Monday, September 15, 2008

Whose past is it anyway?

Augustus Caesar
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Back in lugubrious Scotland, suffering a drop of 20 degrees Celsius from the heat of Rome, I have at least a proper keyboard to blog on - even if the laptop, after a brief burst of energy, seems to be relapsing into stammering senility. This photo of a statue of Augustus Caesar, perched now on Mussolini's Via dei Fori Imperiali, sums up the effect much of the Roman experience had on me because of its ubiquity in my adolescence. It appeared in my Paterson and MacNaughton's Approach to Latin - the bible for Latin scholars in a school where the redoubtable Paterson was the Headmaster - and as such was there on a daily basis every time I opened the book.

And it was really then that my obsession with all things Roman began. Learning Latin was a matter of much acquisition of vocabulary and grammar - and we did it by rote, turning over the page to see if we'd managed to memorise it yet. As often as not, Augustus would gaze at us as we did this. I could have drawn that pose from memory. It was a part of my life.

And in a fascinating way the Rome of two thousand years ago is still a part of life in Rome today. The excavated Forum, for example, keeps getting in the way when you try to go from one point to another in that area of Rome. You can't cross it, as you have to pay to get in and it shuts at sundown. In the warm evenings, people hang over the fence simply looking down at the shadowy pillars - those still standing, those lying jumbled on the ground. In a small park which we had to cross to get to the main road, two large sections of stone pillar lay half-buried, and people sat on them to eat a sandwich, or merely to take the weight off their pins. Even as we were being driven into the city from the airport, we could see ruins of huge villas off to the left, along the line of the Via Appia Antiqua, and the arches of an aqueduct marching towards Rome.

Some of the time I felt my Italian was coming on a treat - and then realised that I was reading a sign in Latin, not Italian. Street names referred to long-dead first century Romans. They seemed closer by far than the shadowy figures of the Dark Ages, closer even than the Popes and the sculptors who took over from them. I shall have more to say about the ruins we visited - but right now I feel I've been on a visit to my own past as well as that of a civilisation.

I'm glad I didn't leave it any longer.


  1. I visited rome 2 years ago and found my classical education (much slighter than yours, Mrs B) kept popping up and stimulating my thoughts. Castel Sant Angelo - phooey, Hadrian's mausoleum. Pantheon? Pagan temple, not a church. But I adore baroque - the Gesu and St Ignatius' apartments. I kept gawping at Caravaggio's and was dead chuffed to find a memorioal plaque to the failed Stewart monarachs in St Peter's (including Hery IX, Cardinal York).

  2. I was too knackered by the heat (and the crush in the Sistine Chapel) to go find the memorial to the Sobieski Stewarts - a pity, given the Stewart part of my ancestry!