The Olive Grove, Inspired at Hadrian’s Villa

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 The Journey That Inspired The Olive Grove

Back in June I spent two weeks traveling in Europe. The trip, hosted by well known positivity guru, Wayne Dyer, was centered on the miraculous and divine. We visited such sites as Assisi, Lourdes, Medjugorje and a slew of what I would classify as extremely religious, Christian sites.

Mid way through the trip I began to resent the decision. Day after day revealed more and more fanatic devotion to a faith I barely belonged to while unveiling little in the way of “miracles.” My husband and I began signing up for the “optional” side trips in every country hoping to get away from the tour group. While some people were cool, most, were celebrity-stricken, fanatical followers of Dr. Dyer. I don’t blame them, I think Dr. Dyer is an infinitely captivating person but, what can I say, I am not a “fan.”

I didn’t need Dr. Dyer to arrive at the meaning of life. I have embraced positivity and self love for a long time. If you don’t love and believe in yourself no one else will. Alas, I digress.

Some of the most “miraculous” experiences of our journey came in places far detached from the throngs of Catholic day trippers and stalls chock-full of Virgin Mary’s. We skipped the miraculous baths at Lourdes and the masses. We found our solace at remote places like the waterfalls of Cirque du Gavarnie or in the magical night-time streets of Dubrovnik. When the tour ended, we flew back to Italy where our real vacation began.

We were pretty much done with crowds and religious monuments and yearned for quiet time alone, enjoying the remainder of our trip at our own pace. Both of us are the types of people that enjoy adventure travel and off-the-beaten-path discovery. I am conversational in Italian and communicating was easy. We rented a car and set our sights on the Castelli Romani, the tiny hillside towns outside of Rome and a slew of hard to find gems.

The first miracle was landing a room in Villa Grazioli. For a mere hundred Euros a night we were comfortably ensconced in a gorgeous 16th Century Palazzo whose galleries and frescoes were straight out of a dream. We simply could not believe our eyes when we set foot in the glorious gallery. Even though the villa was decorated by Panini and owned by a Pope, the artwork inside screamed humanism. Satyrs, Greek gods, nymphs, and all manner of creatures from legend were joyously represented. It sounds terrible to say this but I was starved for this kind of imagery. The glass was definitely full when it came to weeping Madonnas and crucified Christs.

Growing up I was influenced by the fantastic stories my father used to tell me about the Greek gods. A lover of mythology himself, my dad took time every night to point out constellations and weave the wondrous tales of the gods. I was spellbound by the struggles and the hubris of these beings who I believed to inhabit the sky. It was in this climate that I developed a fascination with magic and fantasy that continues to this day.

I am not sure when it happened but somewhere along the way I developed a small obsession with Dionysus’s children–satyrs. I have scoured the web for erotic satyr fiction and have often come up empty. The few stories and novels I have downloaded have been interesting but have invariably left me wanting.

Hadrian’s Villa

I didn’t set out to write The Olive Grove, the story sort of wrote itself. On the third day of our Italian explorations we found ourselves in the dilapidated ruins of Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli. While the ruined villa was beautiful, what captivated my imagination were the olive groves along its periphery. Everywhere we went were these ancient, gnarled olive trees that stretched in all directions. It was nearly ninety degrees on the day we visited and I had sweat pouring down my back. An hour into the visit I was soaked and perhaps the heat played a trick on me.

I could have sworn that I saw them–Satyrs of old darting between trees. I imagined them frolicking, feasting, dancing in some other parallel world kept alive by the ancient magic of the grounds. Certain places have mystical energy that, I believe, transcends time. Hadrian’s Villa with it’s sprawling galleries and baths and 300 acres worth of Roman greed certainly did. It was almost as if the blood and sacrifice of the slaves and workers that toiled on it had seeped into the earth. The feeling was uncanny.

As I touched the rough bark of one of these silent sentinels with olives the size of peas the gears in my mind began churning. What if the lands of Dionysus bordered our world? What if these magical creatures did exist and walked amongst us in human guise? What if they could only emerge and cross the veil between worlds during festival times? How did Christianity impact their existence? What if they were a dying race? All these thoughts and more rose up out of the sweltering heat and the glorious beauty of the countryside.

Like my main character Gia, I wondered in a daze through the pastoral fields dotted with red poppies feeling as if I were being spied upon. The feeling was so real that as soon as I made it back to our hotel I began work on The Olive Grove. I worked on it every night, slowly falling in love with the world beyond the veil.

Through the course of writing the story I went back to my art history roots and began researching Hadrian’s Villa. It was no surprise to find that hundreds of “satyr” statues were recovered from the ruins, most intact. Many of these are housed in the Capitoline Museum and the Vatican Museum in Rome. Below are two of the most interesting historical finds and some of the pictures I used to design the cover for the The Olive Grove.

 The Satyrs of Hadrian’s Villa

Fould Satyr

Pair of SatyrsFould Satyr: 2nd quarter of 2nd century AD. Discovered in Tivoli (Italy), Hadrian’s Villa in 1782. Marble. This statue is that of two satyrs–an older boy and a young child–discovered in Emperor Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli during the excavation carried out on the estate of Count G.B. Centini in 1782. The boy satyr stands with one leg crossed nonchalantly as he leans his head to the right. A faun skin around his shoulders also wraps around his left arm and he holds a large pedum (crook) at his side. The two little horns at the top of his forehead peeking through hair wreathed in bulrush indicate that he is a faun as well as a satyr. At his side leans the figure of a child, sculpted against the tree trunk that supports the duo. The child rests his right hand on the back of the older satyr’s thigh while taking a step to his right. He is holding what was generally assumed to be a small pedum tipped upside down.

The 2005 restoration revealed more re-carving against the supporting trunk and all around the child’s back: indeed, the bunch of grapes does not appear to be original. The grape’s singular shape and traces of planed areas indicate the child was once winged. It has also become clear that he is not holding a pedum upside down but a torch; he could therefore be a cupid instead of a satyr or a funerary spirit whose association with the older satyr has yet to be explained.

Considered in the context of Tivoli, the deceased personage that leaps to mind is Antinous, the lover of Hadrian who died in 130 AD. But since the statue’s funerary aspect remains unconfirmed, its association with the young Bithynian–sometimes represented in Dionysian form–can only be taken as conjecture. Clearer knowledge of the context in which the statue was discovered would allows us to assess the decorative cycle it belonged to, and significance. The Fould satyr does fit comfortably with Dionysian pieces, such as the Capitol’s Satyr in Red Marble and the Museo nazionali Romano’s satyr at rest and Dionysius, all of which were found in the Villa Hadriana build and decorated between 118 and 138AD. Like the latter statue, the Fould satyr is one of those eclectic works derived from 4th Century BC.

Source: Roman art from the Louvre By Cécile Giroire, Daniel Roger, American Federation of Arts, Musée du Louvre

Red Satyr

This is a piece of decorative sculpture, of the class of subjects popular in the time of the Roman Empire. A satyr, of the late Hellenistic type, smiles at the emblem of Dionysos, which he holds in his right hand. In the fawn’s skin which he wears as a garment are other fruits, and the basket at his side is filled with grapes. The goat standing by him typifies the favorite animals of the satyrs, which are also sacred to Dionysos. The material of this statue, rosso antico, shows that it was executed during the Roman Empire, probably in the time of Hadrian–in whose villa it was found–as the adoption of the material for statues is believed to have begun during his reign. (Source: Catalogue of casts, Volume 3 By Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Edward Robinson

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