a book being what today would be called a chapter. The first thirteen books are lost. The surviving eighteen cover only the twenty-five years from 353 to 378, which suggests that Ammianus thought this period to be of particular importance. That nearly two-thirds of those chapters deal, directly or indirectly, with the Emperor Julian, suggests that, for Ammianus at least, the history of the Roman Empire cannot be understood without understanding who, and what, Julian really was.

Edward Gibbon knew Ammianus Marcellinus’ Roman History almost by heart, and, as he acknowledged, followed him as a guide in everything he wrote about the fourth century in the first volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What Ammianus wrote about Julian is extraordinary, and he warns his readers that...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

--Marshal Zeringue