Topographies of Hellenism: Mapping the Homeland

By Artemis Leontis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5 Nostos: Hellenism's Suspended Homecoming

I was seeking, without being precisely aware of it, the road to Rome. Ever since my first visit the city had become for me, not only on all its historical levels but rather in its spiritual essence, in other words in a sense that transcended history, the holy city; yet withal one not chosen but discovered, an ancestral homeland and a goal of pilgrimage. Every fresh sojourn in Rome strengthened this relation to my life. I knew myself bound to the Roma aeterna. In the course of years and decades I realized that this bond contained a secret with many layers of symbolic meaning.

-- E. R. Curtius, Essays on European Literature

Noon at the archaeological museum. They unearth now--some in crates, some bare to the flesh in the earth--the statues. In one of the big old galleries, familiar from our student years, with the dull facade that somewhat resembled the dreary public library, the workmen excavate with shovels and pickaxes. If you didn't look at the roof, the floor, the windows, and the walls with inscriptions in gold, this could be any excavation. Statues, still sunken in the earth, appeared naked from the waist up, planted at random. . . . It was a chorus of the resurrected, a second coming of bodies that gave you a crazy joy. . . . Emotion from this sudden familiarity. The bronze Zeus, or Poseidon, lying on a crate like an ordinary tired laborer. I touched him on the chest, where the arm joins the shoulder, on the belly, on his hair. It seemed that I touched my own body. . . . Crazy about the [topos]. Every day carried away more and more by this drunkenness. The sea, the mountains that dance motionless. I found them the same in these rippled chitons: water turned into marble around the chests and the sides of headless fragments.

-- George Seferis, A Poet's Journal

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