Just got home from the fantastic new exhibit at the science museum, A Day in Pompeii; this is a core dump of my initial impressions.
The exhibit focuses mostly on what daily life was like the day before the eruption – there are several rooms of artifacts, laid out somewhat like a Roman home (so all the cooking stuff is in one area, and so on). My favorite thing in this room was a brilliantly designed “three-burner” stove – basically a big clay tray to build the fire in, with three round protrusions at the back where coals could be pushed in and a pot or pan set on top. (My daughter was struck by the loaf of fossilized bread; I think that brought home to her the suddenness of the whole thing.)
Among the absolute highlights for me was a selection of lares and penates before a lararium; just standing before these things and realizing that they were the focus of worship – *my* worship, more or less – three thousand years ago was an incredibly intense experience.
There was also a gorgeous status of Bacchus, with ivory eyes with brown ground-glass centers; the eyes made me feel that He was looking right into me. Just stunning. (There is a decent picture of that statue at this link.)
After wandering through several rooms of daily life, we were suddenly directed into a little alcove with a giant hanging depicting the eruption, and gently pulsating red light. Beyond this, an almost
completely black S-shaped corridor led into a large open space… completely void of decoration and containing nothing but eight bodies. (Well, body casts, obviously…)
These were stunningly arranged, each on its own pedastal, on a bed of volcanic rocks that provided a stark contrast with the white plaster bodies. I was especially moved by the body of a slave – still wearing manacles – who had fallen in the street while trying to flee, as well as that of a dog that had been left chained at the gate of his master’s house; but the one that hit me most of all, and really made me feel the tragedy for what it was, was a man who took refuge in a gymnasium, and apparently just sat against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest, and waited to die.