Friday, August 29, 2008

The Beauty of Ancient Columns

A few weeks ago I shared this picture from my honeymoon in Asia Minor:

Now just this evening, while waiting for a post-op with my oral surgeon, while reading, I found the text to go with the picture - or rather, to go with what I felt in walking through this ruins in Ephesus. From James Michener's The Source, a paean to the beauty of the columns and the architecture of the classical world, told through the mouth of an architect who is awaiting his death:

Between my jail and the Augusteana stands the construction for which I alone am responsible: a double row of marble columns, tall, with heavy Corinthian bases and beautiful capitals on which nothing rests, for I placed these columns here only to add grace to the forum and to link the various buildings one to the other. Looking at them now, I think that my life has been a series of columns, marching along like days, and I have never had enough either of columns or of days. How many marble columns did we use at Caesarea? Five thousand? Ten thousand? They were the unifying beauty of that city, and they came to us in ship after ship sailing from Italy. One night the king and I walked through Caesarea, and he said to me in Greek, "Timon, you've made this a forest of marble. I shall send for a thousand more columns and we'll build an esplanade to the theater." In Antioch, in Ptolemais, in Jericho, how many columns have I erected--those silent marching men of marble who bring grace to the roads they walk?

I know that this description does not match the columns I was photographing, and either an architect or an art historian would laugh at me, but I am moved by both those columns on which nothing any longer stands, and by Michener's evocative prose, his suggestion of a beauty in architecture such as the world had never known. A myth made of marble that has remained so prominent in our minds that two thousand years later we still try to imitate it in our political houses and our temples to learning, to bring grace to the roads we walk.

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