Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Brundisium (brewn-dee-see-uhm). Busy Roman port city on the Adriatic Sea (now Brundisi, Italy). Brundisium is shown first from the sea. On a sunny September evening, the sky is mother-of-pearl over the steel-blue waves of the Adriatic, and the flat hills of the Calabrian coast come gradually nearer on the left. A convoy of seven imperial vessels is carrying Augustus Caesar and Virgil from Athens to Brundisium, where Virgil dies eighteen hours later. As slaves carry him on a litter from the harbor to the citadel, he identifies parts of the city by their distinctive smells: the stench of fish-market stalls, the sweet smell of fermentation from the fruit market, the dusty dryness of grain-sacks, and the shavings and sawdust from carpentry shops. Virgil’s entourage then takes an unexpected turn and goes through an alley, where young and old people live in abject poverty: Misery Street. There is a nauseating stench of excrement, and Virgil finds himself the butt of obscene and nasty jeering. It is unclear how much of Misery Street is real and how much a figment of Virgil’s fever. The young boy leading the litter is visible only to Virgil.


Citadel. Building in Brundisium in whose southwest wing Virgil occupies a guestroom with a window overlooking the city and the distant hills. The room has a mosaic floor, a flowing fountain, and a candelabrum decorated with laurel. There is an armchair, a commode, and a bed surrounded by mosquito netting. Alone and awake during his last night alive, Virgil struggles to the window. Below him are the black tile roofs and lighted streets of the city. Above him the constellations Archer and Scorpion shine in the southern sky. A watchman passes regularly. The city then reveals its sordid side to the silent witness. Three drunken citizens argue and...

(The entire section is 755 words.)