I took a midnight walk in the ruins /Guess I was looking for your face /I felt a chill in the air/ I knew then I was in the right place/ Turned over a blue stone just to see what it was hiding /Out crawled a black snake/ And it laughed as the moon when gliding/ Walked through a burned-out doorway into a room whith a melted chandelier/ Thought I heard your voice and I called out, “Is anybody here?”… ( Midnight Walk In the Ruins, Peter Himmelman )
Nearly 2,000 years after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the city of Pompeii under pumice and steaming volcanic ash, some 2.6 million tourists tromp annually through the ruins, which is on Unesco’s list of endangered world treasures.
After so many years of wear, combined with neglect in properly maintaining the site, the Italian government has for the first time declared a state of emergency for the ruins at Pompeii. Frescoes in the ancient city (one is pictured at left) fade under the blistering sun or are chipped at by souvenir hunters. Mosaics endure the brunt of tens of thousands of shuffling thongs and sneakers. Teetering columns and walls are propped up by wooden and steel scaffolding. Rusty padlocks deny access to recently restored houses, and custodians seem to be few and far between.
Pompeii. When the ruins came to light, they caused a revolution in taste- stripping away rococo gilt, reshaping the female figure, and leaving a deposit of pseudo-Greek temples from Moscow to Mississippi- although what sometimes passed for “classical” would have left the ancients scratching their heads. ….
…But all I got was silence until the wind whipped up again outside/ I knew then that only something mortal could be brave enough to die/ How come you don’t answer when I call you/ You won’t even part your lips to speak my name/ How come you don’t answer when I call you /Don’t you know that we’re both to blame?…. ( Himmelman )
The first discoveries in the early eighteenth century were not followed up to the volcanic activity of Vesuvius which reached a climax in 1737. Fortunately however, those first discoveries were as restless as the mountain. Like artistic catalysts, they were constantly exciting interest in the art world and stimulating the connoisseurs to action wherever they went. And after being buried for sixteen hundred years , they were enjoying their freedom. In quick succession, the three statues unearthed by the prince of Elbeuf,were passed to Prince Eugene in Vienna, and then by inheritance to Anna Victoria, Princess of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Despite the protests of the whole Academy and the artistic world of Vienna, she sold them to Augustus III of Poland, who took them to Dresden.
Such was his love of art that Augustus, when he acquired the Sistine Madonna of Raphael, had pushed back his throne with his own hands, shouting “Make way for the great Raphael!” He greeted the Vestal Virgins, as he mistakenly called them, more soberly, but he held them in equally high esteem and gave them a prominent place in his famous museum garden.
There they were seen and admired by two people who were to play vital roles in the further discovery of the two cities: firstly, the daughter of Augustus, Maria Amali
ho married Charles III, king of Naples, and carried her love of her father’s statues back to the place of origin and, once there, prevailed on Charles to search for more; and secondly Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the father of german archaeology , whose burning belief in the perfection of the ancients was fired by the statues of Dresden. And so it began.
From 1738, King Charles began his successful excavations, and Herculaneum was never lost again. Somewhat later, as if to clinch the rebirth of the two cities, a careless peasant fell down a well shaft and discovered Pompeii. These are the years that art historians often cite as the beginning of a new era, the start of that great classical revival which Gilbert Bagnani christened the “second Renascence”. But such a claim was artificial. The interest in classical antiquity had never wholly died out, but it was to take far more than these early discoveries to spread the new fashion; it was not until much later in the century that it took root.
…But I guess I wanna hear it from your lips/ Well, it’s 2 A.M. and the fog’s rolled in/ And the moonlight has been obscured /To have gone on any longer would have been most absurd/ Well my boots are covered by the morning dew /But my feet are still warm and dry Well I wish I could say that for my cheeks now ‘Cause they’re damp with these tears I cry oh yeah… ( Himmelman )
The 109-acre ruins, about an eighth of the size of Central Park in Manhattan (another 50 acres or so are underground) are severely understaffed. Workers are prone to strikes that can leave visitors standing outside locked gates. Local criminal organizations must constantly be kept at bay when bids are solicited for maintenance work or for operating public concessions at the site.
Robert Fulford: In the National Archeological Museum in Naples, right beside two large public rooms crammed with masterpieces found in the buried city of Pompeii, black iron gates and a surly attendant stand guard over a space called the Gabinetto Segretto, the secret room. This is the new repository for the erotic art that has created both scandal and delight ever since archeologists of Pompeii began uncovering it in the 18th century.
Governments, whether monarchical, fascist or democratic, have considered this material politically explosive. Sometimes they have shown it in public, sometimes they have revealed it only to elites, and always they have puzzled over what they should think and say about it. The aura of muted anxiety and hypocrisy that surrounds it even today suggests that after generations of study we are still uncomfortable with the knowledge that public, explicit pornography was routine in the Roman empire. The Archeological Museum still acts as if showing it is, at best, a regrettable duty. A wall text outside the special room says these discoveries have caused “no little embarrassment.” …When entering the museum we had to make a reservation for this one part of the building, precisely scheduling our occasion of sin. There was no extra charge: The museum doesn’t want to be seen profiting from pornography.
…She identified one phallus shape as the logo of a bakery. Indicating a marble sculpture of Pan having his way with a she-goat, she remarked that only now, in our enlightened time, can we “look at this and admire the artistic work.” Her job was clear: She’s the cultural equivalent of the department of sanitation….
…As you enter the room, a giant stone phallus floorpiece greets you, as it did in many Roman houses, and a couple of phalluses jut out of walls, like lamp fixtures. A Greek vase depicts sodomy in the most literal way. There are phallic table decorations in metal. Wall paintings found in a brothel amount to a Kama Sutra of sexual positions and apparently functioned as a menu: Clients who were handicapped by shyness or inadequate language skills could point to what they wanted. Sometimes a sculpture’s only purpose is comedy. A toga sculpted in marble shows a bulge that could only be an erection. One drawing shows a centaur, male, who turns away in disgust after discovering that Aphrodite possesses a penis attached to a female body.
Harmless as all this may be, it hasn’t yet achieved the status of moral neutrality. In the 19th century, it was said to prove that Pompeii was particularly sinful and that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (which brought life to an abrupt end in that city one summer day in AD 79) was the furious message of an outraged deity, in the Sodom and Gomorrah tradition. But it’s likely that Pompeii had no more pornography or brothels than any other Roman port frequented by sailors and salesmen. The difference is that the thousands of tons of volcanic ash that entombed Pompeii gave us not only our best-preserved Roman town but also a uniquely revealing account of its sexuality — and, of course, a cultural scandal that demonstrates as much about our own nervous attitudes to sex as it does about the lives of the ancients….