Last Days of Pompeii Review

This is a review of the 1984 television epic mini-series “The Last Days of Pompeii”, based on the 1840’s novel by Edward Bulwer Lytton. This has been filmed many times. I have seen versions filmed in 1913, 1926, 1935, and 1959. This is certainly the closest to the original story than any other film version ever made. It has long been available in Europe (Region 2) but has only recently been available in the United States (Region 1).

Good actors, good acting, well presented story line, and amazing technical quality. It appears that many of the rooms and background street scenes were copied directly and accurately from the real rooms and streets of Pompeii. If you want to see what Pompeii looked like before it was wrecked by earthquake and volcanic eruption, this film will show you. Amazing in its details and accuracy.  The ancient world was a colorful world. The reconstructed views of the Temple of Isis are breathtakingly beautiful and actually match the archaeological evidence. The costumes are good too. Upper class women’s hairstyles and jewelry are a bit overdone perhaps, a little too much glitter, but still follow ancient precedents. All the male characters wear short skirted tunics or long robes, which is correct for that era. I have noticed that recent films set in the ancient world usually show the men wearing trousers and exposing their bellies down to crotch level, which of course is not at all accurate.

The story line is the usual mix of Christian propaganda with a bit of Hollywood drivel: the evil pagans are persecuting the pathetic Christians while the murderous priests of Isis are plotting to subvert the Empire. The disturbing bit occurs at the very end when a character declaims that the destruction of Pompeii was a good thing because it showed the Christian god destroying any who did not follow him, thus being a harbinger of the destruction of the Empire and the triumph of Christianity. In real life there is no evidence that there were ever any Christians in or near Pompeii. One technical error: there were no lions in Pompeii’s amphitheater, and no evidence of any caged animals being kept there. Overall, this is an excellent film, if you overlook the Christian crap.

Warning: this is a two disc set from the Choice Collection label. It is supposed to be used with “play only” DVD devices. I was concerned about that limitation, but the thing played successfully after some finagling. Technical quality is superb: bright clear full screen presentation, sharply defined, no glitches. Other editions might be available.

Published in: on September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day of Doom August 24

August 24 can be a dangerous day. In old Rome this is a day of the Mundus Patet, a day when the gateway between this world and the underworld can open, permitting the passage of baleful influences and spirits. In the Circus Maximus in Rome an altar buried in the earth would be dug up and revealed and sacrifices performed.

On August 24 in the year 79 ce Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and many other places. Many thousands must have died. Herculaneum was totally buried beneath volcanic debris and mud flows,  as was much of the surrounding countryside.  The taller buildings of Pompeii would have been still standing above the ash deposits but the city was never rebuilt. Its territories were reassigned to neighboring communities. This would indicate that most of the people of Pompeii must have died.  A great deal of salvage work was carried out at Pompeii after the eruption. Modern archaeologists have characterized this salvage work as “looting”, but it is really the modern archaeologists who are the looters, desecrating temples and tombs, and carefully using the surviving evidence to support their own pet theories about life in ancient times. The date for the eruption has become a matter of controversy. Maybe it was August, but maybe it was September, October, or even November. The surviving manuscripts are not consistent.  Much of the doubt about the traditional August date centers around a silver coin discovered in Pompeii. The coin is known to have been minted after August 79 ce, so how could it have been found at the destruction level? Very easily, actually. After the site was safe to approach, it must have been swarming for months afterwards with workers conducting salvage operations. One such person could easily have dropped a coin which made its way into the debris level.

 

On August 24 in the year 410 ce, the city of Rome was sacked by a horde of Christian Goths led by King Alaric. The Goths only held the City for three days, but caused quite a lot of damage, along with mass rape and murder. The Goths seized mostly portable items: coin, jewels, precious objects, silks, spices, and food. The city was stripped of food supplies.  Thousands of people were carried away as captives when the Goths left the City. Many of these people were killed when Alaric died soon after. Some of the buildings burned by the Goths seem a bit peculiar: the Tabularium, Basilica Aemilia, and Basilica Iulia. The basilicas and the Tabularium contained many government records regarding court cases, taxes (who is paid up and who isn’t), property ownership, leases, wills, inheritances, settlements, etc. Someone benefited from the destruction of so many official records, and it wasn’t the Goths, in my opinion.

 

On a lighter note

In the calendar of Neos Alexandria, today is the Festival of Inebriation, in honor of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. Sekhmet had decided to destroy humanity, but was given a bowl of beer dyed red, to imitate blood. Having become happily drunk after sipping from the bowl, Sekhmet decided to spare humanity. After all, a people who had invented beer couldn’t be all bad.  So, drink a toast to your favorite cat, and reflect a bit on just how ferocious a cat can be.

Published in: on August 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hypatia and Agora

The famous Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia died in the Spring of the year 415 ce, at the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.  The exact day does not seem to be known, but Neos Alexandria observes it on March 22 and the Ekklesia Antinoou observes it on March 25. Hypatia was a wealthy educated woman who was also a mathematician, astronomer, probably astrologist, and writer. Even though she could not vote or hold government office, she was an active participant in the cultural and political life of Alexandria in the late fourth and early fifth centuries ce. She eventually roused the ire of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who arranged, whether directly or indirectly, for her death. She was set upon by a Christian mob, led by stinking black robed Christian monks. She was taken to the Christian Church that had been installed in the Caesareum, which had formerly been dedicated to Julius Caesar. She was killed, dismembered, and the flesh was scraped from her bones. The resulting messy bits were then burned in front of the Church. Cyril was a nasty evil person, and he is still revered today as a holy saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The characterization of the monks as stinking and black robed is literally true. Early Christian monks wore black and they did not bathe. Bathing, and personal cleanliness in general, was regarded as indulging in the devilish weakness of earthly desires by the monks of that era.

Remember Hypatia and remember who killed her.

The movie “Agora” is a biography, of sorts, of Hypatia. The movie covers the period from the destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 393 ce to the death of Hypatia in 415 ce. The film is well acted, well produced, and is worth seeing. It shows the violent conficts between Pagans, Christians, and Jews in Alexandria. Hypatia’s pagan religious connections are not particularly emphasized, but the violent oppression of both Pagans and Jews by the Christians is clearly shown. The film is controversial. The Vatican tried to have it banned in Italy, apparently Church officials were afraid that the film would create anti Christian sentiment if the ancient Christians were honestly portrayed as the nasty people that they were. “Agora” has been widely welcomed and praised by the various Pagan communities of our own era. perhaps uncritically so.

So here are some criticisms of the film “Agora”. The background sets for the city of Alexandria are not very well done. The scenes involving the Serapeum and the destruction of the statue of Serapis do not match the ancient surviving descriptions, or the actual archaeological site. The depiction of Christian viciousness is rather subdued when compared to what we know of actual Christian behaviour in Alexandria in that time period. The movie writers invented a fictional would be lover of Hypatia, who strangles her at the end of the film so as to spare her from the attack of the mob. That is a really stupid idea. Still, this is probably the only movie that has yet been made that actually tries to give an idea of what actually happened, and that does not whitewash the Christians.  

 

Published in: on March 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ostia Antica

We have discovered a most interesting website, www.ostia-antica.org , devoted to the city of Ostia. Ostia was the port city for Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber River. Goods and people arriving at Rome by sea landed at Ostia and then proceeded to Rome via road or up the Tiber River via barge. Ostia was extremely important during the late Republic and Imperial eras, and extensive ruins of the city have survived to the present day. The site provides maps of the site and detailed information about many of the buildings, including building floor plans, photographs, building usage, and restoration drawings for some structures. Details for temples, shrines, houses, apartment buildings, shops, workhouses, warehouses, guild halls, baths, bars, restaurants, hotels, inns, stables, and monuments. This is fascinating stuff. I have been to Ostia a couple of times, somewhat melancholy visits during the rain. A whole city, tumbled down, empty and abandoned. Except for the occasional flock of tourists. There is a rather good, if small, modern museum at the site. Ostia had a varied religious life. Inscriptions attest to the presence of, among others, Jupiter, Hercules, Ceres, Silvanus, Mithras, the Lares, Venus, Fortuna, Spes, Neptune, Mars, the Discouri, Bona Dea, Magna Mater, Bellona, Attis, Sabazius, Sol, Caelestis, Tutela, Serapis, Isis, Bast, Roma, Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, and Pertinax. Temples for some of these deities, but not all, have been identified in the ruins, and there are other temple buildings with no identifying inscriptions. Many houses and shops had private shrines. One of the interesting things about Ostia is that many, perhaps most, of its residents lived in multi story brick apartment buildings. The site also includes information about nearby Portus. Portus, with its storm resistant manmade harbors, eventually superceded Ostia as the administrative center for the area. Most of Ostia has been excavated today, but most of Portus now lies buried beneath the runways of Rome’s international airport. A fascinating website, well worth multiple visits.

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 1:07 am  Comments (1)  
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