Mary Beard will be pleased

Excerpts from a couple of recent reviews of ‘Pompeii’.

The Independent

Media dons such as Mary Beard are sometimes disliked by their fellow
academics, supposedly because they’re dumbing down their subjects. I
think the real reason is envy; not just of the fame and fortune, but
also because media dons have the distinction of being able to write.
Unlike those writing for the Camford Gazette of the Proceedings of the
Committee for Obscure Ancient Thought (circulation 2,000; number of
readers 37), they also have to think, “Some poor bloody reader’s
actually got to be entertained by this.”

Mary Beard is constantly entertaining, jumping from the deaths in 79AD to the deaths of the excavators 1,700 years later. The tunnels through the pumice were perilous, dingy and narrow, often only accessible by children. The skeletons found in Pompeii include those of crushed 18th and 19th century antiquarians.

The Times

Beard covers the big public issues – economy and government, gods, games – and animates them superbly by tying them to the biographies of real Pompeiians: the heart-throb gladiator Celadus, the well-connected local worthy Marcus Holconius Priscus, and the warty banker Lucius Caecilius Jucundus. She is most interested, however, in the domestic and the intimate. In the excellent chapter on painting and decorating, she doesn’t just analyse Pompeiian style, she opens up cupboards to count the paint pots and turn over the spoons and spatulas. She doesn’t only describe the grander rooms with their fantastical frescoes and deep tones of “Pompeiian red”, she explores the corridors and service quarters, revealing the ferocious zebra-stripe colour scheme “which would not have looked wholly out of place in the 1960s”.

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