Stendahl begins his peculiar autobiography, The Life of Henry Brulard, with his alter ego standing at the summit of the Janiculum Hill, surveying the city of Rome, west to east. It is October 16, 1832, and Brulard faces his cinquantaine in three months. Fifty years, he thinks! But Raphael’s Transfiguration has been admired for 250 years already, and better men than he have been dead for centuries. From the Gianicolo he can pick out Castel Gandolfo, the Villa Aldobrandini, and the white form of Castel San Pietro. At his feet below the slope lie orange trees planted by the Capuchins. Beyond the Tiber, he spies the Priory of Malta and the Pyramid of Cestius; at a greater distance, Santa Maria Maggiore and the long lines of the Palazzo di Monte Cavallo.
All of Rome, ancient and modern, from the former Appian Way with the ruins of its tombs and its aqueducts as far as the magnificent Garden of Pincio built by the French, spreads itself in view.
Lost in reverie, Brulard finds the modern metropolis supplanted in mind by the ancient city and its historical memories. “This place is unique in the world,” he tells himself.
Not only has Rome, the seat of the greatest empire the world ever saw, been a dead empire for 1,500 years, but she has, for many centuries now, stood as the symbol of and monument to all dead empires, almost for mortality...