Wow! Triple wow! We just got back from 79 A.D., and it didn’t seem all that far away.
We toured Pompeii, and if you’re not up on your ancient history, that city was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August of that year. Because the ejection was ash instead of lava, Pompeii was more or less "gently" sealed as a spectacular time capsule, which they’re still opening.
We wandered the streets, past row upon row of shops. They even had their version of a mall. Go figure.
We sat awhile in the amphitheater. Trust me, although they were amazingly advanced, they didn’t know Jack — or should I say "Julius" — about comfort. The seats were stone as were their beds and pillows.
On the subject of beds, we visited the "red light" district. Yep, the "world’s oldest profession" was very much alive in Pompeii.
The funniest aspect of ancient prostitution was their advertising. The district entrance was identified by a stone carving protruding from over the door.
I won’t give you readers a detailed description of the artwork, but suffice it to say it illustrated their product without ambiguity. The menu consisted of pictures of each service offered, eliminating the need for language skills.
On a more somber tone, although nearly 2,000 years separate us from that August day, we saw up close and personal evidence of the disaster in the faces of its victims. They died of gas inhalation but were "gently" covered by ash like the city so even emotions were preserved.
Of course bodies decomposed away but molds of startling detail were left. When pumped full of liquid plaster, the ash gave up an astounding record of the tragedy.
Most of the body casts reside in museums, but on-site there was a display of victims complete with facial expression and what they were wearing at eruption. Certainly typing it seems a bit morbid but seeing the apparent normalcy of their existence against ours today is very weird and extremely enlightening. So much has changed, but even more seems to have stayed the same.
The city of Pompeii had running water. Yep, running water and a sewer system. Compare that to my close ancestors just a couple of centuries ago and we "moderns" come out severely lacking. At its peak, Rome was the center of the human universe and certainly deserved its ascendency.
We toured a spa with cold, warm and hot baths, and a sauna with an adjacent massage area. We saw evidences of their plumbing, which would put many cultures to shame today.
On the downside, they used lead piping, which contributed to a level of systemic mental problems. Fortunately, over time building deposits within those pipes semi-solved their lead-poisoning problems.
But lead remained a very big deal in the ancient world, even as moisture control lining in nicer homes. Because rulers and wealthy politicians routinely drank from lead-lined mugs, you might postulate the masses possessed superior functioning intellect.
See what I mean that not all that much has changed?
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.