In Ancient Pompeii, Dinner Surrounded by Myth

Archaeologists working at the ancient site of Pompeii unveiled their latest find on Thursday: a formal dining room that offers a glimpse of how some of the wealthier denizens lived, or at least the art they could meditate on as they munched.

Painted dark black so that soot from candle smoke wouldn’t stain them, experts said, the walls are divided into panels. Several of them are decorated with couples who are associated with the Trojan War.

The dining room is part of an insula, the equivalent of a city block, that has been excavated in connection with a project to shore up the perimeter between the excavated and unexcavated areas of the city, part of which remains underground. The project will help better preserve the site.

“People would meet to dine after sunset; the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine,” Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the archaeological park of Pompeii, said in a news release about the dining area. “The mythological couples provided ideas for conversations about the past and life, only seemingly of a merely romantic nature. In reality, they refer to the relationship between the individual and fate.”

Leda and Zeus, depicted as a swan.Credit…Parco Archeologico di Pompei
Cassandra is among the characters adorning the dining room.Credit…Parco Archeologico di Pompei

The couples include Helen of Troy and Paris, who is identified in the scene with a Greek inscription by his other name, Alexandros, while a panel on the same wall shows Helen’s parents: Leda, queen of Sparta, and Zeus, depicted as the swan who seduced her. Across the room, facing Helen, her handmaiden and Paris — and a despondent-looking dog — is Cassandra, who could see the future, along with Apollo, who had cursed her so her prophecies would not be believed.

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