In recent weeks, my son, Tornado Boy, and I have been making "play dates" with one of his school friends, Spiderman, Spiderman's little brother, Batman, and their mom. We've had great fun at various parks around town, so last Saturday, we decided to go to The San Diego Museum of Natural History together to see the exhibition A Day in Pompeii.
Spiderman and Batman's mom is an artist whose work, I believe, is often inspired by photographs of her family, so she always brings a camera to our play dates. This was fortunate for me, because I forgot to bring my camera. We weren't allowed to take photos in the exhibition, but while we waited our turn to go in, we were treated to a history of first century (Common Era) Roman soldiers (centuria) by the reenactment group Legio IX Hispana. About eight people in full ancient centurion armor and weaponry, all handcrafted by the reenactors from traditional materials and methods, transfixed the super boys immediately. The super boys cautiously approached a pair of centurions holding large wooden shields, along with iron swords and javelins. The centurions described their armor and weapons, and then kindly posed for a few photos with the boys, playfully brandishing their weapons. Batman asked, "Are you going to kill us?" and one of the soldiers responded, "Only if you touch the artwork!"
The exhibition itself was both fascinating and poignant. There were several marble sculptures, which I particularly like because of the way sculptors make such hard material look like flowing robes and soft skin. It was interesting to find out how wealthy the rich in Pompeii were. The homes would have been luxurious and richly decorated, with lush, intricate gardens and beautiful artwork. Of course this was supported by servants and slaves who had very little and were often treated poorly. The volcano didn't discriminate, however.
I found a couple of things particularly interesting.
The citizens of Pompeii, a small city by current standards, worshipped a variety of gods and belonged to many sects and cults. It seems as though the various beliefs existed side-by-side, with no significant conflict resulting. I need to do further research to find out why this might have been, or whether it is even true, but with different factions of the same religion fighting viciously just within my own country, I am curious about how it might be possible for people of diverse beliefs to "just get along."
And then, during a video presentation, we were told that the launderers of Pompeii placed jugs around the city to collect the urine of any townspeople who felt the urge, and then they used the urine as an early type of bleach to brighten fabrics. "Ewww," I said, showing off my scholarly intellectualism.
I think the moms maintained a higher level of interest than the super boys did, but several aspects of the exhibition definitely had an impact on the super boys. Of course, the casts of the bodies of people and animals trapped by the lava and ash intrigued and moved us all. I think the boys absorbed enough information to have a rough understanding of what happened and to start to think about the similarities and differences between our lives and those of ancient cultures.
In the end, though, they mostly wanted to go to the park. So we did, and we played until the super boys had to rush off to save the day.