24 September 2013

What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?

A lovely mosaic of a guard dog, excavated in
Pompeii.  What is assumed to be the body of this
very dog was found in the doorway of his house.
I’ve been offline for quite a few days, so I have a bit of making up to do – so you shall see some blogs in quick succession.  Don’t worry – all shorter than my Tiger Temple missive.  Probably.

So our second Play Day on this buying trip didn’t involve any buying as such.  Oh well, the actual work bit will start soon enough.  This day involved visiting the British Museum in London to view the exhibition Life & Death in Pompeii & Herculaneum.  Wow, that was good.  It wasn’t very well organised, with no clear direction for the very large crowd to move in so people tended to just scatter in all directions and sometimes it took a while to see different exhibits, but in the end we got to see everything.  If you are able to walk about the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum – both of which are still being excavated – then they are now on my List of Places to Visit.

This is the guard dog, as he died.  There
were some very moving exhibits,
and this was certainly one.
My favourite pieces were a couple of really lovely mosaics.  Early in the exhibit you see the plaster cast of a dog that died guarding the doorway of his house, poor chook, and when that house was excavated the guard dog mosaic was uncovered in the hallway.  It’s a very simple but striking piece of art.  Later on you see an incredibly fine and detailed mosaic depicting sealife, which is probably the most detailed and intricate and beautiful mosaic I’ve ever seen.  Such a detailed image, all from eensy-weensy, teeny-tiny tiles of glass.  And it turns out that the Romans were really very fond of the God Bacchus, so there were frescos and mosaics of him and the … shall we say “energetic” … goings on of his followers all over both towns.  Bacchus favoured the panther as his animal companion, so there were also lots of figures and pictures of panthers, which were quite striking.

This mosaic was one of the finest I've
ever seen.  The artist was able to
produce an almost 3D effect,
such was their skill.
A very large number of bronze pots and figures have been excavated, and it was amazing to see the seriously fine detail that was achieved, so long ago.  And by now the patination on some of them – really thick blue and green verdigris – is gorgeous.  I can also tell my customers who have bought Roman glass and medical implements from me in the past that they were every bit as good as those exhibited at the British Museum.  Yay for great suppliers!  I was very chuffed that the pieces I offered for sale in the shop would have totally held their own in this major exhibition.

All in all, the exhibition was surprisingly comprehensive and gave a good insight into the lives of the people in both towns, displaying everything from the frescos in peoples’ homes to calcified loaves of bread and other food, from beautiful and intricate gold jewellery to things found in the drains. 

We did look at other
things while visiting
the British Museum.
This is the Holy Thorn
Reliquary, considered
to be one of the most
important exhibits in
the entire Museum.
These days it’s deemed acceptable to put on public display some pretty raunchy statues and figures, which until recently were kept in secret vaults and shown only in the most rare circumstances.  Scholars have now decided that the Romans’ attitude to sex and their sometimes confronting depictions of it, was entirely different to our modern sensibilities.  So nowadays, showing these statues isn’t deemed to be displaying pornography, it’s displaying Roman humour.  We, for example, tend to frown on things like sex with goats and don’t find it one bit hilarious.  But if you were a Roman you’d have been told to Lighten up, Augustus, because the statue was just a bit of a laugh.

On a more serious level, although many people escaped Vesuvius’ eruption so many more did not, and they were just people living their lives until a horrible disaster suddenly descended upon them.  The casts of the people and animals who had died there were really very moving.  Sometimes you could see the expression of terror on peoples’ faces, while others were huddled with their hands over their faces, desperately trying to breathe.  And all figures were bent into what is called the pugilist pose, like they’re about to begin boxing, because that is how the tendons in the human body contort in extreme heat.  Truly terrible, and yet fascinating to see what is still emerging from both towns as they are still under excavation.  It might be interesting to volunteer some time to one of the archaeological digs in progress – not as much fun as the Tiger Temple, but every bit as dirty and probably a little safer.

One of the helmets from the
Sutton Hoo Hoard, the most famous
early medieval treasure ever
Lots more has been happening - including shopping! - so more blogs coming in quick succession real soon.

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