Sicilian Carousel

Sicilian Carousel by Lawrence Durrell

Book: Sicilian Carousel by Lawrence Durrell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lawrence Durrell
the little white cusps of the cyclamen pushing up through young snow like the ears of some fabulous but delicate creature from a storybook. Then there is Star of Bethlehem, as we call it, tulip, prodigal narcissus, humble daisy, lofty lily.… But for Martine there was nothing like the rose; she loved its variety and hardiness, for she had seen it bravely flowering out of dry and bony ground, almost calcareous rock face. And she had promised herself a rose garden wherever she went. Its history is as beautiful as its flower for it goes right back into the Age of Bronze as far as fresco paintings in Crete are concerned.
    It appears in the Iliad as the flower of Aphrodite who cured the wounds of Hector with oil of roses. Thus having become sacred it descended from Aphrodite to Eros and Isis, ultimately to emerge once more as the rosa mystica of the Virgin.
    It was perhaps the only flower to be intensely cultivated and marketed. For the Romans the rose became a rage and a fad and fresh blooms were rushed to Italy in winter by fast ships fresh from nurseries in Egypt. Rhodes took its name from the roses and showed the flower on its coins; its abundance was so famous that a legend grew up that sailors approaching the coast would smell the flowers before they sighted the land. Athens—no don’t tell me, I know—was always for Pindar “the violet crowned city,” though he may have meant the violet-magnesium light which plays about Hymettus at sundown, and not the flower at all.… But here my memory recalled a warning she uttered in a later letter—the one about Agrigento where I had not yet been. “The yardstick is Athens if you like, but we always forget that almost all we know about Athens as a town comes from a very late witness, Pausanias, writing in the second century. I imagine him as portly and meticulous, a Roman Gibbon, working up his travel notes in his depressing office in Asia Minor. Thank God for him—but of course he was the first tourist and perhaps the greatest.”
    Yes, the caution is worth heeding, and luckily I was able to turn to the admirably phrased introduction of Jane Harrison on the subject—for she had chosen him as the only real guide to Athens. The Emperor Hadrian (who by the way was much beloved by the Sicilians because of all he did for the island) made a valiant attempt to makeover Athens anew, to restoreits former glories by the addition of new temples and restored monuments. His passion was an antiquarian one which reminds us very much of the contemporary British or German attitudes. But work as he might, the soul of the city had fled, and all he ever achieved was the snobbish embalming of a once magnificent corpse.
    He supplied anew all the outside apparatus of a vigorous city life but he could not stay the progress of the death that is from within. Accordingly this prosperous period of Hadrian’s reign has the irony of a magnificence purely external. Pausanias, of course, did not feel the pathos of the situation; perhaps no contemporary thinker could have stood sufficiently aloof to see how hollow was this Neo-Attic revival. Greece endured to the full the last ignominy of greatness; she became the fashion of the vulgar .
    I fear these last fine phrases could be aimed a little bit in our direction—in the direction of the little red bus with Mario at the wheel, and the twenty or so captives of tourism tiptoeing around monuments they do not comprehend with a grave piety they do not feel. Pausanias himself complains petulantly against the tourism of his day, for the Romans could not help but feel that Greece had the edge on them, that in some undefined way they remained forever provincial, out of the main swim of culture despite all their own real greatness and their own mighty and original culture.Somehow there was a tug towards Greece, and the young Romans must have made a sort of Grand Tour of the now ruined and blasted land, still eager to be

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