BOSWELL said: “A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows anything of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say.” With the Italians the less they know the more assurances they make to you of their information, and they embellish their discourse with gestures that would outdo the deaf and dumb alphabet, until, waxing really enthusiastic over anything, they give one an exhibition of facial contortion and arm gymnastics that really makes a pleasant entertainment.
Recently a new method of counting time was inaugurated, and now, instead of one P. M. the Italians say thirteen o’clock. Two o’clock is fourteen, and so on down to eleven at night which is twenty-three o’clock, and our midnight is zero. Next comes one o’clock as of old, followed by two and three and so on. It is confusing to note that a gallery will be open from ten to fifteen o’clock, which is ten A. M. to three P. M., but the Italians claim it is a much better way, as it saves adding A. M. or P. M. to distinguish day from night!
Rome stands as proudly today on her seven hills as she did not only hundreds but thousands of years ago. The Forum is the center of antiquity, but the excavations are provokingly slow. In any other country where the government could not afford to carry on such a work faster, some enterprising citizens would have raised a fund to finish the revelation of such wonders, but in Rome, the home of time, all feel the present will go with them to eternity and so there is no need of haste. It was the core of Roman life, where all that concerned the town took place. The lovely young Virginia was stabbed near by; here Cicero gave many of his orations to the people and Julius Casar’s feet have touched these very stones. Now, with the exception of a few lazy workmen and curious tourists, a pathetic solitude holds sway over the whole expanse.
Every fresh excavation shames some established fact in Roman history, and this work proves conclusively that the children in the next generation will have very different ideas of the ways and customs of the Roman people than were taught their fathers and mothers. Even the Temple of the Vestal Virgins has now been taken from their possession and given over to Hercules. Their house, however, indicates what wealth and power was theirs, for they lived in as great luxury as the Empress with whom they alone had the honor of sitting at public fetes. Angelica Kauffmann’s “Vestal Virgin” shows one of these six, robed in the usual designating white garments: Their duty was to keep the sacred fire to the Goddess Vesta burning unceasingly night and day, and if any one of them was so unfortunate as to neglect this office or to break the vow of chastity she was promptly enclosed in a stone wall. The mother of Romulus and Remus was the Vestal Virgin whom the God of War enticed away to the flame of love.
The Colosseum has been likened to a bandbox with a side bitten out and in its ruin, part of the wall has been demolished. Its strength occasioned the saying that “While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand,” and it has been the scene of more brilliant spectacles than any other building. Four hundred lions frequently contended in it at once and when the Christians were given them to devour it made keen sport for the blood-loving audiences. Yet the more Christians were killed the more Christians flourished and not all the might of conquering Rome could crush them.
It was built by the Jews whom Titus led captives to Rome after his conquest of Jerusalem. The first of this people had been brought here prisoners by Pompey, but in seventeen years they had denied themselves so much of their meager share of corn, in order to sell it, that they were enabled to loan money to no less a personage then Julius Caesar! Then the next great body of Hebrew captives were put to work piling these great stones on each other for this Colosseum, and as they increased in numbers they were banished to a foul, unhealthy region of the city, which was called the Ghetto or “cut off.” Although the Tiber yearly inundated their miserable hovels and the
slime all about never dried out, it was the only place in Rome where they were free from persecution. Even in our own age the Jews were still almost as badly treated here as the early Christians had been, and Mendelssohn wrote a friend his race was so hooted, hissed and maltreated in the streets, he could only take his children out after dark to show them the sights of Rome !
The sewers, the unrivaled aqueducts and the impregnable walls, as well as the great triumphant arches, could not be entirely demolished by all the disasters of time and the ravages of destroyers. The Pantheon, however, is the only building of ancient Rome that has been left in perfect preservation. It is strangely lighted by but one aperture in the roof, but from having been a pagan temple as well as a Christian church, it is now the Imperial Vault. There Victor Emmanuel II., Father of his Country, and his son, the late king Humbert, are interred, and opposite them in a scarcely appropriate tomb, lies Raphael, Rome’s master artist, whose works were prompted by his heart as Michael Angelo’s were by his mind.
Timid women shrink from the darkness and horror of the old Mamertine prison, and the Catacombs are only relished by the inquisitive and morbid, for in one the bones of four thou-sand are displayed, “upholstering” six sepulchral rooms! An-other spot associated with death is the Tarpeian Rock; no such hill as Jack and Jill covered in their historic descent, but a sharp precipice over which all traitors were thrown from the day it took its name from Tarpeia, the daughter of the keeper of the Citadel who was willing to surrender its key if the invaders would give her their gold bracelets.
The church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls looks modern because it was rebuilt after the fire in 1823, but the spot has been the burial place of the Apostle Paul ever since his death at the beginning of the first century, and the alabastar columns around his tomb strangely enough were sent for that purpose by a bloody Viceroy of Egypt. It is in this building that one finds the interesting freize of medallions of all the Popes, and it is well worth going the distance from the city to see anything as beautiful as its cloisters.
A new Palais de Justice, or court house, is being built on the other side of the Tiber, not far away from the Castle St. Angelo. It is a very fine modern building, large and of white stone, exquisitely carved, and when finished will compare favor-ably with any other government building in existence.
Before the Capitol two live wolves are always kept in a cage, as a tribute to the memory of the one that nourished Romulus and Remus, when their wicked uncle cast the two orphans adrift. In the center of the court stands the gigantic bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the philosopher-emperor, called “a sage on a throne,” for he was as great with the pen as with the sceptre, and wrote in his leisure moments the well-known book “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.” This statue is so ancient it was old even to Michael Angelo who was asked to superintend its erection at the Capitol after it was removed in 1538 from the Lateran, In the Capitoline collection are busts of all the emperors of Rome, and nearly every one committed suicide or was murdered. Here too are the celebrated statues of the “Dying Gladiator,” the “Marble Faun,” the “Venus of the Capitol,” the “Bronze Wolf,” also Guido Reni’s peerless “San Sebastian,” a well-known portrait of Michael Angelo, and so on without end.
It was on the Capitol steps that Rienzi, the Tribune of the people, met his death. Bulwer-Lytton has put him in a novel, Wagner in an opera, and artists love to depict scenes from his remarkable career. He was the son of a washerwoman, but by personal magnetism and eloquence he persuaded the down-trodden people that he knew just what they wanted, and with startling rapidity climbed the ladder of power up to the top step. Then he grew giddy from the height of his own grandeur. Forgetting his promises he taxed the people, just as his predecessors had done, and encouraging them to believe he was more than’ mortal, he appeared on the streets with such pomp and splendor that old Stephen Colonna, always his enemy, could brook his impudence no longer, and rousing the people from their dazzled bewilderment, he headed a party for the overthrow of the tyrant Rienzi. His downfall was even more rapid than his rise. He was soon deserted by all, even his admiring friend, Petrach,began to see his faults, and he finally sought refuge of the Pope in Avignon, whence he re-turned to Rome a few years later to make another eloquent appeal to the masses. His hour, however,waspassed, and as he entreated the crowd in a last effort, a man slew him right on the Capitol steps, up and down which now all the world goes, little thinking when they see his statue close by, of this man whom fame tempted and then mockingly left to his fate.
The Academy of St. Luke has been an art school of superior standing for several hundred years. There hangs Van Dyke’s lovable “Dutch Baby,” and the picture that Mme. Le Brun did of herself while working here. Her stay in Rome was most profitable, but after tasting every triumph in ‘the great cities throughout Europe, she desired only these simple words on her tomb: “At last I rest.” The art models congregate in great numbers on the old steps of the Scala Spagna, and as it is the headquarters for flower venders, one sees such an artistic blending of beautiful faces and bright flowers that no more attractive spot is found in Rome.
In early days the Romans made almost more preparation for death than for life. Thirty thousand tombs extended along the Appian Way, the most conspicuous now being that of Cecelia Metella, of which Byron wrote:
“What was this tower of strength? Within its cave
What treasure lay so locked, so hid? A woman’s grave.”
Was she Crassus’ wife or daughter? Was it built to show his pride and wealth, or his love for her? It is a deplorable thing to have your monument outlive your fame, and better to have people ask why no monument was erected to you, than to have them seek in vain for a reason for building one.
The greatest tomb in the world, excepting the Taj Mahal in India, is that shown in the picture of Emperor Hadrien. It was originally covered with slabs of pure white marble, and richly ornamented with carving and statues, while inside rested his family and many of his successors, until 432, when the tomb was desecrated and the alabastar coffins broken. It made an ideal fortress in the succeeding battles, for its walls were thirty feet thick and it was regarded as so invincible it was considered a kind of rock of Gibraltar, where people went for safety.
Different Popes have fled to it when the city was attacked, not the least among them being Hildebrand, Gregory VII.
He was the Pope who excommunicated the Emperor, Henry IV., and though the Emperor at first thought nothing of it, he realized when neither ‘his soldiers nor his servants, for fear of eternal damnation, dared obey him, what it meant to be under the ban of the church, and finally was forced to beg the Pope’s pardon, for which he made his famous pilgrimage over the Alps to Canossa, like any common penitent; but the end was not then, for once reinstated in grace, he sent for his troops and marched to Rome with fire and sword, swearing to avenge the humilation Gregory had brought upon him. The Pope seeing the tables were turned, hastened to Hadrien’s tomb for safety, and when the Emperor was in full possession of the city, he escaped through one of its underground passages to Salerno, where he was afterwards buried in the Cathedral with these words by request on his tomb: “Because I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, I die in exile.”
In 590, when the plague raged in Rome, prayers for its cessation were put up in all the churches, and Gregory the Great declared he saw one morning an angel with a drawn sword on the top of Hadrien’s tomb, who showed by putting the sword back in its scabbard that the city was to be spared and the pestilence `abated. The name was then changed to the Castle St. Angelo, or the Holy Angel, and the bronze chariot of Hadrien gave way to the figure of the angel who still keeps vigil over the great massive structure.
In ancient times it was no unusual thing for an angel to appear in Rome; there are churches to the left of one, and shrines to the right of one that were erected in memory of these visits. It would seem that saints, apostles and holy men, saw quite as much of the world as of heaven, and Jesus Christ takes a secondary place as compared with the importance of the Virgin Mary and the other saints of the calendar.
Another famous prisoner incarcerated in Hadrien’s tomb was Beatrice di Cenci, so familiar to us from Guido Reni’s portrait. She was kept in St. Angelo until her sentence was pronounced for having killed her father, yet every one feels she had cause for the murder and great pity centers about her, for Beatrice di Cenci was undoubtedly more sinned against than sinning. She belonged to one of the most prominent families in Rome and the suspense during her trial held all the city spellbound. The judges showed such admiration of her courage it was necessary to secure other judges; though she was finally sentenced to the gibbet, her sin has been blotted out in her father’s montrous lust, and she rests unforgotten though in a nameless grave.
Benvenuto Cellini, the wily goldsmith whom kings de-lighted to honor, was also locked in its prison walls, until he could persuade his judges to give him one more chance, and so the list of its well-known prisoners goes on without end. Now all is changed again and the castle is a garrison where the King’s troops and ammunition are stored, ready for future use. Next to St. Peter’s Cathedral it remains the most conspicuous building in Rome. Its size is colossal, people beside it look like midgets, and there it has held its ground since 136, A.D., and stands out today a very patriarch among landmarks.
Another monument conspicuous for miles is the magnificent equestrian bronze statue that Rome has erected to Garibaldi, the man who was Victor Emmanuel’s greatest help in uniting Italy. Indeed, the statues, columns and triumphal arches are incredibly numerous, and are by no means lessened in value by their number, for each one is perfect in itself; but Rome was not built in a day, and one must take more than a second glimpse to see even half of its wonders.