Photographer's Note

A surviving fresco from the House of Menander; I'm not sure if this is the original or a reproduction, with the former taken elsewhere to be displayed. This is one of the few houses which remain open to the public under normal circumstances. Most were closed several years ago after a torrential rain began causing sudden collapses of unreinforced structures which have long been neglected. This one is in pretty good condition, considering. It's one of the largest houses in the town, comprising almost an entire city block, which makes sense, considering that a ring seal found in a servant's quarters suggests that it was owned by one Quintus Poppaeus, possibly a relative of Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the emperor Nero (unfortunately for her: that didn't work out so well). This substantial house is located fairly close to the center of town, only a couple of blocks from the Stabian baths, which would have increased its value.

It's so named because of the well-preserved fresco of an ancient Greek dramatist which was found in a niche in the peristyle, seen here in the photo. Some think that the painting is actually not Menander but one of the owners of the house or someone reading works attributed to the famous poet. Greek décor appears very prominently at this particular house. The atrium features some incredibly well-preserved frescoes, including one depicting death of Laocoon. The large columns in the sizeable peristyle courtyard are in the Doric style. You can really get a sense of what an original Roman house would have looked like. All the color would have been a bit overwhelming to me! Most of the panels are in the fourth style, so it was probably renovated not long before the town was destroyed.

Fortunately, this house was only excavated in the 20th century, between 1926-1932, so it wasn't looted like many of the others. By this period, there was far more concern with preservation and excavation efforts were better supervised and more systematic. The house is fairly old, as it was built in the third century BC but it was embellished with additions numerous times over the centuries before the eruption. One of the additions was probably the private bath house, which included a tepidarium and calidarium, which were elaborately decorated.

Material finds were particular rich in this house, indicating that it had probably not been picked over in antiquity, as it was clear that many of the occupants died here. It had a kitchen, which is now in a ruined condition, and yet another garden, probably a kitchen garden which provided the family with fresh produce, aside from the decorative peristyle garden. Those usually included a variety of edible plants such as herbs and fruit trees also. On the south side of the corridor leading to the kitchen was a series of cellars under the baths, where a chest containing a bone-embellished chest with gold jewelry and several gold and silver coins was found. An entire silver serving set consisting of more than one hundred pieces was also discovered, wrapped in heavy cloth. These included pouring and drinking vessels, silver utensils, two silver mirrors and the remains of a portable silver-plated table, all of which can now be viewed in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. There were many other implements found here, including a cart in a store room which still retained its original bronze and iron fittings, numerous amphorae, in which some of the original contents could be identified according to seals indicating their place of origin (olive oil from Spain and other containers from Crete and one from Rhodes containing passum, a sweet wine made from raisins rather than grapes), indicating the wealth of this family and the extent Pompeii was linked to the wider trade network in the Mediterranean. There were also servants' quarters and the house was equipped with its own latrine. Tragically, the remains of several (presumably) occupants were also found here. In one section of the house, tentatively identified as the quarters of the house manger were found the body of a man, possibly that of the manager himself, along with the body of a young girl in a cubiculum or bedroom. Next to him was found a leather purse containing a silver bracelet, ninety silver and two gold coins. A second group of remains was found in a room in the house where two male and one female skeletons were discovered. These and one other victim recovered from the house are now displayed in a glass case there, a reminder of the tragedy which preserved this magnificent house that we are still able to visit.

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 74 W: 78 N: 613] (1382)
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