“But if you close your eyes, Does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? And if you close your eyes, Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?”
Pompeii has always been a place I’ve been desperate to visit. It’s held a consistent sense of wonder for years now, an ever present niggling in the back of my mind that this was a place I didn’t just want to visit, but somewhere I needed to experience in my lifetime. It’s been a constant source of fascination, ever since I worked my way through the first Cambridge Latin textbook at 10 years old.
Before you judge me, yes I’m aware how that sounds and no, I didn’t go to Eton. I was however, the incredibly nerdy kid who signed up for Latin club when the local grammar school teens decided to do a bit of community service.
(I also ended up attending said grammar school and taking Latin for GCSE and boy was that a bad decision!)
I can’t say Latin club made me many friends, but I did get to go on a school trip to Silchester back in 2006. For those who are unaware, Silchester is where you take your nerdy, classics obsessed children when you live in the home counties of the UK and don’t want to fly them out to Pompeii. Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh. The archeologists are all doing great work and there’s a pretty sizeable amphitheatre.
Can’t say I’ve been back though.
I have, however, been very lucky to visit various Roman sites throughout the years, and I definitely appreciate our access to history here in the UK. We never did manage to persuade our Latin teacher to take us to Italy, although we were allowed to visit Fishbourne Palace and the Roman Baths, and these ancient sites have always left me with that slight sense of… I guess wonder? That seems too casual a word. Incredulity, I suppose, at the immortality of these buildings and the millions of lives they’ve touched.
I get that a lot with certain historical sites. Be it the Berlin Wall, the Tower of London, or the Anne Frank House, whenever I’ve visited these places I always need a few moments to myself to sit and just be.
But I’m fairly confident my first look at Pompeii is the closest I’ll ever get to time travel.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just a complete nerd but walking the streets of Pompeii hit me with a sense of sheer disbelief at the consistency of humanity. Pompeii was buried nearly 2000 years ago, and yet you can feel the ghosts of the people who lived here and worked here and walked these streets and it’s just mesmerising.
Just to clarify, I don’t mean that literally. This isn’t a tale of ghost hunting and paranormal activity in the Pompeiian ruins. It was more like I’ve been living life in an hourglass and the sand has just kept pouring down faster and faster throughout my life and then suddenly
And you have a moment of reflection
And you realise that life is crazy
There’s bills to pay and mouths to feed and work to do and grades to obtain and a life to live and it all seems overwhelming
But then you see these streets, houses, shops, fountains, even bloody ‘beware of the dog’ signs and you realise that people lived here. They actually lived here. 2000 years ago. And they had the same problems you do, and their lives ended so suddenly in a cloud of fire sent by the gods.
And so none of it really matters
You’re just a drop in the ocean, and one day people might be walking around the streets you used to call home and marvel at the way people lived back in ancient times
“Isn’t it funny how they used to have physical buildings where people did their shopping!”
“We believe this was the site of the old school, though all records of its name have been lost”
“And over here is the old bed of the river Thames, which dried up some 1500 years ago”
And you realise that you’re so insignificant when it comes down to it
So why does it all matter?
And yet, isn’t that the very reason why it all matters?
Because we’re human.
We’re human. And we live and we love and we die exactly the same way we did thousands of years ago and nothing has changed even though everything has changed and there’s something wonderful about that
That I can close my eyes, and the unforgiving consistency of humanity means I can feel a connection with nameless people who died thousands of years ago. People whose lives have been lost to history, and by all accounts shouldn’t matter but then again none of us really matter. And so in a sense we all do. The little every day things matter, not because they leave their legacy over the pages of a history book, but because they’re human.
And it’s because of my inane humanity, that I could sit there in Pompeii and close my eyes, and it really did almost feel like I’d been there before