Spent the Morning in Pompeii

Earlier this week my wife and her mother took our children to the Cincinnati Museum Center while I was at work. They went to see the Pompeii exhibit, which is scheduled to close this weekend, but my wife was not well and returned home before seeing it in its entirety. Her mother and our son finished, but Michelle missed out.

So today my wife and I took a drive back to the museum, mainly so she could see the rest of it, but being as I had not seen it this was an opportunity for me to learn something about the horrible disaster that befell these people about 2,000 years ago, and to contemplate existence and death in a way I have never before.

Highly detailed cast-plaster heads — facial reconstructions made from the skulls of the Pompeians who died in the disaster.

For those who may not be familiar, Pompeii was a roman city and port situated next to Mount Vesuvius, a volcano known even today as one of the world’s most dangerous.  Several million people now dwell as close as [or closer than] Pompeii did in its time, and an event of the magnitude seen in 79 AD would, in my opinion, be akin to having every natural disaster in my lifetime (so far) occur simultaniously and at the same place.

A bust preserved and recovered from the ancient city’s ruins.

Many artifacts have been recovered from the ruins since the city was rediscovered in the mid 1700s. Cooking utensils, currency, and even things that looked to be used for personal beautification (i.e. cosmetic use). One of the things I found most astounding was the number of decorative items — the Roman people clearly had a penchant for icons and statues. The provocative, and often erotic nature of many of these items astounded me; kinda made me feel like our current age of over-sexuallizing everything is really just a case of “same-thing-different-day.”

A funerary statue, possibly decorating a grand tomb built by a wealthy family.

I spent a moment considering the Roman gods, such as Jupiter, Mercury, and Minerva. Actually, there is quite a plethora of gods and goddesses, all of which seem to be shared between Greek and Roman cultures. This shared spirituality leads me to the idea that there may have very well been people, or even devas, that went by these or similar names, some of which may have approximate counterparts in Indian (or other) mythologies. I have a hard time believing that these deities became so important to so many people without there being at least some tiny grain of truth to them, even if they aren’t “god” in the Judeo-Christian sense.

The chance to really think about death is often ignored in favor of more pleasurable subjects. In light of my father’s illness, I have had the subject on my mind more than most people probably would, but I’ve come to the realization that thinking about death is not really all that morbid.

One artist’s rendering of Pompeii’s tragic end.

Everyone dies, it is just that we don’t usually have quite so much evidence of their death, or their life immediately prior to it, 2000 years after the fact. Our bodies, living now, will become much like those whose forms were preserved by the thousand-degree ash for us to contemplate today.

These people were husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, laborers, and even children. In no meaningful ways were any of them any different than we are today. Even their decadent lifestyle, evidenced by their frescoes, jewelry, and architecture rings of similarity to the way we live today with entertainment and lust-provoking imagery abound in every direction.

One thing I did find particularly different was how much of their “stuff” was left behind for us to find. Bodies decomposed but the tools of daily life were all left relatively unscathed. We have learned a great deal from these artifacts and even know the names of certain individuals from studying them. I found it interesting to think… how much of our society would be left behind if we were suddenly and cataclysmically destroyed? Could anyone piece together anything useful from what we’d leave behind?

I fear in this age of disposable or digital everything, we’d be hard pressed to find much other than the metal components of our automobiles that might survive 2,000 years buried under stone and ash — and if we did, would those who find it even want it?

I think there is a lot to consider, to deeply ponder and question, about what we’re doing here on this Earth. Maybe Pompeii, and other historical examples like it, can’t give us many answers, but I think they can help us pose the right questions.

Be well, my friends. I will write again soon.

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