Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed with Mary Beard – BBC 1


Word PressCaecilius est pater.  Metella est mater.  Quintus est filius.  Grumio est coquus.  Clemens est servus.  Cerberus est canis.  See, I am an expert on Pompeii ;-).  I really was rather put out that Mary Beard got through a whole hour of talking about Pompeii without mentioning Caecilius & co.  Has she never heard of the Cambridge Latin Course?!  Oh well.  There’s something very emotive about Pompeii.  It’s like some sort of legend, the city that was suddenly destroyed as people were just going about their everyday business, and frozen in time like a Sleeping Beauty story but without a prince to come and wake it up again.  Those plaster casts of the people who were killed by Vesuvius, at Pompeii and also at Herculaneum … it’s really is like a cross between a Greek legend and a science-fiction story, but it’s real, and they were real people.

For all the scientific advances, the questions about who these people were can’t be answered.  Mary Beard did a lot of talking about were the two women found together perhaps mother and daughter, and was the toddler the child of the young couple found close to him/her, and was the other child nearby also part of the family, and how you have to hope that they were because then at least they were all together; but no answers could be provided.  It’s so, so sad.  And … I don’t know, maybe it’s none of our business who these people were, but another way of looking at is is to think, as Mary Beard said, that we’ve got a duty to them to try to tell their stories.

The digital imaging provided more answers, and we were shown maps and plans of how Pompeii would have looked just before it was destroyed, complete with the names of some of the people who ran the important businesses of the city.  Quite a lot of talk about what went on in the baths.  Use your imagination.  Well, in the men’s baths, anyway: the women’s baths were much smaller and less grand; but, hey, at least they were there!   We also heard about the lives of the workers in the laundry, and the lives of slaves, and were shown a picture of some boys at school.  An everyday Roman city, going about its business.  There are an awful lot of ruined cities about, and they’re all very interesting to visit, but there’s something so poignant about Pompeii, just cut down one day, frozen in time.

I’m not sure how many “new secrets” were actually revealed by this programme, but it was still quite interesting to watch.  But I do wish we’d got to see the house of Caecilius.  Actually, it’s thought that Caecilius himself died during the earthquake of AD62, 17 years before Vesuvius erupted, but part of his house is still standing in Pompeii to this day.

Oh well.  For all the scientific advances, we can only speculate about who the people behind (inside?) the plaster casts were, and how they lived.  They can’t tell us their secrets.  But it’s fascinating even so.  Frozen in time.  Fascinating and tragic.

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