To Live and Die by Mount Vesuvius

There is something tragically romantic about Pompeii and her fellow seaside town Herculaneum, both destroyed by the villainous Vesuvius in 79 CE. Ironically, the volcano, initially merely thought of as a mere mountain, erupted on 24 August, the day after Vulcanalia – the festival of the Roman god of fire.

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The Baker Terentius Neo and his Wife, 50-79 CE.
Wall painting.
From the House of Terentius Neo, Pompeii.

A major earthquake seventeen years prior is commonly thought to have been a warning sign – but when I think of all of the things that have happened in the last seventeen years of my own life, it’s not really the natural disasters that I tend to dwell on. In the days leading up to the eruption, there were smaller and more constant earthquakes, but few people seem to have taken the hint. The eruption itself transpired over the course of two days, the first an early morning explosion, which seems to have prompted some but not enough to get out of Dodge, and the second, in the still of the night as my darkly romantic view suggests, the gases and rock descended from the skies and claimed the lives of 16,000 citizens.

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Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st century CE.
Roman, Pompeii.

These were people, much like us, minus the internet, television, and cat videos. One day they had lives, families, jobs, hobbies, the beauty of Ancient Rome (which was rather Modern Rome at the time) – and the next they were destined to become museum relics. Their art, interests, and day to day lives were all essentially frozen in time for us to look back and both admire and mourn. This is simple proof that life is beautiful, though taken for granted, and fleeting.

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Fragment of a wall painting showing a man reclining to drink, 1st century CE.
Pompeii.

The British Museum never ceases to amaze me. They’ve taken the stories of these lost souls and made it an alluring exhibition of True Life: Mount Vesuvius is a Murderer (actually titled:Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum). Revel in these true histories; see how much you may have related to the neighbours who shared a dispute over land, or the ladies of the night from the brothel around the corner. More interested in the brothel aspect? Check out Erotic Encyclopaedia by Hans-Jürgen Döpp.

-Le Lorrain Andrews

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