I did not weep; nor did I sing. "Rome," I said to myself. "This is Rome." But the world no longer moved me. Rome had always been a more beautiful and more powerful city than Carmona, and if years ago someone had said to me: "One day you will conquer her; your soldiers will drive out the Pope and hang her cardinals," I would have shouted for joy. Later I revered Rome as the noblest city of Italy, and if someone had said to me: "Spanish and German soldiers will massacre her citizens and sack her churches," I would have shed tears. But that day, Rome meant nothing to me. I saw in her ruins neither a victory nor a defeat, only a meaningless fact. "What difference does it make?" I had spoken those words all too often. But if burned villages, torturings and massacres had no importance, what mattered new houses, bountiful harvests and children's smiles? What hope was left to me? I no longer knew what it was to suffer or rejoice. A dead man. Gravediggers removed the corpses from the streets and squares, the splotches of blood were washed clean, the debris cleared away and woman timidly left their house and fetch water from the fountains. Rome was being reborn, and I... I was dead.
For days, I wandered deathlike through the city. And then, suddenly, one morning as I stood on the banks of the Tiber looking at the massive silhouette of the castle of Sant' Angelo, something beyond that lifeless cence, beyond the emptiness of my heart, began to live again. It lived at once outside of me in the deepest part of me —the smell of dark yew trees, a section of a white wall undera blue sky, my whole past. I closed my eyes and I saw Carmona's gardens. In those gardens there used to walk a man who burned with desire, anger, and joy. I was that man; he was I. Out there, far off on the horizon, I existed with a full heart, a living heart. That very day I took leave of the Prince of Orange and galloped out of Rome onto the open roads.
Caroma had entered into my present. She stood there before me, ordinary and indifferent, and my past remained out of reach.
I rod eup the hill, thinking, He's waiting for me behind the ramparts. I passed through the gate and I recognized the palace, the shops, the taverns, the churches, the funnel-shaped chimneys, the pink streets and the delphiniums growing against the walls. Everything was in its place, but my past was nowhere to be found. For a long while I stood motionless in the main square, I sat down on the steps of the cathedral. I wandered through the cemetery. Nothing happened.
The looms were humming, the coppersmiths were hammering on cauldrons, children were playing on the hilly streets. Nothing had changed; there was no emptiness in Carmona; no one needed me. No one had ever needed me.
I went into the cathedral and looked at the flagstones under which lay Carmona's princes. Under the vaulted arches, the priest had murmured, "May they rest in peace." They were resting in peace. And I, too, was dead, but I was still here, a witness to my absence. Never will there be any rest for me, I thought.
May be worth exploring nihilism more, it isn't often thought of or talked of, only accepted as bad... but who knows? ↩︎
—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 175