The Fall of Rome: A Lesson for All

Poggio Bracciolini, Historiae de Varietate Fortunae:

“When we ascended the Capitoline, Antonius being tired from riding and seeking some rest, we got off of our horses and sat down on the very ruins of the Tarpeian citadel, behind which was a huge marble threshold of the gate of a certain temple (as I think), and several broken columns, from a great part of which the prospect of the city lay open. Here, Antonius, when he had aimed his glance here and there, was breathing hard and looked stupefied. ‘O Poggio,’ he said, ‘how much this capitol differs from that which our Vergil sang about,

Now golden, once bristling with sylvan brambles

This verse could well be rendered: Once golden, but now squalid with thickets and packed with thorns. The story of the famous Marius came into my mind. Rome’s power once stood because of him, but he was driven from his home, a needy exile, and they say that when he had come to Africa, he sat among the ruins of Carthage and wept as he compared the fortunes of each city, hesitating to declare which of them produced a greater spectacle of Fortune. For my part, I can compare the destruction of this city to no other, so much does the calamity of this city exceed that of all others, whether brought about by nature or human hands. You can read through all the histories, you can pore over all of the monuments of literature, you can scrutinize all the annals of human affairs, but Fortune has produced no greater examples of its own mutability than the city of Rome, once the most beautiful and most magnificent of all cities which ever were or ever will be, and called not a city, but almost a certain part of heaven by Lucian, that most learned Greek author, as he was writing to a friend who wanted to see Rome.”

Image result for roman ruins capitoline

Quum autem conscendissemus aliquando Capitolinum collem, Antonius obequitando paulum fessus, cum quietem appeteret, descendentes ex equis consedimus in ipsis Tarpeiae arcis ruinis, pone ingens portae cuiusdam, ut puto, temple marmoreum limen, plurimasque passim confractas columnas, unde magna ex parte prospectus Urbis patet. Hic Antonius, cum aliquantum huc illuc oculos circumtulisset, suspirans stupentique similis: O quantum, inquit, Poggi, haec capitolia ab illis distant, quae noster Maro cecinit,

Aurea nunc, olim silvestribus horrida dumis

Ut quidem is versus merito possit converti: Aurea quondam, nunc squallida spinetis vepribusque referta. Venit in mentem Marii illius, per quem olim Urbis imperium stetit, quem pulsum patria, profugum atque egentem, quum in Africam appulisset, supra Carthaginis ruinas insedisse ferunt, admirantem sui et Carthaginis vicem, simulque fortunam utriusque conferentem, addubitantemque utrius fortunae maius spectaculum extitisset. Ego vero immensam huius Urbis stragem nulli alteri possum conferre, ita caeterarum omnium, vel quas natura tulit rerum, vel quas manus hominum conflavit, haec una exsuperat calamitatem. Evolvas licet historias omnes, omnia scriptorium monumenta pertractes, omnes gestarum rerum annals scruteris, nulla umquam exempla mutationis suae maiora fortuna protulit, quam urbem Romam, pulcherrimam olim et magnificintessimam omnium, quae aut fuere, aut futurae sunt, et ab Luciano doctissimo Graeco auctore, cum ad amicum suum scriberet Romam videre cupientem, non urbem, sed quasi quondam caeli partem appellatam.

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