Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hidden Boundaries

In Calvino's "Invisible Cities" the reader is drawn into a world of cities that goes beyond the imagination. What is unique about the writing is that no matter how descriptive or impossible the ideas may be, the cities we read about could actually exist. They are completely enveloped in reality because what defines Calvino's cities is the people who line in them and the manner in which they interact amongst one another. Is human interaction what defines a city or is it something else? Is it the architecture? The question I ask, is what is most important?

In Baltimore what I find interesting is the boundaries, because whether we like it or not they exist. For example, I could walk for five blocks and be surrounded by "mansions", and then unexpectedly, I could be in a place completely opposite, just by walking into the next city block. My curiosity lies in the relationship between the boundary neighbors. Are they friends? Do they know each other’s name? Have they ever acknowledged one another? What affect do these invisible, but very real lines do to cities? Does it matter?

The citizens in Calvino's cities do not always speak to one another but, they still communicate and in some ways they are connected. Whether by the history of the city or by a dream they are unified. How are we (the citizens of Baltimore) connected? Why does it matter? In "Invisible Cities" all the characters share desires, fear, and memories. The same I am sure can be said of Baltimore because the same can be said of all cities, because all cities are made up and defined by the people living in it, and all people have dreams, desires, fears, and memories.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Risk Worth Taking

I was particularly struck by Calvino's description of the great city of Chloe. "In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping."(Calvino, 51) The people of Chloe seem to be wary of sharing their ephemeral fanatsies for fear of the disruption of the city's chastity and placidness such a vulnerability might cause.

It seems abominable to me to completely avoid contact and shy away from chance on the whim that it may have an undesired result; life, afterall, is about taking risks, and combating the consequences in a quest for good(or in some cases, I suppose and as Augustine notes can be a facr of mankind, evil as well). It seems to me that Augustine and I are in agreement with that fact, "A man's possesion of goodness is in no way lessened by the advent or continued presence of a sharer in it. On the contrary, goodness is a possession which is enjoyed more fully in proportion to the concord that exists between partners united in charity."(Augustine, 640)

Perhaps the people of Chloe feel as if they are being charitable towards one another by silently resigning themselves in an effort to keep the peace, but what is a city if not a desire for community that is acted upon by its very structure? Calvino's novel seems to reiterate the point that cities exist as a collection or community of people bent on the possibility of fulfilling their desires through the aid of the commerce, diversity, and even chance that a city provides its people.

A longing for cities

It seems as though there can be a strong comparison drawn between Calvino's Invisible Cities and Augustine's "City of God". In Invisible Cities, Calvino starts off with the line: "When a man rides a long time through wild regions he feels the desire for a city" (pg 8). When reading Augustine I continuously came back to this line. People in the earthly city long for power whereas the heavenly earth seeks a unity with God over themselves. In both cases the people who live in either world live there because they long for power and will do any means to get it, or simply long for a better life with God, the almighty and therefore work to end up in that world.
Another common thing between the Cities in Calvino's story and Augustine's essay is that both narrators seem to base the cities on a specific one that they have in their minds. For example, Marco Polo is constantly comparing the cities he visits to Venice, always judging them on what he already knows. Also, the more cities he visits the more he seems to develope one perfect city, one that is all of the positives of the cities he has visited. In terms of Augustine, he takes what he knows, he sees the sinful earthly world and even though he has never seen it he develops a city that is heavenly. It is everything that the earthly world is not. There is no war, sin, anger, hatred. It is a land inwhich everyone is equal. Both narrators take what they know, and see that there still can be something better.
One major difference between the two books is that Calvino draws on numerous cities and continuously developing on it, to a point that a reader starts to see that it could be thought of as one big city. But its an opinion that the reader is meant to discover on their own. Augustine lectures and tells the reader what is right and what is wrong. He sees the earthly city as only being evil and that his opinion is the only one that is proper. Therefore, it seems as though he is seeing the world in 2D, not really trying to see the good. Whereas Calvino gives the reader the world as it is, both the good and bad and allows them to come to their own opinion.

Free Will of Man in Cities

I feel as if a major theme of Augustine’s writing of the City of earth and the City of God is the responsibility and free will of man. “So it is that each man, because he derives his origin from a condemned stock, is at first necessarily evil and fleshy, because he comes from Adam; but if, being reborn, he advances in Christ, he will afterwards be good and spiritual. (Augustine 635). In other words, although born with sin in the City of earth, if men have the volition to seek justice and truth, they can in turn, live eternal life in the City of God.

It is the responsibility and free will that I mentioned above which determines a life of salvation or of eternal suffering. Augustine states, “[N]ot every bad man will become good (635). The responsibility for a “bad man” to become “good” lies heavily on the desire of the bad man to transform his thoughts and actions to those which are not evil. The sooner the man transforms for the better toward the philosophy of the City of God, the sooner he will be protected. After complete transformation from the City of earth to the city of God, his “former name” of evil will be hidden by his name in salvation.

I agree with many in saying that the two mirroring cities in Augustine’s City of God can be interpreted as not only physical places, but as two distinct groups of men in pursuit of the same ideals. The group of men in the City of earth share similar beliefs invested in the physical world, while the men in the City of God seek and live by the morals of faith. I believe that it is possible for men to travel from city to city with the free will they were blessed with by God.

Hope and the city

There seem to be many instances of comparison between the cities that Italo Calvino describes in Invisible Cities, and the two cities that Augustine describes in "The City of God". There is the obvious connection between the two based on the question of what makes up a city. Both agree that the people within the city have a major part in this. Both also go to great lengths to describe their cities well, using beautiful descriptions and powerful text to help the reader understand the city that the author is describing. However, in reading these two pieces, there seems to be a very core difference between the two. And that is the idea of hope.

In Augustine's essay, he seems to be very clear that there are two cities and one is almost always seeking to please itself, and the other city is almost always seeking to please God. Although Augustine concedes at points that there are some men within the pilgrim city and there are some pilgrims within the city of men, he is very harsh in his convictions that "one consists of those who live according to man and the other of those who live according to God." (p. 634). There is very little hope of redemption for the men in the city of men, for they will always be fighting with each other. The men of the city of God, however, are always striving to become better people and therefore will obviously be granted eternal rewards. Augustine declares that there is a clear, obvious and unchanging good which will be rewarded by God.

Calvino, on the other hand, does not take this approach. He only describes each city in detail, saying exactly what is there and how it works. He goes to several cities that is similar to the two cities in "The City of God", such as Beersheba, and although explains the feelings of the city's inhabitants towards the other side of the city ("They also believe, these inhabitants that another Beersheba exists underground, the receptacle of everything base and unworthy..." (p. 111)), he himself does not explicitly make a judgment on this. Calvino only seeks to find those within each city who are not part of the "inferno". This could be most comparable to Augustine's description of the inhabitants of the City of God. He states, "Seek to learn who and what in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give the space."(p. 163). This passage gives hope to all citizens of all cities, stating that evil may exist but it is possible to overcome it. It is a much hopeful and, in my opinion, realistic message. For there is good and evil in every city, and the true goal is to find the good in each individual person and grow from that, becoming not a member of a city, but an individual person of God.

Higher Purposes in Cities

The Augustine reading begins with a comparison between the earthly and heavenly cities, saying the earthly city "seeks glory from men" and "the other finds its highest glory in God" (632). The first example that sprung to mind on reading this was the marked difference between Leonia and Andria. Leonia most reminds me of a location striving only for earthly goods, since its focus from day to day is on waste and lack of consideration for other entities around it. The "opulence" and "respectful silence" (Calvino 114) that surrounds such an abhorrent waste of completely useful items is quite a departure from the goodness that Augustine calls the reader to share with all humans he encounters (640).
In the case of Andria, the desire to be in synch with the sky could be a direct reference to the benefit of a religious influence in a city. Indeed, the motivations of Andrians are completely selfless, as Calvino writes, "the city's life flows calmly like the motion of the celestial bodies and it acquires the inevitability of phenomena not subject to human caprice" (150). This reference to the sacredness of the celestial bodies could be a direct reference to heaven. The Heavenly City also seems to forgo human wisdom in favor of a higher wisdom. Although Augustine refers to that wisdom being God, the similarity, in believing in a higher good than human beings are able to manufacture on their own, is striking.
Although Augustine does ameliorate his criticism of earthly cities later in the text, when he allows that earthly cities may actually be pursuing heavenly justice at times (639), it is clear Augustine feels this to be a rarer occurrence. For Augustine says, "But the earthly city will not be everlasting; for when it is condemned to that punishment which is its end, it will no longer be a city" (638). This prediction of ruin echoes with the destruction or downfall of many of Calvino's cities. Perhaps Andria is Calvino's model for living with a higher purpose and avoiding such ruin. Andria's consideration of the skies above as well as their consideration "for the city and for all worlds" (151) are signs of operating with a higher purpose.

Rising Up

One thing that Calvino never really covered in depth in his text was the rivalry between cities. Cities are far more than the descriptions of its people and of its appearance. Cities have pride. They have contempt for other cities. These strong feelings people have for their own cities aren't ever really mentioned in the novel. Think of a Red Sox vs. Yankees games. There are dozens of fights every time one goes on and they erupt for no other reason than because they live in different locations. It is inevitable and necessary that a city's inhabitants take pride in their community but oftentimes it gets out of hand.
Augustine does deal with this matter however. He says that the earthly city is divided and that some parts "seek to be victorious over other nations, even though it is itself held captive by vices; and if, when it triumphs, it is lifted up in its pride, such triumph brings only death" (638-639). In other words, when that proud feeling of community is taken to the next level -aggressiveness towards other cities- it will inevitably lead to its destruction. There have been hundreds of empires throughout history, and none of them last. Any empire that lusts for more land, more people, more power and any empire that is willing to trample on anyone to do it will inevitably fall victim to its own vices.
This is an important item of information when studying a city. How can one truly know New York if they don't know a little about how hated the Yankees are in other cities? How can one truly know any city Calvino describes without first understanding the communal pride and possibly collective distaste its inhabitants has for other cities?
I agree with Augustine. These aggressive nations or empires or cities "will not be able to rule forever over those whom, in its triumph, it was able to subdue." I'm sure that when everybody read that part, they might have thought of our own country and its own history of stepping on a few feet just to get ahead. I think Augustine give us fair warning today that what we have achieved as a nation today might not be ours forever.

The title is the hardest part

To modify Laryssa’s well thought out and established point, I argue that the earthly city which Augustine describes is no city at all. In fact, he calls his two cities “two societies of men” (634) and, by acknowledging his mutation of our central term, is creating a spin whereby a city has no borders except to separate it from the City of God. What this means to me, in the context of Calvino’s describing only one city in Invisible Cities (as some have suggested) is that the reason there is only one city to describe is not that all cities are alike, it is that all cities crafted by men are in reality only one city.

Taking this further, one must call into question the principle of identifying himself with a particular city. For instance, I cannot be a Clevelander if all earthly cities exist as one. Augustine, it seems, would surely favor this, for eliminating any element of one’s own image separate from God means that he will soon be left only with God to define himself. Thus brings him closer to the City of God.

Therefore, are not all good men merely pilgrims to earthly cities? And if that be the case, then what interest is it of theirs to protect and preserve such licentious havens, the patrons of which have already been sentenced to an eternity with the devil.

This interpretation seems altogether too depressing, and as such I’m convinced that I’ve butchered Augustine, which would not be the first time.

Cities of Men

I find it very interesting the uses of city that we have come across in our first two readings. In Calvino's text cities are places, locations, dwellings, what we would initially think of a city to be. But, in Augustine's text a city is not a location or a place, it is a group, or "society" of men. I find it interesting how flexible the word city is that it can be used to explain something as simple as a place but also as complex as a group of people.

In Augustine's text he refers to two cities: The Heavenly City and The Earthly City. I agree with a lot of what the others have posted, but I think Augustine meant to look at the "cities" not as places but as groups of people. The Heavenly city is a group of men/people living their life in accordance to God and striving to find their place in Heaven after death. The Earthly City is a group of men that live their life according to their own needs and desires, not in accordance with what God wants, either uncaring of their position after death or ignorant of the idea of Heaven.

Most of the discussion the other day on the second half of Calvino's text was about what makes a city a city, or what is the essence of the city. Many of the conclusions were that a city is what the people who live in it make it do be. A city is built on the experiences and lives of the people living in it. I think this creates an interesting parallel with the Augustine piece. Even though Augustine clearly states that his cities are groups of people and Calvino describes his cities as actual tangible places, both are speaking of the same thing, just in different terms. If what we deduced in class is correct, that cities are what the people who live in them make, then Augustine and Calvino are both talking about cities as groups of men/people. I think it's really neat how an entirely different definition of city has emerged from these two readings and I'm sure many more will appear throughout the course of the year. I'm personally excited to take these new ideas and apply them to what I see an experience during my time in the city.

City of God and Invisible Cities

St. Augustine presents two very different cities, the earthly city and the heavenly city, in his work, The City of God Against the Pagans. The earthly city is distinguishable from the heavenly city by their differing origins and ends. The earthly city is created by the "love of self extending even to contempt of God" (Augustine 632) and glories only in itself; the heavenly city is created by the "love of God extending to contempt of self" (632) and glories in the Lord. The earthly city is characterized by men who lust for power and mastery over others. These men seek wisdom, which makes them vain and unable to truly know God and give him thanks and praise (632). Men destined for the heavenly city, who live as pilgrims on earth while journeying toward their heavenly destination, "serve one another in charity" and obediently and piously worship God (632). These men do not merely seek the fellowship of other men, as do men in the earthly city (and most of the people in Calvino's cities), but aim for the higher purpose of establishing a rapport with the angels (632) and ultimately with God. Just as Calvino discusses the ends of many of cities in his book, Invisible Cities, St. Augustine also discusses the ends of his two cities. Whereas the earthly city is destined for "eternal punishment with the devil," the heavenly city is "predestined to reign in eternity with God" (634).


There are numerous similarities between St. Augustine's cities and those of Calvino. In both Invisible Cities and City of God, the cities depend on the birth and death of people for existence. In Calvino's city of Laudomia, the city only continues so long as there are people to be born. When the last person is born, Laudomia will disappear (Calvino 142-143). Similarly, the history of St. Augustine's heavenly and earthly cities "extends throughout the whole of this time or age in which the dying pass away and the newly-born taken their place" (634). The earthly city would cease to exist without people to inhabit it, with the pilgrims moving on to the heavenly city. The works of St. Augustine and Calvino are also similar because both advocate allowing cities to grow. Although St. Augustine notes the corruption of the earthly city, he explains that not all goods of this world are undesirable because they are still "gifts of God" (639). Earthly goods become problematic only when men seek these goods at the expense of higher goods, which would eventually provide passage to the heavenly city. It is desirable to allow the earthly city to grow, but its growth must be guided in the direction of the heavenly city through the pursuit of heavenly goods. Similarly, Calvino writes, "There are two ways to escape suffering for it [the inferno of the city]...[A]ccept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it...[or] seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space" (165). St. Augustine and Calvino advocate encouraging earthly cities to grow in the direction of the good by rejecting the inferno, which Augustine charges will enable man to eventually gain passage to the heavenly city.


The cities of Calvino and St. Augustine have a strong connection with Baltimore (and all cities). The people of many modern cities act out of self-interest, which St. Augustine claims is the origin of the earthly city (632). Similarly, the men of Laudomia visit the city of the unborn merely out of self-interest; they wish to know if their descendants will contribute to their "illustrious reputation" (Calvino 142) or erase the shame associated with their name. Men in most cities, including Baltimore, act out of self-interest and become fixated on obtaining earthly goods at the expense of heavenly goods. It is important that Baltimoreans, and the citizens of all cities, strive for the greater good, thereby, according to Augustine, forming a rapport with God.


The Good and the WIcked

Augustine's City of God examines the concept of "the city," in two respects: the earthly city and the Heavenly city. As he explains, the two cities are allegories of the two types of human beings: those wo live according to man, and those who live in accordance with God. We can continue to break those terms down and say that the two types of people that ere in the world may be classified as ether wicked or good. "...though not every bad man will become good, it is nonetheless true that no one will be good wo was not origionally bad." What does this mean? ALthough God is omnipotent, he has given us human beings a power so wonderful, that I am sure at times we still amaze him. We have the power of free will. What we make of ourselves is completely in our hands.
The city of Jerusalem, for example, is a city which exemplifies this. Its existance is that of futility, as it is an earthly city that is meant to represent a Heavenly city, which to us humans is a mystery. "We fine, therefore, that the earthly city has two aspects. Under the one, it displays its own presence; under the other, it serves to point towards the Heavenly city." So, can the earthly city ever create its own identity if it constatntly serves to point to the Heavenly city? Perhaps. The earthly city is finite withle the Heavenly city is everlasting. In an earthly city, many battles are waged: the wicked against the wicked; the wicked against the good; the good against the wicked, however the good never battle the good. Only in a Heavenly city can peace exist.
Augustine's image of human beings as pilgrims is truly something to think about. "It is in this way that the citizens of the City of God are healed while they are pilgrims on this earth, as they sigh for pease if their heavenly country." Are the citizens od the City of God ever citizens of the earth, or anre they transitory beings, nomads, while on the earth? We can assume that all of the pilgrims who have devoted themselves to what is good, and to God, will then become citizens of the Heavenly city, while those wo have not will be doomed forever.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Augustine and Calvino

I agree with Lucy in that there are a great deal of similarities in Augustine and Calvino. Immediately I noticed that in City of God, much like in Invisible Cities, the cities discussed dealt primarily with the ends, the purpose, of the city. Augustine divided the two groups, what he calls the two cities, according to their destination: Heaven or Hell. Calvino repeated refers to cities based on what they do. He discusses the ways in which the city functions in the every day and in many cases ponders the eventual demise of the city based on how it lives. Leonia is a perfect example in that Calvino describes the way in which the people throw out their lives each day and goes on to tell us that eventually they will be buried in their own past. Similarly, Augustine tries to show how those who live in the City of God and focus their lives on pure things and will triumph. People from the earthly city may find their way to the City of God, but if they remain they will perish. These outcomes are largely based on the choices the city's people make in daily life.

Further, both authors think of the cities they recount in terms of its population. For Calvino, this is done by refering to the character and the culture of the cities. He tells his tales by temporarily becoming a member of the community and uses his experience among the people to bring the city to life for Khan. Polo uses the unique qualities and habits of the people of the cities to make them stand out, to make them memorable. Unlike Augustine, he also uses architecture and physical features to create an image, but the lasting pictures the reader takes away are of the woman walking a puma and the people communicating without words. Since Augustine's cities are defined purely by the people of which is it made, he must create a strong and distinct culture to differentiate his two cities. In this case they represent those who are 'evil' and focus their lives on the material world and those who have transcended such base things. Augustine's cities are not physical places but frames of mind.

Considering that both authors use the people to frame the city (and in Augustine's case, creates a 'city' out of people), what does that say about the nature of cities? Is one still a member of a city once one leaves it if one maintains the lifestyle unique to that city? In many cases, it would be easy to tell a New Yorker, even if they happen to be in L.A. If half of the people of New York would move to L.A and vice versa, those two cities may become unrecognizable although they remain in same physical space with the same name. These two very different authors writing in vastly differing societal contexts come to similar conclusions as to what the important elements of a city are. It would suggest that a city may not be determined by a separate space but by the customs of those who inhabit it and the direction they are steering the city in the future.

The City of God is No City at All

In City of God, Augustine writes: “But the earthly city will not be everlasting; for when it is condemned to that punishment which is its end, it will no longer be a city. But it has its good in this world, and it rejoices to partake of it with such joy as things of this kind can confer.” (638). According to Augustine, the earthly city is, like us, mortal, and it experiences only a brief and violent existence in this ephemeral world. Humans only reach the Heavenly City, the earthly city’s immortal counter-part, through the rightful worship of God. Perhaps this is why we, as human beings, believers or not, are so initially drawn to earthly cities; they exist in the same way we do, in the same time frame, satisfying our desire to live in the present and immerse ourselves in life’s joys and miseries within close proximity of all who share the human condition.

People build earthly cities to survive; together, human beings can make a living for themselves. I am not trying to champion fratricide, but when Romulus murdered Remus, a city was born. In this city, human beings helped one another make a life that would have otherwise been difficult if each individual had chosen a solitary existence. The City of God seems to be no city at all, no gathering of people. If an individual chooses to live in the City of God, he or she is living apart from human beings, following a unique path, isolated from temptation and sin.

Augustine compares the two orders of men to the two cities: “…one of which is predestined to reign in eternity with God, and the other of which will undergo eternal punishment with the devil.” (634). I am interested in Augustine’s language but confused by his metaphor. Because he uses the word “predestined” to describe one of the orders, Augustine does not convince me that this metaphor works. When I think of cities, I think of traveling and freedom, the arrivals and departures. To be predestined to reign in eternity with God should more closely resemble being born into a prison from which one can’t escape. To be born in one place and know freedom to move from city to city is much more appealing.

Reflections on The City of God

In Augustine's City of God against the Pagans, he proclaims forthright that there are two cities, the city of God and the city of man. In the City of God, the inhabitants share a deep love for the Creator and thus he is the purpose for all of their actions. Love for oneself is characteristic of the city of man, and thus this city's existance revolves around itself, while the other's existance is brought about by something altogether higher and more meaningful. In the city of man, every action has the individual in mind and thus most ambitions are selfish in nature, whereas selflessness and purity embody the actions of anyone living in City of God. Augustine's descriptions of these cities is very broad and can be applied to more than just a city. Immediately it occured to me that he is essentially describing an ideal and virtuous community versus our existing community. Quite simply, it is a comparison of good versus evil and helps us understand where our city stands and what we, as members of a city, should strive for.

Augustine uses the stories of Cain and Abel from the bible and Romulus and Remus of Rome to convey his message about conflicts involving the cities he initially describes. He says that Cain created the city of earth, but that Abel was part of the Kingdom of God. It is interesting that Augustine states that it is possible for one to be a "pilgrim" (635) from the City of God here on earth. He is implying that it is a very good thing for one to be excluded from any deep connection with any city of earth, for we will achieve everlasting life and comfort when we pledge allegiance to the City of God. In my opinion, Augustine uses these stories to demonstrate the difference between the City of God and the city of man, so that we may understand his philosophy a bit better. He explains that the conflict between the cities of heaven and earth can be seen through Cain and Abel, whereas the conflict between earthly cities themselves can be seen through the story of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Therefore, the root of all conflict begins with the idea of the earthly city. Selfish desires and conflicts over power in the earthly city of Rome brought about the murder of Remus by his brother. Likewise, a citizen of the city of earth grew outraged at an innocent member of the City of God, which is plot for the story of Cain and Abel. Augustine seems to be saying that no good can come out of the city of man, because it's purposes involve no love for God alone. The actions of those living by the standards of the earthly city result in murder in both of the stories he uses, therefore showing the reader that earthly cities are full of destruction and end, while the virtuous city, where God is the purpose for all, is eternal.

Augustine's use of the story and his description of two drastically different cities helps answer some of the questions about the meaning of the city itself. He boldly supports a city where God is the primary focus, and suggests that no earthly city can equal this. Therefore, what he creates for us is the ideal city. He suggests that the purpose for the ideal city should be love for God and that everything must be done according to his will. Selfishness and desire for earthly goods are qualities of a city without appropriate meaning and purpose. Augustine's extensive theological research helped him form an ideal city. The violence and evil he experienced on earth probably gave gave him a frame of reference for his ideal city as well. I think that it would be incredibly difficult to even imagine the city of God here on earth, much less live according to its ideals. It derives its existance based on values and morals rather than a physical description, which makes it hard for a human to fully understand. In Calvino's novel, we were able to understand exactly what a city looked like. However, Augustine's description of the city of God in terms of higher ideals and pure qualities is what every city on earth should strive for. When I walk the streets of Baltimore, or any city for that matter, I am often ignored and seen as a mere unimportant bystander, as are most others. Everyone is busy with their daily activities and often forgets the importance of selflessness and, quite simply, human interaction in its simplest forms. Pushing and shoving, people make sure that their daily agenda is fulfilled, and often this agenda has no room for the needs or wants of anyone except themselves. It is possible for us to strive to be pilgrims from the city of God here on earth, even if we can never attain that. If everyone attempted to live according to the guidelines for the City of God as established by Augustine, I believe that each city would find less isolation, greed, envy, violence, and prejudice, among other problems. As a result, maybe destruction would be postponed or avoided in our cities- something that Marco Polo in Invisible Cities would most likely say is impossible.

A new perspective on Calvino's beautiful cities and insight into the U.S.A

As I read Calvino's descriptions of cities in his work I couldn't help but form pictures in my head of these beautiful places. Even the city of Leonia, which told of a city hidden by trash, conveyed such beauty through Calvino's description. After I read the excerpt from Augustine's The City of God which described the difference between the earthly cities and the heavenly cities I couldn't help but think back to Calvino's gorgeous descriptions of the earthly cities. I thought, if these earthly cities are already so beautiful, how can the heavenly cities that Augustine talks of possibly appear?

Augustine's description of the city of Jerusalem was particularly striking for me. He identifies the fact that earthy cities were not created simply for the sake of being there but rather to prepare those on Earth for making the journey to the heavenly city. He states,"One part of the earthly city, by symbolizing something other than itself, has been made into an image of the Heavenly City; and so it is in bindage, because it was established not for its own sake, but in order to serve as a symbol of another city." This was my favorite sentence of the entire passage, not just because of its poignant structure but rather because this idea is amazing. All the beauty that Calvino describes in his cities is only a mere reflection of the beauty in the Heavenly City. So as Calvino points out that all cities have similarities and differences, Augustine furthers his point so as to describe a city that encompasses all the similarities and differences of those which Calvino describes.

Later, on page 638 I read "Of strife and peace in the earthly city" which described how although the earthly city is viewed as one it can be divided against itself. It was interesting how this later passage was exemplified by the Roman brothers Remus and Romulus, Remus who was slain by Romulus, yet could be so easily applied to our daily life. The United States immediately came to mind when I read how the city ," seeks to be victorious over other nations even though it is itself captive by vices." Our nation seeks to fight wars that are not ours to fight yet when disaster strikes our own nation (hurricane Katrina), our government is the last to help. Later in that section Augustine discusses that ,"triumph itself brings death." When earthly cities win a war or gain X amount of power, they are left craving more. Earthly cities have and will always be power hungry and in a constant state of war. Both Rome and the United States have held extreme amounts of power but ultimately these could have been any other cities which relates back to Calvino's theme of anonymity between the cities. A description of one city could be a description of one thousand others, it just depends on the reader's personal experience.

The description that Augustine gives of earthly cities is one of beauty such as the one Calvino gave us but in addition displays how those beautiful, earthly cities have flaws which do not occur in the Heavenly City. I wonder how Calvino would tackle the task of how he believes Heavenly Cities would appear in contrast to earthly cities due to his already high opinion of those earthly cities. I believe that the view each person living on earth has of the Heavenly City is somewhat different. Some people may not actually hold a view due to their lack of religious beliefs but others may believe that the Heavenly City is the reason that they were put into the earthly city. The view of the Heavenly City is completely dependent on your personal preference.

Augustine and Calvino similarities

Lucy Butler


Although Augustine of Hippo’s City of God and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities were written during different eras, their similarities are numerous. Calvino’s secular work echoes some of the key themes of Augustine’s religious urging for people to reform their ways of living in order to ensure their place in Heaven with God. A few of the major parallels are the presentation of the two faces of a city, the need to work toward a better future, and the impending destruction of a city.

Most people, upon visiting a city, only notice the version of the city that is meant for tourists: the monuments, the shopping districts, the best restaurants. They do not realize that there is another side to the city, such as the poorer areas, the close-knit neighborhoods, or the community center. Both Augustine and Calvino recognize that there are two faces to every city, and both seek to explain them. For Augustine, there is the Earthly City and the Heavenly City, the Earthly City being the one of the selfish and the secular and the Heavenly City being the one of the pious and the reverent. Augustine defines the Earthly City as that which is characterized by “love of self extending even to contempt of God” (Augustine 632), the focus on “the goods of the body or of [the] mind” (Augustine 632), and which consists of those who live according to man” (Augustine 634). The Heavenly City, on the other hand, is characterized by “love of God extending to contempt of self” (Augustine 632), is populated by those who recognize “man has no wisdom beyond the piety which rightly worships the true God, and which looks for its reward in the fellowship not only of holy men, but of angels also, ‘that God may be all in all’” (Augustine 632-633), and consists “of those who live according to God” (Augustine 634). Augustine believes that there are two polar opposite, mirror images of the city – the inhabitants must choose which one to which they would like to belong. Calvino, too, recognizes that there are two faces to a city when he describes the city of Beersheba in which there is this same dichotomy between a heavenly city and a hellish city: “This belief is handed down in Beersheba: that, suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba, where the city’s most elevated virtues and sentiments are poised…[and] another Beersheba exists underground, the receptacle of everything base and unworthy that happens to them” (Calvino 111). The celestial city holds everything toward which the citizens strive, while the lower city holds everything from which the inhabitants flee. Each city possesses a mirror image of itself – one above and one below. Augustine’s portrayal of a model city and an undesirable city is echoed in Calvino’s depiction of the mirror images of Beersheba. Both authors acknowledge that there are two versions of a city and that one representation is more attractive than the other based on the moral foundation.


As already briefly mentioned, Augustine’s and Calvino’s cities attempt to reform their ways in order to attain a brighter future . Augustine describes Jerusalem saying,

There was, indeed, a kind of shadow and prophetic image of this City of the Saints: an image which served not to represent it on earth, but to point towards that due time when it was to be revealed. This image, Jerusalem, was also called the Holy City, not as being the exact likeness of the truth which is yet to come, but by reason of its pointing towards that other City…One part of the earthly city, by symbolizing something other than itself, has been made into an image of the Heavenly City; and so it is in bondage, because it was established not for its own sake, but in order to serve as a symbol of another City. (Augustine 636-637)

Jerusalem is the city that represents the Heavenly City, and is thus the perfect site to inspire reforms that the citizens wish to make in order to become inhabitants of the celestial city. Jerusalem’s providing man with a physical symbol of the celestial city gives him an incentive to live according to God’s laws in order to achieve the advanced version of the city. Calvino also describes cities that use their current metropolis as a foundation for a better future. Marozia is said to be a city “of the rat…[and] of the swallow” (Calvino 154), implying that the current city is corrupt while the future city is honorable. Calvino remarks,

…[T]oday Marozia is a city where all run through leaden passages like packs of rats who tear from one another’s teeth the leftovers which fall from the teeth of the more voracious ones; but a new century is about to begin in which all the inhabitants of Marozia will fly like swallows in the summer sky, calling one another as in a fame, showing off, their wings still, as they swoop, clearing the air of mosquitos and gnats. (Calvino 154).

Marozia is a community that is destined to liberate itself from the immoral and dirty city of the present in order to embrace the free and bright city of the future. Like Jerusalem, Marozia is using its current city as a springboard for the hopes of the new environment that will be created. It lies in the citizens to reform their ways in order to reach the purity of the future. If all goes well for both cities, men will reach “the peace of the heavenly country” (Augustine 642), and Marozia’s cities will “both change with time, but their relationship [will] not change; the second is the one about to free itself from the first” (Calvino 155).


Although these cities will strive to reform themselves in order to reach the celestial versions, there is always the possibility of impending destruction if the cities refuse to improve. There is no guarantee that the earthly cities will be able to survive. Augustine notes, “But the earthly city will not be everlasting; for when it is condemned to that punishment which is its end, it will no longer be a city” (Augustine 638). If the citizens of the earthly city fail to recognize that they need God’s peace in their lives and that they need to disregard their pride and jealousy, then they are doomed to destroy themselves because they have nothing to save them from their amoral habits:

But if the higher goods are neglected, which belong to the City on high, where victory will be secure in the enjoyment of eternal and supreme peace: if these are neglected, and those other goods desired so much that they are thought to be the only goods, or loved more than the goods which are believed to be higher, then misery will of necessity follow, and present misery be increased by it. (Augustine 639)

If the men on earth live according to worldly manners, then their world will crumble before them because they do not have the Heavenly City as a refuge. Calvino also comments on the possibility of ruin. In describing Laudomia, Calvino comments on the fact that the future is uncertain and that if the inhabitants of the present do not care for the city and its development, then everything will be lost and the population will end in destruction. The citizens need to take every measure they can in order to ensure that the future generations will develop and prosper instead of pass away:

Or else you might think that Laudomia, too, will disappear, no telling when, and all its citizens with it; in other words the generations will follow one another until they reach a certain number and will then go no further…[E]ach passage between birth and death is a grain of sand that passes the neck, and there will be a last inhabitant of Laudomia born, a last grain to fall, which is now at the top of the pile, waiting. (Calvino 143)

The people need to think positively and look toward something more than just the current time – they need to prepare for the future. Augustine and Calvino both recognize that the cities need to work toward something more than the present circumstances in order achieve their full potential in the future.


Augustine’s and Calvino’s similarities lie in their hopes for the two versions of the cities that they propose. As the authors analyze the earthly and the celestial views of the cities, they demonstrate that the metropolises need to work toward a brighter future by living according to a moral standard in order to avoid destruction. It is by reaching toward something pure that the cities will be able to survive.