November 12, 2007: Day 59

Second Day in Pompeii                                         

Chelsea Mehr and Carol Szurkowski


Today we returned for our second day in Pompeii to look at residential buildings. Our adventures were slightly hampered by rain early in the day, but the skies cleared up by the afternoon.


Our first stop of the morning was the “House” of Julia Felix. We soon learned that the building was more than just a single family dwelling and resembled a modern day hotel. This assessment was confirmed by an inscription that said, “In the property of Julia Felix, daughter of Spurius, there are for rent a bath, shops, sheds and upper rooms.” This inscription included the abbreviation SP F, meaning that Julia Felix did not know the identity of her father. The layout of the house was non-traditional with a number of small cubicula off the peristyle. There was also a restaurant-style serving area and couches to allow for reclining while eating.


The next stop was the House of Octavius Quartio. This house is known for taking elements of the country house, or villa, and transforming them to fit an urban space. Its most notable feature was an euripus, a large ornamental water course. The décor of this structure was likely complemented by an elaborate garden including Egyptian inspired statues. The walls of this home were also adorned with beautiful frescos of mythological scenes, including Pyramus and Thisbe, Narcissus, and Acteon being eaten by his hounds. We concluded that these frescos all showed death as the result of love as this is the fate of all the characters of these scenes.


In the House of Menander, we saw romanticized images of women being raped as a consequence of military pillaging. An interesting surprise at this house was the presence of human skeletons at this site. Initially, archeologists believed they were Pompeiian victims of the Vesuvius eruption. Our initial thought was that they were members of the 1999 Classics FSP. In fact, these were the skeletons of treasure hunters who likely met their death from toxic gases that had remained under the ash layer as they were raiding the houses.



The last house we visited was the House of the Ceii, where we spent a little extra time admiring and analyzing a fresco of wild animals against a fantastical background. We concluded that it translated into an exotic natural setting the kinds of animal fights that would have been witnessed during wild beast fights in the ampitheatres of the day.



We then heard Angela’s report on the outdoor theatre of Pompeii. We learned that though it had been built as a Greek theatre in the 2nd century BCE, it was converted through extensive renovation a century later into a Roman theatre. We saw an inscription that would have surrounded a curule chair that was permanently attached to the cavea. It was a reminder of the generosity of the Holconii family in donating the money to renovate the theater, and was remarkable for its position not in the elite seating area, but in the lowest row of seating reserved for the non-elite citizens.


Next, we listened to Carol talk about the Odeon. This was a roofed theater, though we are unsure of exactly what it was used for in ancient times. (It may have been either a small recital hall for musical or tragic performances, or a meeting place for Sulla’s colonists.) There were kneeling telamons incorporated into the parapets supporting the ends of the cavea, connecting this Odeon to the temple of Zeus we saw at Agrigento.



We finished relatively early and, after being heckled by the Pompeian street vendors, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest, relaxation and paper writing.