THE PAINTED TOMB AT VEII
Rome after a season becomes oppressive. Your capacity of enjoyment is exhausted. The atmosphere of excitement in which you live, owing to the number, variety, and transcendent interest of the sights that have to be seen, wears out the nervous system, and you have an ardent desire for a little respite and change of scene. I remember that after the first month I had a deep longing to get away into the heart of an old wood, or into a lonely glen among the mountains, where I should see no trace of man's handiwork, and recover the tone of my spirit amid the wildness of nature. For this inevitable reaction of sight-seeing in the city, a remedy may be found by retiring for a day or two to some one or other of the numerous beautiful scenes in the neighbourhood. There is no city in the world more favourably situated for this purpose than Rome. Some of the most charming excursions may be made from it as a centre, starting in the morning and returning at night. Every tourist who stays but a fortnight in the city makes a point of seeing the idyllic waterfalls of Tivoli, the extensive ruins of Hadrian's Villa, the picturesque olive-clad slopes of Frascati and Tusculum, and the lovely environs of Albano on the edge of its richly-wooded lake. But there are spots that are less known at no greater distance, which yet do not yield in beauty or interest to these familiar resorts. Chief among these is Veii, whose very name has in it a far-off old-world sound. When the Campagna has quickened under the breath of the Italian spring into a tender greenness, and is starred with orchids and sweet-scented narcissuses, I know nothing more pleasant than a visit to this renowned spot.
Veii was the greatest city of the Etruscan confederacy. When Rome was in its infancy it was in the height of its grandeur. After a ten years' siege it was captured by Camillus; and so stately were its buildings, so beautiful was the scenery around it, and so strong its natural defences, that it was seriously proposed to abandon Rome and transfer the population to it, and thus save the rebuilding of the houses and temples that had been destroyed during the invasion of the Gauls. It was only by a small majority that this project was set aside. Veii never recovered from its overthrow. In vain the Romans attempted to make it one of their own cities by colonising it. Many families established themselves there, but they were afterwards recalled by a decree of the senate, which made it an offence punishable with death for any Roman to remain at Veii beyond a prescribed period. By degrees it dwindled away, until in the days of Propertius its site was converted into pastures; and the shepherd roamed over it with his flocks, unconscious that one of the most famous cities of Italy once stood on the spot. So long ago as the reign of the emperor Hadrian its very locality was forgotten, and its former existence regarded by many with incredulity as a myth of early times. It was left to the enlightened antiquarian skill of our own times, so fruitful in similar discoveries and resuscitations, to find out among the fastnesses of the wilderness around Rome its true position. And although all the difficult problems connected with its citadel and the circuit of its walls have not yet been solved, there can be no doubt that the city stood in the very place which modern archæologists have determined. This place is a little village called Isola Farnese, about eleven miles north-west of Rome. The way that leads to it branches off by a side path for about three miles from the old diligence road between Florence and Rome at La Storta—the last post station where horses were changed about eight miles from the city. It is situated amid ground so broken into heights and hollows that you see no indications of it until you come abruptly upon it, hid in a fold of the undulating Campagna. And the loneliness of the district and of all the paths leading to it is hardly relieved by the appearance of the village itself.
I shall not soon forget my visit to this romantic spot, and the delightful day I spent there with a congenial friend. We left Rome in an open one-horse carriage early one morning about the end of April. Passing out at the Porta del Popolo, we quickly traversed the squalid suburb and crossed the Ponte Molle—the famous old Milvian Bridge. We proceeded as far as the Via Cassia on the old Flaminian Way. At the junction of these roads the villa and gardens of Ovid were situated; but their site is now occupied by a humble osteria or wayside tavern. The road passes over an undulating country entirely uncultivated, diversified here and there with copses and thickets of wild figs intermixed with hawthorn, rose-bushes, and broom. A few ilexes and stone-pines arched their evergreen foliage over the road; and the succulent milky stems of the wild fig-trees were covered with the small green fruit, while the downy leaves were just beginning to peep from their sheaths. It was one of those quiet gray days that give a mystic tone to a landscape. The cloudy sky was in harmony with the dim Campagna, that looked under the sunless smoky light unutterably sad and forlorn. Wreaths of mist lingered in the hollows like the shadowy forms of the past; the lark was silent in the sky; and on the desolate bluffs and headlands, where once stood populous cities, were a few hoary tombs whose very names had perished ages ago. But inexpressibly sad as the landscape looked it was relieved by the grand background of the Sabine range capped with snow. The village of La Storta, that flourished in the old posting days, had fallen into decay when the railway diverted the traffic from it; and its inn, with a rude model of St. Peter's carved in wood projecting above its door, was silent and deserted. Passing down a narrow glen, fringed with wood for three miles from this point, we came in sight of the village of Isola. Its situation is romantic, perched on the summit of a steep cliff, with deep richly-wooded ravines around it, and long swelling downs rising beyond. It is surrounded by two streams which unite and fall along with the Formello into the river called La Valca, which has been identified with the fatal Cremera that was dyed red with the blood of the three hundred Fabii.
The rock of Isola is most interesting to the geologist, consisting of large fragments of black pumice cemented together by volcanic ashes deposited under water. It is literally a huge heap of cinders thrown out by the rapidly intermittent action of some neighbouring volcano, probably the crater of Baccano, or that which is now filled with the blue waters of Lake Bracciano. The whole mass is very friable, and in every direction the soft rock is hollowed out into sepulchral caves. By many this isolated rock is considered the arx or citadel of Veii; but the existence of so many sepulchral caves in it is, as Mr. Dennis says, conclusive of the fact that it was the Necropolis of the ancient city, which must therefore, according to Etruscan and Roman usage regarding the interment of the dead, have been outside the walls. The tombs have all been rifled and destroyed, and many of the sepulchral caves have been turned to the basest uses for stalling goats and cattle. An air of profound melancholy breathes around the whole spot. It seems to be more connected with the dead than with the living world. And the hamlet which now occupies the commanding site is of the most wretched description. All its houses, which date from the fifteenth century, are ruinous, and are among the worst in Italy; and the baronial castle which crowns the highest point,—built nearly a thousand years ago, the scene of many a conflict between the Colonnas and the Orsinis, and captured on one occasion after a twelve days' siege by Cæsar Borgia,—has been converted into a barn. The inhabitants of the village do not exceed a hundred in number, and present a haggard and sallow appearance—the effect of the dreadful malaria which haunts the spot. It is strange to contrast this blighted and fever-stricken aspect of the place with the description of Dionysius, who praised its air as in his time exceedingly pure and healthy, and its territory as smiling and fruitful. In the little square of the village are several fragments of marble and other relics of Roman domination; and the church, about four or five hundred years old, dedicated to St. Pancrazio, is in a state of great decay. The walls are damp and mouldy, and all the pictures and ornaments are of the rudest description, with the exception of a faded fresco of the coronation of the Virgin, which is a fair specimen of the art of the fifteenth century. The service of the church is supplied by some distant priest or friar in orders.
We left our conveyance in the piazza, and took our lunch in one of the houses. We brought our provisions with us from Rome, but we got a coarse but palatable wine from the people, and a rude but clean room in which to enjoy our repast. This inn—if it may be called, so—had at one time a very evil reputation. But nothing could be more simple-hearted than the landlord and his wife, with their group of timid children who clung to their mother's skirts in dread of the strangers. They told us that the poverty of the place was deplorable. Nearly all the people were laid down during the heats of summer with fever; and they were so poor that they could not afford to keep a doctor. Many deaths occurred, and the survivors, emaciated by the disease, were left to drag on a weary existence embittered by numerous privations. At a distance the village on its lofty rock, surrounded by its richly-wooded ravines, looked like a picture of Arcadia; but near at hand the sad reality dispelled the idyllic dream.
Taking with us from Isola a guide, originally a big burly man, but now a sad victim to malaria, we set out to visit the site of the ancient city and the few relics which survive. It takes about four hours to complete the circuit of the walls; but there are four objects of special interest, the Arx, the Columbarium, the Ponte Sodo, and the Painted Tomb, which may be visited in less than three. The extent of the city is surprising to those who have been in the habit of thinking that all the ancient towns in the neighbourhood of Rome were mere villages. Dionysius says that it was equal in size to Athens. Veii was indeed fully larger, and was about the dimensions of the city of Rome, included within the walls of Servius Tullius. It occupied the whole extent of the platform on which it was situated; and as the area was bounded on every side by deep ravines, its size was thus absolutely circumscribed. Built for security and not for the comfort and progress of its inhabitants, its confined and inaccessible situation would have unfitted it to become the capital of a great nation, as was at one time proposed. Passing down a richly-wooded glen by a path overhanging a stream, we came to a molino or polenta mill, most romantically situated. Here a fine cascade, about eighty feet high, plunges over the volcanic rock into a deep gulley overshadowed by bushy ilexes. The scenery is very picturesque, and differs widely from that of the rest of the Campagna. In its profusion of broom and hawthorn bushes, whose golden and snowy blossoms contrasted beautifully with the dark hues of the evergreen oaks, and in the snowy gleam of its falling waters, and the hoary gray of its lichen-clad cliffs, it presented features of resemblance to Scottish scenery. It had indeed a peculiar home look about it which produced a very pleasing impression upon our minds. Crossing the stream above the cascade by stepping-stones, between which the water rushed with a strong current, we entered the wide down upon which Veii stood. No one would have supposed that this was the site of one of the most important ancient cities, which held at bay for ten long years the Roman army, and yielded at last to stratagem and not to force. Not a vestige of a ruin could be seen. In the heart of the city the grass was growing in all the soft green transparency of spring, and a few fields of corn were marked out and showed the tender braird above the soil. The relics of the walls that crowned the cliffs have almost entirely disappeared. No Etruscan site has so few remains; and yet its interest is intensified by the extreme desolation. It is more suggestive to the imagination because of the paucity of its objects to appeal to the eye. Legend and history haunt the spot with nothing to distract the mind or dispel its musing melancholy. All trace of human passion has disappeared, and only the eternal calm of nature broods over the spot; the calm that was before man came upon the scene, and that shall be after all his labour is over.
On a part of these downs overgrown with briars was situated the Roman Municipium, a colony founded after the subjugation of Veii. It did not cover more than a third of the area of the ancient city. Several excavations were made here, which resulted in the discovery, among other interesting relics of the imperial period, of the colossal heads of Augustus and Tiberius and the mutilated statue of Germanicus now in the Vatican Gallery. On this spot were also found the twelve Ionic columns of white marble which now form the portico of the post-office in the Piazza Colonna at Rome, and also a few of the pillars which adorn the magnificent Basilica of St. Paul's on the Ostian Road. No one looking at these grand columns, so stainless in hue and so perfect in form, would have supposed that they had formed part of the Roman Forum of Veii more than two thousand years ago. Those in front of the post-office look newer than the rest of the building, which is not more than sixty years old. They owed their perfect preservation doubtless to the fact that they were buried deep under the dry volcanic soil for most of the intervening period. It seems strange to think of these ancient columns, that looked down upon the legal transactions of Roman Veii, now standing in one of the busiest squares of modern Rome, associated with one of the most characteristic and important of our modern institutions, of which ancient Rome had not even the germ.
Passing through a beautiful copse wood, where cyclamens grew in lavish profusion, forming little rosy clusters about the oak-stools and diffusing a faint spicy smell through the warm air, we came out at one of the gates of the city into open ground. This gate is simply a gap in a shapeless mound, with traces of an ancient roadway passing through it and fragments of walls on either side. Where the stones can be seen projecting through the turf embankment they are smaller than usual in Etruscan cities. Sir William Gell found hereabouts a portion of the wall composed of enormous blocks of tufa—three or four yards long and more than five feet in height—based upon three courses of thin bricks three feet in length, that rested upon the naked rock. Such a mode of wall construction has no resemblance to anything remaining in Rome or in any Etruscan city. It indicates a still higher antiquity; while the brick foundations remind us of the fame which the Etruscans and particularly the people of Veii had acquired on account of their skill in works of terra cotta. The famous Quadriga or brick chariot which adorned the pediment of the great temple of Jupiter on the Capitol at Rome was made at Veii, and was a remarkable proof of the superiority of its people in this species of art. Indeed the name of Veii is supposed to have been derived from its skill in the manufacture of terra cotta chariots. The old gateway through which we passed out of the wood was probably the principal entrance into the city, and the one over which Tolumnius King of Veii appeared, standing on the wall, during the famous siege when he was challenged to mortal combat by Cornelius Cossus, as graphically described by Livy.
Beneath this gate there is a remarkable tunnel called the Ponte Sodo, bored in the volcanic rock for the passage of the river. It is not, however, visible from this point. You require to descend the steep banks of the river to see it; and a very extraordinary excavation it is, two hundred and forty feet long, sixteen feet wide, and twenty feet high. It was doubtless made to prevent the evil effects of winter floods by the inhabitants of Veii, who had considerable skill in such engineering works. The river sometimes fills the tunnel to the very roof, leaving behind trunks and branches of trees firmly wedged in the clefts of the rock in the inside. It was extremely interesting to stand on this spot and see before me this wonderful Etruscan work, and to lave my hands in the waters of the Formello, which, under the classical name of the Cremera, was prominently associated with early Roman history. It would be difficult to find a lovelier dimple in the fair face of mother earth than the valley through which the Formello flows. Precipitous cliffs rose from the bed of the river opposite to me, enriched with all the hues that volcanic rock assumes under the influences of the weather and the garniture of moss and lichen. A perfect tangle of vegetation crowned their tops and fringed their sides; the dark unchanging verdure of the evergreen oak and ivy contrasting beautifully with the tender autumn-like tints in which the varied spring foliage of the brushwood appeared. Bright flowers and gay blossoms grew in every crevice and nook. The shallow river flowed at my feet through ruts of dark volcanic sand, and amid masses of rock fallen from the cliffs, and stones whose artificial appearance showed that they had formed part of the ramparts that once ran round the whole circuit of the heights. The sunshine sparkled on the gray-green waters, and followed them in bright coruscations for a short distance into the mouth of the tunnel, the other end of which, diminished by the distance, opened into the daylight like the eye-piece of an inverted telescope. I found in the bed of the river fragments of marble and porphyry, cut and polished, that had doubtless come from the pavement of some palace or temple, and attested the truth of the report that has come down to us, that the buildings of Veii were stately and magnificent. To me there is something peculiarly impressive in the presence of a stream in a scene of vanished human greatness. Its eternal sameness contrasts with the momentous changes that have taken place; its motion with the death around; its sunny sparkle with the gloom; while its murmur seems the very requiem of the past. In this giant sepulchre, into which, like the Gulf of Curtius in the Forum, all the greatness of Etruscan and Roman Veii had gone down, the abundance of life was most remarkable. The vegetation sprang up with a rank luxuriance unknown in northern latitudes; lizards darted through the long grass; one snake of considerable length and girth uncoiled itself before me and crawled leisurely away; and the air, as bright and warm as it is in July with us, was murmurous with the hum of insects that danced in the April sunshine.
Beyond the Ponte Sodo the precipices disappear and the ground slopes down gently to the edge of the river. Here the valley of the Formello opens up—a quiet green pastoral spot rising on the right hand into bare swelling downs, without a tree, or a bush, or a rock to diversify their surface. On the sloping banks of the river the rock has been cut into a number of basins filled with water, where Sir William Gell supposes that the nymphs of Veii, like those of Troy, "washed their white garments in the days of peace;" but they were in all likelihood only holes caused by the quarrying of the blocks of stone used in the construction of the walls and buildings of the city. The slopes of this valley seem to have formed the principal Necropolis of Veii. Numerous tombs were discovered in it; but after having been rifled of their contents they were filled up again, and all traces of them have disappeared. Only one sepulchre now remains open in the Necropolis, half way up the slope of a mound called the Poggio Reale. It is commonly known as "The Painted Tomb," or La Grotta Campana—after its discoverer, the Marchese Campana of Rome—who got permission forty-five years ago from the Queen of Sardinia, to whom the property then belonged, to dig in this locality for jewels and other relics of antiquity. Instead of closing the tomb, as was done in the other cases, this accomplished antiquarian, with the good taste for which he was distinguished, left it in the exact condition in which he had found it, so that it might be an object of interest to future visitors. Ascending the slope, we entered a long narrow passage about six feet wide and about fourteen feet deep cut through the tufa rock. This was the original entrance to the tomb; and the discoverer had cleared it out by removing the earth that had accumulated in the course of ages. A solitary crouching lion, carved in a species of volcanic stone, guarded the entrance of the passage. Its companion had been removed some distance, and lay neglected on the slope of the hill. The sculpture is exceedingly uncouth and primitive. At the inner end of the passage a couple of similar lions crouch, one on each side of the door of the tomb. They were placed there in all likelihood as symbols of avenging wrath to inspire fear, and thus prevent the desecration of the dead. Originally the tomb was closed by a great slab of volcanic stone: but this having been broken to pieces and carried away to build the first sheepfold or the nearest peasant's hut, it has been replaced by an iron gate. The walls around were damp and covered with moss and weeds, and the bars of the gate were rusty. Our guide applied the key he had brought with him, and the gate opened with a creaking sound. Lighting a candle, he preceded us into the tomb. I cannot describe the strange mixture of feelings which took possession of me,—wonder, curiosity, and awe. This was my first visit to an Etruscan tomb. In Rome I had been familiar with the monuments of a remote past; I had gazed with interest upon objects over which twenty centuries had passed. But here I was to behold one of the mysterious relics of the world's childhood. I had previously read with deep interest the graphic account of this tomb, which Mr. Dennis gives in his Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, and was therefore prepared in large measure for what I was about to see.
I found myself when I entered in a gloomy chamber hewn out of a brown arenaceous clay. The floor was a loose mud, somewhat slippery; and on it I noticed a number of vases, large and small, and of various forms. They were not like the exquisite painted vases which we are accustomed to associate with the name of Etruscan, but of the simplest and most archaic shapes, formed out of the coarsest clay. Some of them had a curious squat appearance, with rude figures painted on them; while others of them were about three feet high, of dark-brown earthenware, and were ornamented with some simple device in neutral tints or in very low relief. They were empty now; but when found they contained ashes and fragments of calcined bones. Just within the door there were two stone benches, on each of which, when the tomb was opened, was stretched a skeleton, which rapidly crumbled under the pressure of the air into a cloud of dust. That on the left was supposed to have been a female; and her companion on the right had doubtless been a warrior, judging from the bronze helmet and breastplate, both much corroded, that were left lying on the bench. He had evidently come by a violent death, for at the back of the helmet was an ugly hole, whose ragged side was outwards, showing that the fierce thrust of the spear had crashed through the face, and protruded beyond the casque. The combination of cinerary urns containing ashes, and of stone couches on which dead bodies were extended in the same tomb, is curious, showing that both modes of sepulture were practised at this period. The skeletons found entire were evidently those of the master and mistress of the household, persons of consideration; and the ashes in the jars were probably the remains of the servants and dependants. On the benches beside the skeletons were a bronze laver and mirror, a simple candlestick, and a brazier used for burning perfumes. The vases were exceedingly interesting, as the first rude attempts of the Etruscans in an art in which afterwards they attained to such marvellous perfection, and the only relics now remaining of the fictile statuary for which Veil was so celebrated.
But my interest in these objects was speedily transferred to a far more wonderful sight, which the candle of the guide disclosed to me. On the inner wall, which divided the tomb into two chambers, and on the right and left of the door leading from the one to the other, was a most extraordinary fresco. Seen in the dim light of the candle passing over the different parts, it had a singularly weird and grotesque appearance. The colours were as fresh as if they had been laid on yesterday; and the thought at first flashed across my mind that I was gazing not upon a painting which had been sealed up for nearly thirty centuries, but upon the rude attempts at art of some modern shepherd or rustic belonging to the village of Isola, who sought thus to amuse his leisure moments. But such a thought was dismissed at once as absurd. No one after a few moments' inspection could doubt the genuineness of the painting. It is difficult to describe it, for it is altogether unlike anything to be seen elsewhere in Egyptian or Assyrian, in Greek or Roman tombs. On the right side of the door the upper half of the wall was panelled off by a band of colour, and represented one scene or picture. In the centre was a large horse, that reminded me of a child's wooden toy-horse, such as one sees at a country fair. Its legs were unnaturally long and thin; and the slenderness of its barrel was utterly disproportioned to the breadth of its chest. It was coloured in the most curious fashion: the head, hind-quarters, and near-leg being black; the tail and mane and off-legs yellow; and the rest of the body red, with round yellow spots. It was led by a tall groom; a diminutive youth was mounted upon its back; and a proud, dignified-looking personage, having a double-headed axe or hammer on his shoulder, strode in front. These human figures were all naked, and painted of a deep-red colour. In the same picture I noticed two strange-looking nondescript animals, very rudely drawn, and party-coloured like the horse. One probably represented a cat without a tail, like the Manx breed, half-lying upon the back of the horse, and laying its paw on the shoulder of the youth mounted before it; and the other looked like a dog, with open mouth, apparently barking with all his might, running among the feet of the horse. Interspersed with these figures were most uncouth drawings of flowers, growing up from the ground, and forming fantastic wreaths round the picture, all party-coloured in the same way as the animals.
This extraordinary fresco seemed like the scene which presented itself to the apostle, when one of the seals of the Apocalyptic book was opened. I wished that I had beside me some authoritative interpreter who could read for me "this mystic handwriting on the wall." It has been suggested that the silent scene before me represented the passage of a soul to the world of the dead. The lean and starved-looking horse symbolised death; and its red and yellow spots indicated corruption. It may have been the ghost of the horse that was burned with the body of his dead master; for we know that the tribes, from which the Etruscans were supposed to be descended, if not the Etruscans themselves, not only burned their dead, but offered along with them the wives, slaves, horses, and other property of the dead upon their funeral pyre. The horse in this remarkable fresco may therefore have been the death-horse, which is well-known in Eastern and European folklore. The diminutive figure which it carried on its back was the soul of the dead person buried in this tomb; and its small size and the fact of its being on horseback might have been suggested by the thought of the long way it had to go, and its last appearance to the mortal eyes that had anxiously watched it from the extreme verge of this world as it vanished in the dim distance of the world beyond. The groom that led the horse and his rider was the Thanatis or Fate that had inflicted the death-blow; and the figure with the hammer was probably intended for the Mantus—the Etruscan Dispater—who led the way to another state of existence. The deep-red colour of the human figures indicated not only that they belonged to the male sex, but also that they were in a state of glorification. This is further confirmed by the flowers, which looked like those of the lotus, universally regarded amongst the ancients as symbols of immortality. It is difficult to say what part the domestic animals were meant to play in this scene of apotheosis. Painted with the same hues as those of the steed, they were doubtless sacrificed at the death of their master, in order that they might share his fortunes and accompany him into the unseen world; their affection for him, and the reluctance with which they parted from him, being indicated by the cat putting its paw upon his shoulder as if to pull him back, and the dog barking furiously at the heels of the horse. But all this is merely conjectural. And yet I caught such a glimpse of the general significance of the picture, of the spirit that prompted it, as deeply impressed me. It seemed as if my own searching dimly with a candle in the inside of a dark sepulchral cave into the meaning of this fresco of death was emblematical of the groping of the ancient Etruscans, by such feeble light of nature as they possessed, in the midst of the profound, terrible darkness of death, for the great truths of immortality. They had not heard of One who alone with returning footsteps had broken the eternal silence of the tomb, and brought the hope of immortal life to the sleeping dead around. These Etruscan sleepers had been laid to rest in their narrow cell ages before the Son of Man had rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and carried captivity captive; but He whom they ignorantly worshipped had partially lifted the veil and given them faint glimpses of the things unseen and eternal. And these were doubtless sufficient to redeem their life from its vanity and their death from its fear.
Below the fresco which I have thus minutely described is another about the same size, representing a sphinx, with a nondescript animal, which may be either an ass or a young deer standing below it, and a panther or leopard sitting behind in a rampant attitude, with one paw on the haunch of the sphinx, and the other on the tail, and its face turned towards the spectator. The face of the sphinx is painted red. The figure bears some resemblance to the Egyptian type of that chimera in its straight black hair depending behind, and its oblique eyes; but in other respects it diverges widely. On Egyptian monuments the sphinx never appears standing as in this fresco, but crouching in the attitude of reposeful observation. Its form also was always fuller and more rounded than the long-legged, attenuated spectre before us, and it was invariably wingless; whereas the Etruscan sphinx had short wings with curling points, spotted and barred with stripes of black, red, and yellow. This strange mixture of the human and the brutal might be regarded as a symbol of the religious state of the people. We see in it higher conceptions of religion struggling out of lower. In the recumbent wingless sphinx of Egypt we see anthropomorphic ideas of religion emerging out of the gross animal-worship of more primitive times. In the standing and winged Etruscan Sphinx we see these ideas assuming a more predominant form; while in the Greek mythology the emancipation of the human from the brutal was complete, and the gods appeared wholly in the likeness of men.
On the wall on the opposite side of the door were two other frescoes, somewhat similar in general appearance to those already described. On the upper panel was a horse with a boy on his back, and a panther sitting on the ground behind him; while on the lower panel there was a huge standing panther or leopard, with his long tongue hanging out of his mouth, and a couple of dogs beneath him, one lifting up its paw, and the other trying to catch the protruded tongue of the panther. All the figures in the four frescoes were painted in the same bizarre style of red, yellow, and black characteristic of the first fresco described; and they had all the same Oriental border of lotus flowers. They had evidently all the same symbolic import; for the sphinx guarded the gate of the unseen world, and leopards or panthers were frequently introduced into the paintings of Etruscan tombs as guardians of the dead.
Passing through the doorway I entered an inner and smaller chamber, whose only decoration was six small round discs on the opposite wall, each about fifteen inches in diameter, painted in little segments of various colours,—black, blue, red, yellow, and gray. What they were meant to represent no one has satisfactorily explained. Above them I observed a number of rusty nails fixed in the wall, and traces of others that had fallen out around the doorway. On these nails were originally suspended various articles of household economy or of personal ornament; for the Etruscan sepulchres were always furnished with such things as the tenants took delight in when living. For a proof of this nothing could be more satisfactory than a thorough study of Inghirami's voluminous work. Indeed, all ancient nations buried their dead not only with their weapons and armour, but also with their most precious possessions; and in proportion to the rank and wealth of the deceased were the number and value of the offerings deposited with him in his tomb. We are amazed at the variety and preciousness of the golden ornaments found by Dr. Schliemann in the tombs at Mycenæ; and every Etruscan cemetery that has been opened has yielded an immense number of most precious articles, which the devotion of the survivors sacrificed to the manes of their departed friends. It is to this propensity that we owe all our knowledge of this mysterious race. But the fact, as Mr. Dennis says, that the nails in the interior of this tomb were empty, and that no fragments of the objects suspended were found at the foot of the wall, indicated either that the articles had decayed, being of a perishable nature, or that they had been carried off on account of their superior value. This last is the more probable supposition. The Marchese Campana, who opened the tomb, was late in the field, and had in all likelihood been anticipated by some previous explorer. The work of plundering Etruscan tombs was begun, we have reason to believe, in the time of the early Romans, who were attracted, not merely by the precious metals which they contained, but also by the reputation of their vases, which in the days of the Empire were held in as high esteem as now. Many tombs have doubtless been repeatedly searched. The very architects employed in their construction, as Signor Avolta conjectures, may have preserved the secret of the concealed entrance, and used it for the purpose of spoliation afterwards. Indeed, an unviolated tomb is a very rare exception. No modern excavations were made till about sixty years ago; and yet during that short interval many tombs that were opened and filled up again have been forgotten; and now they are being dug afresh by persons ignorant of this, who spend their labour only to be disappointed. There is little reason, therefore, to believe that the Painted Tomb of Veii was so fortunate as to escape all notice until the Marchese Campana had discovered it. Former visitors had robbed it in all likelihood of any objects of intrinsic value it may have contained, and left only the bronze utensils and armour and the rude archaic vases.
On the roughly-hewn roof of this inner chamber of the tomb were carved in high relief two beams in imitation of the rafters of a house; and round the walls at the foot ran a low ledge formed out of the rock, like a family couch, on which stood three very curious boxes of earthenware, about a foot and a half long and a foot high, covered with a projecting lid on which was moulded a human head. These were sepulchral urns of a most primitive form, intermediate between the so-called hut-urns found under the lava in the Necropolis of Alba Longa, and supposed to represent the tents in which the Etruscans lived at the time of their arrival in Italy, and the round vases of a later period. On the same ledge were several vases painted in bands of red and yellow, with a row of uncouth animals executed in relief upon the rim. The form and contents of this chamber afforded striking proof of the fact that the Etruscan tombs were imitations of the homes of the living. These tombs were constructed upon two types: one rising in the form of a tumulus or conical mound above the ground when the situation was a level table-land, and the other consisting of one or two chambers excavated out of the rock when the tomb was situated on the precipitous face of a hill. Dr. Isaac Taylor, in his admirable Etruscan Researches, says that the former type recalled the tent, and the latter the cave, which were the original habitations of men. The ancestors of the Etruscans are supposed by him to have been a nomadic race, wandering over the steppes of Asia, and to have dwelt either in caves or tents. At the present day the yourts or permanent houses in Siberia and Tartary are modelled on the plan of both kinds of habitation—the upper part being above the ground, representing the tent; and the lower part being subterranean, representing the cave. And so the descendants of this Asiatic horde, having migrated at a remote period to Italy, preserved the burial traditions of their remote ancestors, and formed their tombs after the model of the tent or cave, according as they were constructed on the level plateau or in the rocky brow of a hill. In further illustration of this theory he says that in olden times when a member of the Tartar tribe died, the tent in which he breathed his last, with all its contents intact, was converted into a tomb by simply covering it with a conical mound of earth or stones, in order to preserve it from the ravages of wolves and other beasts of prey. Even the row of stones that surrounded the outside of the tent and kept down the skins that covered it from being blown away by the storms of the steppe, was introduced into the structure of the tomb, and continued to surround the base of the funeral mound. He finds traces of this circle of stones in the podium or low wall of masonry which encircled every Etruscan tumulus or outside tomb, and a remarkable example in the mounds of the Horatii and Curiatii on the Appian Way at Rome.
This theory, however, it is only fair to state, is disputed by other writers, who assert that there was no intentional imitation of tents in Etruscan tombs; for if this had been the design there would have been a correspondence between the conical outside and the conical interior, and no Etruscan tomb has been found with a bell-shaped chamber. The tent-like tumulus, say they, was but the mere rude mound of earth heaped over the dead in an uncultured age; and the mound would be made higher and larger according to the dignity of the deceased; and the podium or row of stones around its foot was simply the retaining wall necessary to give it stability and shape. The tomb at Veii had a narrow entrance-passage; and we find this a marked feature in all Etruscan tombs, which are approached by a vaulted passage of masonry, varying from twelve to a hundred feet in length. This also, according to Dr. Taylor, was but a survival of the low entrance-passage through which the ancient Siberians crept into their subterranean habitations, and which the modern Laplanders and Esquimaux still construct before their snow-huts and underground dwellings, to serve the purpose of a door in keeping out the wind and maintaining the temperature of the interior.
The other, or cave type of Etruscan tomb, is that which we see at Veii, and of which there are hundreds of examples all over Central Italy, wherever there are deep valleys bounded by low cliffs. This, too, was modelled after the pattern of the house. There were usually two chambers, an outer and an inner one. The outer was the place of meeting between the living and the dead; the surviving friends feasted there during their annual visit to the tomb, while the dead were laid in the inner chamber in the midst of familiar objects. Here everything was designed to keep up the delusion that the dead were still living in their own homes. The roof of the chamber was carved in imitation of the roof-tree, the rafters, and even the tiles of the house; the rock around was hewn into couches, with cushions and footstools like those on which they reposed when living; on the floor were the wine-jars, the vases, and utensils, consecrated by long use; on the various projections were suspended the mirrors, arms, and golden ornaments that were most prized; while the walls were painted with gay frescoes, representing scenes of festivity in which eating and drinking, music and dancing, played a prominent part. And as the ordinary habitation contained the family, the grandparents, the parents, and the children, all living under the same roof, so the Etruscan tombs were all family abodes—the dead of a whole generation being deposited in the same inner chamber.
To the outer chamber, as I have said, came the surviving members of the family at least once a year to hold a funeral feast, and pay their devotions to their departed friends. The tombs of this people were thus at the same time also their temples—the sacred places where they came to perform the rites of their religion, which consisted in worshipping the lares and penates of their beloved dead, and making offerings to them. And by this striking link of the cultus of the dead the ancient Etruscans were connected with the present inhabitants of Northern Asia, the Finns, Laplanders, Tartars, Mongols, and Chinese, who have no temples or places of special honour for their idols, but assemble once a year or oftener at the graves of their ancestors to worship the dead. But after all there is no great difference in this respect between the races, ancient and modern; for the churchyard and the church, the burial vaults and monuments within the cathedral and chapel, show how universal is the instinct that associates the dead with the shrine of religion, and makes the tomb the most appropriate place for giving expression to those blessed hopes of immortality upon which all religion is founded. The sanctuary of the Holy Land derived its sacredness, as well as the charter of its inheritance, from the cave of Machpelah. Around that patriarchal tomb clustered all the grand religious hopes of the covenant people. The early Christians adopted and purified the Etruscan custom which they found in Rome, and erected over the tombs of the martyrs and other illustrious persons Cellæ Memoriæ, or memorial chapels, in which on anniversary occasions the friends and brethren assembled to partake of a funeral feast in honour of the dead. The primitive Agapæ, or love-feasts, were often nothing more than such banquets in the memorial cells at the tombs of the faithful. And in our own country, many of our most important churches, towns, and villages took their origin and name from the grave of some saint, who in far-off times hallowed the spot and made it a shrine of worship.
There are numerous indications that this Painted Tomb at Veii is of very great antiquity, and may be considered as probably the oldest tomb in Europe. No inscription of any kind has been found on its walls or any of its contents; and this circumstance, which is almost singular so far as all Etruscan tombs yet discovered are concerned, of itself indicates a very remote date, when the art of letters if known at all was only known to a privileged few, and confined to public and sacred monuments. No clue remains to inform us who the Veientine warrior was who met his death in so tragic a manner, and who lay down with his wife and dependants in this tomb, and took the last long sleep without a thought of posterity or the conclusions they might form regarding him. And the argument of hoary antiquity derived from this speechless silence of the tomb is still further strengthened by architectural evidence. The outer wall as seen from the inside is built of rough uncemented blocks of the earliest polygonal construction, such as we see in a few of the oldest Cyclopean cities of Central Italy; and the doorway is formed by the gradual convergence of stones laid in horizontal courses, instead of being arched by regular wedges of stone held together. Now, as the perfect arch was known and constructed in Etruria at a very early period, this pseudo-vault, which indicates complete ignorance of the principle, must belong to a very remote age indeed—to the period of the Cyclopean gateways of Italy and Greece, whose origin is lost in the mist of a far-off antiquity. There are two limits within which the date of the tomb may probably be placed. While its style and decorations are genuinely national and characteristic of the primitive Etruscan tomb, there can be no doubt that several Egyptian features in it, such as the sphinx and the lotus, and in some respects the colouring and physiognomy of the human figures, indicate some acquaintance with the land of the Nile. Now an inscription has been found at Karnac which records that Egypt was invaded by a confederation of Libyans, Etruscans, and other races, and was only saved after a desperate struggle by the valour of Menephtah I. of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The allied forces occupied the country for a time, and took away with them when they departed large spoils, consisting among other things of bronze knives and armour. This happened in the fourteenth or fifteenth century before Christ. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the civilisation of Egypt must at this period have been spread by commerce or war among the Western nations, and produced a powerful influence upon the Etruscans. The imitation of Egyptian models is not so decided in this tomb as it is in the painted tombs of Tarquinii and other Etruscan cities of later date; and this circumstance would indicate that it was constructed at the very commencement of the intercourse of Etruria with Egypt. If we take this historic fact as the limit in one direction, the tomb cannot be older than three thousand three hundred years. On the other hand, we know that Veii was destroyed about four hundred years before Christ, and remained uninhabited and desolate till the commencement of the Empire; we have, therefore, the surest ground for fixing the date of the tomb prior to that event. Somewhere between the invasion of Egypt by the Etruscan confederacy and the fall of Veii—that is, somewhere between the fourteenth and the fourth century before Christ—this sepulchre was hewn in the rock and its tenants interred in it.
Carlo Avolta of Corneto on one occasion, opening an Etruscan tomb at Tarquinii, saw a most wonderful sight. From an aperture which he had made above the door of the sepulchre he looked in, and for fully five minutes "gazed upon an Etruscan monarch lying on his stone bier, crowned with gold, clothed in armour, with a shield, spear, and arrows by his side." But as he gazed the figure collapsed, and finally disappeared; and by the time an entrance was made all that remained was the golden crown, some fragments of armour, and a handful of gray dust. Like that Etruscan tomb has been the fate of the Etruscan confederacy. This mighty people left traces of their civilisation "inferior in grandeur perhaps to the monuments of Egypt, in beauty to those of Greece, but with these exceptions surpassing in both the relics of any other nation of remote antiquity." At the period of their highest power they lived in close neighbourhood and connection with a people who got its laws, its rulers, its arts, its religion from them—and might therefore if only in gratitude have preserved their history. But their fate was that of the similar civilisation of Mexico and Peru, which its selfish Spanish conquerors instead of preserving sought studiously to obliterate. The comprehensive history of Etruria written in twenty volumes by the emperor Claudius—who, though very feeble in other things, was yet a scholar, and could have given us much interesting information—perished. Their language, which survived their absorption by Rome, almost as late as the time of the Cæsars, finally disappeared; and though thousands of inscriptions in tombs and on works of art remain—which we are able to read from the close resemblance of the alphabet to the Greek—the key to the interpretation of the language is gone beyond recall. In an age that has unravelled the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the cuneiform characters of Assyria, and the runic inscriptions of Northern Europe, the Etruscan language presents almost the only philological problem that refuses to be solved. Thus when the air and the light of modern investigation penetrated into the mystery which surrounded this strange people, all that was most important had vanished; and only the few ornaments of the tomb remained to tell us of a lost world of art, literature, and human life which had perished not by internal exhaustion, but had fallen before the arms of Rome in the full maturity of its civilisation.
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