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Full text of "A lightning spark for Pompeian visitors"

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A LIGHTNING SPARK 

FOR 

POMPEIAN VISITORS 



THE GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE LIBRARY 
Halsted VanderPoel Campanian Collection 



A LIGHTNING SPARK 

FOR 

POMPEIAN VISITORS 



'««■BtaMBstaaEs- 





MARY E. RAIOLA 

N APLES 



THf OETTY RESEARCH 
INSriTUTE LJ8RARY 



PREFACE 

This pamphlet is not intended at ali to be regar- 
ded as a «Guide to Pompei», as this term is generali j 
anderstood: and, in order to obviate to any possibU 
misouderstanding between me and my reader, I wish 
to state in a few words why this booklet was written 
by me. 

Ghenerally the monuments of classical antiquity 
are considered in a purely exterior, artistic and histo- 
rical light , as though they belonged to a civilization 
which has no rapport whatsoever with our own. Thia 
is a mistake, for, given the deep and vast inheritauon 
left US by the classical civilization-for good or for ili- 
in our owu civilization, it is well for us to try and 
penetrate beyond the mere artistic and historic exte- 
rior, and to try to culi the very soul of the ancient 
civilization in its most hidden essence, in order to 
lodge what does or does not accord with our conscience. 

No spot in the worid is better adapted than Pom- 
pei for this intimate penetration of Eoman civilization, 



for in no other place cau yoii observe and grasp it 
80 completely as you can in Pompei. And yet the books 
on Pompei which are mostly read, - though often eru- 
dite enough and very interesting - present the dead 
City in its purely exterior aspect and from a strictly 
artistic and I. istorie point of view, no" troiibling to 
lead the visitors beyond this cold and dead crust for 
him to reach up to and grasp the antique soul in ali 
that it contains - be it good or ili - of real and live 
matter for us. 

This is what I bave aimed at. I bave aimed at 
giving to those who visit Pompei some directing ideas 
that may be for them a kind of lightning spark, so 
that they may penetrate into the very heart of the 
Boman civilization, and look at it and consider it not 
like a dead thing which may be of interest to them 
but does not require a special spiritual valuation, but 
like a live matter whose wide influence and echo, wi- 
thout even our kuowing it, aflfect deeply the conscience 
of the modem man. 

V. M. 



The best way to understand Pompei 

It is very easy to visit Pompei, but to understiind 
it is far more difficult. You may be sùre that, among 
the hiindreds of thoiisands who visit ber yearly, but 
a few ever understand ber. Surely tbat certain bus- 
iness-man never understood ber wbo carne to Europe 
iind to Italy for the first time simply because be is 
ricb, and that doing so is the duty of every rich person. 
Having arrived at Naples the previous day with one 
of Cook's or of the American Express touring parties , 
he has been carried post-baste to Pompei , where he 
was ordered to see and to understand every thing in 
precisely three hours. The good man has obeyed most 
punctnally, looking at those things be was told by the 
guide to look at, stopiJing where the otbers stopped, 
walking on when the otbers did so, exclaiming admi- 
ringly when one of bis fellow-sufferers admonished 
bini that the propitious moment to admire had arrived. 
After three hours of walking and stopping and gaping, 
he went back to his hotel, triily very much pleased, 
carrying in his liead a whole vocabulary of words new 



to Min, but, I contend, without having understood 
Pompei the least little bit. 

Another one, being somewhat more caltured, has, 
before venturing coming to Italy, studied seriously a 
Manual of Roman Antiquities and a Manual of History 
of Ancient Art. And then one fine day he started 
for Pompei. With his Baedecker in band, bis Kodak 
flung over his shoulders and his field-glass on his 
breast, he roamed around for a whole day in the dead 
City and has penetrated m every garden, in every 
shop and in every celiar; he has observed with the 
greatest care every wall, every stone, every cloud, 
exclaiming at every moment: «Stupendousl Marvel- 
lousl », and has gone back to Naples with a swelled 
head and brokeii limbs, satisfied with his martyrdom, 
which he offers up to Science, convinced to bave got 
out of Pompei ali there was to know aboiit it. Fancy 
that! Biit 1 trow that not even he has understood 
Pompei I 

On the other band, there is someone to whom 
nobody would ever dare to deny the right of asseve- 
ring that he has understood Pompei as. few others in 
the whole world can do: this one is a Professor of 
Arch*ology who comes every summer to Pompei in 
order to study the Etruscan column or the triangular 
Forum. And he solemnly takes up his abode at the 
Albergo del Sole. Then, he spends many hours each 
day in measuring , exploring , drawing , surrounded by 
the mute admiration of the custodians who eonsider 
him a kind of oracle, until, one fine day, he publishes 



an imiìortant pai)er in a majjazine. Who would dare to 
say that he does not understand Pompei ! And yet , 
alack and alas 1 I firmly believe that he has noi under- 
stood her! What, then must be done to understand 
Pompei? 

Oh! a very simple thing ! 

Behold: there is, at Pompei, a very humble thing, 
the poorest and most humble thing in the world, known 
by every one , and this thing contains exactly the se- 
cret that leads to understanding Pompei , that secret 
which you bave been looking for uselessly in the Man- 
naia and in the Guides. This poor thing is that dog^ 
suffocated to death, whose cast of plaster is preserved 
in the Museum of Pomi)ei. 

How pitiful is that poor little animai, ali crippled 
and convulsed in its useless attempts to break the 
cruel chain that held him so tightly and inexorably! 
Nothing can be more pitiful than this unconscious and 
instinctive revolt against an iron fate 1 Well. This 
poor dog is the true key which reveals the secret of 
the dead City, for he is the very symbol of that poor 
city that died in the same way he did, while she was 
struggling, trying to break the chain of that fate which 
tied her pitilessly to death, without understanding the 
reason of her very undoing. 

Thus, thus, Pompei died: like unto this poor dog. 
The catastrophe caught her unexpectedly, treacherously, 
without giving her time to understand what was hap- 
pening. Even the most learned Plinius did not under- 
stand it at first. 



10 



Many Poinpeians died believing that the Giants 
had come out of Tartarus and that the last day had 
come, to agaiii thrust down the worid in the shapeless 
chaos of which speak the very ancient CJosmogonies. 
It was lightning-swift and monstrous a thing: the houses 
were waving here and there, rocked by the earthquake, 
knocking against each other; the cart in which Pli- 
nius the Young was fleeing, was shaken about, on the 
ground, in such a way that they were compelled to 
load it with stones ; the sea drew back , leaving the 
fish on dry land, panting; a terror-striking obscurity 
broken only by flames and lightning, descended on the 
city , together with a thick cloud of cinders and 
lapilli ; and under ali this, poor humanity was strugga 
ling, crying loudly and wildly, frienzied by an all- 
deadening panie. After the third day of this hellishly 
destructive work , the sun shone again , but its rays 
were yellowish and pale, and looked on nothing, for 
nothing was left of ali the lately extant grandeur and 
magniflcence of the unfortunate city. «Ali was cove- 
red with cinders - says Plinius - as with a sheet of 
snow ». And, to-day the human dead of that time come 
back to the light, just as tliat poor dog does, and we 
can follow their agony and see them die. Jts it were 
un der our very eyes 1 

In the House of the tragic Poet two young wo- 
men are hastily assembling their jewels, and are about 
to flee , when they fall to the ground , sufibcated , 
spilling ali their jewels. In the House of the Faun, 
slaves and animals take refuge together, and together 



11 



they die, falling one over the other in one heap. 

In the barracks of the Gladiators two poor fel- 
lows whos , e feet were fettered , died thus , wdthont 
even being able to try to flee away. 

In the tempie of Isis, one of the priests takes re- 
fuge in the vanite, but, sensiug death approaching, 
he breaks first one, then a second and then a third 
partition with an ax, but dies just as he was going 
to gain the open. 

In the Street of the Baths, a woman is fleeing 
with her three children : caught by death, she falla 
to the ground together with her little ones. 

In the Villa of Diomedes, ali the family - eigh- 
teen persons - take refuge in the wine-cellar, carrying 
there some food and their most precious belongings, 
and barricade the door : but the avalanche of cinders 
blocaded the entrance, and they ilied thus, walled in 
alive , in the horror of dense darkness. The master of 
the house, however, had fled first, taking away the 
key with him and followed by a slave who was carrying 
some Silver vases, a lantern and a bag with about hun- 
dred precious i)ieces of money, but both the master and 
the slave died , suffocated , on the very threshold of 
the door that opened unto the fields. What horribie 
and frightful struggles against death, while the lapilli 
and the cinders descended, descended, grimly, inexo- 
rably I 

Some there were who died serenely and who 
stili show in their faces the peace of slumber, like 
unto that poor slave, who seems to sleep, content with 



12 



dying at last, and that other woman who died leaning 
Ler head cn her husband's bosom ; but there are others 
in whom intense sufifering, fright and despair are vi- 
vidly depicted by guashing of teeth and the fast closing 
of thcir flsts, like unto felled giants would die. 

One must think of ali this; one must see it, if 
Pompei is to be understood. One must not consider 
her as an immense museum of interesting things, and, 
may be, congratulate one's self - without daring to utter 
such a thought aloud - that Mount Vesuvius had bu- 
ried her, so that we may have the pleasure of roaming 
with our own feet over the pavements of an ancient 
roman city. 

The traveller as well as the scientist, are both - 
tho' throngh divers reasons - sacrilegious. We must , 
first of ali, respect the colossal tragedy ; we must sense 
it as a living thing, and adore its profound, immeasur- 
»ble mystery. 

Pompei is not indeed what it appears to be at 
first sight, for, at first, it seems to us that it should 
only interest and delight us, as we look at its paintings 
and its ruins from the eool staudpoint of cultured cur- 
iosity. 

But, if we want indeed to understand Pompei, we 
must needs go deeper, under her scieutiiìc and artistic 
rind, and rea(!h and touch with our heart's thoughts 
her deeper meaning , her very death and undoing. 

Pompei belongs to the realm of death. No loud 
voices must be heard at Pom[>ei ; there, life must be 



13 



hushed, and onr footsteps must be iioiseless, because 
the dead are every where. 

There are other dead cities-let us take, for examp- 
le, Ostia or Timgad - but they are vastly different 
from Pompei; they bave passed on by a naturai, 
historical process, dying away naturally, as by old age. 
But Pompei died being struck unexpectedly , like a 
young man broken off in the flower of bis youth. At 
Ostia and at Timgad, there are ruins, but no dead 
people ; that is, there are no unexpectedly broken off 
and crumbled awuy lives, ali at once, outside of any 
known historical process. In those two cities, one brea- 
thes the atmosphere of the past, but not the sense 
of violent death that permeates every thiiig at Pompei. 
There, we may be historians, and scientists and artista 
and nothing else, while bere, the first requisite is a 
truly human heart, and the other qualities must needs 
be but secondary attributes. 

This is the way to know Pompei. 

II. 

The very sou: of Pompd 

What must we look for, first of all^ at Pompei ! 
To jinswer tourists and professors is very easy : they 
must first of iill look for the most characteristic houses 
and the monuments most worthy of notice, where there 
is most to learn and to observe. And nobody ignores 
the most important monuments of Pompei: the House 



14 



of the Vettii^ House of Liicretins Fronte, House of the 
Faun, Theatre. Baths and so on. It's an old, well- 
known, ahnost hackiieyed story, don't you know! 

I don't deuy that this reply be reasonable, but it 
is not adequate; for, behind every monument, be it 
ancient or modem, there is the soni of the man and 
of the natioii that bave created it , and you cannot 
umlerstasid that monument if, first, yoa don't know 
that soul. Therefore, the first thing that is to be done, 
is to find the soul of Pompei. It is not very ditìficult, 
if we understand each other. 

If you look upon Pompei as merely an immense 
exhibition of art und history, you shall never be able 
to pluck the truth out of it. The deed city will appear 
to you as do the statues of Aphrodite, of Apollo and 
of Artemis, which are gaped at by ali who approach 
them in our Museums. Who remembers , who thinks 
that these statues and their originals were sacred idols 
of a then lire religion, for sooth? that once upon a 
time they stood in a t«mple built for them, and sil- 
ently and solemnly listened to vows and to prayers ? 
Batnowthat that religion of which they were the symbols 
is dead and gone, they, too, bave become dead and 
Gold statues , which may be weighed and measured , 
but cannot be understood. It is the sa me with Pom- 
pei, if you forget that she, too, had a soul, and if 
you consider and study her monuments as dead 
things. 

Well , let' s begin by realizing that , in oider to 
grasp the soul of Pompei, we can't start from the cons- 



i) 



ciousness of Olir owii soni, for this one is ;i product 
of the spirit of Christendom , and \ve see the worid 
t'roiu il xivy diflferent standpoint froni that from which 
the paijans behehl it, for Christendom has reversed 
the valuatioii of thÌQ<?s aiid thoughts. And the immense 
ilitference that exists between oiir owu soni and th« 
soul of the aucients incapacitates us often to value 
rightiy and to judge fairly the ancient people , and , 
therefore, whoe ver wishes to become thoroughly acquaint- 
ed with ancient civilization and wishes to understand 
its value as well as its defects and also to realize how 
mach , both in good and in bad, we bave inherited 
from the chissical culture, must, before ali else, I say, 
know that, however easy the interpretation of the an- 
cient raonuments may seem, behind them stands a 
soul, wliich is very far indeed from our own soul. 

Now, let's try and fìnd out what is the essential 
difference betAveen the pagan and the Christian soul. 

You shall certainly not expect - or perhaps wish - 
me to give you bere a lesson in philosophy or in hist- 
ory, siuce I am not at ali pedantic, and so, belle ve 
me, it will be better for us to roam together in Pom- 
l)ei. Come, let us penetrate together into the usuai 
houses koown to ali, and let us observe ali carefully. 
But let's visit beforehand the halls of the Museum 
where the objects and the furniture unearthed at Pompei 
are exhibited. These halls are very necessary for the 
researches to be made regarding the pagan soul, albeit 
people , always attracted by the usuai and best-known 



16 



statues -- generally barely deign to glance at them in 
passìng. 

Here are beds, chairs, braziers, lamps, chandeliers, 
mirrors, gold bracelets, cups, vases, jugs and pitchers, 
and instniments of every kind. People usually marvel 
at them ali , and exclaim : « Look , look I every thing 
just as we bave them to-day I » And they are astoni- 
shed at the Pompeians having had baths and looking 
glasses, jttst as though they had beeu Papuasians. 

But no. It is not trac tbat ali that was then was 
as things are now. We must learn to look at the bot- 
tom of things. The appearance may be the sanie, but 
the substance is very diftereut. Look, for instance, at 
these old oil- lamps; what a variety of shapesl And 
their handles! There are some in the shape of a leaf, 
or of a halfmoon , or formed like a borse' s head or 
an ox's head, or a lion's head, or like a ropedaucer 
or a Satyr or a Sphynx or a Cnpid or a mask. And 
these cups! at the bottoni of them we see usually a 
medallion representiug now a flower, now a head, 
sometimes a whole figure or, may be, even a group; and 
the handles may be shaped as an archaic sniall statue, 
or as a bough of leaves or as a ram's head. And the 
water-pitchers are no less remarkable ; look here I Give 
a glance to these handles ! One of them is adorned with 
the head of a wild beast, another with a horse's head, 
this other one with that of a Sphynx, here a head, 
there a gorgoneion. And the chandeliers ! Look 
here. There are some ending with a capital, others 
with the image of a beast, others again with that of 



17 



a sphynx, and some others jigaiii with a kantharus; 
this one portrays a bamboo, that one the trunk of a 
tree, a third one a coluiun. Wbat a variety! Ami 
the fuidiug of t',vo identical objects, i.e. of two objects 
that are shaped in one foim , is an exceedingly rare 
happening. We receive the inipression that ali thase 
thiugs have been worked out solely for the joy of 
creating them. and sometimes they even bear the stamp 
of the Joy of ;in artist who finds his supreme satisfac- 
tion in his work. Behold, how fiinny, for instance, is 
the figure of this corpulent Satyr, who, being tipsy, 
leans on the fraine of that lamp-standl Or ghinee at 
the old man on the handle of this pitcher, in the act 
of thrashing that young one, who, while stili receiving 
his medicine, hides I don't know what behind his back! 
But it isn't only the variety of things, as such, 
that is interestiug ; behiad this variety hides a kind 
of instinct , an irresistible need of beautifying even 
the simplest objects. Look at these vases ; one of them 
Ì8 ornamented with six little busts of diifereut deities; 
another one with two busts, the head of a boar and 
two cupids; a third one with a whole scene worked 
out in relief. Look at the«e « appliques », that were 
to ornate some forniture; you wdl tìnd every thi ug 
there: gorgoneions, Cupids, raasks, Satyrs, panthers^ 
lions' heads, dogs' and si»hynxes' heads, victories, 
Aphrodites, bats ; even the si*alc-wcights had to be 
erabellished: some of tliem are made in the shape of 
an old man's he^vd, or of a womaii's head, or of th<i 
head of a Satyr, of a goat, of Merciiry; or in the 



18 



form of a small bottle, of a vertebra, or of an aconi. 
Even the theatre-tickets had to be beautifled. Look , 
there are some in the shape of an almond, others in 
that of a pigeon or of a cranium or of a fish's head, 
or, for sooth, of a bag-pipe : even the very sieves 
bave their holes disposed in the figure of a star, or 
in rays, or are disposed around, as picturing a maze! 
There is a kind of sesthetic mania or fury in ali this. 
One would say that the Pompeiau had need of seeing 
beauty everywhere and in every thing, at every step 
he made, even in the kitchen. 

In ali this, there is a psychology totally different 
from ours : \ve , too , love the things that surround us 
to be beautiful, but we limit that beauty to certain 
places or certain moments ; we love to see in the parlor 
a beautiful chair or a beautiful bronze, but we mind 
not at ali not fìnding beautiful pans with artistic hand- 
les hanging on the wall when we enter our kitchen. 
We love beauty, but we are not dominated by the 
mania of it. The Pompeians were evidently happy and 
comfortable only in the midst of it , while we would 
end by feeling ourselves oppressed as by a kind of 
obsession by the excess and uninterrupted continuity 
of it. 

I believe that now you will be better prepared 
to listen to and understand what I am going to teli 
you. Let's go to Pompei, now, and visit the various 
houses that ali know so well. You'U receive the same 
impression : the search for beauty dominates every- 
where; every wherq paintinga, foliage, architecture, arab- 



19 



esquesj there are walls that imi)re88 one with the 
feeling of a real orgy of colour , of linea, of forms ; 
and we notice very forcibly that this was not limi- 
ted-as it happens in our homes-to the rooms where 
the family and the giiests are wont to stay, as the 
atrium, the peristyle or the triclinium -oh, noi The 
small bed-rooms, where the Romana used to retire only 
to sleep, are often not less decorated and ornamented 
than are the dining-rooms. 

No ! we are very different ! Even the millionaires, 
who are fond of art and own galleries of their own 
which they admire and enjoy daily : even ihey love 
to allow their eyes and brains the diversity of repose 
from Constant beauty, whatever may be the elegance of 
their bed-rooms. 

But the minute and obstinate search for beauty 
never left the Pompeian. When it was not possible for 
him to have it palpably, he oreated it with his ima- 
gination; bein ^ obliged to live according to the customs 
prevailing at Pompei, in small and ill-lighted rooms^ 
he enlarged his rooms with illusive pictures, creating 
in them, through the architectural lines of perspective 
drawn cunningly, a back-ground of gardens and streets. 
When there was no room for a garden in his property, 
ho planted a few plants in a rectangular spot of only 
a few square meters large, and he enlarged it by paint- 
ing on the walls some trees, some cows, some birds; 
and, if the fountains of the garden were too small, 
it didn' t faze him at ali : he painted ali around it a 
bridge across a river, added some ducks, and he thor- 



20 



oughly enjoyed bis beautiful imagery of a fancied 

bridge, river, and so on. 

The only thing that was importaut to him was 

to bave beautiful things to behold; whether these 

beautiful things were true or not, didn't matter at ali. 

The question which, for us, is paramount, the one of 

truth or falsity, of the subjective or the objective, did 

not even exist for the Pompeian. 

When we see a picture, we ask first of ali whether 
it be an originai or a copy; and, if we learn that it 
is only a copy, we cease to love it, and our admir- 
ation of it falls below par ; instead , the Pompeian 
beheld his imaginary little garden, painted on the wall, 
and he enjoyed it as tho' it had been real. 

In sooth, this deep and excessive aesthetism be- 
longed not only to Pompei, but to the entire Roman 
civilization of the Augustean era. Those poets who copy 
and imitate the lyrism and the tragedy and the comedy 
of the Greek authors, those artists who reproduce the 
Greek scuiptures and the Greek paintiugs, those phi- 
losophers who repeat the doctrines of the Greek 
thinkers ; ali that crowd of people of refined art-lovers, 
of dandies, of gluttons, idlers, dreamers, parasites, 
give one the impression of leadiug an artitìcial life, 
without thinking ever of adhering to Truth. 

Here lies the difference between the Pagan and 
the Christian sool, because, in the last sinalysis, the 
ultimate goal of our spirit is Truth, while the Komans 
had not the least conception of Truth, and did not 
know and never troubled about what Truth meant. 



21 



Pilatiis asked what Truth was of Hiiii who asser- 
ted to bave brought Truth to the world. The same 
qiieiy would ha ve baen asked of onr Lord by the 
l'ompeian who enjoyed his own architecture and his 
imaginary landscapes as tho' they were real. 

III. 

How did the Pompeians view life? 

But is this absolute need of be-auty appearance 
or reality ! This is the query which I advise to ask, 
not only you, who visit Pompei, but ali those who 
wish to know thoroughly the classical civilization. Beau- 
ty, as such, canuot be discussed: we feel that ourown 
life is, from the iesthetic point of view, exceedingly 
lacking if coinpared to the life of a Pompeian of the 
middle class. Don't you realize that? What are our 
own homes , if compared to those ? When bave our 
homes given us the subtle aesthetic joys that emanate 
from the Pompei housesf No! Beauty, as such, cannot 
be discussed. But our spirit revolts against a conception 
of life that goes no further than the pure aesthetical 
sense, and does not put the ethical valuations above 
the aesthetical ones. And now, we come face to face 
with the spontaneous problem of the ethical contents 
of the classical civilization, not for juding or for cond- 
emning it, but to vaine it rightly. 

If you wish to reach the bottom of the Pompeian 
conscience, and see the Pompeian as he really was, 



22 



and not only as yoii may assume hiin to bave been, 
as you glance at the paintings of the House of the 
Vettii, you must know the graffiti of Pompei, i. e. 
those inscriptions the Pompeians used to trace on 
the walls, a little everywhere. 

I do not pretend that every oue of you should 
have gone through the large volume in folio of the 
« Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum » where these graffiti 
are collected, but I cannot help thinking that au 
intelligent visitor to Pompei must know them. While 
running througli them, the Roman and the Campanian 
soul is plainly revealed with an astonishing sincerity 
and we feel ourselves as transported into another 
world. 

There appears in them at once quite another 
type of Pompeian: not the one, reflned and elegant 
who enjoys having the beautiful greek pictures of the 
hellenic art reproduced on the walls of his house, and 
loves to read Virgil and Catullus seated in his own 
beautiful garden, listening the while to the soft mur- 
murs of the small pretty modest fountain, but quite 
another type which appears new to us, and which, 
at first, we are at a loss to know where he sprung 
from. And then, we recali having already met him 
somewhere else, in a world very different from the 
hellenic world j I mean to say in the atellan farces, 
then in Plautus' comedies, and again-let said with ali 
respect-in the inimitable ad immortai Pulcinella, If you 
do not know the atellan farces, so called because 
they originated in Atella, a small town near Naples, 



23 



and if yoa do not kiiow Plaufcus, yoii shall never be 
able to know the real Pompeian, the one of the graf- 
fiti >• tlicre he is, in that workl of brazenfaced parasit- 
es, of ohi fools, of thieving slaves, of cuuning pros- 
titutes , of spendthrift youths , of dishonest trades 
people, that you will fìnd the real Pompeians , thosc 
who traced on the walls ali that passed throngh their 
head: poets' verses, impertinences, salutations, brag- 
giugs, unclean sayings, ali of it with au innocence or 
a cynicism worthy of Eabelais or of Brantòme. You 
find a little of every thing oa Pompei' s walls, and 
rnuch of that which you fìnd there cannót be repeat- 
ed. But even liniiting us to that which can be repeat- 
ed , there is stili ampie room for genuine astonish- 
ment. One brags openly of an amorous conquest ; ; 
another sends salutations to his beloved or to his friend; 
another yet jots down some poetic verses remembered 
there and then; this one curses the thieving host ; 
another host writes : « when my sausage is done , if^ 
we serve it to a customer, he, before even tasting it, 
licks the saucepan ». A eeitain laundryman, named Cer- 
don, being tipsy, covers the Avalls of the tavern with 
hurrahs for Pompei, for the laundrymen, for 2suce- 
rians^ for the whole world, and then signs his name 
to it ali. A piggish man soils the hosts' bed, and excuses 
himself for it with a joke in two verses; a parasite 
blabs in inconsolable and burlesque verse; and a husb- 
aiid, who has caught his Avife in flagrant adultery, 
writes: «I hold her, I hold her, there is no doubt 
about that. Romula is here, with that rascall», and 



24 



we cuu'i make oufc for the ìifc of us if he jokes or 
speaks seriou.^ly: and auother one invokes ali the twelve 
Gods and Diana , and Jiipiter oi)timus maximus 
againsfc whoinsoever shotdd soil the wall: a cnstoin that, 
-by the way-nmst ha ve been very freqiicnt at Pom- 
pei. And over ali this meddlcy ofbiiflboaery and vulg:- 
arity hovers that which has been the sickness and 
the min of the classical world, that sensualism whieh 
overflows every moment, and reveals iucontrovertibly 
the existence of a kind of inward fermentation wliich 
uever rests. « Xo one is handsome , who bas not lo- 
ved » says one of the g^raffiti, and this is really the 
bottom of the cssential thought of paganisra. 

One must love, one must enjoy : there is nothing 
else in the worhi. Listen to that. 

You may object that these were only the populace 
of Pompei, whi(;h had nothing in common with the 
intelligent and cultured part of the population. Heaven! 
I must conféss that the middle-class Pompeian, that of 
the House of the Vettii or of the House of the Faun, 
appears to me to be even worse than the populace. 
Are you familiar with the electoral manifestoes of 
Pompei ? You don't know them ! They are upon my 
word the most amusing thing in the world : by them 
one sees and feels that the Pompeian lacked even the 
shadow of honest politics. The candidates to the jedil- 
ship, the same whose diniug rooms we admire, used 
to court the recommendatio!i of the prostitutes, and 
the smallest assembly of artisans, the most miserable 
corporation had its heart's candidate. 



25 



The goldsmiths Cuspius Pausa, the pastry-cooks 
and [>erfaine-vend()rs Trebius; the chicken-veudors 
Epidius, wSiiettins, Elviiis, the hiundryuien Gneius Se- 
cundiis, the peasauts Casellius, the cartwrights Mar- 
cellus, the carpenters Olconius. The popuUice went 
with those ^^ho gave them their best-beloved games 
and good bread. Cecilius Jucundus was the very by- 
word and a fit representative of this class of cynical 
business-moiigers ; a scoaiidrel businessman, in whose 
business methods we are able to pry, thanks to the 
waxed tablets on which he was wont to note his cont- 
racts, and which were found and are now at the Na- 
ples' Museuui. This worthy man undertook nd con- 
ducted the public auction-^ales ; he advanced some 
money to those who had none and could therefore not 
take part in the auctions, and received from these 
suckers 2 "/^ per month; thus he tempted them to 
compete in the auctions, and he again coUected an- 
other share on the receipts at the conclusion of the 
sales. 

From ali this results, little by little, a kind of 
peculiar contrast. The Posnpeian civilization appears 
to you almost divided in two differeiit and contrasting 
parts, which you are at a loss to conciliate: on one 
side, an extraordinary refinement; on the other band, 
an extraordinary vulgarity. You don't know how to 
accord the hellenistic Pompei with the Campanian 
Pompei, and you understand at last that it was really 
a vulgar and sensual civilization, over which the Greek 
influence had spread a thick stratum of varnish. 



26 



But, indeed, the Boman civilization shows us the 
same contrast, for there you fmd side by side with 
the gentle nobility and smoothness of the poetry der- 
ived from the hellenistic Poets, the frightfiil hard- 
heartedness of the Gladiators' games and of slavery and, 
dose to the purest enjoyment of artistic forms, we 
find the most cynical exploitation of men and things. 

The EomanS; too, loved pictures and statues, but, 
in tbose dining-rooms blessed with every beauty, the 
most colossal and revolting debauchery was unfolded, 
and we can well fancy that even some of those ad- 
mirable tricliniums, which seem to us to be so serene 
and decorously peaceful, may have witnessed some of 
those Eoman gluttonous orgies, in which hour after 
hour, and seasoned and prepared in most strange fa- 
shions, the rarest and most exeiting and appetizing 
foods, culled from ali parts of the globe , passed , Jis 
though in an epicureau review: the honey from 
Tarentum, the cranes of Melos, the phaesans from Me- 
dia , the hares of Spain , the kids of Ambracia , the 
figs of Chalkis, the wines of Chios, Naxos, Lesbos; 
and also in these houses, which look so serene, those 
terrible episodes of the slavery have undoubtedly ta- 
ken i)lace, the mere thought of which breaks the heart, 
so painful it is to see man fallen down to a level be- 
low that of the most savage beast, in his behavior 
to another human being. 

The Greek influence truly polished the Roman 
soul, but could not destroy in it^that hard and comp- 
act temperament which constituted its very nature. 






e- 



«s 




.7 



And, notwithstanding its artistic appearances, Pompei 
was not at ali, as many ijeople assume ifc to bave been, 
an hellenistic City, but, instead, was deeply Eoman, 
and, in order to understand ber, we must look not 
to Greece but to Eome. 

Who studies the Pompeian civilization in the light 
of Greek Art, makes the same error than one would 
make in studying the soul of a business man in the 
light of the civilization of the Kenaissance for the sole 
reason that this business man may have adorned his 
house with pictures of that period. 

Pompei was Roman , and its population was 
identical with the population of Rome, always ready 
to adore solely success and strength, and to throAV 
itself on the side of the Victor; always the friend of 
Sulla against Marius, of Csesar against Pompeius, of 
Augustus against Antonius; ready to applaud equally 
Caligola and Titus as long as the games be splendid 
and bread abundant. 

Do you really wish to know this Roman populace? 
do you ? Then go and look for it in its true realm : 
the Amphitheatre. This great building is some ways 
oflf, and people often neglect to go there, but they are 
wrong. One ought to go, sit down on a stone and think. 
If you really know how to think, you will feel in the 
air something that clamours for vengeance, not so 
much for what may have happened right here, in the 
amphitheatre of Pompei, but for the monstrous insult 
to humanity of which this amphitheatre is the symbol 
and the memory. Humanity, especially in ancient tim- 



28 



■es, was not tender towards man, for the brotherhood 
of man is a Christian concept; but no nation ever 
thought of amusing itself by looking at men killing 
each other, or thoaght of constraining by force pris- 
«ners and slavcs to kill each otlier for its own amu- 
sement ; nor did they think of making a public spect* 
ade of tliis blood-curdling thing, regulated and prepared 
by magistrates , spending enormoiis siims for it , in 
immense building», scenaries, and squandering moneys 
in every wag. No, truly noti The gladiatoria! games 
are something which, on thinking it over, strikes oue 
as a monstrous nightmare, and not as some thing that 
really existed, like some atrocious and unnatural crimes 
that bewilder us even more than they oftend us. 

Sit on a step of the amphitheatre, dose your eyes, 
and think matters over. Here is this enormous basin, 
overflowing with a half drunken crowd, perspiring, 
laughing, clcimouring to blood: and look at those men, 
down there, in the arena, who fight against each other^ 
jjiercing and transflxing each other with sword and 
tridenti They are only poor prisoners, Sarmatians, 
Tracians, Germans, Britains, captured during one 
of those terrible wars of conquest that the Romans 
were wont to wage; they were taken and carried there 
in that amphitheatre to flght against each other and 
kill each other, solely to amuse the populace. Who 
is there, among the twenty thousand persons looking 
on at the tìghts, yelling, laughing, singing, bantering, 
who is there who feels pity for those unfortunate ones, 
compelled thus to slaughter each other, perhaps being 



29 



compatriots and perhaps friends? Not one. Pity is no 
Roman virtiie. Woe to the vanquislied. That's ali. 
And if one of them, overpowered by fright or'by pity^ 
seems not to figbt ferociously enough, the crowd rises 
up in revolt, Qlls the big basin with cries, and excites 
the keepers to piit courage into the fainting hearts 
with the re,d iron and the whip : « Kill , barn , whip 
them !» - « Why does that coward face the iron so 
timidly ì Why does he kill with so little courage ? 
Why does he die so unwillingly? » These comments. 
uttered by the crowd bave been preserved for us by 
Seneca. 

And Pliniiis ha3 transmitted another piece of news, 
to us: the custom to desceud into the arena and to 
sip the blood, while stili warra, flowing from the wounds 
of the gliMÌintors : a thing which strikes us with horror 
when we behold the beast commit the same thing in 
the same arena. The Romans esteemed that driuking 
that blood, warm and expiring, together with the very 
soul of tlie nnhappy victiras, from the wounds was 
a most efflcacious reniedy agninst epilepsy, while the 
human mouth was not tolerated to be brought in contact 
even with the wounds of the animals. 

Why does he die unwillingly? Truly, Rome had 
but one pretense : that the worhl should bc dispose<l 
to die willingly for her. It was the duty of Orient 
and Occideut to be disposed to give to Rome money, 
statues, meals, women, nay, life itself. When rich 
Romans wished to amuse themselves duriog a banquet,. 
they had gladiators fight before them; they revelled,. 



30 



and the others cut their throats; at times some blood 
sprinkled on the food or on the togas, but that only 
did give zest to the already keen pleasiire. Romans 
had stili something of the wild beasts : the blood 
excited them. 

But those uiifortunate were not always willing to 
accept such an honor, for such was this horror deem- 
ed to be; some of them revolted against throwing 
themselves thiis against unknown people or even per- 
haps against compatriots or friends: then, the rebel 
was forced a-head through lashing, and, in order that 
no one of them should succeed in escaping by feigniug 
to be dead, they branded the bodies of the dead gla- 
diators with a red-hot iron before carrying them away. 
And it was not always possible to hope in the grace 
or the pity of the people. Could it be that one should 
not die willingly for Eome's pleasure? 

But there was something stili more horrible than 
these very horrors : the human fight against the wild 
animals. 

The Romans used often this kind of amusement, 
for which the crowd showed itself most greedy, and 
in order, for sooth, to dispose of an excessive number 
of prisoners , of those barbarians that triumph- 
ant Rome dragged into slavery and of Avbom, every 
now and then, she was gorged, as would of food a 
man who had eaten to excess. Then, the prisoners 
were fed to the wild beasts. Whole crowds of Britons, 
Gauls, BLebrews were dragged to slaughter in this way. 
Once, such an enormous number of prisoners were 



31 



thrown to the wild animala, that these were unable to 
devoiir so miich human flesh. And not always had 
those wretched prisoners the courage to do as some 
twenty-nine Saxons did, who, having been thrown to 
the savage beasts, throttied one another. 

To-day, the amphitheatre is lonely and silent, but, 
if awakeued to speech by a knowiug band, it will re- 
late to US the horrors of by-gone days, and yoii beliold 
with your mind's eye, the wild beasts rushing out of 
the trap-doors, roaring and pouncing upon the human 
beings whom terror has petrified. And they overthrow 
them., they tìoor them with one thrust of their huge 
paws, they plunge greedily their cruel fangs in them, 
they toss them bere and there, they tear them to piec- 
es, they scatter their mangled and bleeding members 
about, and, at last, they munch and devour them, 
under the very eyes of the blood-drunken crowd, of 
women and of young girls, then , they prowl about, 
satiated with such an orgy of human flesh, and the 
wild beasts are foul with blood, and the arena is foul 
with blood, and ali this gore exhales a kind of mad- 
ness that takes hold of you also, so that you wonder 
whether you are awake or the prey of a nightmare, 
and you are under the impression of having become 
raving-mad. 

We bave now reached the bottom : further we can- 
not go. Thought rebels at lingering any longer on these 
horrors. Oh, yes ; the Koman civilization has produced 
great and grand things, and we cannot conceive our 
own civilization without it ; but some times one is 



32 



prone to think that some crimes are so great, that no 
other greatness can ever orase them, and then, we 
ask ourselves if ali the Roman inheritanse is wortli 
the frightfiil school of cold egotisin that exhales from 
the bottom of Roman History. There are some crimes 
that make ali the goodness and the beauty of life fado 
away and lose its vaine, 

To-day, the amphitheatre is mute and desert ; 
but there is nothing more eloqneut tlian those stones, 
there is no spot on earth more fit than a Roman an- 
phitheatre, to make us realize the enormous abyss 
which separates, beyond ali the artistic and historical 
admirations, our own soul from the Roman soni. And 
truly, here we fully understaiid the immense new Truth 
brought to US by the Gospel. 

On the corner of a Pompeian house we find a 
graffito by an unknown band; only two words, short 
and terrible: «Sodoma, Gomora». Who traced these 
word? Pcrhaps a Jew, or a despised Christian, 
railed at by those proud Romans, wlio, notwithstanding, 
saw more clearly than others to the bottom of things, 
and who foresaw that, one day or the other, the wrath 
of the Lord would surely fall on the city, just as the 
Prophet Isaiah forewarned the sin fai Jerusalem of the 
divine punishmeut? We caunofc teli, but, instinctively, 
we look up to the smoking Vesuvius, and we shudder. 

Howewer, immetliately, more profound, more se- 
rene, more just thought invades our soul : there is 
no condemuation to be uttcred. Ali siufuluess exhibi- 
ted by the classica! antiquity was but the logicai con- 



sequence of the sesthetic and practical conception of 
life, born from the innate pagan incapacity to conceive 
of lifo as a complex of etical values. ' 

Now we see what profound and tragic consequences 
that very aestheticism bore, which appeared to us so 
innocuoiis and so mnsing interésting , when we were 
strnck by the variety and the beauty of tlie Ponipeian 
furniture and honses. Beauty is indeed a gift from 
God, but that soul is lost, which makes of it the goal 
and airn of life itself. 

But why ali this? Mystery ! Paganism could be 
no other than it was, and no one may be abJe to say 
why it was tluis. History has her laws, which puny 
man may not judge, and Spirit proceeds on his way, 
which are not ours, and vainly do we ask why, why 
does hunianUy pass ou its way right through crime. 
Who would dare to sut in judgment on history ? We caii 
only value the past, not to pronounce sentences on 
the dead, but only so that the living may learn, 

IV. 

What was the Pompeians' faith? 

What, then, bave we yet to learn! 

The deepest impression Paganism makes on those 
who are considering it from the point of view of the 
modem conscience is snrely through amorality. 

Classimi civilization in general and especially the 
Boman one seems never to bave had the precise con- 



34 



ception of what is good and what is evil, nor does it 
som to feel the least need of such a conception. If we 
descend to the bottom of the Eoman soul, down to 
where in our own soul the ethical values do abide, 
i. e. repentance, remorse, shame, and so on, we find 
nothing there. And it is this sense of moral emptiness 
that makes us feel that in reality, notwithstanding 
oar artistic heredity, we are very far from Paganism, 
as though something had cut us ofif from it ali at 
once and for ever. 

How can we explain that moral emptiness? 

The best place for the discussion of these matters 
is the Tempie of Jupiter at the Forum. Let us sit on 
the stepS; and, while contemplating the immense me- 
lancholic opening under and before us, let us continue 
cor discourse. 

The very fact that we are seated on the steps of 
a tempie turns our thoughts toward religion and sug- 
gests to US a query which seems simple enough: Why 
was this lack not fiUed by religion ? This query is very 
naturai coming, from us. Indeed ali of us are convinced 
that it is impossible to build a true and real morality 
outside or against religion, because only religion can 
fumish US with that complex of absolute certainties 
without which morality remains impossible. Therefore it 
appears quite naturai to ask what was the function of 
religion regarding the Eoman conscience. 

And even here, must I beg you to try and break 
this artistic and aesthetic cloud that permanently stays 
between the classical civilization and ourselves, and 



35 



impedes us from getting a clear vision of it: I beg 
yoa, that is, not to look at the Roman religion through 
the beauty of her statues, the majesty of her priests 
or the solemnity of her rites ; I beg of you, in other 
words, to free yourselves of that traditional and con- 
ventional admiration of ali things Roman, which we 
have inherited from the Renaissance, and which our 
very culture inspires us with. 

For one moment, we must free our conscience of 
this unconscious, underlying culture and place it face 
to face with the classical civilization as it really is. 
What is, according to you, the most important thing 
in Religion? Surely, it is the idea of God. It is clear 
that no true and real religion can exist without a 
clear and precise idea about God. How could you pray 
to God, hope in God, abandon yourself to God if you 
have not a complex of precìse ideas about Him? Now, 
it is just this very essential point that the Roman re- 
ligion has ne ver been able to gire to the Romans: a 
precise idea of Divinity. 

Even in the most remote times the Greeks have 
had very precise mythological and theological ideas 
about their Deities, but the Romans instead, whose 
aptitude to reflection and philosophy was utterly lacking, 
had, at the beginning, not one clear idea about their 
own Gods, but thought of them as abstract energies, 
deprived of personality ; and only later, under the in- 
fluence of the Greek mythology adopted by the Ro- 
mans, did these ideas take body and shape. 

The Romans had therefore no precise idea about 



3Ò 



the relation between the soul and God. They knew 
only that there were some Gods, they knew that it 
was uecessary for their own welfare to obtain the help 
of those Gods, and they tried to procure this help for 
themselves by followiug those rites pointed out by 
tradition as necessary for the continuance of harmony 
with their Gods and obtaining these latters' favor. But 
no Eoman would ha ve ever thought of feeling towards 
any of his Gods that abandon of the heart which we 
so deeply feel for God and which is our greatest assu- 
rance that He will indeed help us, For the Eomans, 
therefore, ali religion consisted in the rites, in the 
exact and precise f ulfillmeut of their cults , as they 
had been imparted to and imposed on them by trad- 
ition. But you must not infer that the Eomans 
were not religious. On the contrary, they thought 
of themselves as being among the most religious na- 
tions of the world, and indeed, there was no public 
or private function in which they did not turn their 
thoughts to their Deities. But this deep religiosity 
suffered from the Eoman lack of understanding reli- 
gion as a spiritual position, but not as merely a rite; 
and of realizing that the real religion cannot consist 
solely in the scrupulous fulfilment of the prescribed 
rites. 

And indeed, we have but to roam through the 
streets of Pompei in order to receive a very lively 
impression of religiosity. 

No house in which there is no sacellum to the Lares 
and to the Peuates, and sometimes to other Beities 



37 



besides these. Where this be aituated does not rnatter. 
We may fiiid its in the peristyle, in the atriiim, in 
the viridarium, near to the closet, in a cnbiculuni, 
i:i a store, in the kitchen: no matter where, but it hv'\ 
to be there , and not one Eoman wonld ever bave 
dreamed to bave a lionse witliout its saceUura. Some- 
times in the more modest abodes, instead of the sa- 
«elkim, there is a niche in which the images of ths 
Lares are kept, before which an aitar is ere:5ted, to 
receive the offerings ; at times this aitar was raovablo, 
so that it coiild be used bere or there, but often it 
was very rich and elegante like unto the one found 
in the House of Meleager, the ornamenta of which were 
wrought in Silver; or like the one ali made of marble 
found in the House of Popidius is. At other times 
however this movable aitar was very modest, like the 
one built of tuff, found in the House of the Quaestor. 
And in front of these sacella garlands were hung and 
lights lighted, and the morning prayers were recited. 
Other deities were also honored in the houses; 
and we bave found some of those images : also, 
ior instance, this archaistic Artemis, which is to-day 
in the Naples Museum, was discovered in the domestic 
sacellum of one of those houses. And on the outside 
walls of the houses, as is witness the Street of Abun- 
dance, were often painted images of divers deities: 
the 12 gods, Juppiter, Minerva, Venus, Mercury, Bac- 
chus, Hercules. And every now and then, in the streets, 
one met with altars and oratories voted to the gods, 
often placed near the public fountains, where, between 



38 



one and the other job, the people of the streets stop- 
ped a moment and recited a prayer. The Romans 
were, then, religious, yes, certainly. 

From this false conception issaed a fanatic and 
fearing ritualism which was ever afraid of committing 
some errors during the sacrifìces, so much so that, 
before celebrating some solemn sacrifìce, they used to 
celebrate another one, so as to expiate in anticipation 
any error they may commit in the followiug one, and 
so much so also that the prayers of the rites were 
not spoken spontaneously nor recited by heart but 
were read aloud by a priest and repeated word for 
word by the people, so as to be snre that not even 
a syllable was changed, and so much so again , that 
for centuries and centuries priesthoods, ceremonies 
and very ancient prayers that were not any more un- 
derstood by anybody, were maintained in use. 

The weakness of the Eoman religion obtained bere, 
in this identification of religion and ritualism, which 
is the death of any conscious, religious faith, because 
from it no ethical values can ever emerge. Now you 
will understand why amoralism and religiosity, which 
are for us irreconciliable terms, could very well be re- 
conciled in the roman conscience, and you will under- 
stand the reason of this strange fact, that notwith- 
standing the small tabernacles and the altars and the 
images spread ali over, the graffiti, — which are the 
most sincere expression of the pompeian soul — 
don't contain the slightest religious expression. The 
Pompeian has expressed in the grafl&ti every vice and 




Wkiciiaudt 
The Romaas were religious, ycs, ctjituinly 



Ò9 



every virtue, but has not said one word that may in- 
dicate a religious feeling. 

And now, seated on the steps of the Tempie of 
Juppiter, the supreme god of the Eomans, while my glance 
scans the ruins of the glory that is past, I strive to 
think what ideas may have suggested this kind of 
religion to the Pompeians at the moment of the cata- 
strophe; and I can't comprehend what comfort may 
have come to them from ali these sacrifices, from ali 
these prayers, from ali these oflferings made with so 
mach precision and so much siucerity during so many 
years, because I know that behind ali this ritualism,. 
there" never was the idea of a God into whose hands 
man can abandon himself with ali trust in the moment 
of distress. And it seems to me that, at the moment 
of death^ the Pompeians must have felt a great lack 
of comfort and of warmth around the heart. 

V. 

How did the Pompeians consider death? 

Now I beg you to come out through the Hercu- 
laneum Gate, and sit there again, thinking. On the 
right and on the left of the great desert avenue 
tombs stand erect. Every now and then a cypress sends 
to heaven a funereal note. Have you ever asked your- 
self why , oh , why did the Romans bury their dead 
outside the gates, and on the roadside ì At Rome, ba- 



40 



rely outside of every gate, real and immense avenaes 
of sepulclires were stretcliing. Wby ? 

Yoii certainly know that, in the ancient tiuies, 
the Eoman used to bury their dead in the hoases 
near the hearth. The XII Tables forbad tliis barbar- 
ous custom to be followed any longer, ordering that 
no body shoiild henceforth be buried in the city; and 
from that time dates the cnstom to bury the dead just 
outside the gates, the nearest possible to the living. 
Indeed the first Eomans had no clear conception of 
what death is. In the prehistoric age, as many of 
the other primitive peoples, they could not realize that 
death should modificate life very deeply and they be- 
lieved that the dead continued to live in intiraacy with 
their family. It is from this conception that the deep 
and sincere cult of the dead spraug up, which carac- 
terizes the Eomans, and that constitutes that feature 
of his religious consciousness which is the most sincere 
and full of feeling, and of which so many sepulchral 
epigraphs do testify. The funeral rites give a striking 
evidente of this cult for the dead. Nothing, for in- 
stance, can be more touching than the Parentalia, 
when, for three full days, ali the city was pervaded. 
by a funereal breath, when business was stopped, mar- 
riages could not take place, and ali the temples were 
closed; while the whole population went to make oflfer- 
ings to their dead and to honor their tombs. And it 
is strange to observe how, much later, the very ancient 
conception persisted that the dead, in some unexplained 
way, adhered to his tombs: and the custom to gather 



41 



<'very now and then arounil the dead one, almost so 
as to tighten tUe bonds whicli tied him to the living. 
Very ofteu, the tombs' very construction show how^ 
<leeply this concept was rooted in them. 

Look, for instance, on the toinb of M. Cerinnas 
Itestitutus: it is a small edifico vrith the iirn buried 
in it under the aitar, and near it is a seat on which 
the living carne to sit down. See, following this tomb, 
rhat of Aiiliis Veiiis: it is built in a semi-circular 
shape and on this tomb also the living carne to sit. 
Look at the tomb of Cneius Vibrius Saturninus: it is 
altogether like to a triclinium, on which the living 
oiune to sit down for the fanereal banquets at which 
the dead one ideally took part. 

For US, grown up under the influence of the Christian 
spirituality, it is hard to fancy such a connection witli 
the dead. We believe that they are near unto us in 
spirit, and we honor their tombs, but we don't believe 
that, by standing near that tomb, we are nearer to 
the departed, and neither do we believe that he is 
coucretely present to our lives. We know very well 
that, however sacred our dead may be for us, and 
however much we feel sure of their presence, they 
are not with us, nor are they within the tomb, but 
that they are somewhere else, altho' we ignore both 
where and how they were, exalted in the after life 
where their self is perpetuated. 

And it is just this that the Eomans lacked: they 
had a very deep cult for the dead, they knew that 
the departed one was an energy that continued to act 



42 



after death, but they could not say what this energy 
really was, or where it was. In this as well as in ali 
the rest of their religion, the Romans proved them- 
selves utterly incapable to think mythically and phi- 
losophically, and never they were able to conceive a 
real and true life beyond this world. In reality, the 
Romans did honor the dead, not because death had 
sanctified or puritied them, but because they thought 
that the dead were an energy which it was well for 
them to conciliate and into whose good graces they 
wished to be : but they did not understand death. 

What must then so many of those intelligent and 
Gultured Pompeians have thought when they beheld 
the abyss of death gaping before their faces? In the 
mouth of these epicurians, crushed in the fullness of 
their Joy, we cannot imagine but some of those terrible 
protests which some of the Roman sepulcral epitaphs 
have preserved for us: that one, for instance, which 
says : « To the wicked Gods, who have ravished thy 
innocent soul » ; or that other terrible one: « I lift my 
hand against the God who cut me off, me, innocent. » 

Or, if not absolute revolt, at least an acute re- 
gret, a great sorrow for having had to leave, without 
any apparent reason, so many thing beautiful and 
dear, the lovely peristyles, so cool and quiet, and the 
beautiful rooms , the stately mansions , full of bron- 
zes, marbles, paintings. The Romans were essentially 
epicurean by temperament more than by reflection: 
their praticai mentality was adverse to any speculation; 
they did not know how to go beyond the empirical 



43 



life; death was for them the end of every thing, the 
eternai unconscious sleep, the loss of every couscious 
sense, the great nothing. One fanereal epigraph tells 
US : Il After death there is nothing , and this , which 
thou seest, is Man ! » And another one : « Thou who 
readest , live a joyful life , oh my friend , for after 
death there will be neither laughter nor fun, nor any 
pleasure » ; and another one again : « Eat, drink, have 
a good time, and come to me. » From such sentiments 
nothing can come but an uubridled dissolute, having 
only a great desire to live^ and an acute regret that 
he should have to die and to renounce every joy known 
to him; sentiments which are typically roman, both 
of them. In the light of these concepts, the orgy of 
beauty to which the Pompeian abandoned himself has 
a deeper and sadder significauce : the ultra aesthetic 
sense and the sensualism appear as the naturai out- 
come of those who exploit life to the utmost because 
he thinks that , after death , there is nothing else : 
« Live a life of pleasure, my friend, for, after death, 
there will be neither laughter nor fun. » 

We must not think, however, that this epicurean 
concept of death should have always derived from 
spiritual meanness; oh, no ! This is so untrae, that the 
sepulcral epigraphs give ampie proof that other and 
much more elevated concepts were current at Rome; but 
these were the product of foreign philosophical currents 
and were never very widely spread. The Roman was 
rather dull of comprehension. Philosophical impotency 
chained, so to speak, the Pompeian to the material 



44 



life, and prevented him froin imagining with precision 
whatever there was life beyond this terrestrial one. 
His ei)icurianism derived therefore from the fact that, 
from his point of view, ali that was worth anything 
w«s only Olir eartbly life; ali the rest might be there 
or not, biit it liad no intrinsic value. 

The Eomans lacked. therefore, that which was 
the great consolation of the Greek mysticism and 
that which is, to-day, the great comfort of the 
Christian : the certainty that , after death , there 
exists another and better life, and which contains 
retribution and piinishraent, and in which our own life 
flows into, and resolves itself. Now, what is it that 
reconciles us to the sorrows and the injustices of life, 
if not just the idea that these are transient and ap- 
parent, but, in the end they mnst needs cede the way 
to another life less sorrowful and more just? For the 
Eomans, in truth, death only sanctions error and wroni;", 
rendering them irreparable : after our death , there is 
nothing else, and at the point of death ali we suffer 
injustly presents itself to us as a fatality, which we 
must, per force submit to. And here the other feature 
of Eoman conscience evolves itself, i, e. the stoicism, 
or the willed and forced indiflference towards ali that 
life brings us, be it ili or good, awaiting death to 
dose the drama of our existence. Thence comes the 
piety the Eomans ever showed for their dead , and 
which appears to our conscience to be sorrowfuUy ste- 
rile. What is the use to decorate the tomb with flowers 
and-to offer gifts and sacriflces to the departed and 



45 



even to celebrate on his tomb, togetlier with him, the 
fimereal meal if, iu the hist analysis, we know nothing 
of him, we ignore whether he is happy or unhappy, 
if he enjoys the reward of his gooil deeds and of his 
sufferiugs, if indeed he has a conscience, a will, a life? 
The cult of the departed , wheii not accompanied by 
faith in the immortality of the soul, is sterile and 
empty, not less so that the animism of the primitive 
peoples. 

But certaiuly not ali Pompeians shall have 
remaiued satisQed with the ancient Eoman cult 
many of them — ai6 was the case in Rome — must 
have been inclined to accept the faith in the after 
life which greek mysticism had brought to Rome 
very early. These concepts were a faith sometimes 
grossly material , and gavc of the after - life an 
excessively earthly concept, but at least, they af- 
firmed that which is necessary for man to belle ve, that 
is, that life does not end with death and that there 
is a reward or a puiiishment after life be ended. The 
reward was certainly trivial in our eyes for it consi- 
sted of an intensifìed enjoyment of ali those joys which 
make the delight of men on earth, and the punishmenb 
was certainly grottesque, for they consisted in stupid 
and material torments. 

Certainly our conscience cannot believe as the 
Orphic did, that the persons who had been good aiH) 
sent, after death, to iuhabit a most beautiful spet^ 
full of sunshine and of joy, where they pass their tinie 
in bauquetting, playing instrnments and conversing, 



46 



and even less can we believe that those who bave 
done wrong should be punished and tormented in the 
great beyond, as the Orphic believed that Tantalus, 
Sisyphus and the Danaids were tormented. But at least, 
they propounded assurance, and man needs this as- 
surance. And the immense importance that these con- 
cepts have had for humanity' s history, is demonstrated 
by the fact that, indeed, they have remained true in 
Christeudom. 

Greek mysticism , and especially Orphism , gave 
then to the Eomans that which these lacked: a moral 
assurance. Under the Orphic influence the Roman 
learned to believe; after haviug for centuries concen- 
trated ali bis interest on this life he was learning now 
to turn his thought to the after-life. 

There is perhaps not, in the whole religious hi- 
story of the world, another so deep upheaval, except 
the Christian revolution. And the proof that it answer- 
ed a profound need of the spirit is to be seen in 
the diffusion that the Greek mysticism brought to Rome 
in the late Republican age, culminating with Virgil, 
and determining a real mystical revival. 

From this revival derives the presence of the 
Orphism at Pompei, in the Villa of Mysteries. 

Throngh one of those coincidences Avhich take on 
the importance of a symbol, the Villa of Mysteries is 
situated just at the end of the Street of Tombs. It is 
we go there at last, after having steeped one'sself 
in the fuUness of the Pompeian life, after having tas- 
ted almost far enough to be gorged with the sBsthetism 



47 



of the Pompeian lìfe. Oh, how far they seem to be 
iiow, the gorgeons tricliniums, the luxurious cubiculi, 
and how far seems now paganism, in the remote orphic 
Basilica ! 

The laughter which we bear coming as a far-ofìt' 
echo froin the tricliniums that stili remember the 
debauchery of times long past, and the echo of the 
loud moans coming from the Amphitheatre, that stili 
remembers also the massacres held there, both of these 
are waning because they seem to belong to a far- 
off past. 

We seem to find ourselves in a new world, where 
the chief aim of life is no longer the enjoyment of 
the senses but the purification of the soul, and where 
man takes with him in the tomb, not only what he 
has eatcn and imbibed, but also what he has believed 
and hoped, and where he is not dominated by the 
consciousness of his own strength, but by just the re- 
verse , I mean to say by the knowledge of his own 
inferiority. We feel ourselves, indeed, in a Christian 
atmosphere, we feel at home. 

The Villa of Mysteries reconciles us with Pompei, 
because it fills up the chasm that separated us from 
it, and that, from behind the distasteful artistic Pompei 
which we admire without being able to esteem it, it 
shows US quite another Pompei, the mystic Pompei, 
which we can esteem and love, because, although with 
great diversity of language, it stili expresses our very 
own sorrow. Singular and unknown Pompei, a Pompei 
that was Christian even before Jesus, that believed 



4^ 



in eternai life, believed in recompense and i)unishment 
in after-life, believed in a God, dead and resuscitated, 
in Whom and throùgh Wlioui man is born again and 
is redeemed from sin. How far is now, that old tra- 
ditiònal Pompei, which we had been taiight to admire ! 
How false and distastefal it appears now to us, 
with its dancing Fauns, with its Capids, with its 
tricliniums 1 

What is now ali this staff, wortliy only^of Ma- 
il uals and of picture-cards, compared to the immense 
drama of the orphic- lithurgy, to the graduai transfor- 
mation of a human being into a being divine, athwart 
death and resurrection ! What must we think of our 
vaunted sesthetism, which causes us to go into raptures 
before an old lamp, if we confront it with the terrible 
admonishment that emanates from the liturgy : 
Buffer in order to enjoy; die in order to resuscitate. 
Per aspera astra. Is not this, then, exactly what 
life has taught usi And was this not worth many 
Fauns and many Cupids ? Oh, yes, there was, in 
antiquity a soul akiu to our own, and tormented 
by almost the same problems, but it lies hidden, and 
we must learn how to go and look for it. 

And so, in the end, after having so much admired 
and so much reflected, we seem to see opening before 
US, somethiug like a revelation, the treasure of the 
ancient civilization. And, in the last analysis, we un- 
derstiind a very simple truth : that the traditional vi- 
sion of classical antiquity gives us only a superflcial 
and inadequate idea of it, bewitched as it was by the 



3 

♦5 




49 



so-called ivstlietic valnes, Ibrgettiiig or ignoring the 
mora! values, which are less frequent and more or less 
easily to be overtaken but ali the more precious for 
US because in them , and not in the ajsthetism or in 
the sensualism, do we detect a part of our owu selves. 

Pompei a dead city ? Yes, most assuredly the tri- 
cliniums are dead. We can admire and sutdy them 
objectively, like we do the animals of a jìaletuological 
museum, without our heart being with them. ]Jut 
there was something at Pompei that stili remaiued 
alive , because it constitutes a link in the eternai 
chain of Spirit; something which lives and palpi tates 
here in our very heart, and strengthens us for the way 
we have yet to wauder over; and this some thing 
is alive. 

Not because the archaeologists have called it to 
light again , but because it is , in reality, but an 
antique page of what Jesus has taught to the world: 
suffer, in order to redeem thyself. 



Tip. Fratelli Ciolfi - Napoli (i^) 



AMc.KIv^/-mN i>l 



INFORfv.AriC