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When the Dead Arise and Head to Times Square

March 4th, 2011

Since the ruins of Pompeii were discovered and recognized in the 18th century, there have been debates over how to interpret these and other objects. (The classicist Mary Beard is particularly evocative and provocatively irreverent in her 2008 book, “The Fires of Vesuvius.”) But the selection of artifacts here suggests that Pompeii was an earthy, cosmopolitan society, thriving on trade that came through Naples, seeded with influences from the Etruscans, the Greeks, the Romans and local mountain tribes.

The statues of Dionysus and the brass miniatures of hybrid deities (including some allusions to Eastern religions) are as sybaritic as they are refined. The frescoes, whose colors still amaze, would have graced fine dining rooms and villas; omitted here are examples of the iconoclastic and comic first-century graffiti found in public places.

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