Daniel Brook read at the October 2nd reading. Brook is a journalist who lives in New Orleans. Daniel Brook’s most recent book is A History of Future Cities. He lived in St. Petersburg for a month, Shanghai for a month, Mumbai for a month, and Dubai for a month in order to research for A History of Future Cities. Check out an interview with Brook posted on The New Orleans Review here.
Drawings by Julia Taylor
The following is an excerpt from what Brook read on October 2nd. Read the rest of “Heirs Apparent” on Harpers here.
“On the bottom floor of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, far from the crowds craning their necks to glimpse a Raphael or a Rembrandt, are a series of rooms designed in the mid-nineteenth century by a German architect. A marriage of tsarist opulence and neoclassical order, each room places the visitor in a different symmetrical space defined by columns, arches, and pilasters of richly polished marble, one room a somber gray, the next an arresting red, another a flighty pink. In each of these pseudo-Greek rooms stand pseudo-Greek statues: Roman copies of Greek originals.
The wall labels next to the sculptures proudly proclaim their pilfered provenance:
apollo, marble, roman work. 1st c. a.d. after the greek original of the 4th c. b.c.
eros, marble, roman work. 2nd c. a.d. after the greek original of the first half of the 4th c. b.c.
athena, marble, roman work. 2nd c. a.d. after the greek original of the late 5th c. b.c.
In these neoclassical rooms of the Hermitage, as in the larger neoclassical city that surrounds it, the Russians lay claim to the glories of Western civilization through impersonation, desperately trying to write themselves into the history of the West. Yet in these statues, we see the Romans, seemingly the epitome of Western civilization, doing exactly the same thing. By copying the glories of ancient Greece, they, too, are willing themselves heirs to its culture.
That the Romans copied the Greeks hardly means their civilization was a fraud. The Romans went on to make their own contributions, far surpassing the Greeks in such fields as engineering and logistics. That the Romans copied does not mean history is nothing but copying. It does mean, however, that copying is an integral part of history.”