Mario’s Essay on Perugia

FOR MARIO BIZZARRI, archeologist in love with his profession and with Perugia and Orvieto, where he grew up and then spent his life becoming acquainted with his Etruscan forebears. He was born on March 30, 1914, and died January 30, 1969, in Orvieto.  


(Excerpts from Magica Etruria, Orvieto and Perugia, Nuova Immagine Editrice, Siena, 2014, reprint of Magica Etruria, Bizzarri and Curri, 1968) 


Somewhere I read that the fascination of this tomb, the Hypogeum dei Volumni (Perugia), lies in its feeling of intimacy, an extreme affirmation of life this side of the threshold that leads to the unknown and unknowable afterworld. True the visitor apparently finds himself in what might be thought of as a normal home. Yet I must confess that for me there is an unsettling awareness of the bleak reality of death, a sensation due in part to the fact that this is a simulation of a house, with the family group, long gone, on display in the tablinum, the spacious vestibule of their house.

In other tombs the urns are set together as if they were actual persons. But one does not get the feeling that one is in a house. In the Hypogeum of the Volumni the mise-en-scène is accurate and hallucinatory. If you are left alone in the tomb, you cannot help but realize that this is the inevitable encounter with the most uncomfortable interlocutor possible: you yourself. Stand before those motionless, undecipherable personages grouped together in their tablinum. You are aware of the shadowy presences of other rooms around you, black holes that lie heavy on your spirit with an overpowering sense of expectation. You are tense as you wait for something to happen … but nothing does. After a while a shiver runs up your spine as you suddenly realize that this is death where nothing ever happens, neither good nor bad.

Those personages are hollow ghosts, mute and indifferent apparitions in what is nothing but a simulacrum of a house, a last stand attempt.  In the past two thousand years only time has had its say, consuming the bronze bowls of the lamps as they have gradually fallen into dust before the unseeing eyes of the owners of the house, nothing but figures carved in stone, no longer able to think, hope, love, threaten, weep … Those empty rooms are the most heart-breaking evidence of the futility of earthly intents once the fatal threshold has been crossed. For the first time you are close to the terrifying significance of death. You now realize that it is the non-being of everything you are and so tenaciously wish to continue to be. Your culture, your philosophy, your faith can no longer come to your aid as measures extraneous to this world of things that are not. You desperately attempt to hang on to the ephemeral signs of your vitality, the fragile fabric of the beating of your heart and the pulsing of blood in your veins, your labored breathing, to overcome the cold of the tomb … Then nothing else but a wild desire to leave.

Back outside you feel relieved, mixed with a vague sense of shame. You have been saved, like Antheus freed from Hercules’ grasp when he came in contact with his ancient mother Earth. But you know the myths and know that this is nothing but a deferment. This was not yet your time, but the appointment will fatally return and then its hold will be mortal. So rejoice in the warm sun, the exhilarating colors, fragrances, sounds …  live, and appreciate as never before this marvelous privilege. Drive the thoughts and feelings of but a few minutes ago back into the depths of your conscience, into that secret corner where a fragment of that chilling dismay that for a moment stopped your heart in that ineffable encounter with the Void continues to lurk.

2 thoughts on “Mario’s Essay on Perugia

  1. What a quietly profound and powerful piece that befits its subject, as do the photo and the painting! Yours? I also admire the humility here. I’ve often wondered what a sensitive archeologist might be thinking about the life cycle. Thank you for this glimpse.

    Envoyé de mon Di-Phone


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