Thursday, October 12, 2006

30 December 1955

Just returned from what I intend to be my last trip to dear old Naples. The only reason I’d gone over today was to buy a statuette for mother—one I’d seen before & fallen in love with—only to find it had been sold.

Made a rather flying trip through the Naples Museum which, in my humble estimation, is worth all the rest or Naples put together. Here are kept most of the things taken from Pompeii & Herculaneum.

The building itself is unimpressive, of the same heavy, dull construction as the rest of the city. Upon entering, you face a long, high arcade, lined on both sides with posturing Roman noblemen & women, frozen forever in marble. At the far end, a stairway climbs upward—halting before a huge torso of Jupiter, then dividing & going up around on either side.

The corridors of the museum may as well have been the halls of time, & as I walked, I saw them all; the gods & the men. Caligula, mad Emperor & ancestor of an even more mad Emperor, Nero. Octavious Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor; Tiberius, basically a good ruler, who passed the Empire to Caligula, his nephew, upon his death; Marcellus, whom Caligula had put to death as Christianity began to seep into the world; Claudius—"stupid" club-footed Uncle Claudius, who was neither & became Emperor after Caligula’s inevitable assassination. They stand in dark bronze, staring at one another across a narrow corridor; all but Caligula, who sits astride a full size horse in the great hall directly across from his contemporaries, relatives, & ancestors.

While the men are in bronze, the Gods are mostly in marble—Diana, Juno, Mercury, Bacchus, Jupiter, Apollo; all in cold smooth perfection.

These are the monuments & statues that adorned the streets, homes & temples of two cities that died long ago so that the future could benefit by their deaths.

One thing I noticed on the bronze statues & busts—most of them had gaping holes where the eyes were. I wondered about this until a guard explained that the eyes had been silver, & placed in the heads. He then showed me some with the eyes still in them—I prefer them eyeless. With the light eyes staring from lashless lids & bronze faces, the effect was discomforting, if not downright ugly; they appear fish-eyed & staring.

In smaller rooms off the main statuary halls were fountain ornaments—beautifully done. I wouldn’t have known that was what they were if I hadn’t been told. Two dogs attacking a wild boar; a laughing Bacchus with his mouth upraised to a skin of wine; a coiled serpent; a fisherman on a rock with a pole & a look of amazement on his face. Lamps that lighted houses & gardens, all wrought with a precision that amazes me, & would anyone.

Up the stairs & around Jupiter, through an enormous hall with more modern (Renaissance) paintings & tapestries, to the left, & once again back in Pompeii. Here sections of walls from Pompeiian homes, showing colors less faded in 2,000 years than those in the city outside do in ten. Their walls were murals, depicting everything from landscapes to the lives of prominent ancestors. Almost every one with people having a god in it somewhere. Their gods were very real, having the same temperament & petty jealousies as we mortals—they were above & yet part of the people, mingling with them; not like the older or newer aloof gods, who are divine by remote control.

Next come rooms of goods actually touched & used by the people who honored the men & worshipped the gods—dentists’ tools, including small highly-polished brass mirrors for looking in the patient’s mouth. Cups, plates, silverware, even food, left on tables as those who owned them ran out into the dark streets, or fled in chariots through the clogged city gates.

Toys, trinkets, water vases, sieves, nets, tools, rope, clothing—a real & marvelous Brigadoon, excepting that when it awoke, only a few of its people remained, as still as the gods in the temples.

In one corner are cases with the apparel of the gladiators—steel & therefore more durable than the almost unrecognizable shreds of cloth. The helmets of many various designs—some very elaborate, some like those worn by "knights in armor," who came many, many years after the cheering had died in the amphitheater. Knives still in their scabbards—spear tips; the bloodier aspect of a wondrous era.

But in the next room came the sight that thrilled me most—Pompeii itself, in scale and exact down to the last fallen columns in a small garden. It covers an area of about 50 by 50 feet, & shows even the mosaics on the floors & the paintings (what few there are left) on the walls. I fell head over heels in love with it—a huge, gigantic, wonderful toy. I stared at it for a good twenty minutes until the guard came & told me that museum was closed for the night.

No comments: