Oh Rome! My Country! City of the Soul!

Oh Rome! My country! City of the soul!
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
Lone mother of dead empires! and control
in their shut breasts their petty misery.
What are our woes and sufferance? Come and see
The cypress, hear the owl, and plod your way
O’er steps of broken thrones and temples, Ye!
Whose agonies are evils of a day —
A world is at our feet as fragile as our clay.

Byron. Childe Harolde. IV. LXXVIII. Statue of Byron in Villa Borghese Gardens.

Unrequited love: a Paraclausithyron from Pompeii

A paraklausithyron is a ‘motif from Greek and especially Augustan love elergy’ which typically places a lover outside his (or her) mistress’s door, desiring entry.  This one, in a woman’s voice, was found in Pompeii on the door of a modest private dwelling and is reportedly ‘the only female homoerotic love poem to survive from the ancient Roman world’.

Oh, if only I could hold your sweet arms around my neck
In an embrace and place kisses on your tender lips.
Go now, entrust your joys to the winds, my darling,
Believe me, fickle is the nature of men.
Often I have been wakeful in the middle of the wasted night
Thinking these things to myself:
many men whom Fortune has raised up on high,
Now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her.
In this way when Venus has suddenly joined together lover’s bodies
But daylight comes to divide them.

‘The fleeting nature of love, desire, and pain of separation, all at Venus’s behest’ are recurring themes of graffiti in Pompeii.

Featured image: Simeon Solomon.  Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene.  1864.

A Sunday poem for an exiled Empress

Seated Agrippina

Agrippina the Younger was a Roman force to be reckoned with: great-granddaughter of Augustus, adopted granddaughter of debauched Tiberius, sister of mad Caligula (who she may have slept with), wife of slobbering Claudius (who she may have poisoned) and mother of tyrannical Nero.  The British Archeologist Mary Beard wrote that ‘Agrippina was probably the best connected woman that the Roman world ever saw ‘ and she was one of the most ruthless, described by ancient texts as beautiful but ‘ambitious, violent and domineering’, utterly determined to make her son, Nero, Emperor by all means available.  Having succeeded, in an ensuing power struggle with her son, she was exiled to the port of Misenum, now Miseno, near Naples before being bumped off in AD59 aged 43.

Above is a photograph of the famous statute known as Seated Agrippina which is in the Naples Archeological Museum.  It may or may not be her.  But when visiting Naples in the mid 19th Century, the American Herman Melville, writer of Moby Dick, wrote:

In hall of Naples here, withall I stood,
Before the pale mute-speaking stone
Of seated Agrippina – she
The truest woman that ever wed
In tragic widowhood transfixed;
In cruel craft exiled from Rome
To gaze on Naples’ sunny bay,
More sharp to feel her sunless doom,
O ageing face, O youthful form,
O listless hand in idle lap,
And, ah, what thoughts of God and man!

A rather sympathetic portrayal of a ruthless operator.  A rundown Roman ruin in Miseno is known as Agrippina’s tomb.