10.13.2009

Currently Reading: The Resurrection of Rome


"I have come to the conclusion that no tourist will be happy and successful in Rome if he is merely shown gilded wreaths and twisted trumpets. They will generally repel him unless he understands what sort of triumph of truth, truly or falsely, the Popes imagined they were adorning when they modelled it so boldly upon the triumphs of the Caesars. Nobody can understand the triumphs and the trophies when he has never heard of the battles; and the battles were nearly all intellectual and won by the Sword of the Spirit."

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Lou brought home this book of Chesterton's a week or so ago, knowing that I'd be especially excited to read it with our trip to the great city coming up so shortly. He was right. I dropped Dante, Tolkien, and Meyer and dove headfirst into the talk of fountains and statues and buildings and Popes. Admittedly, I drifted a bit during the section on Fascism and wound up in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, but eventually I made it back and persevered.

Normally I do not take notes while reading--note-taking interrupts the flow of thought and therefore the feel of the book itself--but Chesterton is king of the oh-yipes-that-statement-is-so-good-I-have-to-write-it-down. Consider this piece (page 64 in the Dodd, Mead and Company edition from 1930):

The subtle distinctions have made the simple Christians; all the men who think drink right and drunkenness wrong; all the men who think marriage normal and polygamy abnormal; all the men who think it wrong to hit first and right to hit back; and, as in the present case, all the men who think it right to carve statues and wrong to worship them.

Chesterton's goal in writing the book was to make sense of Rome to the observer who might feel distaste at its overwhelming clutter of angels and gargoyles, architectural marvels and pageantry--a person whom I find difficult to imagine, but who probably exists somewhere. He hoped to give that tourist an understanding of the reasons behind such exuberant décor, offering appreciation even if said tourist does not think the reasons worthy.

The theme of the book, as noted in the title, is based on an image that caught at Chesterton's mind as he stood overlooking the city: that, like its innumerable fountains, Rome is a city which bubbles up from below ground, ever bringing back to life that which was thought buried.

As the child of an artist, and as a person only too likely to indulge in my own forms of art for little reason other than the joy of creation, I hardly need a reason to appreciate art. Having some idea of the meaning just makes it better. For that, I am more than glad to have read The Resurrection of Rome.

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