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Statius (45-96 CE):

Silvae, II.2 A Roman Seaside Villa

[Davis Introduction]

About 90 CE. a Roman poet wrote this description of a friend's villa on the beautiful bay of Naples. Despite somewhat strained and flowery language, we get a good idea of the charms of the location and the elegance and luxury of the building. There is no reason, however, to believe that this villa surpassed many others of its kind.

Between the walls that bear the name of the Sirens and the rocks burdened with Tyrrhene Minerva's temple, stands a lofty mansion that looks out upon the Bay of Puteoli. This is ground dear to Bromius. On the high hills ripens a vintage that need not be jealous of Falernian vats. The sheltered waters, the crescent bay break a passage through the arc of cliff on either hand. The charm that first meets the sight is a steaming bathhouse with twin cupolas. From the land a rivulet of fresh water flows to meet the brine. From the shore, along the long counterscarps of cliff, the colonnade makes its way, worthy of a city. The long platform dominates the rough rocks. Where once was blinding dust and dazzling sunshine---a wild, unlovely track---it is now a joy to pass.

One hall looks out upon the sunrise and the fresh beams of Phoebus, another keeps him back at his setting and will not suffer the afterglow to pass. Here are rooms that resound with the voices of the sea: here are others that refuse to know the thunderous surges, but rather the silence of the land. What need to tell of statues fashioned long since in wax and bronze? Masterpieces of Apelles and Myro and Phidias; bronzes from the funeral fire of Corinth; busts of great captains, and bards, and wise men of old.

Why should I rehearse the countless roof tops and the ever-changing view? Each has a charm of its own; every chamber window has its own view of the sea. There is one hall that quite outshines them all; one hall that straight across the sea presents to thee, the view of Parthenope. Therein are marbles chosen from the heart of the quarries in Greece, and the other marbles from Egypt, or from Phrygia: green marbles from Laconia and yellow from Numidia. Here are the Carystian pillars that delight to face seaward. These all front and greet the towers of Naples. A blessing on the fancy that prefers the Greek, that makes a Grecian land your home!


From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. ??

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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