Rider meets Rome
In the summer of 2013, Zack Rider traveled to Italy to attend the Classical Summer School of the American Academy in Rome. Below the Marti Fund recipient describes his adventures.
Graduate Philology Student
At the end of my first night in Rome, as I sat in the Baths of Caracalla watching Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, I realized that I was going to have a pretty good summer. This good mood was only slightly dampened after the performance, as my jet-lagged group, so sure of our route home, noticed that we were coming up on the Pyramid of Cestius—for the second time in a half hour. It was the first time I was lost in Rome, but definitely not the last, and each time, it seemed, I found myself back at that damned pyramid, mocking and mirroring my own foreignness in the city.
Of course, this lack of familiarity was why I had come to Rome in the first place. Hoping to supplement my literary knowledge with something approaching a grasp of archaeology, I received an award from the departmental Marti Fund to attend the American Academy’s Classical Summer School for the summer of 2013. For six weeks, our group explored the city and surrounding parts of Latium, and I slowly connected the disparate works and images that I’d studied to a sense of place and lived reality. My texts were ever-present. Visiting the Palatine complex and Romulus’ hut, I made sure to keep Livy and Tacitus close at hand; at the temple of Hercules and the Muses, my Fasti was at my side. On the weekend that some friends and I made an excursion to Sicily, stopping at Catania and Syracuse (with a day trip to Etna), I cemented my status as most annoying travel companion, providing a handout with relevant passages from Thucydides and my favorite Roman poets. (On the same trip we experienced our own mini-theomachy, as a thunderstorm caught us on top of the volcano, forcing us to take refuge in the nearest souvenir stand.)
Gradually, my group and I became surer of our place in the city. We picked up enough Italian not to be a nuisance at our neighborhood pizzeria, and learned our way around downtown (or at least got lost far less often). In an especially proud moment, I was even able to provide a tourist with accurate directions to the Coliseum (take the metro from here to the stop marked Coliseum!). Familiarity with the material culture came a bit quicker, fortunately, as I drew on what I recalled of my previous archaeology courses; it was particularly exciting when, in our final week of classes, I was able to get a close-up view of a Vatican Niobid sarcophagus that had been the subject of a seminar paper. By the end of the summer, I was picking out types of opus with the best of them. That initial disorientation had turned into tentative comfort, just in time for the summer’s end. But I know I’ll go back (hopefully soon!), and when I do, I’ll greet even the Pyramid of Cestius like an old friend.