Introduced by Ferdinand Mount
In this award-winning history, Mary Beard guides us through the daily life of Pompeii – an existence that is far more complex than we might have realised. Lively, exciting and accessible, this book brings us as close as possible to the real Pompeii.
Smoke and ash darkening the air; rivers of lava pouring onto a town; a terrified populace fleeing with hastily gathered possessions. The destruction of Pompeii still grips the world’s imagination, but what can we really tell from its preserved remains? In this award-winning history, Mary Beard guides us through the daily life of Pompeii – an existence that is far more complex than we might have realised.
'If you want to know what really happened in the last days of the petrified city, Beard's meticulous reconstruction will fill you in, scraping away many of your preconceptions as it goes, while her evocative writing will transport you back'
Digging beneath the myths and assumptions, Beard reveals a place of contradictions. Contrary to popular assumption, the inhabitants were warned about the volcano; the town was semi-evacuated when it was engulfed. Only 17 years earlier Pompeii had been rocked by a catastrophic earthquake, from which it was still recovering. A wealthy, multi-cultural town, Pompeii had made a fortune in fish sauce, perhaps the least appetising of condiments. It was a place devoted to the pleasures of life, where statues of gods and phalluses were equally popular. We find that the poorest inhabitants had no kitchens or sanitation, yet the sophisticated street design featured traffic-calming measures, advertising billboards and even a congestion zone. By providing a fresh interpretation of the graffiti on the walls, Beard even lets the Pompeiians speak: ‘Ladicula’s a thief ’, ‘Atimetus got me pregnant’. Lively, exciting and accessible, this book brings us as close as possible to the real Pompeii.
'Mary Beard has had a great time rooting about that ghostly place and she has brought it quite splendidly back to life'
Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and a broadcaster and writer; Pompeii is one of her best-known books. This edition contains 32 pages of colour photographs, from images of Pompeii’s streets with their raised stepping stones, possibly to protect pedestrians from piles of refuse, to haunting plaster casts of the volcano’s victims. Each photograph has been captioned by the author, and two redrawn maps as endpapers show the site of Pompeii and its surroundings. In a newly commissioned preface, author Ferdinand Mount praises this account of a ‘city of gags and graffiti’. ‘[Mary Beard] manages to show us at the same time that almost none of the things we have always assumed about the destruction of the city in 79 AD is quite true, and yet that in a larger sense most of them are true, some of them truer than we knew.’
MARY BEARD is Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, and the classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. Her books include The Roman Triumph (2007), The Parthenon (2002, in the Wonders of the World series of which
she is general editor) and It’s A Don’s Life (2009). Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town won the Wolfson Prize
for History in 2008.
Read more about the life and work of Mary Beard
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Review by MsBeeHaven on 14th Dec 2013
"As a recent convert from Science to the Ancient Classics, I appreciated that the author, Professor Mary Beard, skilfully educates while she entertains. In addition to the incisive comments and observ..." [read more]