Italian Journey by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
passage is from the copyrighted translation by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth
Mayer in Italian Journey, Schocken Books, New York, 1968.
surprises everyone by its compactness and its smallness of scale.
The streets are narrow, though straight and provided with pavements,
the houses small and windowless -- their only light comes from their
entrances and open arcades-- and even the public buildings, the bench
tomb at the town gate, the temple and a villa nearby look more like
architectural models or dolls’ houses than real buildings. But
their rooms, passages and arcades are gaily painted. The walls have
plain surfaces with richly detailed frescoes painted on them, most of
which have now deteriorated. These frescoes are surrounded by amusing
arabesques in admirable taste: from one, enchanting figures of children
and nymphs evolve, in another, wild and tame animals emerge out of luxuriant
floral wreaths. Though the city, first buried under a rain of ashes
and stones and then looted by the excavators, is now completely destroyed,
it still bears witness to an artistic instinct and a love of art shared
by a whole people, which even the most ardent art lover today can neither
feel nor understand and desire.
the distance between Pompeii and Vesuvius, the volcanic debris which
buried the city cannot have been driven here, either by the explosive
force of the eruption or by a strong wind: my own conjecture is that
the stones and ashes must have remained suspended in the air for some
time, like clouds, before they descended upon the unfortunate city.
To picture more clearly what must have happened historically one should
think of a mountain village buried in snow. The spaces between the buildings,
and even the buildings themselves, crushed under the weight of the fallen
material, were buried and invisible, with perhaps a wall sticking up
here and there; sooner or later, people took this mound over and planted
vineyards and gardens on it. It was probably peasants digging on their
allotments who made the first important treasure hauls.
mummified city left us with a curious, rather disagreeable impression,
but our spirits began to recover as we sat in the pergola of a modest
inn looking out over the sea, and ate a frugal meal. The blue sky and
the glittering sea enchanted us, and we left hoping that, on some future
day, when this little arbour was
we approached Naples, the little houses struck me as being perfect
copies of the houses in Pompeii. We asked permission to enter one and
found it very clean and neatly furnished - nicely woven cane chairs
and a chest which had been gilded all over and painted with brightly
coloured flowers and then varnished. Des-pite the lapse of so many centuries
and such countless changes, this region still imposes on its inhabitants
the same habits, tastes, amusements and style of living.
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