THE TOWN OF HERCULES: A Buried Treasure Trove by Joseph Deiss

THE TOWN OF HERCULES: A Buried Treasure Trove

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With help from eyewitness Pliny the Younger, Deiss recreates the eruption of Vesuvius that scorched Pompeii and buried the seaside resort of Herculaneum under many feet of hot mud. Deiss then combs the ruins, which were plundered by the Bourbons in the 18th century and are still incompletely restored, for evidence of how the Greco-Roman occupants lived. We visit the intriguing elegant Villa of the Papyri, luxurious Roman baths, a theatre that was the stage for popular pantomime presentations, fast food ""snack bars,"" and some less imposing ""middle class"" homes. Many of the extant relics -- backgammon games, food, plumbing -- suggest a way of life surprisingly similar to ours and surviving records of a lawsuit -- over custody of a former slave and her inheritance -- demonstrates that, though the law was not the same, Roman justice worked not too differently from our court system. Evidence of religious practices, one of the two most exotic features of Herculaneum life to us today, is still buried, although Deiss records the finding of what most scholars believe was a Christian shrine. As for the frescoes and statuary, outrageously pornographic to modern eyes, Deiss describes enough to give the general idea, but anyone wanting to get the jokes will have to go to Herculaneum to see for himself. For whatever reasons, Deiss makes us want to do just that photos to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1974
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin