Climbing mountains with the classics

One of the things I like about the Historia Augusta is its imperfection and apparent lack of proportion: some crucial episodes (great wars, conquests, rebellions) are summarized in just a few words, wheras the most trivial anecdote in the life of an Emperor is described in full detail.

The first chapter is about Emperor Hadrian, who ruled the Roman Empire at the time of its highest splendour. It is well known that Hadrian was particularly fond of travelling: in the long years of his reign he visited all provinces, leaving behind an important legacy of buildings, commemorative inscriptions and monuments of all kinds, including statues of himself or his beloved Antinous. In the Historia Augusta we read some accounts of his travels. Let's see an example (De Vita Hadriani, XIII):

Post in Siciliam navigavit, in qua Aetnam montem conscendit, ut solis ortum videret arcus specie, ut dicitur, varium.

(Afterwards he sailed to Sicily, and there he climbed Mount Aetna to see the sunrise, which is many-hued, they say, like the rainblow.) Transl.: David Magie.

So here's a Roman Emperor in the act of climbing a mountain for the sake of it, just to enjoy the views.

Later in the text we read the following (De Vita Hadriani, XIV):

Sed in Monte Casio, cum videndi solis ortus gratia nocte ascendisset, imbre orto fulmen decidens hostiam et victimarium sacrificanti adflavit.

(As he was sacrificing on Mount Casius, which he had ascended by night in order to see the sunrise, a storm arose, and a flash of lightning descended and struck both the victim and the attendant.)

There is something undeniably modern in these pursuits. We tend to think that ancient people just didn't care much about hiking or climbing, and that when they actually climbed a mountain it was because they just had to, for practical reasons. However, it seems that Hadrian sometimes did it for pleasure.

More than a thousand years later, the poet Petrarch (1304-1374) wrote, in his Epistolae Familiares, a letter where he described his ascent to Mount Ventoux, in Provence:

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motice was to see what so great an elevation had to offer. (link)

Again, an example of early hiking, an appreciation of the pleasure of reaching the summits of mountains and enjoying the views.

A photo of me on Mount Ventoux some years ago.

However, not every writer or historical figure is so fond of rambling. The Russian writer Ivan Gocharov, in his short story Lihaja Bolest (1838), recently translated into Spanish as El mal del ímpetu, openly criticizes this modern trend of walking in the country, describing all those crazy people who just love spending their time on such a trufle occupation. When he wrote this beautiful story, full of irony, Goncharov had in mind his contemporaries, but his comments may as well had been addressed to Hadrian or Petrarch. Who cares? I personally love hiking, and I'm happy to discover that Hadrian, Petrarch and possibly other historical figures shared my hobby.