Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who Owned the House of the Faun?

Built during the second century BC, the House of the Faun was one of the largest residences in Pompeii. At the beginning of this video, it is presumed that the House of the Faun was owned by an aristocratic Roman family. But its tributes to the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt are also noted.
So who owned the House of the Faun?

There is evidence that a woman from the Cassius family may have lived here. She certainly died here. The body of a woman was found in the house during excavations of Pompeii. She wore a ring with the engraving "Cassius," and a piece of graffiti reading "M. Cassius" was also found in the villa.

However, the Cassius family was not documented in Pompeii until after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The general conclusion from these conflicting pieces of evidence is that the woman found inside the House of the Faun may have married into the family that owned the villa.

The more widely accepted owners of the villa come from the Satrii family. It is tempting to hypothesize that the "faun" that lends its name to the house is actually meant to be a "satyr," a nod to the presumed villa's owners. Moreover, an inscription found in the house refers to D. Lucretti Satrii.

But there is a problem with this hypothesis as well.

If one compares the House of the Faun with the known residence of D. Lucretti Satrii, referred to simultaneously as the "House of D. Lucretti Satrii" and the "House of Venus in the Shell," one can see that the two homes could not be more vastly different. The House of Venus in the Shell pays tribute to the Roman god Mars and the Roman goddess Venus in two pieces entitled "Mars With Weapons" and "Venus in a Sea-Shell." The latter piece, of course, is the piece for which the villa was named. Also present in the house are several frescoes of fountains, birds and flowers. But no evidence of Egyptian or Greek influences.

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Alexander the Great mosaic from House of the Faun
In contrast, at 1.44 of this video we see in a shrine the massive Alexander the Great mosaic, one of the most famous works of art from Pompeii. This piece was found in the House of the Faun. The mosaic, depicting the victory of Alexander the Great over Persia, is now located in the Naples Archeological Museum.

At 2.00, other notable artwork is mentioned, including several scenes from the Nile river and the mosaic Egyptian- and Greek-style flooring with its optical illusions.

In contrast to the Tuscan first atrium, the second atrium is Hellenistic in style. Its columns are Corinthian. And this villa is one of the Pompeii residences to feature incrustation, a technique in which plaster is painted to represent stone or marble. This technique originated in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, a product of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Greek and Egyptian influences were found throughout Pompeii. Of particular note was the large Temple of Isis, thought to have been built around 100 BC. But given the multiple tributes to Ptolemaic Egypt found in the House of the Faun, and the complete lack thereof in the residence of D. Lucretti Satrii, it is difficult to state with any confidence that the Satrii were the only, definitive owners of the House of the Faun. It is reasonable to hypothesize that there may have been another owner, either instead of or in addition to the Satrii, at another point in the history of the villa. And it is reasonable to hypothesize that this owner was close to the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

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