Cast Of Mother And Daughter.
There is a singular fascination in thinking of the possible history of these Pompeian dead. Had this unfortunate man a wife and children who, having reached some place of safety, waited for his coming, hour after hour, until hope died within their breasts? Or, had they previously perished, and was he finally seeking to escape by himself, not caring in his desolate bereavement what might become his fate? We cannot tell. All that we know is that his body was discovered here alone. Still more pathetic was the finding of four bodies, evidently those of prisoners, whose feet were fastened in iron stocks, the lock of which had held them fast. Close by them, but beyond their reach, lay the key that might have freed them, which was doubtless dropped by the jailer as he fled for life, oblivious of his captives, or deaf to their appeals.
Body Of An Old Man.
In one of the excavated houses, known as the Villa of Diomede, were unearthed the skeletons of seventeen persons who had sought refuge in the cellar, providing themselves with food and drink, and thinking, doubtless, that the tempest would soon cease. It was a fatal mistake. Little by little the ashes crept in after them, and, having stifled them with poisonous fumes, wove deftly around them a sepulchral shroud which was to last forages. Two of them, apparently the master and a slave, evidently made at last a desperate effort to escape, for their bodies were found near the garden gate, and beside them were several caskets of jewels and the keys of the mansion, the only objects taken with them in their flight.
Leaving this villa we entered the Street of Tombs, or the burial-place of those who died before the city's overthrow.
House Of Diomede.
The Street Of Tombs.
How strange to think that this was once the only street of the dead within Pompeii! Now all the others have become so too, and, thus far, about six hundred and fifty corpses have been found in them. In front of one of these tombs the workmen came upon the bodies of a woman and three children, locked in one another's arms. Perhaps, that November afternoon, they had been paying a visit to the grave of husband and father; or, possibly, they fled here in their terror, seeking instinctively, in spite of death, help from the one who had in life protected them. In this street, also, was discovered the body of a dog which seems to have died in agony. As it lay near the form of a man it is not unreasonable to suppose that the poor creature had refused to leave his master, and hence perished with him, for otherwise there seems to be no reason why he should not have escaped. If so, immortalized in this his mantle of destruction, he is a touching symbol of that wonderful fidelity which has been shown so many times by man's most faithful and devoted friend. There was philosophy as well as wit in the epigram, "The more I know men, the more I admire dogs".
But the most touching proof of fidelity and affection was a discovery made in the building known as the House of the Faun. In a niche, overlooking the garden, was found the skeleton of a dove which -throughout all the thunder, lightning, darkness, noise, and suffocating shower of hot ashes of that dreadful scene -had remained crouched upon her nest, faithful to death in guarding there the egg which, after eighteen centuries, was found beneath her, still holding the tiny bones of her embryo offspring.
"But," it may be asked, "how were these bodies thus preserved for centuries?" In a literal sense they have not been preserved, and yet their forms are reproduced with absolute fidelity. The destruction of Pompeii was accomplished by two distinct agencies: first, by the showers of hot pumice-stones; and, secondly, by the streams of mud descending from Vesuvius. The former were so light that they lay loosely round the substances they buried, and often did not break or injure in the slightest degree objects composed even of glass, and, much less, articles of ivory or metal. The volcanic mud, on the contrary, as it hardened, formed round the object it enclosed a perfect mold. Accordingly, Signor Fiorelli, the director of the excavations at Pompeii, conceived the happy idea of pouring liquid plaster into the hollows formed by molds containing human bones, and thus obtained casts of the dead, which show not only the form and features, but also the very attitude in which the victims of Vesuvius met their fate. Some seem to have died without a struggle; while others, by their clinched hands, arms raised to ward off the descending ashes, and limbs drawn up convulsively, evidently struggled desperately to the last.