Where do you go when you need to get a piece of poster board for a class project but the book shop is closed? If that’s the case, you might want to pay a visit to Walmart! Just a ten-minute drive from campus (or an hour-and-a-half walk— yeah, I did that once when I was bored) you’ve got practically everything you could ever need at your fingertips! I won’t spend any more time describing Walmart, though, because I’m pretty sure everyone has a good idea of the store. What’s more interesting is the reason I had to go there in the first place.
Like I said, I needed some poster board, but you're probably wondering why. That’s simple, I’m designing a house; but not just any house, a Pompeiian household in 79 AD, mere weeks before the fateful eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This semester, I’m taking Pompeii: Life and Death of a Roman City, taught by Professor Davis. As a project for the class each student has been assigned a fictional personage whose home they must design. The lot in life I received was that of Marcus Cornelius Corax, an illiterate freedman (yes, slavery ran rampant in ancient Rome) and aqueduct technician.
Marcus is not a wealthy individual (in fact, he’s quite poor) so he isn’t going to have one of those impressive atrium houses that the Romans are famous for. Instead, he lives with his wife and son in a two-room apartment above a run-down wine bar. The environs aren’t glamorous, but a roof over your head is a roof over your head.
Putting this project together has been lots of fun, because it allows for a bit more creativity than one might find in other classes. It helps that I have a particular interest in Pompeii; after all, I have visited on two seperate occasions. That’s the reason that I enrolled in the course in the first place. I realized that although I had made these trips, I still knew hardly anything about the city. I thought that this ignorance was wrong, since Pompeii is one of my favorite places in the world.
That’s not to say I’m a huge fan of the forum or of any other region that’s bustling with tourists. No, those spaces are so crowded as to be intolerable. What I love about Pompeii is that one can find a deserted side street to wander down, one that lacks anything of architectural interest and so is populated not by blustering American tourists, but stray Italian cats. It is in this peace and quiet that one can experience the vastness and ancientness and sorrow of the space; land that is not haunted, but haunting. I can think of no better reason to visit a dead city than this.