The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 17)

 
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Chapter 17 : Page 1 of 8

As usual of a moonlight evening, several carriages stood at the entrance
of this famous ruin, and the precincts and interior were anything but a
solitude. The French sentinel on duty beneath the principal archway eyed
our party curiously, but offered no obstacle to their admission. Within,
the moonlight filled and flooded the great empty space; it glowed upon
tier above tier of ruined, grass-grown arches, and made them even
too distinctly visible. The splendor of the revelation took away that
inestimable effect of dimness and mystery by which the imagination
might be assisted to build a grander structure than the Coliseum, and to
shatter it with a more picturesque decay. Byron's celebrated description
is better than the reality. He beheld the scene in his mind's eye,
through the witchery of many intervening years, and faintly illuminated
it as if with starlight instead of this broad glow of moonshine.

The party of our friends sat down, three or four of them on a prostrate
column, another on a shapeless lump of marble, once a Roman altar;
others on the steps of one of the Christian shrines. Goths and
barbarians though they were, they chatted as gayly together as if they
belonged to the gentle and pleasant race of people who now inhabit
Italy. There was much pastime and gayety just then in the area of the
Coliseum, where so many gladiators and Wild beasts had fought and died,
and where so much blood of Christian martyrs had been lapped up by that
fiercest of wild beasts, the Roman populace of yore. Some youths and
maidens were running merry races across the open space, and playing at
hide and seek a little way within the duskiness of the ground tier of
arches, whence now and then you could hear the half-shriek, halflaugh of
a frolicsome girl, whom the shadow had betrayed into a young man's
arms. Elder groups were seated on the fragments of pillars and blocks
of marble that lay round the verge of the arena, talking in the quick,
short ripple of the Italian tongue. On the steps of the great black
cross in the centre of the Coliseum sat a party singing scraps of songs,
with much laughter and merriment between the stanzas.

 
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