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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


L E T T E R   I I I.


"The Niobe of nations! there she stands,
    Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
 An empty urn within her withered hands,
    Whose holy dust was scattered long ago."

      THOSE lines of Byron, which have clung to my memory from boyhood, were more strikingly appropriate when they were written, sixty years ago, than they are to-day. Rome was then bound hand and foot by the papal dominion, and shrouded in the darkness of monkish superstition. Priests, monks, nuns, and beggars were the principal elements of her population, and her visitors were superstitious devotees from every land, who came to kiss the toe of Peter's image and to bow down before the Pope. Now, thanks to the vigorous policy of Victor Emanuel, all the monasteries but one and all the nunneries but one have been suppressed, and their idle inmates scattered to the four winds; the Pope confines himself within his palace; we saw not a single nun on the streets during our three days rambling; we saw but few priests except some that were visitors from other countries; we saw fewer beggars than in any other city of Italy; and we seemed to be in the midst of a of a people young and free.

      Whether the poet's words are appropriate at all to the present Rome depends upon the point from which you view the city. If you stand in the square or in the rear of St. Peter's; in the library or the gardens of the Vatican; if you drive over the Pinci'an Hill, whose leveled summit--100 feet above the streets below--is crowned with a beautiful park of trees and flowers, fountains and statues, and winding ways, where [407]

Page 408.      

thousands of Romans resort on foot and in carriages every evening; or if you take your stand on the Corso, the most fashionable street in the city, at five in the afternoon, and see for an hour a continuous line of carriages driving each way filled with richly dressed persons of either sex and driven by liveried drivers, while the street for nearly a mile is lined on both sides with a dense throng who laugh and talk and gaze upon the passers-by, you would say that Rome is anything else than "childless and crownless in her voiceless woe," and that to represent her as holding "an empty urn within her withered hands" is the breadth of the heavens from the truth. But when you remember that the imposing obelisk, 134 feet high, which graces the centre of the square of St. Peter's, was stolen from the dead empire of Egypt; that the marble slabs which cover the greatest of all church buildings within and without; the marble and granite and porphyry columns which support her entablatures and her domes; the armies of marble statues which adorn her chapels, which occupy acres of ground in the Vatican, which adorn every church, every palace, every public square, and almost every street in the city, were nearly all stolen from the buried palaces and temples and amphitheatres of ancient Rome; that the gay Corso itself is but the gilded lid of a deep coffin in which lies the ancient Flaminian Way many feet below; that many of these elevated buildings are perched on the ruins of noble palaces, and that many of these blooming gardens are trenched underneath by half-filled chambers and corridors where walked the emperors and orators and poets and warriors of ancient Rome, you begin to enter into sympathy with the poet. And when you leave the Tiber, whose banks, raised to a higher level, are occupied by modern Rome, and move to the eastward among the seven hills of the ancient city, where massive ruins, robbed of their original ornaments, are crumbling on every hand, and masses of marble in columns and triumphal arches which could not be moved are blackened by the touch of time, you realize the full force of those eloquent stanzas in the fourth canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage from which I have quoted four lines.

      We spent in Rome Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the 24th, 25th, and 26th days of March, making our headquarters at the Anglo-American Hotel, where English is spoken and the accommodations are satisfactory. We employed a guide, and a two-horse carriage with a movable top, our landlord procuring them for us and guaranteeing the reliability of the guide. We started out every morning at nine, and returned at from five to six in the afternoon. Our guide was one of long experience, who has the entire history of Rome, from the days of [408] Romulus down, at his tongue's end, and a cut-and-dried speech which he delivers with the tone of an orator on every object of interest. His English is tolerably good, but when he struck an attitude, lifted up his hand, and began, "Now, my dear zhentlemen, you see dat building behind over dar," we had to look at each other and smile. His name is Philippi Novello. We recommend him to any of our friends who may visit Rome. By his aid we accomplished more in three days than we could have done unaided in a month.

      Our first excursion led us by the fountain of Trevi (pronounced Tra'vy), where very copious streams of pure water for the use of the people burst forth amid colossal statues, and rocks in a natural position. These waters and those of many other fountains are brought by an aqueduct from the Sabian Hills, 16 miles from the city.

      We next passed by the Forum of Trajan, which was brought to light by digging 20 feet below the present surface of the streets, and in which stands Trajan's Column. This column is of marble, 128 feet high and about 8 feet in diameter. It is sculptured from bottom to top with representations of incidents in the wars of this emperor. His statue once stood on the top of it, and underneath the statue was the urn containing his ashes, but the priests have long since put a statue of Peter in its place.

      We next came to the Colosse'um, the grandest amphitheatre ever constructed. The exterior is a vast pile of arches upon arches built of brick, 165 feet high, intended for the support of the tiers of seats within, and accommodating the stairways by which spectators gained admittance to the various compartments of the seats. Over each arch of the lower story are Roman numerals cut in the keystone, and corresponding to the numbers of the compartments within. The structure is in the form of an ellipse, and its exterior circumference is 1828 feet, more than 600 yards. Within it was capable of seating 87,000 spectators, and the area in which the games and combats were performed is 288 feet by 183, or 96 yards by 61. All this space was sometimes flooded with water and naval battles were fought to amuse the people; but usually it was the scene of combats between gladiators or between criminals and wild beasts. The original floor of the arena is more than 20 feet beneath the present surface, but a part of it has been uncovered, and laborers were at work uncovering more while we were there. They had brought to light the dens in which the wild beasts were kept, and the cells of the prisoners and gladiators, and they had but recently uncovered the grated opening in the floor through which the bodies of the slain were dropped into a stream below that washed [409] them into the Tiber. This spot possesses peculiar interest from the fact that many of the early Christians here suffered martyrdom by being cast to the wild beasts, and it is to such a fate that Paul alludes when he says of his first hearing before Nero, "The Lord stood by me and delivered me from the mouth of the lion."

      Our next ride was to the museum on the Capitoline Hill, where are gathered together a vast number of statues and inscribed slabs and sarcophagi, which have been dug from the ruins of ancient Rome. Many of these filled us with admiration, as they have thousands of visitors before. I cannot take space even to name them, but I must mention at least three objects seen here which took us by surprise, and which were out of the usual course of things in the collection. One is a plate of bronze, about four feet long, three wide, and an inch thick, inscribed with the actual text of the decree of the senate which conferred imperial power on Vespasian. It was Vespasian's commission as emperor, issued in the year 68, I think, of the Christian era. Another is an actual map of Rome, carved in ancient time on large slabs of stone. It is a help to the antiquary in identifying the ruins as they are uncovered. The third is a colossal statue of Apollo, in fragments. I was so struck with the vastness of this statue that I drew my tape-line and took some of its measurements. The length of the foot is 6 feet 9 inches. That of the big toe is 21 inches. The circumference of this toe is 36 inches. The circumference of the arm above the elbow is 10 feet 5 inches, and the entire height of the statue was 40 feet.

      In the afternoon we wandered through the golden palace of Nero, 50 of the apartments of which have been opened, while 200 are yet filled with débris and unexplored. Titus, through hatred of Nero, leveled over and filled up this splendid palace, and built magnificent baths on top of it. Now, after a lapse of 1800 years, only a small remnant of these baths is left, while the hated palace, from the very fact that it was covered up to be forgotten, is preserved almost entire, and its 50 excavated rooms have yielded to modern Rome her finest statuary and many of her most beautiful specimens of art in marble and porphyry. It brought a strange feeling over me to realize that I was walking in the very dwelling of the Cæsar before whom Paul was twice arraigned; the monster who in the year 64 danced and fiddled while one-third of Rome was burning down; who cast to wild beasts and burned alive many hundreds of Christians under the false accusation that they had caused the fire; and who built this very palace on the burnt district. I knew he was a lover of music, but I was surprised to learn that he was one of Rome's greatest patrons of sculpture. [410]

      We spent the remainder of our first day studying a marvelous statue of Moses, by Michael Angelo, and the Pantheon, the best preserved
of all the heathen temples of ancient Rome. It is a vast circular building whose walls are 20 feet thick and surmounted by a dome built of concrete marble. It has only two openings into it, a vast door, 14 feet wide and 32 feet high, closed by shutters of bronze 12 inches thick, and a circular opening in the top of the dome 37 feet in diameter. The latter opening alone lets in the light, and also lets in the rain. Just before we entered it had been raining, and a large area of the marble floor was wet, but the water escapes through holes made in the floor for the purpose. It was founded 27 years before Christ, and was dedicated to all the gods of Rome. Since then the popes have robbed it of its images, and consecrated it to the Virgin Mary and all the saints. Raphael's bones rest beneath its floor, and Victor Emanuel is buried in a niche cut in its wall, a golden crown and various other symbols of royalty marking the spot.

      On our second days excursion we visited, first, the celebrated Tarpeian Rock, down which criminals were cast in the early history of Rome. It is now about 40 feet above the surface, and a grotto near by, entered by a door under a house, shows 30 feet more of its original face under ground. We next saw the theatre of Marcellus; then the temples of Fortune and Vesta, both well preserved and curious; then the baths of Caracalla, the most extensive ruins yet brought to light in Rome; then the Scala Santa, or holy stairway. This is a stairway of 28 marble steps, the very steps up which Jesus climbed when last brought before Pilate (?), and three of them retain spots of his blood to the present day! The Catholic who climbs these on his knees and kisses the three spots of blood as he goes receives I cannot tell how many blessings. We saw six men and five women climbing [411] up when we were there. So deeply have the steps been worn by the climbers that they are now covered over with plank to protect them from further abrasion.

      We next saw the Arch of Titus, the first object which brought us into direct contact with sacred history. Here stands an arch of marble spanning the street, erected by Titus to commemorate his conquest of Jerusalem, in the year 70. Our carriage stopped under it, and to our left, a little above our heads, was a group of sculptured figures representing Jews carrying the golden candlestick and the golden table of show-bread, on bars of wood covered with gold. No words could be written or printed to correspond more exactly with the description of these vessels found in the book of Exodus. Here, then, is a heathen monument, erected by the very man who destroyed the temple of God, and standing entire after the lapse of more than 1800 years, to attest the accuracy of sacred history.


      Passing by many other interesting objects visited that afternoon, I must mention the curious bone-depository of the Capuchin Monks, so humorously described by Mark Twain in "Innocents Abroad." Five rooms in the well-lighted basement story of their monastery are fantastically fitted up with the dry bones of 6000 monks. The walls on three sides are piled with the larger bones up to the ceiling, the bones being built together like cord-wood; and the ceilings are completely frescoed with the smaller bones wrought into as many figures as [412] you ever saw in a frescoed ceiling. The middle-aged monk who showed them to us seemed to take pride in the exhibition.

      On the last day we saw four objects of especial interest,--St. Peter's Church, which I cannot begin to describe, the Vatican Library, contained in a gorgeous apartment more than 700 yards in length by about 20 feet in breadth, the Catacombs, and the prison of Paul's last confinement. In the library we saw the Vatican MS. of the Old and New Testaments, written in the fourth century. It is one of the three most valued MSS. in existence, and we gazed upon it with great interest. It is in book form, with two columns to the page, and the pages about the size of those in Worcester's large dictionary. The Greek letters are as uniformly made as if they had been printed, and the parchment is but little defaced by age.

      The prison pointed out as that of Paul in his last confinement is at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, and is certainly one of ancient Roman origin. It is a small chamber cut down into the solid rock, and it had no opening originally, except a circular hole like a cistern's mouth in the top. Paul's prison, if not this, was like it. It was in such a place as this that the Second Epistle to Timothy was written; and when we stood in it we were not surprised that he asked Timothy to come before winter and to bring him his cloak that he had left with Carpus. It was here that Onesiph'orus, when he was in Rome, found Paul, after searching for him diligently, and here he oft refreshed him. How heartily my soul responds to the prayer of Paul, "The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiph'orus"! It was here that this great hero wrote the words, "I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have trusted, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him until that day." And here he also wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

      It was a holy privilege to stand in that dim prison, and to realize that not far from it must have stood that hired house of the first imprisonment whence were written Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians, and Hebrews, and where, in all probability, the book of Acts was composed by Luke. I realized that now at last I had touched the verge of the Bible lands which I had come to explore, and that through the remainder of my journey I would be crossing and recrossing the track of the great apostle to the Gentiles.

      The chief purpose of our call at Naples was to see Mount Vesuvius and the excavated ruins of Pompeii. To save time and money we took the night train from Rome, feed the conductor to let us have a compartment in the car to ourselves, so disposed ourselves on the long and [413] broad seats as to sleep well, and made the trip between eleven o'clock at night and six the next morning. We stopped in Naples at the Metropolitan Hotel, where we were annoyed by more little extra charges than we had known before.

      Our first day in Naples was devoted to the museum, in which we spent about five hours on our feet, and which we left with aching limbs. We saw acres of fine paintings and forests of statuary. I have but little appreciation of paintings, but fine statues fill my eyes and move my heart; so I gave chief attention to the latter, and especially to those which had been dug from the ruins of Pompeii. These constitute the greater portion of the collection and include the finest pieces. We also examined with surprise and delight innumerable articles of domestic use and personal ornament and many frescoes and mosaics taken from the houses of the Pompeiians. We were surprised to find their cooking utensils, plates, pans, dishes, jars, jugs, bowls, etc., etc., almost exactly like our own in shape, and especially to see plates and pans made of a tough kind of glass, thin and transparent. Their jewelry also surprised us. Many of their necklaces, bracelets, finger-rings, and ear-drops are suitable for use at the present day. One set of fine jewelry was shown us which was taken entire from a coffin in which it had evidently been buried on the person of its fair owner. The frescoes, taken from the walls of rooms by carefully cutting away the plastering on which they were painted, represent all the varied scenes of life, including even the sports of children and the worst vices of the abandoned classes; so that the student who examines the entire collection carefully finds himself transported to the midst of the actual life of this ancient city, and realizes what that life was as he cannot realize it from the pages of history. The study of these objects was preparatory to our walk through the city of Pompeii itself, which we took the next day.

      It will be remembered by our readers that the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 of our era. They were covered, not with lava, which would have burned every combustible thing to ashes, but with dust and ashes mingled with stones thrown out by the eruption. The inhabitants were not burned, but smothered; and the houses, though partly burned, were in the main merely covered up. Pompeii was not very deeply overlaid, the average depth of the deposit being about 30 feet. From a large part of the city the ashes and the débris of crumbled roofs have been removed, so that many streets and hundreds of houses can now be explored.

      Near the entrance, which is through one of the ancient gates of the [414] city, we found another collection of relics taken from the ruins, and among them nine petrified human bodies. One of these was a woman on her face, trying to avoid suffocation by holding her mouth close to the ground. Another was a man in the same position, supporting himself on both of his hands. The body and limbs of another were twisted about by the writhings of intense torture. A man and a woman, both on their faces, but with their heads in opposite directions, had fallen so together that their limbs had petrified in one mass. They were doubtless husband and wife, who fell from each other's embrace when no longer able to stand, and remained where they fell. Besides these there were skulls and other bones in a perfect state; a petrified dog with his collar on; charred loaves of bread, fruit, eggs, and pieces of clothing; also skeletons of horses, cats, and chickens. Indeed, the entire life of the city, as the eruption found it at midnight on the 23d of August, 79, is exhibited in this collection and in that in the museum of Naples. After examining the collection we walked through the streets and deserted houses of the city; we studied and measured some of its heathen temples; we stood in its tragic theatre, the plan of which is clearly seen; we walked through its magnificent amphitheatre, which approaches the Colosse'um at Rome in extent; we noticed the wine-jars still in position within the wine-shops; we noticed the deep grooves worn in the stone-paved streets by the chariot-wheels; we crossed these streets on the large stepping-stones, a foot in height and two by three feet on top, which are found at nearly every corner; we walked over fields of wheat and other grain under which lies still buried a large part of the city; and we saw two gangs of laborers engaged in extending the excavations. We saw the evidences of idolatry and of all sin, even to the stone-carved signs in front of houses of shame, and we were reminded of the sins and the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. We were especially reminded of the fact mentioned by Josephus, that on the night of Pompeii's overthrow Drusilla, who sat beside Felix when he trembled at Paul's preaching, was here, and that she perished here, together with her only son by Felix.

      We walked through Pompeii in the afternoon, having ascended Mount Vesuvius in the forenoon of the same day. Our landlord had tried to convince us that we could not visit both in one day, and he laid before us a plan by which he would have realized a much larger profit from us than he did; but by dint of inquiry and the aid of our guide-book, we arranged the excursion for ourselves.

      Taking the train at 6.15 A. M. we reached the station at the gate of Pompeii in about an hour, distance about 14 miles. We had passed [415] Vesuvius on the way, our track lying along the Bay of Naples, at the foot of the mountain. At the station we were supplied with a pony apiece and a guide. A rapid ride on the ponies to the beginning of the ascent, about four miles, and then a slow ride as far as the ponies could climb with us, which is about half-way up the mountain, occupied an hour and a half. During this ride our party was increased by five Italians of the lazzaroni type, every one of whom took the liberty of helping himself along by holding to the tail of one of the ponies. The first one that joined us caught Frank's pony by the tail. We regarded him as an interloper. The ground was as yet nearly level, so, to get rid of him, Frank laid whip to his pony and put him to his speed. We followed after as hard as we could tear, almost splitting our sides with laughter at the enormous strides of the Italian and the tight grip with which he held the pony's tail; but, after a run of nearly a mile, we gave it up and let him hang on in peace. He was covered with sweat and dust when we stopped, and he panted like a hound after a chase. The other fellows took tail when we were on steep ground, where we could not give them a run. When we reached the point where we left the ponies, we found out what these fellows were after. One of them was to get a fee for holding the ponies, though he really tied them to some lumps of lava and left them there; and the other four were after fees for helping us up the cone of the mountain. They had a rude chair at the hitching-place, with poles attached to it, on which they proposed to carry us up at 25 francs ($5) each. We had come here to climb this mountain, so we disdainfully declined the offer. Then they proposed to help us up with a rope tied around the waist, by which they would draw us along. This we also refused; but as we climbed they followed us, hoping that as we grew fatigued we would yield to their importunities. I was soon left behind by my companions, who are all much younger than myself. At every step in the dark-brown ashes I would slip back nearly half a step, and sink in four or five inches; so I stopped very frequently to rest, and to gaze at the magnificent scenery spreading out far and wide beneath me. Every time I stopped the lazzaroni gathered about me with their chatter, trying to take forcible possession of me, paying no attention to my constant refusal to accept their services, and robbing me of the quiet necessary to the enjoyment of the scenery. Finally my patience was exhausted, and I made signs to the most persistent one that I would seize him by the shoulders and dash him down the mountain if he did not leave me. He scowled at me angrily, and they all went away. There ought to be some way of protecting travelers from this nuisance. [416]

      When I reached the top of the cone I was completely exhausted. The guide, who was waiting for me about 100 yards away, called to me to hurry on, that I was in danger where I was; but I was too much worn out to hurry or to be frightened. Just then the mountain gave an enormous belch, sounding much like the escape of steam from an engine of tremendous size, and instantly I was enveloped in a thick sulphurous vapor, which, for a moment, hid every object from my view except the rocks about my feet. The fine breeze which had fanned us all the way up the mountain soon blew this away, and before another belch occurred I was around to the windward far enough to escape the vapor. These belches occur about every five or six minutes.

      The guide led us from the southwest side of the crater, where we first reached it, around to the north side, our path running along the crater's verge, but gradually descending. When we reached this point


we found that the north wind, which was blowing, forced the vapor southward, so that we could see down into the crater, and that by a steep path over hot, reddish-brown ashes we could descend into it about 100 feet. We did so, and found ourselves on a mass of black lava, cooled sufficiently to be solid, but still hot enough to be uncomfortable to our hands. We walked over this a hundred yards or more toward a central cone, which rises like a great chimney in the centre of the [417] crater and emits the vapor which we had encountered at first. The vapor is constantly ascending from the mountain's top, both day and night, and it appears from below like a white cloud. At night a bright glare of red light is seen in this vapor as we gaze upon the mountain from the city or the plain below. Just at the base of the central cone there are several orifices through it, like the "eyes" of a brick-kiln, out of which flow in a northeastern direction several streams of lava. We could see them flowing with a white heat near the cone and a red heat farther away. The solid mass on which we stood approaches so near the red molten stream that you can walk up, if you choose, and touch it with your finger. I had picked up a stick of alder as I ascended, just ten inches long. I went close enough to hold the end of this in the melted mass until it burned black, and I am bringing it home with me as a memento. Our attendant, with a common cane, worked out some lumps of the melted stuff, and as they were hardening buried a copper coin in the side of each, deep enough to be held fast. We bring these also as mementoes. We had directed our guide to bring along a few eggs, and these we cooked in little openings at the rim of the crater, where steam was escaping through the ashes. Such jets of steam force their way out at many points hundreds of feet below the mountains top, and we tried their temperature several times during the ascent.

      Mark Twain's humorous account of the ascent and descent of this mountain is not an exaggeration. He exaggerates neither the toilsomeness of the ascent nor the rapidity of the descent. Neither does he exaggerate the magnificence of the scenery; but this we did not enjoy to its fullest extent, because in nearing the top, which is 4000 feet above the sea, we passed through some clouds, and these afterward lay below us and spread out over the country, hiding constantly a part of the landscape from our view. When we were below the clouds the view was magnificent, but not so widespread as from the top.

      After mounting our ponies on the return, we rode rapidly back to the station, the little fellows running down hill with as much ease as on a level. In one of our runs Frank's pony fell with him at the edge of a puddle of water which he was trying to escape, and both pony and rider were spread out on the road for a moment; but no breaks or bruises resulted, and a hearty laugh was the only expression of our sympathy. We took dinner in the Hotel Pompeii, at the gate of the buried city, explored the city in the afternoon, took the return train at 5 P. M., and landed safe at our hotel, tired and hungry, in time for what the Italians call dinner. [418]


[LOB 407-418]

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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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