Echoes of Troy
Atlas Cultura: Rome
Travel is, in essence, the futile attempt to understand place.
One can visit, see the sights, taste the food, meet the people, but, in the end, the passing traveller can only experience an approximation of what a native knows their home to be. And even in this, a single person, though a born and raised local, can’t know a place in its complex whole. One could spend an entire lifetime on a single street and still not know all its secrets. To truly know a city one would have to live a thousand lives. And for a city as old and as complex as Rome, the futility of the attempt to know her feels all the more stark.
Yet, though we may never be able to wrap our arms round the whole truth, far too vast as it is, we can certainly circle closer and closer towards a better approximation. If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’ll know there are countless statues. Statues of Gods, statues of Emperors, of Popes, of Kings, and of mythical beasts. How does one better view a great statue? We circle around it. We view it first from here, and then from there, then back round to here again. It would be foolish to think we could fully appreciate a Bernini looking from one side only. So it is with place. Our own experiences of a country, a land, a city, are just peeps through a keyhole. What we need are other eyes to see through.
For this we can seek help from the most observant among us: artists. Painters, writers, sculptors, poets, and musicians — all are expert witnesses. Through their trained eyes, we can see place anew.
So, in an attempt to circle closer and closer to a true understanding of Urbs Aeterna, this will be the first in a series here on Atlas Cultura looking at the story of this great city. A story told through paint and marble and prose1, from legendary foundation to the modern day. It feels fitting for a city that has bequeathed much of the world’s greatest cultural inheritance:
“Troy has perished, the great city.
Only the red flame now lives there.
The dust is rising, spreading out like a great wing of smoke and all is hidden.
We now are gone, one here, one there.
And Troy is gone forever.
Farewell, dear city.”
— The Iliad, Homer (c. 500 BC)