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Representation of Pompeii & Herculaneum over time - page 22 / 30

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American nineteenth century novelist Mark Twain gives a very unique account of Pompeii in his book, The Innocents Abroad. He presents the city not in an archaeological, symbolic, or reconstructive manner, but as seen through an irreverent and distinctly American perspective. He writes,

ìThe sun shines as brightly down on old Pompeii today as it did when Christ was born in Bethelehem, and its streets are cleaner a hundred times than ever Pompeiian saw them in her prime. I know whereof I speak ñ for in the great, chief thoroughfares (Merchant Street and the Street of Fortune) have I not seen with my own eyes how for two hundred years at least the pavements were not repaired! ñ how ruts five and even ten inches deep were worn into the thick flagstones by the chariot-wheels of generations of swindled tax-payers? And do I not know by these signs that street commissioners of Pompeii never attended to their business, and that if they never mended the pavements they never cleaned them? And, besides, is it not the inborn nature of street commissioners to avoid their duty whenever they get a chance? I wish I knew the name of the last one that held office in Pompeii so that I could give him a blast. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I caught my foot in one of those ruts, and the sadness that came over me when I saw the first poor skeleton, with ashes and lava sticking to it, was tempered by the reflection that may be that party was the street commissioner.î

Twain's representation of Pompeii serves to show how greatly a person's present and background affect his interpretation of the past. Being a member of a relatively young nation, Twain had a very different concept of history than the European writers who used Pompeii in their works (Leppmann 158). Thus, Pompeii draws from Twain not grand statements about the glory of bygone civilizations or about the transitory nature of life, but instead more pragmatic if somewhat flippant criticisms of bureaucratic inefficiency in ancient times.

Leppmann, Wolfgang. Pompeii in Fact and Fiction.

Mark Twain; Innocents Abroad

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