The Fires Of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost And Found

The Fires Of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost And Found

  • Publish Date: 2010-04-30
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Mary Beard
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Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press
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Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site in the world, visited by more than two million people each year. Yet it is also one of the most puzzling, with an intriguing and sometimes violent history, from the sixth century BCE to the present day.

Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. But the eruptions are only part of the story. In The Fires of Vesuvius, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. She explores what kind of town it was?more like Calcutta or the Costa del Sol??and what it can tell us about ordinary life there. From sex to politics, food to religion, slavery to literacy, Beard offers us the big picture even as she takes us close enough to the past to smell the bad breath and see the intestinal tapeworms of the inhabitants of the lost city. She resurrects the Temple of Isis as a testament to ancient multiculturalism. At the Suburban Baths we go from communal bathing to hygiene to erotica.

Recently, Pompeii has been a focus of pleasure and loss: from Pink Floyds memorable rock concert to Primo Levis elegy on the victims. But Pompeii still does not give up its secrets quite as easily as it may seem. This book shows us how much more and less there is to Pompeii than a city frozen in time as it went about its business on 24 August 79.

Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site in the world, visited by more than two million people each year.

Yet it is also one of the most puzzling, with an intriguing and sometimes violent history, from the sixth century BCE to the present day. Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. But the eruptions are only part of the story. In The Fires of Vesuvius, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. She explores what kind of town it was--more like Calcutta or the Costa del Sol?--and what it can tell us about ordinary life there. From sex to politics, food to religion, slavery to literacy, Beard offers us the big picture even as she takes us close enough to the past to smell the bad breath and see the intestinal tapeworms of the inhabitants of the lost city. She resurrects the Temple of Isis as a testament to ancient multiculturalism. At the Suburban Baths we go from communal bathing to hygiene to erotica.

Recently, Pompeii has been a focus of pleasure and loss: from Pink Floyds memorable rock concert to Primo Levis elegy on the victims. But
Pompeii still does not give up its secrets quite as easily as it may seem. This book shows us how much more and less there is to Pompeii than a city frozen in time as it went about its business on 24 August 79.

Amazon.com Exclusive: Author Mary Beard on the Ten Reasons Why the Romans Were Great Lovers--and Ten Books to Tell You How


1. Staying power
Roman lovers could keep going all night (at least if we take their word for it). Ovid the first-century-BCs man about town claims that he could perform nine times in a single night. Read all about it in his Love Poems (Book 3, number 7). Read: Ovid, The Erotic Poems, translated by Peter Green.

2. Sweet talk
Roman men could make you feel so good. Mark Antony and Julius Caesar both talked their way into the heart of feisty Cleopatra. The chat-up lines of Romes founding father Aeneas drove Queen Dido senseless. Read: Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles. (Go straight to Book 4)

3. Body beautiful
There was no flab or beer belly on these six-pack hunks. All that gym and exercise kept Greeks and Romans bronzed and trim. Read: Nigel Spivey, The Ancient Olympics.

4. Inventiveness
Sexual positions became (literally) an art-form for the Romans--two-somes, three-somes and more. Youd better stay supple though, or those more testing acrobatics will be beyond you. Read: John Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art.

5. Romantic agony
Roman men could do anguish better than any others. I hate and I love . . . and it hurts as the poet Catullus succinctly wrote to his fickle mistress. Dont expect to escape a Roman affair without tears. Read: Catullus, The Poems, translated by Peter Green.

6. Great pick-up lines
Romans knew they had to work hard at the first impressions. Ovid, in a lovers manual, gives the beginner plenty of advice on how to break the ice. Stand right next to her at a procession, and when some elaborate display goes past explain to her what it is. It doesnt matter, says Ovid, if you dont really know make it sound plausible, to impress. Read: Ovid, The Art of Love and Other Poems, translated by J. H. Mozley.

7. Open minds
Not many Romans were prudes. Most men were happy to contemplate sex with women, men, or if it came to it, animals just so long as they were the active, not the passive partner. Read: Apuleius, The Golden Ass, translated by E. J. Kenney.

8. Rough-trade
Roman women went for the rough, tough sporting heroes of the ancient world. Successful gladiators became the heart-throbs of the Roman girls. Read: Catharine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome.

9. In touch with their inner-selves
The anxiety of Roman men was one of their more endearing features. Images of the phallus were everywhere in Roman towns but so too were images of castration and mutilation. The ancient man never took his prowess for granted. Carlin A. Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans.

10. Not afraid to say 'I love you'

The walls of the buried city of Pompeii are covered with written messages from satisfied (and a few unsatisfied) men. Oh Chloe, I had a wonderful time, twice over in this very spot, I love you. . . .
Read: Antonio Varone, Eroticism in Pompeii. And, in case you are looking for the womans point of view, try Marilyn B. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture.

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