Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Roma: The Seven Hills

Vienna, June 24, 2015

In order to remember the names of Rome’s seven hills, Victorian school children used to memorize a rather silly phrase--Can Queen Victoria eat cold apple pie?--where the first letter of each word stood for the name of each of the hills: Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine and Palatine.

I would like to propose another mnemonic trick to get a more topographic sense of the Roman hills. Try this: put your right hand facing down on the table with your fingers pointing to the left. Then,

1) your thumb will represent the southernmost hill, the Aventine.
2) the tip of your index will correspond to to the Palatine Hill;
3) and its knuckle to the Caelian Hill.
4) The tip of your middle finger to the Capitoline Hill,
5) and its knuckle to the Esquiline Hill;
6) your ring finger will represent the Viminal hill,
7) and your pinkie the northernmost hill, the Quirinal.

(Yes, an accurate map would require a rather improbable contortion of your fingers, but if you let your hand rest with its natural curvature, you’ll get a close-enough picture.)

Now, with a little bit of imagination you can continue to draw the map of Rome on top of your hand. Trace a line around first knuckles and the tips of your fingers and you’ll have a pretty good depiction of the Servian Wall, roughly the extent of the city at the beginning of the Roman Republic (4th century BC.) You can locate the Forum between your middle (Capitoline Hill) and index (Palatine and Esquiline hills) fingers. Or the Circus Maximus between your index (again, the Palatine) and your thumb (Aventine Hill.)

And you could keep going, locating the Campo Marzio--with the Pantheon, the Stadium of Domitian (eventually Piazza Navonna,) etc.--to the left (west) of your finger tips...