STREETS AND HOUSES OF POMPEII
“The streets of Pompeii must have had a charm unapproached by those of any city now in existence. The stores, indeed, were wretched little dens. Two or three of them commonly occupied the front of a house on either side of the entrance, the ostium; but when the door lay open, as was usually the case, a passerby could look into the atrium, prettily decorated and hung with rich stuffs. The sunshine entered through an aperture in the roof, and shone on the waters of the impluvium, the mosaic floor, the altar of the household gods and the flowers around the fountain.
“As the life of the Pompeiians was all outdoors, their pretty homes stood open always. There was indeed a curtain betwixt the atrium and the peristyle, but it was drawn only when the master gave a banquet. Thus a wayfarer in the street could see, beyond the hall described and its busy servants, the white columns of the peristyle, with creepers trained about them, flowers all around, and jets of water playing through pipes which are still in place. In many cases the garden itself could be observed between the pillars of the further gallery, and rich paintings on the wall beyond that.
“But how far removed those little palaces of Pompeii were from our notion of well-being is scarcely to be understood by one who has not seen them. It is a question strange in all points of view where the family slept in the houses, nearly all of which had no second story. In the most graceful villas the three to five sleeping chambers round the atrium and four round the peristyle were rather ornamental cupboards than aught else. One did not differ from another, and if these were devoted to the household the slaves, male and female, must have slept on the floor outside. The master, his family and his guest used these small, dark rooms, which were apparently without such common luxuries as we expect in the humblest home. All their furniture could hardly have been more than a bed and a footstool; but it should be remembered that the public bath was a daily amusement. The kitchen of each villa certainly was not furnished with such ingenuity, expense or thought as the stories of Roman gormandising would have led us to expect. In the house of the Aedile—so called from the fact that ‘Pansam Aed.’ is inscribed in red characters by the doorway—the cook seems to have been employed in frying eggs at the moment when increasing danger put him to flight. His range, four partitions of brick, was very small; a knife, a strainer, a pan lay by the fire just as they fell from the slave’s hand.”
VALUE OF THE DISCOVERY OF POMPEII
This description strongly presents to us the principal value of the discovery of Pompeii. Interesting as are the numerous works of art found in its habitations, and important as is their bearing upon some branches of the art of the ancient world, this cannot compare in interest with the flood of light which is here thrown on ancient life in all its details, enabling us to picture to ourselves the manners and habits of life of a cultivated and flourishing population at the beginning of the Christian era, to an extent which no amount of study of ancient history could yield.