Friday, April 21, 2006

From Humble Beginnings

April 21st has arrived and provides us with the opportunity to reread Livy and revisit the founding of Rome:
Ita Numitori Albana re permissa Romulum Remumque cupido cepit in iis locis ubi expositi ubique educati erant urbis condendae. (Livy's Ab Urbe Condita,

Further down the passage we read (in a nice chiastic relationship, Palatium Romulus Remus Aventinum) that Romulus prefers the Palatine Hill for his bird-watching and, later, his city-founding.

Anyone who has ever climbed the path up the Palatine is immediately rewarded for his efforts by the appearance of tall trees and green grass, a welcome change to the usually hot and dusty Roman Forum through which the hill is reached. There is also the splendor of a Renaissance villa and the jumble of Imperial, Republican, and even Regal ruins. This hodge-podge is quickly overwhelming to the eye and causes many a tourist to snap a few, quick, panoramic photos of brick walls and marble floors and hustle back down the hill.

The gems of the place, available to anyone willing to spend the time and effort to sort out the rubble, include the marble flooring and other architectural details from the numerous palaces of the Roman emperors, the impressive frescoes in the House of Livia, the postholes from the Hut of Romulus, and spectacular vistas of the Roman Forum and the rest of the City.

My favorite place on this sparkling list is the one which looks the least impressive to most visitors but is very inspiring to me: the Hut of Romulus. Several postholes, outlining the circumference of a small hut, can be seen in the natural bedrock. Nearby there are other postholes and the remains of a rustic wall and cistern. When I show this site to students and others, they are immediately struck by the small size and lack of grandeur. They often reply, "That's it? This is the actual hut? Did Romulus really lay there on a grass mat and plot the rape of the Sabine women? How do we really know?" Then they usually snap a quick pic and ask if they can head down the hill.

Of course the site is unimpressive. The importance comes in its symbolic meaning. The Romans believed that this was the site of Romulus' hut and that's good enough for me. Even if the scanty remains are those of Romulus' annoying neighbor who always allowed his dog to do his duty in everyone else's yard, it doesn't matter. What I find important is that this site is the most direct link we have to that April day so very long ago and that this hut, or one so very like it, gave rise to the massive and sprawling palaces that surround it.


Duncan__ said...

Do you have a picture, Mark? For those of us who have never made the climb up the Palatine.

Mark A. Keith said...

Actually, I have a slide I took in the past but I cannot find one by Google in the internet. I'll have to take a digital one when we return to Rome.