Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – The House of Glaucus

There is much to draw the traveler to the neighborhood of Naples — much besides the cloudless sky, the violet valleys, and the orange groves of the south of Italy. The beautiful Bay of Naples still spreads its blue waters, and the fatal mountain of Vesuvius still breathes forth smoke and fire, as they did eighteen hundred years ago, when Pompeii was in its glory.

And today, a few miles outside Naples, the traveler can walk the deserted streets of beautiful Pompeii and view the ruins of the houses, the temples, and the theaters of a city that eighteen hundred years ago was full of life. It is not hard to repeople in imagination those streets and houses.

Pompeii was a tiny city. It was like a toy, a plaything, compared with the great city of Rome, then at the height of its magnificence. But Pompeii contained in miniature all that made Rome the wonder of the world. The streets were filled with gay little shops, all opening directly upon the sidewalks. Sparkling fountains at every vista threw their spray upwards in the summer air. Gay groups of people in purple robes collected about the attractive shops. Slaves passed to and fro with buckets of bronze upon their heads. Country girls stood on street corners with baskets of fruit and brilliant flowers. Pompeii had its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theater, and its circus, while crowded in the Bay of Naples were many merchant ships and pleasure boats.

In this city lived a young man named Glaucus, who seemed to have every blessing in the world but one. He had beauty and health, genius and wealth, but he was not free. He was a slave because he had been born in Athens, at that time subject to Rome. But Glaucus had an ample inheritance, and he loved to travel. His house in Rome was the wonder of all lovers of art. His best-loved home, however, was at Pompeii, its walls covered with paintings, its floors of mosaics, a fairylike mansion with every elaborate finish of grace and ornament.

The ancient houses of Pompeii were built like the Roman houses. You entered by a small vestibule into a hall. Around three sides of this hall were doors that led into bedrooms. At the end of the hall on either side were two rooms for the women, and in the center a square, shallow reservoir for rain water. Near this reservoir were placed the images of the household gods. Beyond the hall was a dining room, separated from the hall only by a row of columns. Beyond this were rooms for the slaves, opening on a small garden in the center, and beyond this garden was the kitchen. At Pompeii the houses were usually only one story high. The rooms were small, for the people lived largely in the hall or the garden. The main portions of the house opened into each other, separated only by columns, and from the front vestibule you had a view of the hall, richly paved and painted, the banquet room, and the garden beyond.

The house of Glaucus was one of the smallest but one of the most beautiful in Pompeii. On the floor of the vestibule was the picture of a dog in mosaic, and under it the words Cave canem, or ” Beware the dog.” In his hall the walls were rich with paintings, as were also those in the banquet room. In the little garden bloomed the rarest of flowers. The dining table was of highly polished wood inlaid with silver. Around it were three couches, for the Romans half sat, half reclined at their meals, leaning upon the left elbow. The couches were of bronze inlaid with gold, and on them were laid thick quilts covered with elaborate embroideries. All who saw it admitted that there was not a more beautiful house in all Pompeii.

Adapted from ” The Last Days of Pompeii ”

Glaucus (glau’kus). — Cave canem (ka’ve ka nem).