Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Pompeian Guestbook

One of the reasons I have chosen Pompeii as a case study is because of its popularity. In the past 250 years, many people have visited the excavations (and the Museum) and more than someone has decided to leave a record of their impressions. So, I have access to an interesting, heterogeneous and multimedia corpus of interpretations of Pompeii and its artefacts, from 1748 to present day.
I want to compare how the reception of Pompeii has been changing through time and try to point out what are the variables that influenced these changes.
I have decided to start with the interpretations of Pompeii that come from writers, intellectuals and historical personalities. I am aware that the experience of these particular witnesses is likely to have been very different from the regular visitor's one. Not only they were probably treated as honorable guests, but they also had a cultural background that cannot be representative of their average contemporaries.

On the other hand, the travel notes of persons like Goethe or Dickens, are certainly easier to find and access than the private journals of non-famous people. I would also say that they tend to be quite well written. What I mean is that writers and artists have the habit of describing things in detail and to record their feelings quite precisely. Furthermore, these people seldom were really writing for their private journals. They knew they were actually targeting a large public, and they were aware that their view of Pompeii would have shaped the expectations (and even the opinions) of the their connationals.

I am starting from the assumption that popular artists were kind of opinion leaders, and that they were certainly influenced by their own background culture but, at the same time, they were actively influencing it.
The list of members of the intelligentsia who went to Pompeii and wrote (or painted or drew) about it is very long: Madame de Staƫl, Mozart, Stendhal, Keats, Byron, Gautier and many others

Is this process still ongoing? Who are today the people we (implicitly) entrust to shape our interpretations of Ancient Cultural Heritage?

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