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Exceptional Rome DENNIS BERTHOLD Texas A&M University [I] brave even the imputation of making a mere Rome of words, talking of a Rome of my own which was no Rome of reality. That comes up as exactly the point—that no Rome of reality was concerned in our experience, that the whole thing was a rare state of the imagination. Henry James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends (2:209) A s a longtime member of the Melville Society, I am honored to participate as a keynote speaker at this astonishingly well-attended conference . I want to thank the organizing committee of John Bryant, Giorgio Mariani, and Gordon Poole for selecting me, and I want to offer a special thanks to our tireless treasurer, Tony McGowan, whose meticulous stewardship and unlimited patience have made the conference economically feasible. Giorgio has been especially tireless in communicating with me by email, and I thank him for staying in touch over the preceding months; but I also have to confess to some concern that arose when he sent what seemed to me a rather urgent request about my title. I had given him the title “Exceptional Rome” some time ago, hoping to stimulate curiosity with a pithy phrase sure to print itself indelibly on the memory. Rome, the Eternal City, the capital of what Melville called the “New Italy,” the linchpin of western civilization, the home of classic architecture, civic virtue, and, most recently, Bunga Bunga. Surely the resonance of “Rome” was enough to make my title memorable. Unfortunately, Giorgio somehow forgot it. So much for the poetics of paper titles. But his question created anxiety that I had been too brief, even somewhat cryptic. So bear with me while I share with you the sights and places I was thinking about when I called this address “Exceptional Rome.” One such place is a small town in the heartland of the United States: Rome, Illinois. A village of about 2000 people, Rome sits on the Illinois River a few miles north of Peoria, and has changed little in the last century, illustrating the timelessness we associate with all things Roman. Another Rome is dear to my heart because it’s not far from where I earned my doctorate at c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 67 D E N N I S B E R T H O L D the University of Wisconsin, an exceptional period in every academic’s life. Wisconsin was settled largely by German exiles from the revolutions of 1848, and they brought with them a Teutonic sense of humor by naming the local dog park “Room to Roam.” These two Romes are probably new even to the Americans in the audience, but most of them will have heard of Rome, Georgia, an historic town founded in 1835 and home to several colleges. This Rome, like its namesake, has provided the location for many movies, most famously Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Remember the Titans (2000), and Dance of the Dead (2008), an independent zombie comedy. Located at the southwestern tip of the Appalachian mountain chain, Rome, Georgia earned its name honestly, for it is located on seven hills, one of the many similarities to its namesake that motivated Benito Mussolini to donate a reproduction of the Capitoline wolf suckling Romulus and Remus in 1919, where it sits on a block of white Georgia marble in front of Rome’s city hall “as a forecast of prosperity and glory.” Not all American Romes are quite as exceptional as these. Some are rather lonely, isolated places, little more than roadsigns, like the tiny communities in Ohio, Mississippi, and Oregon that one can drive through in seconds. A few are not on any maps at all, like Queequeg’s Kokovoko. Obviously, I cannot describe those places, true places though they may be. Rome, Oregon, perhaps the farthest west of any Rome in the world, took its name from a nearby natural wonder, the “Pillars of Rome...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 67-80
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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