Pompeii: Public and Private Life

Pompeii: Public and Private Life




The date 79 A.D. holds for some of us an eerie fascination that feels at once spiritual and— vulgar. The opulence and sophistication of the Roman city that was destroyed in that year by a smothering volcanic eruption can sometimes stand as an uncanny doppelganger to our own urbanity. At the time Pompeii was petrified by the lava and ash of the explosion from the crater of Mt. Vesuvius it was a p lace quite familiar to us: a city filled with wealth, art, theater, arcaded shopping streets, gymnasiums, and dynamically changing demographics. As fixed and frozen as the plaster casts of the Pompeian corpses look to us, Pompeii at the time of its demise was as complicated as any city we now know of, a juxtaposition of old wealth and the nouveau riche, of architectural decay and its transformed renewal. To see how such a comfortable city, so much like our own, with its privileged villas, its gardens, and its (yes) shopping malls wiped out so apocalyptically can stun us—in a man or particularly painful in a post-Hiroshima epoch. Even Goethe on his Italian Journey puts a finger on this pre-forensic age discomfort when he says of his visit: The mummified city left us with a rather disagreeable impression. But, just as at the scene of an accident, we can t help but look at the gory disaster.

Paul Zanker, in a trio of essays written between 1979 and 1993, offers an archeological history of Pompeii that is informed by urban studies, with an acute attention to the architecture of both public and private spaces. He gives us a number of pos sibilities for the history of a place that evolved from a prosperous Hellenic community to a first century Roman city. This is a gorgeously illustrated book, with 21 color and 55 black and white illustrations, including photographs of the famous p laster wall paintings and tile mosaics, archeological site maps and reconstructions, and a large number of the ruins it situ. In it Zanker offers a thoughtful set of suggestions about how we might interpret what is left at Pompeii after centuries of looting and grave-robbing. The possibility of a pair of devastating earthquakes only about 17 years before the volcanic disaster further complicate what we can guess about the ruins. Zanker argues very effectively that Pompeii was a town in the m idst of an economic and cultural transition in 79 A.D. His is a fascinating discussion of how the uses of both public and private space chan ged with the influx of wealthy Romans, again during their evacuation in the time of the earthquakes, and the subsequent changes that took place in the process of rebuilding.

Our imagination is naturally ignited, as it was by poor Pliny the Elder's, by the cinematic moment of sulfuric explosion and fiery lava flow, but Paul Zanker's archeological history of Pompeii is actually even more dramatic than that, because it tak es us into the interior of the city s baths, it's theater seats, and into it's bedrooms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674689664
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 12/13/1998
Series: Revealing Antiquity Series
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 6.16(w) x 9.04(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Paul Zanker is Professor of Classical Archeology, University of Munich, and Director of the German Archeological Institute in Rome. He is the author of Mask of Socrates: The Image of the Intellectual in Antiquity and The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus.

Table of Contents


Townscape and Domestic Taste


Domestic Taste and Cultural Self-Definition

Urban Space as a Reflection of Society

The Hellenistic City of the Oscans

The Roman Colonists' City

Townscape and Ideology in the Age of Augustus

The City's Final Years

The Domestic Arts in Pompeii

The Origins of the Roman Villa

Two Forms of Living Space

A Miniature Villa in the Town

A Courtyard with a Large Marble Fountain

A Garden as Sanctuary

A Parlor Overlooking Diana's Sacred Grove

Gardens Filled with Sculptures

Dining under the Stars

Large Pictures for Small Dreams

Domestic Taste and Cultural Identity



Illustration Credits


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