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  • The cloister walls of the Basilica of Saint John in Rome are covered in fragments of shattered sarcophagi from Antiquity and early Christendom. Fragment number 349 has a rather sad poignancy: two marble youths—if ever living, now vanished—in a pose of unambiguous tenderness. Who's really to say what story it tells, it's seems to be of an ancient young love. Even though we see two youths it's still hard to say; Romans often depicted their sculpted dead as youthful. But all love is new love, even in this slab of fossilized ardor culled from the millennial shales.

    There are a lot of epic love stories from Antiquity that live forth: Helen and Paris; Aeneas and Dido; Hadrian and Antinous. This is a humbler story, yet it still stretches out to us through the aeons. A fragment of staunched, broken Love. It has probably crossed the path of medieval Dante, whose Francesca da Rimini tells of her paramour, their jealous murder, and the perils of romantic literature:

    "Love...has seized me with such a delight that,
    as you see, it has never abandoned me.
    Love led us both to a single death!
    Hell's torment awaits who snuffed us of our life"
    "this one, who has never left my side,
    kissed my mouth, all atremble!
    A romance and its author led us astray.
    For that day we read no further" *
    Here in the indifferent shadows of the cloister ambulatory of the Cathedral of Rome —a sort of marshaling yard for the grave and pious on the mainline of church history— we have a less celebrated story: it's a mystery without a poet. But it's a sentiment nevertheless that has crossed biblical eons of calamity and oblivion, intact and crystalline. A caress on the cheek for all apparent eternity.

    *apologies to real translators
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