Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Rome Journal: Civilzation and Its Contents

Picelle (photograph by Francis Levy)
Civilization and Its Discontents is Freud’s famous tome about the price exacted by the social contract. But Hadrian’s Villa Adriana, approximately 28 KM from Rome on the Monti Tiburtini, is an example of the kind of rewards that can result from the more benign aspects of human kind’s attempt to tame the innocence of nature. The Villa itself has spawned its own legion of  commentators including Piranesi in 1781 who diagrammed the 30 buildings which comprise its grounds and which Hadrian began constructing in 118 A.D. the year he came to power. From 1831-6 Agosto Penna produced realistic drawings incorporated in Viaggio Pittorico some of which convey an almost 3-D virtual reality effect. Marguerite Yourcenar was the first female member of the Academie Francaise. Her classic novel Memoirs of Hadrian is memorialized by the Largo named after her which graces the entrance to the grounds. The Canopus with its magnificent sculpture lined pool is one of the most frequented cited structures of the Villa, but the Picelle, the arcaded court and long pool in which a line of cypresses are reflected provides one of the most magnificent odes to man's pursuit of beauty, the sky above the earth below. Civilization. Hadrian's was not unblemished. Anti-semitism became more prevalent under his rule and he famously repressed the Bar Kokhba revolt. Still the ambition and creativity of the Villa Adriana exemplifies the best impulses of an empire which produced Augustus and an unparalleled system of jurisprudence whose legacy lives on today.

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