gillybirds

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Cave Canem (beware of the dog)

on August 3, 2013

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If your life, family and home were under imminent threat of being extinguished by a dramatic volcanic eruption what would you take away with you as you tried (in vain) to escape? This is a question I asked myself this week.
We took a detour via London on our way home and made a planned visit to the Pompeii and Herculaneum – Life and Death exhibition at the British Museum.
In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed these two seaside towns with a couple of hours. This disaster preserved the towns until 1700 years later when archeologists began to uncover them. Most of the items on display were brought to London especially for this exhibition from Italy, making a journey identical to our own but without the tedium of going through passport control.

One of the first exhibits you see is the cast of a guard dog, still wearing his collar and chain, caught in the throes of what must have been a sudden but painful death, guarding his master’s home until his end.
As you pass by the many amazing exhibits- preserved food, household items, carbonised furniture, a little baby cradle, some spectacular wall frescoes, there is a mosaic from the doorway to a house of a black dog, wearing a red collar studded with stones representing jewels and the legend “cave canem” – beware of the dog. And wouldn’t you know, they tell us the the cast of the guard dog was found outside this very house. He must have been a well loved pet to have had his image produced in such detail by the tiny square tesserae that made up the mosaic, and to have proudly worm a jewelled collar. And also to have given a warning to would-be burglars.
It reminded me a little of the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby I blogged about back in June.
Some of the fleeing townspeople were instantly burned and were left as skeletons, still wearing jewellery, carrying purses, doctor’s tools, swords, keys to their property. Others were covered in heavy layers of volcanic dust which hardened around them, and that is how casts of their postures as they met their death were made. There is a family – mum still holding a small child in her lap, a man crouched against a wall, his hands covering his mouth and nose. The impact of a sudden and violent end to so many people (around 16,000) is still very evident and moving even now in 2013.
Certain things touched me more than others- the cradle, the dog, the freshly baked loaf still bearing the baker’s stamp, and a little gold ring with the image of a mother hen and three chicks engraved on it.
Ordinary lives snuffed out without warning.

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One response to “Cave Canem (beware of the dog)

  1. amaryllislog says:

    I would love to see this exhibit, it looks so fascinating. I have been to Pompeii, what an experience!

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