Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
It was harvest time when the Romans at last freed themselves from the very name of Tarquin. In all the great field, between the Tiber and the City, the corn stood high and ripe, waiting for the sickle, while Brutus did justice upon his two sons, and upon the sons of his sister, and upon those 'very noble youths,' still the Tarquins' friends, who laid down their lives for their mistaken loyalty and friendship, and for whose devotion no historian has ever been brave enough, or generous enough, to say a word. It has been said that revolution is patriotism when it succeeds, treason when it fails, and in the converse, more than one brave man has died a traitor's death for keeping faith with a fallen king. Successful revolution denied those young royalists the charitable handful of earth and the four words of peace—'sit eis terra levis'—that should have laid their unquiet ghosts, and the brutal cynicism of history has handed down their names to the perpetual execration of mankind.
The corn stood high in the broad field which the Tarquins had taken from Mars and had ploughed and tilled for generations. The people went out and reaped the crop, and bound it in sheaves to be threshed for the public bread, but their new masters told them that it would be impious to eat what had been meant for kings, and they did as was commanded to them, meekly, and threw all into the river. Sheaf upon sheaf, load upon load, the yellow stream swept away the yellow ears and stalks, down to the shallows, where the whole mass stuck fast, and the seeds took root in the watery mud, and the stalks rotted in great heaps, and the island of the Tiber was first raised above the level of the water. Then the people burned the stubble and gave back the land to Mars, calling it the Campus Martius, after him.
There the young Romans learned the use of arms, and were taught to ride; and under sheds there stood those rows of wooden horses, upon which youths learned to vault, without step or stirrup, in their armour and sword in hand. There they ran foot-races in the clouds of dust whirled up from the dry ground, and threw the discus by the twisted thong as the young men of the hills do today, and the one who could reach the goal with the smallest number of throws was the winner,—there, under the summer sun and in the biting wind of winter, half naked, and tough as wolves, the boys of Rome laboured to grow up and be Roman men.
There, also, the great assemblies were held, the public meetings and the elections, when the people voted by passing into the wooden lists that were called 'Sheepfolds,' till Julius Cæsar planned the great marble portico for voting, and Agrippa finished it, making it nearly a mile round; and behind it, on the west side, a huge space was kept open for centuries, called the Villa Publica, where the censors numbered the people. The ancient Campus took in a wide extent of land, for it included everything outside the Servian wall, from the Colline Gate to the river. All that visibly bears its name today is a narrow street that runs southward from the western end of San Lorenzo in Lucina. The Region of Campo Marzo, however, is still one of the largest in the city, including all that lies within the walls from Porta Pinciana, by Capo le Case, Via Frattina, Via di Campo Marzo and Via della Stelletta, past the Church of the Portuguese and the Palazzo Moroni,—known by Hawthorne's novel as 'Hilda's Tower,'—and thence to the banks of the Tiber.
From the Renascence until the recent extension of the city on the south and southeast, this Region was the more modern part of Rome. In the Middle Age it was held by the Colonna, who had fortified the tomb of Augustus and one or two other ruins. Later it became the strangers' quarter. The Lombards established themselves near the Church of Saint Charles, in the Corso; the English, near Saint Ives, the little church with the strange spiral tower, built against the University of the Sapienza; the Greeks lived in the Via de' Greci; the Burgundians in the Via Borgognona, and thence to San Claudio, where they had their Hospice; and so on, almost every nationality being established in a colony of its own; and the English visitors of today are still inclined to think the Piazza di Spagna the most central point of Rome, whereas to Romans it seems to be very much out of the way.
The tomb of Augustus, which served as the model for the greater Mausoleum of Hadrian, dominated the Campus Martius, and its main walls are still standing, though hidden by many modern houses. The tomb of the Julian Cæsars rose on white marble foundations, a series of concentric terraces, planted with cypress trees, to the great bronze statue of Augustus that crowned the summit. Here rested the ashes of Augustus, of the young Marcellus, of Livia, of Tiberius, of Caligula, and of many others whose bodies were burned in the family Ustrinum near the tomb itself. Plundered by Alaric, and finally ruined by Robert Guiscard, when he burnt the city, it became a fortress under the Colonna, and is included, with the fortress of Monte Citorio, in a transfer of property made by one member of the family to another in the year 1252. Ruined at last, it became a bull ring in the last century and in the beginning of this one, when Leo the Twelfth forbade bull-fighting. Then it was a theatre, the scene of Salvini's early triumphs. Today it is a circus, dignified by the name of the reigning sovereign.
Few people know that bull-fights were common in Rome eighty years ago. The indefatigable Baracconi once talked with the son of the last bull-fighter. So far as one may judge, it appears that during the Middle Age, and much later, it was the practice of butchers to bait animals in their own yards, before slaughtering them, in the belief that the cruel treatment made the meat more tender, and they admitted the people to see the sport. From this to a regular arena was but a step, and no more suitable place than the tomb of the Cæsars could be found for the purpose. A regular manager took possession of it, provided the victims, both bulls and Roman buffaloes, and hired the fighters. It does not appear that the beasts were killed during the entertainment, and one of the principal attractions was the riding of the maddened bull three times round the circus; savage dogs were also introduced, but in all other respects the affair was much like a Spanish bull-fight, and quite as popular; when the chosen bulls were led in from the Campagna, the Roman princes used to ride far out to meet them with long files of mounted servants in gala liveries, coming back at night in torchlight procession. And again, after the fight was over, the circus was illuminated, and there was a small display of Bengal lights, while the fashionable world of Rome met and gossiped away the evening in the arena, happily thoughtless and forgetful of all the spot had been and had meant in history.
The new Rome sinks out of sight below the level of the old, as one climbs the heights of the Janiculum on the west of the city, or the gardens of the Pincio on the east. The old monuments and the old churches still rise above the dreary wastes of modern streets, and from the spot whence Messalina looked down upon the cypresses of the first Emperor's mausoleum, the traveller of today descries the cheap metallic roof which makes a circus of the ancient tomb.
For it was in the gardens of Lucullus that Mark Antony's great-grandchild felt the tribune's sword in her throat, and in the neat drives and walks of the Pincio, where pretty women in smart carriages laugh over today's gossip and tomorrow's fashion, and the immaculate dandy idles away an hour and a cigarette, the memory of Messalina calls up a tragedy of shades. Less than thirty years after Augustus had breathed out his old age in peace, Rome was ruled again by terror and blood, and the triumph of a woman's sins was the beginning of the end of the Julian race. The great historian who writes of her guesses that posterity may call the truth a fable, and tells the tale so tersely and soberly from first to last, that the strength of his words suggests a whole mystery of evil. Without Tiberius, there could have been no Messalina, nor, without her, could Nero have been possible; and the worst of the three is the woman—the archpriestess of all conceivable crime. Tacitus gives Tiberius one redeeming touch. Often the old Emperor came almost to Rome, even to the gardens by the Tiber, and then turned back to the rocks of Capri and the solitude of the sea, in mortal shame of his monstrous deeds, as if not daring to show himself in the city. With Nero, the measure was full, and the world rose and destroyed him. Messalina knew no shame, and the Romans submitted to her, and but for a court intrigue and a frightened favourite she might have lived out her life unhurt. In the eyes of the historian and of the people of her time her greatest misdeed was that while her husband Claudius, the Emperor, was alive she publicly celebrated her marriage with the handsome Silius, using all outward legal forms. Our modern laws of divorce have so far accustomed our minds to such deeds that, although we miss the legal formalities which would necessarily precede such an act in our time, we secretly wonder at the effect it produced upon the men of that day, and are inclined to smile at the epithets of 'impious' and 'sacrilegious' which it called down upon Messalina, whose many other frightful crimes had elicited much more moderate condemnation. Claudius, himself no novice or beginner in horrors, hesitated long after he knew the truth, and it was the favourite Narcissus who took upon himself to order the Empress' death. Euodus, his freedman, and a tribune of the guard were sent to make an end of her. Swiftly they went up to the gardens—the gardens of the Pincian—and there they found her, beautiful, dark, dishevelled, stretched upon the marble floor, her mother Lepida crouching beside her, her mother, who in the bloom of her daughter's evil life had turned from her, but in her extreme need was overcome with pity. There knelt Domitia Lepida, urging the terror-mad woman not to wait the executioner, since life was over and nothing remained but to lend death the dignity of suicide. But the dishonoured self was empty of courage, and long-drawn weeping choked her useless lamentations. Then suddenly the doors were flung open with a crash, and the stern tribune stood silent in the hall, while the freedman Euodus screamed out curses, after the way of triumphant slaves. From her mother's hand the lost Empress took the knife at last and trembling laid it to her breast and throat, with weakly frantic fingers that could not hurt herself; the silent tribune killed her with one straight thrust, and when they brought the news to Claudius sitting at supper, and told him that Messalina had perished, his face did not change, and he said nothing as he held out his cup to be filled.
She died somewhere on the Pincian hill. Romance would choose the spot exactly where the nunnery of the Sacred Heart stands, at the Trinità de' Monti, looking down De Sanctis' imposing 'Spanish' steps; and the house in which the noble girls of modern Rome are sent to school may have risen upon the foundations of Messalina's last abode. Or it may be that the place was further west, in the high grounds of the French Academy, or on the site of the academy itself, at the gates of the public garden, just where the old stone fountain bubbles and murmurs under the shade of the thick ilex trees. Most of that land once belonged to Lucullus, the conqueror of Mithridates, the Academic philosopher, the arch feaster, and the man who first brought cherries to Italy.
The last descendant of Julia, the last sterile monster of the Julian race, Nero, was buried at the foot of the same hill. Alive, he was condemned by the Senate to be beaten to death in the Comitium; dead by his own hand, he received imperial honours, and his ashes rested for a thousand years where they had been laid by his two old nurses and a woman who had loved him. And during ten centuries the people believed that his terrible ghost haunted the hill, attended and served by thousands of demon crows that rested in the branches of the trees about his tomb, and flew forth to do evil at his bidding, till at last Pope Paschal the Second cut down with his own hands the walnut trees which crowned the summit, and commanded that the mausoleum should be destroyed, and the ashes of Nero scattered to the winds, that he might build a parish church on the spot and dedicate it to Saint Mary. It is said, too, that the Romans took the marble urn in which the ashes had been, and used it as a public measure for salt in the old market-place of the Capitol. A number of the rich Romans of the Renascence afterwards contributed money to the restoration of the church and built themselves chapels within it, as tombs for their descendants, so that it is the burial-place of many of those wealthy families that settled in Rome and took possession of the Corso when the Barons still held the less central parts of the city with their mediæval fortresses. Sixtus the Fourth and Julius the Second are buried in Saint Peter's, but their chapel was here, and here lie others of the della Rovere race, and many of the Chigi and Pallavicini and Theodoli; and here, in strange coincidence, Alexander the Sixth, the worst of the Popes, erected a high altar on the very spot where the worst of the Emperors had been buried. It is gone now, but the strange fact is not forgotten.
Far across the beautiful square, at the entrance to the Corso, twin churches seem to guard the way like sentinels, built, it is said, to replace two chapels which once stood at the head of the bridge of Sant' Angelo; demolished because, when Rome was sacked by the Constable of Bourbon, they had been held as important points by the Spanish soldiers in besieging the Castle, and it was not thought wise to leave such useful outworks for any possible enemy in the future. Alexander the Seventh, the Chigi Pope, died, and left the work unfinished; and a folk story tells how a poor old woman who lived near by saved what she could for many years, and, dying, left one hundred and fifty scudi to help the completion of the buildings; and Cardinal Gastaldi, who had been refused the privilege of placing his arms upon a church which he had desired to build in Bologna, and was looking about for an opportunity of perpetuating his name, finished the two churches, his attention having been first called to them by the old woman's humble bequest.
As for the Pincio itself, and the ascent to it from the Piazza del Popolo, all that land was but a grass-grown hillside, crowned by a few small and scattered villas and scantily furnished with trees, until the beginning of the present century; and the public gardens of the earlier time were those of the famous and beautiful Villa Medici, which Napoleon the First bestowed upon the French Academy. It was there that the fashionable Romans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries used to meet, and walk, and be carried about in gilded sedan-chairs, and flirt, and gossip, and exchange views on politics and opinions about the latest scandal. That was indeed a very strange society, further from us in many ways than the world of the Renascence, or even of the Crusades; for the Middle Age was strong in the sincerity of its beliefs, as we are powerful in the cynicism of our single-hearted faith in riches; but the fabric of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was founded upon the abuse of an already declining power; it was built up in the most extraordinary and elaborate affectation, and it was guarded by a system of dissimulation which outdid that of our own day by many degrees, and possibly surpassed the hypocrisy of any preceding age.
No one, indeed, can successfully uphold the idea that the high development of art in any shape is of necessity coincident with a strong growth of religion or moral conviction. Perugino made no secret of being an atheist; Lionardo da Vinci was a scientific sceptic; Raphael was an amiable rake, no better and no worse than the majority of those gifted pupils to whom he was at once a model of perfection and an example of free living; and those who maintain that art is always the expression of a people's religion have but an imperfect acquaintance with the age of Praxiteles, Apelles and Zeuxis. Yet the idea itself has a foundation, lying in something which is as hard to define as it is impossible to ignore; for if art be not a growth out of faith, it is always the result of a faith that has been, since although it is possible to conceive of religion without art, it is out of the question to think of art as a whole, without a religious origin; and as the majority of writers find it easier to describe scenes and emotions, when a certain lapse of time has given them what painters call atmospheric perspective, so the Renascence began when memory already clothed the ferocious realism of mediæval Christianity in the softer tones of gentle chivalry and tender romance. It is often said, half in jest, that, in order to have intellectual culture, a man must at least have forgotten Latin, if he cannot remember it, because the fact of having learned it leaves something behind that cannot be acquired in any other way. Similarly, I think that art of all sorts has reached its highest level in successive ages when it has aimed at recalling, by an illusion, a once vivid reality from a not too distant past. And so when it gives itself up to the realism of the present, it impresses the senses rather than the thoughts, and misses its object, which is to bring within our mental reach what is beyond our physical grasp; and when, on the other hand, it goes back too far, it fails in execution, because its models are not only out of sight, but out of mind, and it cannot touch us because we can no longer feel even a romantic interest in the real or imaginary events which it attempts to describe.
The subject is too high to be lightly touched, and too wide to be touched more than lightly here; but in this view of it may perhaps be found some explanation of the miserable poverty of Italian art in the eighteenth century, foreshadowed by the decadence of the seventeenth, which again is traceable to the dissipation of force and the disappearance of individuality that followed the Renascence, as inevitably as old age follows youth. Besides all necessary gifts of genius, the development of art seems to require that a race should not only have leisure for remembering, but should also have something to remember which may be worthy of being recalled and perhaps of being imitated. Progress may be the road to wealth and health, and to such happiness as may be derived from both; but the advance of civilization is the path of thought, and its landmarks are not inventions nor discoveries, but those very great creations of the mind which ennoble the heart in all ages; and as the idea of progress is inseparable from that of growing riches, so is the true conception of civilization indivisible from thoughts of beauty and nobility. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Italy had almost altogether lost sight of these; art was execrable, fashion was hideous, morality meant hypocrisy; the surest way to power lay in the most despicable sort of intrigue, and inward and spiritual faith was as rare as outward and visible devoutness was general.
That was the society which frequented the Villa Medici on fine afternoons, and it is hard to see wherein its charm lay, if, indeed, it had any. Instead of originality, its conversation teemed with artificial conventionalisms; instead of nature, it exhibited itself in the disguise of fashions more inconvenient, uncomfortable and ridiculous than those of any previous or later times; it delighted in the impossibly nonsensical 'pastoral' verses which we find too silly to read; and in place of wit, it clothed gross and cruel sayings in a thin remnant of worn-out classicism. It had not the frankly wicked recklessness of the French aristocracy between Lewis the Fourteenth and the Revolution, nor the changing contrasts of brutality, genius, affectation and Puritanical austerity which marked England's ascent, from the death of Edward the Sixth to the victories of Nelson and Wellington; still less had it any of those real motives for existence which carried Germany through her long struggle for life. It had little which we are accustomed to respect in men and women, and yet it had something which we lack today, and which we unconsciously envy—it had a colour of its own. Wandering under the ancient ilexes of those sad and beautiful gardens, meeting here and there a few silent and soberly clad strangers, one cannot but long for the brilliancy of two centuries ago, when the walks were gay with brilliant dresses, and gilded chairs, and servants in liveries of scarlet and green and gold, and noble ladies, tottering a few steps on their ridiculous high heels, and men bewigged and becurled, their useless little hats under their arms, and their embroidered coat tails flapping against their padded, silk-stockinged calves; and red-legged, unpriestly Cardinals who were not priests even in name, but only the lay life-peers of the Church; and grave Bishops with their secretaries; and laughing abbés, whose clerical dress was the accustomed uniform of government office, which they still wore when they were married, and were fathers of families. There is little besides colour to recommend the picture, but at least there is that.
The Pincian hill has always been the favourite home of artists of all kinds, and many lived at one time or another in the little villas that once stood there, and in the houses in the Via Sistina and southward, and up towards the Porta Pinciana. Guido Reni, the Caracci, Salvator Rosa, Poussin, Claude Lorrain, have all left the place the association of their presence, and the Zuccheri brothers built themselves the house which still bears their name, just below the one at the corner of the Trinità de' Monti, known to all foreigners as the 'Tempietto' or little temple. But the Villa Medici stands as it did long ago, its walls uninjured, its trees grander than ever, its walks unchanged. Soft-hearted Baracconi, in love with those times more than with the Middle Age, speaks half tenderly of the people who used to meet there, calling them collectively a gay and light-hearted society, gentle, idle, full of graceful thoughts and delicate perceptions, brilliant reflections and light charms; he regrets the gilded chairs, the huge built-up wigs, the small sword of the 'cavalier servente,' and the abbé's silk mantle, the semi-platonic friendships, the jests borrowed from Goldoni, the 'pastoral' scandal, and exchange of compliments and madrigals and epigrams, and all the brilliant powdered train of that extinct world.
Whatever life may have been in those times, that world died in a pretty tableau, after the manner of Watteau's paintings; it meant little and accomplished little, and though its bright colouring brings it for a moment to the foreground, it has really not much to do with the Rome we know nor with the Rome one thinks of in the past, always great, always sad, always tragic, as no other city in the world can ever be.
Ignorance, tradition, imagination, romance,—call it what you will,—has chosen the long-closed Pincian Gate for the last station of blind Belisarius. There, says the tale, the ancient conqueror, the banisher and maker of Popes, the favourite and the instrument of imperial Theodora, stood begging his bread at the gate of the city he had won and lost, leaning upon the arm of the fair girl child who would not leave him, and stretching forth his hand to those that passed by, with a feeble prayer for alms, pathetic as Œdipus in the utter ruin of his life and fortune. A truer story tells how Pope Silverius, humble and gentle, and hated by Theodora, went up to the Pincian villa to answer the accusation of conspiring with the Goths, when he himself had opened the gates of Rome to Belisarius; and how he was led into the great hall where the warrior's wife, Theodora's friend, the beautiful and evil Antonina, lay with half-closed eyes upon her splendid couch, while Belisarius sat beside her feet, toying with her jewels. There the husband and wife accused the Pope, and judged him without hearing, and condemned him without right; and they caused him to be stripped of his robes, and clad as a poor monk and driven out to far exile, that they might set up the Empress Theodora's Pope in his place; and with him they drove out many Roman nobles.
And it is said that when Silverius was dead of a broken heart in the little island of Palmaria, Belisarius repented of his deeds and built the small Church of Santa Maria de' Crociferi, behind the fountain of Trevi, in partial expiation of his fault, and there, to prove the truth of the story, the tablet that tells of his repentance has stood nearly fourteen hundred years and may be read today, on the east wall, towards the Via de' Poli. The man who conquered Africa for Justinian, seized Sicily, took Rome, defended it successfully against the Goths, reduced Ravenna, took Rome from the Goths again, and finally rescued Constantinople, was disgraced more than once; but he was not blinded, nor did he die in exile or in prison, for at the end he breathed his last in the enjoyment of his freedom and his honours; and the story of his blindness is the fabrication of an ignorant Greek monk who lived six hundred years later and confounded Justinian's great general with the romantic and unhappy John of Cappadocia, who lived at the same time, was a general at the same time, and incurred the displeasure of that same pious, proud, avaricious Theodora, actress, penitent and Empress, whose paramount beauty held the Emperor in thrall for life, and whose surpassing cruelty imprinted an indelible seal of horror upon his glorious reign—of her who, when she delivered a man to death, admonished the executioner with an oath, saying, 'By Him who liveth for ever, if thou failest, I will cause thee to be flayed alive.'
Another figure rises at the window of the Tuscan Ambassador's great villa, with the face of a man concerning whom legend has also found much to invent and little to say that is true, a man of whom modern science has rightly made a hero, but whom prejudice and ignorance have wrongly crowned as a martyr—Galileo Galilei. Tradition represents him as languishing, laden with chains, in the more or less mythical prisons of the Inquisition; history tells very plainly that his first confinement consisted in being the honoured guest of the Tuscan Ambassador in the latter's splendid residence in Rome, and that his last imprisonment was a relegation to the beautiful castle of the Piccolomini near Siena, than which the heart of man could hardly desire a more lovely home. History affirms beyond doubt, moreover, that Galileo was the personal friend of that learned and not illiberal Barberini, Pope Urban the Eighth, under whose long reign the Copernican system was put on trial, who believed in that system as Galileo did, who read his books and talked with him; and who, when the stupid technicalities of the ecclesiastic courts declared the laws of the universe to be nonsense, gave his voice against the decision, though he could not officially annul it without scandal. 'It was not my intention,' said the Pope in the presence of witnesses, 'to condemn Galileo. If the matter had depended upon me, the decree of the Index which condemned his doctrines should never have been pronounced.'
That Galileo's life was saddened by the result of the absurd trial, and that he was nominally a prisoner for a long time, is not to be denied. But that he suffered the indignities and torments recorded in legend is no more true than that Belisarius begged his bread at the Porta Pinciana. He lived in comfort and in honour with the Ambassador in the Villa Medici, and many a time from those lofty windows, unchanged since before his day, he must have watched the earth turning with him from the sun at evening, and meditated upon the emptiness of the ancient phrase that makes the sun 'set' when the day is done—thinking of the world, perhaps, as turning upon its other side, with tired eyes, and ready for rest and darkness and refreshment, after long toil and heat.
One may stand under those old trees before the Villa Medici, beside the ancient fountain facing Saint Peter's distant dome, and dream the great review of history, and call up a vast, changing picture at one's feet between the heights and the yellow river. First, the broad corn-field of the Tarquin Kings, rich and ripe under the evening breeze of summer that runs along swiftly, bending the golden surface in soft moving waves from the Tiber's edge to the foot of the wooded slope. Then, the hurried harvesting, the sheaves cast into the river, the dry, stiff stubble baking in the sun, and presently the men of Rome coming forth in procession from the dark Servian wall on the left to dedicate the field to the War God with prayer and chant and smoking sacrifice. By and by the stubble trodden down under horses' hoofs, the dusty plain the exercising ground of young conquerors, the voting place, later, of a strong Republic, whither the centuries went out to choose their consuls, to decide upon peace or war, to declare the voice of the people in grave matters, while the great signal flag waved on the Janiculum, well in sight though far away, to fall suddenly at the approach of any foe and suspend the 'comitia' on the instant. And in the flat and dusty plain, buildings begin to rise; first, the Altar of Mars and the holy place of the infernal gods, Dis and Proserpine; later, the great 'Sheepfold,' the lists and hustings for the voting, and, encroaching a little upon the training ground, the temple of Venus Victorious and the huge theatre of Pompey, wherein the Orsini held their own so long; but in the times of Lucullus, when his gardens and his marvellous villa covered the Pincian hill, the plain was still a wide field, and still the field of Mars, without the walls, broken by few landmarks, and trodden to deep white dust by the scampering hoofs of half-drilled cavalry. Under the Emperors, then, first beautified in part, as Cæsar traces the great Septa for the voting, and Augustus erects the Altar of Peace and builds up his cypress-clad tomb, crowned by his own image, and Agrippa raises his triple temple, and Hadrian builds the Pantheon upon its ruins, while the obelisk that now stands on Monte Citorio before the House of Parliament points out the brass-figured hours on the broad marble floor of the first Emperor's sun-clock and marks the high noon of Rome's glory—and the Portico of Neptune and many other splendid works spring up. Isis and Serapis have a temple next, and Domitian's race-course appears behind Agrippa's Baths, straight and white. By and by the Antonines raise columns and triumphal arches, but always to southward, leaving the field of Mars a field still, for its old uses, and the tired recruits, sweating from exercise, gather under the high shade of Augustus' tomb at midday for an hour's rest.
Last of all, the great temple of the Sun, with its vast portico, and the Mithræum at the other end, and when the walls of Aurelian are built, and when ruin comes upon Rome from the north, the Campus Martius is still almost an open stretch of dusty earth on which soldiers have learned their trade through a thousand years of hard training.
Not till the poor days when the waterless, ruined city sends its people down from the heights to drink of the muddy stream does Campo Marzo become a town, and then, around the castle-tomb of the Colonna and the castle-theatre of the Orsini the wretched houses begin to rise here and there, thickening to a low, dark forest of miserable dwellings threaded through and through, up and down and crosswise, by narrow and crooked streets, out of which by degrees the lofty churches and palaces of the later age are to spring up. From a training ground it has become a fighting ground, a labyrinth of often barricaded ways and lanes, deeper and darker towards the water-gates cut in the wall that runs along the Tiber, from Porta del Popolo nearly to the island of Saint Bartholomew, and almost all that is left of Rome is crowded and huddled into the narrow pen overshadowed and dominated here and there by black fortresses and brown brick towers. The man who then might have looked down from the Pincian hill would have seen that sight; houses little better than those of the poorest mountain village in the Southern Italy of today, black with smoke, black with dirt, blacker with patches made by shadowy windows that had no glass. A silent town, too, surly and defensive; now and then the call of the water-carrier disturbs the stillness, more rarely, the cry of a wandering peddler; and sometimes a distant sound of hoofs, a far clash of iron and steel, and the echoing yell of furious fighting men—'Orsini!' 'Colonna!'—the long-drawn syllables coming up distinct through the evening air to the garden where Messalina died, while the sun sets red behind the spire of old Saint Peter's across the river, and gilds the huge girth of dark Sant' Angelo to a rusty red, like battered iron bathed in blood.
Back come the Popes from Avignon, and streets grow wider and houses cleaner and men richer—all for the Bourbon's Spaniards to sack, and burn, and destroy before the last city grows up, and the rounded domes raise their helmet-like heads out of the chaos, and the broad Piazza del Popolo is cleared, and old Saint Peter's goes down in dust to make way for the Cathedral of all Christendom as it stands. Then far away, on Saint Peter's evening, when it is dusk, the great dome, and the small domes, and the colonnades, and the broad façade are traced in silver lights that shine out quietly as the air darkens. The solemn bells toll the first hour of the June night; the city is hushed, and all at once the silver lines are turned to gold, as the red flame runs in magic change from the topmost cross down the dome, in rivers, to the roof, and the pillars and the columns of the square below—the grandest illumination of the grandest church the world has ever seen.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.