Saturday, 11 April 2015

Either Neither Both?

The skeletons of seventeen men who perished in the Vesuvian holocaust have been recovered from the ashes of the gladiatorial barracks of Pompeii. They were trapped in a cell in which weapons were stored. Several had no possibility of escape; their legs were bound in stocks. With them was found the skeleton of a woman richly adorned with gold jewelry - a necklace of emeralds, two armbands, rings, and other ornaments - and carrying a cameo in a small casket. A lady, we will never know what brought her to the barracks. She can only tease our imaginations. Was she a ludia, one of the "groupies" who attended the "families" of gladiators? Was she like Eppia, mocked by Juvenal, the senator's wife who fled to Alexandria with her scarred "Sergiolus" and his family of fellow gladiators? Was she like those men and women whom Tertullian disdained for giving their bodies and souls to the gladiators, the actors and the charioteers? Was she like those scorned by Petronius for being "inflamed by the arena, or by a muleteer mired in dirt, or an actor disgraced by his exposure on the stage"? Did she kiss the tracks of the whips?

Carlin A. Barton "The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: the Gladiator and the Monster" (1992) p81

And then, of course, there was the richly jewelled lady found in one of the rooms in the gladiators' barracks, This has often been written up as as a nice illustration of the penchant of upper-class women for the brawny bodies of gladiators. Here, it seems, is one of them caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, her adultery exposed to the gaze of history. It is, in fact, a much more innocent scene than that. Almost certainly the woman was not on a date at all, but had taken refuge in the barracks, when the going got too rough on her flight out of the city. At least, if this was an assignation with her toy-boy, it is an assignation she shared with seventeen others and a couple of dogs - all of whose remains were found in the same room.

Mary Beard "Pompeii: the Life of a Roman Town" (2010) p5

Is this a case of Carlin Barton getting all superheated-steam over the extreme psychic paradoxes tormenting the Romans of the late Republic and early Empire? Or of Mary Beard channelling Joyce Grenfell at her bluestocking best (date???)?

As Mary Beard remarks elsewhere (p15), there is "what we might call the 'Pompeii paradox': that we simultaneously know a huge amount and very little about ancient life there".


Both books get a demi-Satchmo from this reader (ie me) and it's very hard to do better than that.

 Carlin A. Barton (Prof. History UMassAmherst) doesn't appear to keep a blog.
Mary Beard (Prof. Classics Cantab) does: A Don's Life.

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