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Herculaneum: A Tour In Latin

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

In 79 A.D. Mount Vesu­vius erupt­ed and laid waste to many towns around the Bay of Naples. Towns like Pom­peii, Stabi­ae, Oplon­tis, Bosco­re­ale and Herculaneum.

Introduction

Today we are going to take a walk along the 2000-year-old streets of Her­cu­la­neum, vis­it Roman hous­es, look at beau­ti­ful fres­coes, and learn about the town, its inhab­i­tants, and the eruption.

Accord­ing to tra­di­tion the erup­tion of Vesu­vius occurred in 79 A.D. on the 24th of August, a date that has been dis­put­ed of late; pri­or to this the vol­cano had been dor­mant for about 800 years.

Her­cu­la­neum had been inhab­it­ed since the 6th cen­tu­ry B.C. and was at the time of the erup­tion a wealthy town by the seafront with about 20 hectares and 4000 inhab­i­tants. But, as Mount Vesu­vius explod­ed the town was buried under 14–20 meters of clay, ash and soot. It was then lost for centuries.

In the ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry the Roman town was redis­cov­ered and exca­va­tions begun in 1738. Things came, more or less, to a halt when Pom­peii was dis­cov­ered. The Her­cu­la­neum exca­va­tions became spo­radic for a long time, sim­ply because it was eas­i­er to con­cen­trate the efforts to Pom­peii. The pyro­clas­tic flow had been dif­fer­ent in Pom­peii and it was not buried as deep down as Herculaneum.

Dur­ing the 20th cen­tu­ry, exca­va­tions of Her­cu­la­neum start­ed for real again and instead of dig­ging in under­ground pas­sages and wells, as had pre­vi­ous­ly been the exca­va­tion tech­nique, archae­ol­o­gists now brought the sun back to shine upon Her­cu­la­neum for the first time since the eruption. 

The exca­vat­ed area is much small­er than that of Pom­peii, with 5 hectares com­pared to Pompeii’s 40. Although, as men­tioned, it is believed that Her­cu­la­neum as a whole was about 20 hectares, leav­ing a lot to be exca­vat­ed in the future (so excit­ing!). How­ev­er, Her­cu­la­neum is in many cas­es much bet­ter pre­served than it’s sis­ter town. Many hous­es are intact to the point where you can enter them and find the mosa­ic floors look almost new, the fres­coes on the walls shine in bril­liant colours and the ceil­ing still keep­ing you dry from the rain. The pyro­clas­tic flow in Her­cu­la­neum was excru­ci­at­ing­ly hot, and it car­bonised the town, pre­serv­ing even wood and oth­er organ­ic-based materials. 

It is a mar­vel­lous place to vis­it. So, fol­low along and walk the streets of Her­cu­la­neum with us by watch­ing the video. (And, if you can, go to Herculaneum!)

Video in Latin from Herculaneum

Audio only

I high­ly sug­gest you watch the video to dis­cov­er the breath-tak­ing streets and hous­es of Her­cu­la­neum, but if you are on the go, you can lis­ten to the audio only here on Latinitium.com or in your favourite pod­cast app:

Transcription

This is a tran­scrip­tion of the video above. If you watch the video, you can acti­vate it as subtitles.

Pro aqua oppidum

Abhinc tre­cen­tos annos, puteus non longe hinc fodiebatur sed pro aqua, alia inven­ta sunt. Pro aqua, hoc inven­tum est. Hoc oppidum quod post me vide­tis fer­unt Her­culem olim con­didisse. Et haec est causa cur voce­tur Her­cu­la­neum. Eamus nunc visum quale sit hoc pul­cher­ri­mum oppidum.

Anno undeoc­to­ges­i­mo post Chris­tum natum, mons Vesu­vius igni­um erup­tione cum alia tum hoc oppidum, Her­cu­la­neum, sepe­liv­it. Sed hodie, post tot annos, licet rur­sus in viis et in aed­ibus huius oppi­di ver­sari, quod est pul­cher­ri­mum. Eamus.

In ther­mopo­lio

In ther­mopo­lio nunc sumus. Huc Her­cu­lanei homines veniebant ut cibum sumer­ent Huc Her­cu­lanei homines veniebant ut cibum sumer­ent, ut pran­der­ent, ut for­t­asse cenarent—si forte esuriebant. Et post me vide­tis ali­ud con­clave, et in illo con­clavi pos­ti­co, homines poter­ant con­sidere et cibum sumere. Hoc non est solum ther­mopoli­um quod inve­niatur hic Her­cu­lanei. Sunt eti­am alia.

Min­er­va, Iuno, Hercules

In itinere, volo aliq­uid vobis pul­cher­ri­mi osten­dere. Ingre­di­a­mur hoc aed­i­fi­ci­um ubi sodales Augustales versa­ban­tur. Nunc ipsum est satis vac­u­um. Proh dolor! fere nihil restat, sed unum restat idque max­i­mum. Ven­ite huc. Ecce!

Hic vide­tis pul­cher­ri­mas pic­turas in opere tec­to­rio. Sunt ali­quatenus tri­tae et lac­er­ae, sed tamen, post fere duo mil­ia anno­rum, licet tamen dicere, has pic­turas esse bene con­ser­vatas. A sin­sis­tra, in illa pic­tura, vide­tis tres homines. Vide­tis Min­er­vam, Iunonem, Her­culem. Certe, Her­cules est max­imus hoc in oppi­do, quod oppidum olim condidit—vel sic fama fert. Sed est eti­am alia pic­tura in opere tec­to­rio fac­ta, ubi idem Her­cules osten­di­tur, effinig­i­tur: illic. Et haec omnia dicun­tur esse fac­ta eo sti­lo qui vocatur quar­tus; stilus quar­tus. Sunt enim varii stili pin­gen­di quibus usi sunt Pom­pei­is et Her­cu­lanei maxime.

Lau­ti­ti­ae pictae

In aed­ibus lautis­simis nunc ipsum sumus. Et volo vobis osten­dere pic­turas in opere tec­to­rio fac­tas, quae sunt sparsae qua­si per varia con­clavia huius loci. Quae hic osten­dun­tur non tam bene con­ser­vatae sunt sed a sin­is­tra, si sus­tu­leri­tis ocu­los, illic vide­tis ubi colum­na sus­ten­tat aliq­uid; eo ipso loco col­ores sunt nitidis­si­mi et vividis­si­mi. Est pul­cher­ri­mum, nonne? Sed pergamus.

In hac vil­la, praeter has pul­cher­ri­mas pic­turas, ali­ae res inven­tae sunt: tab­u­lae cer­atae inven­tae sunt. Cum loquimur de scrip­tis, de rebus scrip­tis, est alia vil­la, ali­ae aedes mul­to magis notae, ut puto, quae est, certe, Vil­la di Papyri. Et, ibi, pluri­ma volu­mi­na scrip­to­rum antiquo­rum inven­ta sunt. Sed, cum qua­si in car­bonem haec volu­mi­na abierint, dif­fi­cil­li­mum est ea leg­ere. Et per saec­u­la homines conati sunt haec evol­vere et tum destruc­ta omni­no perdi­ta sunt. Nos­tra autem memo­ria, novis art­ibus usi, homines doc­tis­si­mi potuerunt non­nul­la leg­ere. Et scimus in illa vil­la, Vil­la di Papyri, ser­vari cum alia tum opera quaedam philo­soph­i­ca scrip­toris, cui nomen est Philodemus.

Sed nuper nova quaedam inven­ta sunt Senecae His­to­ri­ae. Et, cum hoc cog­no­vis­sem, max­i­mo gau­dio atque stu­dio affec­tus sum. Et nunc cupio haec scrip­ta quam pri­mum leg­ere. Sed, quan­tum scio, non­dum in lucem edi­ta sunt. Proh dolor! viden­tur esse tan­tum­mo­do partes illius operis, sed nihilomi­nus erit pul­cher­ri­mum eas partes legere.

Lava­tum itur

Nunc sumus in apody­te­rio bal­n­earum et hic est locus ubi homines ves­ti­men­ta sua exue­bant ante­quam lavar­ent. Eamus lava­tum. His in bal­neis, fuit cal­dar­i­um, frigi­dar­i­um, et tep­i­dar­i­um. Et hic, humi, in pavi­men­to, pos­sumus videre pul­cher­ri­mum opus tes­sel­la­tum. Proh dolor, nobis nunc vide­tur inver­sum sed non licet tran­silire hunc funem.

Bal­neis viro­rum visis, nunc volo vobis osten­dere bre­vis­sime bal­neas fem­i­narum. Eti­am hic est opus tes­sel­la­tum pul­cher­ri­mum et mul­to melius servatum.

Ther­mopoli­um aliud

Mem­i­nis­tisne me paulo ante dixisse esse ther­mopo­lia satis mul­ta? Et ecce hic est alius locus ubi liceat cibum sumere vel saltem ubi licuit.

Oppor­tu­ni­tas Loci

Ut in omnibus oppidis, sic Her­cu­lanei quoque: ali­ae vil­lae sunt mag­nae ali­ae par­vae, ali­ae lau­tae, ali­ae lautis­si­mae. Et nunc sumus in una ex his vil­lis Et nunc sumus in una ex his vil­lis, mea qui­dem sen­ten­tia, lautis­simis. Nam haec vil­la, quam post me vide­tis, est pul­chra. Bene, non est max­i­ma for­t­asse, sed oppor­tu­ni­tas loci… Ecce! Haec enim vil­la sita est ad mare; immo, fere in ipsa ora mar­iti­ma. Qualis olim fuit? Haec vil­la spectabat mare. Prospec­tus hinc erat in mare. Nunc, certe, non iam adest mare, vel mare obduc­tum est. Sed antiquis tem­po­ribus ante erup­tionem igni­um illius mon­tis Vesu­vii illic erat mare. Et hinc erat prospec­tus in illud pul­cher­ri­mum mare.

Inco­lae

Mul­tis aed­i­fici­is, viis, ali­is rebus pul­cher­rim­is et pror­sus mir­i­fi­cis visis, unum, certe, vidimus deesse… Ubi sunt inco­lae? Certe mor­tui sunt. Homines doc­ti per longum tem­pus puta­bant homines plerosque effugisse; non esse mor­tu­os illa calami­tate max­i­ma, illa erup­tione igni­um, sed effugisse. Tum abhinc annos circiter trig­in­ta, aliq­uid inven­tum est: ipsi inco­lae. Amplius tre­cen­ta cadav­era hic inven­ta sunt. Viden­tur huc fugisse cum coni­ugibus suis, cum liberis suis, cum ami­cis suis ut se… ut sibi quo­dammo­do salutem peter­ent. …sed frus­tra. Nam vapor­ibus qui nati sunt ex illa erup­tione igni­um inter­fec­ti sunt.

Illa calami­tas fac­ta est propter illam erup­tionem igni­um. Sed ut intel­lega­mus quan­ta fuer­it vis, specte­mus mon­tem qui post me est. Hic est mons qui coaluit ex illa mate­ria quae per vias, per aedes, per oppidum flux­it. Hic olim fuit ora mar­iti­ma sed, nunc est mons. Her­cu­la­neum, quod vidimus, est locus mir­i­fi­cus atque magnificus.

Est aliq­uid mirum posse per vias tam anti­quas ambu­lare et Latine loqui et scire eas vias, pari­etes aed­i­fi­cio­rum, hanc lin­guam, hunc ser­monem olim audi­isse. Est pul­cher­ri­mum. Sed quod maius est: hoc in oppi­do licet sen­tire, vere sen­tire qualis vita Romano­rum fuer­it, quae plerumque vita nobis tam long­in­qua atque aliena esse vide­tur; quam sem­per per scrip­ta cognoscimus, sed hic vere pos­sumus cognoscere hanc ipsam vitam.

Sed certe oportet eti­am mem­iner­imus finem esse imposi­tum huic oppi­do et his omnibus inco­l­is pes­si­mum. Neque pos­sumus illa cadav­era innu­mera spectare quin quo­dammo­do affi­ci­a­mur dolore. Tum ipsum sen­timus vere illos Romanos fuisse homines, neque tan­tum­mo­do scrip­ta nobis reliquisse et lin­guam dis­cen­dam sed fuisse homines qui vitam suam ager­ent, qui amar­ent, qui mor­eren­tur. Et nusquam, ita me di ament, melius haec gravis­si­ma atque pul­cher­ri­ma quam hic Her­cu­lanei pos­sumus cognoscere atque videre. Quam ob rem, maxime vobis suadeo ut Her­cu­la­neum ali­quan­do invisatis. Tantum’st.

Bene valete.

Andreas More­house ver­ba transcripsit.

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

Teacher and author Daniel Pettersson, M.A., is co-founder of Latinitium and is currently teaching Latin at Stockholm University, where he is also working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Humanist Colloquia. Daniel believes in the importance of Latin literature in the modern world and that you can teach yourself Latin with the right motivation, method, and material.
Written by Daniel Pettersson

Written by Daniel Pettersson

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