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The Last Olympiad

Aleksander Krawczuk


About Marcelinus


An objective reader must ask: if life in Rome was indeed so bad, why did Ammianus not leave? After all, the whole Roman world was open to him—a former officer and an educated man. He might, for example, have returned to his native Antioch to enjoy the company of Libanius and his former acquaintances. Or he might have settled in Alexandria, which he so praised as the flourishing tabernacle of all kinds of learning and skills. Finally, he could have tried his luck in the new capital on the Bosporus: it was growing rapidly, and its attitude to newcomers was by its very nature different than in Rome since all its residents were new arrivals themselves, none settled there longer than three generations.

So why did Ammianus cling for so many years to the unpleasant metropolis, where the patriciate showed utter snobbery and a barbaric love of splendor, and the common people were idle, and the whole community, without exception, really only lived for amusement? Why did this writer not leave the city where libraries had been locked up like tombs?

We do not know the circumstances of Ammianus’s life well enough to be able to answer these questions categorically. There may have been some property or family considerations, for example. It is also possible that, as many scholars assume, it was easier for him to gather materials for his work there and—perhaps even learn or at least practice Latin. However, everyone who has read the work of Ammianus carefully, anyone who has learned to follow the bizarre and twisted paths of his thoughts, his obvious complexes, phobias, and resentments, must inevitably take into account other contingencies as well.

This man would not have been happy anywhere.

His innate disposition was at fault.

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