The Antiquities Of The City – Rome, Italy

There are in Rome two sets of antiquities, the Christian and the heathen. The former, tho of a fresher date, are so embroiled with fable and legend, that one receives but little satisfaction from searching into them. The other give a great deal of pleasure to such as have met with them before in ancient authors; for a man who is in Rome can scarce see an object that does not call to mind a piece of a Latin poet or historian. Among the remains of old Rome, the grandeur of the commonwealth shows itself chiefly in works that were either necessary or convenient, such as temples, high-ways, aqueducts, walls, and bridges of the city. On the contrary, ‘he magnificence of Rome under the emperors is seen principally in such works as were rather for ostentation or luxury, than any real usefulness or necessity, as in baths, amphitheaters, circuses, obelisks, triumphal pillars, arches, and mausoleums; for what they added to the aqueducts was rather to sup-ply their baths and naumachias, and to embellish the city with fountains, than out of any real necessity there was for them.

No part of the antiquities of Rome pleased me so much as the ancient statues, of which there is still an incredible variety. The workmanship is often the most exquisite of anything in its kind. A man would wonder how it were possible for so much life to enter into marble, as may be discovered in some of the best of them; and even in the meanest, one has the satisfaction of seeing the faces, postures, airs, and dress of those that have lived so many ages before us. There is a strange resemblance between the figures of the several heathen deities, and the descriptions that the Latin poets have given us of them; but as the first may be looked upon as the ancienter of the two, I question not but the Roman poets were the copiers of the Greek statuaries. Tho on other occasions we often find the statuaries took their subjects from the poets. The Laocoon is too known an instance among many others that are to be met with at Rome.

I could not forbear taking particular notice of the several musical instruments that are to be seen in the hands of the Apollos, muses, fauns, satyrs, bacchanals, and shepherds, which might certainly give a great light to the dispute for preference between the ancient and modern music. It would, perhaps, be no impertinent design to take off all their models in wood, which might not only give us some notion of the ancient music, but help us to pleasanter instruments than are now in use. By the appearance they make in marble, there is not one string-instrument that seems comparable to our violins, for they are all played on either by the bare fingers, or the plectrum, so that they were incapable of adding any length to their notes, or of varying them by those insensible swellings, and wearings away of sound upon the same string, which give so wonderful a sweetness to our modern music. Besides that, the string-instruments must have had very low and feeble voices, as may be guessed from the small proportion of wood about them, which could not contain air enough to render the strokes, in any considerable measure, full and sonorous. There is a great deal of difference in the make, not only of the several kinds of instruments, but even among those of the same name. The syringa, for example, has sometimes four, and sometimes more pipes, as high as the twelve. The same variety of strings may be observed on their harps, and of stops on their tibiae, which shows the little foundation that such writers have gone upon, who, from a verse perhaps in Virgils Eclogues, or a short passage in a classic author, have been so very nice in deter-mining the precise shape of the ancient musical instruments, with the exact number of their pipes, strings, and stops.

Tho the statues that have been found among the ruins of old Rome are already very numerous, there is no question but posterity will have the pleasure of seeing many noble pieces of sculpture which are still undiscovered; for, doubtless, there are greater treasures of this nature under ground, than what are yet brought to light.* They have often dug into lands that are described in old authors, as the places where such particular statues or obelisks stood, and have seldom failed of success in their pursuits. There are still many such promising spots of ground that have never been searched into. A great part of the Palatine mountain, for example, lies untouched, which was formerly the seat of the imperial palace, and may be presumed to abound with more treasures of this nature than any other part of Rome.

But whether it be that the richest of these discoveries fall into the Pope’s hands, or for some other reason, it is said that the Prince Farnese, who is the present owner of this seat, will keep his own family in the chair. There are undertakers in Rome who often purchase the digging of fields, gardens, or vineyards, where they find any likelihood of succeeding, and some have been known to arrive at great estates by it. They pay according to the dimensions of the surface they are to break up; and after having made essays into it, as they do for coal in England, they rake into the most promising parts of it, tho they often find, to their disappointment, that others have been beforehand with them. However, they generally gain enough by the rubbish and bricks, which the present architects value much beyond those of a modern make, to defray the charges of their search.

I was shown two spaces of ground, where part of Nero’s golden house stood, for which the owner has been offered an extraordinary sum of money. What encouraged the undertakers, are several very ancient trees, which grow upon the spot, from whence they conclude that these particular tracts of ground must have lain untouched for some ages. It is pity there is not something like a public register, to preserve the memory of such statues as have been found from time to time, and to mark the particular places where they have been taken up, which would not only prevent many fruitless searches for the future, but might often give a considerable light into the quality of the place, or the design of the statue.

But the great magazine for all kinds of treasure, is supposed to be the bed of the Tiber. We may be sure, when the Romans lay under the apprehensions of seeing their city sacked by a barbarous enemy, as they have done more than once, that they would take care to bestow such of their riches this way as could best bear the water, besides what the insolence of a brutish conqueror may be supposed to have contributed, who had an ambition to waste and destroy all the beauties of so celebrated a city. I need not mention the, old common-shore of Rome, which ran from all parts of the town with the current and violence of an ordinary river, nor the frequent inundations of the Tiber, which may have swept away many of the ornaments of its banks, nor the several statues that the Romans themselves flung into it, when they would revenge themselves on the memory of an ill citizen, a dead tyrant, or a discarded favorite.

At Rome they have so general an opinion of the riches of this river, that the Jews have formerly proffered the Pope to cleanse it, so they might have for their pains what they found in the bosom of it. I have seen the valley near Ponte Molle, which they proposed to fashion into a new channel for it, until they had cleared the old for its reception. The Pope, however, would not comply with the proposal, as fearing the heats might advance too far before they had finished their work, and produce a pestilence among his people; tho I do not see why such a design might not be executed now with as little danger as in Augustus’s time, were there as many hands employed upon it. The city of Rome would receive a great ad-vantage from the undertaking, as it would raise the banks and deepen the bed of the Tiber, and by consequence free them from those frequent inundations to which they are so subject at present; for the channel of the river is observed to be narrower within the walls than either below or above them.

Next to the statues, there is nothing in Rome more surprizing than that amazing variety of ancient pillars of so many kinds of marble. As most of the old statues may be well supposed to have been cheaper to their first owners than they are to a modern purchaser, several of the pillars are certainly rated at a much lower price at present than they were of old. For not to mention what a huge column of granite, serpentine, or porphyry must have eost in the quarry, or in its carriage from Egypt to Rome, we may only consider the great difficulty of hewing it into any form, and of giving it the due turn, proportion, and polish. The most valuable pillars about Rome, for the marble of which they are made, are the four columns of oriental jasper in St. Paulina’s chapel at St. Maria Maggiore; two of oriental granite in St. Pudenziana; one of transparent oriental jasper in the Vatican library; four of Nero-Bianco, in St. Cecilia Transtevere; two of Brocatello, and two of oriental agate in Don Livio’s palace; two of Giallo Antico in St. John Lateran, and two of Verdi Antique in the Villa Pamphilia. These are all entire and solid pillars, and made of such kinds of marble as are nowhere to be found but among antiquities, whether it be that the veins of it are undiscovered, or that they were quite exhausted upon the ancient buildings. Among these old pillars, I can not forbear reckoning a great part of an alabaster column, which was found in the ruins of Livia’s portico. It is of the color of fire, and may be seen over the high altar of St. Maria in Campitello; for they have cut it into two pieces, and fixt it in the shape of a cross in a hole of the wall that was made on purpose to receive it; so that the light passing through it from without, makes it look, to those who are in the church, like a huge transparent cross of amber.