vonnegut

Colosseum at sunriseColosseum interiorForum at duskVesuvius and the Bay of NaplesPompeiiPompeii IISorrentine Coast

We begin our sojourn in Rome with a visit to the forum itself to see where the Roman Senate met, where Caesar fell, where Cicero and Cato spoke, where Pompey triumphed, and where the emperors ruled—Augustus and Nero, Trajan and Hadrian,  Titus and Caligula, Vespasian, Tiberius, and Marcus Aurelius, good and bad, effective and ineffective, noble and ignoble alike.   We explore the Colosseum, take note of the Capitoline and Palentine hills, the prototypes all later capitals and palaces—and the Palatine the site of the legendary cave where the she-wolf once nursed Romulus and Remus.   Visits to the Pantheon and the splendid Villa of Hadrian in nearby Tivoli help to further illuminate the Roman legacy.  Finally we take a brief look at post-classical Rome, when the influence of the eternal city continued in a new guise under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church.   We explore St. Peter’s and the Vatican and the fabulous collections of classical, post-classical, and Renaissance art housed there.  Following four full days in Rome we journey south along the Appian Way toward Naples where we spend the remainder of our sojourn.  There we visit Vesuvius, Sorrento, and, just off-shore, the celebrated island of Capri.   We explore the Antro Della Sibilla – the seat of the legendary Cumaean Sibyl described by Virgil in the 6th book of the Aeneid – as well as the ruins of both Herculaneum and Pompeii, buried in the famous volcanic eruption of the first century of our era and together a showcase of ancient Roman life.

Our endeavor throughout is to come to grips with the enduring legacy of Rome and of what at last became “Greco-Roman” culture, the culture of the Roman empire itself, to which we owe, above all our own conception of law and the rule of law, and the legacy of the Romans’ multi-faceted and enduring sense of practicality which finds expression not only in our own fashions of political, military, and legal organization and procedure, but likewise in seemingly humbler, but perhaps in the end no less important matters like urban design, effective sanitation, road construction, and the art of building in concrete.  For the Romans built to last, and, once again—and even still—Romanitas surrounds us on every side.

As well we focus in an intellectual sense, on what was and remains distinctive in the characteristically Roman view of things.   What was it, in Roman modes of thinking, in Roman modes of action, and in Roman modes of social organization, that set the Romans apart from their contemporaries and, in the end, enabled them to dominate, arguably as no other civilization has ever dominated before or since?  Rome began as a tiny agricultural settlement on the low hills above the frequently flooded Tibur floodplain, no more distinguished than hundreds, if not thousands, of other such settlements, and far overshadowed in wealth and sophistication by the Etruscans to their north and by the Greek settlements which soon arose to their south in the area around what is now Naples and beyond.   To say nothing of the Carthaginians, of the Athenians, the Spartans, and the Corinthians, the Persians, the Egyptians, and the various cultures of the Middle East—all further advanced and more sophisticated in a cultural sense than the Romans, and in many cases, much more advanced and sophisticated.   And yet, over the course of time, the Romans triumphed.    What enabled them to do so?   That is the question that together we ponder as we walk among the awe-inspiring physical remains of Roman culture, stroll along streets they paved, explore edifices they constructed, and admire the art they created.

Throughout the sojourn we also refer to the landmark works of history, literature, and oratory the Romans left behind.  We examine the historians Livy, Polybius, and Tacitus, and the literary masters Ovid, Horace, and Virgil.   We likewise focus on many of the great historical figures of the Roman past and put them into context – Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Hannibal, Pompey the Great and his great rival Caesar, Cicero and Cato, Antony and Cleopatra,  Caesar Augustus, and a parade of emperors good and bad – Nero and Trajan, Caligula and Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus – in the very venues where they flourished, the Forum and the Palatine, the Pantheon, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, and beyond.


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