August 24th, 2007

Faint Whispers in Isola d' Ventotene

At a cafe the other day in Piazza Chiesa, near Porto Romano on the island of Ventotene, I wrote in my leather-bound journal. Here are a few excerpts:

Walked the length of the island, revisited all the places of my first encounter with this strange, spooky place. I highlighted my route on the map I got several years ago.

The trip started with overcast and light rain, but by the time the boat pulled into Porto Nuovo the sun broke through and remained shining most of the day.

I descended the steep steps of Parata Grande, a slightly smaller and less imposing a sheltered, isolated cove than Ischia’s Sorgeto. The beach was covered with dried seaweed and smooth stones. The seaweed provided a soft cushion under my towel. I swam, floated on my back, gazed up at the hazy sky. I dove down into the clear water and found two small colorful pebbles to take back with me.

The archeological site of Villa Giulia was, as before, closed but I went around the back and got some pics of the ruins over the top of the wire fence. I tried to imagine what went on here long ago.

Isola Santo Stefano out there about a mile off shore is a dreary icon of human suffering. The prison was built in 1795 to keep criminals until they died. Many of the poor wretches looked out at the blue sky and blue sea and cursed the day they were born.

Octavian Augustus exiled his daughter Giula Agripinna on this small island for her “intemperate behavior,” the tour guide euphemism for her bedding every man she fancied, and--shockingly!--more than one at a time.

In a long, long walk down Via Olivi I thought of Memoria Nera, and my difficulty placing it with a publisher. On the one hand, Katherine McNamara of the distinguished online journal Archipelago pronounced the opening chapter “good,” which is the highest praise she ever gives to any work submitted to her. And that single word—“good”—is her sole publishing criterion.

But other readers are less charitable. They are troubled by the gloomy subject material, and some have said that my narrative is “diffuse,” which I suppose means that I tend to distance myself from my subject material, as I distance myself from people generally. It's all about keeping safe.

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The "Intemperate" Behavior of Giulia

The ruins of Villa Giulia, on the northern end of Isola d' Ventotene.

From Wikipedia:

As the daughter of Augustus, mother of two of his heirs, Lucius and Gaius, and wife of another, Tiberius, it must have seemed to Julia that her future was assured. Yet in 2 BC she was arrested for adultery and treason; Augustus sent her a letter in Tiberius' name declaring the marriage null and void. Augustus asserted in public that she had been plotting against the life of her own father [17]. Though at the time Augustus had been passing legislation to promote family values, he likely knew of her intrigues with the other men (his knowledge of the conspiracy shows he knew of their activities for some time), but loved her too much to accuse her of it.

Several of her supposed accomplices were exiled, most notably Sempronius Gracchus, while Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony and Fulvia) was forced to commit suicide. It is hard to reconstruct what actually happened, but it was proved that she had taken part in nightly drinking parties on the Roman Forum and that Iullus Antonius was certainly her lover. Many other men were also reported to have enjoyed her favors, but this may have been gossip.

More on Giulia can be seen here.