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The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 15. Dezember 2008

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The Fires of Vesuvius Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence of life in the Roman Empire. Acclaimed historian Beard makes sense of the remains, explores what kind of town it was, and what this reveals about "ordinary" life during ancient times. Full description

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96 von 97 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
The Dirt on Pompeii 8. Dezember 2008
Von J. Moran - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Beard holds a chair in Classics at the University of Cambridge (UK) and has published several books on ancient history for the general reader. "Fires of Vesuvius" is in the nature of a summary or handbook of what the excavations and other scholarly efforts at Pompeii have to tell us about life there (and by extension in similar towns in Italy and perhaps elsewhere in Rome's empire). The book has separate chapters on the major aspects of life in Pompeii, from religion to sex, from daily commercial life to "fun and games." While relating what scholars have concluded about Pompeii, Beard casts a questioning and frequently skeptical eye at the evidence that supposedly supports their positions, often finding it ambiguous or thin or both.

A book of this sort can often be as dry as dust. This one is interesting throughout, thanks to Beard's well-honed and fluid style. The overall approach is that of an overview rather than a deeply detailed study. The tone is civilized but relaxed, and the writing is both clear and well-paced, occasionally laced with quiet humor. The very numerous illustrations are well-integrated with the narrative. Beard's "further reading" section, as with other books of hers that I have read, is fairly extensive. This is a good up-to-date summary for readers who are already familiar with Pompeii and an excellent introduction for those coming new to the subject.

The book is slightly marred by minor errors of diction or style that should have been caught in the editing process, something that doesn't seem to happen today even at "prestigious" imprints such as the Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press. Such blemishes, indeed, have occurred in each of the last two or three Harvard Press books that I have read. This should be unacceptable at such a house. Veritas.
48 von 49 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A Vibrant View of Pompeian Life and Mysteries 14. Februar 2009
Von Rob Hardy - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, sending hot gases, pumice, and rivers of bubbling mud through the city of Pompeii. Over a thousand of the victims were preserved within the ash, as were buildings and artworks. Since it was first excavated centuries ago, Pompeii as "frozen in time" has had a real tourist appeal. You can walk the streets feeling that you are experiencing something close to what the Pompeians did two thousand years ago; such feelings are not baseless, but Pompeian life was drastically different from our own, and the clues the ruins give us about the people's lives are significant but often mysterious and even more often incomplete. Classicist Mary Beard is the perfect guide to the city, as it is now and as best as we can understand it before the eruption, and in _The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found_ (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), she has written a delightful, sometimes irreverent, guide to the city. Sure, it has plenty of scholarship attached; ancient texts and modern reports are referenced, and there is an amazing range of evidence (bones of humans, skeletons of animals, oyster shells, bracelets, spilled paint, and traffic barriers), but she writes in a relaxed, almost chatty way that ensures readers will enjoy the fun of the often strange details she has included.

Even those who have been to Pompeii themselves will have to adjust their imaginary pictures of life there. For instance, take Beard's description of the baths. We think of the baths as promoting the sort of cleanliness that we ourselves value, but if you find yourself time-machined back to Pompeii, you might want to avoid this sort of "cleanliness". There was, of course, no chlorination, and not even any proper filters. The water was not always replaced, and wounds bathed in them could turn gangrenous. Beard concludes that the baths "may have been a place of wonder, pleasure, and beauty for the humble Pompeian bather. They might also have killed him." The baths also had a seamy reputation; they were, after all, a place where people got nearly naked and pursued pleasure. The more famous site for sex was the brothel, one particular house in downtown Pompeii that everyone acknowledges as having been a brothel, but there may have been many others. One sign that some categorizers (and some tour guides within the city) proclaim as a mark of a brothel is a phallus pointing to it, but in Pompeii there are phalluses everywhere. The famous picture of the god Priapus weighing his hefty organ in scales against a money bag, Beard says, used to have a curtain over it, not in the Roman days, to be sure, but in the seventies when she first visited the place. You could ask for the curtain to be withdrawn; perhaps, now that there is no such curtain, moralists will say that we are descending into pagan immorality. But there would have to be a lot of such curtains: "There are phalluses greeting you in doorways, phalluses above bread ovens, phalluses carved into the surface of the street, and plenty more phalluses with bells on - and wings." Beard points out that we can't really be sure what all these wands were for, but that thinking of them as lucky charms (something like a horseshoe on a wall) might make them less naughty, but they still cannot avoid being sexual tokens.

Throughout, Beard illustrates the "Pompeii paradox": "We simultaneously know a huge amount and very little about ancient life there". We don't know much about the upper stories of buildings, since their ground floors and foundations survived while the upstairs did not. Did they keep their bedrooms up there, and where did the children stay, and how many lived in a house? We can tell that Pompeians played lots of different board games, and we have rulebooks for none. One game was called _latrunculi_, and of the many election posters reviewed here, one said that a candidate had the support of the _latrunculi_ players; was this sarcasm? Everyone who has visited Pompeii has seen the bars with large jars set in the counter, and guides give the impression that there was a bartender who ladled wine from them, but the jars are porous. They may have been filled instead with dry goods, like fruit or chick peas, so were they for bar snacks? And then there are the mysteries of the creedless Roman religion, which allowed hundreds of gods and goddesses, and accepted new ones regularly, and was based on animal sacrifice. Wandering the streets of Pompeii, one can feel that this is a livable town, almost like a modern one; but Beard's book provides the useful service of showing that however much we appreciate the recovered art and architecture of the ancient city, we have to appreciate also how vastly the culture differed from ours, and how difficult it is to interpret the archeological evidence that is available.
13 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Engrossing Survey of Pompeiian Daily Life 10. März 2009
Von Barry Bedrick - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
This terrific and absorbing book discusses all aspects of life in Pompeii before the eruption in 79 CE. Beard synthesizes what we know of family life, making a living, entertainment, worship, ceremony, religion, civic life, etc.

As an interested amateur, I have no basis for judging her conclusions, but I find them convincing if only because she is so cautious: she is skeptical about a lot of the claims made by other scholars based on what she says is scant or non-existent evidence. When she speculates, she makes explicit that is what she is doing, and when we don't know and can only guess, she says so clearly. Another reviewer was disappointed that she rejects some of the tales told by guides, but to me her insistence on relying only on the evidence or lack thereof is one of the great virtues of the book.

The book is clearly written and entirely accessible to a non-scholar. Beard sometimes resorts to English demotic to great and occasionally shocking effect, both for translations and for her own observations. It is well-illustrated with both color plates and black-and-white illustrations placed in close proximity to the accompanying text and with helpful captions. (I wished on occasion that the illustrations were larger so that I could see better the detail she describes, and that cross-references to illustrations were by page number rather than illustration number.)

In short, this book is among the very best popular histories (I don't intend that adjective to be denigrating, rather an acknowledgment of the book's broad appeal beyond academia) I've ever read.
29 von 33 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Best introduction 22. Januar 2009
Von Richard Campbell - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
The best single book on Pompeii that I now own, even given (he sniffs) her annoying abuse of the comma. This is my first Mary Beard book, and quite different than all the other over 400 Roman books that I own. In a style that is almost scolding of our preconceptions, she presents a wonderful overview of the state of knowledge of Pompeiian culture and times. She synthesises all the current research on Pompeii from all angles and presents a very convincing description of what Pompeii was like not only at the time of the eruption but in the decades and centuries leading up to it.
This will be recommended reading in our Roman reenactment group. It might be interesting for her to know that she can get a reproduction of that "engaging jug in the shape of a cockere" since I've had it commissioned in the thermopolium of Asellina.
5 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Archaeological Writing at Its Best 31. März 2009
Von C. Pellegrino - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
My own area of research in forensic archaeology (which in this case focuses primarily on the physical effects of the Vesuvian surge clouds) has brought me up close and personal with Pompeii and Herculaneum. Yet, even to someone who works professionally in the ruins, Mary Beard's wonderful book has many new lessons to teach.

"The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found," has a rare quality of being accessible to an intelligent Junior High School student with an interest in the subject - yet, simultaneously it is so full of new details about individual homes and public buildings as to be endlessly fascinating even to professional scientists and classicists already quite familiar with the cities of Vesuvius.

- - Charles Pellegrino
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