Antonina HTML version

5. Antonina
Who that has been at Rome does not remember with delight the attractions of the
Pincian Hill? Who, after toiling through the wonders of the dark, melancholy city,
has not been revived by a visit to its shady walks, and by breathing its fragrant
breezes? Amid the solemn mournfulness that reigns over declining Rome, this
delightful elevation rises light, airy, and inviting, at once a refreshment to the
body and a solace to the spirit. From its smooth summit the city is seen in its
utmost majesty, and the surrounding country in its brightest aspect. The crimes
and miseries of Rome seem deterred from approaching its favoured soil; it
impresses the mind as a place set apart by common consent for the presence of the
innocent and the joyful--as a scene that rest and recreation keep sacred from the
intrusion of tumult and toil.
Its appearance in modern days is the picture of its character for ages past.
Successive wars might dull its beauties for a time, but peace invariably restored
them in all their pristine loveliness. The old Romans called it 'The Mount of
Gardens'. Throughout the disasters of the Empire and the convulsions of the
Middle Ages, it continued to merit its ancient appellation, and a 'Mount of
Gardens' it still triumphantly remains to the present day.
At the commencement of the fifth century the magnificence of the Pincian Hill
was at its zenith. Were it consistent with the conduct of our story to dwell upon
the glories of its palaces and its groves, its temples and its theatres, such a
glowing prospect of artificial splendour, aided by natural beauty, might be spread
before the reader as would tax his credulity, while it excited his astonishment.
This task, however, it is here unnecessary to attempt. It is not for the wonders of
ancient luxury and taste, but for the abode of the zealous and religious Numerian,
that we find it now requisite to arouse interest and engage attention.
At the back of the Flaminian extremity of the Pincian Hill, and immediately
overlooking the city wall, stood, at the period of which we write, a small but
elegantly built house, surrounded by a little garden of its own, and protected at the
back by the lofty groves and outbuildings of the palace of Vetranio the senator.
This abode had been at one time a sort of summer-house belonging to the former
proprietor of a neighbouring mansion.
Profligate necessities, however, had obliged the owner to part with this portion of
his possessions, which was purchased by a merchant well known to Numerian,
who received it as a legacy at his friend's death. Disgusted, as soon as his
reforming projects took possession of his mind, at the bare idea of propinquity to
the ennobled libertines of Rome, the austere Christian determined to abandon his
inheritance, and to sell it to another; but, at the repeated entreaties of his daughter,
he at length consented to change his purpose, and sacrifice his antipathy to his
luxurious neighbours to his child's youthful attachment to the beauties of Nature
as displayed in his legacy on the Pincian Mount. In this instance only did the
natural affection of the father prevail over the acquired severity of the reformer.
Here he condescended, for the first and the last time, to the sweet trivialities of