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Rome and the Spirit of Spain

November 08, 1987

Brown plains and wide skies joined by far mountains would always be the image of home to them, the image of Spain that rose like a castle to inland heights from the slopes of the Miditerranean, and gave to the offshore wind the fragrance of ten thousand wild flowers that mariners smelled out at sea.

The home of the Spanish spirit was Rome. When Spain was a province of the Caesarian Empire her promising youths went to Rome, to make a name for themselves, to refresh the life of the capital with the raw sweetness of the country, and to help from the styles of the day in the theatre, like Seneca of Cordoba, and make wit acid as wine, like Martial of Bilbilis, and elevate the public art of speech, like Quintillian from Calahorra, and even become Emperor, like Trajan, the Spanish soldier. Rome gave the Spaniards their law; their feeling for cliff and wall, arch and cave, in building; and their formal display of death in the arena, with its mortal delights, its cynical aesthetic of pain and chance. martial said it:

Raptus abit media quod ad aethera taurus harena, non fuit hoc artis sed pietatis opus. . . .

A bull, he said, taken up from the center of the arena rises to the skies, and this was not act of art, but of piety. . . .It remained an act of passion when Spanish piety turned to Christianity.

From "The Spanish Rio Grande," Book Two of Paul Horgan's "Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History" (Texas Monthly Press).

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