When Gifts Keep Giving

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The city of Pompeii in southern Italy has taught us a lot about the lives of the ancient Romans.

The discovery of this city, covered in a thick blanket of ash and smoke after the nearby Mt. Vesuvius volcano erupted in 79 CE, has allowed the development of modern archaeology, researchers say.

And two centuries after its ruins were discovered, Pompeii still offers new surprises.

Archaeologists at the World Heritage site recently uncovered a banquet room with frescoes that tell a romanticized story of the Trojan War, the Washington Post reported.

The banquet room gave archaeologists a more precise idea of the lavish life that wealthy Romans enjoyed. Entertainment was at the center of it.

Surrounded by depictions of Helen of Troy and Paris, Cassandra and Apollo, rich Pompeiians would gather for suppers where Campanian wine flowed.

Walls were painted black to hide evidence of smoke coming from oil lamps. At night, “the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move,” especially for those who had had one too many drinks, one researcher told the Washington Post.

The characters on the walls came from stories that remain famous today. Featured in Homer’s “Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” they testify to ancient Greek and Roman sensitivity to “conversations about the past and life.”

On a different note, elsewhere in the house, beneath a staircase, archaeologists found charcoal drawings of gladiators – and “what appears to be an enormous stylized phallus.”

Though some discoveries in Pompeii tell how beautiful life could be for the Romans, others show the sheer inequalities in Roman society.

Researchers also found a prison bakery where enslaved people worked in harsh conditions, living with animals, to supply baked goods to the wealthy.

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