Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Martial's Aventine (with pictures)

Martial is not a big fan of hills. Being on top of them, yes; climbing them, no. At 7.73 he complains about a wealthy patron — a really big name (Maximus) — who has houses on the Aventine and the Esquiline (plus a place on Senate Street, the Vicus Patricius) but can never be found at any of them. Earlier at 5.22 we find him toiling up the Esquiline to pay his respects to Paulus:

The cobbles are dirty, the steps are never dry; it's next to impossible to cut past the long mule-trains, and the marble blocks you see being dragged with lots of ropes.

Clearly lots of construction going on in this high-end neighbourhood; Rome's wealthy and well-connected (like Martial's best buddy Julius M.) always favoured the hills. Up in the breeze, above the stink and the mosquitoes, the historic hilltops also connected their occupants to the city's oldest history. And no, Paulus wasn't in:

And I'm exhausted! This is what I get for my wasted effort and my drenched toga. It'd hardly have been worth all that if I had caught you in.
At 12.18, freshly retired to his native Bilbilis in Spain (where as the reader already knows, he'll soon find himself bored to tears), Martial gleefully imagines his satirical successor Juvenal sweltering as he takes over his friend's old city beat:
I guess right now, Juvenal, you're wandering restless through the yelling Subura, or trudging up the hill of our lady Diana; your sweaty toga flaps as you haunt the thresholds of the mighty, and the Greater and Lesser Caelian wear you out.
(If the Caelian has more than one 'bit', so too does the Aventine; a spur of it is now the tranquil neighbourhood of San Saba and would these days be regarded as a separate hill. Everyone always agreed Rome had seven hills; seven is a good number: they just couldn't agree on which seven they were).

The Aventine was (mytho-)historically where the plebs seceded to, in that early bit of Livy when it still lay outside the city limits set by Romulus; thereafter it gentrified hand over fist. It is Diana's hill because she had a temple there, perhaps (why not?) round about the modern Piazza di Diana.

Martial is probably imagining sweaty Juvenal coming at the hill from the historic centre — the obvious route from the Forum would take you through or past the Forum Boarium, between the river and the starting-gate end of the Circus Maximus, then perhaps up the Clivus Publicius. The modern road that climbs past the municipal rose garden takes the Clivus' name and may well share its route; follow it up to the Giardino degli Aranci (famous for its view across the city) and you could easily be walking in Martial's and Juvenal's footsteps.

From this Garden of the Orange-Trees, the classically interested pedestrian can now — for the first time in many years — descend to the Tiber on a switchback path through reopened public space in which traces of the hill's densely stacked ancient occupation are plain to see.

Or ascend that way and head back into town by the Clivus; unlike Martial, you can cut across the Circus Maximus rather than having to go around.

The gates are open till dusk.