When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the local residents of Pompeii had no idea that they would become the fascination to modern society that they are today. Their minds were likely occupied with escaping the unknown menace that threw ash and magma over their lives. However, in a modern context, we are afforded a more in-depth look at the lives of people who lived so long ago. We can see their food, stores, pottery, and even their bodies. The expressions of some of those people are forever encased in ash, allowing us to witness their last moment of cognizance. With all of these aspects of Pompeii, meaning can be discovered through multiple lenses or methods of examining them.
At The College of Idaho, there is a rather large piece of cookware that was removed from Pompeii in approximately 1919. Ultimately with this vase, we are led to the question; why do we care about the vase beyond its significance in its historical context?
This "new lense" question leads us to find meaning in how we, as a society, understand this vase and how this understanding of it reflects who we are, who we will become through death, and how to rationalize this through human empathy.
Ultimately, this vase matters because although the world has changed since Pompeii, we are still people and we are still afraid of death.
Through it, we are looking for a connection to people that have already faced down what we can’t bear to face.
By Laurel Weiss