July 2014
Billie Silvey
Villa del Lago
“As you all know, the Appian Way heads south,
straight as an arrow’s flight and flat as a table.  
It’s not until you reach the vicinity of Mount Alba
that the road takes a few turns and you begin
to ascend a bit.  There are some grand homes
in that area.  Pompey has a villa in the woods
not too far off the road.  So did Publius
Clodius.  I wish I had remembered that, and
been more cautious.”—p. 96

These are the words of Gordianus the Finder,
hero of Steven Saylor's mystery stories set in
ancient Rome.  

What a surprise to find our family living in a
villa on Lake Alba

Saylor continues to describe the route from
Rome:  “There was not a person to be seen
along the road, at least not any living person.  
Lining the way, as always along the major
thoroughfares outside any city, were a
succession of tombs and supulchers, large
and small.  Burial within city walls is illegal, so
the neighborhoods of the dead begin just
outside the walls.  Crooked cenotaphs with
inscriptions worn smooth by time stand
alongside newly sculpted family portraits in
marble and limestone.  Among the grandest
tombs were those of the Scipios, the family
whose glory had dominated Rome in the age
before my father’s birth.  They conquered
Carthage and began the work of empire; now
they were dust.

“Equally grand were the tombs of the Claudii.  
The Appian Way was their road, or so they
considered it, since it had been built by their
ancestor.  The dead Claudii in their ornate
stone tombs were clustered thickly along the
way, like jostling spectators at a parade.  The
Claudii continued to make their mark on
Rome; Publius Clodius, affecting the plebeian
variant of the name, had been the latest to hold
sway.  

As Pompey had noted, his murder on the road
of his ancestors had been a twist of fate of the
sort so beloved by melodramatic playwrights
and sentimental rhetoricians.  The irony might
someday provide a theme for schoolboy
compositions:  Appius Claudius Caecus built
the Appian Way.  Two hundred and sixty years
later his descendant Publius Clodius was
murdered there.  Compare and contrast the
achievements of these two men.

“Beyond the tombs were great drifts and piles
of rubbish and debris, bits of broken pottery
and worn-out shoes, shards of glass and bits
to metal and plaster.  A city s vast as Rome
produces a great deal of trash, and it all has to
go somewhere.  Better to cart it outside the
walls and dump it in the city of the dead than to
let it pile up among the living.”—p. 151

“A lot of empty farmland to be more precise,
interspersed with woods here and there and
some marshes in low spots, all very flat and
not particularly scenic.  To the left, distant
mountain s on the horizon.  To the right, a
gentle, gradual slope toward the sea.  And up
ahead, growing steadily larger as they draw
nearer, Mount Alba.”

“Yes, the stable has probably been there in
one form or another for well over two hundred
years, since the first stretch of the Appian Way
from Rome to Bovillae was paved.  Appius
Claudius Caecus built the road as a military
route for the legions to use, that’s why it’s so
wide and so straight.  Bovillae was the first
post-station for military messengers, a place
to change horses.  And where there’s a stable,
of course there’s an inn.”—p. 160

“Oak trees . . . once the road starts ascending
to higher ground at Bovillae, the trees get
thicker.  The top of the mountain is a veritable
forest.”—

“The land begins to rise, as you said.  Wooded
slopes with rich people’s estates—pylons set
on either side of private roads leading up to
big houses that you can barely glimpse as you
go by.

“Mount Alba loomed straight ahead of us,
steadily growing larger.  Clouds had gathered
at its summit, casting a shadow over the
higher slopes, so that the mountain seemed
to erupt from the surrounding sunlit plains like
a brooding mass of doubt.”—p. 164

“Toward the west I was able to look down on
the wooded hillside above the Appian Way,
catching glimpses of the wide ribbon of road
below.  Beyond the road were the foothills,
where shreds of mist still clung to treetops,
and beyond the foothills a wide expanse of
open plains and farmland extended to the
distant blue-green sea.  Above all was the
deep blue bowl of the cloudless sky.  If the day
remained clear, the sunset from this vantage
point would be extraordinary.

“I turned and walked to the opposite side of the
balcony with the morning light on my face and
looked down onto a wood-encircled lake
hidden from the lower world.  Its placid
surface, as smooth as polished silver,
reflected the forested cone of Mount Alba.  The
sun had just risen from behind the mountain
and for a moment seemed to be balanced on
its highest peak.”—p. 211
“A lot of empty farmland to be more precise,
interspersed with woods here and there and
some marshes in low spots, all very flat and
not particularly scenic.  To the left, distant
mountains on the horizon.  To the right, a
gentle, gradual slope toward the sea.  And up
ahead, growing steadily larger as they draw
nearer, Mount Alba.”

“The stable has probably been there in one
form or another for well over two hundred
years, since the first stretch of the Appian Way
from Rome to Bovillae was paved.  Appius
Claudius Caecus built the road as a military
route for the legions to use, that’s why it’s so
wide and so straight.  Bovillae was the first
post-station for military messengers, a place
to change horses.  And where there’s a stable,
of course there’s an inn.”—p. 160

“Oak trees . . . once the road starts ascending
to higher ground at Bovillae, the trees get
thicker.  The top of the mountain is a veritable
forest.”—

“The land begins to rise, as you said.  Wooded
slopes with rich people’s estates—pylons set
on either side of private roads leading up to
big houses that you can barely glimpse as you
go by.

“Mount Alba loomed straight ahead of us,
steadily growing larger.  Clouds had gathered
at its summit, casting a shadow over the
higher slopes, so that the mountain seemed
to erupt from the surrounding sunlit plains like
a brooding mass of doubt.”—p. 164

“Toward the west I was able to look down on
the wooded hillside above the Appian Way,
catching glimpses of the wide ribbon of road
below.  Beyond the road were the foothills,
where shreds of mist still clung to treetops,
and beyond the foothills a wide expanse of
open plains and farmland extended to the
distant blue-green sea.  Above all was the
deep blue bowl of the cloudless sky.  If the day
remained clear, the sunset from this vantage
point would be extraordinary.

“I turned and walked to the opposite side of
the balcony with the morning light on my face
and looked down onto a wood-encircled lake
hidden from the lower world.  Its placid
surface, as smooth as polished silver,
reflected the forested cone of Mount Alba.  The
sun had just risen from behind the mountain
and for a moment seemed to be balanced on
its highest peak.”—p. 211
Our villa on Lake Alba (inset above) with the view from the terrace across the lake to the Pope's summer
palace at Castel Gondolpho.  Mount Alba is on the opposite shore.