Down London, Up Pompeii

We were on a Newmarket holiday going down to London to see the award winning exhibition at The British Museum “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”.

The British Museum, London I had never been to The British Museum before and found it fascinating.

The exhibition celebrates ordinary Roman life. And that was its charm. Focusing on the home, intimate possessions, mundane objects and materials, beautiful jewellery, toothpicks, carbonised charred food, chamber pots, food, cutlery, doctor’s instruments, doormouse fattening jars and a loaf of bread. It’s much more than an Ancient Roman version of The Generation Game conveyor belt. It is all here. Roman life – warts and all.

Herculaneum and Pompeii were too unassuming towns until the day in AD 79 when their world  abruptly ended. Almost 100,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the eruption of Vesuvius created a volcanic cloud almost 20 miles high. Herculaneum was buried under 80 feet and Pompeii under about 16 foot of volcanic carnage.

All the artefacts on show have been unearthed from the two towns.

Roman life was gaudy. A very unembarrassed attitude to sex. Privacy didn’t mean a jot to the Romans. Take the fresco on show – two lovers in bed with their maid in attendance! It is a fallacy that the phallus was an erotic symbol. It is thought it was a symbol of good luck -no more erotic than hanging up a horseshoe. Figures with appendages hanging down to their knees. On a cake stand, on an oil lamp. I do think that any man with a member of this size would consider himself to be more than lucky having won the equivalent of the lottery! And it would probably stop him from falling out of bed.

Ruins of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background. By ElfQrin Commons Wikimedia The wooden rocking cradle found in Herculaneum is a sombre sight, especially when you are told  that when found it contained a charred infant skeleton. The casts of the human bodies bring the catastrophe home. A dog. A cast of a dog writhing in agony. Death came so quickly, overwhelmed by the ash. Its collar is still visible.

My favourite mosaic, which could be seen in many Roman dining rooms is that of a skeleton holding two wine jugs, An unusual choice for houses but probably best seller in the Roman equivalent of IKEA.

Is this a health warning, or a Roman joke or a cry to CARPE DIEM. Eat today, enjoy a feast , because death is not too far away.! Last Orders Please!!

The exhibition brings home the truth of our existence. Honestly so. Probably more honest than in today’s society. Death was more openly discussed. Life is precious. Enjoy life. Age is only a number. Yet if your number is called then death will surely follow.

In summary
A great weekend, very informative but very tiring. Newmarket did a great job although the coach journey was long and the hotel food a let-down. Do download the app of the exhibition – truly wonderful and informative.

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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