The appeal of historic places
Why are we excited by the places where lived the great men, great artists?
There is a strong and strange bond between people and the places where they spend their life. Moreover, these places have a strong appeal and create a strong desire to know and visit by those who admire this people.
What a tourist in Verona does not visited thrilled the home of Romeo and Juliet, although having the doubt or evidence that this is a mere claim for the visitor? Are not organized fervent tours around the Dublin of Joyce's Ulysses? We do not imagine smiling the figure of Archpriest hovering rogue around the girls who attend the celebration of the Festival in Hita (Spanish little town)?
Are not we turn curious the places of Cervantes, especially his house in Alcala? And soon we will not go serious and silent to the crypt of the Trinity convent of nuns in Madrid, where it seems that they had been found the remains of our most famous Spanish writer? And what about Stratford on Avon in England, the birthplace of immortal Shakespeare? And about the classroom of the poet Antonio Machado and his walks along the river Duero in Soria or his grave at Collioure (France), or the chair of Fray Luis de León in Salamanca?
If it has always been so, what will not happen now, when abundant and restless masses of tourists flock to any site with any claim?
Well, we have a really interesting document on which Cicero and some friends visite with emotion some of the places in Athens where the most illustrious and famous men of the educated and cultured Greece taught and lived .
Cicero, together with Brutus, Piso, his brother Quintus, Titus Pomponius, and his cousin Lucius are in Athens and decided to take a walk through the Academy at noon because it is the time when the place, very depressed at this moment, are more solitary:
Cicero, De finibus (On the Ends of Good and Evil 5,1-8)
My dear Brutus, — Once I had been attending a lecture of Antiochus, as I was in the habit of doing, with Marcus Piso, in the building called the School of Ptolemy; and with us were my brother Quintus, Titus Pomponius, and Lucius Cicero, whom I loved as a brother but who was really my first cousin. We arranged to take our afternoon stroll in the Academy, chiefly because the place would be quiet and deserted at that hour of the day. Accordingly at the time appointed we met at our rendezvous, Piso's lodgings, and starting out beguiled with conversation on various subjects the three-quarters of a mile from the Dipylon Gate. When we reached the walks of the Academy, which are so deservedly famous, we had them entirely to ourselves, as we had hoped.
Thereupon Piso remarked: "Whether it is a natural instinct or a mere illusion, I can't say; but one's emotions are more strongly aroused by seeing the places that tradition records to have been the favourite resort of men of note in former days, than by hearing about their deeds or reading their writings. My own feelings at the present moment are a case in point. I am reminded of Plato, the first philosopher, so we are told, that made a practice of holding discussions in this place; and indeed the garden close at hand yonder not only recalls his memory but seems to bring the actual man before my eyes. This was the haunt of Speusippus, of Xenocrates, and of Xenocrates' pupil Polemo, who used to sit on the very seat we see over there. For my own part even the sight of our senate-house at home (I mean the Curia Hostilia, not the present new building, which looks to my eyes smaller since its enlargement) used to call up to me thoughts of Scipio, Cato, Laelius, and chief of all, my grandfather; such powers of suggestion do places possess. No wonder the scientific training of the memory is based upon locality."
"Perfectly true, Piso," rejoined Quintus. "I myself on the way here just now noticed yonder village of Colonus, and it brought to my imagination Sophocles who resided there, and who is as you know my great admiration and delight. Indeed my memory took me further back; for I had a vision of Oedipus, advancing towards this very spot and asking in those most tender verses, 'What place is this?' — a mere fancy no doubt, yet still it affected me strongly."
"For my part," said Pomponius, "you are fond of attacking me as a devotee of Epicurus, and I do spend much of my time with Phaedrus, who as you know is my dearest friend, in Epicurus's Gardens which we passed just now; but I obey the old saw: I 'think of those that are alive.' Still I could not forget Epicurus, even if I wanted; the members of our body not only have pictures of him, but even have his likeness on their drinking-cups and rings."
"As for our friend Pomponius," I interposed, "I believe he is joking; and no doubt he is a licensed wit, for he has so taken root in Athens that he is almost an Athenian; in fact I expect he will get the surname of Atticus! But I, Piso, agree with you; it is a common experience that places do strongly stimulate the imagination and vivify our ideas of famous men. You remember how I once came with you to Metapontum, and would not go to the house where we were to stay until I had seen the very place where Pythagoras breathed his last and the seat he sat in. All over Athens, I know, there are many reminders of eminent men in the actual place where they lived; but at the present moment it is that alcove over there which appeals to me, for not long ago it belonged to Carneades. I fancy I see him now (for his portrait is familiar), and I can imagine that the very place where he used to sit misses the sound of his voice, and mourns the loss of that mighty intellect."
"Well, then," said Piso, "as we all have some association that appeals to us, what is it that interests our young friend Lucius? Does he enjoy visiting the spot where Demosthenes and Aeschines used to fight their battles? For we are all specially influenced by our own favourite study."
"Pray don't ask me," answer Lucius with a blush; "I have actually made a pilgrimage down to the Bay of Phalerum, where they say Demosthenes used to practise declaiming on the beach, to learn to pitch his voice so as to overcome an uproar. Also only just now I turned off the road a little way on the right, to visit the tomb of Pericles. Though in fact there is no end to it in this city; wherever we go we tread historic ground."
"Well, Cicero," said Piso, "these enthusiasms befit a young man of parts, if they lead him to copy the example of the great. If they only stimulate antiquarian curiosity, they are mere dilettantism. But we all of us exhort you — though I hope it is a case of spurring a willing steed — to resolve to imitate your heroes as well as to know about them." "He is practising your precepts already, Piso," said I, "as you are aware; but all the same thank you for encouraging him." "Well," said Piso, with his usual amiability, "let us all join forces to promote the lad's improvement; and especially let us try to make him spare some of his interest for philosophy, either so as to follow the example of yourself for whom he has such an affection, or in order to be better equipped for the very study to which he is devoted. But, Lucius," he asked, "do you need our urging, or have you a natural leaning of your own towards philosophy? You are keeping Antiochus's lectures, and seem to me to be a pretty attentive pupil." "I try to be," replied Lucius with a timid or rather a modest air; "but have you heard any lectures on Carneades lately? He attracts me immensely; but Antiochus calls me in the other direction; and there is no other lecturer to go to."
"Perhaps," said Piso, "it will not be altogether easy, while our friend here" (meaning me) "is by, still I will venture to urge you to leave the present New Academy for the Old, which includes, as you heard Antiochus declare, not only those who bear the name of Academics, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crantor and the rest, but also the early Peripatetics, headed by their chief, Aristotle, who, if Plato be excepted, I almost think deserves to be called the prince of philosophers. Do you then join them, I beg of you. From their writings and teachings can be learnt the whole of liberal culture, of history and of style; moreover they include such a variety of sciences, that without the equipment that they give no one can be adequately prepared to embark on any of the higher careers. They have produced orators, generals and statesmen. To come to the less distinguished professions, this factory of experts in all the sciences has turned out mathematicians, poets, musicians and physicians." "You know that I agree with you about that, Piso," I replied; "but you have raised the point most opportunely; for my cousin Cicero is eager to hear the doctrine of the Old Academy of which you speak, and of the Peripatetics, on the subject of the Ends of Goods. We feel sure you can expound it with the greatest ease, for you have had Staseas from Naples in your household for many years, and also we know you have been studying this very subject under Antiochus for several months at Athens." "Here goes, then," replied Piso, smiling, "(for you have rather craftily arranged for our discussion to start with me), let me see what I can do to give the lad a lecture. If an oracle had foretold that I should find myself discoursing in the Academy like a philosopher, I should not have believed it, but here I am, thanks to our having the place to ourselves. Only don't let me bore the rest of you while I am obliging our young friend." "What, bore me?" said I. "Why, it is I who asked you to speak." Thereupon Quintus and Pomponius having declared that they wished it too, Piso began. And I will ask you, Brutus, kindly to consider whether you think his discourse a satisfactory summary of the doctrine of Antiochus, which I believe to be the system which you most approve, as you have often attended the lectures of his. (English translatiion by H. Harris Rackham. the Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1931.)
Let us conclude, as Piso said, that visits to these so full of science, art and wisdom places, do not should be due only to a mere tourist attraction but to the desire of imitating artists, and they should serve for at least some of the authors remain within us and affect us.
Cicero, De Finibus, 5, 1-8
Cum audissem Antiochum, Brute, ut solebam, cum M. Pisone in eo gymnasio, quod Ptolomaeum vocatur, unaque nobiscum Q. frater et T. Pomponius Luciusque Cicero, frater noster cognatione patruelis, amore germanus, constituimus inter nos ut ambulationem postmeridianam conficeremus in Academia, maxime quod is locus ab omni turba id temporis vacuus esset. itaque ad tempus ad Pisonem omnes. inde sermone vario sex illa a Dipylo stadia confecimus. cum autem venissemus in Academiae non sine causa nobilitata spatia, solitudo erat ea, quam volueramus. tum Piso: Naturane nobis hoc, inquit, datum dicam an errore quodam, ut, cum ea loca videamus, in quibus memoria dignos viros acceperimus multum esse versatos, magis moveamur, quam si quando eorum ipsorum aut facta audiamus aut scriptum aliquod legamus? velut ego nunc moveor. venit enim mihi Platonis in mentem, quem accepimus primum hic disputare solitum; cuius etiam illi hortuli propinqui non memoriam solum mihi afferunt, sed ipsum videntur in conspectu meo ponere. hic Speusippus, hic Xenocrates, hic eius auditor Polemo, cuius illa ipsa sessio fuit, quam videmus. Equidem etiam curiam nostram—Hostiliam dico, non hanc novam, quae minor mihi esse videtur, posteaquam est maior—solebam intuens Scipionem, Catonem, Laelium, nostrum vero in primis avum cogitare; tanta vis admonitionis inest in locis; ut non sine causa ex iis memoriae ducta sit disciplina.
Tum Quintus: Est plane, Piso, ut dicis, inquit. nam me ipsum huc modo venientem convertebat ad sese Coloneus ille locus, cuius incola Sophocles ob oculos versabatur, quem scis quam admirer quamque eo delecter. me quidem ad altiorem memoriam Oedipodis huc venientis et illo mollissimo carmine quaenam essent ipsa haec loca requirentis species quaedam commovit, inaniter scilicet, sed commovit tamen.
Tum Pomponius: At ego, quem vos ut deditum Epicuro insectari soletis, sum multum equidem cum Phaedro, quem unice diligo, ut scitis, in Epicuri hortis, quos modo praeteribamus, sed veteris proverbii admonitu vivorum memini, nec tamen Epicuri licet oblivisci, si cupiam, cuius imaginem non modo in tabulis nostri familiares, sed etiam in poculis et in anulis habent.
Hic ego: Pomponius quidem, inquam, noster iocari videtur, et fortasse suo iure. ita enim se Athenis collocavit, ut sit paene unus ex Atticis, ut id etiam cognomen videatur habiturus. Ego autem tibi, Piso, assentior usu hoc venire, ut acrius aliquanto et attentius de claris viris locorum admonitu cogitemus. scis enim me quodam tempore Metapontum venisse tecum neque ad hospitem ante devertisse, quam Pythagorae ipsum illum locum, ubi vitam ediderat, sedemque viderim. hoc autem tempore, etsi multa in omni parte Athenarum sunt in ipsis locis indicia summorum virorum, tamen ego illa moveor exhedra. modo enim fuit Carneadis, quem videre videor—est enim nota imago—, a sedeque ipsa tanta ingenii magnitudine orbata desiderari illam vocem puto.
Tum Piso: Quoniam igitur aliquid omnes, quid Lucius noster? inquit. an eum locum libenter invisit, ubi Demosthenes et Aeschines inter se decertare soliti sunt? suo enim quisque studio maxime ducitur.
Et ille, cum erubuisset: Noli, inquit, ex me quaerere, qui in Phalericum etiam descenderim, quo in loco ad fluctum aiunt declamare solitum Demosthenem, ut fremitum assuesceret voce vincere. modo etiam paulum ad dexteram de via declinavi, ut ad Pericli sepulcrum accederem. quamquam id quidem infinitum est in hac urbe; quacumque enim ingredimur, in aliqua historia vestigium ponimus.
Tum Piso: Atqui, Cicero, inquit, ista studia, si ad imitandos summos viros spectant, ingeniosorum sunt; sin tantum modo ad indicia veteris memoriae cognoscenda, curiosorum. te autem hortamur omnes, currentem quidem, ut spero, ut eos, quos novisse vis, imitari etiam velis.
Hic ego: Etsi facit hic quidem, inquam, Piso, ut vides, ea, quae praecipis, tamen mihi grata hortatio tua est.
Tum ille amicissime, ut solebat: Nos vero, inquit, omnes omnia ad huius adolescentiam conferamus, in primisque ut aliquid suorum studiorum philosophiae quoque impertiat, vel ut te imitetur, quem amat, vel ut illud ipsum, quod studet, facere possit ornatius. sed utrum hortandus es nobis, Luci, inquit, an etiam tua sponte propensus es? mihi quidem Antiochum, quem audis, satis belle videris attendere.
Tum ille timide vel potius verecunde: Facio, inquit, equidem, sed audistine modo de Carneade? rapior illuc, revocat autem Antiochus, nec est praeterea, quem audiamus.
Tum Piso: Etsi hoc, inquit, fortasse non poterit sic abire, cum hic assit—me autem dicebat—, tamen audebo te ab hac Academia nova ad veterem illam vocare, in qua, ut dicere Antiochum audiebas, non ii soli numerantur, qui Academici vocantur, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crantor ceterique, sed etiam Peripatetici veteres, quorum princeps Aristoteles, quem excepto Platone haud scio an recte dixerim principem philosophorum. ad eos igitur converte te, quaeso. ex eorum enim scriptis et institutis cum omnis doctrina liberalis, omnis historia, omnis sermo elegans sumi potest, tum varietas est tanta artium, ut nemo sine eo instrumento ad ullam rem illustriorem satis ornatus possit accedere. ab his oratores, ab his imperatores ac rerum publicarum principes extiterunt. ut ad minora veniam, mathematici, poetae, musici, medici denique ex hac tamquam omnium artificum officina profecti sunt.
Atque ego: Scis me, inquam, istud idem sentire, Piso, sed a te oportune facta mentio est. studet enim meus audire Cicero quaenam sit istius veteris, quam commemoras, Academiae de finibus bonorum Peripateticorumque sententia. censemus autem facillime te id explanare posse, quod et Staseam Neapolitanum multos annos habueris apud te et complures iam menses Athenis haec ipsa te ex Antiocho videamus exquirere.
Et ille ridens: Age, age, inquit,—satis enim scite me nostri sermonis principium esse voluisti—exponamus adolescenti, si quae forte possumus. dat enim id nobis solitudo, quod si qui deus diceret, numquam putarem me in Academia tamquam philosophum disputaturum. sed ne, dum huic obsequor, vobis molestus sim.
Mihi, inquam, qui te id ipsum rogavi?
Tum, Quintus et Pomponius cum idem se velle dixissent, Piso exorsus est. cuius oratio attende, quaeso, Brute, satisne videatur Antiochi complexa esse sententiam, quam tibi, qui fratrem eius Aristum frequenter audieris, maxime probatam existimo.