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Five great books set in Pompeii
24th August 2018
Pompeii is the latest destination in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series. ‘Five great books set in Pompeii’
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city in the Campania region of Italy. Near modern Naples, the city was buried under up to 6 metres of volcanic ash when nearby Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. Many of Pompeii’s inhabitants were buried and the city has been largely preserved, thanks to a lack of air and moisture in the area. A living museum, Pompeii provides a remarkable insight into daily life during the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy. So grab one of the books below when you go, and bring Pompeii to even more vivid life through the power of literature.
The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
The Last Days of Pompeii is a novel written by the baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834. The novel was inspired by the painting The Last Day of Pompeii by the Russian painter Karl Briullov, which Bulwer-Lytton had seen in Milan. Once a very widely read book and now relatively neglected, it culminates in the cataclysmic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The novel uses its characters to contrast the decadent culture of 1st-century Rome with both older cultures and coming trends. The protagonist, Glaucus, represents the Greeks who have been subordinated by Rome, and his nemesis Arbaces the still older culture of Egypt. Olinthus is the chief representative of the nascent Christian religion, which is presented favourably but not uncritically. The Witch of Vesuvius, though she has no supernatural powers, shows Bulwer-Lytton’s interest in the occult – a theme which would emerge in his later writing, particularly The Coming Race.
Pompeii explodes a number of myths – from the very date of the eruption, probably a few months later than usually thought: the hygiene of the baths which must have been hotbeds of germs: and the legendary number of brothels, most likely only one, to the massive death count which was probably less than ten per cent of the population.
Street Life, Earning a Living: Baker, Banker and Garum Maker (who ran the city), The Pleasure of the Body: Food, Wine, Sex and Baths, these chapter headings give a surprising insight into the workings of a Roman town. At the Suburban Baths we go from communal bathing to hygiene to erotica. A fast-food joint on the Via dell’ Abbondanza introduces food and drink and diets and street life
These are just a few of the strands that make up an extraordinary and involving portrait of an ancient town, its life and its continuing re-discovery, by Britain’s leading classicist.
The eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 buried a city and its people, their treasures and secrets. Centuries later, echoes of this disaster resonate with profound consequences in the life of classics professor Sophie Chase.
Beneath layers of volcanic ash lies the Villa della Notte – the Night Villa – once home to the captivating slave girl at the heart of an ancient controversy. And concealed in a subterranean labyrinth rests a cache of antique documents believed lost to the ages: a prize too alluring for Sophie to resist.
But whatever shocking events transpired in the face of Vesuvius’s fury has led to deeper intrigues – and Sophie is swiftly sucked into their dark and terrifying vortex . . .
A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome’s richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world – the mighty Aqua Augusta – has suddenly ceased to flow.
Through the eyes of four characters – a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist – Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
(If you’re a fan of Robert Harris, read our #AuthorsOnLocation piece for more of his thrilling books, set in different locations).
‘It has been almost fifteen years. I’ve thought about you often, mostly unkindly. But there: I have thought about you.’
Nearly twenty years after Vita broke off contact with Royce, he writes to her, determined to excavate the past. He is older than her, a ghost from her university days, a former benefactor she has tried hard to forget. In his own youth, Royce spent two fateful summers working on a dig in Pompeii with a woman he would later memorialize with a scholarship – the same one that Vita eventually received.
From opposite sides of the world, Royce and Vita enter into an adversarial dance: an attempt to settle old accounts. Profoundly addictive and unsettling, In the Garden of the Fugitives is a thrilling psychological examination of what happens when the lines are blurred between victim and predator, between loyalty and obsession.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
Which titles would you add to this list? Any you would like to add to our database? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.
Other posts in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series:
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