The Cretan villa 3

December 7 2014

The truth that Venice is “dead and done with”, and the moral that others, besides “Venice and its people”, may be “merely born to bloom and drop” [all Browning, A Toccata of Galuppi’s], have […] been impressed upon the present writer’s imagination by [a] visual image which remains as sharply printed on his mind to-day as at the instant when he received it more than twenty-five years ago. Turning the corner of a mountain in a lonely district at the eastern end of Crete, he once suddenly stumbled upon the ruins of a baroque villa which must have been built for the pleasure of a Venetian grandee in the last days of Venetian rule in the island before the ʿOsmanlis came to reign there in the Venetians’ stead. It was a house which might have been built for a contemporary nobleman in England, and have been lived in – had it stood on English ground – by its builder’s descendants down to the tenth generation in the writer’s own day; but, having been built, as it happened, by Venetian hands in Crete, this piece of modern Western architecture was as utterly “dead and done with” – as veritably “a museum piece” [quoting himself] – in A.D. 1912 as the Minoan palaces at Cnossos and Phaestus which the traveller had been looking at a few days before. In the common mortality which had overtaken each of them in turn, at moments more than three thousand years apart, these desolate habitations of vanished thalassocrats bore witness, against their makers, that

in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing,
some with deeds as well undone,
Death came tacitly and took them
where they never see the sun.

[Browning, ibid; lines broken to make them fit into the column here.] As the English traveller recalled the English poet’s lines, he reflected that the four and a half centuries for which Venice had been mistress of Crete were a longer span of time than the present age of his own country’s rule over the earliest acquired of her overseas dominions; and his ears seemed to catch an echo of Galuppi’s music among the Cretan crags.

In you come with your cold music,
till I creep in every nerve.

That baroque ruin in Crete, as it stood in A.D, 1912, was a memento mori for an England that was then still alive, as well as for a Venice that was then already dead.

The Cretan villa

The Cretan villa 2.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

One Response to “The Cretan villa 3”


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