Rome – Venerable tombs and young Italian life

The memories that throng upon an intelligent student of Roman history, in a spot like this, are almost inexhaustible. He calls to mind that, on both sides of this great highway, were reared magnificent palaces, and beside each palace was constructed a tomb, and because the hard, practical instinct of the Roman told him he should need it longer, the tomb was always built more massive and enduring than the palace. This is why the ruins of the palaces have long since disappeared, while those of the tombs remain. We may judge of the titanic solidity of these mausoleums by the ruins which we see before us, some of which overtop those trees on the right-hand side of the road and stand out against the sky like huge bastions.

The mass of towering walls seen on the left-hand side of the road belong to the medieval fortress, Torre Mezza Strada, which was built out of material taken from the wayside tombs. Along this road, almost as perfect now as then, came the resplendent funeral pro-cession of the Emperor Augustus, when his body was brought from his southern villa where he died, to the world’s capital, lying five miles behind us. This was the road, too-perhaps his feet pressed some of those very stones – over which the Apostle Paul was led to appear before Nero ; and past here the fair Queen Zenobia of Palmyra came, also a captive. Nero, on his way to the Bay of Naples, rode by this very spot, attended by a brilliant escort of Roman soldiers, and a retinue of servants in charge of one thousand wagons filled with the luxury and wealth of an empire, and five hundred she-asses which were taken along in order that the emperor’s wife might have a bath every day in their milk. And it was along this Appian Way, so the legend goes, that the Apostle Peter was fleeing from the city during the persecutions under Nero, when, over the broad pavement, though nearer the city than where we are now, he saw the Lord Christ approaching, his face set toward Rome. ” Lord, whither goest thou? ” cried the terrified disciple, and the answer came, “1 go to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Peter understood, and bowed his head and returned to martyrdom.

How short, though it be prolonged to three-quarters of a century, seems this young life near us in comparison with the many centuries that have passed over these venerable tombs ! Human life seems as brief, in the light of such a scene as this, as that of an insect of a day. Once a fly perched upon the cup of a poet, and, as he contemplated it, he wrote :

“Both alike are mine and thine, Hastening swift to their decline; Thine a summer, mine no more, Though repeated to threescore. Threescore summers, when they’re done, Will appear as short as one,”

But though individual lives are short, though tombs do cover the earth, yet life, fresh, vigorous and happy, still goes on. What promises we have of this in that sweet little Italian girl with modest posture, who might well serve a modern Raphael as a model for a Madonna. And those two boys examining a coin with eager interest as to its genuineness; the one seated upon the stone is clad in the picturesqueness of tatters, while the feet of both lads are wrapped about with cloths and have sandals tied upon them. Their hats are of the antique type, possibly to match their present surroundings, and one of them has a feather stuck in his hat-band, seemingly in imitation of Yankee-Doodle, who came to town thus arrayed. Beneath the hats, dilapidated as they appear, are bright, intelligent faces, full of the joy and gladness of life. We can expect one of them to look up presently, as soon as he has made quite sure that the lira we have given him is genuine, then a smile will light up his dark face and a flash of gratitude, jewel-like, leap from his black eyes ; and when he has thanked us for our liberality, he will bound away again, over the wide Campagna, followed by his playmate, and be lost among the nameless ruins that are scattered over this shaggy plain.

There is one more view we wish to see, before we leave the Campagna, the greatest ruin outside the walls of Rome.