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Pompeii - The Living City by Alex Butterworth

Book Review by Pertinax

This is not to be confused with the work “Pompeii” by Harris, though I happen to believe that both books fall into a similar category: an entertaining fictional repopulation of Pompeii that would be excellent bed time reading for a first time visitor to the City. This title would also be a good choice for stimulating an interest in Roman history in a friend with no great background knowledge or as a pleasant conceit for a confirmed Romanophile.

I actually read the book as light relief from a much weightier history I was annotating and reviewing, usually late at night with a decent glass of red wine- it fit that slot perfectly. This is not to say that the basic history is not pursued with rigour .nor that the work is superficial, however the structure of the book - describing found remains and possible likely historical scenarios then interposing a vivd re-imagined fictional episode to give those “facts” life makes for an entertaining rather than a stuffy read.

The actual style of the fictional inserts is slightly theatrical, the dialogue presents itself as an extension of Rome (as perhaps personified by Charles Laughton as Graccus in Spartacus , an audio book version would have to be read by Stepehen Fry) slightly stagey and camp but not offensive to the eye or mind...

The intention seems to be to introduce a sort of archaic melodrama contrasting to the purely descriptive parts of the work., obviously if one mixes in fiction as a device to embolden history then there is always the possibility of looking a little foolish , but it is all carried off well .The invention gives colour to dry material and whilst scholars might purse their lips at the liberties taken in inventing personae and attitudes at least the text is a reasonable vehicle for a “modern” to try and get under the skin of the Pompeiian inhabitants. Perhaps the biggest difficulty is trying to imagine the inner mental landscape of these fictionalised people.

None of the conjectured episodes seems overtly inaccurate , though perhaps just a little melodramatic. We are taken through various scenarios, the shipping trade , the patron/client relationship , the use of houses and their layouts, the likel;y appearance of the streets and bars, relations between owner and slave : in short the whole gamut of likely everyday scenes. There is most notably the famous riot involving the rival town of Nuceria and the murder of some of its visiting citizens at the Pompeiian amphitheatre when passions ran high and ended in vloodshed.

The authors tries their best to make rational representations of actual found items (say political graffiti) and then give meaning to the writing by evoking players in the political scene and the impact of electioneering on everyday life and the hangers on of greater men.

A whole series of events are included to give a timeline driven story-though everyone knows what the last act will be already!

This work is available at a reasonable price online , if you can pick up a copy in paperback do so and put it into your holiday luggage .The bibliography is excellent and will give interested persons good leads for further reading , from topics such as Nero’s reign to architectural developments.

(short and sweet), good book I must say.

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Book Review of Pompeii - The Living City - Related Topic: Emperor Nero


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