12 Books #5: Reflections on a Marine Venus

As always, Lawrence Durrell is transfixing.  I actually parts of Reflection on a Marine Venus out loud to myself because it intensified my enjoyment of the prose.  I could tell you what I’ve learned about Rhodes from Durrell’s account – part memoir, part fiction in the sense that all memoir is part fiction – of his time there as a press officer after World War II, but I came away with more impressions of ancient sea battles and wine-drenched afternoons than hard facts.  As such, I’ll let the prose stand for itself:

“You arrive in the centre of the ancient town almost before you know it; it is as sudden as a descent from a balloon.  The whole thing assembles itself before your eyes like a picture thrown upon a cinema-screen.  It lies there in the honey-gold afternoon light listening to the melodious ringing of water in its own cisterns, and the faint whipping of wind in the noble pins which crown the amphitheatre.  The light here has a peculiar density as if the blue of the sea had stained it with some of its own troubled dyes.  The long sloping main-street is littered with chipped inscriptions.  One can make out the names of city fathers long since dead, of priests and suppliants; they rise in a long progress up the chalky pathways of the town to the red earth beyond which the archaeologist has not trespassed, to the rather over-poetic votive column which, one can guess without being told, is pat of the most recent Italian restoration work.  Nevertheless Camerius is beautiful in a way that persuades mere ugliness to conform to its grace of air and situation; even the curator’s Nissen hut, now crammed with verminous filth, smashed bottles, shed equipment, and bandages – even this cannot intrude upon the singing beauty of this ancient town uncovered by the spade of the archaeologist.”

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