This is all that the temples give us. Artistically speaking, it is but little. Neither are the other monuments much richer in their information concerning ancient architecture. They let us know that the material chiefly employed consisted of lava, of tufa, of brick, excellently prepared, having more surface and less thickness than ours; of peperino (Sarno stone), which time renders very hard, sometimes with travertine and even marble in the ornaments; then there was Roman mortar, celebrated for its solidity, less perfect at Pompeii, however, than at Rome; and finally, the stucco surface, covering the entire city with its smooth and polished crust, like a variegated mantle. But these edifices tell us nothing in particular; there is neither a style peculiar to Pompeii discernible in them, nor do we find artists of the place bearing any noted name, or possessing any singularity of taste and method. On the other hand, there is an easy eclecticism that adopts all forms with equal facility and betrays the decadence or the sterility of the time. I recall the fact that the city was in process of reconstruction when it was destroyed. Its unskilful repairs disclose a certain predilection for that cheap kind of elegance which among us, has taken the place of art. Stucco tricks off and disfigures everything. Reality is sacrificed to appearance, and genuine elegance to that kind of showy avarice which assumes a false look of profusion. In many places, the flutings are economically preserved by means of moulds that fill them in the lower part of the columns. Painting takes the place of sculpture at every point where it can supply it. The capitals affect odd shapes, sometimes successfully, but always at variance with the simplicity of high art. Add to these objections other faults, glaring at first glance,—for instance, the adornment of the temple of Mercury, where the panels terminate alternately in pediments and in arcades; the facade of the purgatorium in the temple of Isis, where the arcade itself cutting the cornice, becomes involved hideously with the pediment. I shall say nothing either, of the fountains, or of the columns, alas! formed of shell-work and mosaic.
Faults like these shock the eye of purists; but let us constantly bear in mind that we are in a small city, the finest residence in which belonged to a wine-merchant. We could not with fairness expect to find there the Parthenon, or even the Pantheon of Rome. The Pompeian architects worked for simple burghers whose moderate wish was to own pretty houses, not too large nor too dear, but of rich external appearance and a gayety of look that gratified the eye. These good tradesmen were served to their hearts' content by skilful persons who turned everything to good account, cutting rooms by scores within a space that would not be sufficient for one large saloon in our palaces, profiting by all the accidents of the soil to raise their structures by stories into amphitheatres, devising one ingenious subterfuge after another to mask the defects of alignment, and, in a word, with feeble resources and narrow means, realizing what the ancients always dreamed—art combined with every-day life.
For proof of this I point to their paintings covering those handsome stucco walls, which were so carefully prepared, so frequently overlaid with the finest mortar, so ingeniously dashed with shining powder, and, then, so often smoothed, repolished and repacked with wooden rollers that they, at last, looked like and passed for marble. Whether painted in fresco or dry, in encaustic or by other processes, matters little—that belongs to technical authorities to decide.[G]
However that may be, these mural decorations were nevertheless a feast for the eyes, and are so still. They divided the walls into five or six panels, developing themselves between a socle and a frieze; the socle being deeper, the frieze clearer in tint, the interspace of a more vivid red and yellow, for instance, while the frieze was white and the socle black. In plain houses these single panels were divided by simple lines; then gradually, as the house selected became more opulent, these lines were replaced by ornamental frames, garlands, pilasters, and, ere long, fantastic pavilions, in which the fancy of the decorative artist disported at will. However, the socles became covered with foliage, the friezes with arabesques, and the panels with paintings, the latter quite simple at first, such as a flower, a fruit, a landscape; pretty soon a figure, then a group, then at last great historical or religious subjects that sometimes covered a whole piece of wall and to which the socle and the frieze served as a sort of showy and majestic framework. Thus, the fancy of the decorator could rise even to the height of epic art.
Those paintings will be eternally studied: they give us precious data, not only on art, but concerning everything that relates to antiquity,—its manners and customs, its ceremonies, its costumes, the homes of those days, the elements and nature as they then appeared. Pompeii is not a gallery of pictures; it is rather an illustrated journal of the first century. One there sees odd landscapes; a little island on the edge of the water; a bank of the Nile where an ass, stooping to drink, bends toward the open jaws of a crocodile which he does not see, while his master frantically but vainly endeavors to pull him back by the tail. These pieces nearly always consist of rocks on the edge of the water, sometimes interspersed with trees, sometimes covered with ranges of temples, sometimes stretching away in rugged solitudes, where some shepherd wanders astray with his flock, or from time to time, enlivened with a historical scene (Andromeda and Perseus). Then come little pictures of inanimate nature,—baskets of fruit, vases of flowers, household utensils, bunches of vegetables, the collection of office-furniture painted in the house of Lucretius (the inkstand, the stylus, the paper-knife, the tablets, and a letter folded in the shape of a napkin with the address, "To Marcus Aurelius, flamen of Mars, and decurion of Pompeii"). Sometimes these paintings have a smack of humor; there are two that go together on the same wall. One of them shows a cock and a hen strolling about full of life, while upon the other the cock is in durance vile, with his legs tied and looking most doleful indeed: his hour has come!
I say nothing of the bouquets in which lilies, the iris, and roses predominate, nor of the festoons, the garlands, nay, the whole thickets that adorn, the walls of Sallust's garden. Let me here merely point out the pictures of animals, the hunting scenes, and the combats of wild beasts, treated with such astonishing vigor and raciness. There is one, especially, still quite fresh and still in its place, in one of the houses recently discovered. It represents a wild boar rushing headlong upon a bear, in the presence of a lion, who looks on at him with the most superb indifference. It is divined, as the Neapolitans say; that is, the painter has intuitively conceived the feelings of the two animals; the one blind with reckless fury, the other supremely confident in his own agility and superior strength.
And now I come to the human form. Here we have endless variety; and all kinds, from the caricature to the epic effort, are attempted and exhausted,—the wagon laden with an enormous goat-skin full of wine, which slaves are busily putting into amphorae; a child making an ape dance; a painter copying a Hermes of Bacchus; a pensive damsel probably about to dispatch a secret message by the buxom servant-maid waiting there for it; a vendor of Cupids opening his cage full of little winged gods, who, as they escape, tease a sad and pensive woman standing near, in a thousand ways,—how many different subjects! But I have said nothing yet. The Pompeians especially excelled in fancy pictures. Everybody has seen those swarms of little genii that, fluttering down upon the walls of their houses, wove crowns or garlands, angled with the rod and line, chased birds, sawed planks, planed tables, raced in chariots, or danced on the tight-rope, holding up thyrses for balancing poles; one bent over, another kneeling, a third making a jet of wine spirt forth from a horn into a vase, a fourth playing on the lyre, and a fifth on the double flute, without leaving the tight-rope that bends beneath their nimble feet. But more beautiful than these divine rope-dancers were the female dancers, who floated about, perfect prodigies of self-possession and buoyancy, rising of themselves from the ground and sustained without an effort in the voluptuous air that cradled them. You may see these all at the museum in Naples,—the nymph who clashes the cymbals, and one who drums the tambourine; another who holds aloft a branch of cedar and a golden sceptre; one who is handing a plate of figs; and her, too who has a basket on her head and a thyrsis in her hand. Another in dancing uncovers her neck and her shoulders, and a third, with her head thrown back, and her eyes uplifted to heaven, inflates her veil as though to fly away. Here is one dropping bunches of flowers in a fold of her robe, and there another who holds a golden plate in this hand, while with that she covers her brows with an undulating pallium, like a bird putting its head under its wing.
There are some almost nude, and some that drape themselves in tissues quite transparent and woven of the air. Some again wrap themselves in thick mantles which cover them completely, but which are about to fall; two of them holding each other by the hand are going to float upward together. As many dancing nymphs as there are, so many are the different dances, attitudes, movements, undulations, characteristics, and dissimilar ways of removing and putting on veils; infinite variations, in fine, upon two notes that vibrate with voluptuous luxuriance, and in a thousand ways.
Let us continue: We are sweeping into the full tide of mythology. All the ancient divinities will pass before us,—now isolated (like the fine, nay, truly imposing Ceres in the house of Castor and Pollux), now grouped in well-known scenes, some of which often recur on the Pompeian walls. Thus, the education of Bacchus, his relations with Silenus; the romantic story of Ariadne; the loves of Jupiter, Apollo, and Daphne; Mars and Venus; Adonis dying; Zephyr and Flora; but, above all, the heroes of renown, Theseus and Andromeda, Meleager, Jason, heads of Hercules; his twelve labors, his combat with the Nemaean lion, his weaknesses,—such are the episodes most in favor with the decorative artists of the little city. Sometimes they take their subjects from the poems of Virgil, but oftener from those of Homer. I might cite a whole house, viz., that of the Poet, also styled the Homeric House, the interior court of which was a complete Iliad illustrated. There you could see the parting of Agamemnon and Chryseis, and also that of Briseis and Achilles, who, seated on a throne, with a look of angry resignation, is requesting the young girl to return to Agamemnon—a fine picture, of deserved celebrity. There, too, was beheld the lovely Venus which Gell has not hesitated to compare, as to form, with the Medicean statue, or for color, to Titian's painting. It will be remembered that she plays a conspicuous part in the poem. A little further on we see Jupiter and Juno meeting on Mount Ida.
"At length" says Nicolini, in his sumptuous work on Pompeii, "in the natural sequence of these episodes, appears Thetis reclining on the Triton, and holding forth to her afflicted son the arms that Vulcan had forged for him in her presence."
It was in the peristyle of this house that the copy of the famous picture by Timanthius of the sacrifice of Iphigenia was found. "Having represented her standing near the altar on which she is to perish, the artist depicts profound grief on the faces of those who are present, especially of Menelaus; then, having exhausted all the symbols of sorrow, he veils the father's countenance, finding it impossible to give a befitting expression." This was, according to Pliny, the work of Timanthus, and such is exactly the reproduction of it as it was found in the house of the poet at Pompeii.
This Iphigenia and the Medea in the house of Castor and Pollux, recalling the masterpiece of Timomachos the Byzantine are the only two Pompeian pictures which reproduce well-known paintings; but let us not, for that reason, conclude that the others are original. The painters of the little city were neither creators nor copyists, but very free imitators, varying familiar subjects to suit themselves. Hence, that variety which surprises us in their reproductions of the same subject. Indeed, I have seen, at least ten Ariadnes surprised by Bacchus, and there are no two alike. Hence, also, that ease and freedom of touch indicating that the decorative artists executing them felt quite at their ease. Assuredly, their efforts, which are of quite unequal merit, are not models of correctness by any means; faults of drawing and proportion, traits of awkwardness and heedlessness, swarm in them; but let anybody pick out a sub-prefecture of 30,000 inhabitants, in France, and say to the painters of the district: "Here, my good friends, just go to work and tear off those sheets of colored paper that you find pasted upon the walls of rooms and saloons in every direction, and paint there in place of them socles and friezes, devotional images, genre pictures, and historical pieces summing up the ideas, creeds, manners and tastes, of our time in such sort that were the Pyrenees, the Cevennes, or the Jura Alps, to crumble upon you to-morrow, future generations, on digging up your houses and your masterpieces, might there study the life of our period although it will be antiquity for them."... What would the painters of the place be apt to do or say? I think I may reply, with all respect to them, that they would at least be greatly embarrassed.
But, on their part, the Pompeians were not a whit put out when they came to repaint their whole city afresh. Would you like to get an accurate idea of their real merit and their indisputable value? If so, ask some one to conduct you through the houses that have been lately exhumed, and look at the paintings still left in their places as they appear with all the brilliance that Vesuvius has preserved in them, and which the sunlight will soon impair. In the saloon of the house of Proculus notice two pieces that correspond, namely, Narcissus and the Triumph of Bacchus—powerless languor and victorious activity. The intended meaning is clearly apparent, and is simply and vividly rendered. The ancients never required commentators to make them understood. You comprehend their idea and their subject at first glance. The most ignorant of men and the least versed in Pagan lore, take their meaning with half a look and give their works a title. In them we find no beating about the bush, no circumlocution, no hidden meanings, no confusion; the painter expresses what he means, does it quickly and does it well, without exaggerating his terms or overloading the scene. His principal personages stand out boldly, yet the accessories do not cry aloud, "Look at me!" The picture of Narcissus represents Narcissus first and foremost; then it brings in a solitude and a streamlet. The coloring has a brilliance and harmoniousness of tint that surprises us, but there are no useless effects in it. In nearly all these frescoes (excepting the wedding of Zephyrus and Flora) the light spreads over it, white and equable (no one says cold and monotonous), for its office is not merely to illuminate the picture, but to throw sufficient glow and warmth upon the wall. The low and narrow rooms having, instead of windows, only a door opening on the court, had need of this painted daylight which skilful pencils wrought for them. And what movement there was in all those figures, what suppleness and what truth to nature![H]
Nothing is distorted, nothing attitudinizes. Ariadne is really asleep, and Hercules, in wine, really sinks to the ground; the dancing girl floats in the air as though in her native element; the centaur gallops without an effort; it is simple reality—the very reverse of realism—nature such as she actually is when she is pleasant to behold, in the full effusion of her grace, advancing like a queen because she is a queen, and because she could not move in any other fashion. In a word, these second-rate painters, poor daubers of walls as they were, had, in the absence of scientific skill and correctness, the flash of latent genius in obscurity, the instinct of art, spontaneousness, freedom of touch, and vivid life.
Such were the walls of Pompeii. Let us now glance at the pavements. They will astonish us much more. At the outset the pavements were quite plain. There was a cement formed of a kind of mortar; this was then thoroughly dusted with pulverized brick, and the whole converted into a composition, which, when it had hardened, was like red granite. Many rooms and courts at Pompeii are paved with this composition which was called opus signinum. Then, in this crust, they at first ranged small cubes of marble, of glass, of calcareous stone, of colored enamel, forming squares or stripes, then others complicating the lines or varying the colors, and others again tracing regular designs, meandering lines, and arabesques, until the divided pebbles at length completely covered the reddish basis, and thus they finally became mosaics, those carpetings of stone which soon rose to the importance and value of great works of art.
The house of the Faun at Pompeii, which is the most richly paved of all, was a museum of mosaics. There was one before the door, upon the sidewalk, inscribed with the ancient salutation, Salve! Another, at the end of the prothyrum, artistically represented masks. Others again, in the wings of the atrium, made up a little menagerie,—a brace of ducks, dead birds, shell-work, fish, doves taking pearls from a casket, and a cat devouring a quail—a perfect masterpiece of living movement and precision. Pliny mentions a house, the flooring of which represented the fragments of a meal: it was called the ill-swept house. But let us not quit the house of the Faun, where the mosaic-workers had, besides what we have told, wrought on the pavement of the oecus a superb lion foreshortened—much worn away, indeed, but marvellous for vigor and boldness. In the triclinium another mosaic represented Acratus, the Bacchic genius, astride of a panther; lastly the piece in the exaedra, the finest that exists, is counted among the most precious specimens of ancient art. It is the famous battle of Arbelles or of Issus. A squadron of Greeks, already victorious, is rushing upon the Persians; Alexander is galloping at the head of his cavalry. He has lost his helmet in the heat of the charge, his horses' manes stand erect, and his long spear has pierced the leader of the enemy. The Persians, overthrown and routed, are turning to flee; those who immediately surround Darius, the vanquished king, think of nothing but their own safety; but Darius is totally forgetful of himself. His hand extended toward his dying general, he turns his back to the flying rabble and seems to invite death. The whole scene—the headlong rush of the one army, the utter confusion of the other, the chariot of the King wheeling to the front, the rage, the terror, the pity expressed, and all this profoundly felt and clearly rendered—strikes the beholder at first glance and engraves itself upon his memory, leaving there the imperishable impression that masterpieces in art can alone produce. And yet this wonderful work was but the flooring of a saloon! The ancients put their feet where we put our hands, says an Englishman who utters but the simple truth. The finest tables in the palaces at Naples were cut from the pavements in the houses at Pompeii.
It was in the same dwelling that the celebrated bronze statuette of the Dancing Faun was found. It has its head and arms uplifted, its shoulders thrown back, its breast projecting, every muscle in motion, the whole body dancing. An accompanying piece, however, was lacking to this little deity so full of spring and vigor, and that piece has been exhumed by recent excavations, in quite an humble tenement. It represents a delicate youth, full of nonchalance and grace, a Narcissus hearkening to the musical echo in the distance. His head leans over, his ear is stretched to listen, his finger is turned in the direction whence he hears the sound—his whole body listens. Placed near each other in the museum, these two bronzes would make Pagans of us were religion but an affair of art.[I]
Then the mere wine-merchants of a little ancient city adorned their fountains with treasures like these! Others have been found, less precious, perhaps, but charming, nevertheless; the fisherman in sitting posture at the small mosaic fountain; the group representing Hercules holding a stag bent over his knee; a diminutive Apollo leaning, lyre in hand, against a pillar; an aged Silenus carrying a goat-skin of wine; a pretty Venus arranging her moistened tresses; a hunting Diana, etc.; without counting the Hermes and the double busts, one among the rest comprising the two heads of a male and female Faun full of intemperance and coarse gayety. 'Tis true that everything is not perfect in these sculptures, particularly in the marbles. The statues of Livia, of Drusus, and of Eumachia, are but moderately good; those discovered in the temples, such as Isis, Bacchus, Venus, etc., have not come down from the Parthenon. The decline of taste makes itself apparent in the latest ornamentation of the tombs and edifices, and the decorative work of the houses, the marble embellishments; and, above all, those executed in stucco become overladen and tawdry, heavy and labored, toward the last. Nevertheless, they reveal, if not a great aesthetic feeling, at least that yearning for elegance which entered so profoundly into the manners of the ancients. With us, in fine, art is never anything but a superfluity—something unfamiliar and foreign that comes in to us from the outside when we are wealthy. Our paintings and our sculptures do not make part and parcel of our houses. If we have a Venus of Milo on our mantel-clock, it is not because we worship beauty, nor that, to our view, there is the slightest connection between the mother of the Graces and the hour of the day. Venus finds herself very much out of her element there; she is in exile, evidently. On the other hand, at Pompeii she is at home, as Saint Genevieve once was at Paris, as Saint Januarius still is at Naples. She was the venerated patroness whose protection they invoked, whose anger they feared. "May the wrath of the angry Pompeian Venus fall upon him!" was their form of imprecation. All these well-known stories of gods and demigods who throned it on the walls, were the fairy tales, the holy legends, the thousand-times-repeated narratives that delighted the Pompeians. They had no need of explanatory programmes when they entered their domestic museums. To find something resembling this state of things, we should have to go into our country districts where there still reigns a divinity of other days—Glory—and admiringly observe with what religious devotion coarse lithographs of the "Old Flag," and of the "Little Corporal," are there retained and cherished. There, and there only, our modern art has infused itself into the life and manners of the people. Is it equal to ancient art?
If, from painting and sculpture, we descend to inferior branches,—if, as we tried to do in the house of Pansa, we despoil the museum so as to restore their inmates to the homes of Pompeii, and put back in its place the fine candelabra with the carved panther bearing away the infant Bacchus at full speed; the precious scyphus, in which two centaurs take a bevy of little Cupids on their cruppers; that other vase on which Pallas is standing erect in a car, leaning on her spear; the silver saucepan,—there were such in those days,—the handle of which is secured by two birds' heads; the simple pair of scales—they carved scales then!—where one sees the half bust of a warrior wearing a splendid helmet; in fine, the humblest articles, utensils of lowest use, nay, even simple earthenware covered with graceful ornaments, sometimes exquisitely worked;—were we to go to the museum at Naples and ask what the ancients used instead of the hideous boxes in which we shut up our dead, and there behold this beautiful urn which looks as though it were incrusted with ivory, and which has upon it in bas-relief carved masks enveloped in complicated vine-tendrils twisted, laden with clusters of grapes, intermingled with other foliage, tangled all up in rollicking arabesques, forming rosettes, in the midst of which birds are seen perching, and leaving but two spaces open where children dear to Bacchus are plucking grapes or treading them under foot, trilling stringed lyres, blowing on double flutes or tumbling about and snapping their fingers—the urn itself in blue glass and the reliefs in white—for the ancients knew how to carve glass,—ah! undoubtedly, in surveying all these marvels, we should be forced to concede that the citizen in old times was at least, as much of an artist as he is to-day. This was because in those times no barrier was erected between the citizen and the artist. There were no two opposing camps—on one side the Philistines, and on the other the people of God. There was no line of distinction between the needful and the superfluous, between the positive and the ideal. Art was daily bread, and not holiday pound-cake; it made its way everywhere; it illuminated, it gladdened, it perfumed everything. It did not stand either outside of or above ordinary life; it was the soul and the delight of life; in a word, it penetrated it, and was penetrated by it,—it lived! This is what these modest ruins teach.[J]
[Footnote F: See note on page 198. (The Footnote J of this book.—Transcriber.)]
[Footnote G: The learned Minervini has remarked certain differences in the washes put on the Pompeian walls. He has indicated finer ones with which, according to him, the ancients painted in fresco their more studied compositions, landscapes, and figures, while ordinary decorations were painted dry by inferior painters. I recall the fact, as I pass on, that several paintings, particularly the most important, were detached, but secured to the wall with iron clamps. It has ever been noticed that the back of these pictures did not adhere to the walls—an excellent precaution against dampness. This custom of sawing off and shifting mural paintings was very ancient. It is known that the wealthy Romans adorned their houses with works of art borrowed or stolen from Greece, and all will remember the famous contract of Mummius, who, in arranging with some merchants to convey to Rome the masterpieces of Zeuxis and Apelles, stipulated that if they should be lost or damaged on the way, the merchants should replace them at their own expense.]
[Footnote H: "And how the ancients, even the most unskilful, understood the right treatment of nude subjects!" said an eminent critic to me, one day, as he was with me admiring these pictures; "and," he added, "we know nothing more about it now; our statues are not nude, but undressed."]
[Footnote I: Recently, Signor Fiorelli has found another bronze statuette of a bent and crooked Silenus worth both the others.]
[Footnote J: A badly interpreted inscription on the gate of Nola had led, for a moment, to the belief that the importation of this singular worship dated back to the early days of the little city; but we now know that it was introduced by Sylla into the Roman world. Isis was Nature, the patroness of the Pompeians, who venerated her equally in their physical Venus. This form of religion, mysterious, symbolical, full of secrets hidden from the people, as it was; these goddesses with heads of dogs, wolves, oxen, hawks; the god Onion, the god Garlic, the god Leek; all that Apuleius tells about it, besides the data furnished by the Pompeian excavations, the recovered bottle-brushes, the basins, the knives, the tripods, the cymbals, the citherae, etc.,—were worth the trouble of examination and study.
Upon the door of the temple, a strange inscription announced that Numerius Popidius, the son of Numerius, had, at his own expense, rebuilt the temple of Isis, thrown down by an earthquake, and that, in reward for his liberality, the decurions had admitted him gratuitously to their college at the age of six years. The antiquaries, or some of them, at least, finding this age improbable, have read it sixty instead of six, forgetting that there then existed two kinds of decurions, the ornamentarii and praetextati—the honorary and the active officials. The former might be associated with the Pompeian Senate in recompense for services rendered by their fathers. An inscription found at Misenum confirms this fact. (See the Memorie del l'Academia Ercolanese, anno 1833)—The minutes of the Herculaneum Academy, for the year 1833.]
THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE PLACES OF AMUSEMENT.—ENTRANCE TICKETS.—THE VELARIUM, THE ORCHESTRA, THE STAGE.—THE ODEON.—THE HOLCONII.—THE SIDE SCENES, THE MASKS.—THE ATELLAN FARCES.—THE MIMES.—JUGGLERS, ETC.—A REMARK OF CICERO ON THE MELODRAMAS.—THE BARRACK OF THE GLADIATORS.—SCRATCHED INSCRIPTIONS, INSTRUMENTS OF TORTURE.—THE POMPEIAN GLADIATORS.—THE AMPHITHEATRE: HUNTS, COMBATS, BUTCHERIES, ETC.
We are now going to rest ourselves at the theatre. Pompeii had two such places of amusement, one tragic and the other comic, or, rather, one large and one smaller, for that is the only positive difference existing between them; all else on that point is pure hypothesis. Let us, then, say the large and small theatre, and we shall be sure to make no mistakes.
The grand saloon or body of the large theatre formed a semicircle, built against an embankment so that the tiers of seats ascended from the pit to the topmost gallery, without resting, on massive substructures. In this respect it was of Greek construction. The four upper tiers resting upon an arched corridor, in the Roman style, alone reached the height on which stood the triangular Forum and the Greek temple. Thus, you can step directly from the level of the street to the highest galleries, from which your gaze, ranging above the stage, can sweep the country and the sea, and at the same moment plunge far below you into that sort of regularly-shaped ravine in which once sat five thousand Pompeians eager for the show.
At first glance, you discover three main divisions; these are the different ranks of tiers, the caveae. There are three caveae—the lowermost, the middle, and the upper ones. The lowermost was considered the most select. It comprised only the four first rows of benches, or seats, which were broader and not so high as the others. These were the places reserved for magistrates and other eminent persons. Thither they had their seats carried and also the bisellia, or benches for two persons, on which they alone had the right to sit. A low wall, rising behind the fourth range and surmounted with a marble rail that has now disappeared, separated this lowermost cavea from the rest. The duumviri, the decurions, the augustales, the aediles, Holconius, Cornelius Rufus, and Pansa, if he was elected, sat there majestically apart from common mortals. The middle division was for quiet, every-day, private citizens, like ourselves. Separated into wedge-like corners (cunei) by six flights of steps cutting it in as many places, it comprised a limited number of seats marked by slight lines, still visible. A ticket of admission (a tessera or domino) of bone, earthenware, or bronze—a sort of counter cut in almond or en pigeon shape, sometimes too in the form of a ring—indicated exactly the cavea, the corner, the tier, and the seat for the person holding it. Tessarae of this kind have been found on which were Greek and Roman characters (a proof that the Greek would not have been understood without translation). Upon one of them is inscribed the name of AEschylus, in the genitive; and hence it has been inferred that his "Prometheus" or his "Persians" must have been played on the Pompeian stage, unless, indeed, this genitive designated one of the wedge-divisions marked out by the name or the statue of the tragic poet. Others have mentioned one of these counters that announced the representation of a piece by Plautus,—the Casina; but I can assure you that the relic is a forgery, if, indeed, such a one ever existed.
You should, then, before entering, provide yourself with a real tessera, which you may purchase for very little money. Plautus asked that folks should pay an as apiece. "Let those," he said, "who have not got it retire to their homes." The price of the seats was proclaimed aloud by a crier, who also received the money, unless the show was gratuitously offered to the populace by some magistrate who wished to retain public favor, or some candidate anxious to procure it. You handed in your ticket to a sort of usher, called the designator, or the locarius, who pointed out your seat to you, and, if required, conducted you thither. You could then take your place in the middle tier, at the top of which was the statue of Marcus Holconius Rufus, duumvir, military tribune, and patron of the colony. This statue had been set up there by order of the decurions. The holes hollowed in the pedestal by the nails that secured the marble feet of the statue are still visible.
Finally, at the summit of the half-moon was the uppermost cavea, assigned to the common herd and the women. So, after all, we are somewhat ahead of the Romans in gallantry. Railings separated this tier from the one we sit in, so as to prevent "the low rabble" from invading the seats occupied by us respectable men of substance. Upon the wall of the people's gallery is still seen the ring that held the pole of the velarium. This velarium was an awning that was stretched above the heads of the spectators to protect them from the sun. In earlier times the Romans had scouted at this innovation, which they called a piece of Campanian effeminacy. But little by little, increasing luxury reduced the Puritans of Rome to silence, and they willingly accepted a velarium of silk—an homage of Caesar. Nero, who carried everything to excess, went further: he caused a velarium of purple to be embroidered with gold. Caligula frequently amused himself by suddenly withdrawing this movable shelter and leaving the naked heads of the spectators exposed to the beating rays of the sun. But it seems that at Pompeii the wind frequently prevented the hoisting of the canvas, and so the poet Martial tells us that he will keep on his hat.
Such was the arrangement of the main body of the house. Let us now descend to the orchestra, which, in the Greek theatres, was set apart for the dancing of the choirs, but in the Roman theatres, was reserved for the great dignitaries, and at Rome itself for the prince, the vestals, and the senators. I have somewhere read that, in the great city, the foreign ambassadors were excluded from these places of honor because among them could be found the sons of freedmen.
Would you like to go up on the stage? Raised about five feet above the orchestra, it was broader than ours, but not so deep. The personages of the antique repertory did not swell to such numbers as in our fairy spectacles. Far from it. The stage extended between a proscenium or front, stretching out upon the orchestra by means of a wooden platform, which has disappeared, and the postscenium or side scenes. There was, also, a hyposcenium or subterranean part of the theatre, for the scene-shifters and machinists. The curtain or siparium (a Roman invention) did not rise to the ceiling as with us, but, on the contrary, descended so as to disclose the stage, and rolled together underground, by means of ingenious processes which Mazois has explained to us. Thus, the curtain fell at the beginning and rose at the end of the piece.
You are aware that in ancient drama the question of scenery was greatly simplified by the rule of the unity of place. The stage arrangement, for instance, represented the palace of a prince. Therefore, there was no canvas painted at the back of the stage; it was built up. This decoration, styled the scena stabilis, rose as high as the loftiest tier in the theatre, and was of stone and marble in the Pompeian edifice. It represented a magnificent wall pierced for three doors; in the centre was the royal door, where princes entered; on the right, the entrance of the household and females; at the left, the entrance for guests and strangers. These were matters to be fixed in the mind of the spectator. Between these doors were rounded and square niches for statues. In the side-scenes, was the moveable decoration (scena ductilis), which was slid in front of the back-piece in case of a change of scene, as, for instance, when playing the Ajax of Sophocles, where the place of action is transferred from the Greek camp to the shores of the Hellespont. Then, there were other side-scenes not of much account, owing to lack of room, and on each wing a turning piece with three broad flats representing three different subjects. There were square niches in the walls of the proscenium either for statues or for policemen to keep an eye on the spectators. Such, stated in a few lines and in libretto style, was the stage in ancient times.
I confess that I have a preference for the smaller theatre which has been called the Odeon. Is that because, possibly, tragedies were never played there? Is it because this establishment seems more complete and in better preservation, thanks to the intelligent replacements of La Vega, the architect? It was covered, as two inscriptions found there explicitly declare, with a wooden roof, probably, the walls not being strong enough to sustain an arch. It was reached through a passage all bordered with inscriptions, traced on the walls by the populace waiting to secure admission as they passed slowly in, one after the other. A lengthy file of gladiators had carved their names also upon the walls, along with an enumeration of their victories; barbarian slaves, and some freedmen, likewise, had left their marks. These probably constituted the audience that occupied the uppermost seats approached by the higher vomitories. On the other hand, there were no lateral vomitories. The spectators entered the orchestra directly by large doors, and thence ascended to the four tiers of the lower (cavea) which curved like hooks at their extremities, and were separated from the middle cavea by a parapet of marble terminating in vigorously-carved lion's paws. Among these carvings we may particularly note a crouching Atlas, of short, thick-set form, sustaining on his shoulders and his arms, which are doubled behind him, a marble slab which was once the stand of a vase or candlestick. This athletic effort is violently rendered by the artist. Above the orchestra ran the tribunalia, reminding us of our modern stage-boxes. These were the places reserved at Rome for the vestal virgins; at Pompeii, they were very probably those of the public priestesses—of Eumachia, whose statue we have already seen, or of Mamia whose tomb we have inspected. The seats of the three cavea were of blocks of lava; and there can still be seen in them the hollows in which the occupants placed their feet so as not to soil the spectators below them. Let us remember that the Roman mantles were of white wool, and that the sandals of the ancients got muddied just as our shoes do. The citizens who occupied the central cavea brought their cushions with them or folded their spotless togas on the seats before they took their places. It was necessary, then, to protect them from the mud and the dust in which the spectators occupying the upper tiers had been walking.
The number of ranges of seats was seventeen, divided into wedges by six flights of steps, and in stalls by lines yet visible upon the stone. The upper tiers were approached by vomitories and by a subterranean corridor. The orchestra formed an arc the chord of which was indicated by a marble strip with this inscription:
"M. Olconius M.F. Vervs, Pro Ludis."
This Olconius or Holconius was the Marquis of Carabas of Pompeii. His name may be read everywhere in the streets, on the monuments, and on the walls of the houses. We have seen already that the fruiterers wanted him for aedile. We have pointed out the position of his statue in the theatre. We know by inscriptions that he was not the only illustrious member of his family. There were also a Marcus Holconius Celer, a Marcus Holconius Rufus, etc. Were this petty municipal aristocracy worth the trouble of hunting up, we could easily find it on the electoral programmes by collecting the names usually affixed thereon. But Holconius is the one most conspicuous of them all; so, hats off to Holconius!
I return to the theatre. Two large side windows illuminated the stage, which, being covered, had need of light. The back scene was not carved, but painted and pierced for five doors instead of three; those at the ends, which were masked by movable side scenes served, perhaps, as entrances to the lobbies of the priestesses.
Would you like to go behind the scenes? Passing by the barracks of the gladiators, we enter an apartment adorned with columns, which was, very likely, the common hall and dressing-room of the actors. A celebrated mosaic in the house of the poet (or jeweller), shows us a scenic representation: in it we observe the choragus, surrounded by masks and other accessories (the choragus was the manager and director); he is making two actors, got up as satyrs, rehearse their parts; behind them, another comedian, assisted by a costumer of some kind, is trying to put on a yellow garment which is too small for him. Thus we can re-people the antechamber of the stage. We see already those comic masks that were the principal resource in the wardrobe of the ancient players. Some of them were typical; for instance, that of the young virgin, with her hair parted on her forehead and carefully combed; that of the slave-driver (or hegemonus), recognized by his raised eyelids, his wrinkled brows and his twists of hair done up in a wig; that of the wizard, with immense eyes starting from their sockets, seamed skin covered with pimples, with enormous ears, and short hair frizzed in snaky ringlets; that of the bearded, furious, staring, and sinister old man; and above all, those of the Atellan low comedians, who, born in Campania, dwell there still, and must assuredly have amused the little city through which we are passing. Atella, the country of Maccus was only some seven or eight leagues distant from Pompeii, and numerous interests and business connections united the inhabitants of the two places. I have frequently stated that the Oscan language, in which the Atellan farces were written, had once been the only tongue, and had continued to be the popular dialect of the Pompeians. The Latin gradually intermingled with these pieces, and the confusion of the two idioms was an exhaustless source of witticisms, puns, and bulls of all kinds, that must have afforded Homeric laughter to the plebeians of Pompeii. The longshoremen of Naples, in our day, seek exactly similar effects in the admixture of pure Italian and the local patois. The titles of some of the Atellian farces are still extant: "Pappus, the Doctor Shown Out," "Maccus Married," "Maccus as Safe Keeper," etc. These are nearly the same subjects that are still treated every day on the boards at Naples; the same rough daubs, half improvised on the spur of the moment; the same frankly coarse and indecent gayety. The Odeon where we are now, was the Pompeian San Carlino. Bucco, the stupid and mocking buffoon; the dotard Pappus, who reminds us of the Venetian Pantaloon; Mandacus, who is the Neapolitan Guappo; the Oscan Casnar, a first edition of Cassandra; and finally, Maccus, the king of the company, the Punchinello who still survives and flourishes,—such were the ancient mimes, and such, too, are their modern successors. All these must have appeared in their turn on the small stage of the Odeon; and the slaves, the freedmen crowded together in the upper tiers, the citizens ranged in the middle cavea or family-circle, the duumvirs, the decurions, the augustals, the aediles seated majestically on the bisellia of the orchestra, even the priestesses of the proscenium and the melancholy Eumachia, whose statue confesses, I know not what anguish of the heart,—all these must have roared with laughter at the rude and extravagant sallies of their low comedians, who, notwithstanding the parts they played, were more highly appreciated than the rest and had the exclusive privilege of wearing the title of Roman citizens.
Now, if these trivialities revolt your fastidious taste, you can picture to yourself the representation of some comedy of Plautus in the Odeon of Pompeii; that is, admitting, to begin with, that you can find a comedy by that author which in no wise shocks our susceptibilities. You can also fill the stage with mimes and pantomimists, for the favor accorded to that class of actors under the emperors is well known. The Caesars—I am speaking of the Romans—somewhat feared spoken comedy, attributing political proclivities to it, as they did; and, hence, they encouraged to their utmost that mute comedy which, at the same time, in the Imperial Babel, had the advantage of being understood by all the conquered nations. In the provinces, this supreme art of gesticulation, "these talking fingers, these loquacious hands, this voluble silence, this unspoken explanation," as was once choicely said, were serviceable in advancing the great work of Roman unity. "The substitution of ballet pantomimes for comedy and tragedy resulted in causing the old masterpieces to be neglected, thereby enfeebling the practice of the national idioms and seconding the propagation, if not of the language, at least of the customs and ideas of the Romans." (Charles Magnin.)
If the mimes do not suffice, call into the Odeon the rope-dancers, the acrobats, the jugglers, the ventriloquists,—for all these lower orders of public performers existed among the ancients and swarmed in the Pompeian pictures,—or the flute-players enlivening the waits with their melody and accompanying the voice of the actors at moments of dramatic climax. "How can he feel afraid," asked Cicero, in this connection, "since he recites such fine verses while he accompanies himself on the flute?" What would the great orator have said had he been present at our melodramas?
We may then imagine what kind of play we please on the little Pompeian stage. For my part, I prefer the Atellan farces. They were the buffooneries of the locality, the coarse pleasantry of native growth, the hilarity of the vineyard and the grain-field, exuberant fancy, grotesque in solemn earnest; in a word, ideal sport and frolic without the least regard to reality—in fine, Punchinello's comedy. We prefer Moliere; but how many things there are in Moliere which come in a direct line from Maccus!
It is time to leave the theatre. I have said that the Odeon opened into the gladiators' barracks. These barracks form a spacious court—a sort of cloister—surrounded by seventy-four pillars, unfortunately spoiled by the Pompeians of the restoration period. They topped them with new capitals of stucco notoriously ill adapted to them. This gallery was surrounded with curious dwellings, among which was a prison where three skeletons were found, with their legs fastened in irons of ingeniously cruel device. The instrument in question may be seen at the museum. It looks like a prostrate ladder, in which the limbs of the prisoners were secured tightly between short and narrow rungs—four bars of iron. These poor wretches had to remain in a sitting or reclining posture, and perished thus, without the power to rise or turn over, on the day when Vesuvius swallowed up the city.
It was for a long time thought that these barracks were the quarters of the soldiery, because arms were found there; but the latter were too highly ornamented to belong to practical fighting troops, and were the very indications that suggested to Father Garrucci the firmly established idea, that the dwellings surrounding the gallery must have been occupied by gladiators. These habitations consist of some sixty cells: now there were sixty gladiators in Pompeii because an album programme announced thirty pair of them to fight in the amphitheatre.
The pillars of the gallery were covered with inscriptions scratched on their surface. Many of these graphites formed simple Greek names Pompaios, Arpokrates, Celsa, etc., or Latin names, or fragments of sentences, curate pecunias, fur es Torque, Rustico feliciter! etc. Others proved clearly that the place was inhabited by gladiators: inludus Velius (that is to say not in the game, out of the ring) bis victor libertus—leonibus, victor Veneri parmam feret. Other inscriptions designate families or troops of gladiators, of which there are a couple familiar to us already, that of N. Festus Ampliatus and that of N. Popidius Rufus; and a third, with which we are not acquainted, namely, that of Pomponius Faustinus.
What has not been written concerning the gladiators? The origin of their bloody sports; the immolations, voluntary at first, and soon afterward compulsory, that did honor to the ashes of the dead warriors; then the combats around the funeral pyres; then, ere long, the introduction of these funeral spectacles as part of the public festivals, especially in the triumphal parades of victorious generals; then into private pageants, and then into the banquets of tyrants who caused the heads of the proscribed to be brought to them at table. The skill of such and such an artist in decapitation (decollandi artifex) was the subject of remark and compliment. Ah, those were the grand ages!
As the reader also knows, the gladiators were at first prisoners of war, barbarians; then, prisoners not coming in sufficient number, condemned culprits and slaves were employed, ere long, in hosts so strong as, to revolt in Campania at the summons of Spartacus. Consular armies were vanquished and the Roman prisoners, transformed to gladiators, in their turn were compelled to butcher each other around the funeral pyres of their chiefs. However, these combats had gradually ceased to be penalties and punishments, and soon were nothing but barbarous spectacles, violent pantomimic performances, like those which England and Spain have not yet been able to suppress. The troops of mercenary fighters slaughtered each other in the arenas to amuse the Romans (not to render them warlike). Citizens took part in these tournaments, and among them even nobles, emperors, and women; and, at last, the Samnites, Gauls, and Thracians, who descended into the arena, were only Romans in disguise. These shows became more and more varied; they were diversified with hunts (venationes), in which wild beasts fought with each other or against bestiarii, or Christians; the amphitheatres, transformed to lakes, offered to the gaze of the delighted spectator real naval battles, and ten thousand gladiators were let loose against each other by the imperial caprice of Trajan. These entertainments lasted one hundred and twenty-three days. Imagine the carnage!
Part of the gladiators of Pompeii were Greeks, and part were real barbarians. The traces that they have left in the little city show that they got along quite merrily there. 'Tis true that they could not live, as they did at Rome, in close intimacy with emperors and empresses, but they were, none the less, the spoiled pets of the residents of Pompeii. Lodged in a sumptuous barrack, they must have been objects of envy to many of the population. The walls are full of inscriptions concerning them; the bathing establishments, the inns, and the disreputable haunts, transmit their names to posterity. The citizens, their wives, and even their children admired them. In the house of Proculus, at no great height above the ground, is a picture of a gladiator which must have been daubed there by the young lad of the house. The gladiator whose likeness was thus given dwelt in the house. His helmet was found there. So, then, he was the guest of the family, and Heaven knows how they feasted him, petted him, and listened to him.
In order to see the gladiators under arms, we must pass over the part of the city that has not yet been uncovered, and through vineyards and orchards, until, in a corner of Pompeii, as though down in the bottom of a ravine, we find the amphitheatre. It is a circus, surrounded by tiers of seats and abutting on the city ramparts. The exterior wall is not high, because the amphitheatre had to be hollowed out in the soil. One might fancy it to be a huge vessel deeply embedded in the sand. In this external wall there remain two large arcades and four flights of steps ascending to the top of the structure. The arena was so called because of the layer of sand which covered it and imbibed the blood.
It is reached by two large vaulted and paved corridors with a quite steep inclination. One of these is strengthened with seven arches that support the weight of the tiers. Both of them intersect a transverse, circular corridor, beyond which they widen. It was through this that the armed gladiators, on horseback and on foot, poured forth into the arena, to the sound of trumpets and martial music, and made the circuit of the amphitheatre before entering the lists. They then retraced their steps and came in again, in couples, according to the order of combat.
To the right of the principal entrance a doorway opens into two square rooms with gratings, where the wild beasts were probably kept. Another very narrow corridor ran from the street to the arena, near which it ascended, by a small staircase, to a little round apartment apparently the spoliatorium, where they stripped the dead gladiators. The arena formed an oval of sixty-eight yards by thirty-six. It was surrounded by a wall of two yards in height, above which may still be seen the holes where gratings and thick iron bars were inserted as a precaution against the bounds of the panthers. In the large amphitheatres a ditch was dug around this rampart and filled with water to intimidate the elephants, as the ancients believed them to have a horror of that element.
Paintings and inscriptions covered the walls or podium of the arena. These inscriptions acquaint us with the names of the duumvirs,—N. Istadicius, A. Audius, O. Caesetius Saxtus Capito, M. Gantrius Marcellus, who, instead of the plays and the illumination, which they would have had to pay for, on assuming office, had caused three cunei to be constructed on the order of the decurions. Another inscription gives us to understand that two other duumvirs, Caius Quinctius Valgus and Marcus Portius, holding five-year terms, had instituted the first games at their expense for the honor of the colony, and had granted the ground on which the amphitheatre stood, in perpetuity. These two magistrates must have been very generous men, and very fond of public shows. We know that they contributed, in like manner, to the construction of the Odeon.
Would you now like to go over the general sweep of the tiers—the visorium? Three grand divisions as in the theatre; the lowermost separated, by entries and private flights of steps, into eighteen boxes; the middle and upper one divided into cunei, the first by twenty stairways, the second by forty. Around the latter was an inclosing wall, intersected by vomitories and forming a platform where a number of spectators, arriving too late for seats, could still find standing-room, and where the manoeuvres were executed that were requisite to hoist the velarium, or awning. All these made up an aggregate of twenty-four ranges of seats, upon which were packed perhaps twenty thousand spectators. So much for the audience. Nothing could be more simple or more ingenious than the system of extrication by which the movement, to and fro, of this enormous throng was made possible, and easy. The circular and vaulted corridor which, under the tiers, ran around the arena and conducted, by a great number of distinct stairways, to the tiers of the lower and middle cavea, while upper stairways enabled the populace to ascend to the highest story assigned to it.
One is surprised so see so large an amphitheatre in so small a city. But, let us not forget that Pompeii attracted the inhabitants of the neighboring towns to her festivals; history even tells us an anecdote on this subject that is not without its moral.
The Senator Liveneius Regulus, who had been driven from Rome and found an asylum in Pompeii, offered a gladiator show to the hospitable little city. A number of people from Nocera had gone to the pageant, and a quarrel arose, probably owing to municipal rivalries, that eternal curse of Italy; from words they came to blows and volleys of stones, and even to slashing with swords. There were dead and wounded on both sides. The Nocera visitors, being less numerous, were beaten, and made complaint to Rome. The affair was submitted to the Emperor, who sent it to the Senate, who referred it to the Consuls, who referred it back again to the Senate. Then came the sentence, and public shows were prohibited in Pompeii for the space of ten years. A caricature which recalls this punishment has been found in the Street of Mercury. It represented an armed gladiator descending, with a palm in his hand, into the amphitheatre: on the left, a second personage is drawing a third toward him on a seat; the third one had his arms bound, and was, no doubt, a prisoner. This inscription accompanies the entire piece: "Campanians, your victory has been as fatal to you as it was to the people of Nocera."[K]
The hand of Rome, ever the hand of Rome!
For that matter, the ordinances relating to the amphitheatre applied to the whole empire. One of the Pompeian inscriptions announces that the duumvir C. Cuspius Pansa had been appointed to superintend the public shows and see to the observance of the Petronian law. This law prohibited Senators from fighting in the arena, and even from sending slaves thither who had not been condemned for crime. Such things, then, required to be prohibited!
I have described the arena and the seats; let me now pass on to the show itself. Would yon like to have a hunt or a gladiatorial combat? Here I invent nothing. I have data, found at Pompeii (the paintings in the amphitheatre and the bas-reliefs on the tomb of Scaurus), that reproduce scenes which I have but to transfer to prose. Let us, then, suppose the twenty thousand spectators to be in their places on thirty-four ranges of seats, one above the other, around the arena; then, let us take our seats among them and look on.
First we have a hunt. A panther, secured by a long rope to the neck of a bull let loose, is set on against a young bestiarius, who holds two javelins in his hands. A man, armed with a long lance, irritates the bull so that it may move and second the rush of the panther fastened to it. The lad who has the javelins, and is a novice in his business, is but making his first attempt; should the bull not move, he runs no risk, yet I should not like to be in his place.
Then follows a more serious combat between a bear and a man, who irritates him by holding out a cloth at him, as the matadors do in bull-fights. Another group shows us a tiger and a lion escaping in different directions. An unarmed and naked man is in pursuit of the tiger, who cannot be a very cross one. But here is a venatio much more dramatic in its character. The nude bestiarius has just pierced a wolf through and through, and the animal is in flight with the spear sticking in his body, but the man staggers and a wild boar is rushing at him. At the same time, a stag thrown down by a lasso that is still seen dangling to his antlers, awaits his death-blow; hounds are dashing at him, and "their fierce baying echoes from vale to vale."
But that is not all. Look at yon group of victors: a real matador has plunged his spear into the breast of a bull with so violent a stroke that the point of the weapon comes out at the animal's back; and another has just brought down and impaled a bear; a dog is leaping at the throat of a fugitive wild boar and biting him; and, in this ferocious menagerie, peopled with lions and panthers, two rabbits are scampering about, undoubtedly to the great amusement of the throng. The Romans were fond of these contrasts, which furnished Galienus an opportunity to be jocosely generous. "A lapidary," says M. Magnin, "had sold the emperor's wife some jewels, which were recognized to be false; the emperor had the dishonest dealer arrested and condemned to the lions; but when the fatal moment came, he turned no more formidable creature loose upon him than a capon. Everybody was astonished, and while all were vainly striving to guess the meaning of such an enigma, he caused the curion, or herald, to proclaim aloud: "This man tried to cheat, and now he is caught in his turn.""
I have described the hunts at Pompeii; they were small affairs compared with those of Rome. The reader may know that Titus, who finished the Coliseum, caused five thousand animals to be killed there in a single day in the presence of eighty thousand spectators. Let us confess, however, that with this exhibition, of tigers, panthers, lions, and wild boars, the provincial hunts were still quite dramatic.
I now come to the gladiatorial combats. To commence with the preliminaries of the fight, a ring-master, with his long staff in his hand, traces the circle, within which the antagonists must keep. One of the latter, half-armed, blows his trumpet and two boys behind him hold his helmet and his shield. The other has nothing, as yet, but his shield in his hand; two slaves are bringing him his helmet and his sword. The trumpet has sounded, and the ring-master and slaves have disappeared. The gladiators are at it. One of them has met with a mishap. The point of his sword is bent and he has just thrown away his shield. The blood is flowing from his arm, which he extends toward the spectators, at the same time raising his thumb. That was the sign the vanquished made when they asked for quarter. But the people do not grant it this time, for they have turned the twenty thousand thumbs of their right hands downwards. The man must die, and the victor is advancing upon him to slaughter him.
Would you like to see an equestrian combat? Two horsemen are charging on each other. They wear helmets with visors, and carry spears and the round shield (parma), but they are lightly armed. Only one of their arms—that which sustains the spear—is covered with bands or armlets of metal. Their names and the number of their victories already won are known. The first is Bebrix, a barbarian, who has been triumphant fifteen times; the second is Nobilior, a Roman, who has vanquished eleven times. The combat is still undecided. Nobilior is just delivering a spear thrust, which is vigorously parried by Bebrix.
Would you prefer a still more singular kind of duel—one between a secutor and a retiarius? The retiarius wears neither helmet nor cuirass, but carries a three-pronged javelin, called a trident, in his left hand, and in his right a net, which he endeavors to throw over the head of his adversary. If he misses his aim he is lost; the secutor then pursues him, sword in hand, and kills him. But in the duel at which we are present, the secutor is vanquished, and has fallen on one knee; the retiarius, Nepimus, triumphant already on five preceding occasions, has seized him by the belt, and has planted one foot upon his leg, but the trident not being sufficient to finish him, a second secutor, Hippolytus by name, who has survived five previous victories, has come up. Hippolytus rests one hand upon the helmet of the vanquished secutor who vainly clasps his knees, and with the other, cuts his throat.
Death—always death! In the paintings; in the bas-reliefs that I describe; in the scenes that they reproduce; in the arena where these combats must have taken place, I can see only unhappy wretches undergoing assassination. One of them, holding his shield behind him, is thinking only how he may manage to fall with grace; another, kneeling, presses his wound with one hand, and stretches the other out toward the spectators; some of them have a suppliant look, others are stoical, but all will have to roll at last upon the sand of the arena, condemned by the inexorable caprice of a people greedy for blood. "The modest virgin," says Juvenal, "turning down her thumb, orders that the breast of yonder man, grovelling in the dust, shall be torn open." And all—the heavily armed Samnite, the Gaul, the Thracian, the secutor; the dimachoerus, with his two swords; the swordsman who wears a helmet surmounted with a fish—the one whom the retiarius pursues with his net, meanwhile singing this refrain, "It is not you that I am after, but your fish, and why do you flee from me?"—all, all must succumb, at last, sooner or later, were it to be after the hundredth victory, in this same arena, where once an attendant employed in the theatre used to come, in the costume of Mercury, to touch them with a red-hot iron to make sure that they were dead. If they moved, they were at once dispatched; if they remained icy-cold and motionless, a slave harpooned them with a hook, and dragged them through the mire of sand and blood to the narrow corridor, the porta libitinensis,—the portal of death,—whence they were flung into the spoliarium, so that their arms and clothing, at least, might be saved. Such were the games of the amphitheatre.
[Footnote K: M. Campfleury has reproduced this design in his very curious book on Antique Caricature.]
THE DELUGE OF ASHES.—THE DELUGE OF FIRE.—THE FLIGHT OF THE POMPEIANS.—THE PREOCCUPATIONS OF THE POMPEIAN WOMEN.—THE VICTIMS: THE FAMILY OF DIOMED; THE SENTINEL; THE WOMAN WALLED UP IN A TOMB; THE PRIEST OF ISIS; THE LOVERS CLINGING TOGETHER, ETC.—THE SKELETONS.—THE DEAD BODIES MOULDED BY VESUVIUS.
It was during one of these festivals, on the 23d of November, 79, that the terrible eruption which overwhelmed the city burst forth. The testimony of the ancients, the ruins of Pompeii, the layers upon layers of ashes and scoriae that covered it, the skeletons surprised in attitudes of agony or death, all concur to tell us of the catastrophe. The imagination can add nothing to it: the picture is there before our eyes; we are present at the scene; we behold it. Seated in the amphitheatre, we take to flight at the first convulsions, at the first lurid flashes which announce the conflagration and the crumbling of the mountain. The ground is shaken repeatedly; and something like a whirlwind of dust, that grows thicker and thicker, has gone rushing and spinning across the heavens. For some days past there has been talk of gigantic forms, which, sometimes on the mountain and sometimes in the plain, swept through the air; they are up again now, and rear themselves to their whole height in the eddies of smoke, from amid which is heard a strange sound, a fearful moaning followed by claps of thunder that crash down, peal on peal. Night, too, has come on—a night of horror; enormous flames kindle the darkness like the blaze of a furnace. People scream, out in the streets, "Vesuvius is on fire!"
On the instant, the Pompeians, terrified, bewildered, rush from the amphitheatre, happy in finding so many places of exit through which they can pour forth without crushing each other, and the open gates of the city only a short distance beyond. However, after the first explosion, after the deluge of ashes, comes the deluge of fire, or light stones, all ablaze, driven by the wind—one might call it a burning snow—descending slowly, inexorably, fatally, without cessation or intermission, with pitiless persistence. This solid flame blocks up the streets, piles itself in heaps on the roofs and breaks through into the houses with the crashing tiles and the blazing rafters. The fire thus tumbles in from story to story, upon the pavement of the courts, where, accumulating like earth thrown in to fill a trench, it receives fresh fuel from the red and fiery flakes that slowly, fatally, keep showering down, falling, falling, without respite.
The inhabitants flee in every direction; the strong, the youthful, those who care only for their lives, escape. The amphitheatre is emptied in the twinkling of an eye and none remain in it but the dead gladiators. But woe to those who have sought shelter in the shops, under the arcades of the theatre, or in underground retreats. The ashes surround and stifle them! Woe, above all, to those whom avarice or cupidity hold back; to the wife of Proculus, to the favorite of Sallust, to the daughters of the house of the Poet who have tarried to gather up their jewels! They will fall suffocated among these trinkets, which, scattered around them, will reveal their vanity and the last trivial cares that then beset them, to after ages. A woman in the atrium attached to the house of the Faun ran wildly as chance directed, laden with jewelry; unable any longer to get breath, she had sought refuge in the tablinum, and there strove in vain to hold up, with her outstretched arms, the ceiling crumbling in upon her. She was crushed to death, and her head was missing when they found her.
In the Street of the Tombs, a dense crowd must have jostled each other, some rushing in from, the country to seek safety in the city, and others flying from the burning houses in quest of deliverance under the open sky. One of them fell forward with his feet turned toward the Herculaneum gate; another on his back, with his arms uplifted. He bore in his hands one hundred and twenty-seven silver coins and sixty-nine pieces of gold. A third victim was also on his back; and, singular fact, they all died looking toward Vesuvius!
A female holding a child in her arms had taken shelter in a tomb which the volcano shut tight upon her; a soldier, faithful to duty, had remained erect at his post before the Herculaneum gate, one hand upon his mouth and the other on his spear. In this brave attitude he perished. The family of Diomed had assembled in his cellar, where seventeen victims, women, children, and the young girl whose throat was found moulded in the ashes, were buried alive, clinging closely to each other, destroyed there by suffocation, or, perhaps, by hunger. Arrius Diomed had tried to escape alone, abandoning his house and taking with him only one slave, who carried his money-wallet. He fell, struck down by the stifling gases, in front of his own garden. How many other poor wretches there were whose last agonies have been disclosed to us!—the priest of Isis, who, enveloped in flames and unable to escape into the blazing street, cut through two walls with his axe and yielded his last breath at the foot of the third, where he had fallen with fatigue or struck down by the deluge of ashes, but still clutching his weapon. And the poor dumb brutes, tied so that they could not break away,—the mule in the bakery, the horses in the tavern of Albinus, the goat of Siricus, which had crouched into the kitchen oven, where it was recently found, with its bell still attached to its neck! And the prisoners in the blackhole of the gladiators' barracks, riveted to an iron rack that jammed their legs! And the two lovers surprised in a shop near the Thermae; both were young, and they were tightly clasped in each other's arms.... How awful a night and how fearful a morrow! Day has come, but the darkness remains; not that of a moonless night, but that of a closed room without lamp or candle. At Misenum, where Pliny the younger, who has described the catastrophe, was stationed, nothing was heard but the voices of children, of men, and of women, calling to each other, seeking each other, recognizing each other by their cries alone, invoking death, bursting out in wails and screams of anguish, and believing that it was the eternal night in which gods and men alike were rushing headlong to annihilation. Then there fell a shower of ashes so dense that, at the distance of seven leagues from the volcano, one had to shake one's clothing continually, so as not to be suffocated. These ashes went, it is said, as far as Africa, or, at all events, to Rome, where they filled the atmosphere and hid the light of day, so that even the Romans said: "The world is overturned; the sun is falling on the earth to bury itself in night, or the earth is rushing up to the sun to be consumed in his eternal fires." "At length," writes Pliny, "the light returned gradually, and the star that sheds it reappeared, but pallid as in an eclipse. The whole scene around us was transformed; the ashes, like a heavy snow, covered everything."
This vast shroud was not lifted until in the last century, and the excavations have narrated the catastrophe with an eloquence which even Pliny himself, notwithstanding the resources of his style and the authority of his testimony, could not attain. The terrible exterminator was caught, as it were, in the very act, amid the ruins he had made. These roofless houses, with the height of one story only remaining and leaving their walls open to the sun; these colonnades that no longer supported anything; these temples yawning wide on all sides, without pediment or portico; this silent loneliness; this look of desolation, distress, and nakedness, which looked like ruins on the morrow of some great fire,—all were enough to wring one's heart. But there was still more: there were the skeletons found at every step in this voyage of discovery in the midst of the dead, betraying the anguish and the terror of that last dreadful hour. Six hundred,—perhaps more,—have already been found, each one illustrating some poignant episode of the immense catastrophe in which they were smitten down!
Recently, in a small street, under heaps of rubbish, the men working on the excavations perceived an empty space, at the bottom of which were some bones. They at once called Signor Fiorelli, who had a bright idea. He caused some plaster to be mixed, and poured it immediately into the hollow, and the same operation was renewed at other points where he thought he saw other similar bones. Afterward, the crust of pumice-stone and hardened ashes which had enveloped, as it were, in a scabbard, this something that they were trying to discover, was carefully lifted off. When these materials had been removed, there appeared four dead bodies.
Any one can see them now, in the museum at Naples; nothing could be more striking than the spectacle. They are not statues, but corpses, moulded by Vesuvius; the skeletons are still there, in those casings of plaster which reproduce what time would have destroyed, and what the damp ashes have preserved,—the clothing and the flesh, I might almost say the life. The bones peep through here and there, in certain places which the plaster did not reach. Nowhere else is there anything like this to be seen. The Egyptian mummies are naked, blackened, hideous; they no longer have anything in common with us; they are laid out for their eternal sleep in the consecrated attitude. But the exhumed Pompeians are human beings whom one sees in the agonies of death.
One of these bodies is that of a woman near whom were picked up ninety-one pieces of coin, two silver urns, and some keys and jewels. She was endeavoring to escape, taking with her these precious articles, when she fell down in the narrow street. You still see her lying on her left side; her head-dress can very readily be made out, as also can the texture of her clothing and two silver rings which she still has on her finger; one of her hands is broken, and you see the cellular structure of the bone; her left arm is lifted and distorted; her delicate hand is so tightly clenched that you would say the nails penetrate the flesh; her whole body appears swollen and contracted; the legs only, which are very slender, remain extended. One feels that she struggled a long time in horrible agony; her whole attitude is that of anguish, not of death.
Behind her had fallen a woman and a young girl; the elder of the two, the mother, perhaps, was of humble birth, to judge by the size of her ears; on her finger she had only an iron ring; her left leg lifted and contorted, shows that she, too, suffered; not so much, however, as the noble lady: the poor have less to lose in dying. Near her, as though upon the same bed, lies the young girl; one at the head, and the other at the foot, and their legs are crossed. This young girl, almost a child, produces a strange impression; one sees exactly the tissue, the stitches of her clothing, the sleeves that covered her arms almost to the wrists, some rents here and there that show the naked flesh, and the embroidery of the little shoes in which she walked; but above all, you witness her last hour, as though you had been there, beneath the wrath of Vesuvius; she had thrown her dress over her head, like the daughter of Diomed, because she was afraid; she had fallen in running, with her face to the ground, and not being able to rise again, had rested her young, frail head upon one of her arms. One of her hands was half open, as though she had been holding something, the veil, perhaps, that covered her. You see the bones of her fingers penetrating the plaster. Her cranium is shining and smooth, her legs are raised backward and placed one upon the other; she did not suffer very long, poor child! but it is her corpse that causes one the sorest pang to see, for she was not more than fifteen years of age.
The fourth body is that of a man, a sort of colossus. He lay upon his back so as to die bravely; his arms and his limbs are straight and rigid. His clothing is very clearly defined, the greaves visible and fitting closely; his sandals laced at the feet, and one of them pierced by the toe, the nails in the soles distinct; the stomach naked and swollen like those of the other bodies, perhaps by the effect of the water, which has kneaded the ashes. He wears an iron ring on the bone of one finger; his mouth is open, and some of his teeth are missing; his nose and his cheeks stand out promimently; his eyes and his hair have disappeared, but the moustache still clings. There is something martial and resolute about this fine corpse. After the women who did not want to die, we see this man, fearless in the midst of the ruins that are crushing him—impavidum ferient ruinae.
I stop here, for Pompeii itself can offer nothing that approaches this palpitating drama. It is violent death, with all its supreme tortures,—death that suffers and struggles,—taken in the very act, after the lapse of eighteen centuries.
In order to render my work less lengthy and less confused, as well as easier to read, I have grouped together the curiosities of Pompeii, according to their importance and their purport, in different chapters. I shall now mark out an itinerary, wherein they will be classed in the order in which they present themselves to the traveller, and I shall place after each street and each edifice the indication of the chapter in which I have described or named it in my work.
In approaching Pompeii by the usual entrance, which is the nearest to the railroad, it would be well to go directly to the Forum. See Chap. II.
The monuments of the Forum are as follows. I have italicized the most curious:
The Basilica. See Chap. II.
The Temple of Venus. "
The Curia, or Council Hall. "
The Edifice, or Eumachia. "
The Temple of Mercury. "
The Temple of Jupiter. "
The Senate Chamber. "
The Pantheon. "
From the Forum, you will go toward the north, passing by the Arch of Triumph; visit the Temple of Fortune (see Chap. VI.), and stop at the Thermae (see Chap. V.).
On leaving the Thermae, pass through the entire north-west of the city, that is to say, the space comprised between the streets of Fortune and of the Thermae and the walls. In this space are comprised the following edifices:
The House of Pansa. See Chap. VI.
The House of the Tragic Poet. Chap. VII.
The Fullonica. Chap. III.
The Mosaic Fountains. Chap. VII.
The House of Adonis. Chap. VII.
The House of Apollo.
The House of Meleager.
The House of the Centaur.
The House of Castor and Pollux. Chap. VII.
The House of the Anchor.
The House of Polybius.
The House of the Academy of Music.
The Bakery. See Chap. III.
The House of Sallust. Chap. VII.
The Public Oven.
A Fountain. Chap. III.
The House of the Dancing Girls.
The Perfumery Shop. Chap III.
The House of Three Stories.
The Custom House. Chap. IV.
The House of the Surgeon. Chap. III.
The House of the Vestal Virgins.
The Shop of Albinus.
The Thermopolium. Chap. III.
Thus you arrive at the Walls and at the Gate of Herculaneum, beyond which the Street of the Tombs opens and the suburbs develop. All this is described in Chap. IV.
Here are the monuments in the Street of the Tombs:
The Sentry Box. See Chap. IV.
The Tomb of Mamia. "
The Tomb of Ferentius. "
The Sculptor's Atelier. "
The Tomb with the Wreaths. "
The Public Bank. "
The House of the Mosaic Columns. "
The Villa of Cicero. "
The Tomb of Scaurus. "
The Round Tomb. "
The Tomb with the Marble Door. "
The Tomb of Libella. "
The Tomb of Calventius. "
The Tomb of Nevoleia Tyche. "
The Funereal Triclinium. "
The Tomb of Labeo. "
The Tombs of the Arria Family. "
The Villa of Diomed. "
Having visited these tombs, re-enter the city by the Herculaneum Gate, and, returning over part of the way already taken, find the Street of Fortune again, and there see—
The House of the Faun. Chap. VII.
The House with the Black Wall.
The House with the Figured Capitals.
The House of the Grand Duke.
The House of Ariadne.
The House of the Hunt. Chap. VII.
You thus reach the place where the Street of Stabiae turns to the right, descending toward the southern part of the city. Before taking this street, you will do well to follow the one in which you already are to where it ends at the Nola Gate, which is worth seeing. See Chap. IV.
The Street of Stabiae marks the limit reached by the excavations. To the left, in going down, you will find the handsome House of Lucretius. See Chap. VII.
On the right begins a whole quarter recently discovered and not yet marked out on the diagram. Get them to show you—
The House of Siricus. Chap. VII.
The Hanging Balconies. Chap. III.
The New Bakery. Chap. III.
Turning to the left, below the Street of Stabiae you will cross the open fields, above the part of the city not yet cleared, as far as the Amphitheatre. See Chap. VIII.
Then, retracing your steps and intersecting the Street of Stabiae, you enter a succession of streets, comparatively wide, which will lead you back to the Forum. You will there find, on your right, the Hot Baths of Stabiae. See chap. V. On your left is the House of Cornelius Rufus and that of Proculus, recently discovered. See Chap. VII.
There now remains for you to cross the Street of Abundance at the southern extremity of the city. It is the quarter of the triangular Forum, and of the Theatres—the most interesting of all.
The principal monuments to be seen are—
The Temple of Isis. See Chap. VII.
The Curia Isiaca.
The Temple of Hercules. Chap. VII.
The Grand Theatre. Chap. VIII.
The Smaller Theatre. "
The Barracks of the Gladiators. Chap. VIII.
At the farther end of these barracks opens a small gate by which you may leave the city, after having made the tour of it in three hours, on this first excursion. On your second visit you will be able to go about without a guide.
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