John Emerson, at Idiocentrism (scroll down below “Samuel Butler on Rat-traps”), discusses “The Ruins of Rome,” a poem by “a little-known Latin humanist, Ianus [Janus] Vitalis of Palermo.” He says:

At the link I have posted the versions by Bellay, Quevedo, Cohen, Pound, Spenser, Sęp-Szarzyński, Alex Ingber (from Quevedo), and an unknown translator’s English version of Sęp-Szarzyński. It can be seen that the translators allowed themselves quite a bit of freedom in the way they set up the clinching lines — for example, they address the poem variously to “the stranger”, “the pilgrim”, “the traveller”, and “the newcomer”.
The one version that Googling has not been able to find — not so oddly, really — is the Latin original by the almost-unknown Vitalis. All I have so far are these fragments:

….Aspice murorum moles, paeruptaque saxa
Obrutaque norrenti vesta theatra situ:
Haec sunt Roma. Viden velut ipsa cadavera taritae
Urbis adhuc spirent imperiosa minas?….
Disce hinc quid possit fortuna: immota labascunt
Et quae perpetuo sunt agitata manent

So I’m asking my vast readership to help me find the rest of the poem. And if you can find more versions in more languages, send them by and I’ll post them too.

I hereby transmit his quest (and his offer) to my own readership; any Vitalis experts out there?


  1. Not a Vitalis expert, although I do see that Harvard has 11 of his works in the rare book library.
    One of the reasons he might not have been able to find the poem is typos in the Latin. This is probably the whole poem:
    De Roma
    Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma,
    et Romae in Roma nil reperis media,
    aspice murorum, praeruptaque saxa,
    obruptaque ingenti vasta theatra situ.
    Haec sunt Roma: viden velut ipsa cadavera tantaae
    urbis adhuc mundum, nixa est se vincere: vicit,
    a se non victumne quid in orbe foret.
    Nunc eadem in victa Roma illa sepulta est?
    Atque eadem victrix, victaque Roma fuit.
    Albula Romani restat nunc nominis index,
    qui etiam rapidis fertur in aequor aquis.
    Disce hinc possit Fortuna: immota labascunt,
    et quae perpetuo sunt agitata manent.
    I see a few things which may be typos: Roman for Romam in the first line, and the line viden velut ipsa cadavera tantaae is corrupt, or at least different, in the other fragment, which has “taritae” for “tantaae” (itself probably tanta ae, if that makes sense, which I don’t think it does).

  2. There are two more translations I know of: Robert Lowell rendered Quevedo’s version as the second sonnet of his “Ruins of Time” in the collection “Near the Ocean”; and J.V. Cunningham translated the original Latin of Janus Vitalis Panormitanus (to give Giano Vitale his full humanist moniker). The latter is available in the “Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation”, edited by Charles Tomlinson. I have both poems to hand but I’m not sure whether they’re in copyright or not.

  3. Does anyone know what era Vitalis was writing in? I’m curious to know what state of ruin he was actually looking at.

  4. His dates are 1485 to 1560 according to that Oxford anthology.

  5. Mission accomplished! Thanks, Claire.

  6. Thanks, everyone. I’ve posted what I can and will look for the Lowell and Cunningham.
    I’d still be happy to see versions in German, Russian, etc., if they can be found.
    And if you’re interested in neo-Latin poetry, apparently “Janus Secundus is een van de grootste dichters ter wereld”:

  7. “Lowell and Cunningham”
    A very funny pairing. Or maybe it’s just me…
    What? Oh, alright then.

  8. no wuggers!

  9. It took me several minutes of concentrated thought to decipher that, but I think I’ve done it: “no worries,” right?

  10. I have a Hawaiian language book from the WWII era–when my dad was stationed there.

  11. MJ — Hawai’ian is one floor up!
    I have gathered every translation I can find on Vitalis’ “Rome” poem, as well as another “Rome” poem of that period, and miscellaneous related stuff at
    “Rome entombed in its ruins”
    Thanks to all.

  12. There seems to be something missing here (including the poem):
    Robert Lowell
    (Robert Lowell, Near the Ocean n

  13. The library was closed where the Lowell is to be found. The n is a misprint. Monday! Oddly, the Cunningham was easier to find.

  14. Maybe this will save you a trip to the library. I would have posted it and the Cunningham earlier but unfortunately I had no time on Friday or Saturday.
    Robert Lowell: The Ruins of Time II
    (a version of Quevedo’s “Buscas en Roma a Roma, !O peregrino!”)
    You search in Rome for Rome? O Traveller!
    in Rome, itself there is no room for Rome,
    the Aventine is its own mound and tomb,
    only a corpse receives the worshipper.
    And where the Capitol once crowned the forum,
    are medals ruined by the hands of time;
    they show how more was lost to chance and time
    than Hannibal or Caesar could consume.
    The Tiber flows still, but its waste laments
    a city that has fallen in its grave –
    each wave’s a woman beating at her breast.
    O Rome! From all your palms, dominion, bronze
    and beauty, what was firm has fled. What once
    was fugitive maintains its permanence.

  15. >>no wuggers!
    >It took me several minutes of concentrated thought to decipher that, but I think I’ve done it: “no worries,” right?
    Right. See also “no wukkas” (although I’m not sure I agree with the etymology they offer. I reckon it has a parallel with Gazza/Gary).

  16. The Lowell poem is online here (including the first part, another Quevedo meditation on the effects of time); it shows the comma in the second line in a more likely location, though the rest is full of typos.

  17. Yes, that’s right, the comma should be after ‘itself’. My fault, I got too engrossed with countermanding my Word file which was insisting on a capital letter at the beginning of each new line.

  18. So anyway, no German, Russian, Ukrainian, Danish translations? Hmph.

  19. I searched for Russian but came up empty.

  20. Only because you’ve asked nicely.
    Here it is:
    Ты в Риме хочешь Рим увидеть, пилигрим,
    Но тщетно смотришь ты: средь Рима Рим незрим.
    Обломки статуй и остатки стен старинных,
    Театры, портики, лежащие в руинах, –
    Се вечный град. Взгляни: погиб державный Рим,
    Но полон труп его величием былым.
    Рим, покоривший свет, себя поверг и свету
    Тем показал: пред ним неодолимых нету,
    И, побежден собой – непобедимый – он
    Своей гробницей стал: Рим в Риме погребен.
    Переменилось всё, и лишь без измененья,
    С песком мешаясь, Тибр стремит свое теченье.
    Вот каверза Судьбы: лежит во прахе тот,
    Кто слыл незыблемым, а зыбкое живет.
    Also, I found an interesting article @ Hyperboreos/Brodsky’s readings in NY in ’00 by Sluzhevskaya, where she mentions the whole chain of translations of the theme in Brodsky context:
    …”Открытка из города К.”, по Венцлове, – сонет, в котором Кенигсберг “играет роль Рима”, а автор следует традиции “эпитафий Риму” (Ианус Виталис, Дю Белле, Спенсер, Кеведо, Семп-Шажиньский), где “разрушенные строения “вечного города” противопоставлены водам Тибра: парадокс, имеющий и теологическое измерение” (“сохраняется текучеее и ненадежное, а бренным оказывается мощное, сверхматериальное”). Таким образом, кенигсбергские стихи – подходы к римской теме у Бродского…
    Here is that Brodsky’s poem.

  21. Thanks very much! I’ll add that the splendid translation of Sęp-Szarzyński’s version of the poem (I love the show-offy “средь Рима Рим незрим”) is by Leonid Tsyv’yan (Цывьян), a translator (Polish-to-Russian) born in Leningrad in 1938.

  22. You’re welcome. Always glad to please you.

  23. Many thanks, Tatanya.
    With everyone’s permission, I’ll post this new translation, in which I can barely read the name Rome, and the excerpt, within which I do see the name Quevedo. Should someone volunteer a translation, I’ll post that too.
    I hope that the Cyrillic posts OK — so far, so good. I’m bemused to find that I dislike Times New Roman Cyrillic as much as I do Times New Roman Roman. I’m not too crazy about Arial, but my choices are limited.

  24. My name is Tatyana.
    You’re welcome.

  25. Here’s a translation of the Sluzhevskaya passage:
    …”Postcard from the City of K.” — according to [Thomas] Venclova, a sonnet in which Konigsberg “plays the role of Rome” and the author follows the tradition of the “epitaph for Rome” (Janus Vitalis, Du Bellay, Spenser, Quevedo, Sęp-Szarzyński), where “the ruined buildings of the ‘eternal city’ are contrasted with the waters of the Tiber: a paradox having theological dimensions as well” (“the flowing and unreliable is preserved, the mighty and supersubstantial is transitory”). Thus the Konigsberg verses are an approach to the Roman theme in Brodsky…”
    I wonder if her Venclova quotes are from the talk announced here?
    Russian literature lecture, April 10
    Thomas Venclova, professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Yale University, will lecture today on “The ‘Konigsberg Text’ of Russian Literature and the Konigsberg Cycle by Joseph Brodsky,” at 4:30 p.m. in Bowl 5, Robertson Hall on campus.

  26. T. Venclova quote is from speech at the Brodsky’s readings, which Sluzhevskay reports on Oct 28, 2000.

  27. The link on idiocentrism is dead, but as i remember it contains a lot of stuff that I can’t find elsewhere on the web. Could you perhaps reproduce it here?

  28. John’s now at Haquelebac; if you can’t find what you want there, drop him a line (or let me know and I’ll do so) and ask.

  29. Here‘s an link.

  30. And here’s the new Epigrues link.

  31. Stu Clayton says

    A fine post by JE, and a transitory one.

  32. Peripatetic, anyway.

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