Your RDA of Irony

Pompeii and Circumstances

A friend recently forced a novel on me, assuring me that I would enjoy it.  She will be pleased to know that both her literary judgment and powers of intimidation are impeccable.  The novel is “Pompeii”, by Robert Harris.  It is  a detective story set in the ancient and poorly located Roman resort.  I won’t spoil the ending for you–because Vesuvius already did–but it is a must-read if you are ever planning to build or manage an aqueduct. 

Roman engineering really was remarkable, able to transport water hundreds of miles to supply the needs and delights of its citizens.  After the Roman Empire collapsed, Western Europe would not approach–or even consider–that level of classical hygiene until the 20th century.  In the 19th century, Joseph Lister noticed that his patients lived longer if he washed his hands.  The Moorish physicians had come to the same realization some seven centuries earlier (but who is going to believe a heathen).

My greater appreciation of Roman hydraulics and hygiene was incited by the novel, whose detective plot concerns a mystery in the waterworks department.   The hero discovers that someone has been stealing water and, as I kept reading, I discovered that someone has been stealing plots.  “Pompeii” is a relocated version of “Chinatown.”  Yes, there are a few differences.  The hero here is an engineer rather than a detective and the novel’s heroine is a teenage virgin–which is not anyone’s impression of Faye Dunaway.  

Apparently, I am not the only one who noticed a similarity.  Roman Polanski will be directing the film version of “Pompeii”.  Guess who directed “Chinatown”?

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    I actually halfway trust Polanski to get “Pompeii” right, especially since there’s a teenage virgin involved.

    If you liked that one, Eugene, you’ll probably also enjoy Harris’ latest, to-wit “Imperium,” which is an imagining of the “Life of Cicero” that was authored by his scribe and is referenced in other works but, fortunately for Harris, was lost to posterity.

    Interestingly, one may draw certain parallels between Harris’ portrayal of Verres and a certain thieving S.O.B. in Washington, D.C.

    Sadly, you won’t find anyone in the current crowd of craven Senatorial cowards bearing even slight resemblance to the guts and determination of M. Tullius Cicero.

  2. David Traini says:

    You mention “Roman hyraulics;” it makes me think of Casanova …

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