In ancient Pompeii, the dining room with fresco and Trojan decorations offers new insights

Archaeologists working at the ancient site of Pompeii unveiled their latest discovery Thursday: a formal dining room that offers a glimpse into how some of the wealthier inhabitants lived, or at least the art they could ponder as they munched.

Painted dark black so that soot from candle smoke doesn't stain them, experts say, the walls are divided into panels. Many of them are decorated with couples associated with the Trojan War.

The dining room is part of an insula, the equivalent of a city block, excavated as part of a project to consolidate the perimeter between the excavated and unexcavated areas of the city, part of which remains underground. The project will help better preserve the site.

“People met for dinner after dark; the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to be moving, especially after a few glasses of good Campania wine,” said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii archaeological park, in a press release about the dining room. “The mythological couples provided ideas for conversations about the past and life, which were only apparently of a purely romantic nature. In reality they referred to the relationship between the individual and destiny”.

The couples include Helen of Troy and Paris, identified in the scene with a Greek inscription under his other name, Alexandros, while a panel on the same wall shows Helen's parents: Leda, queen of Sparta, and Zeus, depicted as the Swan. who seduced her. Across the room, across from Helen, her handmaiden, and Paris—and a dejected-looking dog—is Cassandra, who could see her future, along with Apollo, who had cursed her to her prophecies were not believed.

There is evidence that the room was part of a building that was being restored when Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted, burying the city under pumice and ash in 79 AD, Zuchtriegel said in a telephone interview.

“It appears that the entire insula was being rebuilt at the time of the eruption,” he said. Zuchtriegel said the reconstruction may have been the result of an earthquake that had shaken the city “a few months” before Vesuvius erupted.

In another recently excavated chamber, adjacent to the dining room, archaeologists found stacked tiles, work tools, bricks and lime, discoveries that offered insight into ancient building techniques and the use of cement.

Over the past year, various areas of the insula have been unearthed, offering a new understanding of how the ancient residents lived. For example, a room connected to a bakery suggests that some slaves lived next to donkeys in a dark room where the only window was covered with bars. A fresco in another room appears to show that the locals liked pizza, or at least some sort of prototype. The electoral inscriptions in the bakery suggest that vote buying was not unheard of.

The dining room frescoes are painted in the so-called Third Style, popular in Pompeii from about 15 BC to the mid-first century AD, Zuchtriegel said, and there is evidence they were retouched and restored in ancient times.

“The colors are a little different, you can tell the difference,” he said.

The dining room is currently closed to the public as further excavations are underway.

“We don't know what's there — that's the best part,” Zuchtriegel said.

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