Beard writes that there were more statues in Pompeii than people. 'Did they ignore these statues, the way we ignore ours?' A. asked. How could they? They sacrificed to gods represented by these statues. Certainly it would be difficult to ignore larger than life-size statues like this one of Apollon in front of a temple. L. compared the great quality of statues to our great number of cars. But we don't sacrifice to cars. We don't have bare-chested slaves slit the throat of a magnificent bull, put the animal's flesh and bones on the fire, and watch the smoke rise to the heavens in tribute.
P. thought Beard was very good about the paintings of Pompeii but wanted her to react more passionately to the ruined city. An unfair comparison, but I thought of Ruskin's response to Venice:
"The long range of columned palaces . . . each with its image cast down, beneath its feet, upon that green pavement which every breeze broke into new fantasies of rich tesselation . . . It was no marvel that the mind should be so deeply entranced by the visionary charm of a scene so beautiful and so strange, as to forget the darker truths of its history . . . . Well might it seem that such a city had owed her existence rather to the the rod of the enchanter, than the fear of the fugitive . . . and that all which in nature was wild or merciless--Time and Decay, as well as the waves and tempests--had been won to adorn her instead of to destroy, and might still spare, for ages to come, that beauty which seemed to have fixed for its throne the sands of the hour-glass as well as of the sea (quoted in Mark Doty's "Seeing Venice").
Here's more Ruskin on Venice: "The beginning of everything was in seeing the gondola-beak come actually inside the door at Danieli's, when the tide was up, and the water two feet deep at the foot of the stairs; and then, all along the canal sides, actual marble walls rising out of the salt sea, with hosts of little brown crabs on them, and Titians inside" (Praeterita, Works, 35.295). In one sentence he gets the strange improbable character of the place: gondola-beak! Art so close to the natural sea as to seem a part of it, but not quite.
The long passage Doty quotes is remarkably rich, the sentences taking us out to a horizon, as if they were a fleet of boats.
I'm thinking now of another response to place, in which the eye travels out, the one Dickens gives to Pip in "Great Expectations":
"Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried . . . and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip."
Do you know of other writing about place similar to these flights? Please let us know.