Illustration by Denis Mizzi
Et Vergilius sum. “Not only does Athens triumph over the Persians, by the fifth century she comes to dominate the other Greek city states” (MM, lecturing in London). My story concerns the departure of my hero, Aeneas, from Troy (Patras). “And soon thereafter develops an empire throughout the Aegean and Asia Minor.” In imitation of Odysseus (Homer) as he leaves Ithaka (Patras). Nurturing Spirit, who fills sea, earth and sky with your power (Girolamo Vida’s Christiad, the Invocation). “In 454 B.C. the Delian League’s treasury is moved to Athens (Patras). Grant that by your gift I may sing of the twice begotten king. “The Aeneid (again) is a full-scale aemulatio of Homer” (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature). Who came down from the seat of His celestial father into the womb of the immaculate Virgin. I was born in 70 B.C. near Mantua, a Roman city that is still buried ten feet under the Piazza dell’Erbe. And who as a boy drew the breath of mortality. By that time Mantova, as it is now called, was part of Cisalpine Gaul. That he might avenge the human race, by his death snatch man from the shadows of his evil prison. Which extended to the Alps and covered the Po valley. And lead the pious dead to Heaven. Where the god Silvanus, the deity of forest and glade, was worshipped in popular belief (first-person rendering of Peter Levi’s Virgil: His Life and Times). Replacing the Virgilian first-person cano is an invocation to the Holy Ghost in language that reworks Lucretius’ invocation to Venus in the De Rerum Natura Philip Hardie, “After Rome: Renaissance Epic”). “Pericles then commences a civic building program that culminates in the Parthenon (477-438 B.C.) and the Erechtheum (421-406 B.C.).” Quiet Mantova was on the richest part of the plain, in one of the wriggles of the river Mincio, which flows out of Lake Garda to join greater rivers, dove il Po discende per aver pace con seguaci sui: where the Po runs down / Among his followers to find his peace. In both Virgil and Vida the substantive (vir, rex) is followed by a relative clause describing a journey and a final clause describing the purpose of the journey. Author, who in the person of Vergil-Odysseus-Aeneas is departing Patras (Athens-Ithaka-Troy), aims at retracing the Mantuan’s fourth and final return from Greece; at Brindisi (Brundisium) Vergil will die, after which his corpse will be transported along the Via Appia Antica to Naples (Neapolis), where the Roman poet was interred. In the case of Vida the purpose is another journey that along with the first completes a circle: After visiting Naples with Vergil, MM will convey his spirit to Ercolano. Christ is the king who descends from His Father’s throne to lead the human race in a re-ascent to Heaven. Thence to conduct the ghostly Master up the slopes of Vesuvius. In each author the final word of the sentence also marks the final goal of the epic: for Virgil, Romae, for Vida, Olympo. Where, at the volcano’s entrance, deo volens, he will release Dante’s Sage into the heavens.
- “Vergil’s story is a continuation of the stories of Homer.” The way in which the poem negotiates its relationship to its great pagan model, the Aeneid, may be described as allegorical. “Aeneas figures as an important character in the Iliad, for after Hector he is the greatest Trojan warrior, the equal of Achilles and Diomedes.”
- In parable an analogy exists between surface and depth. “When, within months of the Fall of Troy, Aeneas departs, his voyage is contemporary with that of Odysseus.”
- The Virgilian verba is reused to express a Christian res. “Several times (see Achaemenides in Book III, the Sirens in Book V, Circe in Book VII) Aeneas follows in the footsteps of Odysseus, and very shortly afterwards.”
Vida prefigures Milton insofar as he transvalues and inverts the main Virgilian themes so as to adduce from them a Christian heroism and a Christian mission. “Odysseus is one of the last great figures of the Heroic world, attempting to reestablish his way of life in Ithaca as he had known it before the Trojan War; but Aeneas is rather the first figure of a brave new world, one that will take shape in Rome.”
On the plain of the Po beyond Mantua, in a village called Andes, I was born. “One of the fountains of the Aeneid’s inspiration was the national aspiration of Rome in Virgil’s time.” No one now knows exactly where that was, though tradition puts it in the vicinity of Pietole (to the south-south-east). “Another, of equal if not greater importance, was the epic poetry of Homer.” Which Napoleon visited at midnight as a young officer in awe of Virgil. Renaissance Italy’s classicizing epics were a natural vehicle for the panegyrical relation of the exploits of those rulers who had themselves been brought up on a diet of the Aeneid and other Latin epics. “In Virgil’s time Homer’s poetry was considered the perfect form of epic.” I sense that you would like to know more about my father and mother, and about my early childhood, but to do so you must here take a more circuitous route. This taste for panegyrical epic when combined with the adoration of Virgil provided a surefire formula for success, as in the case of Maffeo Vegio’s Aeneid 13. “It offered the reader moral lessons about life and how to live it.” Mantua was Etruscan, as I make clear in my catalogue of the allies of Aeneas (see Book X). Completed in 1428, it was the most enduring of several attempts to provide the Aeneid with a satisfactory ending and until well into the sixteenth century was regularly reprinted in editions of Virgil. “As well as the excitement and intensity of dramatic action at its highest pitch.” Aeneas attempts to acquire Etruscan allies through Evander, the original Arcadian colonist of Rome. “And the esthetic satisfaction of describing a distant world half real and half supernatural.” It is a book of speeches, processions and pageants, a set of displays more in tune with earlier taste than with our own. The allies set out in a half-magical fleet from the north of Italy. It reveals a reading of Virgil normative in the early Renaissance. After the Ligurians and their mighty ship Centaur comes the curiously named Ocnus, son of Prophetic Manto, a Tuscan.
“In Donatus’ life of Vergil, the Aeneid is said to be the equivalent of both Homeric poems: quasi amborum Homeri carminum instar.” Aeneas emerges as the vir perfectus of medieval and Renaissance tradition. “Much later one of the characters in Macrobius’ Saturnalia (5.2.13) speaks of the Aeneid as a ‘mirrored reflection of Homer.’” His translation to the stars is the proper reward for an epic hero of this sort. Mincius was the Latin name of the river that snakes across the plains, emptying an oceanic lake into the Po. Vida’s Christiad was published in 1535. Mezentius is a fiction. It comprised six books. In the Aeneid he fights on the wrong side and is subsequently killed. Vida’s obsessive fidelity to Virgil deservedly earned him the sobriquet of the “Christian Virgil.” But the poem’s atmosphere reveals a good deal about my native place. In contemporary debate concerning imitation he stands firmly with those who advocate a scrupulous fidelity to ancient models. Ocnus is a Greek word for hesitancy, indolence or shrinking that suits the endless windings of the local river.
Much praised in the Renaissance for his success at getting inside the skin of Virgil, Vida has been excoriated by later centuries as a mechanical imitator. This mixture of fantasy and mythology is confusing to modern readers, but it is worth noticing that I insist on creating a part in my Aeneis for Mantua and the Ligurians. “Virgil was also deeply versed in post-Homeric classical Greek literature, especially in Attic tragedy.” “Athena, the tutelary divinity of Athens, was skilled in both the production of clothes and the conduct of war” (MM again). Like Milton, Vida skillfully imitates Virgil’s narration of a spatially and temporally limited story so as to include reference to the widest canvas of universal history, cosmological and human. Somewhere near Andes, the hamlet where my parents lived, the identification of a “Virgil’s ditch” and a “Virgil’s poplar” represent the kind of nonsense often found in saints’ lives and the apocryphal lives of the early Christians. The possibility of an imitation that goes beyond a frigid correctness is opened up by the congruence between Vida’s discussion of imitation and his discussion of figurative language.
“As for Greek tragedy, however, Virgil’s real debt is one of concept rather than form.” The boldest lie is that of the Gonzaga family, who decided that their Renaissance stables for the breeding of horses a mile or so from Pietole was the very spot on which I was born. “The whole concept of Dido’s love, which leads to her ultimate self-destruction, is tragic in the fullest and most technical sense.” The poplar, you see, begot a story of the village’s swift growth, and the ditch became my birthplace. “Similarly the events leading to the death of Turnus have the closest possible similarity to those found in Greek tragedy as the hero moves along his self-chosen path to destruction.” Borrowed words are “spoils,” exuviae, an image used earlier of metaphorical words and also of Virgil’s “plundering” of Homer. And so at the age of seventeen I took my leave and headed for Rome. “In a broader sense Virgil’s whole attitude towards the human scene is that of Attic tragedy: an intense sensitivity toward the suffering which human beings bring upon themselves or which the pressure of hostile circumstance visits upon them.” That would have been about a year after the death of Catullus, whom I never met. “Coupled with a profound conviction that somehow in spite of all the castrophes the world is not a senseless one.” They say that he was born, I believe, in 84 B.C. and died in 54 B.C. Metaphor and imitation are both viewed as acts of metamorphosis or of expropriation. “So that in a way hardly comprehensible to mere mortals these sufferings may form a necessary part in the ultimate fulfillment of the divine purpose for mankind.”
“Like the other literary figures of his time Virgil also knew well the post-classical Greek literature of the Hellenistic age.” “At the greater Panathenaic festival in Athens the goddess was presented with a robe, the work of maidens’ hands, that traditionally portrayed the battle of the gods and giants, in which Athena was the outstanding warrior on the side of the gods.” “In the Aeneid it is Apollonius Rhodius whose story of Jason and Medea captured Virgil’s imagination and contributed toward the construction of the story of Aeneas and Dido. Vida speaks of imitation where, “using the same words with no change in order, they produce quite other senses through their wonderful art.” “Servius introduces his commentary on Book IV by saying: His language is close to Quintilian’s definition of the trope of allegory. “‘Apollonius wrote the Argonautica and there brought in the love-story of Medea, from which all this book is taken.’” I do not abolish ancient practices or unmake laws (says Vida), for a quite different meaning lies undetected beneath those mysterious words, and a quite different religion is concealed in such a dark mist. “This is a wild exaggeration.”
- Vergil is said to have made four trips to Greece, his last to gather local color for the nearly completed final draft of his masterpiece. According to Levi, he had planned to spend three years revising the Aeneid, in Greece and Asia Minor, but since Augustus “had also been in the East, bargaining with the Parthians over Roman control of Armenia,” the Emperor, on his way back home, “swept up Virgil in his train,” and so the poet returned to Brindisi.
- As author sets out from Greece for Italy, he recalls that this will be for him his second arrival at Brindisi, the first having occurred half a lifetime earlier.
- As Aeneas approaches the eastern coast of Italy, Vergil will not permit his hero to make landfall, since Fate has devised for him another itinerary, one reminiscent of, but curiously skewed in relation to, that of Odysseus. Again Levi proves to be useful, for he has summarized in a paragraph the route that Aeneas takes in his travels from Troy to Rome. But first a little background from yet another scholar of the Roman epic tradition, William J. Dominik, in his essay on Ennius’ Annales:
The epic of Ennius in its original version contained fifteen books covering the Fall of Troy to 189 B.C. (The Aeneid too is composed not only in two halves, its so-called “Odyssean half,” Books I-VI and its “Iliadic half,” Books VII-XII, but also in triads: Books I-IV (which culminate in the death of Dido), Books V-VIII (which culminate in Aeneas’ shield), and Books IX-XII (which culminate in the death of Turnus.) The material appears to have been organized into triads with a concentric, symmetrical structure. (“Appears to have been,” since the text of Ennius survives only in fragments; its supposed “concentric, symmetrical structure” may bear relation to Homer’s “ring composition,” as reflected in the cosmological epitome of the shield that Hephaistos constructs for Achilles.)
Self-consciousness Dominik identifies as a principal feature of Ennian epic. (Brooks Otis, an earlier modern critic of Vergil, had helped us to understand what he had termed Vergil’s “subjective style.”) This, Dominik remarks, is apparent even before the first line of the Annales, for judging by an early reference to the epic in Lucilius (Annales Enni), Ennius so named his epic, probably after the title of the pontifical records. By his obviously historical title, then, Ennius immediately metamorphoses the Homeric tradition of mythological epic and thereby departs from as well as challenges that tradition. “The Trojans are supposed to have set sail for Italy in spring following the Fall of Troy, which occurred in autumn” (Peter Levi again). The first fragment of the Annales further reveals the poet’s self-conscious epic intention (says Dominik): “Musae, quae pedibus magnum pulsatis Olympum” (who is quoting Ennius: “Muses, who beat your feet upon Mighty Olympus”). “They built for themselves twenty boats (Book I, l.381), though the size of the fleet seems to vary.” Professor Dominik goes on to note that Ennius has invoked the Muses of Hesiod, not the Muse of Homer, and that he causes them to dance not on Helicon but on Homer’s Olympus: Ennius is the first poet in extant literature, he continues, to portray himself as ascending the mountain of the Muses, whereas Hesiod describes meeting the Muses beneath Helicon. “With this fleet they went first to Thrace, then to Delos, where Anius was the prophet, and when they were told to ‘seek their old mother,’ they tried Crete, which,” says Levi, “was a failure.” The ancients often contrasted Hesiod with Homer, and the use of Hesiod’s Muses on Homer’s Olympus in the Proem to the Annales not only recalls Homer and Hesiod but also distinguishes Ennius from them, Dominik observes. We seem to be drifting further and further into complexity, as Vergil compounds Ennius, Hesiod and Homer. “And so they returned to Delos, whence they had come.”
At the risk of complicating matters even further, if you will take out a ruler and lay it on your map of the Aegean Sea, placing its upper part on modern Alexandroupoli (in Thrace), you will notice that you may now line up its middle part with the island of Delos and its lower part precisely with the Minoan city of Knossos, on the island of Crete. Thus Aeneas appears to be traversing the waters of the Mediterranean “as the crow flies,” a somewhat unlikely directness given the ancient lack of aviation and the notoriously turbulent Mar Mediterranea. Thrace to Delos to Crete, and back to Delos, on an absolutely straight line? Perhaps all is not, as we moderns would have it, merely a question of “subjective” and “objective” styles. Such earlier poets as Homer, Apollonius Rhodius and Naevius do make reference to themselves, but what distinguishes Ennius from them is his proud claim to originality and fame, the assertive — almost aggressive — intrusion of his own personality into the poem, and the periodicity of his self-conscious references (judging from the fragments). Is that straight line on the map objective or subjective? Accidental or intentional? And what does it signify?
“Once they had returned to Delos, Anchises, agreeing with a dream of the Lares, then suggested Italy, so off they sailed, touching land at Actium, and celebrating the Actian Games.” This detail is for us easier to understand, for though Vergil rarely made mention of Augustus’s exploits at Actium (with the notable exception of their panegyric in the Shield Passage), he here patently compares his hero with his patron, his patron with his hero. “Obviously Virgil,” Levi adds, “felt the anachronism irresistible.” At any rate, he continues, “they touched land at Buthrotrum, where they met a Trojan refugee colony governed by Helenus and Andromache, twice widowed by Hector and Neoptolemus.” In his Proem Ennius relates how he falls asleep (and dreams) on Helicon, “somno leni placidoque revinctus,” “fettered in soft and gentle sleep.” It is all a bit of a dream, this Troy nouvant, isn’t it? Or in a dream is transported to that mountain, a place renowned for the making of powerful poetry, where he may have described a meeting with the Muses. “Helenus, being a prophet as well as a prince, issued some warnings; Aeneas dedicated a shield to the city, ‘spoils from the Greeks,’ almost certainly still to be seen in Virgil’s time at Samothrace and dating perhaps from the Persian wars; then he and his men departed for Italy.” And so we dream on, like Odysseus, toward Ithaka.
Or is it perhaps toward Homer that we dream on? Subsequently Homer appears to Ennius (visus Homerus adesse poeta, says Fragment 3) and proceeds (in Fragment 5) to address him (“O pietas animi!” says the Bard). “Arrived on her shores, they sacrificed to Juno and buried Anchises.” The use of pietas, a term of familial bonding, is extraordinary, since Ennius uses it to establish the poetic relationship between Homer and himself as one of poetic father to poetic son. Doubtless, adds Levi, “they also spotted some Greek temples.” “The Older Shrine of Athena included a wooden cult statue of Athens, for which every four years maidens wove a new dress, or peplos, to adorn the image of Athena at the culmination of the Panathenaic procession” (MM again, in London). “Above everything else” (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature) “the Aeneid is a religious poem.” “Later” (Levi) .they returned to this north-western spot of Sicily which Thucydides knew.” “It is based on the unquestioned assumption that there exist powers outside the world of men, and that these powers direct and influence mortal actions in accordance with a far-reaching plan of their own, extending as far as history can reach, and concerned with the long-term destiny of nations.” “And left a colony there.”
The dream encounter to Ennius is much more than a literary topos, it is a manifestation of his literary self-consciousness, Dominik concludes. For the careful manipulation of the dream motive enables Ennius to stress the magnitude of his own poetic conception, of his own inspiration, of his own poetic mission, and therefore of his place in Latin literature.
“It is not much of an Odyssey,” Levi continues, “and it clings as far as it can to reality or accepted legend.” “Like Dante and Milton” (The Cambridge History) “Virgil aims at including those things which had moved him in past literature as well as those which moved him in the contemporary scene.” “It owes more than one might expect to tiny touches from Apollonius of Rhodes.” “And what is especially remarkable in the Aeneid is the extent to which Virgil could sympathize with, and seek to incorporate, the attitude and outlook of such totally different epochs as the Homeric and the Alexandrian and of such totally different poets as (a) Ennius, a sonorous and severe exponent of the national theme.” Through his meeting with Homer and focus on Pythagorean metempsychosis in the prologue, Ennius suggests that the Annales represents the rebirth of Roman epic rather than an imitation of its Greek predecessor. “And (b) Catullus, an emotional and sensitive poet not concerned with the state at all but with the private world of the lonely individual.” Thus, as the pavomorfic Homer transforms into Ennius, so Greek epic transmutes into Roman. (Volume II, Part 3, “The Age of Augustus.”) Hence Ennius’ dream encounter acquires its real significance: (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.) He is not the creator of a tradition, but rather Homer reincarnate, the adaptor of that tradition to a new Roman context.
The actual crossing to Brindisi, aboard Aphrodite II, proceeds without incident. In Annales I, Fragment 29 Ilia, daughter of Aeneas, relates how Mars ravishes her. Having lectured in Patras, as he had in Istanbul, on “Allegory and the Western Epic,” author returns from the new suburban campus to this northern capital of the Peloponnesus, where, ticket already purchased, he boards the ferry. In the Odyssey Poseidon does the same to Turo by the river Enipeos. The Greek students of comparative literature have been especially eager to hear of MM’s own Odyssean adventures. In recounting this episode, Ennius, as he had in his encounter with Homer, conveys essential details in the form of a dream, thus linking the two scenes: Author has taken his place in a four-bunk cabin along with three Greeks on their way to Rome. Ilia’s dream, through her rape by Mars and the offspring she bears, conspires to create Rome. Late afternoon we set sail and before long have cleared the placid harbor. Thus Ennius’ dreams. Tired from his exertions, by early evening MM has fallen into a sound, dreamless sleep. Through the transmigration of Homer’s soul into his body. Peacefully we glide over the Adriatic. Create, we might say, Roman epic. Dawn finds us approaching the port at Brindisi.
On another trip to Brindisi, according to Levi, we might have met Vergil, as he was approaching the town from the opposite direction, in the company of Horace and Maecenas, the intermediary through whom Augustus offered his literary patronage. As Roman successor to the Greek poet, Ennius faces the problem of adapting the mythological cyclorama of Homer to his own more historical setting. For “either at Brundisium or at Tarentum Maecenas, traveling south on a diplomatic errand to meet Antony, asked Virgil and Horace to accompany him.” The Annales does not belong to a distant heroic age: On this occasion. Though its cast is heroic, its focus is actual. Virgil had “complained of a weak stomach during the journey to Brundisium.” Accordingly his characters — although depicted in heroic terms — are real and contemporary. Despite these frailties, Levi describes Virgil as “a tall, well built man with a healthy country countenance and a dark color.” Ennius (re)constructs historical and contemporary figures — commanders, consuls and tribunes — and converts them into “Homeric” heroes. As we shall see, the traveler arriving by land at Brundisium might at one time or another have encountered many of the greatest figures of Roman history, as they were returning from abroad. These euhemerizing tendencies of Ennius inclined him toward the belief that his accounts of real people and historic events were worthy of epic.
Under blue mid-morning skies we debark at Brindisi. Vergil crosses the narrow harbor road, the Via Regina Margherita, to mount the Scalinata Virgilio. He is still alive, but he has fallen ill. On the third step of the staircase, in a dark suit a man feeds a chocolate Sunday to his seven-year-old son. According to Levi, Vergil “fell ill of the disease that killed him in Megara.” Hardy shrubs in planters lining the steps have begun to bud. “A small town west of Athens.” At the top of the stairs an official sign, erected by the city of Brindisi, outlines a current work project: “Which to this day retains its simplicity and dignity.” The remounting and restoration of the “Colonna Terminale della via Appia.” “September was a bad month in the ancient world.” The monument is terribly eroded. “And Horace says that he was careful when it came around.” The top of the column has been broken off. “But apart from Virgil’s general ill-health, his bad stomach and his tendency to sore throat.” “Luciano,” reads a green graffito on its base. “He had been spitting blood.” “Danny,” says another, in blue. “So it sounds as though he had become tubercular.” “Mario,” says a third, in red.
From the plaza which the column inhabits we climb into a space half surrounded by a marble colonnade and turn about to gaze back toward Greece. “The Esquiline might have suited Virgil better:” Graffiti have been inscribed upon graffiti, inscribed upon graffiti. “His house there overlooked the gardens of Maecenas.” “F” “A” “U” “S” “T” “O” read six letters painted on the six columns at the center of the colonnade. “It was this estate which Augustus himself used as a sanatorium for his maladies.” “DIE, GOD, DIE,” reads another. “Whether or not the Emperor’s invitation to accompany him had been kindly intended.” Six empty beer bottles lie discarded. “The exertion of the voyage apparently killed Virgil.” We re-descend into the space that contains the single fallen column. “By the time he reached Brindisi, he was seriously ill.” “Verona, ti odio,” reads a graffito on its face. “And it would appear that he lingered there.” A photograph shows the column before its deconstruction. “Because he wanted to see Metapontum.” Preparatory to its reconstruction. “Where temples to this day are still standing.” “STUDIO PRO GEO: “Geologia, Geotecnica,” reads a sign on a pink stucco house front. “But within a few days he was dead.” We exit into the streets of Brindisi.
In a gorgeous irregular piazza we pause, at the confluence of the Via Colonne and the Via Scolmafora. Light suffuses the upper reaches of the pink building, whose deep green shutters stand open to reveal a dozen white windows. “He divided his comfortable fortune into twelve.” Perpendicular to it rises another house, in rust red stucco. “A twelfth of it he left to Maecenas.” Its pilasters outlined in beige. “And the same amount he left to Varius and to Plotinus Tucca.” Between them in stone stands a magnificent archway. “A quarter he left to Augustus himself and the remaining half to his half brother (by his mother’s second marriage).” Brightly the sun shines on broad paving stones. “His body was burnt.” Rectangular marble slabs in white, beige and tan. “His ashes and bones were then taken home to the villa that was once Siro’s.” The street narrows, then widens again, opening up into yet another plaza. “Where they were buried ‘just this side of the second mile-stone towards Pozzuoli’ from Naples.” At its center is a drinking fountain. “On the monument was engraved a simple couplet.” We turn back to regard a sign that reads “Pizzeria Donna Maria Ristorante.” “Said to have been written by Virgil himself.”
Mantua made me, Calabria unmade,
The Siren holds me idle in her shade:
Who sang the crown, the shepherd’s crook, the spade.
“But I doubt that, under the circumstances, Virgil wrote it himself and hazard the conjecture that the original lines of Latin were written by Horace.” We continue on up the Via Colonne. “Whether they are by one friend or another, the Siren is Parthenope, the city of Naples.” Ahead rises a magnificent eighteenth-century clock tower. “And the couplet recalls the end of the fourth Georgic.” On a high architectural promontory next to it stands Christ, an iron halo about his head. “Possibly no one was yet familiar with the Aeneid.” Gradually, as we perambulate, the tower occludes the sun. “Yet we are happy to observe this loyalty to Virgil’s earlier verse.” Allowing us to enjoy the quiescence of yet another great courtyard formed by the two large walls of an ecclesiastical building and two house fronts, the space narrowing toward a pleasant vaulted passageway at the base of the tower.
We enter into the broadest plaza yet, in whose corner signs direct the traveler toward “Bari,” “Lecce,” “Taranto.” “The couplet on Virgil’s tomb raises in its way the question that is more insistently raised by the main provision of his will:” Retreating down the broad Via Montenegro, we look back at the brilliantly sunlit Cattedrale. “His attempt, that is, to have the Aeneid burnt.” Upon whose second story, rising above pilasters that begin at its base, stands a figure who, on closer inspection, is mislabeled “Christ.” “An attempt that was frustrated by Augustus.” Clearly the figure instead represents a bishop. “Who insisted on full publication.” By whose side stand three other figures: “And so instructed the executors of Virgil’s estate.” A Roman warrior, an ordinary priest, a Jesuit bearing a cross. “It was not the epic’s lack of polish that worried Virgil.” The warrior carries in his left hand a shield, in his right, an iron spear. “The half-lines he could supplement impromptu in his wonderful voice.” Atop a column, near an ecclesiastical building, stands the Virgin Mary, in white marble, her hands joined together in prayer, a bronze halo atop her head. “The poem itself had not driven him to desperation, no one tells us he was feverish, and his financial arrangements were clear.”
Across the way looms the blandly beige Istituto San Vicento. “Can it have been the whole commission?” The whole of this lovely space — “The Piazza Duomo,” so a sign denominates it — is half in sun, half in shade. “Some philosophic scruple about the whole idea of the Aeneid?” Having arrived at the Diocesi di Brindisi’s portal, we furtively enter. “Was it some resentment of pressure from Augustus that had troubled Virgil?” On the bulletin board of its dim hallway is posted an advertisement for the “Istituto di Scienze Religiose.” “Why else would he have allowed three years for the revision of his poem?” As we prepare to leave this plaza we turn about and regard a sign, which identifies the ecclesiastical building as the “Monastero Santa Chiara,” a small church behind it as the “Chiesa di Santa Teresa.” “The first answer is: that they were years to be spent traveling.” We continue along what appears to be the Via Appia Antica. “To refill the exhausted cisterns of his imagination.” At number 1, however, a sign on the wall identifies it as the “Via Giovanni Tarachini, Archeologo, 1805-1889.” “The second answer is:” Alongside it a poster advertising ice cream identifies four types: “That imagination lay at the heart of his work.” “Classico, Caffè, Amarena, Whiskey.” “He was essentially a Hellenistic stylist who had learnt to apply his dazzling abilities to a long narrative poem.” All under the banner of “Prestige Sanson.” “And that he needed three years for his imagination to complete it.”
We continue on up the street, which is bathed in chiaroscuro. We pass “La Lanterna Ristorante.” Alleyways have begun to descend from it into the lower district of the city. We pause before number 31, to whose beige wall has been attached an elliptical plaque, lettered in black on a gold ground. “Fine Antique Limited,” it reads. At number 29, above a five-pointed star still not removed since Christmas, sit two clocks, all four hands pointing to “XII.”
Not long after their arrival in Athens, Cicero and his friends were initiated into the secret religious mysteries at nearby Eleusis. We pass an “Anticha Panetteria,” three stalks of wheat displayed on its door. This experience must have come as a shock to Romans brought up to see religion as a set of rules and social rituals (Anthony Everitt, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician). We pass a smaller church. The mysteries were at the heart of a festival of purification and fertility. We pass a “Studio Legale.” Those taking part witnessed some kind of spiritual reenactment of death and rebirth. We pass a doctor’s office: Involving a descent into the underworld. “Specialista in Neurologia.” And a vision of the future life.
We pass a toy store, in whose window are being displayed. Cicero was profoundly stirred by the experience. The figure of Tarzan; a game called “Soccer World”; a “Heat Scan Batman”; a white Thunderbird convertible. And believed that of all Athenian contributions to civilization, these transcendental ceremonies were the greatest. A “Rainbow Beauty Power Hair Dryer.” “If you woke up one morning to discover that some miracle had transported you to Athens in the early years of the third century B.C., you would find yourself in a social and spiritual atmosphere not altogether unfamiliar” (R. E. Latham, “Introduction” to Lucretius: On the Nature of the Universe). The sun continues to warm our path along the narrow cobbled street, until we emerge once more into a broad plaza. “The political ideas of the city-state — liberty, democracy, national self-sufficiency — had lost their appeal in a world dominated by large-scale despotisms and shaken by economic crises and social unrest.” Writing near the end of his life in his book On Law Cicero says: “The old gods retained their temples and their sacrifices but had ceased to inspire a living faith.” “We have learned from them the beginnings of life.” At the center of this square stands a traffic sign indicating, “TUTTE LE DIREZIONI.” “The master minds of the preceding century, Plato and Aristotle, had nothing to say to the rising generation.” We have gained the power not only to live happily but also to die with a better hope.” “There was no effective medicine for the prevailing mood of disillusionment, skepticism and fatalism.” High on the wall above a sign indicates “Piazza Dante.”
According to Plutarch. “1,” “2,” “3” read the numbers of houses bordering the square. Cicero “planned that, if he were finally deprived of the chance of a public career, he would retire to Athens.” Between “4” and “5” a graffito reads: “Away from the law and politics.” “LAURA.” “And would spend his life there in the quiet pursuit of philosophy.” At the end of the plaza a sign directs us toward the “Chiesa di San Paolo.” In fact. To reach which one must retreat from Piazza Dante. Although over the years he was indeed forced from time to time into periods of retirement. “Filodrammatico C. Goldoni,” reads a sign at “8.” This never happened. Whose door is half in the basement, half above ground. But if he did not go to Athens. The numbers continue. He made Athens come to him. The house bearing the number “9” has been whitewashed. In his own house at Tusculum he would later recreate the Academy. In bronze the numerals “10,” “11” and “12” have been placed above three identical doorways, whose wooden surfaces have been recently restored. Including halls and walkways for intellectual debate and meditation. Between “11” and “12” on two mail boxes have been scribbled a myriad of graffiti, many of them simply illegible. Finally he built a Lyceum, a version of Aristotle’s base in Athens. “Cosmogaz,” reads an advertisement plastered on one of the boxes.
What I am especially keen to know is which particular Hercules we worship, for we are told by those who scrutinize the secret and abstruse books that there are several.
The route that we have been following, hoping that it might turn out to be the Via Appia Antica, has taken a new name: “Via Pier Tommaso Santabarbara.” The most ancient was the son of Jupiter — the Jupiter who is likewise “the most ancient,” for in old Greek works we find that there are several Jupiters (Cicero, The Nature of the Gods). It appears to be a new street, for at its corner stands a café numbered “1.” From this ancient Jupiter, then, and Lysithoe is sprung the Hercules who, we are told, struggled with Apollo to seize the tripod. A “Studio Fotografico: Immagini d’Arte” is numbered “2.” There exists a second Hercules who is said to be Egyptian, the son of the Nile. Author enters the café to find its walls absolutely crammed with memorabilia, all depicting the age of Mussolini: They say that he composed the Phrygian writings. Political posters hanging on the walls, currency of the age under a glass countertop, a rack with vintage bottles of wine from the Fascist period, each label bearing a portrait of Il Duce. A third Hercules hails from the Digiti of Mt. Ida, to whom the folk of Cos sacrifice. Author takes a seat outdoors; across from the café a sign reads “Giulio Minerva, Medico Chirurgo, Specialista in Oculistica.”
He bent his way to the left and took the road to Pyxa, whilst I and Eucritus and fair Amyntas turned to Phrasidamus’ farm and lay down delighted on deep couches of sweet rush and newly cut vine leaves. Many poplars and elms rustled above our heads; nearby the sacred water from the cave of the Nymphs fell babbling down. On shady boughs dusky cicadas toiled away with their chattering; at a distance the tree frog croaked in the thick, thorny brambles. Larks and finches were singing, the dove moaned, bees flew buzzing around the springs. Everything smelt of the full fatness of summer, smelt of the fruit time. Pears at our feet, apples at our sides rolled abundantly, and branches hung to the ground weighed down with sloes. The four-year-old seal was released from the necks of the wine jars.
There is a fourth Hercules who is the son of Jupiter and Asteria, the sister of Latona. A woman in a beige blouse passes, a black sweater over one arm, a black shopping bag held in her other hand. He is worshipped by the people of Tyre. She pauses before number “4,” a publishing house, then takes out a key and opens its door, above which reads an advertisement for a magazine called Grazie. And people say that Carthage is his daughter.
“The whole of the second half of Aeneid I is about Dido, and in it Virgil builds up the picture of an admirable and enviable queen” (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature). Two other magazines from the same publisher have been included in the ad: “Dido is beautiful, like Diana; she is kind and hospitable to the Trojans.” Grazie Casa and Casa. “As a ruler she is highly efficient and beloved of her people.” On a bulletin board yet another magazine is being advertised: “She has been through hardship and exile and is now triumphantly achieving what Aeneas himself seeks to achieve in the future:” The tabloid Quotidiano. “The foundation of a new city for her people.” There is a fifth Hercules, in India, who bears the name of Belus. “In the joyful scenes of her banquet for the Trojans the notes of disaster to come are not absent, yet it is hard to imagine that a person of such qualities could destroy herself as Dido will.”
Nymphs of Castalia, who dwell on the heights of Parnasus, was it such a bowl that old Chiron set before Heracles in Pholos’ rocky cave? Was it such a nectar that persuaded the herdsman by the Anapus, mighty Polyphemus, who used to pelt ships with mountains, to dance among the sheepfold? — such a drink, Nymphs, as you then mixed for us by the altar of Demeter of the Threshing Floor. On her heap may I again plant the big winnowing fan; may she smile, holding sheaves and poppies in her two hands.
A sixth Hercules is the one we know, whom Alcmena bore by Jupiter. “IL DELITTO DI VIA APPIA,” reads the first of Quotidiano’s headlines. “Aeneid IV depicts how Dido yields completely to a love which she must have known was impossible.” Before number 5 a rug has been beaten, washed and hung out to dry on a metal gate, whose two parts have been propped open with a white plastic chair. “She allows it to annihilate all her other qualities, and as a consequence Carthage comes to a halt.” “L’OMICIDIO DI VIA APPIA / PARLA IL TESTIMONE,” reads a second Quotidiano headline. “Her situation is presented with strong pathos, culminating in her plea to Aeneas not to leave, after she has devoted her whole self to love for him.” “ESTORSIONI” reads another, beneath the photos of four “ARRESTI.” “Aeneas replies that he is not free to stay, and at this Dido changes from a pathetically deserted woman to a personification of hatred and vengeance.” We continue on past the door of number 5 to which has been attached a lion’s head, a knocker threaded through its teeth. “In a highly rhetorical speech she distances herself from her lover, ceases to be a human individual with whom communication is possible, and becomes instead a kind of avenging Fury, an archetypal and terrifying symbol of slighted pride and bitter anger.”
We continue on, entering yet another ample square, formed by the juncture of the Via Giovanni Maria Moricino and the route that we have been traversing. If Saturn is a god, then we must grant that his father Caelus is one as well. “Carne Scelta,” reads a sign, the outline of a cow above its letters. And if this is so, the parents of Caelus, Aether and Dies, must be reckoned as gods, and so must their brothers and sisters. “In her long curse against her lover she revolves thoughts of the horrors that she could have inflicted and ends by invoking the long years of history to achieve her vengeance.” On the side of a new, freshly painted apartment building, has been painted an acidic blue graffito: “She calls on every Carthaginian to hate and destroy the Romans.” “No Problem ULTRAS Brindisi.” These siblings the genealogists list as follows: A yellow sign directs us up a narrow alleyway toward “Trattoria Vecchia.” Love, Guile and Sickness, Toil, Envy and Fate, Old Age, Death and Darkness, Wretchedness, Lamentation, and Partiality, Deceit, Obstinacy and the Fates, Dreams and the Daughters of Hesperus. “In her very last speech, before she kills herself, Dido unites both aspects of her tragic character, first re-invoking the pathos which had been the dominant feature of the Book’s first half, and finally returning to her passionate hatred for the lover who has scorned her and upon whom she must now have vengeance.” They say that all these creatures are the children of Erebus and Night. Author decides to seek a detour.
At the end of the alleyway we arrive at a classical church, the sixth century A.D. Tempio San Giovanni al Sepolcro. We must either put the seal of approval on these monsters or dispense with them. A touristic plaque helps us grasp its importance: “Our last word should concern the significance of Dido’s tragedy within the structure of the poem.” “Destroyed by the Longobards, it was reconstructed during the 11th and 12th centuries.” Above all, it introduces a note alien to the serene prophecy of Jupiter in Book I:” “Beneath it lies a Roman domus dating from the 1st century B.C.” “The Roman mission is not to be achieved without tragic events.” “An eighteenth-century description of the building,” says the plaque, “emphasizes its round shape.” “Nothing would have been easier than for Virgil to have depicted Dido as an obstacle to the Roman destiny, whose removal we could all applaud.” “Its original function reminds us of Constantine’s Anastasius in Jerusalem.” “A sort of Circe, a Calypso, a Siren.” “Its structure is related to the Norman travels and to those to the Holy Land.” “But that was exactly what Virgil was not prepared to do, whatever the cost to the credibility of Rome’s heaven-sent mission.”
Cicero settled down miserably in Brundisium, he informed Atticus, to await Caesar’s return. “Its eleventh-century decorations include animal figures on tiles done to Islamic and Byzantine taste; the images of saints datable to the 13th century.” By the end of November he learned of Pompey’s fate. “At the end of the 19th century the church has assumed the function of an Archaeological Museum.” After Pharsalus, the general had made his way eastwards, with Caesar in hot pursuit. “We are left deeply unhappy at the close of the book, but it is important to end with the thought that whereas Dido rejected her obligations to her people and destroyed herself for reasons entirely personal to herself, Aeneas was able to dismiss the promptings of self and return to the duty which he owed to others.” His destination had been Egypt; he thought he could make a stand there and raise another army by recruiting in Asia Minor; for many years he had been the incarnation of Roman authority in the region, and he expected that his writ would still hold; also he was the Senate-appointed guardian of the boy Pharaoh. “It served this function till 1955,” the year, incidentally, when MM concluded his formal Latin studies, to be resumed only in 1962, when he took up the Aeneid in the original.
We stand now before the temple’s glorious portal. But the royal advisers to the Pharaoh had no intention of welcoming a loser. A further point: Imagining that they would ingratiate themselves with Caesar, they lured Pompey from his ship and had him killed before he had even reached land. If these figures which we have accepted and now worship are gods, what objection have you to including Serapis and Isis in the same category? Two columns rise from the backs of two happy if weathered, lions. Not long afterwards Caesar arrived in Alexandria and was presented with Pompey’s severed and picked head. And if we accept them, why should we reject the deities of the barbarians? Its lintel and jamb are gorgeously decorated. So now we shall admit oxen and horses, ibises and hawks, asps, crocodiles and fishes, dogs, wolves and cats, and numerous other creatures into the Pantheon.
Caesar unexpectedly disappeared from view altogether, sending no dispatches to Rome whatsoever between December 23 of the year 48 and June of the following year. We return up the little alleyway past nine shirts freshly washed and draped over three windows: For he had become embroiled, with too few troops at his back, in a bitter little war with the Egyptian court and at one stage was blockaded inside the royal palace at Alexandria. Five in one window. One of the daughters of the late Pharaoh, Ptolemy, was Cleopatra, now in her late teens. Three in a second. Sex and politics were to be interwoven so closely in her career that her motives are hard to disentangle. One in a third. Raison d’état led her into the bedrooms of two famous Romans, first of Caesar, later of Mark Antony. Having exited the alleyway we return into the plaza to stand before the Liceo Scientifico di Stato, then continue on up the street whose name reverts to “Via Pier Tommaso Santabarbara.” The narrative critically presents rather than eulogizes the world of political and military power and its idealizing self-image, examining the relationship of that image to Roman reality and the effect of the political world and its imperial achievement on human values and human history (A. J. Boyle, “The Aeneid as Moral Text”). To what extent did physical attraction or love also play a part (Everitt). Sunlight. We do not know. Illuminates the bright green leaves of plants set out in large earthen jars. At the time of her first meeting with Caesar, Cleopatra and a younger half-brother were joint Pharaohs (and, according to Egyptian custom for royal families, were probably married). They have been set out on the second-story balcony of a tall three-story house. Cleopatra had no intention of sharing her authority with her brother, and the arrival of Rome’s leading general represented a prime opportunity for her, if only she could win him over to her cause. Opposite stands Parrucchiere Vito: Uomo/Donna, Vito’s name circled in red.
The young Queen had herself smuggled into Caesar’s presence wrapped in a carpet or bedroll.
With these words she jumped up and sought her dear companions, who were the very same age as herself, her heart’s delight and of noble family, with whom she always played, when there were preparations for dancing or they were to wash their bodies in the streams of river water or gather scented lilies from the meadow. They were quickly in her sight, each had in her hand a basket for flowers, and they went to the meadows by the shore, where they always used to collect together, delighting in the growing roses and the sound of the waves.
And soon they began an affair.
The sea grew calm at Zeus’ coming and the sea-beasts sported before his feet, and joyfully the dolphin came up from the deep and tumbled above the swell; the Nereids rose out of the brine and formed a row, all riding on the backs of sea-beasts. The deep-roaring sea-god, the Earthshaker himself, made straight the waves and guided the way over the brine for his brother, as the Tritons gathered about him, those deep-sounding bassoonists of the ocean, proclaiming the marriage song with their long conches.
Cleopatra quickly persuaded Caesar to take her side in the struggle for power with her brother. There are many communities in which the memory of brave men has clearly been hallowed by endowing them with the status of immortal gods. Caesar defeated the Egyptian army at the end of March 47 and Cleopatra’s annoying little brother was drowned while trying to escape by boat from the battlefield. The purpose of this exemplum was to promote valor, so that the best citizens would more willingly confront danger on behalf of the state. Cleopatra wasted no time in marrying yet another boy sibling. This is precisely why at Athens Erechtheus and his daughters were numbered among the deities.
As he speaks he sinks steel in the facing breast
Burning. The other’s limbs go limp with cold.
With a groan protesting life flees to the darkness.
Unaccountably, Caesar did not leave the country till June, spending instead some of his time on a lavish and leisurely excursion up the Nile. As for the descendants of Alabandus, they pay more devoted reverence to their founder than to any of the well-known deities. This was risky, if not irresponsible behavior, for it undermined the apparently decisive result of Pharsalus. It was in that city that Stratonicus showed the wit so often characteristic of him. What remained of Pompey’s fleet was scoring successes in the Adriatic; meanwhile the optimates in Africa were raising substantial forces. When some fellow was being a nuisance. Antony was not doing well at governing Italy. Maintaining that Alabandus was a god and that Hercules was not. He failed to calm the mutinous soldiery. Stratonicus retorted: Caesar, cut off from the rest of the world, did not learn of these developments until later, but he could have foreseen that his absence would lead to problems. “Very well, Alabandus can be cross with me, and Hercules with you!” It was no time for him to quit the helm.
Our train departs Brindisi for Naples; quickly we leave the town behind for the countryside. Mother of Aeneas’ race, pleasure of men and gods, nourishing Venus, you who beneath the gliding stars of the sky fill with yourself the sea that beats the ships and the land that bears the crops, since by you every kind of living thing is conceived. We are passing through landscapes of vineyards and umbrella pines, of orchards and olive groves. And when come forth looks upon the light of the sun. These in their turn give way to green fields, interspersed with others filled with wild flowers, yellow, purple and white. It is you, goddess, you whom the winds flee, the clouds in the sky flee you and your coming, for you the intricately working earth puts forth sweet flowers, for you the expanses of the ocean smile, and the sky, made peaceful, shines with light spread abroad. From a blue sky the sun shines brightly this spring morning. As soon as the spring day’s face is manifested, and the generative breeze of the west wind is unloosed and grows strong, the birds of the air demonstrate you and your entering-in, struck hard in their hearts by your force (Lucretius, the De Rerum Natura). We pause at Ostuni, then again at Fasano, on whose outskirts a whole field is devoted to red poppies.
From the very beginning the Roman people seem to have felt for Pompey the same feelings as those expressed by Aeschylus’ Prometheus for Heracles when, after Heracles had delivered him, he says: In our railway compartment two eighteenth-century landscapes of Southern Italy have been framed and mounted on either side of a mirror. “I hate the father, but I love this son of his.” “32,” “34,” ”36” read the seat numbers opposite author. For the Romans never hated any of their generals so much and so bitterly as they hated Pompey’s father, Strabo. Briefly a natural carpet of intermingled red and yellow stretches before the passing eye. While he was alive they stood in awe of his military power; but when he was killed by a thunderbolt, they insulted his dead body and dragged it from the bier as it was being carried to the funeral. Cautiously we enter the outskirts of Monopoli, soon to be nestled among its bland dwellings. There was one reason and one only for the hatred felt against Strabo, namely his insatiable love of money. We pause long enough at the station to observe a concrete apartment building six stories high. But there were many reasons for loving Pompey: Its balconies have been painted white, it walls, pale blue-green. His modest way of life, his record as a soldier, his eloquence, his trustworthy character, and the easy tactful way he had of dealing with people (Plutarch, the Life of Pompey). As we are leaving, our train passes beneath a modern bridge constructed in the style of a Roman aqueduct.
Meanwhile Pompey continued to rebuff Caesar’s offers of peace, deciding to extricate himself and his legions from Italy (Everitt, Cicero, Chapter 10, “The Battle for the Republic: 50-48 B.C.”). We arrive at Bari. He had an appearance which seemed to plead for him before he opened his mouth, and this was a great help to him in winning people’s affections. At the railway station we look out across the tracks to observe the orange and cream cars of a train that has just arrived from the opposite direction, headed for Brindisi. He marched to Brundisium, intending to leave for Greece. Whereas, we are told, the inhabitants of that city “resemble the Greeks who had settled there,” Bari, according to our guidebook, “served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire in Italy.” Caesar followed him at top speed. We exit past a sign reading “Open Your Eye [sic].” On February 20 Pompey dispatched an abrupt note to “M. Cicero Imperator,” telling him to meet him at Brundisium.
A helicopter hovers over a field to touch down at a military base. Cicero wrote a long, detailed reply in which he explained why it was unsafe and impractical for him to do so. We pick up speed and move quickly through the bunker-like suburbs of a city where we are not scheduled to stop, its name nowhere visible. The truth was, as Cicero admitted to Atticus, that he had not yet made up his mind what to do. The sky is beginning to grey. On March 9 Caesar arrived outside Brundisium, but it was too late. As we enter Barletto, we pass a car wash designated “Autolavaggio. The consuls had already left with part of the army to set up headquarters in Greece. Enormous graffiti in chartreuse, blue and silver, pink and black adorn the cars of a train on the track next to us. Pompey was still in town, but towards nightfall on March 17 he followed after them, evading with few losses Caesar’s attempt at a blockade and escaping with the remainder of his troops.
The skies have completely clouded over. Caesar was left fuming outside the walls (Plutarch). Down the aisle strides an Italian youth in his twenties, his rugby shirt in foot-wide orange and magenta stripes. From which vantage point he could see the fleet’s sails grow smaller in the darkening light (Everitt). As we are leaving Barletto a portly woman on a balcony peers down into the train yard. He was certainly attractive, but part of his attractiveness lay in a kind of dignity and sweetness of disposition. We now diverge from the Adriatic and begin our journey toward the Tyrhennian Sea. At the height and flower of his youthful beauty were apparent the majesty and kingliness of his nature. When Vergil traveled this route, did he not also reflect upon other routes as well? His hair in a kind of wave swept back from his forehead. Would he too not have been traveling two routes at once? The configuration of his face round the eyes gave to him a melting look. Or four: coming and going. So that some supposed that he resembled the statues of King Alexander. Going and coming.
The landscape begins to undulate. They say that Flora, the courtesan, when she was getting on in years, delighted to tell people of her early intimacy with Pompey. At Foggia we pause much longer than we had paused at earlier stops. She still had the marks, she said, of his bites. Black-jacketed youths, their short hair waxed, lounge about in black sunglasses, smoking cigarettes on the benches of the station platform. When she returned from having made love with him. The train population in Italy seems unusually young. And yet she was so renowned for her good looks that when Caecilius Metellis decorated the temple of Castor and Pollux, because of her remarkable beauty he caused a portrait of her to be painted and dedicated it to the gods along with other offerings.
We have now been under way for three hours, covering a distance that doubtless required three days for the ancient Roman on horseback. It is an old custom at Rome that those who belong to the propertied class outside the senate should, at the conclusion of the legal period of their military service, come into the forum, each leading his horse, and appear before the two officials called censors. On any of his previous three trips from Brindisi to Naples, Vergil by now would have tired and begun perhaps to yearn again for Greece. On this occasion the censors were sitting in state, and the gentlemen with their horses were passing in review before them, when Pompey appeared, coming down the hill and into the forum. He conquers his anxieties by rehearsing his plot.
Bearing all the insignia of a consul, he was nonetheless leading his horse with his own hand. The plot of Aeneas, the plot of Jason, the plot of Odysseus. As he approached, so that everyone could see him, he ordered his lectors to make way and proceeded to lead his horse up to the bench where the censors were sitting. All collapse into the plot of Vergil (who himself is about to collapse into his own plot outside Naples). Amazed, the people stood about in complete silence. At fifty-six he was no longer a young man. The censors too were awed and also delighted by the sight. There is no expunging this from the plot. Then the senior censor questioned him: The DNA of tradition is not to be escaped. “Pompey the Great, I require you to tell me whether you have taken part in the military campaigns that the law demands.” For repetition is all. In a loud voice Pompey replied:
We have entered Foggia and left it behind. “I have taken part in them all, and all under myself as imperator.” Vergil would have entered each town from the west and exited each toward the east. These words were greeted with a great shout from the people. Entered them from the east and exited them toward the west. And indeed it became impossible to restrain their rapturous applause. On his way from Naples to Brindisi. The censors rose from their seats and led a procession escorting Pompey home. And again from Brindisi to Naples. This gave great pleasure to the people, who followed behind, shouting and clapping. The town of Foggia is no more interesting than any other stop along the way.
Thus it is that Rome and Greece, Greece and Rome retain their endless, endlessly dull fascination, the very dullness a part of their fascination. The nature that is so passionately celebrated here is not in any way numinous or god-filled. Vergil was a poet, not a leader, yet he knew many leaders, among them Cicero, a leader who was also a poet (and a man who died when Vergil himself was 28). Instead, it is but an immense physical machine. He of course knew Augustus, a leader but not a poet. It is all described, however, in terms of a god’s agency. Conspicuously Aeneas combines traits of them all. In this regard Lucretius is both old and new. He meditates upon the landscape. Like earlier poets, he feels that he can only do justice to his strongest feelings for nature by employing the figure of a deity. And the here rather dull landscape must suffice for his meditation. But it is nature itself, the actual physical reality of wind and water, of plants and animals, of the actual operation of spring according to scientific law. Not all landscapes, he observes, are beautiful, not all landscapes interesting. That inspires the poet’s feelings of awe and veneration and his ecstatic enthusiasm. Nature and art are not identical, he reflects, nor can he say which of the two is superior. His Venus is not found, like Sappho’s Aphrodite or Theocritus’ nymphs of Cos, within or behind or beyond nature. We pass a town called Troia, its little yellow church gleaming in the sun. She represents instead the workings of nature itself (Jenkyns, Vergil’s Experience).
“Buon Viaggio,” reads a sign alongside a road bordered by a uniformly high hedge of vegetation. It is not clear whether its uniformity of height be natural or artificial. It is, at any rate, encroaching upon the road. As we move along, the landscape develops into a pleasant variety, evoking other landscapes, other forms of variety.
Horses graze along the length of a slope, interspersed with cattle. We tunnel through a cliff to emerge at the base of a high medieval structure. Nothing is done by intention, all has reference to a deeper process. Above, on another hill, as it follows rutted tracks, a truck shadows us, laboring to keep pace.
A pale green stream, muddied at its margins, floats through weeds, neither its origin nor its issue apparent from this perspective. In the Eclogues as a whole Virgil creates a small universe at once real and artificial, strange and familiar, ordinary and magical. Sheep, as though in a reminiscence, stand on a hillside, vague flecks of white in a green puzzle. With the Georgics he was to find a way of fusing these opposing tendencies into an imaginative unity, so that the paradoxes which in the Eclogues were a literary brilliance become a means of exploring the depths of emotional experience. Like a sentinel a farmer stands by a gate to his barnyard, as his cattle return from their morning milking down a road leading to the pasture. “The gods of the Etruscans,” says our guidebook, “were the same as those of the Greeks.”
Though it is less than the full truth that some parts of the Eclogues are naturalistic and others imaginary, it remains that in these poems the conceptions of the real and the spiritual remain distinct: “Both believed in life after death, and in divination. (The Etruscans studied the entrails of animals and the flight of birds, a superstition that the Romans adopted.)” It is at least reasonable to suggest that the setting of several Eclogues is and is not Italy, that Menalcas is and is not Virgil. We enter a long tunnel. In his Georgics, by contrast, the setting is steadily Italy. The landscape has picked up considerably in richness and beauty as we have made our way across the peninsula. (Except, that is, when we are transported for a while to some other part of the real world — Scythia, Noricum, or Greece.) The heart, it would seem, is returning to its abode. And Virgil’s Italy here is the solid, actual Italy known to our own experience. Do journeys end as they began? At once quotidian and romantic: Is this the final progress from Greece to Italy to the Blessed Isles? The physical and the imaginative landscapes have merged into a single identity. And does it mean that Eternal Rome lies ahead or behind?
To go from Greek poetry. We pass a little town called Amorosi. Even Hellenistic poetry. Again the spirit quickens. To the Aeneid. For love makes us happy. Is a long leap. By loving we make ourselves happy. Two centuries separate Virgil from Theocritus and Apollonius. Racing on into Campania, our train speeds up. And as important as the distance in time may be, even more so the extent of the adventure in imagination that intervenes. We have stopped again, within view of a two-story Roman aqueduct. By the coming of the age of Augustus. Our train starts up again. Two works have transformed the place of nature in poetry: At long last we begin our approach to the outskirts of Naples. The De Rerum Natura. Vergil’s weary return is about to conclude. And the Georgics. The skies are both cloudy and blue.
Then the herds, gone wild, bound over the rich meadows and swim across the racing rivers, so does each one, taken by your charm, follow you desiringly where you proceed to lead them. Indeed, over seas and mountains and the tearing cataracts, the leafy homes of the birds and the verdant plains, you, striking sweet love into the breasts of all, make them, in desire, reproduce their races according to their kind. A load of gravel has been dragged to a siding and deposited by a grey service vehicle, whose side has been overwritten with black and blue graffiti. Since you alone control the nature of things, and without you nothing comes forth into the dazzling light, and nothing without you ever becomes glad or lovely. “Bomb . . . Inc.,” reads the name, in pink, of the graffito “writer.” Therefore I desire you for my help in writing these verses.
Continuing on to Napoli Centrale, Vergil’s spirit alights from the train into the Piazza Garibaldi, where, taking a room for the night in the Hotel Europa, he falls asleep.
“WALL STREET PLUMMETS ON INFLATION FEARS,” reads the morning headline. Virgil’s inter/intratextual strategies shaped epic writing to come (A. J. Boyle, “The Canonic Text”). Having awakened, MM and his ghostly guide step out into Piazza Garibaldi for a morning stroll. So too — in the cases of Ovid and Lucan — did Virgil’s structuring of the poetic text to reflect upon itself. Together they pass “Infostrada.” The influence of the Aeneid on the Middle Ages (John G. Ward, “After Rome: Medieval Epic”). The sidewalk has been sheathed in rubber. Along with the role of the schools in keeping this influence current cannot be downplayed. “Libri,” in blue; “Books” in red, read two neon signs. Nevertheless, new Latin epic emerged in such a variety of forms that the Virgilian model was at best a sub-text rather than a strict model for imitatio. “Livres,” reads a third in green; “Bücher,” a fourth in black.
“The acute stages are easy to diagnose” (Fodor’s Naples and the Amalfi Coast). I have already shown what the component bodies of everything are like (Lucretius). “Libreria Internazionale.” “The symptoms cry out.” How they vary in shape. Vergil has become a star. “Utter the words ‘Bay of Naples,’ ‘Positano,’ ‘Capri.’ and patients close their eyelids and sigh, or roll their eyeballs and moan.” How they fly spontaneously through space. “INTERNET EMAIL,” reads a blue banner spanning the plaza. “In advanced cases, they embark on a monologue that includes such phrases and fragments as:” Impelled by a perpetual motion. “‘The lure of the Mediterranean.’” How from all these objects they can be created. “‘The magic of the southern sun.’” “Grand Hotel Terminus.” “‘Water that out-sapphires the jewels at Tiffany’s.’” Reads a brown sign on a white background. “‘The song of the Sirens.’”
Evidently the next step in my work is to elucidate the nature of mind and life. Four stars indicate the hotel’s ranking. In so doing I shall drive out neck and crop the fear of Hell that blasts the life of man from its very foundations. We begin a clockwise tour of the Piazza. “Every ailment, whether physical, mental, or social, reflects a need.” Sullying all with the blackness of death and leaving no pleasure pure and unalloyed. We scurry through ordinary Saturday morning Naples traffic to reach the far sidewalk. “Acute and widespread Campania mania (that hopeless infatuation with the region and its sun-wreathed resorts and starlit isles) simply proves there’s something in the organism, blood, and mental makeup of every modern-day escapist that requires a good dose of this relentlessly romantic corner of the world.” As we pass the “Banco di Napoli,” a black woman in a black fedora passes us. We pause before “Ristorante Ettore,” whose window displays large elliptical vessels of vegetables: peas, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant.
I am blazing a trail through pathless tracts of the Muses’ Pierean realm. We pass the much smaller Hotel Ideal. “It has been this way ever since the Roman emperors escaped overheated Rome by building pleasure palaces around the Bay of Naples (and in the process inventing the very idea of the vacation).” What joy to pluck new flowers and to gather for my brow a glorious garland from fields whose blossoms were never yet wreathed by the Muses round any head. An Indian girl in long black hair, black jacket and black tights leans over a jeweler’s counter to check out his gold necklaces, pendants and earrings. “Back then, some Roman travel agent urged his countrymen to ‘See Naples and die.’” This is my reward for teaching on these lofty topics, for struggling to loose men’s minds from the knots of superstition and for shedding in dark corners the bright beam of my song, which irradiates everything with the sparkle of the Muses. Within a block we arrive at the Hotel Vergilius. “Ever since that time, this pithy phrase has been interpreted in contrasting, equally viable ways.” Along the sidewalk a bookstall displays a three-volume Italian edition of The Myths of the Trojan War.
The great poet Caius Valerius Catullus, a member of Clodius’ circle, fell in love with the eldest of Clodius’ three sisters. “Lovers of Naples, asking what on earth you cannot find here, get the slogan’s true meaning.” Volume I, The Apple of Discord / The Judgment of Paris. After she threw him over, Catullus wrote memorably, with all the rage of discarded passion, about Clodia’s loose way of life. “Noting the murderous traffic, the Mafia’s activity, the ever-present threat of Vesuvius erupting and the region’s earthquakey history.” Volume II, The Rape of Helen. “The hard-liners also say, ‘See Naples and die.’” Volume III: Achilles and Polysena / The Trojan Horse. She had, it seems, a house on the fashionable Palatine Hill by the gardens of the Tiber, conveniently near a public bathing area, where she was accused of picking up young men. A shop selling specialty foods has on display: “Most guide books approach Naples with a degree of circumspection.” Russian vodka. “Treating her as the cousin who would be presentable.” Middle Eastern couscous. “If only she toned down her makeup, watched her mouth, and didn’t try to palm her date’s wallet.” Twining’s Earl Grey Tea. Clodia and her sisters were widely supposed to have slept with their brother and, although these kinds of accusations were part of the cut-and-thrust of political life, the rumors of incest were persistent, and one of their ex-husbands confirmed them under oath (Everitt, Cicero).
Who has such power within his breast that he could build up a song worthy of this high theme and these discoveries? Macedonian halva with almonds; Kikkoman soy sauce; Heinz baked beans. Who has such mastery of words that he could praise as he deserves the man who produced such treasures from his breast and bequeathed them to us? Fish sauce from Thailand; Bücklingsfilets; Pringle’s potato chips. No one, I believe, whose body is of mortal growth. On the sidewalk white tiles ride in a wave-like motion upon the backs of black and red tiles. “But you don’t come to Naples to see things; you come to Naples to be.” Another bookstall is offering Omero, Iliade; Omero, Odissea; Virgilio, Eneide. If I am to suit my language to the majesty of his revelations, he was a god. “Il Capolavoro epico della latinità.” A god indeed, my noble Memmius, who first discovered that rule of life which now is called philosophy. “Naples is a kinetic gust of 3-D garlic-and-basil aromatherapy for the soul, a revitalizing splash of reality.” Who by his art rescued life from such a stormy sea. “Naples is discovering the ‘simple things’ and finding them exalted into ecstasies of complication.” So black a night. “Naples is fluidity among stasis, fertility spawning misery, infinite intelligence circumventing colossal stupidity.” And steered it into such a calm and sun-lit haven.
We cross Corso Garibaldi to enter into a small park centered upon a large statue of the famous politician. The next stage of the argument is this: “Throughout history foreigners of all stripes have sustained a positively unseemly orgy of righteous disdain for the Neapolitans and their passionate, anarchic approach to morality.” So large is the statue looming above us, as we take a seat at its base, that the face of Garibaldi is hidden from view. First I must demonstrate that the world also was born and is composed of a mortal body. “Already in ancient times the entire Neapolitan area (of Baia in particular) was a notorious fleshpot.” His shoulders are green, the rest of his garment black. Next I must deal with the concourse of matter that laid the foundation of land, sea and sky, stars and sun and the globe of the moon. “The truth is, on deeper acquaintance, that the mannerisms of the Neapolitans are merely the prickly nettles that must be navigated before one reaches the ripe center.” From high above, Garibaldi gazes out over his own piazza. Then I must show what living things have existed on earth, and which have never existed before. “Sublime artists of existence, Neapolitans are skillful players in the larger, more serious world.” Finally, how there crept into the minds of men that fear of the gods which, all the world over, sanctifies temples and lakes, groves and altars and divine images.
We continue to circumambulate the plaza, past a blue-and-white sign for “Polizia.” “‘Built like a great amphitheater around her beautiful bay, Naples is a perpetually unfolding play performed by a million of the world’s best actors’” (Herbert Kubly, quoted in Fodor). A black girl in a jaunty maroon leather cap crosses the intersection, as a double, orange accordion bus swerves to miss her. “‘The comedy is broad, the tragedy violent.’” Turning down the Corso, its placard reads “Trento Trieste.” “‘The curtain never rings down.’” Author himself crosses the intersection to arrive in front of a store named “Telottica,” his image reflected in its mirrored window, within which is barely visible a man in dark glasses stooping over a microscope. “Is it the sense of doom from living in the shadow of Vesuvius that makes many Neapolitans so volatile, so seemingly blind to everything but the pain or pleasure of the moment?” Moving along to its second window, he again encounters his own image, lined up between the photographs of a man and a woman, a telescope displayed in a box above them. “Poverty and overcrowding are the more likely causes.”
Next door, in the window of a clothing store named “Cats,” the manikins are all black but with Caucasian features. “Naples remains the most vibrant city in Italy.” One is dressed in a white tight-fitting sweater and khakis. “A steaming, bubbling, reverberating minestrone.” Another, in a baggy red sweater and black pants. “In which each block is a village.” Yet another, in a black sweater, grey blouse and grey pants. “Every street, the setting for a Punch-and-Judy show.” At the intersection of Via Bologna, an ancient Volvo has had painted on its hood three graffiti reading “Ferrari” (in white), “Ferrari” (in pink), “Ferrari” (in blue). “And everything seems to be a backdrop for an opera not yet composed.” In magenta eye shadow a girl crosses the street and looks up as she approaches author. “Neapolitan rainbows of laundry wave in the wind over alleyways open-windowed with friendliness.” As author too looks up, he notices for the first time Vesuvius looming above the railway station. “Mothers caress children, men at sidewalk cafés break out into impromptu arias, street scenes offer Fellini-esque slices of life.” A grey cloud hovers even higher above the mountain, like the ejecta from a volcanic eruption.
We have reached the dour Hotel Cavour, its balconies dusty, its walls in need of repair. “Everywhere one observes faded gilt and romance.” Vergil pauses before a “Tabacchi Lotto” stand to study the wares on display in its window: “Of rust and calamity, of grandeur and squalor.” Black-and-white costumed, black-masked Neapolitan clowns bearing mandolins and platters of food; a plate in polychrome depicting in its foreground a large tree, in its background, the crescent-shaped bay; a volcanic ashtray with a hole for a cigarette, so that smoke may issue from Vesuvius as required. “It is all an intoxicating pageant of pure Italiana.” He stops to examine plastic toys: “Italy at its most Italian.” A black “Police Force” Uzi with an orange barrel; a magenta ukulele with white tuning pegs; red and yellow tractors; a green speedboat.
He pauses before a display of baseball caps: “From the moment you arrive at swirling Piazza Garibaldi, the city blasts you with a confounding mix of beauty, chaos and its glorious past.” “New York Knicks” in orange and blue; “Seattle Sonics” in green on white; “Phillies” in blue on red. “Journalists used to joke darkly that at any given moment, one in three people strolling the Piazza were major criminals, and the other two hadn’t yet been caught.” Behind this streetside display stands the diminutive Hotel Sayonara, in whose lobby sits a Nescafé machine. We pause to examine a Chinese import-export store, onto whose plate glass window have been taped the flags of mainland China, Taiwan and Malaysia. Its interior is filled with running suits and cheap women’s clothing. “At every turn the pace changes, and with it your point of view.” At Omnitel Vergil pauses to examine old-fashioned telephones in brass on wood.
Having completed his tour of the piazza, he returns to Hotel Europa.
We are all, says Lucretius, sprung from heavenly seed. “The origin of Naples, once called Parthenope, can be traced to the nearby ruins of Cumae, the earliest Greek colony in Italy” (Fodor again). We all have that one father from whom our nourishing mother, the earth, receives the liquid drops of moisture and then, teeming, brings forth the healthy crops, the vigorous trees and the human race. “For hundreds of years Greek civilization flourished along this coastline, but there was nothing in the way of centralized government, until the Roman Empire, for the first time uniting all Italy, surged southward and, with scant opposition, in the 4th century B.C. absorbed the Greek colonies.” She brings forth all the races of wild beasts, affording the food with which they nourish their bodies, draw the goodness of life and beget their offspring. “Naples and Campania decayed with the Roman Empire and collapsed into the abyss of the Middle Ages.” For which reason she has rightly obtained the name of mother.
In his leisure hours Cicero was an indefatigable tourist. Likewise, that which was before from the earth returns to the earth, and that which was sent from the shores of the sky is taken back again, and the temples of heaven once more receive it. Our second outing is by automobile, through Posillipo, on the northern outskirts of Naples, on through Pozzuoli to Cumae. Sicily had a long and colorful history: Here Professore Angelo Fidelio of the University of Naples graciously offers a tour of the eighth-century B.C. Greek settlement, dwelling upon its acropolis, its temples devoted to the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Originally colonized by the Greek states during their heyday, it contained many wealthy and beautiful cities (Everitt). Together we examine the temple of Apollo, a Roman reconstruction built upon a Greek base, then rotated by Augustus 90 degrees so as to face east and west. Aeneas will become the vir fit to receive and bear his arma only when he has soldiered on through his ordeals to reach the site of the homeland that he is ready to kill or die for (John Henderson, “Form Remade: Statius’ Thebiad). From the Cumaean Acropolis, which some say Aeneas himself founded, we descend through an alley lined with laurel, then through a vaulted passageway leading to the Sibyl’s cave, one of the most venerated sites of antiquity. Carthage had dominated the west of Sicily for many years and, although that was now long in the past, something of the exotic character of her culture survived (Everitt). It was here that the Cumaean Sybil delivered her oracles. He journeys from Dido’s Carthage to occupy the domus, the ara, the moenia of the Urbs, this supreme, overriding, object of his desire (Henderson). Her cave, hollowed out of the rock by the Greeks in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., is rectangular. (Home. Stability. Spatial Selfhood. Identity. All that he had lost with Troy.)
From Cumae we return to the lake of Avernus, connected, some say, by a subterranean passageway to the Sibyl’s cave. Situated within a crater, it is dark, still, silent and shrouded in an atmosphere of mystery, which was all the more intense in antiquity, as birds flying overhead, overcome by its sulfurous fumes, dropped into the lake to be swallowed up. Down they tumble in a sheer fall, says Lucretius, on the very course in which the vapor rises. Like Homer before him Vergil regards it as the entrance to the underworld. Once they have fallen, the action of the same vapor expels the remnants of life from their limbs. Whether or not Dante knew Avernus from direct experience is an interesting question. Their first reaction is a sort of vertigo. For as one stands by the roadside to regard its perfectly circular form, one cannot help but notice adjacent to the lake a purgatorial mountain. Then, when they have fallen into the very fountainhead of the poison, they can do nothing but cough up life itself, enveloped as they are in a cloud of the deadly stuff. Consecrated by his adventus, he can now be embraced by the mother-love of the fatherland, AMOR-ROMA (Henderson).
From the statue of Garibaldi. “The case of Cumae is the most extraordinary.” At the head of Piazza Garibaldi. “Since it was founded by Chalcis and became the mother of many colonies.” Vergil and MM prepare to set off on their third outing, down the Corso Garibaldi. “Including Naples, Pozzuoli and Messina (in Sicily).” Voluble middle-aged women, their hair dyed blond, red, or beige, have assembled at the base of the statue to chat on this sunny Sunday morning. “The Cumaean Sybil had become entangled into Roman legend.” Heading down the Corso, within 200 meters we arrive at Piazza Nolana, one end of which is filled with two massive medieval turrets. “And in a curious way she was central to Virgil’s plan for the Aeneid.” An orange bus mounts the Corso. “Just as Cumae itself must have influenced his thought about Roman Italy, about Greek Italy, about a complex and united Italy.” Having originated in the “Parco Vesuvio,” it is heading toward “Piazza Garibaldi.”
Cicero greatly enjoyed buying houses (Everitt). We arrive in Piazza Pepe, within sight of the towers of Santa Maria del Carmine. He called his collection of eight or so villas the “gems of Italy.” At this very moment their bells begin to toll. In addition to his palace on the Palatine was his home in Carinae, which he inherited from his father and now passed on to Quintus, his son. We continue in the direction of Via Amerigo Vespucci, the harborside road. Plus others in Argiletum and on the Aventine Hill, which were rented out and brought in an income of 80,000 sesterces. Having reached it, we turn right into the Strada Nuova della Marina. He also owned two small farms near Naples and Pompeii (where he had a house). A pleasant breeze wafts in off the sea, cooling us as we pass by more medieval turrets. He also acquired a number of small lodges or diversaria. Under the archways of the Istituto Suore Carmelitane homeless people are lounging on benches. Which wealthy Romans used as private wayside stops along the main roads. Many patients and indigents have lined up at its doorway to be ministered to. In the absence of comfortable hotels. We skirt the Piazza del Mercato. Some of his properties he purchased. And continue northward in the direction of the Castel Nuovo, the Piazza Reale and the Piazza Plebiscito. But others were legacies or presents from clients whom he had represented in the courts.
“Cumae was rich and powerful enough that with Syracusan help it crushed the Etruscans of Campania in 474 B.C.” (Levi). As Vergil’s poem continues. “Alas, only fifty-three years later the Oscans conquered it.” Aeneas sets his sights on Cape Misenus, which we had passed up on our progress from Pozzuoli to Cumae. “But the Romans in their turn occupied the city, and by 180 B.C. the people of Cumae were speaking Latin.” Aeneas’ visit to Cumae, then, was not on Vergil’s part naïve, for in the poet’s mind the city may have stood for the power of Rome itself. “Although Cumae never achieved the status of Delphi, it was also the most important oracular center in Magna Graecia” (Fodor). We continue along the seaside avenue, ancient apartment buildings alternating with high-rise curtain-wall constructions. “And the Sibyl would have been consulted on a whole range of matters.” A tall brown modern building imitates the masonry of a Roman wall. “Foreign governments consulted her before they mounted campaigns.” Vergil, as Dante understood, is a fund of knowledge, a mind, a consciousness. “Businessmen came to have their dreams interpreted.” He continues his embrace of old and new. “To seek favorable omens before entering into financial agreements or setting off on journeys.” Of past, present and future. “Farmers came to have the curses on their cows removed.” Compounded of religion, politics, history and sentiment. “Love potions were profitable as sources of revenue.”
Till now the view along the harbor road has been limited by the scrubby upgrowth within a deserted train yard on our left. Cicero’s mind shifted uneasily from one mood to another, but at heart he was depressed. “Women from Baia lined up for potions to slip into the wine of the handsome charioteers who drove up and down the road in their gold-plated, four-horsepower chariots.” He could not help despising himself for doing Caesar’s bidding. But we are now about to achieve a view of the open sea. He confided to his brother: The harborside avenue renames itself “Via Cristoforo Colombo.” “These years of my life which ought to be passing in the plenitude of Senatorial dignity are spent in the hurly-burly of forensic practice or rendered barely tolerable by my studies at home.” We pass a police car labeled “Vigilanza Parthenopea.” To Atticus: “You are a political animal by nature and have not lost your freedom.” In the harbor stands a three-masted, black-hulled ship, its bow adorned with a golden Roman soldier. “But for me, people think that I have left my senses if I speak on politics as I ought.” Helmeted, his sword in hand. “And a powerless prisoner if I say nothing.” On its stern, red-outlined gold letters announce its name: “So how am I expected to feel?” “PALINURO.”
We continue to skirt the water’s edge, passing signs that read “Greenpeace,” “Amnesty International,” on past a black and white ship from Turkey named “Estelle.” It is tied up next to the larger freighter “Cesare.” “Trasporti Alimentari,” read the blue letters on yet another ship. We arrive at Piazza Municipio, which fronts the Castel Nuovo. Today Vergil is visiting sites of power, spiritual authority and military might. The great fortifications at the corners of the castle have been sloped to deflect the force of cannon balls. We mount a sidewalk that conveys us along one side of its moat to arrive opposite the Grand Hôtel Londres. A tourist bus in red, yellow and white, reading “Cosmos” on its side, turns the corner, and continues on past an equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II. Rising at the end of the Piazza, as though sitting atop its buildings but in fact atop the hill behind them, is the monastery called Certosa di San Martino. Passing through an arch, we approach an entrance to the Castel Nuovo.
The judgment of history has been as harsh on Cicero as he was on himself. “Built in 1282,” says the guidebook, “the palace was modeled after a castle at Angers.” On the face of it his decision to go along with the wishes of the First Triumvirate was weakly self-interested. “A remarkable triumphal arch embellishes its main entrance.” It was certainly so interpreted. “Built to designs of Francesco Laurana in 1467.” The sun leaves in the shade both blackened medieval turret and white Renaissance archway, the latter re-colored beige by further shadowing. He was much criticized, and all the old charges were exhumed. Two rampant griffins, clawing at cornucopia, surmount its barrel vault. The laughable epic on his consulship. In its massive courtyard stone cannonballs have been piled by fours. The self-important letter to Pompey in 63. Into small pyramids dwarfed by the grand space. And the unmanly behavior during his exile. Atop a far colonnade sits a Greek helmet, its hollow eye sockets staring out as from a death’s head. Two years later he wrote a long, reflective letter to an aristocratic friend, designed as a public rebuttal to his critics. Behind a double glass door, locked and chained, sits a tabby cat, its ears alert, its face plangent, supplicating someone to let it out. In which he elaborated a comprehensive justification for his actions.
We return into the sunlight to gaze at two of the bricked walls of the courtyard, then turn to mount a long stairway to the castle’s second floor, its piano nobile. We arrive at the corbel-vaulted Room of the Barons, cool and immense, wherein a French woman is reading mechanically to her compatriots from a guidebook. Vergil is nonetheless all ears. MM prefers the sunlit courtyard below, where eight pigeons actively reconfigure themselves, all at last flapping up and flying off, in the process surmounting the Greek death’s head.
As we exit the Castel Nuovo, we turn to regard the Palazzo Reale. Hankering to leave these spaces behind for something more personal, author defers to Vergil’s public penchant. “Studiosus,” reads the sign in the window of a white tour bus, its rear plates indicating a German origin. Cicero points out that in politics the means can vary from time to time, while the end remains the same. As we glance back at the palace’s main gate we observe a naked boy in bronze reining in a magnificent steed. “I believe in moving with the times,” the orator asserted. All other gates to the castle are shut. “In great statesmen unchanging consistency has never been considered a virtue.” Accordingly, we shift to the nearby Teatro di San Carlo, on whose bulletin board has been posted an advertisement for “Una Lady Macbeth del Distretto di Mcemsk [sic].” “At sea it is good sailing to run before the gale, even if the ship cannot make harbor.” Across the way rises the immense, if slightly crude, Galleria Umberto I, the world’s first mall. “But if she can make harbor by changing tack, only a fool would risk shipwreck by holding to the original course.” As we enter, a priest in skirts exits. “And still reach his destination.” “RIVOLUZIONE,” reads a large graffito beneath a hammer and sickle.
“Similarly.” Author takes seat at an in-mall “outdoor” café to consider this very large neoclassical “gallery.” “While we all as statesmen should set before our eyes the goal of peace with honor to which I have so often pointed.” The grey apartments that rise above its ground floor shops reveal no signs of life. “It is our aim, not our language, which must be consistent.” “Luxor Radio,” reads a sign in a window at the crossing. A pigeon waddles past author’s table, its head inquisitively bobbing. A dog lies asleep on the parterre. Two male twenty-somethings shuffle past, less than adeptly, on in-line skates.
“Virgil has some trouble juggling between Roma and Alba Longa and Lavinium so as to fit Aeneas into legendary Roman history.” Though the Sage has higher things in mind, author arises for a brief tour of the shops. “An early fortified town, founded about 1100 B.C., Alba was destroyed (by the Romans?) in the seventh century.” “Regali Barra” is showing porcelain kitsch. “A number of great Roman families either were or believed they were Alban refugees.” A porcelain artist works at a porcelain canvas that depicts the Bay of Naples. “Virgil therefore has it founded by Ascanius.” The top of Vesuvius is obscured by an umbrella pine. “But Lavinium, the central town and the holy place of the Latin federation, existed near the spot where Aeneas must have landed, at Pratica di Mare.” Two doves disport on the sidewalk at his feet. “Contemporary belief probably compelled Virgil to place his antique king Latinus in Laurentum, at the mouth of the Tiber, and to make Aeneas the founder of Lavinium.” In an adjacent scene a green-capped, white-smocked frame maker addresses a piece of wood with his chisel, a green mallet in his other hand about to strike it. “Rome itself was known to be a later foundation and had legends of its own, which Virgil carefully slighted in his long archaeological prophecy.” All four ends of the Galleria are open to the street. At the end of one a bookstore is offering works by Verga, Wilde and Woolf. “The Roman foundation legend of Romulus, Remus and the Wolf could not accommodate Aeneas, and I suspect Virgil hated wolves anyway.”
A blonde, a brunette and a redhead enter through one of the portals, bearing palm branches, for this is Palm Sunday. Vergil takes a lively interest, not in the girls but in the ash on their foreheads. A dress shop shows jackets and pants in designer camouflage. One of the manikins is wearing a black cap, on which has been lettered the legend, “Out-Going to Extant Zone.” Under the banner of “Elegant Gentlemen” it is possible to buy “1911 Evening Wear”: a suit jacket with four buttons is open to reveal a vest with seven; a high cravat has been knotted beneath the chin. Again Vergil perks up. Author examines work by Ecuadorian artists who, using their fingers, are painting in oil on mirrors. Vergil is not impressed.
We exit into a lively street scene, where vendors are setting up their stalls, unpacking their suitcases, arranging their wares atop cardboard boxes. The odor of incense fills the air. We head toward the Piazza del Plebiscito, through a narrow entrance into the Via Chiaia, skirting an eighteenth-century church over whose portal is suspended a banner announcing a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Along the sidewalk Indians are selling sunglasses. Vergil tries on a pair in pink frames. We enter the Piazza, at whose farther end rises the neoclassical church of Saint Francis of Paolo, built on the model of the Pantheon in Rome. “In Ostia a sacred precinct, consisting of four temples (one to Venus, the others to unknown deities), had been carefully preserved from the third century B.C., and Virgil considered it as the spot where Aeneas first set foot on Italian earth.” The square is bordered by an immense semicircular colonnade. Mommies in Levi suits are standing about with their young daughters, three of whom wear mirrored blue glasses and polkadot kerchiefs. “The three doubtful temples were probably dedicated to Fortune, Ceres and Hope.” Another mommy, in a blue, yellow and white top, tight pants and high white leather boots is showing off her coppery red hair with its blond streaks. “An enclosure dedicated to Jupiter marked the fall of a lightning flash.”
This mid-afternoon ambiance could not be more pleasant. “The Ostian cults are referred to in Aeneid VII.” We amble into the adjacent Piazza Reale, where eight niches have been assigned to the most famous of the Neapolitan kings. “It is likely that the strange things that Virgil has to say about the Trojan’s first meal in Latinum refer to local ritual.” In marble, their right fists clenched, their left hands grasping the hasps of their swords, they scowl forth with determination. “A fortified camp, the nucleus of Ostia, is what Virgil refers to as Troy, or as New Troy.” In his Renaissance armor Carlos V points his finger to the ground in a possessive gesture. “On the sanctuary between the desolate ruins of withered Ardea (the home of Turnus).” Gioacchino Murat wears foppishly tight pants bulging with genital prowess. “And the crumbled Lavinium of Virgil’s time.” His finger points theatrically to his heart. “We know from Strabo that the legend of Aeneas sanctified the place.”
We continue on in the direction of a turquoise sea. Again Vesuvius emerges into view. The Bay of Naples has begun to mist over. Catching it in the wind as it doubles up by itself, a man on a balcony furls in a huge Italian flag, red, white and green. A rust-colored cargo ship piled high with containers proclaims, in white letters on its stern, “Linea Messina.” The masts of sailboats that have invaded its space barely reach to the height of its name. A white gull flies across the grey face of the mountain. A helicopter hovers above the shore, then proceeds, over ferries, over a lighthouse, over concrete jetties, toward the inner Bay. Strolling along the promontory, we reach the statue of “Caesar Augustus Imperatore,” his finger pointed toward Rome. “Paolo e Sabrina,” reads a graffito at its base, “Due Nomi, Una Sola Anima.”
We continue along the waterside toward the Porto di Santa Lucia. Here Dante joins us to serve as Vergil’s guide. Beneath the magenta globes of three-candelabra streetlights lovers are still sunning on the rocks. In this scruffy urban landscape yellow flowers have sprouted from cracks in the sidewalk. A kayaker paddles near the shore. Small catamarans tack and turn about. We pause before a statue (“Umberto I, Napoli (1910)”; attired in shako, greatcoat and coil-headed saber, his white cartoon-like mustaches jut from his jowls. The sidewalk broadens to accommodate the entrances of more grand hotels, as the Castel dell’Ovo looms into view. The Mantuan feels a little disconcerted with this Florentine at his side. A white girl strolls by in pink, a black girlfriend on her arm. Entry to the castle unavailable at this hour, we merely peer up at its walls, MM hazarding a guess as to how its massive structure had been balanced on a single egg.
Vergil winks, Dante rewarding us with the faintest of smiles.
Today’s outing gets seriously under way at Porta Capuana, “one of the fortified gateways through the walls built in 1484 to the plans of Giuliano da Maiano” (says another guide). “Polybius’ main theme is simple and frequently stated:” Between two massive, sooty medieval towers rises a graceful archway in the Renaissance manner. There can surely be no one so petty or apathetic in his outlook that he is without desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in less than fifty-three years at bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world. Its inner breed represents a pile of Roman weapons. An achievement without parallel in human history. “A survey of Virgil’s surviving literary sources makes it very plain” (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature). Topped by a lozenge-shaped Roman shield, topped by a circular Roman shield, topped by a Roman helmet. “That as well as being moved by contemporary Roman problems and aspirations.” Topped by an elliptical shield, topped by a decapitated torso cut off beneath its corsletted waist. “He aimed at universalizing his exploration of human behavior by relating the contemporary to the past through the medium of literature.” Topped by a round shield, an elliptical shield, and so on.
“Polybius regards universal history as inherently superior to separate monographs” (the Penguin introduction to the Greek writer’s Histories). Body parts and battle gear have been piled up and strewn about in a veritable dictionary of destruction. “But he makes a still greater claim for it.” Above the gory pile float two angels with skewers, on which another decapitated torso. “For the period with which he is concerned, that of the rise of Rome to world power, it represents the only feasible kind of history.” At its apex the glorious display concludes with a disembodied Roman helmet. “Since no other sort can properly describe the gradual coalescing of all the different parts of the known world to form an organic whole.”
“Excavation supplies little more” (Levi again, in his chapter “The March of Time”). We pass through the archway into a piazza and face a church: grim its grey stone portals, unimaginative its white-stuccoed walls. “Temples were in use from the sixth century B.C. to the first, though we do not learn which gods were worshipped.” “Basiliano,” reads an elegant script, the only graffito in the plaza. “Servius speaks of a temple to Castor and Pollux at Ardea that housed a famous painting.” Ahead stands the Capuan Castle. “But he does not hazard a date.” Nearby rises the former residence of the Norman and Hohenstaufen princes. “In which Pallas Athene (?) transfixes Capaneus with a sharp thunderbolt.” In piety a saint, mustachioed and bearded, places his own oversized, beast-like paw upon his breast. “Servius is reminded of this image by the Aeneid, which in fact has nothing to do with it.” The skies over Naples’ irregular streets and alleyways are overcast.
Now in earlier times the world’s history had consisted, so to speak, of a series of unrelated episodes. We have entered the Piazza Enrico di Nicolà to pause before a Renaissance haut relief of an ecclesiastical figure who is leaning out of his niche. The origins and results of each were as widely separated as their localities. We head on up the Strada Carbonara. But from the period of the early Roman Republic onwards history becomes an organic whole. Vergil the rich man, Vergil the man of common sympathies, Vergil the Romantic Imagination. The affairs of Italy and of Africa are connected with those of Asia and of Greece. Vergil the decadent, Vergil the bastion of Roman propriety. All events bear relationship and contribute to a single end. Vergil the homosexual. Which facets of this man’s multiple personality will we encounter during today’s outing? Which will remain to be explored?
“The notion that a work of art or literature should constitute a unity had been formulated in the school of Plato and in more detail in that of Aristotle.” Within moments we have arrived at “Centro Abbronzante,” a tanning salon, whose bronzed proprietress steps to the door to welcome us in. “It had become part of the common currency of Hellenistic literary criticism.” Author indicates that his own activity requires that he keep moving, so that he may experience the diversity of Naples. “Which had also applied it to works of historical writing.” We pause before the large green double doors of “Scuola G. Bovio,” where, emboldened again, we step to the portal to peer within. “Essentially it implied a history of limited scope.” But all is quiet. “In fact a monograph.” The school building is uniformly grey. “One cannot therefore but admire the audacity with which Polybius transfers this concept to his universal history.” Retracing our steps, we return into the lively street to examine an advertisement for “Asian Dub Foundation: Community Music.” “And the way in which he accomplishes this.” Another, for “American Eagle.” “Seizing on the idea of unity.” Another, for “Sabor Latino.” “Which really belonged to written history.” Yet a fourth, for “Teatro Tasso.” “Superimposing it on the actual events described.” We continue our gradual ascent of the hill.
“The dramatic death of a man crucified through both temples by a flaming thunderbolt” (Levi again). We arrive before the elaborate baroque complexities of Santa Maria della Natività. “Is reminiscent of the downfall of the hero.” In a streetside portal Mary languishes, the Christ child, high above the ground, standing between her knees. “Knocked off his scaling ladder, as happens in one of Euripides’ later interpolations.” A black and white soccer ball has lodged in Mary’s lap with apparently no way to dislodge it. “In accomplishing this, Polybius not only justified his method, he also produced a highly sophisticated version of the historian’s traditional claim that his theme was inherently greater than that of any predecessor.” Badly battered in a serious accident, a white Fiat sits by the curb, its windshield as well as one of its side windows broken out. A black woman, begging on behalf of a child held in her arms, examines author curiously as he describes the car, then passes on downhill, turning about for a final glance.
“Pratica di Mare, the Lavinium of Aeneas, is about thirteen miles from Rome.” We pass a shop for the repair of cooking machines. “The city now lies three miles from the sea-coast.” Though on its workbenches sewing machines are more in evidence. “Surmounted by an acropolis, it has never been excavated.” An electric trolley bus descends the hill. “A tourist destination, Pratica di Mare is part village, part Renaissance palace of the Borghese family.” In a cage along the sidewalk sits a mother duck with her ducklings, occupying together two-thirds of the space, pigeons occupying the other third. “Dionysius of Halicarnassus says ‘all historians agree’ that it was founded by Aeneas and his band of Trojans.”
We look down several oddly shaped alleyways before entering the Via Foria, where we proceed to turn north. “The straw hut where he sacrificed the white sow was preserved in this place, and no one was permitted to enter it.” We continue our gentle ascent through another irregular space, pausing to inspect an open-air bookstall. “This amazing relic could not be sidestepped.” Which has on display Napoli ed I suoi Antichi Proverbi. “But Virgil transferred the miracle of the sow with the thirty piglets to the banks of the Tiber.” Sogni Conoscere ed Interpretare. “Because, I suppose, Lavinium had not been founded at the time.” Lady Diana, Salse e Condimenti. As the broad avenue straightens out, the temperature drops a degree or two. “Even the forest through which the Tiber once flowed must have been familiar to Virgil.” A green-jacketed waiter appears at a sidewalk café, bearing a round tray, atop it a plastic dome that transparently reveals two cups of coffee.
We arrive at Piazza Cavour, on one of whose stuccoed walls has been carefully lettered a single graffito reading “the.” “Vergil as a narrative poet is used to dealing with the unexpected, to delaying his climax even when it foreseen” (Peter Levi in his Chapter VIII, “Italian Earth”). We have to do here, it would seem, with the lower class, the lower middle class, the middle class Vergil. We pause before Studio Dentistico Cavour. What of the pessimistic, the neutral, the optimistic Vergil? Three teenage girls stroll past in black, grey and white jackets. “In the Aeneid’s second half he has the further problem that from now on his epic story will follow a single, coherent plot (Aeneas’ arrival in Latium), and as a result Virgil is driven to the wildest variations and concatenations.” A highbrow bookstore is displaying in its window Petrarch’s Trionfi, Pirandello’s Maschere Nude, Ungaretti’s Vita d’un Uomo. “Book VII begins with antiquarianism, and Book VIII is its locus classicus.” A silver Lancia has been draped from hood to trunk with three large palm branches, atop which has been placed a wreath.
We arrive at the Institute of Social Science, Linguistics and Social-Psychological Pedagogy. “On his first visit to Rome Gibbon noticed how it had reverted to its former state, when Aeneas had inspected the site:” A vast, imposing, grey, godless edifice. “A romantic overstatement, but not wholly unjustified.” It has been plastered with posters later scraped away. “Virgil was impressed by the kind of history that Livy tells.” Then bombarded with graffiti. “And that many of us may remember from the schoolroom and the poems of Macaulay:” “Amo,” reads one, in protest. “In Book VI Virgil had given us an unforgettable if still cloudy impression of the past.” At the next intersection sits a blue-and-white police car, a female officer at its wheel licking a pink Popsicle. “In the antiquarian visions of Book VIII he will do it again.” “Non solo horologi,” reads a watchmaker’s sign. “But his heart is not in Rome.” Chinese immigrants have spread their cheap merchandise on the sidewalk. “But rather in the landing of Aeneas on the shores of Italy.” Over a large photo-poster for Dolce e Gabbana. “And in the river winding through the trees.” Which depicts male and female models in dark glasses. “And the noise of the birds.” Purple lipstick has been smeared. “There is something in the poetry of the seventh book that is deeply satisfying.” So as to obliterate their faces. “Almost suggesting another Georgic.”
We have capped the top of a rise. “Julius Caesar was thirty when Virgil was born.” Turning into another avenue, we begin our second descent to the Bay. “Caesar had helped Pompey restore the powers of tribunes, whose support he was soliciting by offering Roman citizenship.” Against on-coming traffic. “When Virgil was a tiny boy, Caesar’s wife died.” Under the banner of “Libri Antichi e Moderni.” “After which he married Sulla the dictator’s granddaughter.” The bookstore is showing leather-bound copies of the works of Caesar. “He also restored the trophies of Sulla’s rival, Marius.” Along with works by Petronius and Sannazaro. “Marius and Sulla were both dead, but the Republic on her own delirious death-bed proved an abundant mother of such violent and ruthless figures.” A half-price shelf offers books about Freud, Kandinsky, Lenin and other has-beens. “Of whom Caesar for all his unusual virtues was the last and most effective.” What is it that made Vergil persist in his drive for success?
What is it that motivated the man (as opposed to his art)? “When Virgil was ten or eleven, Caesar had fought his way by tooth and nail to the consulship.” What is it that stiffened his resolve? “In this period he colonized Novum Comum and became governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul and Illyria.” Orthopedia Meridionale is showing posture supports, neck braces, bio-soft self-adjusting orthopedic pillows. “He commanded their armies and from now on entered into the serious business of building an empire.” Three girls in their twenties, all showing their cleavage, approach author, one in a turquoise top, one in a black jacket, one in a beige pants suit with no shirt under it.
“During the nine years that it took for Virgil to become a teenager.” We are descending the Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. “First in a small town.” In the direction of Piazza Dante. “Then in bigger towns about the province.” What does Dante help us understand about Vergil? “And when he moved to Rome.” About the work and the man who conceived it? “Caesar was conquering Gaul, frightening the Germans and invading Britain for the fun of it.” At number 37 we pass Chiesa Santa Maria della Sapienza. “But the senate was ruffled by Caesar.” On the next building an electric chartreuse poster for Teatro Totò advertises a show by a comic duo called Paolo & Paolo. “And in January 49 B.C., when Virgil was twenty (and a student of rhetoric, under the same person who had taught Augustus), Caesar was fifty.” In the next building a print shop is showing eighteenth-century French engravings of the Bay of Naples done from different points along its arc. “At this point the senate suddenly withdrew his command.” Behind the display of artworks, high above them all, sits an ancient tome titled: “Civil war followed.” Une Vue des ruines et constructions antiques appelées vulgairement les écotes de Virgile. A good many more ruins than constructions are visible.
Two boats, one by oar, one by sail, make their way down the coast. “Cicero knew them well indeed, but the truth is that Virgil did not believe in the gods, he simply picked through them, somewhat fastidiously, employing only those he would need for his Homeric poem” (Levi). They are navigating between the shore and a nearby island. Cicero’s literary career was checkered (Everitt). Within the island’s cliff an arch has been chiseled by time. The precocious teenage poet had grown into an over-prolific windbag with his endless autobiographical epic. To reveal the sea beyond. Like other successful public speakers of his day he took great pains to work up his speeches on paper and publish them as books. Continuing our gentle descent, we pass “Piccin,” its letters in yellow on a red storefront. He had long been acknowledged as a leader, if not the leader, in this field, and he sought a new, more demanding challenge. Within its vitrine and on its shelves (we have entered the shop) is a whole range of medical dictionaries. His first step was to publish his views on political education. Encyclopedias, textbooks and specialized studies: This he did in the De Oratore, a substantial work that he first mentions to Atticus in November of 55. Biologia, Neurobiologia, Biochimica, Chimica Organica. The book was composed as a dialogue. Across the way, in a gorgeous conjunction of grey stone lintel, maroon wall and green window frame. (Following the Greeks, this was a common convention for philosophical writing.) Beside the “Bar Fiorillo.” It was imagined as an actual event. Seen from under a white awning shading a little table draped with a white tablecloth and surrounded by three black plastic chairs. Taking place some years earlier. Under a statue, in the niche provided for a matronly figure, read two graffiti: In 91 B.C.
♥ LILLY ♥
OK VISTA OK
Modeling himself largely on Plato’s Republic, from which there is a substantial direct quotation, he then composed another dialogue. Portrait busts gaze down from above the building’s third story. The De Re Publica (Concerning the State), which he followed in due course with the De Legibus (Concerning the Laws). Over its portal allegorical figures recline. Both books have only partly survived. Beneath its elegant cornice heraldic emblems rest atop pilasters. The De Legibus was discovered as late as 1820, when fragments amounting to about a third of the original were found in a palimpsest that contains St. Augustine’s commentary on the Psalms. Lions with keys in their paws, floribund trees, rampant horses.
In the autumn of 61, when Virgil was nine years old, Pompey celebrated his Triumph. “Rossi Merda,” reads a black explicatio beneath the image of a red hammer and sickle at the base of a building in Piazza Bellini. Temporary stands were set up in the Forum and at the city’s race courses. Within its comfortable space pairs of human beings have congregated: Crowds of people, all wearing white clothes, occupied them. Two lovers, male and female, embracing on a bench. And any other vantage point they could find along the processional route. At the foot of a pillar sit two male friends. All the temples were opened to the public. A mother and her daughter stroll past, deep in conversation. And were filled with flowers and incense. On yet another bench a man and his wife are arguing. Lictors and other attendants did their best to hold onlookers back and keep the streets open and clear.
A sign erected by “Comune di Napoli,” much overwritten with graffiti, advertises a tour called “La Napoli Graeco-Romana.” The procession set off from outside the city. The various Greek and Roman districts of Naples. Crossed the pomoerium. Have been indicated in two different colors. And wound its way toward the center. On an outline map. At its head placards displayed the names of all the countries over which the great general had triumphed: To one side of the map, in the background, sits the Caffè Letterario Intramoenia. Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, Media, Colchis (the mythical home of Medea and the Golden Fleece). To the other side, a knick-knack store called Evaluna. Iberia, Albania, Syria, Cilicia. Before it five teenagers are hanging out. Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and Palestine, Judaea and Arabia. A girl in a jean jacket and grey pants; another girl in a jean suit with her boyfriend in baggy pants and waxed hair; yet another girl, in long blond hair, talking to a guy seated atop his red Suzuki, a sleeveless hooded parka over his grey tee shirt; plus another guy in a blue blazer. They claimed that Pompey had captured no fewer than 1,000 fortified places. The irregularity of the Piazza is determined by the ruins beneath it. Nearly 900 cities. Which have recently been exposed to the polluted air of the modern city. And 800 pirate ships. By the archaeologists. They claimed that he had founded 39 cities. Six silver bins beside the road overflow with garbage: discarded clothing, black plastic sacks, cardboard boxes.
Captured weapons, shields, armor, swords and spears were carried on wagons. Across the way “Libreria Pacifico,” its first word in blue, its second in red, offers to buy and sell both new and used books. “While Virgil let his twenties trickle slowly through his fingers, among the charming philosophers of the Campanian coast, Caesar was evicting Pompey and his successors from Italy” (Levi). Concerning Two Volcanos, reads one of its older titles. “Then triumphing over them, in northern Greece and Egypt.” Classicism from the Roman Era, reads another. “Where Pompey was assassinated and Caesar had a quick son by Cleopatra.” Its newer volumes include works by Torquato Tasso and D. H. Lawrence. “Then again beating them in Africa and in Pontus, and finally in Spain.” Between the classical and modern selections stand Neapolitan poets of the sixteenth century. “The idiotic vanity of Caesar’s career in this period was an exemplary lesson for any young man devoted to Epicurean philosophy.” Along with Etruscan Curiosities and The Life of the King of Naples. “Yet from 48 B.C. Caesar ruled Rome like a province.” We exit the piazza through an archway at whose tunnel’s end a sign reads “Carlo Napolitano” (in blue) “Pianoforte” (in red), the “Carlo” superimposed upon the “Napolitano.” “He was a ruler determined to oversee elections, a consul, the sole consul, a dictator for life.” The Caffè dell’Epoca is advertising a show titled “Hysterium: La Parola della Pittura.” “He was king in all but name, with his head on the coinage and Mark Antony as the priest of his cult.” The café is filled with students and two or three professors.
Pompey himself appeared in a gem-encrusted chariot. We continue our descent, past a shop showing Chinese decorative articles: He wore a wreath of bay leaves on his head. Embroidered silk jackets. He was dressed in a purple toga decorated with golden stars. Framed specimens of calligraphy. A cloak belonging to Alexander the Great hung from his shoulders. Chinese slippers that seem too small for anyone but children to wear. His face was covered in red lead. We pass a musical instrument store with exclusively electronic wares in its window. For the victor was supposed to represent Jupiter, king of the gods. We pause to observe a cabinetmaker, who appears to be reassembling a recently deconstructed piece of cabinetry. A slave stood in the chariot and whispered in his ear: We pause before a sausage shop that has filled its window with: “Remember that you are human.” Coppa rustica, pancetta gran Felinese, and a kind of sausage called negroni. Behind the chariot marched columns of soldiers holding sprays of laurel and chanting triumphal songs. We stop to study a special offering at a computer shop named “Blue Apple.” They also sang, by ancient tradition. Sony PlayStations at 50% off. Obscene lyrics satirizing their general.
Rising above these shops are stuccoed walls in gorgeous states of disrepair. “This is the Naples of peeling tenements spackled with enough drying laundry to suggest a parade” (Fodor). On another day of the Triumph the most distinguished prisoners of war were put on show. Someone has written in red the words “Incendiami la vita.” This was one of the high points of the ceremony. “If you arrive in Naples just to do the sights, you’ll see the city, but you won’t get to its essence.” The packed citizenry booed the Republic’s humiliated enemies as they walked by no more than a few feet from them. “To do that you need to discover Spaccanapoli, the unforgettable neighborhood that constitutes the heart of old Naples.” Five of Mithridates’ children were in the procession along with one of his sisters. “A buzzing hive of daily chaos in a constantly recreated grid of ancient patterns.” Accompanied by the King of Armenia’s wife and two sons. “Of small alleyways with freshly laid flowers at the main shrines to the Blessed Virgin.” And the King of the Jews. “All the contradictions of Naples.” Together with captured pirate chiefs. “Splendor and squalor, palace and slum, triumph and tragedy.” Following them came a huge portrait of Pompey fashioned from pearls. “All meet here and sing a deep-throated chorale.” We turn about to read a sign identifying the tiny space as “Piazzetta Casanova.”
“In 49 B.C. Caesar gave Cisalpine Gaul universal Roman citizenship” (Levi). We continue on down the Strada San Sebastiano. “Though the slaves nonetheless remained slaves.” Students continue to overtake us, as they ascend and descend. “Fearing another slave revolt.” A red car leads a blue car up the hill, honking to clear the way. “(Spartacus’ rising of 73-72 B.C. was still well-remembered.)” A small occult gift shop that specializes in amber rings, silver pins and jade amulets. “Caesar insisted that one out of every three herdsmen in Italy must be free.” Advertises yoga as the art of well being: “corpo, mente, spirito” (for body, mind and spirit). “In the early spring of 44 B.C., after adopting his great-nephew Octavian as his heir.” A black tee shirt shows a portrait of Che Guevara in silver. “He was assassinated.” An enormous hookah. “More violence followed.” With four nozzles attached to its breathing tubes. “During 42-41 B.C.” Sits at the center of the shop. “More than 2000 equites and 150 senators died in the wars and purges.” In the window of a store selling antiques passersby are reflected. “Virgil took no part in any of these wars and no part that we know in politics or in Roman society.” As are the ripped-off posters on the wall across the street. “He had no ambition to become either a lawyer or a senator.” So as to obscure the antiques within.
Thus the diversity of ancient Italy represented in the Aeneid could be sufficiently accounted for in terms of Virgil’s own experience of his country and its history (Jenkyns, Virgil’s Experience). At number 39 a typesetter, composing stick in hand, chooses lead fonts from wooden cases. Nonetheless, it is in part inspired by the Odyssey. We have reached the cross street Benedetto Croce. Telemachus’ travels take him to old Nestor at Pylos. A handsome black man and a beautiful brown woman pause at the intersection, she in an orange and white head scarf. Then to Helen and Menelaus at Sparta. They cross the Via San Sebastiano arm in arm. The scenes at Pylos take place mostly in the open air. A lull in the traffic gives author an opportunity to consider his options. The atmosphere is dignified. He decides to pass up the shadowed Piazza Dante. But not especially grand. To bask instead momentarily in the sunlight of the beautiful Piazza Chiara.
We continue on down Via Benedetto Croce. Menelaus’ palace, by contrast, is wealthy and glamorous. Trusting our instinct that this is the right direction to be heading. In the eyes of Telemachus it seems like the house of Zeus himself. “Sound Check,” reads a CD store, “Food for Ears.” Virgil takes up this contrast. “No! Idem,” reads the name of a fashionable women’s clothing outlet. Indeed Latinus’ hall is in a new sense the house of Zeus, for the poet describes it as a “tectum augustum” and as a temple. We are passing the entrance to the “Congresso Conventuale di Santa Chiara.” And it foreshadows the future temple of Capitoline Jupiter. A fourteen-year-old girl in red hair, tight white tee shirt with black bra straps, black pants and huge clunky black shoes stands japing with her fellow students inside its entrance. But he runs in the opposite direction, moving from Latinus’ majestic setting in the seventh book to the simpler life of Evander in the eighth.
We continue on into another piazza and past the Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo. In the eighth book Aeneas plays the role of mature father to his people; still, he resembles the young, raw Telemachus from the third book of the Odyssey, at least in this: that he comes to a new place and learns from an old man. In the next piazza three carabinieri and an ambulance. Evander, for his part, is modeled on two figures from Homer’s poem, not only Nestor but Eumaeus as well. Await the outbreak of a protest. Now Eumaeus, you may say, is a humble man, indeed a slave. A crowd has already assembled. But he receives Odysseus with such courtesy and hospitality as the hero might expect from a royal house, such, for example, as he received in the land of the Phaeacians at the court of King Alcinous. And it has begun to grow unruly. Such as he will not receive from the suitors who have occupied his own palace. Slowly several police vans move to guard the exits.
The narrative of Odysseus and Eumaeus in the swineherd’s hut unfolds at a leisurely pace unique in the Homeric poems. Within the broad, peaceful expanse of the next piazza. Surely Goethe understood this episode’s slow, domestic dignity, for the Odyssey inspired his Hermann and Dorothea, that long and expansive epic idyll of German bourgeois life. We pause to observe through the grating of a studio called “Heracles.” Likewise Virgil understood, for he produced a mirror image of the Homeric ideal. A ballet class in session. But whereas Eumaeus is a swineherd with something of the color of a king, Evander is a king described, at moments, in terms that suggest a peasant. “House of Music,” reads a sign in English. He is a “pauper.” “Gangsta Rap.” A man of modest means. “Hip-hop.” And as he bids Aeneas enter his house. “House Music.” He asks him not to despise its lowliness.” “Trance.” Milton catches the note in Paradise Lost: Adam and Eve are gardeners, naked, ignorant of the world; but they are also the lords of nature and address one another with amorous ceremony.
.“As soon as the sun goes down, nightlife ignites everywhere” (Fodor). We find ourselves in Piazzetta Nilo, preparing for another infernal descent through narrow, unknown alleyways, the light of dusk already having failed. “Naples has more pubs and piano bars than you can shake a pizza at.” A pale Fiat 126 is parked next to a grey Nissan, which sits in turn next to a dark Opal Vectra in a rather irregular space that might be described as a square. “In many of the discos of Piazza Vittoria and Piazza dei Martiri, of Via Partenope and the Borgo Marinaro.” Though so shallow is it as to form only half an avenue. “Baby Sophia Lorens and Frank Sinatras swarm the streets and alleyways, as a bohemian crowd lingers on in Piazza Bellini till 3:00 am.”
We arrive at Largo Corpo di Napoli. “The youth set goes pub-hopping in the Centro Storico, particularly Spaccanapoli, from Wednesday to Sunday nights.” “Freaky, Freaky,” reads the sign above “Frigatoria Napolitana,” as a blue car turning left obstructs our path. “Some places are so crowded that the street scene outside becomes a part of the experience.” Naples, if that is who it is, glances up from his classical bed in a cartoon-like show of surprise, a limp cornucopia held in his half-recumbent arm. “Hordes of post-punk and grunge night owls begin by regrouping in the main squares such as Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and Piazza Gesù Nuovo to plan their strategies for the evening.” The dim street has grown even darker.
“A dressier crowd hangs out in the Chiaia zone.” Backing up, a black car maneuvers to turn about. “This hip area also has several discos, including My Way.” “I buy gold,” says a sign. “And the fashionable Beloved.” We descend the alleyway through unexpected vistas. “A hotbed of 1970s looks and sounds.” We have entered into a scene of vitalized if slightly debauched activity. “Farther-flung options include the Otto Jazz Club, the disco Upstroke, and, in a district just beyond Vomero, Madison Street.” Author checks to see that his wallet and passport, his recorder and tapes, his map and guidebooks are secure. “A vast, fun, if tacky, disco.”
We continue past congregants who range from arm-in-arm teenage girls to clusters of twenty-something couples to merchants selling their wares. A high point was the grand opening of Pompey’s splendid new theater on the Field of Mars (Everitt). It is difficult to know exactly where we are, though one had thought that we were following the course of the ancient Decumanus Maximus. The program included spectacular plays and shows. A sign indicates that this is the Via Forcella. Cicero was unamused, writing to a friend:
The street map, however, fails to confirm the location. “What pleasure is there in having a Clytemnestra with six hundred mules or a Trojan Horse with three thousand mixing bowls?” Nonetheless we proceed, cautiously. There were also lavish gladiatorial displays. We are clearly in some very old part of town. These contests, in which criminals were thrown to wild animals, rank among the most notorious features of Roman culture. At an unmarked intersection we turn right to descend farther. By Cicero’s day they had become an exotic and sadistic entertainment. The signs above restaurants and bars are of no help in orienting ourselves. But as so often with Roman customs they originated in a profound sense of tradition. We descend to lower and lower depths.
At Vicente Calendo, unable to locate the square on the map, we descend yet deeper into the unknown. For centuries contests of hired fighters were held, in honor of the glorious dead. Before long, however, the slope levels off, and we arrive at a major artery. Blood flowed to slake the thirst of ancestors. The familiar sight of red blouses in a clothing store enables us to reestablish our bearings. It was no accident that they were usually staged in that sacred space, the Forum. Likewise, the wave-like patterns on the sidewalk. With its magical fissures and chasms opening into the underworld. At last the Piazza Garibaldi emerges into view.
We know of nothing written in prose by Homer; by Vergil, of nothing but a few remarks. Many who followed the Mantuan contributed critical commentary on the tradition, though little remains in prose by the major poets of later antiquity, the dark ages or the early medieval period. With Dante the situation begins to change, for in addition to his judgment of Vergil (implicit in the Comedy) he left us a considerable body of prose, some of it (the De Monarchia, for example) relevant to his life-long meditation on the work of his Master.
It is not, however, till the sixteenth century, in Italy (with a figure such as Torquato Tasso), and then in England (with the equally brilliant Philip Sidney), that major poets in Vergil’s line begin to make a habit of expressing in prose their views about this mighty predecessor. Like Ovid before them, however, other great figures of the period, such as Ariosto, Spenser and later Milton, are content to embody their view of Vergil in their own epics rather than expound it in literary essays. The neoclassical age of criticism changes this situation.
But the Romantic period reverts once more to the earlier fashion, as major poets now neglect to write in prose about Hesiod and Homer, Lucretius and Vergil and their great continuators, preferring instead to embody their judgment of the great epic poets in their own work rather than making their assessment explicit through detailed comment. Though all are learned poets, neither Byron nor Pushkin, Goethe nor Whitman is a great scholar of the classics. Only more recently have poets again begun to assist critics in the task of reassessing the tradition.
We know that Vergil died at Brundisium. We are less certain about where he was buried, though this probably occurred in the vicinity of Naples, perhaps at modern Pozzuoli. What happened to the Mantuan subsequently is a matter of conjecture. Some say that his soul was conveyed directly from Cumae to Elysium. In search of other possibilities, author decides upon a pilgrimage to Vesuvius, that inferno of historical suffering, in the company of Vergil’s spirit. To reach the mountain we first take the train to modern Ercolano, from which we set out on foot for the seventeen-mile purgatorial ascent to the volcanic cauldron.
“Naples, Herculaneum and Puteoli were old Greek market towns, and had been so,” says Levi, “since Rome was a village.” “Viewed from the other side of the Bay, Vesuvius appears to have two peaks:” (Fodor). “Naples was founded about 600 B.C. from Cumae, which had been the center of the Greek Campanian coast.” “On the northern side is the steep face of Monte Somma, possibly part of the original crater wall that we know from A.D. 79.” “The Romans took over Naples in 327 B.C., but even though they finally managed to colonized it, the city remained loyal to Greek culture, and so Greek was allowed to be spoken there and taught in the schools till long after Virgil’s time.” “To the south rises the present-day cone of Vesuvius, which has formed within the ancient crater.” “Herculaneum, a small, wealthy resort was only five miles distant:” “The cone of A.D. 79 would have risen considerably higher, peaking perhaps at more than 2000 feet.” “It had been Hellenized by the shadow of Naples.” “Its upper slopes bear the visible scars left by relatively recent eruptions.” “Though just before Virgil was born, the conquerors had taken over the city and Romanized it.” “Most striking is the lava flow from 1944 that lies to the north of the main approach road from Ercolano.” “As for Puteoli, it was founded in the sixth century B.C., then taken over by Rome in the fourth; by Virgil’s day it was the greatest port for the Eastern trade, second only to Delos as a market.”
Guideless, we begin our climb. “Cicero built a villa there, as later did Hadrian.”
The road leading up to the pass was not only narrow and uneven, it was flanked with precipices, so the least movement or disorder in the line caused many animals to be forced over the edge along with their loads (from Polybius’ account of Hannibal’s ascent of the Alps). “Vergil looked like a somewhat formidable countryman” (Levi again). It was chiefly the horses that brought about this confusion, whenever they were wounded: “Not like someone from Rome, which was full of ex-slaves, but like someone who came to the market once a week in the square at Mantua.” Some of them, maddened by the pain, would wheel round and collide with the baggage mules on the narrow path. “Or in the square at Florence in 1910.” While others, rushing on ahead, would thrust aside anything that stood in their way. “Or someone who ran sheep from Perugia down as far as Tarentum in 1810.” And so threw the whole line into disarray.
We are winding up a steep road that leads to the outskirts of Ercolano and beyond. “The poet’s boyhood is a blank for us” (Levi). To the tourist who arrives for the first time Mantua seems to lie in an almost unreal or magical atmosphere, surrounded as it is by waters and often wrapped in a silver veil of mist, through which her two towers and belfries may be seen (Mantua and Her Art Treasures). “He observed the operations of agriculture, and he learnt what there was to learn at Cremona, then even farther to the west at Milan, before he headed south to Rome.” At a sign marked “Cimitero” we reach a fork in the road, leaving one route behind, and begin a greater rate of ascent. On the outskirts of the town there extends, beyond the loop that surrounds the built-up area, a large fertile plain, where silence reigns among the poplars, which rise high into the sky as if competing with the spires of the nearby villages. “The disturbance of the times continued, but Cremona was a bustling market town, visited by merchants from all over Italy, and Milan was known not only as a powerful provincial capital but also as the center of a sturdy republicanism.”
“When in 151 B.C. Scipio Aemilianus had volunteered for service in Spain, Polybius accompanied him” (the Penguin Introduction to the Histories). We continue to pass hotels and restaurants, only gradually escaping into nature itself. “Thereafter he traveled with Scipio to North Africa, where he met Masinissa, the aged King of Numidia, with whom he talked about Hannibal.” “During this impressionable period, Virgil frequented the most Romanized centers of Cisalpine Gaul.” “On his way back to Italy Polybius made a detour through the Alps ‘to obtain,’ he tells us, ‘first-hand information and evidence’ concerning the great general’s celebrated crossing nearly seventy years earlier.” When Hannibal saw this, he realized that even those who survived the ambush would have no chance of safety if their baggage train were destroyed. “This again raises the question of what Virgil’s father was doing in the fields around the river at Mantua.” And so he took command of the body of troops that had seized the enemy’s positions the previous night, then hurried to the rescue of those at the head of the column. The day is cool and damp, the skies overcast, the road pleasantly untrafficked.
“It is not impossible that he was sheep-farming there.” Nonetheless, we have undertaken an arduous climb and are grateful to have such good weather, as we mount higher and higher. He killed great numbers of the Allobroges, since to him fell the advantage of attacking them from higher ground. “Or cattle breeding.” But the losses were equally heavy among his own troops. “The idea that Virgil’s father was an old beekeeper is, however, nonsense.” Since the turmoil and the mêlée in his main column were greatly increased and the forces now came from both directions at once. “It is based on the bee-keeping stories of the fourth Georgic.” On account of the shouts and struggles of those who were fighting higher up the slope. “Which no real bee-keeper’s son would have written.”
The rich odor of manure from the fields beside the railroad tracks fills the coach, as we hurtle on down the fertile plain from Verona (that “piccola Roma”) to Mantova. Only towards the north of the city can one see the mild slopes of the hills that constitute the morainic ampitheatre of the Garda (Mantua and Her Art Treasures). At Roberfila a single graffito on the wall of its salmon-colored station reads, “Il Duce.” From those hills one can view the shining blue waters of the Benoco and the outlines of the high mountains forming its wonderful scenery. It was only when he had killed most of the Allogbroges and driven the rest into headlong retreat toward their own territory. It is 7:00 am. That the horses and the survivors of the mule train could make their way, slowly and with great difficulty, over the dangerous stretch of the path. Musing author imagines Vergil’s auspicious birth as imminent. On this plain the poetry of its tradition, dating back centuries but still alive today. As we pause at “San Antonio M.” the sun fully clears the horizon. Along with the monotonous peace of the country life that pervades the humble and patient work of the fields with a mystical solemnity. It now shines brightly over the plain. Sharpens the sensibility of the spirit. After this action Hannibal rallied as many of his troops as he could. It was from the contemplation of “this deep sweetness of a green-colored landscape” that Virgil’s Georgics were born. To attack the town from which the enemy had made their sortie.
The light glances over a lake filled with swans, dazzling its serene surface, as we approach the city of Mantua. He found it almost empty, all the inhabitants having been lured out by the prospect of easy plunder. Virgil is the great Mantuan, the poet of the Roman Empire, who mainly sang the poetry of the land. Having arrived at the station for “Mantova,” we cross the street and head towards the city center. Strictly connected to the quiet vision of his native fields and his love of Italy. Past the “Banco Agricola Mantovana.” Hannibal at once took possession of the town. Past “The Oxford School of English.” The seizure of this place brought him several immediate, as well as future, advantages: After the Etruscans, the town was occupied by the Gauls, then by the Romans. Turning into the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, we arrive at the Hotel Italia. He recovered a number of his baggage mules and horses. In a not well known age, perhaps the 3rd or 4th century A.D., Christianity spread to Mantua. The Hotel Italia has a room available for one night only, but the nearby hotel Dante has a room for three nights. And many of the men who had been captured with them. As the tradition of St. Longinus and the cult of the relics of Christ’s Blood, now kept in Basilica St. Andrew, clearly show. He found a supply of corn and cattle to last him for two or three days. The Hotel Dante, however, has no connection to the Internet and its telephones do not permit one to dial in.
After the fall of the Empire the town was invaded by barbarians, then by Goths, Byzantines, Longobards and Franks. Accordingly, author chooses the Hotel Italia, hoping that on the morrow he may extend his stay another day. But an even more important gain was that his victory inspired such fear among the tribes in the vicinity that none of those who lived near the ascent were likely to attack him again. Nonetheless, despite the pleasant weather, the way to the crater’s rim is long and the climb arduous. Around the year 1000 Mantua was caught up in the feuds of the Attoni family, called Canossa, whose last representative was the Countess Mathilda (1046-1115). Well beyond the outskirts of Ercolano, we continue to come upon villas carved into the mountainside. After her death the town became free, and it strenuously defended its freedom against the imperial forces of the 12th and 13th centuries. We arrive at a red gate barring entrance into a shallow space where a house has been totally destroyed. He proceeded to pitch camp and rested for a day before resuming his march. We arrive at a black gate, a sign atop it reading “Apertura Automatica.”
The following two days Hannibal led his army safely over the next stretch of their route. Breakfast finished, author sets out at once for the Palazzo Te (or Tea Palace), the great early neoclassical villa built by Guiliano Romano as an amusement for Federico II Gonzaga. Romano worked at this construction and its successive decorations for eleven years, from 1525-1535. “Zona Franca,” reads the sign for a clothing store.” This disciple of Raphael was helped by a group of painters, sculptors, carvers and decorators. “Abbigliamento Uomo-Donna.” Who worked under his direction. We pass a green-striped white Fiat, its letters reading “Polizia Locale.” Most Roman poetry from Virgil onwards has a political soul, and none more so than Lucan’s (Frederick Ahl, “Form Empowered: Lucan’s Pharsalia”). We pause across from a provincial administrative building atop whose central balcony fly the flags of Mantova, Italia and Europa. It is a political act as well as a political poem. We pass a shop devoted to “Global Service,” its logo reading “casa@web.” When Lucan declares it the achievement that he shares with Julius Caesar, he does not simply mean that Pharsalia is a battle that Caesar waged and that he, the poet, wrote about. A white Bianchi bicycle leans against a marble wall. He is matching himself against Caesar on two counts: one literary, one historical. We reach an intersection at which one sign indicates that vehicular traffic must turn left to reach Palazzo Te, the other, that pedestrians must continue straight ahead.
On the third day, however, Hannibal found himself in great danger, for the tribes that lived near the pass joined forces to lay a treacherous plot against him. Author, in blue polo shirt and white shorts, continues his leisurely stroll along the left, shady side of the street. His Pharsalia opposes Caesar’s Civil Wars as an interpretation of what the civil wars meant. We pass shops whose signs read “Erbosteria,” “Parrucchiere Uomo,” “www.temporary.it” and, finally, its letters reading from top to bottom, “BINGO.” His assassination of the last of Caesar’s house would, he hoped, undo the consequences of Caesar’s victory. Its “O” followed by an arrow, its “N,” by a clown-like figure, circles for eyes, dots in their middles. Lucan, then, is neither playing Homer to Caesar’s Achilles nor claiming, with Statian false modesty, to be following in the wake of Virgil. Shifting to the sunny side of this, the Via Giovanni Acerbi, we cross Viale Risorgimento and enter onto the grounds of the Palace. He is poised to become the hero, as well as the writer, of his own epic. Before its Renaissance facade sits a formal garden, out of whose circular center radiate eight spokes.
They came out to meet him, bearing branches and wreaths, which are recognized among almost all the barbarian peoples as tokens of friendship, just as the Greeks use the herald’s staff. To the right of the palace’s entrance a sign reads “Ticket / Bookstore / Bar,” its arrow directing us to all three. Hannibal, however, who was suspicious about the good faith of these people, took special pains to discover their intentions and the meaning of this approach. We skirt the facade to search for the counter where tickets are sold. The Gauls told him that they were well aware of the capture of the city and the destruction of those who had tried to attack him. It is in the bookstore that one buys one’s ticket. They explained that for this reason they had come to meet him. Here Vergil again insists on pausing, so as to absorb more information about Neoclassicism and about another curious phenomenon called “the Renaissance.” Since they had no desire to do him harm, nor to suffer any themselves, and they promised to deliver up hostages from among their own people. Leaving the bookstore behind, we pass through the “Bar,” where “sfogliatelle,” “a truly baroque” gelati, is being advertised, to skirt the facade once more in search of the actual entrance into the Palace. Hannibal was reluctant to believe these assurances and hesitated for a long time. At long last, having entered the general edifice, we pass down a corridor and duck beneath a doorway but six feet high.
We rest for a moment on the mountainside to study a yellow stucco house surmounted by a green, highly ornamented tile roof. We have entered the Camera di Ovidio. Lucan is something of a Byronic figure. Or the Camera della Metamorfosi. As a poet in the similarly youthful poetic (and politically conscious) circles of Byron and Shelley, his popularity. “Covered with scenes from the Latin poet’s work attributed to followers of Giulio Romano” (Palazzo Te in Mantua). Should reassure readers that his fellow poets have not always shared scholarly doubts about his poetry. “Such as Agostino da Mozzanega and Anselmo de Ganis.” When, Balbus, you based your arguments on the heavens and the stars (Cicero, the De Natura Deorum), you failed to realize the lengths to which they lead you. Moving on quickly through the Chamber of the Devices, we arrive at the Camera del Sole e della Luna. You stated that the sun and the moon are deities, and it is true that the Greeks worshipped Apollo and Diana. “The ceiling is divided into several lozenges containing delicate stucco figures attributed to Francesco Primaticcio.” But if the moon is a goddess, then Lucifer and the other planets must also attain to the Pantheon. “The central fresco depicts The Sunset and the Moonrise.” And if they are admitted, the fixed stars must also enter. Two charioteers, seen from beneath, stand high above us on the ceiling. Next appears the rainbow. The horses of the sun carry him across the sky. What prevents this phenomenon from being enrolled among the gods? As the horses of the moon prepare for her entrance. It is beautiful, and since that beauty has a remarkable cause. We exit into an outdoor hall. Iris the rainbow is said to be the daughter of Thaumas (Wonder). The Loggia delle Muse. Shelley judged Lucan “a poet of great genius who transcended Virgil.”
You state that the sun (Sol) got his name because he is unique (solus), but in fact the theologians uncover a plethora of suns. Among them were Gian Francesco Penni (Mantua and Her Art Treasures). The first was the son of Jupiter and the grandson of Aether. Primaticcio. The second was the son of Hyperion. Rinaldo Montavano. The third was the son of Vulcan, whose father was the Nile. Benedetto Pagni. According to the Egyptians, it is to this sun that the city of Heliopolis is dedicated. Gian Battista Scultori. The fourth is the one born to Acantho at Rhodes in the era of the heroes. Fermo of Caravaggio. He was the sire of Ialysus, Camiris and Lindos, the founding fathers among the Rhodians. Girolamo of Pontremoli. The fifth is the one who they claim fathered Aeëtes and Circe at Colchis. Nicolò of Milano.
We have found our way into a magnificent square courtyard, centered upon yet another square within the square, out of which four paths emanate in the cardinal directions. Even when Quintillian, writing a generation after Lucan’s death, describes him as a writer “magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus. [someone whom orators (that is, people in public life, rather than poets) should imitate], he both praises and chastises him. We traverse half the border of the square and enter the Loggia Meridionale, to whose right stands the Room of Victories, to whose left, the Room of the Caryatids. His innuendo is that Romans in political life could take their cue from Lucan, even if poets should not. We pass through the Room of the Candelabra, the Room of the Grotesques, before entering the imposing room of the Giants. The Pharsalia is the epic of a youth whose life and poetry were shaped by an obsession with the giants of a century before. Again, there are several Dianas. They inscribed his world, life and thought, even as he inscribed theirs. The first is the daughter of Jupiter and Proserpina, and she is said to be the mother of the winged Cupid. Lucan is as much a creation of the Pharsalia as the Pharsalia is of him. The second, born of Jupiter and Latona, is more familiar to us. His rhetorical persona (didactic, satirical, ubiquitous) resembles Lucretius’ rather than Virgil’s. The father of the third was Upis and her mother, Glauce.
At Villa Anna, on the shelf of a narrow terrace, are perched red and blue water canisters. Virgil lurks within a labyrinth of allusion, the product of a lifetime of study and eleven years of meticulous craftsmanship. Looking like Ares and Hermes standing beside one another. His imagery is baroque rather than classical (Frederick Ahl). We have left the Inferno and entered the Purgatorio. From the Room of the Giants we exit into the Room of the Emperors. (But the “S” of Second is both blue and red, giving a martial as well as mercurial tincture to the whole first book of HERMES.) In the Palazzo Te architecture and decoration match each other so well as to create an art formed of antimonies (Mantua and Her Art Treasures). Thence into another courtyard. Giulio shows clearly the anti-classical nature of his spirit. Fronted by the Loggia di Davide. At first glance, Virgil seems devoted to artificiality and contrivance. We cross a bridge dividing two sections of a moat. Homer’s Odyssey, no less than Vergil’s Aeneid, resides within the breast of ARES. Such is the nature of his illusion (Ahl). Beneath their acidic green surfaces swim small fish. Whose falling triglyphs interrupt the trabeation with a strange rhythm and create perhaps the most significant symbol of the art of Giulio Romano (Mantua). Ahead lies the grotto and the secret garden. At times it is a stage set (Ahl), at times a bas-relief in verse, with montages of anthropomorphic gods, mountains and winds, where the underlying reality is not human but divine (as it never was in Lucan).
It has been a pleasant, neoclassical experience. Neptune scuds across waves and prises ships off rocks with his trident, or tears down Troy’s walls. If the earth is a deity, so is the sea, and in fact you have named it Neptune (Cicero). The ideal center of the Palace is the precious Hall of Psyche (Mantua). Yet Virgil’s stylized art regularly and abruptly intersects with varying degrees of “reality,” as when Aeneas’ eyes move from the sculpted Penthesilea on Juno’s temple in Carthage to the living Dido (Ahl). The Palazzo, we might almost say, is an homage to the spirit of Vergil. According to some (Mantua), Romano intended here to exalt the marquis Federico’s love for Isabella Bocschetto, a love which had aroused the wrath of Isabella of Este. The first Venus was the daughter of Caelus and Dies, her shrine at Elis I myself have seen. Others, however, think that he represented an allegory of the ascent of the soul (Psyche) from the prison of matter, having overcome obstacles and sufferings, to the high domain of spirit. The second had sprung forth from the sea-foam, and, we are told, she and Mercury were the parents of Cupid. At the end of the final garden stands a semicircular (one had almost said “hemispherical”) colonnade. As when, in the epic’s first simile (Ahl), the baroque Neptune, calming warring winds, is compared to a pious human quelling civil strife. The third Venus is the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, and was married to Vulcan, but her son Anteros is said to have been fathered by Mars. Penetrated by fifteen arches (by seventeen, if we include the two portals on either end of it).
.As we continue to mount higher, onto the upper slopes of Vesuvius, a sign along the way reads “Salvatore.” Apart from his inspiring themes, and his chromatic vividness, the beauty of Romano’s art lies in the restless intellectual research into a harmony between the classical and the Christian worlds (Mantua). As for Minervas, the first is the one who, we said, was the mother of Apollo. We return to the Palazzo, enter the Appartamento del Giardino Segreto, and approach the entrance to the grotto. The second is the daughter of the Nile, the third, the daughter of Jupiter, the fourth, the offspring of Jupiter and Coryphe, daughter of Oceanus. As we do so, a pigeon lifts off. The Arcadians call her Koria and claim that she introduced the four-horse chariot. Flapping its way out into the light again. The fifth is the daughter of Pallas, and she is said to have killed her father, when he tried to rob her of her virginity.
“Extending over an area of roughly 34,000 square meters between Piazza Sordello and the lakes, the complex that we call Palazzo Ducale was constructed between the second half of the 12th century and the middle of the 17th.” Author has returned to the Palazzo Te’s bookstore to purchase Mantua and Her Art Treasures, along with the Electra Concise Guides to Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale. “For everyone who visits Mantua, this extremely complex building is an obligatory destination.” Before his visit, however, he sets out on foot for the countryside, in search of something more fundamental to Vergil’s early experience.
During the fights between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Pinamonte Bonacolsi seized power, in 1273. The heat of the day and the wearisomeness of the walk, however, along with Mantua’s drab modern buildings, prevent him from gaining any sense of how Vergil might have responded to this locale. And his family ruled Mantua for more than a century, making it more prosperous and artistically beautiful. After much reconnoitering of industrial and residential neighborhoods author bends back toward the lake and the inner “monumental city.” At that time were built the Bonacolsi Palace, the Magna Domus and the churches of Gradaro and St. Francis. What would the lake have meant to Vergil? Which gave to the town its peculiar medieval look. Certainly it would have taught him something of boats. Mantua, though, lacks the characteristic medieval net of narrow streets coalescing into a stronghold. If not of the Mediterranean-voyaging vessels used by Aeneas. Instead it has the large public spaces characteristic of other medieval cities, such as Venice. On his circuitous travels from Troy to arrive at Italy and found Rome. It is very pleasant to take shelter from the hot sun of the Lower Po Valley. A fisherman crouches beside the lake. In the shade of its ruins. His pole suspended just beyond the reach of the shore. Though they do remind us of terrible civil wars and massacres. He has parked his bike against the tree, beneath which he sits.
The landscape hereabouts is rather gentle. In 1323 at the death of Rinaldo, who was killed in a revolt fomented by the Gonzaga family. But also rather undistinguished. The rule of the Bonacolsi family came to an end. Perhaps for this reason Arcadia had to be reinvented. And that of the Gonzaga family began. At the town shops local products, of the vine, of goat and cow, of pig and chicken, are everywhere visible. With Luigi, the People’s Captain, and the forefather of this famous family. In the most delectable combinations and recipes. Under the Gonzaga family, Mantua became the capital of an important state. But there is no sign of agriculture on Mantova’s outskirts. And it went through a period of military glory and artistic splendor that lasted about four centuries. Perhaps, we might say, the Georgics, like the Eclogues, required both encyclopedic scholarship and esemplastic imagination. It was this same period that saw the creation of Mantua’s most magnificent buildings and its true masterpieces of art. Author veers away from the lake and back once more into the historic city.
Famous men, such as Ariosto, Tasso, Correggio, Tiziano and Cellini frequented the Gonzaga court. It has been a long and exhausting venture, yielding little, all conducted beneath a relentless mid-afternoon sun. Gianfranco Gonzaga also summoned to Mantua Pisanello and Vittorino of Feltre. Northern Italy this summer has experienced an extended drought, accompanied by ravaging forest fires. In the same city Vittorino founded the renowned humanistic school of Ca’ Zolosa (Giocosa). Was the climate of Vergil’s birthplace and early residence perhaps also unworthy of representation under the rubric of pastoral serenity and fecund agricultural bounty? During the reign of Ludovico II, Mantua, which had long retained a Gothic look, accepted the new Renaissance art, offering hospitality to the likes of Brunelleschi, Alberti, Laurana, Mantegna and Poliziano.
For a locale that claims such a distinguished native son, Mantua has a disappointing lack of Vergilian Nachlaß. Not that all periods of Rome’s literary history were equally fertile in the production of epic. As we approach Piazza Sordello, we pass the Angel Bar. Though patronage was in many cases not essential. Dante, we might say, is more of a presence in Mantua than is the Mantuan. It is no accident that the main periods of productivity. For the most part the public buildings in this historic section of town are rather undistinguished. Coincide with the main periods of republican and imperial patronage of the arts. Was this also the case of Roman Mantua? The middle Republic (Livius, Naevius and Ennius). Would Vergil too have wearied of long walks in search of the pastoral, the agricultural, the republican? The late Republic (Cicero, Furius Bibaculus and Varro Atacinus). We return to Hotel Italia, leaving for another day our outing to the Palazzo Ducale.
At the tourist agent’s: The Augustan Period.
MM: Now, you were telling me that Vergil did not grow up in Mantua. (Virgil and Ovid).
Agent: No, he grew up in Pietole. (Ponticus, Macer, Rabirius and Ena).
MM: And you say that you do not know this man. The Neronian/Flavian Era.
Agent: Yes, I know him! (Lucan, Serranus, Saleius Bassus, Statius, Valerius and Silius).
MM: And how long ago did he live? The late fourth century.
Agent: Mmm . . . 1000 year. (Claudian and Prudentius).
MM: A thousand years ago! He must be very old! In the Middle Ages.
Agent: Yes [laughter]. And the Carolingian Renaissance.
MM: Actually, he was born in 70 B.C. Later, the European Renaissance itself.
Agent: Oh, really [laughter]? All were periods of extensive political patronage.
MM: Did you read his works when you were in school? Public figures such as:
Agent: No, no, no. The Claudii Marcelli, Marcus Fulvius and Noblior.
MM: In other words, you have only heard about him. Scipio Aemilianus and Julius Caesar.
Agent: Yes, by reputation. Messala Corvinus, Maecenas and Augustus.
MM: So perhaps it is all just a rumor. The early emperors and Stilicho.
Agent: [Laughter.] Yes, maybe it is all just a rumor!
“Virgil was the greatest Latin poet, and Mantua has always considered him the best and most loved of its citizens” (pamphlet from the tourist agency). We are up and out, mid morning, for our visit to Palazzo Ducale. “It was he who skillfully interpreted the typical values of the people living in the Po Valley.” On our way back to Piazza Sordello, however, we pause before a great early Renaissance church designed by another Vergilian avatar, the architect and theorist of architecture and painting, Leon Battista Alberti. “Its Roman vault epitomizes the absorption of Roman architecture into the Christian esthetic,” says the faithful guide. We are speaking here of “Basilica con Cattedrale di San Andrea.” It was built from its foundations on a preexisting church in 1472, from designs by Alberti and under the direction of Luca Fancelli, who worked on it for about twenty years (Mantua and Her Art Treasures). We enter the cathedral to explore its neoclassical interior (which, like its imposing exterior archway, is barrel-vaulted). Andrea Mantegna is buried in the first small chapel on the left side of the nave. We exit to continue on through the long rectangular stretch of Piazza dell’Erbe, which is filled with early morning shoppers (ladies sorting through garments displayed in open bins), with flower merchants (arranging pots of impatiens and other more elegant blossoms).
We continue down the center of this pedestrianized piazza-street, past “Snack Bar Pierrot.” On one side of beautiful Sordello Square. Through the arch ahead is visible the sunlit, creamy Duomo. Stand the Acerbi House and the Bonalcolsi Palace. We are looking into Piazza Sordello, having not yet arrived. Now called Castiglione Palace, which keeps in its archives the autograph of The Courtier. We cross the Via Accademia and enter into the Piazza’s magnificent space, throughout which have been set up the stalls of merchants, their white vans parked alongside them. By Baldassare Castiglione. The square is packed with people, for this is market day. One of the greatest literary figures. A triangular pair of panties has been stretched across a circular frame. Of the Italian Renaissance. “Don’t Cry,” says a black tee shirt.
At last we reach “Museo di Palazzo Ducale,” its banner lettered in maroon on grey, and enter the Palace by way of a staircase with very low risers. In the end Hannibal decided that if he accepted the Gauls’ overtures he might make them more pacific and less inclined to attack him (Polybius’ account). We continue through the Room of the Captains and the Room of the Popes on into a long gallery of religious paintings. But that if he refused, he would only provoke them into open hostility. In the Gallery of Mirrors we survey its allegorical lunettes: Mind, Faith, Hope, Virtue, Honor, Victory, Safety, Harmony and other concepts of the same kind (Cicero, in the De Natura Deorum), we must envisage them all as in essence abstractions, not as gods. Eloquence, Kindness and Immortality. For they either represent qualities that reside within us. Intellect, Magnanimity and Affability. Or they represent aims to which we aspire. Generosity, Harmony, Humility and Magnificence. I appreciate that they are all beneficial qualities. Innocence, Eternal Happiness and Philosophy. And I note that statues are dedicated to them. The décor of the pilasters surrounding the mirrors is in gold and white. But why divine powers should reside in them I shall understand only when my researches reveal it.
We descend a staircase and pause within a passageway. So he agreed to their proposals and pretended to accept their professions of friendship (Polybius’ account of Hannibal). To lean out a window and regard the gorgeous Basilica di Santa Barbara. The barbarians then handed over their hostages, provided him with a large number of cattle. On another, yellow wall within the courtyard pots of green-leaved red geraniums have been stationed on windowsills. And indeed put themselves unreservedly into his hands. We pass through more rooms than can be counted. Whereupon Hannibal expressed his trust, engaging them as guides for the next difficult section of his route. Past images of horses, images of labyrinths, fragments of sarcophagi. For the next two days they showed him the way. We traverse the great Gallery of the Marbles. But then the same tribe gathered their forces and, coming up behind the Carthaginians, attacked them as they were passing through a steep and precipitous defile.
We pass through the Exhibition Gallery, “undoubtedly,” says a plaque on its wall, “the most representative of the huge complex of rooms and corridors created during the 16th century to expose the collections of the Gonzaga princes.” In the case of Nero and Domitian, the patron-emperors had poetic pretensions themselves (A. J. Boyle, “The Roman Song”). “This very long gallery overlooks a wide courtyard by means of balconies and high windows.” However, patronage, which Romans would have called amicitia (even if it involved social unequals), was a complex relationship, and one that served to enhance the prestige of both parties as well as the financial status of the poets concerned. “It was the most important exhibition place of the Ducal palace at Mantua.” Who were almost always men of reasonable means (i.e. equestrians) to begin with. “And on its windowless wall were exposed the most outstanding works by the greatest artists of Italy.”
The system also provided poets with a much-needed audience or readership. “Paintings of Mantegna (now sadly lost), The Triumphs of Caesar.” But no poet needed patronage simply to survive. “Of Vasari, of Tiziano, of Gulio Romano.” Or even to live moderately well. “The famous Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio.” And not all epic poets had patrons. “The gallery today exposes only the busts of Romans.” This time Hannibal’s army would have been wiped out, but for the fact that his fears had not been allayed and that, having some foreboding of what might happen, he had stationed his mule train and his cavalry at the head of the column and the heavy infantry in the rear. “Of Caesar, Hadrian and their cronies.” The infantry covered his main body and was able to check the onslaught of the enemy, so that the disaster proved less serious than it might have been. Through the windows of the palace author peers, out through the arches of another colonnade, from there out over the surface of the lake, on whose opposite shore the trees are enveloped in the misty, humid early morning air of mid July.
Meanwhile, on the slopes of Vesuvius, MM and Vergil turn about to regard the panorama of the Bay of Naples. “Although the destructive powers of Vesuvius are undoubtedly diminished” (Fodor). Increasingly the roadway is shrouded in fog. “The threat of an eruption is ever present.” Mollifying the beautiful landscape. But even so a great number of men perished in the attack. At the height that we have now attained, the spring trees have not yet leafed out. “Although the local administrators in the thirteen comuni surrounding the volcano are well versed in risk-management.” The enemy had gained the higher ground and could move along the slopes. “The slopes of Vesuvius are so densely populated.” And from there some of them rolled down rocks. “That the practicalities of evacuating over half a million people are nonetheless daunting.” While others with stones struck down their opponents at close quarters.
We pass a sign reading “Paradiso,” lettered in red on blue. The Aeneid critically presents, rather than eulogizes, a world of political and military power (imperium and arma) and its idealizing self-image (A. J. Boyle, “The Canonic Text”). What is Vergil thinking of, as we mount higher above the tree line and head on up toward the lip of the great volcano’s crater? The relationship of that image to Roman reality and the effect of imperial achievement on human values and human history. Despite his premature death, had he come to terms with himself and the world that he lived in? The epic ends on a note not of imperial triumph but of individual suffering and loss. Was he himself ready to give up the ghost? As Aeneas evidences the values for which the political world stands by sinking steel in human tissue (Turnus’). What other moral values had he espoused in a lifetime of writing? “Nonetheless, in the end” (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature), “the Homeric aspects of Turnus’ behavior determine that he cannot survive in the proto-Roman world.” The Carthaginians were thrown into such confusion and felt so threatened by these tactics that Hannibal was compelled to spend the night with only half his force, near a certain bare rock. “However much our sympathies may sometimes be with him, our judgment must favor the new way.”
The worth of fame, a central value of the Roman political and military ethos, against the human cost of its pursuit. Here he was separated from his cavalry and from the mule train. The moral possibilities of man as against his psychological vulnerability and his irresistible potential for violence. He waited to cover their advance. The nature of human motivation and action. Until, after a whole night’s struggle. The paradox of human aspiration. They slowly and with great difficulty made their way out of the gorge. The dehumanizing splendor of man’s finest ideals. By the next morning the enemy had broken off contact. The human inability to learn from experience. Hannibal was able to rejoin the cavalry. And the resulting inevitability of history’s repetitive cycle. To advance toward the top of the pass.
As we approach the summit of Vesuvius smoke wisps out from its lip to merge with the gathering fog. The relationship between man and art, and the moral impotence of the latter. Of particular interest are four stucco panels, fashioned so as to imitate bronze, each bearing a Napoleonic allegory: The primacy of human compassion, and its failure as a force in history. (1) Napoleon Receiving the Sword of Mars from Jupiter. “Caesar’s father had never been a consul” (Levi), “but even as a boy he claimed descent on the one side from the immortal gods, on the other from many kings.” (2) Italy Offering its Laws to Napoleon. “Writers elaborated the myth: the archaic poet Stesichorus seems to settle Aeneas in Italy, but Hellenicus of Lesbos in the fifth century B.C. certainly did so, and his more elaborate account of the wanderings had an influence on Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who was Virgil’s contemporary, and a writer on Roman antiquities who throws much light on The Mantuan.” (3) Napoleon Accepting the Produce of the Earth. “When Aeneas died, he too had become a god: the Native god of the Place, as Ovid tells us at length in the Metamorphoses.” We know for certain (A. J. Boyle, “Roman Song”) that Ovid did not have a patron. (4) Minerva Presenting the Arts and Sciences to Napoleon. Nor did Silius, nor, possibly, Valerius Flaccus either.
.We enter into and quickly exit from a long double-grottoed chamber, on whose walls are depicted in allegorical form the Rivers of Italy. “Virgil gives Aeneas various hints of divinity, but he does not allow a divine halo to detract from his hero’s humanity.” We observe the tapestries, made by Flemish weavers from the cartoons of Raphael, among them: “In bygone ages the task of protecting the local inhabitants fell to the martyred patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, whose statue was borne aloft through the streets of Naples” (Fodor). The Disciples of Christ Performing the “Miraculous Draft.” “It was common enough, to raise no eyebrows, though, lest some important family with roots in the sleepy provinces of Italy claim descent from figures in Homeric mythology” (Levi). Paul in Athens Preaching before the Aereopagus. “In an attempt to placate the volcano’s wrath.” The Conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus. “The claim of the Caesars to descent from Aeneas was no stronger, and perhaps not as old.”
“Nowadays” (Fodor) “volcanic activity is monitored by the Osservatorio Vesuviano, founded under the Bourbon king Ferdinand II in the mid-19th century, and the facility where the seismic scale was invented.” Even those who did have patrons (A. J. Boyle), such as Ennius, Virgil and Statius, created works which are ideologically far more complex than the concept “commissioned work” (with its associations of sycophancy) implies. By this date the Pleiades were setting, and snow had already fallen in the mountains. “The original observatory, conspicuous for its red Pompeian doorway, has survived unscathed on the volcano’s upper slopes.” We have left it behind. Hannibal saw that his men had lost heart because of the sufferings that they had endured and the hardships that they believed lay ahead. We continue to push on toward the summit. The best text for the clarification of the concept, as it was understood by the practicing Roman epicists, is Vergil’s Aeneid, which contains within it two images of commissioned work. “It is now used for conferences and is flanked by an operations center that houses antiquated equipment employed by seismologists in previous centuries.” So he called his troops together and strove to raise their spirits and for this purpose relied above all on the sight of Italy, which lay stretched out before them. With the lip of the crater in sight, we turn about one last time to survey the distance that we have come. For the country lies so close under these mountains that, when the two are seen simultaneously in a panoramic view. The self-reflection of Roman epic is brought to bear upon the question of whether the values of a work of art are delimited by the imperatives of its production. The Alps seem to rise above the rest of the landscape like a walled citadel above a city.
Having completed his tour of the Palazzo Ducale, author realizes that he has failed to visit the celebrated “Room of the Married Couple.” Vergil’s answer is presented as emphatically negative. “Described as the ‘Camera Picta,’ it is one of the major works of Andrea Mantegna.” Catullus chose for his theme (David Konstan, “Neoteric Epic”) the marriage between Thetis, a sea-nymph and granddaughter of the god Ocean, and the mortal Peleus. “Who accomplished it between 1465 and 1474 under the commission of Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga.” Author arrives to find himself alone in the chamber. Catullus contracts his focus to the ivory wedding couch at the center of the house and the dark red embroidered coverlet which serves as the subject of his ecphrasis. Therefore Hannibal directed his men’s gaze towards the plains of the Po and reminded them of the welcome they would receive from the Gauls who inhabited them. Over the fireplace sits the Marquis, in consultation with his secretary, beside him his consort, Hera-like, surrounded by their progeny. The progress of the nuptials gives way to Theseus’ voyage to Crete and his desertion of Ariadne, as they are pictured on the tapestry. A guard interrupts author’s observation on the charge that he is photographing the frescos, but he protests, showing her by holding up his tape recorder, that his art is merely verbal.
Nowhere is the Aeneid’s interplay of confidence and questioning more complex and searching than at its close (Jenkyns). The next day Hannibal broke camp and began the descent. (If Milton was to be more confident of the future, Lucretius, had been more questioning.) During this part of his march he met none of the enemy. Probably no other long poem whistles through so much narrative incident in its last lines. But due to the snow and the dangers of his route he lost nearly as many men as he had on the ascent. January 43 opened with gales (Everitt). Eerily the wind has died down, as we gaze into the crater of Vesuvius. A statue representing Honor was blown over, and the little image of Minerva the Guardian, which Cicero had set up in the Temple of Jupiter, was shattered. Down the long stairway with low risers author exits the Museum. Clemency was discredited as a policy of the past. And into the Piazza della Realtà. Priam and Achilles come together in the last book of the Iliad, but there is no reconciliation between the human actors in the last book of the Aeneid (Jenkyns).
Cicero was proscribed along with the rest of his family (Everitt). At last we discover, niched into the wall of a house, the Edicola di Virgilio. He and his brother were at Tusculum when they heard of the proscription, and they moved at once to the villa at Astura, forty miles from Rome. Once bodies are supposedly endowed with a breakable nature, it is inconsistent to imagine that they could endure for eternity (Lucretius). Quintus suddenly realized that he had brought no cash with him, and Cicero too had insufficient funds for the journey, so Quintus volunteered to return home. A little roof overarches it in a Christian manner. The decision to return was disastrous, for bounty hunters were already on the family’s trail. When harried across the ages by an infinite number of blows. The Iliad ends with feasting, the Aeneid, poised on the brink of Hell (Jenkyns). Stylized according to a medieval esthetic. Cicero is reported to have said, rather grandly, “I will die in the country that I have so often saved.” The Edicola, however, was only instituted in 1981. In the stillness of the majestic Campanian landscape, the spirit of Vergil has departed. According to Plutarch, “The crows perched about the window, making a tremendous cawing.” But from Vesuvius his spirit continues to depart. In his autobiography (Jenkyns) Augustus included polemic and apologia, carping at the senate and defensive about his private life. He continues to ascend into Heaven. Cicero stretched his neck as far as he could out of the litter, and Herennius slit his throat. As he always will. It took three sword strokes and some sawing to detach the head, and then he cut off Cicero’s hands. Sic Vergilius ero.include "book_foot.inc" ?>