Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beard: POMPEII

Tom Holland, The Guardian, September 20

Recently, it seems to have become the mark of a really A-list historical disaster that it has featured on Doctor Who. So it was, for instance, during the most recent season that the Doctor, fresh from having prevented a Titanic-shaped spaceship from crash-landing on London, arrived in the Roman town of Pompeii. The date, of course, was AD79: the fateful year in which Mount Vesuvius spectacularly blew.

The episode was to prove a witty and knowing manipulation of the gap between many of the favourite myths about life in Roman times, and what the evidence for them from Pompeii actually suggests. Particularly cherishable was its gold medal-winning effort in what has become celebrated among classicists as the "dormouse test": the principle that the longer it takes for the delicacy to be mentioned in a drama set in ancient Rome, the more authentic the reconstruction is likely to be. In Doctor Who, it took a peckish Pompeiian a bare two minutes to demand said dormouse.

Now, in a new book, the inventor of that test, the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, has provided her own reconstruction of Pompeii. As her concern with dormice suggests, she is a historian who has always been fascinated by the stereotypes we have of ancient Rome: both how they came into being, and how valid they are likely to be. Indeed, such is the relish with which she goes about her myth-busting that it seems to reflect not scorn, but rather a wry affection for the myths themselves. What better theme for her, then, than Pompeii? After all, ever since excavations of the buried city began in the mid-18th century, it has provided us with the nearest thing we are ever likely to have to a freeze-frame from the ancient past - and yet many of our presumptions about what it can teach us turn out, on closer inspection, to crumble to dust. Hence what Beard, coining another catchy formula, terms the "Pompeii paradox": "that we simultaneously know a huge amount and very little about ancient life there".

Part of the problem is that the city's population was not, as Doctor Who suggested, wiped out in a single day amid a wholly unanticipated cataclysm. On the contrary: all but the brave or foolhardy had already fled their homes before the climactic pyroclastic surge descended from Vesuvius to entomb the remaining Pompeiians for good. The implications of this for archaeologists and historians, as Beard makes clear in a typically invigorating chapter, are profound: for what we have frozen in Pompeii is not a scene from everyday life, but rather a place that was already well on its way to becoming a ghost town. The denuded character of the houses bears witness less to a taste for minimalism, than to wholesale evacuation.

Nor is that the only complicating factor. The very fame of Pompeii, the fact that it has been the most famous archaeological site in the world for so long, means that centuries' worth of repairs and restorations have added their own overlay to the Roman originals. Emblematic of this process is the so-called Villa of the Mysteries, which seemingly portrays a Dionysiac initiation rite on its walls: it certainly sparkles, and yet, as Beard points out, "that sparkle is not an ancient one", but rather the consequence of a touching-up in 1909. Even more insidious is the sheer impact of the villa's name: for the truth is that we cannot be certain that its friezes illustrate a mystery ritual at all. It is not only the dust and ash of Vesuvius, then, that historians need to excavate in their attempts to see through to the classical past of Pompeii, but also, in many cases, the theories and presumptions of the excavators who went before them.

Yet if Beard's book is a vivid demonstration that sceptical scholarship can provide as gripping a read as sensationalism, that does not mean that the author shrinks from providing her own exploration of what life might actually have been like. In many ways, it is an extraordinarily vivid one. Her Pompeii is a city in which dogs howl, late-night drunks carouse, and everyone has bad breath. It is a city in which, as Beard points out with some glee, a household of perhaps some 30 people had only a single lavatory between them, and the crowds at the amphitheatre not even that: "20,000 people and nowhere but the stairs and corridors to take a piss." Above all, it is a city that is infinitely messier and less systematised than the guide books ever allow: where the presence of sexually explicit graffiti on a wall does not necessarily suggest a brothel, and where the baths, as well as providing a bather with "a place of wonder, pleasure and beauty", were so polluted that "they might also have killed him".

And how does Beard herself fare with the dormouse test? Sure enough, some three-quarters of the way through Pompeii, we are shown the illustration of a "dormouse-jar": a curious pot in which the wretched rodents could be kept alive while being fattened up. It is an image that perfectly sums up the portrait of Pompeii we are given in this learned and fascinating book: a myth that is not wholly a myth, but something even more remarkable and strange.





Daily Telegraph, September 20

Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Pompeii by Mary Beard

Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD; interrupted the people of Pompeii at breakfast with a rain of pumice; overtook them as they fled in rivers of bubbling mud and molten rock; and preserved 1,100 of them at the moment of their deaths.

The only eyewitness account to survive - written 25 years later by the Younger Pliny - evoked a familiar apocalyptic cloud "like an umbrella pine" and described Pliny's uncle, suffocated on the shore at Stabiae, as looking "more like a man asleep than a dead one".

In which posture, Pompeii has remained fixed in the popular imagination; a sort of Mary Celeste town, frozen in time - only, instead of boiled eggs still on the table, 81 round buns baking in the oven.

Found in the same bakery - "the slightly mangled remains of an ancient Roman fly". The Cambridge classicist Mary Beard puts herself in the position of such a fly in the years leading up to what has been called the most spectacular disaster in archaeology.

To Beard, as she buzzes about the frescoed walls and scratches beneath the plaster, the story of Pompeii is "more complicated and intriguing" than archaeologists and historians have allowed.

Beard's Pompeii convincingly punctures a number of myths.

The eruption took place several months later than August, to judge from the discovery of autumn fruits and warm clothing; the exodus was not so sudden as we imagine - people had been leaving for days (hence only 1,100 bodies out of a population she estimates at 12,000); also, they took their possessions with them by the wagon-load, which accounts for the modern austerity of their houses.

"What we see (or rather don't see) now is misleading." Objects found on the ground floor might have tumbled down from quarters above; likewise, the skeletons of two adults and a child equipped with a pick and hoe may have been looters who perished when a tunnel collapsed.

There are traps for archaeologists at every step. The marble head of Holconius Rufus, a prominent citizen, turns out to be that of Caligula, a bust surplus to requirements after the emperor's assassination. The couple making love on tightropes (as depicted in a 19th-century copy of a lost painting from the bar on Via di Mercurio) are balancing not on ropes, but on the original artist's guidelines.

Beard warns: "It matters a great deal where exactly your evidence is found."

Take this graffito about a gladiator: "Cresces, the net-man, puts right the night-time girls, the morning girls and all the others." Scholars have attributed it to a love-struck Pompeian girl, but Beard pours a pailful of slop on this and other "wild theories": the line - found inside the gladiatorial barracks - was probably scrawled by the boastful Cresces himself.

It is said of Bugatti cars that for every wheelnut that falls off, four new Bugattis spring up. The same is true of Pompeii. The tiniest detail is pressed into service to underpin any number of theories.

A solitary breast (now lost) inspires the woman of a young Frenchman's dreams in Théophile Gautier's 1852 novella Arria Marcella. An eroded boy's tooth becomes clinching proof that the lad was a fisherman, the erosion caused "by biting on the line which held his catch".

To her credit, Beard does not give a carbonised fig for such ideas, the bulk of which - like the notion that a phallus was a directional sign to a brothel - are "certainly wrong". "All kind of puzzles remain," she writes sensibly. "The truth is we can only guess."

Beard does a capable job of recreating the clutter of urban life from the ruins. She restores to the faded houses their heightened yellow and red colours. She conveys the snorting of the dice-throwers; the stench produced annually by 6.5 million kilos of human ordure.

Her town that rises from the ashes is less pompous and more seedy than tradition has it - the wild beasts in the amphitheatre more likely to have been dogs and goats than bears and bulls, and more reminiscent of "a modern 'children's corner' of a zoo than a wild-game park".

So an adjustment, then, rather than any startling new place; and while her prose is efficient, it can be bland, with something of the character of the liquid plaster that the archaeologist Fiorelli first used to fill in the gaps. ("Pompeii was a city of the poor and rich." "Like any town, Pompeii was always on the move." "Pompeian decoration… was a combination of old and new.")

For all its undoubted virtues, the impression that one takes away from her book is of the enormous amount of effort (and hot air) which has been expended to show that Pompeians were much the same materialistic, fornicating, boozing, superstitious and sensitive lot as we are.

As Herman Melville wrote on a visit in 1857: "Pompeii like any other town. Same old humanity. All the same whether one be dead or alive."




Michael Bywater, New Statesman September 18

Pompeii continues to fascinate. But saying "continues" is, of course, a terrible elision. It was. It went under. Then it was rediscovered and, like all rediscoveries, reinvented to suit our purposes. Mary Beard revisits both the city and its (re)creation in a meticulous and captivating book which, though probably designed to tie in with the film of Robert Harris's novel (currently in abeyance), stands brilliantly on its own.

I'm tempted to say that if you read one book of history this year, it should be Pompeii. Not just because it's written with a rare mixture of scrupulous scholarship and a relaxed, conversational narrative drive - Beard seems to actually like her readers, which is rare among serious scholars - but because Pompeii itself matters. The idiot politician who said he couldn't see why the state should put money into ancient history demonstrated a failure of imagination, coupled with the sort of brutish materialism that wants every discipline to produce spin-offs, like management theory or Teflon. Balls. Studying the likes of Pompeii is no different from studying whatever is going to happen in the Large Hadron Collider.

What we want to know (and it's probably the question that makes us human) is: What the hell is actually going on? And Mary Beard not only answers the question, but explains why it is unanswerable.

The range of evidence she uses is astonishing, but always accessibly presented. There are texts and reports, both from (and about) Pompeii and about (and from) elsewhere. There are bones. There are ruins. There are joist-holes and splashes of paint, skeletons in bracelets, grave-goods, middens and oyster-shells. There are graffiti and coins, animals and specula, keys and chisels, and even rough notices, chillingly reminiscent of modern disasters (think New Orleans), saying "House tunnelled".

Much of the grunt-work elucidating these traces of the dead has been done by decades of silent men in beards who see no reason for eye contact. Like a fine advocate, Beard transmutes it into a compelling narrative, while showing at the same time that it is, as it must be, provisional.

As unfair criticisms go, one of the most unfair is the one levelled at Donald Rumsfeld for saying: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

Only fools and dullards would complain. It's magnificently clear, it's not original, and it sums up not only politics, but history. It is particularly apposite in the case of Pompeii. We all know about Pompeii: a sort of Saturnalia-by-the-sea, a brothel on every street corner, playground of the rich, suddenly and without warning engulfed in the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius, entombing in their entirety a population so taken by surprise that they didn't even have time to climb off their whores or, in one case of a richly bejewelled woman, get the hell out of the gladiators' barracks where she'd gone for a bit - or, indeed, a lot - of rough. We know that it was a typical Roman town, as well as one of atypical luxury. We know its street names and its buildings. We know its people.

And we are, in most cases, wrong. It's just that we don't know what we don't know. Beard puts us right. Her imaginative reconstruction of Pompeii, its people and the catastrophe that befell it is all the more impressive for being backed up, at every turn, with evidence. It's not so hard to rebuild an ancient town in the mind, much harder to reveal, in the process, the actual method of doing ancient history. All too often, reading ancient history is like having an operation: you read the book, you wake from the anaesthetic, and it's all done. In this case, you're awake all the way through, and everything is explained. It's a virtuoso performance, seemingly effortless; you have to keep reminding yourself of the meticulous scholarship underpinning it.

Beard's Pompeii is so populous that we meet people in passing with the promiscuity of a crowded marketplace. Here's the doctor, taking his surgical instruments with him as he tries to get away. Here are people who have slipped their keys into their pocket. Here are some little children pressing coins into damp plaster (the decorators have been in) to make patterns. Here are the painters, scarpering as the cloud comes down.

More importantly, Beard shows us Pompeii, not as a town that somehow existed in order to be engulfed then rediscovered, but as a living place. A little figurine of red Baltic amber was someone's treasured possession; what does this tell us? What does the mad garden of the Octavius Quartio villa - you couldn't stroll two abreast in it without falling into an ornamental pool - tell us about nouveau riche pretension? Who was Rufus and why is there a graffito of him labelled "Rufus est" - "It's Rufus"? And what on earth was going through the mind of the garum-maker who had his house decorated with mosaics of bottles, displaying the source - or sauce - of his riches? (Always scrupulous about possible alternative interpretations, Beard invites us to consider the other possibility: that there was a customer so satisfied that he turned his house into a sort of living memorial to his favourite sauce.)

We are first presented with and then meticulously disabused of our own assumptions. Beard even has a go at the old problem of epiphenomena: the known unknowns, little things that nobody mentioned because everyone knew. Did the toga itch? Did anyone actually wear it all that often? (No.) Were they all clean and fresh from the baths? (No. The water was endlessly recirculated, with no proper filters or chlorine, and doctors said not to bathe if you had a cut or you'd get gangrene.) What did they eat? It wasn't things stuffed with live larks, for sure. Most meat was pork. Most pork was sausage. They loved dishes that you couldn't tell what was in them. Did you really have three people in a triclinium at dinner? How did they get served? Where did the dishes go? What did Jucundus the Banker actually do? What were the streets really called?

It is that last question which, for me, illuminates the reality. The Herculaneum Gate was nothing of the sort. We call it that. They called it Porta Salis: the Gate of Salt. So? So swap it round and concatenate the two words: Saltgate. You could be in York, Cirencester, Nottingham. "I said I'd see him up Saltgate around six. You want to come?" Suddenly, they're alive. And they're not for us; they're for themselves, even if Vesuvius had other ideas.

And so, Beard reminds us, subtly but continually, of the unknown unknown, the thing we don't know that we don't know: that Pompeii's purpose was not to be engulfed for our later edification. The Pompeii of the tour guides is the Hollywood back-lot creation. The real Pompeii was something different: a place that was getting on with stuff (building, decorating, trading, breeding and, yes, whoring, but not half as much as you would get in Cheltenham) until, suddenly, but not without warning, it all went terribly wrong. A city preserved? Not really. More Aberfan than aspic.


From The Sunday Telegraph, October 19 2008

Peter Jones reviews POMPEII: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard (Profile Books £25)

Popular books about a popular place like Pompeii and its destruction by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 do not usually deal in detail with the historical or archaeological problems; or if they do, they tend to tuck them away in the footnotes. But Professor Mary Beard, Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and the country’s most outspoken classicist, not only likes problems, she likes nosing them out as well. She takes the view that the whole point of history is to ask questions about it, an activity which makes the subject so much more interesting than the bland “received answer”.

For example, it is commonly stated that gladiators were terrific hits with the girls. The evidence comes from graffiti in Pompeii, e.g. “Celadus, the Thracian [a type of gladiator], makes all the girls sigh” and “Cresces, the net-fighter, holds the hearts of all the girls”. But Beard points out that these graffiti are in fact scratched on walls inside the gladiatorial barracks. Far from being female fantasies, therefore, they look more like “bloke-ish boasting”, the poignant fantasies of men who have not long to live, let alone to make the girls sigh.

Likewise, it is often said that wealthy, upper-class Roman women had a thing about virile young fighters. The satirist Juvenal bangs on about this at length, and some have found the evidence in Pompeii: the skeleton of a heavily-bejewelled woman was found in the gladiatorial barracks. QED. Unlikely, says Beard. Given that there were seventeen others in that room and a couple of dogs – and they were not the touring English rugby team - it does seem more probable that she was taking refuge from the explosion.

How many brothels were there in Pompeii? Some say thirty-five – to serve a town of c. 25,000 people. Beard points out that there is in fact secure evidence for only one brothel, while all the other possible identifications are based on the criteria one chooses to adopt, e.g. the presence of an erotic picture, or erotic graffiti, or a publicly accessible masonry (!) bed. Her point is that a dedicated brothel is different from a place where you can indulge in a little parallel parking with someone you have just picked up - a definition which would nowadays turn every hotel and pub in the world into a brothel.

The result of Beard’s insistent questioning of assumptions is that the reader is drawn into thinking about her assumptions too. For example, Beard is worried that many of the people fleeing Pompeii had so few of their possessions on them. But that is to assume that everyone had had the time or inclination to go home first. She claims that Pompeii is not a city “frozen in time”. True, there is evidence for tunnelling into it after the explosion, and modern archaeology has done its work, but if a city buried in a 24-hour explosion is not “frozen in time”, I do not know what is. The fleeing Pompeians overwhelmed by the volcanic ejecta certainly were, though admittedly “frozen” is hardly the mot juste.

So as Beard takes us from street life to home life, from politics to the gladiatorial arena, from earning a living to a city full of images, great and small, of gods (conceivably more in number than the actual inhabitants), she encourages the reader to do precisely what she herself does: not just sit there soaking up the details – fascinating as they always are – but engage with the way in which Pompeii has been constructed in our modern imaginations and to wonder how best to make sense of it. Presumably the “Kosher garum” – a particularly nasty fish sauce - advertised by Umbricius Scaurus was guaranteed to contain no shellfish. But how on earth did an ivory statuette of the Indian goddess Lakshmi get there? Excavators have recently identified a monkey-skeleton – a pet? A performing animal? A modest house in one street has “SODOM” and “GOMORA” written on the walls of its dining room. What is /that/ all about?

There are plenty of excellent introductions to Pompeii on the market. If you want an excellent one that probes beneath the glossy surface and invites you to do the same, this is the one for you.

From Times Literary Supplement, December 17 2008

W. V. Harris reviews Mary Beard's POMPEII

Being Mary Beard is a difficult balancing act. On the one side is the unrepentant scholar, trained in Latin epigraphy in the rigorous school of Joyce Reynolds, passionately determined to get things exactly right, ready to weigh probabilities judiciously, and thoroughly informed about the contents of the latest Dutch festschrift. On the other is the ardent blogger, and the writer (and TLS Classics editor) determined to communicate with audiences larger than a Roman historian or archaeologist can normally reach.

Pompeii: The life of a Roman town combines these two personae, often triumphantly, sometimes a little uneasily. Beard’s knowledge of what has been written about Pompeii – a huge amount – is encyclopedic and up-to-the-minute. She knows, for example, who has argued (in a Dutch festschrift) that the wall painting which shows a man on horseback labelled “Spartaks” is not after all Spartacus with his name in Oscan, as some of us had fondly imagined and as I still believe. She is also capable of practising the important ars nesciendi and leaving insoluble problems unresolved, such as the meaning of the famous wall paintings in the Villa of the Mysteries, which as a historian of religion she is well qualified to write about. Pet theories are not pushed, or at least not often. Thus though the book is personal in tone, it is also a remarkably reliable resource.

What you expect nowadays from a book about Pompeii is that it will explain how the site developed over the several centuries of the town’s life that preceded the awful day of death, August 24, ad 79. And also what happened after that, from the first attempts at salvage and plundering down to the Allied bombs dropped in 1943 and the most recent thefts. All this Beard does extremely well, while sensibly organizing the book by themes: “Street Life”, “House and Home”, “Earning a Living”, “Who Ran the City?”. This is not a guide book, though it ends with two sensible pages on how to pay a visit. At the head of the list of places not to be missed we find not the forum or the amphitheatre, but, characteristically, the House of the Tragic Poet (a fairly ordinary yet fascinating house important in the imagination of Edward Bulwer-Lytton among others, and endowed with a particularly fine “beware of the dog” mosaic).

This is, thank heavens, a history book and not yet another glorified piece of antiquarianism. Beard always has context. This historicizing approach can sometimes, alas, have a slightly deflating effect, when you learn, for instance, that the wall paintings at the Villa of the Mysteries, unearthed in 1909, look so splendid because they were heavily restored very early on. But the overall effect is to replace the simplifications of the coffee table books with a complex story, in which archaeologists too are human, doing their best – or what is convenient – according to their lights, in whatever age they happen to live.

Beard creates a credible Roman Pompeii that is both noisy and smelly, yet she does so without exaggeration. The reason the Pompeians needed stepping stones from pavement to pavement was probably that the streets were not only well spattered with dung and refuse but turned into waterways every time it rained heavily, for Pompeii had few underground drains. (This leads to a far-fetched comparison with Venice.) What is said about the wide variety of Pompeian housing and about the use of domestic space could hardly be bettered. Public amusements – baths, theatres, wild-beast and gladiator shows – are all expertly handled.

Gladiators were mostly slaves, and mostly dead by the age of twenty-five. And Beard points out that the graffiti commonly thought to support the notion that gladiators were a hot sexual attraction – “Celadus, heartthrob of the girls” and so on – were written inside the gladiatorial barracks and probably by the gladiators themselves.

Pompeii is not particularly empathetic towards the Romans, still less towards the early excavators. It is true that it starts with a gripping description of how some of those Pompeians who fled during the eruption in 79 came to die where they did, overwhelmed by pumice stones or heat or asphyxiation. But Beard is too careful a scholar to think that she can somehow take on the identity of a Pompeian. Her instinct for realism is powerful, however. Only once does it fail her, when she describes the colonization carried out by the dictator Sulla, an event about which we admittedly know quite little. The town had annoyed the insurgent general, and he punished it by settling numerous veteran soldiers there; these colonists ruled the place for the next generation to the exclusion of the surviving, largely Oscan-speaking, inhabitants. Many of the latter are likely to have been impoverished if not worse.

But Beard has a nice feel for local politics in the years before the eruption, when local bigwigs, including the pretentious Holconii Rufi, contended with each other for office, keeping out upstart freedmen, who, however, were able to set their sons on the path to political success: thus the freedman’s son Numerius Popidius Celsinus was made a member of the town council at the age of six in gratitude for his having rebuilt the Temple of Isis at his own expense. This was not a splendid little democracy, but at least the town was not in the hands of a single family or a party machine.

Speaking of politics, Beard asserts that the male citizens of Pompeii “were people who knew each other”. It depends what you think about how numerous they were, an annoying problem that nags at us throughout. There is no easy way of knowing, and estimates of the population of the urban nucleus in ad 79 have ranged from 6,400 to 30,000. Beard plumps for an estimate of about 12,000, half of whom she thinks would have been slaves (some people would think that this proportion is too high). Another 24,000 people may have lived in the surrounding territory. What matters most about all this guesswork, however, is that on any sensible estimate of the population – and 12,000 for the town itself seems about right to me – Pompeii may have been a “face-to-face” society, but it cannot have been a place where everyone knew everyone; inside your own social circle, or inside your own quartiere perhaps – but not, I would think, across the whole community. That, no doubt, gave added importance to the other identities, local and occupational, that are so visible in the election propaganda that festooned the streets.

Who could read that propaganda? Pompeii looks like an excellent laboratory for settling some of the much-contested questions about the extent and significance of literacy in the ancient world. Not so, really, because Pompeii, at least before the earthquake of 62, had been much better- off for many generations, and hence probably more literate, than most places in the western Roman Empire. But the main questions are normally taken to be: Who wrote all those graffiti and painted notices, and who was expected to understand them? Beard sees that these are hard questions to answer, but she gives in too easily to the argument that the graffiti in Pompeii’s famous brothel must have been written by poor men because the rich had slaves to provide them with casual sex, an argument that begs several major questions, and in fact proves nothing. She might have said more about the vital matter of schooling, formal and informal. And some readers will feel a need here for comparisons with other pre-modern towns. That, indeed, was an intractable problem for the entire project: a social historian is likely to want comparisons, while the prospective visitor to the site might find them intrusive.

Pompeii in 79 contained a huge number of graffiti. It also contained a huge number of metal artefacts, in metals precious and base: nails, locks, knives, carpenters’ tools, rakes and hoes and farm implements, pipes, kitchen and eating utensils, statues, jewellery, lamps and candelabra, horse and wagon paraphernalia, and gadgets that we do not understand, not to mention coins and many, many other things. The majority of these objects, except the coins, were made in Pompeii or neighbouring towns, with raw materials that were imported. Which raises a set of questions about the Pompeian economy, Beard’s weakest suit. In essence her model of the first-century economy is too “primitivist”, in spite of her attempt to distance herself from that school of thought.

She is haunted by the concept of “staples”, even though her whole study powerfully suggests that there was strong demand for great numbers of things besides grain, olive oil and wine (what, incidentally, of the butchers? The great difference between this book and almost any social history of a medieval Italian town you care to open is the absence of the macellai). A second edition might look more closely at Roman Campania’s dynamic economy.

Finally, sex: in the face of the erotic art and graffiti, Beard keeps her head better than most other recent writers, taking the wind out of the sails of the over-excited American scholar who claimed to identify no fewer than forty-one Pompeian whorehouses. But when she judged the wall paintings in the House of the Chaste Lovers to be “decorous”, she must have been looking at the wrong wall.

This is an indispensable book for the Pompeian visitor, including those who know the site well. It succeeds in being wonderfully readable, though certain pages, with their “chaps” and “fiendishly difficult”, may make some readers feel that Professor Beard is talking down to them. My only real regret is that we did not get Herculaneum too.

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