Monday, 11 February 2019

Rus in urbe, take 2: Sparsus

Julius Martial is not Martial's only rich friend with a fancy address. In epigram 12.57 we meet Sparsus, whose suburban place is definitely on the Janiculan proper -- making the poet killingly jealous. In the city proper, a stone's throw below, ordinary Romans are kept up day and night. Industry, commerce, cult rituals, beggars, and street vendors create a constant racket, but Sparsus is above it all,
in the spread you got off Petilius. Its ground floor looks down on the heights of the hills; it's a country estate, but in town -- your vineyard's worked by a Roman, and yet Falernian slopes don't yield a bigger vintage; a broad driveway for your runabout loops through your front porch; and at the heart of the place, you sleep in peace and quiet.
This villa's situation is strikingly similar to Julius Martial's place. Sparsus’ rus in urbe (21) closely echoes the description of Julius’ rus, seu potius domus — a slice of country living, complete with vineyard, but with all mod. cons. and the city’s amenities close at hand; again, the best of both worlds. Sparsus and Julius are both living the Janiculan dream.

This time the scene has to be the Janiculan as commonly understood, across from the historic centre. This second suburban estate is described as ‘Petilian’ (12.57.19). The Petillius family, an old plebeian gens that rose to equestrian status, had farmed there before Trastevere urbanised: Livy recounts the discovery in the early second century of a stone coffin on their land sub Ianiculo, bearing the name of King Numa (XL 29). None of that was fields anymore, and Martial places his wealthy friend’s villa higher, on the desirable ridge-line, looking out over its own orderly ranks of vines to the city far below.

As we've seen, some of the landmarks in Julius’ outlook seem like a better match to the view from Monte Mario, but no-one could call a Monte Mario property a domus, a townhouse, no matter how luxuriously appointed: it was simply too far out of town. An address on the Janiculan, the actual Janiculan, got the city/country balance just right.

There's also the problem that even from Monte Mario, Julius's view just won't add up.

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