Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 17.
Paul Zanker (tr. Deborah Lucas Schneider), Pompeii: Public and Private Life. Revealing Antiquity 11. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1998. Pp. 251, incl. 22 colour plates, 76 black-and-white photographs, 57 line-drawings of architectural plans and elevations. ISBN 0-674-68967-4. US$22.95.
University of Natal, Durban
Paul Zanker's Pompeji appeared in 1995, and was in turn preceded by an Italian version.[] Now in Deborah Lucas Schneider's excellent English translation, English readers are for the first time given ready access to two essays by Zanker that have come to be regarded as landmark studies for the reading of material remains as documentation of society: 'Die Villa als Vorbild des spaeten pompejanische Wohngeschmacks', which is the basis for the third section, 'The Domestic Arts in Pompeii' (pp. 135-203), and Pompeji: Stadtbilder als Spiegel von Gesellschaft und Herrschaftsform, now 'Urban Space as a Reflection of Society', the second section of the book (pp. 27-133).[] The two texts have been revised for this edition, especially in the notes, to take account of recent scholarship up to 1997, some of which in an odd circularity has been strongly influenced by the sociological approach-- novel in its time--of Zanker's original publications.
Zanker has written an introductory chapter on 'Townscape and Domestic Taste' (pp. 1-25) to provide a unifying framework for the subsequent two essays, establishing the groundlines for his holistic approach which requires any one kind of evidence for ancient times to be comprehensively situated within the broad and encompassing context of the relevant society taken as a whole. Zanker's explanation of what he means by 'townscape' makes his philosophy clear at the outset, for he uses it to convey 'the outward appearance of a city in the most comprehensive sense, meaning not so much the architecture of single buildings as their function within the total context of public space' (p. 3). He presents the concept of a dynamic relationship between inhabited space and those that inhabit it, building an awareness of Pompeii as the multiplex palimpsest of a living, ongoing entity in existence over some 600 years. In challenge to the common perception of Pompeii as constituting a frozen snapshot of a specific point of time on August 24, AD 79, Zanker reconstructs in outline four distinct townscapes, 'each corresponding to the larger world in which its inhabitants lived' (p. 4): the comparatively egalitarian design of the Campanian apoikia, overlaid by the contrastively hierarchical Roman structures of the late Republic, and further re-defined in turn by the ideology of the Augustan programme of cultural renewal, and by the shift towards new concepts of 'public' space in the early Empire.
These four townscapes then constitute the essential framework of the second essay, 'Urban Space as a Reflection of Society', which for the most part focuses on the public spaces of Pompeii, with discussion of private houses along the way to fill out the reader's perception of the whole ambience of the periods under examination. In this way, for instance, in the Oscan city of the second century BC a conscious desire to adopt Greek culture and the Greek way of life is attested to by theatre construction in close proximity to a palaestra and the peristyle tentatively identified as a gymnasium, while in the private sphere houses such as the House of the Faun are situated in a context where extremely wealthy citizens expended great effort as well as large sums of money on private acquisition and display of 'the Hellenistic culture that would link them to the larger Mediterranean world' (p. 32).
Zanker's discussion of the House of the Faun indeed offers an example of the rewards of his holistic approach. One begins almost to recognise the character of a (surely composite) house-owner in the addition of a blind upper story with painted columns to increase the grandeur of the atrium, in the 'more menacing than impressive' effect (p. 38) of the crowding architectural stucco in the confined front entrance, and above all, among other Greek-inspired extravagances such as the 'faun' in the impluvium, in the incorporation of the well-known Alexander Mosaic. The re-invention of a celebrated painting as a floor- mosaic 'represents a unique feat of acculturation', as 'the owner turned his possession of a work of art into an insistent display of Hellenistic culture' (p. 42). The adjudged lack of connoisseurship in this 'almost painfully blatant claim to education' (p. 40) is supported by the illustration (fig. 10), which, though small and in black-and-white, shows the mosaic--as rarely--in its entirety where the battle scene is juxtaposed in close association with the technically inferior Nilotic water-scapes. The self- conscious opulence of the house, in contrast to the apparent lack of interest at the time in embellishing public space such as the Forum, attests to a new concept of domestic luxury, comparable with the expansive display associated with eastern potentates and characteristic of Hellenistic palatial residences in such places as the trading-centre Delos, where doubtless members of the Italic merchant class in the 2nd century BC would have encountered it and been inspired to imitation.
Once Pompeii had become a Roman colony in 80 BC, in the aftermath of the Social War, profound changes were made to the public spaces of the city, with construction of new buildings to reflect essentially Roman values. To this period belong the Stabian and Forum Baths, the Odeon, and the huge Amphitheatre, and to this period Zanker dates the conversion of the old temple (of Jupiter?) into a much grander capitolium designed to dominate the Forum area. Translated into the private sphere, the imitation of Roman style was less successful, as the colonists set out to import room forms and decoration styles associated with the villa into smaller town- house dwellings to which they were proportionally unsuited--the House of the Cryptoporticus and House of the Trojan Shrine, at that time a single dwelling, provide an example, backed up by the evidence of the ostentatious tombs constructed in that period along the main roads leading into the city.
During the Augustan period the Pompeian townscape quickly came to reflect the ideology of the time, with due attention paid to the temples of Apollo and Venus as well as to the cult of the emperor himself with the construction of the temple of Fortuna Augusta. Private citizens such as the priestess Eumachia funded much of the flurry of construction of public buildings for the enhancement of the public aspects of the city. One sees here a continuation and intensifying of the tendency, begun in the previous period, towards the public display of private wealth, usually with political implications: as Zanker points out, probably inspired by the Porticus Liviae in Rome, Eumachia dedicated her building in the Forum to Concordia Augusta and Pietas in the name of her son as well as herself, one M. Numistrius Fronto, who may be identifiable as the duumvir of AD 2/3 (CIL X 810); in this case, as Zanker observes, his election campaign was doubtless enhanced by his mother's munificence. In its associated statuary as well as in concept, Eumachia's building also exemplifies the extent to which the Pompeian townscape of the Augustan period reflected Augustan ideology and the trend towards worship of the emperor and his family. Zanker's prosopographical approach reveals many other instances of identifiable individual citizens' advancing their own or their family's status through munificent civic sponsorships aligned to the imperial cult.
Zanker's probing eye has discerned many instances of the essential provinciality of Pompeii--again challenging common perceptions of the preserved remains as representing the pinnacle of luxury for the time; for instance he observes that the ideological magnificence of Augustus' famed transformation of Rome into a 'city of marble' is in Pompeii as in other such satellite settlements translated into allusive pale limestone or stucco embellishments.
The fourth townscape described by Zanker is that of the period between the earthquake of AD 62 and the final destruction in AD 79. Significant in this period, as Zanker makes clear, is what the inhabitants chose to rebuild, for these were the places with the greatest meaning for them. Private houses were of course restored in large numbers, complete with their shrines to the Lares and small altars. It is to be noted, however, that some of the public buildings, such as the basilica, and some of the old municipal sanctuaries, such as the capitolium and the temple of Venus, were not afforded an equally high priority. In Zanker's original version of this study, he included the Sanctuary of the Lares in the forum as one of the unrestored structures after AD 62; however in an addendum at the end of this chapter (pp. 131-33) he acknowledges the recent research of John Dobbins and Kurt Wallat on the structures along the east side of the forum, which suggests that the Sanctuary of the Lares was not designed and built until after AD 62. Zanker himself remains unconvinced of this theory.
At every turn Zanker offers insights into the members of Pompeii's society that help to flesh out a comprehensive perception of the period derived largely from material evidence. For instance, he comments (pp. 126f.) on the inscription (CIL X 846) that identifies one N. Popidius Ampliatus as the benefactor in the rebuilding of Isis' temple, observing that he was a wealthy freedman who donated the requisite sum in the name of his six-year-old son Celsinus; in response the town council elected the boy to their number, a source of satisfaction for the upwardly mobile father, no doubt, as a former slave, but also to be seen as evidence of the political influence of Isis followers at the time.
The third essay of this book, 'The Domestic Arts in Pompeii', opens with a discussion of the concept of the Roman villa, tracing its origin in part back to the time of Rome's expansion into the eastern Mediterranean, to the impact on the old Roman aristocracy of the opulent life-style of the Hellenistic world. Gardens and structured landscape vistas came to be incorporated into the inhabited space, and architectural forms as well as interior decoration changed correspondingly in the late Republican period to include porticoes and imposing façades, real or painted, as a suitable backdrop for the ostentatious cultivation of otium in its widest interpretation. Zanker goes on to describe how diverse elements of villa architecture and decor were increasingly introduced into the town-houses of Pompeii, most markedly in the last decades before the destruction: peristyle gardens, aediculae and nymphaea, fountains and water-courses were fitted into limited spaces, often without regard for the practicalities of use and enjoyment. This is particularly so in the 'miniature villa' in the Via dell'Abbondanza, where 'two people cannot walk next to each other under the pergola without running up against a fountain, little bridge, pillar, or post at every turn . . . a portion of the architecture has lost its original function' (p. 148), but a considerable number of other Pompeian houses is analysed in detail, providing ample illustration of what can be deduced about taste and lifestyle from close observation of material remains within their place in the socio-historical continuum.
Zanker moves on to discuss the collections of statuary found in many Pompeian gardens, and then turns to the frescoes; he explains how the wall- paintings reflect the same desires and ambitions that motivated the architectural and design features. Noting, for instance, that large-format pictures of gardens and outdoor vistas are mainly to be seen in small houses with limited scope for architectural enhancement, he recognises that these too must be classified as forms of villa-imitation, less expansive and expensive than solid construction. He also comments on the absence of logical coherence in interior decoration that so often disturbs the modern viewer of Pompeian wall painting, especially that dating from the renovations after the earthquake of AD 62. 'What counted was size--namely, as large and conspicuous as possible--and the quantity of associative motifs.' (p. 189) The intention seems to have been that each pictorial element should be received separately as an evocation of the imagination. This trend also underlies the pinacotheca effect familiar particularly from the Houses respectively of the Vettii and the Tragic Poet.
The final section of this essay, headed 'Domestic Taste and Cultural Identity' (pp. 192-203), underlines the conclusions that have been constructed bit by bit in the preceding pages. There is a close connection between the forms of the houses and their various decorative elements, and, although the different owners found diverse ways of expressing their ideas of a suitable backdrop for their lifestyles, their intention was the same, in striving for the illusion of a villa and suggesting a far more hedonistic and luxurious manner of living than could realistically have been achieved by the well-to-do middle-class inhabitants of a provincial town. A series of fourteen groundplans of the houses principally discussed in the preceding pages, all drawn to the same scale for direct comparison, illustrates the considerable variety in the shape of living-space, the repetitive inclusion of features such as the peristyle courtyard in all but the smallest, and the comparable size of the actual rooms across the range. Finally Zanker, perhaps a little whimsically, invokes the lifestyle, outlook and values of Trimalchio in the Satyricon, with special mention of the way Petronius reveals the illusionary aspects of Trimalchio's show of wealth and luxury in the absence of a critical good taste, the general existence of which seems to be implied by the satirical nature of the work.
The numerous black-and white photographs and reconstructive drawings that punctuate this volume are for the most part clear and of good quality, as are the plans and sketches; many drawings and reconstructions are included from long out-of-print earlier publications, recording details that are now blurred or lost. It must be noted, however, that the drawing of the temple of Isis is reversed, and the captions to Figs. 104 and 105 are interchanged, since the image in 104 is from the House of the Large Fountain, while 105 is drawn from the House of the Small Fountain. The colour plates, clustered in two divisions, are excellent, and help to create an awareness of the rich colours, intricate details, and varied styles that must have enlivened the successive Pompeian townscapes. The only irritating flaw in this otherwise most useful book is in the Notes (pp. 209- 43), which are gathered together at the back of the volume without page references in the headers: the referencing system adopted stands in the way of ease of consultation, as the full bibliographical information is provided only once, on the occasion of first citation, and thereafter references are given in abbreviated form without indication of where the full information may be found. This reviewer spent much frustrating time poring back and forth through the notes in search of publication dates, inter alia. A comprehensive bibliography would have resolved this problem. The Index (pp. 245-51) is comprehensive, including references to discussion of modern scholars' work.
This is a book that will admirably serve as recommended reading for more senior undergraduate students (as a textbook it would perhaps assume too much prior knowledge and access to other illustrations: one could not, for instance, study the Alexander Mosaic from Fig. 10); that its approach has the power to draw social historians into a closer consideration of the implications of material remains as well as encouraging archaeologists to (re- )construct a context for their familiar world of objects has already been demonstrated by the work of those influenced by the earlier manifestation of Zanker's two essays.
[] German version: Pompeji: Stadtbild und Wohngeschmack (Mainz am Rhein 1995); Italian: Pompei: Società, immagini urbane e forme dell' abitare (Turin 1993).
[] The first essay appeared as 'Die Villa als Vorbild des späten pompejanische Wohngeschmacks', JdaI 94 (1979) 460-523; the second as Pompeji: Stadtbilder als Spiegel von Gesellschaft und Herrschaftsform (Mainz am Rhein 1988).