I’d been reading a History of Rome, and I’d got to the bit about the infamous Caudine Forks. A Roman army marching through Italy in 321 BC decided to take a short-cut through a narrow pass. When they got to the far end, they found it blocked with earth and stones. So they turned back, and retraced their steps, only to find that the narrow entrance was now also blocked. They were trapped. And after a few days had to surrender to the Samnite enemy who had trapped them.
I’d heard the story before, and I wondered what the Caudine Forks actually looked like. So I decided to go and find it. And after many adventures and quite a lot of detective work, I finally found it. Here’s a snapshot I took of it.
Well, of course I didn’t really go there. I just started hunting for it using Google Maps, and this is a ‘street view’ of it. Or at least I think it is. It was here, just north of the Via Appia outside Arpaia.
But even if I didn’t really go there, it felt like I did, because I ‘walked’ up this steep road, looking right and left, trying to get a good snapshot of it. I almost felt like I stopped at one point, and sat by the road eating salami and drinking Peroni, gazing down and trying to imagine a Roman army struggling up the ravine below.
It’s quite a powerful illusion, that comes of being able to move around and explore a place, and look at things from different angles. You really do feel that you’ve been there. You have the memories.
I had a similar experience ‘visiting’ George Orwell’s grave in Sutton Courtenay last year. It took me a while to find it, ‘driving’ around the little village, which is also where Prime Minister H. H. Asquith lived in 1914, and where he signed the declaration of war which took Britain into the First World War. He’s also buried in the same graveyard as Orwell. As also is Orwell’s friend, newspaper proprietor David Astor. I could point out all three graves. Asquith’s great-granddaughter, actress Helena Bonham-Carter, still lives in the village. I spent so long meandering around the village that I feel I’ve been there, and even stopped off at the pub for a drink. I even think I remember driving there and back one sunny day.
Maybe one day I actually will. Just to see whether it actually looks like what I ‘remember’ it looked like.