Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In Pompeii: Exploring a Roman Ghost Town, Ron and Nancy Goor write in the objective third-person point of view as historians and archaeologists to establish the relationships among centuries of activities at the site of Pompeii—ranging from the earthquake in a.d. 62 to the volcanic eruption in a.d. 79—through the gradual excavation and partial restoration of the town. The Goors divide Pompeii into an introduction, five chapters, and an epilogue. The introduction, a letter written by the historian Pliny the Younger, an eyewitness, tells of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the burial of Pompeii under lava and ash. The first chapter, “Death and Discovery,” describes both the catastrophe and the archaeological attempts to excavate the Roman town centuries later. The first inept archaeological explorations began in 1748. By the 1860’s, Giuseppe Fiorelli instituted more careful methods for excavating the buried city.

The second chapter discusses the arrangement of Pompeii, a walled Roman town with eight city gates. Streets intersect to form blocks called insulae. Pompeii had three large public areas: a sports area, a theater area, and a political area. Because Roman law forbade burial within the town, tombs lined the roads leading to the gates of the city. The most remarkable element of Pompeii was its water system. An aqueduct brought water to large public baths, swimming pools, private villas, gardens, and fountains.

Chapters 3 and 4 describe the public and private lives of the Pompeians. Public life revolved around government, religion, and entertainment. The principal site of government in Roman cities was the forum; the map of Pompeii also shows seven temples. Two theaters, an immense gymnasium, public baths, and an amphitheater were places for entertainment. Private life centered around the home, a dwelling that had an atrium with cubiculae (small rooms) located around it.

Chapter 5, entitled “Work,” explains the commercial interests of this city, which had two ports—one on the Mediterranean and one on the Sarno River. Pompeians grew and processed grapes, olives, and flowers for perfume. The wool industry required the growing of sheep and the establishment of fulleries to clean, bleach, and dye wool from which togas were made. Professional work included medicine, architecture, engineering, and teaching. The Goors close Pompeii with an epilogue in which they call Pompeii a “living” ghost town because its continued presence re-creates the past. Maps, black-and-white photographs, and drawings illustrate the text.