History in the Media: The Destruction of the Beloved City of Pompeii

View of Pompeii ruins with Mount Vesuvius in the background
ElfQrin, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Life in Pompeii

For over 250 years, the city of Pompeii was a popular vacation spot until 79 AD. The city had extravagant villas for wealthy visitors. Markets and bath houses were part of daily life. There were thirty known bakeries in Pompeii. Surprisingly, the diet of rich and poor did not divide the way it does, today. There were theaters for gladiators and performances. Like most Roman towns, there were activities such as gambling and prostitution.

Pompeii held temples. One example is the Temple of Isis which had to be rebuilt. The Goddess Isis is an ancient Egyptian deity who was adopted by the Romans; hence, why there was a temple dedicated to Her. It was a well-established place. Devotees of Isis still exist today, through modern Paganism.

The Temple of Isis (Pompeii), c. 1870, Mougins, © (MACM) Musée d’art classique de Mougins. Macmougins. 19 December 2013. Source.

After the rediscovery, many people visit there today.

One of the most popular features of Pompeii has been the carved phalluses scattered throughout the town. Many theories exist to explain the meaning, but the most common is that they point to brothels. On the other hand, the amount of known brothels is much lower than the number of buildings these symbols point to; therefore, some believe they signify male dominance instead of sexual conduct.

“Sign” Lupanar (Pompeii)
Commonists, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why They Didn’t leave

Like other volcanic eruptions, Mount Vesuvius had been brewing before it exploded. The people of Pompeii would have felt earthquakes as a warning; unfortunately, they weren’t aware of the implications, since they had no way of knowing that it was due to the volcano. In fact, the term “volcano” was later derived from the name of the god of fire, Vulcan.

Modern day residents would be alerted ahead of time if this were to occur again. Vestivus is closely watched, and scientists know the warning signs long before a volcano will erupt. Historical events such as this one make one appreciate how far technology has come, and the endless ways it has preserved our lives despite natural disasters.

Pompeii in Music

In January 2013, Bastille released their fourth single “Pompeii” off their album Bad Blood. The lead singer, Dan Smith wrote the song in his bedroom after he was fascinated to learn the victims of Mount Vesuvius were frozen in time within ash. He wanted to capture what it might have felt like to be in Pompeii when the volcano was erupting, as well as what the victims may have said to each other had they been able to communicate after it was over. It is understandable for someone to wonder what would have happened if people were able to survive, considering their remains allow us to still see them so long after the event.

Pompeii in Film

In 2014, the film Pompeii was released. While it received average to bad reviews, it helped fans of Bastille understand their song; myself included. As with many historical films, it centers around a forbidden romantic relationship between a rich woman Cassia (Emily Browning) and a slave Milo (Kit Herington). Critics consider it a mix between Gladiator and Titanic due to the fact it is about a historical disaster which involves a gladiator slave and a wealthy woman who have to escape a corrupt powerful man Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who sees the heroine as his property.

The most controversial aspect of the film has been its special effects. The large stone fireballs shooting from the volcano are unrealistic; however, director Paul W.S. Anderson based the eruption of the volcano on the descriptions written by those in the next town who were able to see it, but not experience it; therefore, that detail was not taken from scientific fact. Likewise, the tsumani would not have been so strong that it moved the boats to the extent it does in the film. These criticisms were made by Dr. Rosaly M. Lopes-Gautier, Senior Research Scientist; otherwise, it was a fairly accurate depiction of the eruption.

The Ongoing Fascination

Most generations will unfortunately experience some sort of devastating disaster. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius was so great that it wiped out an entire city that thrived on popularity, particularly with the upper class. Today, we may think of the tragedies of 9/11; the physical and psychological destruction it caused; however, events such as 9/11 were not preserved to the same degree. We have memorials. It isn’t the same as having the very bones of victims left where they died to help future visitors comprehend the loss, and how fragile life truly is.

Today, the quiet of the city and the expressions on the faces of the victims haunt visitors unlike any other disaster.

Related Links:

Expert Q&A: How Close Does Pompeii Reflect Reality?

This author’s essay as a devotee of Goddess Isis: From Jesus to Isis: Journey of a Pagan

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