Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Historical Question on Mark Twain's Visit to Pompeii (1867)

Hi everyone,

Over the past three years, I have been researching Mark Twain's visit to Pompeii in 1867, which he chronicled in Ch. 31 of his book "INNOCENTS ABROAD." In particular, I have been working to identify, based on the literary references (e.g., the book, as well as his letters and journals) the specific areas he visited within the archaeological site, during his trip in August 1867.

Within the novel, Mr. Twain makes a few observations which have me a bit puzzled; which I would appreciate any scholarly advice on. Specifically:

On page 333 of INNOCENTS ABROAD, Mark Twain makes the following comments:

They had a great public bulletin board at Pompeii - a place where announcements for gladiatorial combats, elections and such things, were posted -- not on perishable paper, but carved on enduring stone...

... You can find out who lived in many a house in Pompeii by the carved stone door-plates affixed to them: and in the same way you can tell who they were that occupy the tombs...

QUESTION ONE: In reference to Twain's comment of a public bulletin board existing in pompeii... "carved on enduring stone..." To my knowledge, nothing has been found which fits this description. The old literary references discuss the famous fresco from the House of Julia Felix, showing the long scroll of announcements being read at the Forum, and the famous red-lettered electoral slogans, et al, painted outside countless homes and business'. But nothing about a "carved" stone kiosk, of sorts. Any thoughts?

QUESTION TWO: Towards the end of the paragraph, Twain makes a reference to the "carved stone door-plates" affixed to the houses, which allow you to know who lived there... just like on the tombs. I think this is a possible misinterpretation by Twain. One possible thought... he and his party may have been looking at some of the modern Latin plates placed at some of the homes by Fiorelli in the 1860s, when he systematized the layout of the city... and mistook them for original Roman markers? Any thoughts?

I greatly appreciate any thoughts people may have on the above.

Very Respectfully,



Virginia Campbell said...

There definitely were some door plates though it seems to me impossible to determine what exactly Twain saw. I know of an example of a bronze door plate in the shape of a tabula ansata found in Pompeii - check NSA (1933) 322, 358 (cf. AE 1934, 143). I was particularly researching various document shapes when I came across this, so I am not sure what other examples (in stone or metal) are out there.

Rick Bauer said...

Thanks Virginia!

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