Tag Archives: vignette

Forma Urbis: the ancient Roman’s cyclopean map

Photo 25 Jan 2013 10_56 pm

Forma Urbis

Everything about Rome – the Eternal City – was grand and majestic, including the Pantheon, Roman Coliseum, Library of Celsus and Pont du Guard, all of which represented the magnificence and loftiness of the Empire stretching from the West to the East, from the North to the South that meant to last for eternity. And the size did matter to the ancient Romans; the bigger the artifacts were, the better they got to be. Proud champions of Bigness, the ancient Romans developed a cartographic masterpiece called “Forma Urbis,” meaning a city map, only on a bigger-than-life scale like you had never seen before had you been a Roman citizen at the time.

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During the reign of Emperor Septinus Severus (193-211 AD), this behemoth map delineating a street plan of Rome mostly with symbols came into being as a cartographic statement of grandeur and power, practicality and divinity of the Empire. The map took up an entire wall of Temple of Peace measuring 60 feet wide and 43 feet high. It also depicted Rome’s urban landmarks across 5 square miles from grand temples of various warehouses of the city. This majestic map of the Eternal City bestriding the wall of the temple, however, lacked tax collection information and other bells and whistles of administrative functions. Hence, its manifest function was believed to be no more than an august ornament, a source of civic pride and awe to the spectator.

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Does this giant map still exist? The question is very much similar to whether or not a megalodon, a supposedly extinct species of shark that lived about 23 to 2.6 million years ago, is still alive as there are frequent veritable accounts of witnesses of the creature elsewhere in the world. Although the existence of Forma Urbis is verifiable based on historical contexts, the actual form of the map exists as 200 fragments to this date because throughout the succession of ages, the bits and pieces were purloined by treasure hunters, especially during the Renaissance period. Nevertheless, for what’s all worth, the ancient Roman’s intention to preserve the artifact succeeded in the legacy of the grandeur of the Empire that wasn’t built a day, and to which all roads led from the four corners of the world. This vignette about Forma Urbis from an anthropological vantage point also reveals a picture of the society that tells of the standard of beauty and the glory of the Empire as contextualized into this fragment but still perennial legacy of the Eternal City.

P.S. This miscellany is based on my reading of an article about the eponymous subject from the recent issue of National Geography History; I find the magazine an excellent source of acquainting myself with many an interesting historical fact covering from the time immemorial to this date across the Atlas, leaving no one, no country, no culture behind, all of which are finely written by erudite writers whose academically impartial viewpoints of their subjects are worthy of applause. You can never be bored with new knowledge, and your mind will never be the same ever.

Pleasure Garden, Emerald Thoughts

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        Mary’s Proud Pleasant Garden

What an immaculately beautiful sunny Saturday it is! The sun claims its indomitable superiority alone in the azure sky without the scatterings of clouds with occasional pleasant breezes sent from the nearby Pacific Ocean, or “the Lethe of the Pacific,” according to Henry David Thoreau, who saw the West as Land of Rebirth or Rejuvenation where you could exorcise all your past easterly mishaps and misfortunes by the baptism of water in the Pacific. In the poetic eyes of Thoreau, a Lethean stream flew through the West, and it was imperative we drink it to forget the Old World and its Institutions in order that we could start anew in the West. With this poetic justice rendered by Thoreau in mind, Mary Lamb, a benign spinster and loving aunt of Sally Lamb, couldn’t think of doing anything more pleasant and uplifting than tending to her lovely garden this afternoon.

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   Everything grows with love.

Mary is an expert gardener trained in her old family home in New Jersey when she was little. It was her father Ted who inculcated in  her the wonder of nature and the beauty of simplicity. On point of digressive notes, people think that it was Leonardo da Vinci who legitimatized the aphorism of “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” But come to think of it, who would not have arrived at such stratagem of aesthetics throughout our human civilizations? It’s all about the merits of whoever said it. That is, your status weighs against the validity of sayings.  For what’s worth, Mary’s gardening skills and her love of gardening prevails on any such abstruse philosophical musings of influential talking heads just for the sake of its pleasantness.

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Homegrown organic vegetables!

Laura Collie, a good neighbor of Mary and trusty confidante, calls on Mary’s to look at her lovely garden in the afternoon. Laura wants to decorate her backyard with flowers and hedges around it, but the whole task of doing it seems daunting because she has so many other businesses to attend to: a wife, a mother, a shopkeeper, and a member of church’s guild for women. Laura thinks that Mary’s spinsterhood imparts freedom from marital obligations to her, which sometimes Laura secretly covets. But then unlike Mary, Laura is always surrounded by her laconic but loyal and understanding husband Paul and their perky and smart daughter Julie at home. Surely, looking at Mary’s gardening makes anyone think about the life itself. It’s a visual exhibition of life with its vicissitudes, with its impositions, and with its obligations, all beautifully embroidered with flowers, plants, and trees.

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      The laborer is worthy of the reward.

When Mary finishes her gardening, she invites Laura to have refreshments with her in her proud garden to bask herself in the beauty of the sun and nature in general. It’s also very gratifying to have a glass of cold orange juice or Fanta after laboring on the nature’s work, which Mary regards as a religious experience of being a guardian of nature with the power of appointment by the Creator. Mary, who is also an admirer of Thoreau’s work, understands why Thoreau did not go to church despite being a Christian; it’s because of this feeling of sacred guardianship of nature conferred by the Creator, which can’t be felt by mechanical recitation of prayers without understanding the meanings. Although Mary’s unorthodox views on faith and the church worry religious Laura to a certain degree in a way that makes her unmarried friend look perched precariously on the brink of heathenism like a solitary village cunning woman in Elizabethan England accused of being a witch, Laura admires her spiritual friend’s tenderness toward nature and aesthetic expression of herself through gardening that is all the more resplendent with her erudition from reading many a good book, mostly classics pertaining to previous centuries. While enjoying the carpe diem of the afternoon, both Mary and Laura think in harmony that God is in his heaven, and all’s well with this world.

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Things can only get better

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Getting ready for work

Patricia has been recently working as a legal secretary at a personal injury law office in the city, the job she secured through her former boss Alfred Petersen, Esq., a high-profile defendant insurance lawyer at a powerhouse Gothic City law firm. Patricia, a principled, intelligent, and discreet character could have found a position commensurate with her ability and experience in the city had the hiring managers in the HR departments been understanding of a nine-month lapse after her resignation from the position of paralegal at a boutique real estate law firm in downtown last year. The reason for her leaving was that the field of law did not turn out to be her best match, pace her previously held naive anticipation that it would require of her less contentious meeting with demanding clients and less leg work that would push her to be out of the doors most of time. Besides, she did not get along with her boss, Susie K. whose whimsicality flitted though the ebbs and flows of her melancholia and in the weather of her sanity with all too frequent paroxysm of hysteria. Patricia wanted to keep her sanity and dignity rather than to succumb to the incivility of an irreparable solipsist. Hence the lapse in her work experience.

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At home

When Patricia needed a helping hand to secure her employment with a B.A. degree that would leave you either overqualified or under-qualified in this ever volatile job market and the inglorious gaping period in-between employment history, she could not help but think of Mr. Petersen who was a lot like the empathetic boss of Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s eponymous short story : that intellectually brilliant, characteristically benign, and professionally equable epitome of a “good” boss. Likewise, when Mr. Petersen whose heavenly blend of moral character and intellectual gifts endeared him to many of his admirers got email from Patricia out of the blue, he was willing to cast her a life jacket on a perilous sea under the aegis of his perennial benign influence. Since Mr. Petersen knew that Patricia was a good person who had not only the intellect but also the heart, an angelic admixture of humanity, he phoned one of his best lawyer colleague in town and connected him to her by sending him her resume via email for review and consideration that did not de rigueur need afterthought; it was the job to be had for the asking.

So far Patricia has been well adjusted to her work routine in the new office and the work style of her new boss who’s fair and magnanimous. She only secretly wishes that the current state of things will remain unperturbed because she feels that she’s worthy of such reward after what she went through while being the subject of the vertiginous treatment that knew no reason and stratagem at the expense of her wailing spirit smothering in the existential daily duties and responsibilities. Isn’t it a crime for anyone to yearn such a continuation of equilibrium?

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