City in Marble
Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten
Guide to ancient Rome by contemporaries
City in Marble is not the only travel guide on Rome, but it is indispensable for those planning to visit the city. Those structures that, in a common guide, remain famous ruins become, in Jona Lendering’s Guide to Ancient Rome, components of one of the most exciting cities from early world history.
Lendering delights his readers with his felicitous gift of being able to look through the ruins to life enacted there many centuries ago. For a colourful description of this society, he has at his disposal a historical staff of reliable employees: writer, poets, thinkers, and politicians from Antiquity, witnesses whom he gladly quotes and interweaves to generate a fascinating picture of the times.
Lendering’s Ancient Rome covers the era of the emperors of the Severian dynasty (193-235 CE) when the Roman Empire was at the height of its power. Rome was then a multicultural cosmopolitan city with one million inhabitants. City in Marble, however, is not a new ode to Roman achievement. In his narrative, Lendering opts for everyday life and the human scale, in politics, the arts, and the existence of the common man.
In his opinion, travel guides tend to emphasise the beauty and excellence of ‘bygone times’, but life has always been much more than that. Moreover, it is good to have our worldview challenged by that of a different society: ‘It is a waste of time to travel hundreds of kilometres and come back without having lost a single prejudice’. This is the basis of his perusal of the strictly hierarchical, often-ruthless Ancient Rome. What he sees is a world that provokes thought about both bygone and present times.
Accompanied by the author, the reader visits the bathhouses of Caracella, the Colosseum during the torrid gladiator games, the Forum Romanum where emperors, senators, and speakers held sway, and the well-attended theatres. But he also takes in the large Jewish quarter and the poor neighbourhoods where the city resembles ‘a modern third-world country’. Ancient Rome flourishes once again in Lendering’s text: a travel guide could scarcely earn a greater compliment.