The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 1)

 
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Chapter 1 : Page 1 of 6

Four individuals, in whose fortunes we should be glad to interest
the reader, happened to be standing in one of the saloons of the
sculpture-gallery in the Capitol at Rome. It was that room (the first,
after ascending the staircase) in the centre of which reclines the noble
and most pathetic figure of the Dying Gladiator, just sinking into his
death-swoon. Around the walls stand the Antinous, the Amazon, the Lycian
Apollo, the Juno; all famous productions of antique sculpture, and still
shining in the undiminished majesty and beauty of their ideal life,
although the marble that embodies them is yellow with time, and perhaps
corroded by the damp earth in which they lay buried for centuries. Here,
likewise, is seen a symbol (as apt at this moment as it was two thousand
years ago) of the Human Soul, with its choice of Innocence or Evil close
at hand, in the pretty figure of a child, clasping a dove to her bosom,
but assaulted by a snake.

From one of the windows of this saloon, we may see a flight of broad
stone steps, descending alongside the antique and massive foundation of
the Capitol, towards the battered triumphal arch of Septimius Severus,
right below. Farther on, the eye skirts along the edge of the desolate
Forum (where Roman washerwomen hang out their linen to the sun), passing
over a shapeless confusion of modern edifices, piled rudely up with
ancient brick and stone, and over the domes of Christian churches,
built on the old pavements of heathen temples, and supported by the very
pillars that once upheld them. At a distance beyond--yet but a little
way, considering how much history is heaped into the intervening
space--rises the great sweep of the Coliseum, with the blue sky
brightening through its upper tier of arches. Far off, the view is shut
in by the Alban Mountains, looking just the same, amid all this decay
and change, as when Romulus gazed thitherward over his half finished
wall.

 
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