The Corner

Re: a Roman Who Didn’t Measure Up

In re the Romans and the matter of dying a good death: I just recently

wrote a piece for The New Criterion. (It will be in the issue after next, I

think) about the historical novelist Alfred Duggan. One of Duggan’s novels

is titled THREE’S COMPANY, and deals with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the third

man in the Second Triumvirate (the other two being Mark Antony and Octavian,

later the Emperor Augustus). Duggan draws a brilliant portrait of a man

whose own conception of himself and his possibilities is disastrously at

odds with his actual qualities. Lepidus is, for example, a charisma-free

zone; so no sooner has he got a few legions behind him & is ready to act,

the legions all desert en masse to some more glamorous leader.

Anyway, Lepidus is a true Roman gentleman, stuffed full of gravitas. He is

always determined to do the right Roman thing. In particular, he is

determined to make a good death, whatever befalls him. When the moment

comes, however… Well, you should read the book for yourself — I won’t

spoil it for you.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary has an entry for Lepidus, of which the

final paragraph reads thus:

“Lepidus lacked the character and energy to use the opportunities which high

birth and Caesar’s favour placed in his way…”

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