HIS TOTEMS REVIEWED

Michael Aliprandini

On a short journey to Sicily, Notnitz visits the ruins of Segesta. The ancient Greeks knew how to situate their temples and theaters, he thinks: views of hills, views of sinuous ravines, sweeping sea views. The goats chomp the low brush while the bells around their necks toll lonely.

As he climbs the path from the temple to the theater, Notnitz scans the dark red soil. Most of the scattered pottery is unremarkable terracotta shards, smooth and unadorned, no sooner picked up than discarded. One exception is the small round foot of a slender cup or vase. The greasy soil comes off on his fingers.

One of those 18th century archaeologists or collectors who excelled at draftsmanship could have sketched the foot in precise detail. Notnitz can’t.

He knows he shouldn’t have taken it.

It sits on his writing desk with a few grotty coins and tesserae of Numidian yellow marble that a friend had spirited away from the ancient Roman world, from Carthage to be precise. Whenever his mind withdraws from a complicated page, his attention falls on these objects. He contemplates hiding them in a drawer, out of view, this collection of can’t and shouldn’t have.

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