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Memories Dreams Reflections

Ravenna and Rome

Even on the occasion of my first visit to Ravenna in 1913, the tomb of Galla Placidia seemed to me significant and unusually fascinating.

The second time, twenty years later, I had the same feeling.

Once more I fell into a strange mood in the tomb of Galla Placidia; once more I was deeply stirred.

I was there with an acquaintance, and we went directly from the tomb into the Baptistery of the Orthodox.

Here, what struck me first was the mild blue light that filled the room; yet I did not wonder about this at all.

I did not try to account for its source, and so the wonder of this light without any visible source did not trouble me.

I was somewhat amazed because, in place of the windows I remembered having seen on my first visit, there were now four great mosaic frescoes of incredible beauty which, it seemed, I had entirely forgotten.

I was vexed to find my memory so unreliable.

The mosaic on the south side represented the baptism in the Jordan; the second picture, on the north, was of the passage of the Children of Israel through the Red Sea; the third, on the east, soon faded from my memory.

It might have shown Naaman being cleansed of leprosy in the Jordan; there was a picture on this tiieme in the old Merian Bible in my library, which was much like the mosaic.

The fourth mosaic, on the west side of the baptistery, was the most impressive of all.

We looked at this one last.

It represented Christ holding out his hand to Peter, who was sinking beneath the waves.

We stopped in front of this mosaic for at least twenty minutes and discussed the original ritual of baptism, especially the curious archaic conception of it as an initiation connected with real peril of death.

Such initiations were often connected with the peril of death and so served to express the archetypal idea of death and rebirth.

Baptism had originally been a real submersion which at least suggested the danger of drowning.

I retained the most distinct memory of the mosaic of Peter sinking, and to this day can see every detail before my eyes: the blue of the sea, individual chips of the mosaic, the inscribed scrolls proceeding from the mouths of Peter and Christ, which I attempted to decipher.

After we left the baptistery, I went promptly to Alinari to buy photographs of the mosaics, but could not find any.

Time was pressing this was only a short visit and so I postponed the purchase until later.

I thought I might order the pictures from Zurich.

When I was back home, I asked an acquaintance who was going to Ravenna to obtain the pictures for me.

He could not locate them, for he discovered that the mosaics I had described did not  exist.

Meanwhile, I had already spoken at a seminar about the original conception of baptism, and on this occasion had also mentioned the mosaics that I had seen in the Baptistery of the Orthodox.

The memory of those pictures is still vivid to me.

The lady who had been there with me long refused to believe that what she had “seen with her own eyes” had not existed.

As we know, it is very difficult to determine whether, and to what extent, two persons simultaneously see the same thing.

In this case, however, I was able to ascertain that at least the main features of what we both saw had been the same.

This experience in Ravenna is among the most curious events in my life. It can scarcely be explained.

A certain light may possibly be cast on it by an incident in the story of Empress Galla Placidia (d. 450).

During a stormy crossing from Byzantium to Ravenna in the worst of winter, she made a vow that if she came through safely, she would build a church and have the perils of the sea represented in it.

She kept this vow by building the basilica of San Giovanni in Ravenna and having it adorned with mosaics.

In the early Middle Ages, San Giovanni, together with its mosaics, was destroyed by fire; but in the Ambrosiana in Milan is still to be found a sketch representing Galla Placidia in a boat.

I had, from the first visit, been personally affected by the figure of Galla Placidia, and had often wondered how it must have been for this highly cultivated, fastidious woman to live at the side of a barbarian prince.

Her tomb seemed to me a final legacy through which I might reach her personality.

Her fate and her whole being were vivid presences to me; with her intense nature, she was a suitable embodiment for my anima.

The anima of a man has a strongly historical character.

As a personification of the unconscious she goes back into prehistory, and embodies the contents of the past.

She provides the individual with those elements that he ought to know about his prehistory.

To the individual, the anima is all life that has been in the past and is still alive in him.

In comparison to her I have always felt myself to be a barbarian who really has no history like a creature just sprung out of nothingness, with neither a past nor a future.

In the course of my confrontation with the anima I had actually had a brush with those perils which I saw represented in the mosaics.

I had come close to drowning.

The same thing happened to me as to Peter, who cried for help and was rescued by Jesus.

What had been the fate of Pharaoh’s army could have been mine.

Like Peter and like Naaman, I came away unscathed, and the integration of the unconscious contents made an essential contribution to the completion of my personality.

What happens within oneself when one integrates previously unconscious contents with the consciousness is something which can scarcely be described in words.

It can only be experienced.

It is a subjective affair quite beyond discussion; we have a particular feeling about ourselves, about the way we are, and that is a fact which it is neither possible nor meaningful to doubt.

Similarly, we convey a particular feeling to others, and that too is a fact that cannot be doubted.

So far as we know, there is no higher authority which could eliminate the probable discrepancies between all these impressions and opinions.

Whether a change has taken place as the result of integration, and what the nature of that change is, remains a matter of subjective conviction.

To be sure, it is not a fact which can be scientifically verified and therefore finds no place in an official view of the world.

Yet it nevertheless remains a fact which is in practice uncommonly important and fraught with consequences.

Realistic psychotherapists, at any rate, and psychologists interested in therapy, can scarcely afford to overlook facts of this sort.

Since my experience in the baptistery in Ravenna, I know with certainty that something interior can seem to be exterior, and that something exterior can appear to be interior.

The actual walls of the baptistery, though they must have been seen by my physical eyes, were covered over by a vision of some altogether different sight which was as completely real as the unchanged baptismal font.

Which was real at that moment?

My case is by no means the only one of its kind.

But when that sort of thing happens to oneself, one cannot help taking it more seriously than something heard or read about.

In general, with anecdotes of that kind, one is quick to think of all sorts of explanations which dispose of the mystery.

I have come to the conclusion that before we settle upon any theories in regard to the unconscious, we require many, many more experiences of it.

I have traveled a great deal in my life, and I should very much have liked to go to Rome, but I felt that I was not really up to the impression the city would have made upon me.

Pompeii alone was more than enough; the impressions very nearly exceeded my powers of receptivity.

I was able to visit Pompeii only after I had acquired, through my studies of 1910 to 1912, some insight into the psychology of classical antiquity.

In 1912 I was on a ship sailing from Genoa to Naples.

As the vessel neared the latitude of Rome, I stood at the railing.

Out there lay Rome, the still smoking and fiery hearth from which ancient cultures had spread, enclosed in tie tangled rootwork of the Christian and Occidental Middle Ages.

There classical antiquity still lived in all its splendor and ruthlessness.

I always wonder about people who go to Rome as they might go, for example, to Paris or to London.

Certainly Rome as well as these other cities can be enjoyed esthetically; but if you are affected to the depths of your being at every step by the spirit

that broods there, if a remnant of a wall here and a column there gaze upon you with a face instantly recognized, then it becomes another matter entirely, -Even in Pompeii unforeseen vistas opened, unexpected things became conscious, and questions were posed which were beyond my powers to handle.

In my old age in 1949 I wished to repair this omission, but was stricken with a faint while I was buying tickets.

After that, the plans for a trip to Rome were once and for all laid aside.  ~Aniela Jaffe, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Pages 284-288