Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The ruins of the two cities that had been buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 c.e. were discovered in the late sixteenth century by tunnelers attempting to excavate a water-channel, but their excavation did not begin until 1709, when finds made in Herculaneum sparked off a series of treasure hunts. It was not until 1763 that an inscription was discovered confirming that the second city was Pompeii. By 1834 the extensive press coverage given to the haphazard excavations had created abundant interest in Edward Bulwer-Lytton to continue in his best-selling melodrama.
In the novel, the handsome and cultured Athenian Glaucus falls in love with the beautiful Ione, whose brother Apaecides has recently become a priest of the cult of the Egyptian goddess Isis. The cult of Isis is very fashionable in Pompeii because of the miraculous pronouncements made by a stone image in her temple. The high priest Arbaces secretly admires Ione and is determined to possess her, but Ione does not suspect his motives, as the priests of Isis are supposedly celibate. Their asceticism is, however, merely a front, and in the privacy of the temple their inner circle holds orgies. When the ascetically inclined Apaecides is initiated into this inner circle, he is disgusted and is attracted instead to the authentic simplicity of Christianity.
One of the slaves hired to take part in Arbaces’ orgies is a blind girl named Nydia, who is bought...
(The entire section is 877 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Late one afternoon in the ancient city of Pompeii, the fashionable rich young men are congregating for the daily rite of the public baths. Among them are Clodius, a foppish Roman, and Glaucus, a popular young Greek. Together the two stroll toward the baths, mingling with slaves bearing bronze buckets and idlers gowned in purple robes. Along the way, they see the beautiful blind flower seller, Nydia. She, too, is from Greece, and for that reason Glaucus takes an interest in her. It is still too early for the baths, so the two friends walk along the seafront as Glaucus describes a Neapolitan woman of Greek birth with whom he has fallen in love. Unfortunately, he has lost contact with the woman and is now morose. While they talk, Arbaces, the evil-looking Egyptian priest of Isis, intercepts them. The two young men are barely able to conceal their dislike for the Egyptian.
Arbaces secretly defies the Romans and the Greeks and prays for the day when Egypt will once again be powerful. He reveals to a lesser priest his interest in the brother and sister Apaecides and Ione, his wards. He hopes to make a priest of Apaecides, and he plans to marry Ione. The siblings had been in Naples, but recently Arbaces has brought them to Pompeii, where he can influence them.
Glaucus meets Ione at a party. She is the young woman he had seen and lost in Naples. At the same time, Arbaces develops his hold over Apaecides, who is growing more and more confused after...
(The entire section is 1021 words.)