Devices of deceit

Praeneste Terrace
Praeneste Terrace


The Dying Gladiator
The Dying Gladiator


You happen upon the Praeneste Terrace early on in the walk through Rousham. This fine stone edifice gives no hint of what is behind its heavy arches and it is not until much later, when you emerge from the woods and encounter the Dying Gladiator, ‘his drooped head sinking gradually low,’ that you find out. As you approach the balustrade to see the view you have a sense of having been there before. Yet only by studying the map will you be able to confirm that the suffering gladiator sits atop the same terrace that you paused to admire earlier.

Two places have become one

‘I knew the back of my father’s ankles intimately – especially that segment of skin between the top of his socks and the bottom of his trousers. A small forest of leg hair was exposed every time he stretched up the ladder to press mortar into a high part of the garden wall, and I often felt the desire to tuck the stray tufts back into his sock. His shoes were scuffed too, down the back seam, and I sometimes wondered what mythical creature rubbed that precise spot.

“Pass me up that cloth, he said, glancing down at the bucket beside my feet.

“Yes, I replied, too quickly.

The slime impregnating the cloth conjured up images of frogspawn, but I managed to wring it out without changing my expression. This was what I did. Bend down; wring out; pass up.’

The Insistent Garden.

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