Interesting little video chat over at the British Museum Channel (didn’t know they had one!):
Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum
via Pass the Garum
The Telegraph is doing a good job hyping this exhibition … that famous Pan and goat statue is there, and there’s even a photo in the Telegraph if you need a memory refresh:
An erotic statue has caused the British Museum to install a “parental guidance” warning in their new exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The sculpture is of the mythical half-goat, half-man Pan having sex with a nanny goat. The Times reports that the museum is determined to display the object in plain sight, rather than hidden behind a curtain or in a “museum secretum” – a restricted area for those aged over 14 in the Naples Museum.
Paul Roberts, senior curator, said the statue may be unconventional today, but would not have raised eyebrows in Roman Pompeii: “The Romans would see the god goat having sex with a goat, so it wouldn’t have troubled them at all.
Roberts says high-brow Roman owners would have been amused by the statue: “It’s because the owners are cultured that they have the sculpture of Pan and the goat. They also have a sense of humour, because to a Roman that would have been humorous, not offensive.”
He added that phallic symbols were commonplace in Roman homes. Images of the well-endowed fertility god Priapus, sometimes weighing his appendage against a quantity of gold, were often found at the entrance to houses as a symbol of success and good luck.
- via: Erotic Pompeii goat statue arrives in the British Museum (Telegraph)
… which is interesting for other reasons as well: it was less than a year ago that the Telegraph was reporting on a brouhaha over some Leda and the Swan depictions: Classical Tradition Gone Wrong II: Bestial Leda? … I guess now we can open the debate on whether to include Satyrs among humans or animals.
A few years ago, we were alerted to the installation at the Naples museum of a panel depicting a “Dionysiac Scene” and I note that this panel gets some coverage in the Guardian in regards to the Pompeii and Herculaneum show at the British Museum … some excerpts:
Shimmering as if still lit by the Mediterranean sun, two spectacular Roman marble panels have been reunited at the British Museum for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
Both come from a seaside mansion in Herculaneum, the town overwhelmed by a torrent of boiling mud from Vesuvius, when the wind changed direction 12 hours after Pompeii had already choked to death. They will be seen in the most eagerly awaited archaeological exhibition in decades, on life and death in the Roman towns when it opens at the museum later this month.
The remains of the owner of the palatial villa may still lie on the ancient shoreline, now half a mile inland. In AD79 the sea was the beautiful view that his sumptuously decorated room looked out on, with its fourth wall open to the sea.
“The last person to see these pieces together like this was the master of the house, in AD79 – it’s an awesome and slightly eerie thought,” said Paul Roberts, curator of the exhibition.
Treasures are being unpacked in Bloomsbury every day. Last week an entire garden arrived, with fountains, statues, singing birds in flowering bushes, all painted on huge panels of plaster. The giant packing crates fitted through the museum doors with inches to spare. It was one of the most beautiful room interiors found in Pompeii, surely the setting for a happy life – except the exhibition will also display the pathetic casts of the bodies of its last owners, man, woman, tiny children, found huddled together under the stairs.
The first of the marble reliefs, an ecstatic and tipsy celebration of the god Bacchus, was found at Herculaneum in a controversial excavation 30 years ago. The excavation was launched to find more of the House of the Papyri, an extraordinary complex the size of a small village, most of which is still buried under the modern town. When it was discovered in the 18th century almost 2,000 papyrus scrolls, a princely library, were recovered along with wonderful sculptures some of which are coming to the exhibition.
Roberts suspects there must have been a third panel, on a wall that was swept into the bay below in the eruption that ended the life of the town and ensured its place in history. “Like so much of the town and its people, the third panel must have been crushed to atoms – we’re so astonishingly lucky in what has been left to us to bear witness to what has been lost.”
… so like I said, we mentioned this four years ago (New From Herculaneum – A Depiction of the Oschophoria?) and I suggested it was more specific than just ‘Dionysiac’, but actually was a depiction of the Oschophoria, based on the cross-dressing males in the scene. That suggestion doesn’t seem to have gone down well, but it did make it into the letters column of Archaeology magazine at the time (much edited, with my grumblings about bloggers not being taken seriously edited out). So … what I’d really like to know, if someone happens to go to this exhibition that we all want to, is whether they have bought into the Oschophoria identification yet …
Italy Magazine tells us of a contest:
The Italian government and the town of Pompeii have launched an international competition in an effort to develop the town’s tourism attractions.
Called ‘99 Ideas Call for Pompeii’, the competition is being promoted by the Minister for Territorial Cohesion Fabrizio Barca, the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Affairs Lorenzo Ornaghi and the Municipality of Pompeii. Its goal is to develop Pompeii by building on its two major attractions: the archaeological site and Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary that has become a point of pilgrimage. Competition entrants are requested to submit proposals on realising the potential of the two attractions and their possible synergies with other local assets with the aim of rendering the town more attractive, welcoming and visible, and increasing the competitiveness of the local tourism and heritage industry.
Proposals can cover various themes including how to extend visitors’ stay by identifying additional attractions, promoting initiatives concerning attractions; developing local traditions such as handicrafts, improving the level of quality of service and infrastructure for visitors, developing the adjacent areas and providing services to the two major attractions, and promoting initiatives to secure the participation of citizens in the governance process and planning of projects. [...]
This one’s snaking through the various British papers … the Guardian seems to have the most details:
Italian police have arrested a former restorer of Pompeii on corruption charges and are investigating five others, including the former commissioner appointed to deal with the increasing degradation of the historic site.
Italy declared a state of emergency in 2008 at Pompeii after archaeologists and art historians complained about the poor upkeep of the crumbling site, pointing to mismanagement and lack of investment. A special commissioner, Marcello Fiori, was also appointed for the Unesco world heritage site, an ancient Roman city which was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
But investigators say Fiori and the director of restoration at the time, Luigi D’Amora, awarded irregular contracts to the restoration services company Caccavo and paid inflated prices for its work. Collapsed walls and columns since 2008 have renewed concerns about the condition of the site.
Prosecutors say the officials broke the terms of the state of emergency, overspent on various restoration projects and agreed to non-essential work on Pompeii, one of Italy’s most popular attractions, visited by 2.5 million tourists each year. They have accused Fiori of abuse of office while D’Amora is being investigated for fraud.
Police have put Annamaria Caccavo under house arrest and are investigating her for aiding abuse of office, corrupting a public official and fraud.
The company has been banned from doing business with public administration and police have ordered the seizure of €810,788 worth of its assets. Three engineers are also being investigated for fraud and corruption.
The accused parties were not immediately available for comment.
… sadly, whenever we read about funding for Pompeii, I’ve always had this incident from five or six years ago lurking in the back of my head: Pompeii Vandalism
I think this is the one they’ve been arguing about for four or five years … from ANSA:
The long-awaited restoration of the Pompeii archaeological site will begin on February 6, the authorities said Wednesday.
An agreement on how to proceed at the UNESCO World Heritage site has been finalized and more details will be coming, said Fabrizio Barca, minister for territorial cohesion.
The so-called the Grande Progetto Pompei or Great Pompeii Project is to secure and improve access to the ruins of Pompeii.
It has financial backing from the European Commission, as well as the Italian government.
That includes about 105 million euros for restoration and conservation works at the world-famous site which has come to symbolize the failings of the Italian state after some of the area’s most famous buildings collapsed in November 2010.
More recently, a piece of a modern wall structure bordering the ancient site of Pompeii collapsed following heavy rains, which shifted some of the ground underneath the wall section.
The site has been falling into decay for some time and after recent collapses in the past two years, there has been growing concern about Italy’s ability to protect it.
Last spring, Italian Premier Mario Monti pledged that the project will “secure the site’s damaged areas and … ensure that this is done using capable, honest businesses, not organized crime”.
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned a review in the LRB by Mary Beard on a couple of tomes (Banter about Dildoes) and that article included, inter alia:
Take the shops and bars you see lining the streets in all the best-preserved Roman towns. Walk down the main streets in Pompeii or Herculaneum and (as modern tourist guides always insist) you can feel comfortably at home in what seems recognisably close to a modern cityscape: bars and cafés (tabernae, popinae or cauponae) with their counters facing the pavement to catch passing trade, and shops (also called tabernae) with wide openings to display products and entice customers inside. There are even traces of the big shutters that made these openings secure at night, and the little snicket doors that would let the proprietor into his establishment if he didn’t want to take his shutters fully down. So far, so good. But Holleran makes it clear that, if you want to go much further, and repopulate these places, or even simply work out what they sold and to whom, things get much trickier.
The bars are a well-known conundrum. It always used to be thought that the big jars set into their counters held wine and cheap hot food, soups and stews – ladled out to a poor and hungry clientèle by an accommodating landlord or landlady. But the jars are not glazed, and could not be removed for cleaning. It doesn’t take long to see that they would be completely inappropriate for liquids, hot or cold – not to mention a deadly health risk. Amedeo Maiuri, who directed the excavations over several decades of the 20th century (adeptly navigating both the fascist and post-fascist periods), claimed that at Herculaneum he had discovered all kinds of pulse and grain in them. But this turns out from the detailed excavation reports to have been largely wishful thinking (the beans and grains were actually found in amphorae on the upper floors). As Holleran notes, the only food that we know for sure was found in a counter jar at Herculaneum is walnuts. That suggests rather sparser fare for the average Roman takeaway customer (though presumably the beans and grains upstairs were cooked up into something).
- via: Banter about Dildoes (LRB)
Following assorted twitter retweets this a.m. (I’m honestly not sure how I got there), we note a letter to the editor of the LRB by one Richard Carter commenting on the above:
Mary Beard describes the conundrum of the big storage jars set into the shop counters of Pompeii and Herculaneum: they were unglazed, which would surely make them unsuitable for the storage of food or drink (LRB, 3 January). In some hot countries, such as Spain and India, porous pots are still used to cool water. In a process similar to human sweating, water stored in the pots slowly seeps to the surface and evaporates, thereby cooling the pot and the water that remains inside. In a more modern, African take on this old idea, glazed food-storage pots are placed in wet sand inside larger porous pots to make solar-powered ‘pot-in-pot refrigerators’. Perhaps Mary Beard’s enigmatic jars were the Roman equivalent of wine chillers.
- via: Ancient Refrigerators (LRB – scroll down)
… this is a very interesting suggestion, and perhaps we need to take it a bit further and possibly suggest the water in these things was the stuff they watered down the wine with (I’m not sure if that’s what Mr Carter is suggesting directly or not, but if so, full marks)? I think we often forget the ‘watering down’ thing when we think of ancient drinking … Then again, why would they need so many of them in one establishment (e.g. 3-5) ? Did they get that much business so quickly?
Another one from the AIA/APA thing and Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience … this one looks at A. Kate Trusler’s studies of evidence of second floor ‘bathrooms’ in Pompeii … the incipit:
The residents of the ancient city of Pompeii weren’t limited to street-level plumbing, a new study finds. In fact, many in the city may have headed upstairs when nature called.
Most second floors in the Roman city are gone, claimed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79. But vertical pipes leading to lost second stories strongly suggest that there were once toilets up there, according to a new analysis by A. Kate Trusler, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Missouri.
“We have 23 toilets that are connected, that are second-story preserved, that are connected to these downpipes,” Trusler told LiveScience on Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle, where she presented her research.
Traces of toilets
Trusler became interested in Pompeii’s latrines six years ago while doing fieldwork in the city. Previous researchers and works on Pompeii often stated that there was a toilet in almost every house. But Trusler found that statement confusing. Walking around the city, she said, it was clear that some spots were chock full of homes with private latrines, while other areas seemed to be toilet deserts.
“And,” Trusler added, “there are all of these downpipes that are part of that picture that no one is really considering.”
So Trusler decided to conduct a plumbing survey of sorts, mapping latrine and downpipe locations around the city. One residential district, known to archaeologists as Region 6, does indeed have toilets on the ground story of almost every home, she said. But other blocks have few toilets. In total, 43 percent of homes in the city had latrines on the ground floor, Trusler found. [...]
- via: Ancient Pompeians Could Go Upstairs to Pee (LiveScience)
… LiveScience also has a nice slideshow of Pompeiian toilets, for all you pottyphiles: Image Gallery: Pompeii’s Toilets
I finally got a chance to check out Pedar Foss’ latest blog-related project … here’s an intro from his very self:
This begins a series of posts that will translate and comment upon Pliny the Younger’s two letters (6.16 and 6.20) about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79–the disaster that buried Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other sites. These posts are part of a book project that intends to understand the scholarly and popular reception of those letters. I am also teaching these letters in LAT 223 at DePauw this Fall term, so this is a good time to do it.
I will provide the Latin (using Mynors’ 1963 Oxford Classical Text [OCT]), and then work through it with a translation, dissection of grammatical constructions, and discussion of what the letters tell us. I will doubtless make mistakes as I proceed, and will be grateful for comments and corrections; the essence of scholarship is rectification through better evidence, arguments, or questions.
… the posts are being gathered under the Pliny category at [quem dixere chaos] … definitely worth a look
Oddly … this doesn’t seem to be getting much press attention. From the English edition of Gazzetta del Sud:
A stone wall collapsed at the Pompeii archaeological site on Friday, probably due to the wave of bad weather that is currently battering Italy. The wall was in an area of the site that had been sealed off from the public for work to make it safe. The collapse involved roughly two cubic meters of the wall, which was part of the Regio VI archeological area uncovered in the 19th century. Frescoes were not reported to be damaged. After recent collapses in the past two years, there has been growing concern about Italy’s ability to protect the 2,000-year-old site from further degradation and the impact of the local mafia, the Camorra. In April this year a wall surrounding an ancient Pompeii villa collapsed just two weeks after the Italian government launched a joint 105-million-euro project with the European Union to save the UNESCO World Heritage site. In February a yard-long piece of plaster fell off the ancient Temple of Jupiter. In late December a pillar collapsed in the garden of the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, famous for its extensive gardens and outdoor ornamentation, in particular its Euripi, fountains that feature many frescoes and statuettes. In November 2010 there was a collapse in the House of the Gladiators which drew criticism from UNESCO and the European Union. It was followed soon after by a collapse at the famed House of the Moralist, spurring further criticism from international conservation groups. In October 2010 there were another three minor cave-ins, including one at the House of Diomedes, after a fresh bout of heavy rain and an outcry when an eight-square-metre section of a wall fell near the Nola Gate. Pompeii was destroyed when a volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius buried the city in ash in 79 AD and it now attracts more than two million visitors a year. Polemics about looting, stray dogs, structural decay and poor maintenance have dogged Pompeii in recent years.
- via: Wall collapses at Pompeii amid wave of bad weather (Gaezzetta del Sud)
I can’t find any photos of the collapse, for some reason. Whatever the case, what’s even more interesting is that just a scant couple of weeks ago, UPI was reporting:
Deterioration at the ancient city of Pompeii has been exaggerated by the media and efforts to protect the site are making progress, Italian officials say.
Recent collapses of structures have resulted in growing concern about Italy’s ability to protect the 2,000-year-old site from further degradation, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.
“Problems exist at Pompeii but they have been exaggerated by negative journalists,” Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, Special Archaeological Superintendent for Naples and Pompeii, told ANSA. [...]
- via: Official: Pompeii problems ‘exaggerated’ (UPI)
Not sure if this will work, but here’s a ‘search link’ to all the instances of the word ‘collapse’ at rogueclassicism … I’ll let you decide whether we’re ‘exaggerating’ (and I have difficulties wrapping my head around the ideas of a ‘wall collapsing’ and the concept of ‘exaggeration’ … sorry).
T’other day we had a couple of postings mentioning the final hours of Pompeii, both of which used the dreaded “lava” word in their various descriptions (which commenter Walter Muzzy pointed out: Blogosphere ~ Top 5 Representations of Pompeii (from Pop Classics) and Reconstructing the classics: from Pompeii to Athens. (Mary Beard)). It apparently also got the ‘ire’ of Dana Hunter over at Scientific American going enough to write Mary Beard:
[...] So how could Cambridge Professor Mary Beard, who had actually written books about Pompeii, get that important geological detail so very wrong? I figured I’d better ask. We had a brief conversation on Twitter, which brought to light the fact that she uses the word “lava” as a way of saying she’s not a volcanologist, and her book isn’t about the eruption but about life in Pompeii (not just the last few minutes of it). Fair enough. I asked her if she could at least use ash instead, to spare the feelings of geologists everywhere, and we ended up deciding that the Italian word “fango,” which means “mud,” must be popularized. It wasn’t mud that destroyed Pompeii, but the pyroclastic flow deposits did get reworked into lahars by water after deposition, so I’ll take it.** I’m glad Professor Beard wrote this article, and I’m even glad she made geologists the world over grind their teeth, because it’s a thought-provoking look at how we react to the people of Pompeii. It also points out that the city we see today is a lot more put together than Vesuvius left it. And her intentional use of the word “lava” makes us look harder at what really happened to Pompeii. I think a lot of us see the restored ruins and think of ash raining down, almost gently. Sure, it suffocated people and buried them, but it also lovingly preserved the buildings. Look! Even crockery is intact!
- via: How Pompeii Perished
… the article goes on to give a very nice discussion of the various phases of destruction at Pompeii.
Yesterday my mailbox metaphorically ‘dinged’ and what was in it was an item from a couple of years ago which was in one of the 2008 issues of Biblical Archaeology Review. It claims that a wall painting in the House of the Physician at Pompeii depicts Solomon, Socrates, and Aristotle sitting in judgement, yadda yadda, yadda … you can read it here for yourself:
- Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle (Bible History Daily/Biblical Archaeology Review)
… and, of course, it is being touted (again) as the earliest depiction of a scene from the Bible. When one looks at the thing up close, however, it is a pretty sketchy claim and Dorothy King more-than-adequately shot this one down a year or so ago:
- The Wisdom to Know it’s not Solomon … (Dorothy King)
That recent papyrus thing (Another Papyrus ~ Implications for the Ancient Novel?) might also somehow be an influence here …
The Telegraph has a handy little list of ‘Pompeii sightings’ in assorted pop culture venues:
Pompeii in popular culture (Telegraph)
… typo in the headline is somewhat cold, perhaps …
A couple of weeks ago we mentioned that Pliny the Elder happened to be tweeting the final hours of Pompeii — actually a very interesting project of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. In case you missed them, you can check them out at the project’s very nice page … each tweet has a link to a photo or quote or something and is definitely worth checking out:
Brief reports filtering in of a beam falling from the ceiling in one of the rooms at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. No reports of actual damage, apparently, other than then beam itself falling. Here’s a few examples (all in Italian, and all with a photo):
- Pompei, cede trave in Villa Misteri (ANSA)
- A Pompei crolla la trave di legno a Villa dei Misteri (La Stampa)
- Scavi di Pompei, crolla trave di legno nel Peristilio della Villa dei Misteri (Adnkronos)
If you’re on twitter, you’ll want to follow
@Elder_Pliny beginning at 8 a.m. MST to get a minute by minute account, brought to you by the Denver Museum of Nature …
We’ll start with a video from the BBC and with a focus on what the people died from:
… and then remind folks of a Scientific American blog on the subject (which includes another one of our fave videos):
… and now that you’re interested (as if you weren’t), we’ll remind folks of the Ancient World Open Bibliography on the subject:
… and in case you didn’t see it in the Scientific American thing up there:
Interesting item — there’s possibly hubris or a bit of Greek or Latin poetry lurking in here — from the UK version of Wired:
The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, has approved the first stages of a plan to drill into the Campi Flegrei caldera, a so-called “supervolcano” in the south of Italy.
The region, which is also known as the Phlegraean Fields, is a 13-kilometre-wide caldera lying mostly underwater, which includes 24 different craters and other volcanic edifices, close to the nearby Mount Vesuvius (pictured). Among them is the Solfatara crater, which the Romans believed to be the home of Vulcan, the god of fire. The region formed over thousands of years of collapse of several volcanoes in the area, and seismologists believe that any eruption would have significant repercussions for the local area and the global climate.
In 2008, to try and find out more about the risks posed by the geology of the area, a team of experts proposed drilling a four-kilometre-deep hole into the caldera, but the plans were vetoed by the mayor at the time, Rosa Russo Iervolino, after others expressed concerns over the risks of the project.
Benedetto De Vivo, a geochemist at the University of Naples, told Science in 2010 that the project carried risks of seismic activity or even explosions. “Nobody can say how bad this explosion would be, but it could put at risk some of the surrounding population,” he said.
However, Ulrich Harms of the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam countered that “there is no risk to the public,” so long as the drilling is done in a controlled way. He pointed out that there have been no explosions at the various multikilometre-depth wells drilled around the world to generate geothermal energy. He argued that the project is necessary to find out more: “It’s not clear if there is a volcanic risk, but it cannot be excluded, and this is why it is better to get more of an idea.”
Naples’ new mayor, de Magistris, has given the green light to the drilling of a pilot hole 500 metres deep, which will be filled with sensors and used to monitor the rising and falling of the surface above the caldera due to movements of the magma within. It’s possible that the readings could be used to inform future strategies for generating geothermal energy in the region, too.
Drilling should start, according to project co-ordinator Giuseppe De Natale, “within a few months”.
- via: Italy approves plans to drill into supervolcano (Wired.UK)
I think the jury’s still out on how this one will turn out … they’ve been talking about this sort of thing for a few years now . Stay tuned …
Not sure whether this will make it out of the Italian press … the La Repubblica coverage briefly mentions the collapse of an interior wall of a house without one of those fancy schmancy names in Regio V … the area wasn’t open to the public:
Ancora un crollo all’interno degli Scavi di Pompei. L’ennesimo cedimento nel sito archeologico più grande del mondo è avvenuto ieri pomeriggio. Ha riguardato una parte non estesa di un muro di cinta all’interno di una domus senza nome della Regio V. L’area era stata già interdetta al pubblico.
La Soprintendenza Archeologica Speciale di Napoli e Pompei ha confermato il cedimento del muro – di età romana, intonacato. L’area in cui il muro è crollato sarà oggetto di bandi per il restauro. «Stiamo lavorando per la messa in sicurezza anche in questa zona», dice la soprintendente archeologa di Napoli e Pompei, Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, che ha redatto un’informativa sul cedimento. Una relazione è stata inviata anche ai carabinieri.
Nei giorni scorsi il Napoletano è stato flagellato da piogge abbondanti che sono probabilmente tra le concause del cedimento.
via: Pompei, ancora un crollo all’interno degli Scavi (La Repubblica)
- Scavi: Pompei; dopo crollo muro area transennata (ANSA)
- Home iPhone Nuovo crollo a Pompei, viene giu’ il muro di una domusl (AGI … photo, but I don’t think it’s this one)
- L’agonia infinita di Pompei crollano altre pitture/ (Il Mattino … photos of assorted wall collapses)
The July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a very interesting article by Herschel Shanks about Jewish oracles relating to the destruction of Pompeii. A useful summary can be found in the Jerusalem Post, post alia:
[...] Shanks recently told The Jerusalem Post that the idea to examine a connection between the two events came to him on a tour of the ruins of the Roman city located in the vicinity of modern-day Naples.
“On my own visit to Pompeii, I tried to find out when the destruction of the Temple occurred,” Shanks relates. “When I learnt of the supposed date, I thought, ‘Hey I wonder if anyone has connected the two.’” Shanks, described by the The New York Times as “probably the world’s most influential amateur Biblical archaeologist,” said he called Harvard’s Shaye Cohen, who directed him to Book 4 of the Sibylline Oracles, a text composed by “mostly Jewish oracles” shortly after the eruption.
The book first mentions the destruction of the Temple, and then seemingly refers to the Vesuvius eruption: “When a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth [Vesuvius] In the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven It will burn many cities and destroy men.
Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky And showers will fall from heaven like red earth.
Know then the wrath of the heavenly God.”
The second piece of evidence cited by Shanks is ancient graffiti etched onto a fresco at a Pompeii building. The grafitti reads “Sodom and Gomorra.”
In Shanks’s opinion, the text is proof that a Jewish visitor to the ruins believed its fate followed that of the two sin cities that the Bible says were destroyed by God.
In any case, if the destruction of Pompeii was an act of divine retribution, then some Jews were also caught up in his vengeance. It is almost certain there were some Jewish individuals, perhaps a fullyfledged Jewish community in Pompeii, that perished along with the city’s gentiles.
Shanks said a fresco of King Solomon, the most ancient depiction of a biblical scene, is located not far from where the Sodom and Gomorra graffiti was found.
Also, relates Shanks, a vase with what some believe is an ancient kashrut stamp has been found in the famous ruins.
For Jews elsewhere, it is easy to imagine how news of the catastrophe at Pompeii would have been greeted with joy in light of the devastating defeat they had suffered only a few years earlier.
“It attacked the core of Roman society and, as if to emphasize the point, it extended all the way to Rome,” Shanks said. “You had the scary white and dark soot as far as Rome. There’s very good reason to conclude there was a perceived connection and in the eyes of some, God was clearly at work.”
It’s rather nice that the full article is also this particular issue’s freebie:
While I like the idea of the oracle as a retrojective prophecy, the thing I can’t buy into are the comments on the Sodom and Gomorrah graffito. The JPost summary gives the impression that people visited the site of Pompeii shortly after Vesuvius was done with its wrath. I didn’t think he really meant that but in the online version of the article:
One such person came back to a house in an area of Pompeii designated today as Region 9, Insula 1, House 26. After having walked through the desolation of the city, he (unlikely to be a “she”) looked about and saw nothing but destruction where once there had been buildings and beautifully frescoed walls. Disconsolate and aghast, he picked up a piece of charcoal and scratched on the wall in large black Latin letters:
... the citation for this is:
See Carlo Giordano and Isidoro Kahn, The Jews in Pompeii Heculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix 3rd ed., Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, trans. (Rome: Bardi Editore, 2003), pp. 75–76.
… which I don’t have at hand. Will someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always been under the impression that the site was covered with between four and six metres of ash and pumice. There was nothing to ‘visit’ and scratch graffiti on AFTER the eruption …
UPDATE (August 24): In addition to Mark Davidson’s comments below, see also Jim Davila’s coverage of this item over at PaleoJudaica, which includes a link to an article (also in BAR) from a few years ago by Theodore Feder about a fresco possibly depicting Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle. The excerpt from Feder (included at Paleojudaica, but not in the abstract at BAR) is much more realistic on this one …
Tip o’ the pileus to the fine folks over at Blogging Pompeii for bringing our attention to an article in the Discovery Channel Magazine highlighting the work of Dr Andy Fairbairn and crew who have been poking around the potties of Pompeii to learn more about what the folks were eating etc. … very interesting article (pdf).
That cryptic title is a vague reference to a song by Midnight Oil which is currently stuck in my head … whatever the case, we fairly regularly get an annual article that this or that particular monument is being neglected by authorities (e.g., most recently, e.g., a chunk falling off the Colosseum), but in the past week or so, if we believe journalists, the whole ancient world’s remains are in danger. First, e.g., we can read of the sad state of affairs in Athens, inter alia:
This week, as angry Greeks marched in mass resistance to economic austerity, the graffiti re-emerged with renewed vigour and vengeance.
On the hill of the Muses, west of the Acropolis, the Philopappos monument is now ringed by a rosary of plaintiffs and expletives. The eyesores descend all the way to the thyme-covered hill of the Nymphs where ”artworks” appear even around the rock on which the assembly of ancient Athens convened.
Taking my evening stroll, I bumped into a Melbourne man who couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.. ”Don’t the Greeks take any pride in their ancient heritage?” he blurted. ”Where I come from they’d call it disgraceful – and you know what, they’d be removed.”
Graffiti isn’t the only problem blighting Greece’s ancient masonry. Demands on the archaeological service are such that many sites now stand unkempt; shrouded by weeds. The Ottoman seminary beneath my home has been so overtaken by eucalyptus trees that roots threaten the foundations of the rare Roman walls bordering the site. Repeated attempts to alert authorities fall on deaf ears – with foreigners who raise such things being brushed off as a rare breed of eccentric.
The problem, like so many other afflictions that have brought the country to the point of near economic and social collapse, is simply ignored. Government functionaries declare that with the debt-stricken nation trying to make ends meet, the state can ill afford such luxuries. Greece’s cultural showpieces have long witnessed its ancient splendours and contemporary sadness – never more so than now in Byron’s ”land of lost gods and godlike men”.
Then there’s the state of affairs in Rome (inter alia, again):
Especially when some of the best of it is falling down. Exhibit A: the Domus Aurea, the Golden Villa that Nero built near the Colosseum, where a vaulted gallery fell this spring. Nobody was hurt, fortunately. That’s because the place has been closed since 2008, plagued by structural problems and humidity, which threatens the frescoes. To much fanfare, the city opened part of the site for tourists in 1999. Then heavy rain collapsed a section of roof, the site was closed, reopened a while later, then closed again.
A commission assigned to address the problem spent millions but didn’t forestall the latest mishap. Construction workers were fussing with earthmovers, bits and pieces of ancient columns, broken pots and scaffolding one recent morning. Fedora Filippi, a veteran archaeologist lately put in charge, pointed out where the roof gave way in what is actually an adjacent gallery built under Trajan, after Nero. Rain seeped from a park above, she said. Everybody has known about the leaking for ages. But the park is city-owned, and the Domus Aurea is national property, so the problem is no one’s to solve.
“Everyone is paralyzed,” Ms. Filippi said. “We have problems specific to this site and, yes, we have Italian problems, too.”
After the Domus Aurea gave way, some chunks fell off the Colosseum. Salvo Barrano, vice president of Italy’s Association of National Archaeologists, afterward listed threats to the aqueducts, the Palatine. The country is basically one giant archaeological site, Mr. Barrano said, with every town and region vying for resources, no politician willing to make hard choices, and too few qualified engineers and archaeologists in charge.
“The problem for the last 12 or 13 years is that the country has stopped investing in culture,” he said. “In cases like the Domus Aurea, there just isn’t a quick enough political payoff for politicians to invest more resources.”
Finally, we read (again inter alia) of the impact of tourism on Pompeii:
Of course the de-construction of Pompeii has been going on ever since it was first uncovered. Pompeii’s marble was stripped for use in new construction, the frescoes were hacked off and carted away to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. The removal of the treasures made sense as a way of preserving them and allowing scholars to study them. Engravings published in 1781 show statuary and other treasures being hauled through the streets of Naples by teams of oxen to the museum which is still home to most of them. Due to cuts imposed by the Ministry of Culture, though, many of the galleries are today closed in rotation.
But what has happened to the site since the end of the Second World War is something quite different. Indifference, lack of resources, lack of good leadership and the numbing Italian state bureaucracy have conspired to accelerate the decline of Pompeii to the point that today it is questionable whether or not it can be salvaged.
The problem is us. We pour through Pompeii and its lesser-known sister site, Herculaneum, in such numbers, millions of us every year, that our impact is comparable to the impact we have on our own homes and streets and towns. The daily population of these sites, the activity on their streets, is not significantly less than it must have been 2,000 years ago.
The difference is that in our own homes we leap into action if the roof starts leaking. Our streets are cleaned, our sewers and roads maintained on a regular basis. But since 1945 Pompeii has been treated as if it has no need of attentions of this sort, simply because nobody actually lives there. Galloping decay is the inevitable result.
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the British archaeologist who has been leading a project to rescue Herculaneum for the past decade, says, “There is an assumption that by digging stuff up you have redeemed it, you’ve saved it. Except you haven’t. The laws of physics say it’s stable underground. Whatever trauma happened to it at the moment of the eruption, it reaches a stable state. And of course that’s why it comes out in such great condition.
“But the moment you excavate, you start the clock again – the clock that says, you built the house for yourself today, the maintenance bills start tomorrow. It comes back to life, which means it’s mortal again, so it starts dying.”
Pompeii’s years of glory culminated in the long career of Amedeo Maiuri, superintendent throughout the Fascist years. He turned both sites into great popular attractions, restoring many houses and shops to the sort of decorative state they were in at the point when they were inundated, and exhibiting the items found within them in showcases. He was helped by the fact that Mussolini saw in the sites a great source of patriotic propaganda, advertising the age and splendour of Italian civilisation.
But Maiuri’s retirement was followed by decades of apathy and incompetence, with the results that we see today: millions of tourists tramping through the few remaining gems that are still open to visitors, the House of Pansa, the House of the Little Fountain, the House of the Faun, with their flaking frescoes and reproduction statues, then getting back on their buses.
The concentration of such numbers on a handful of sites ensures that they, too, in their turn will soon have to be closed. And what will we all do then? Read our guidebooks in the sterile comfort of the Autogrill, toss our unfinished panini at the stray dogs, and hope that we are in time to make it to the museum in Naples before it closes.
Not a pretty picture and likely not about to change in the near future …
I suspect this one from the Toledo Museum of Art will be popular among our readers:
Andrea Mall discussed room groupings in Roman domestic architecture and their decoration at the Toledo Museum of Art. These suites of rooms, or diaetae as they were called in Latin, likely had their origin in lavish villas along the Bay of Naples. She first examined the extraordinary prototypes at the Villa of the Mysteries and the Villa at Boscoreale, then shifted to explore how Pompeians incorporated these decorative schemes into their urban homes. The Romans used several ways to distinguish suites from the rest of the home. Rooms could be associated through their architectural design, as in the House of Vettii; which has a suite consisting of successive rooms that recede into the residence. Rooms could also be linked through mythological depictions as in the House of the Centenary, whose frescoes display several myths, all tied together by a common theme of sacrifice. In the House of the Gilded Cupids, a suite likely intended for use by a woman, is completely devoid of men and focuses on feminine iconography.
Andrea Mall received her undergraduate degree in Classical art and archaeology and Latin from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and her master’s degree in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin with a focus in ancient art. In 2002, she participated in an Etruscan excavation at Poggio Colla in Tuscany, Italy. She moved to Toledo in 2006 to work with Dr. Sandra Knudsen on the exhibition In Stabiano featuring frescoes from villas located on the Bay of Naples. She has since taken a permanent position at the Toledo Museum of Art as the Assistant Registrar for domestic loans and exhibition. She recently made her publishing debut by contributing entries to the Toledo Museum of Art’s Masterworks publication.