"A Day in Pompeii" at the Museum of Science in Boston

Cast of the skeletal remains of 32 people, including 9 children, found outside the nearby city of Herculaneum.

With exhibitions running concurrently at the Musée Maillol in Paris and the Museum of Science in Boston, Pompeii, the ancient city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, is a hot topic. The exhibition in Paris offers visitors the opportunity to discover a typical Pompeian home furnished with more than 200 pieces from Pompeii and other sites around Vesuvius, while the exhibition in Boston showcases more than 250 artifacts, including large frescoes, luxury personal items and famous body casts of  Roman citizens captured in their final acts for eternity.

Stone painted with Graffiti (resin cast). The inscription is in Oscan, an extinct Italian language.

It turns out that life in Pompeii was not so different from our own, for the citizens spent their time shopping, eating meals and enjoying athletic events. Ancient graffiti scratched on the walls with a pointed stone or a dagger shows the names of the favorite gladiators, scathing reviews for bad restaurants and that politicians have been using negative campaigning for 2,000 years. Cheating seems to have also transcended the ages - as revealed by a pair of loaded dice that was rigged to land on the winning numbers.

A pair of loaded dice made from ivory.

Admittedly, I'm relieved that there have been some changes since ancient times because the idea of using human urine to bleach the undyed wool that was used to make Roman togas is less than appealing. Pots were strategically placed on the streets in front of laundries and passersby were invited to contribute their urine thus providing a constant supply of natural ammonia. Come to think of it, we could use a few of those pots on the streets in Paris where many of the men still feel that it's their right to urinate in public!

Pots used for transporting wine and dried fruit. The "tail" at the bottom served as a shock
absorber so that the pot wouldn't break when it was placed on the ground.

In addition to the interesting and informative short films, explanatory plaques and a large area with interactive displays, I particularly enjoyed listening to the expert commentary on the audio guide. Sally Granger, the author of Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today, explained that while the staples of the Roman diet closely resemble the Mediterranean diet of today, the use of cumin, coriander, honey, vinegar and a sauce made from fermented fish would have given the food a remarkably different flavor.

After visiting the Louvre for 10 Euros ($13) last week, I was surprised to pay $27 for admission to the Pompeii exhibition and the Exhibit Halls and an additional $4 for the audio tour. That's a lot of money if you're a family of four!

A Day in Pompeii (October 2, 2011 - February 12, 2012)
Museum of Science
1 Science Park
Boston, MA 02114

Pompeii: A Way of Life (September 21, 2011 - February 12, 2012)
Musée Maillol
61, rue de Grenelle
75007 PARIS
Métro : Rue du Bac

Silenus, companion of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and a maenad.
Bronze gladiator's helmet that was worn at Pompeii's amphitheater

Comments

  1. $27.00 that is a lot of money, but it's becoming the norm I fear. I was having a discussion with a friend from NYC who said that museums were very democratic and inexpensive compared to sporting events--try going to a sporting event for $27.00--nearly impossible.

    I've been reading books on the Emperor Hadrian lately, and I had read (again) about the urine collection. But urine is still collected and used today in a similar way, it's just referred to as urea instead.

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  2. Joseph, So, now I'm wondering where they collect the urine (urea) from and what they use it for today. Any idea or should I google it? When I read your comment to my daughter (Sara), she laughed and said that she hopes that it still isn't used to bleach clothes.

    Your NYC friend has a point but it doesn't seem as if many families go to sporting events (too expensive?) whereas children should be able to go to museums. The admission price for children (3-11) for the Pompeii exhibition is $24, whereas the Louvre is free for children. The good news is that there were still a lot of people at the museum yesterday.

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  3. I remember from my art classes in college that urea was used to set color in fabrics. And I think it's an animal byproduct. Different from bleaching clothes, but related. Maybe we need to do a google search.

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  4. Welcome back to Boston! We just returned to the city from a Provincetown getaway.

    Remember to try a couple of food trucks while you're here.

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  5. Thanks, Penny! It feels good to be back in Boston.

    I've been keeping an eye on your website for ideas on what I should do while I'm in town and will definitely try one (or more!) of the food trucks!

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  6. This exhibit looks really fascinating! It is interesting that Pompeii continues to capture the imagination. I think that's partly due to the fact that artifacts that show the Pompeiians way of live are so well-preserved, but also due to the fact that people tend to have a morbid fixation with disasters (i.e., Titanic).

    It is unfortunate that a family of four can't see this for under $100. I'm sure mounting this exhibit was an expensive undertaking, though, and the museum has a small window in which to turn a profit, unlike the Louvre. But I do wish that something like this could be affordable for everyone. There are probably a lot of families that will miss out on this because of the price.

    -nycgirl

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  7. nycgirl, I'll be curious to see how much the Maillol charges for the Pompeii exhibition in Paris. It was interesting to note that both of the exhibitions end on February 12. I guess that museums around the world must follow the same calendar. I never really thought about the logistics of how they move artifacts from one country to another, but you raised an interesting point that it must cost them quite a bit of money.

    When I was at the Cordon Bleu cooking school yesterday, they mentioned that they're doing a special event this evening with a Pompeii culinary theme. Unfortunately, it was already fully booked. Perhaps it's one of the ways that the museum raises money, etc.

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  8. Urine?! Yipes! That was not mentioned in the Maillol exhibit -- though there was one room with a parental advisory warning. The Pompéians were a very lusty society!

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  9. Ann, Now I'm curious - I've never seen a parental advisory warning for part of a museum exhibition before! I wonder why Paris got the lusty bits and Boston got the bits about urine? Maybe it would have been too much for a city founded by Puritans! After reading your post, Household gods in Pompeii, I'm really looking forward to seeing the exhibition at the Maillol

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