Saturday, June 3, 2017

Following Helen Douglass following Nathaniel Hawthorne on Capitoline Hill

Helen told her sister that, in the room with the "Dying Gladiator" in the Capitoline Museum, she and Eleanor Lewis "looked out of the same window Hawthorne mentions -- out over the old Roman Forum with the Colesseum at the farther end of it, and the beautiful Roman sky visible through one of its arches as he himself saw it."

Hawthorne, of course, having more time to revise and polish toward literary ends, and without the need to think of postage cost, described the scene further:
From one of the windows of this saloon, we may see a flight of broad stone steps, descending along side the antique and and massive foundation of the Capitol, toward the battered triumphal arch of Septimus Severus, right below.
Since Hawthorne's time in the American antebellum era, and indeed since the Douglass's time in the 1880s, the steps have been replaced with a driveway, somewhat visible in the picture above. The old, blown glass with its bubbles and waves makes a nice artistic rendition, but not so much a clear picture of the image, and my poor old digital camera (no, I do not own an iPhone) could not do much better. This model in another part of the museum shows the steps. The building containing the "Dying Gladiator" room is just northeast of the center of the picture and the steps run straight down, just to the right of that large building.:

That large building can be seen here in this picture. It is not the whit building topped with winged statues at either end that you can see in the distance. I actually mistook that one for the Capitoline Museum when we first arrived, but soon corrected. Not after we took a ride to the roof for a spectacular view of the city, however!

Septimus Severus's arch is the full triumphal arch there just above and to the right of the center of the picture. It is not quite so beat up as Hawthorne would have you believe, given what you see around it. The Roman Senate is the plain building to the right, with the forum opening out before both there on the right side of the picture.

Indeed, Hawthorne as more to say of this view from his and Helen's vantage in the museum:
Farther on, the eye skirts along the edge of the desolate Forum (where Roman washerwomen hang out their linen to the sun), passing over a shapeless confusion of modern edifices, piled rudely up with ancient brick and stone, and over the domes of Christian churches, built on the old pavements of heathen temples and supported by the very pillars that once upheld them. 
 At a distance beyond -- y et but a little way, considering how much history is heaped into the intervening space -- rises the great sweep of the Coliseum, with the blue sky brightening through its upper tier of arches. 
 Far off, the view is shut in by the Alban Mountains, looking just the same, amid all this decay and change, as when Romulus gazed thitherward over his half finished wall.
 We glance hastily at these things, -- at this bright sky, and those blue distant mountains, and at the ruins, Etruscan, Roman, Christian, venerable with a threefold antiquity, and at the company of world-famous statues in the saloon, -- in the hope of putting the reader into that state of feeling which is experienced oftenest at Rome. It is a vague sense of ponderous remembrances; a perception of such weight and density in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and interest are but half as real here as elsewhere.
These last pictures, I confess, were not taken from the Capitoline Museum but from the top of the Palatine Hill and the top of that gigantic white museum. You can see the domes, and the Colosseum. You see the forum and the ruins. No washerwomen hang laundry there any longer. They are now closed off as a protected park for which you must buy a ticket for admittance and in which archaeologists continue to ask questions of the stones.

Crowded with tourists now, and entrepreneurs selling hats, water, and selfie sticks -- oh, my god! the ubiquitous selfie sticks!-- between this park and the Colosseum, this heart of the Roman Empire still beats. Every language and every skin color: all roads still lead to Rome.

I also confess that this trip was in celebration of my own half-century mark, which occurs this July. Although I am riding up Fortuna's Wheel at this moment, Hawthorne was correct, "the present moment is pressed down or crowded out." The history, the city's, the world's, the Douglasses', Hawthorne's, my own, all walk together like ghosts. If you don't want to feel old, go somewhere that is much older.


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