She Tells This Story with Infectious Enthusiasm

Judith Harris brings the doomed city to life. In her account of those who sifted through its artefacts, we read of Nelson and Napoleon, fighting for Neapolitan supremacy on sea and land. Of the English on Grand Tour, whose wealth, damp climate and classical education fostered a passion for Naples and her rediscovered cities. Of Nelson’s lover, Emma Hamilton, who helped to save the Herculaneum papyri from the French. Of Emma’s cultivated husband, Sir William, who discussed priapic cults with his neighbour, the dilettante Richard Payne Knight, and whose health was ruined by over-exposure to the sulphurous gases of Vesuvius. Of poets who sought melancholy fulfilment from Pompeii’s shattered walls. Of tub-thumbing Victorian preachers who likened it with Sodom and Gomorrah. Of Mussolini, who exploited the ancient site to promote his Fascist regime through propaganda. And of the many others – engineers and architects, artists and dreamers, photographers and filmmakers – whose reconstruction and remembrances of Pompeii have never ceased to resonate.

BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE, London, July, 2007