Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Historian visits Pompeii

I sorta knew better, but before going there I still tended to think of Pompeii based on a lot of other archeological sites: basically  a hole in the ground where you look down at some uncovered stones in lines.

Pompeii with its streets, sidewalks, piping and drains, and endless blocks of houses where you walk from room to room and experience the whole architectural plan -- it's on another scale from my stubborn preconception.  And we happened to be there in perfect weather, sunny but only in the high teens C, so with light sweaters and some sunscreen we could roam about for hours.

It's been said before, but Pompeii really does create conditions for thinking about human experiences in the distant past.

There is an excavated site called the Villa of the Mysteries, a large once-luxurious property just outside the town walls. The name "mysteries" comes from the murals in one room, which lay out the steps in the secret Dionysian cult. The artists of the murals had terrific talents -- this room is a sort of Roman Sistine Chapel (yeah, saw those last week) -- except the theme here is centered on adoration of the phallus.With just a bit of woke consciousness it's pretty easy to see the Dionysian mysteries are about what you might expect from a profoundly male-dominated society -- which our guide made clear this certainly was, and not just in the decor.

That was Monday. Tuesday we took a tour of the Sorrento-Amalfi peninsula. Let me just say the sights are breath-taking and I say that as someone who grew up in British Columbia, where  we know about roads carved out of vertiginous slopes above fabulous views.  One added thing here is the way people have been laboriously terracing the slopes for a thousand years to built towns and lay out narrow fields and orchards of lemons and olives

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