The Tragedy That Befell Pompeii: Its Sins Were Similar To Those In Our Modern Day
By Michael H. Brown
It rained fire. It was totally dark. The pitch-blackness lasted for three terrifying days. The sky was literally unleashing stones and small boulders. Panicked residents got trapped in lava and hot ash, or fled to the sea, only to find their escape thwarted by tidal waves.
This was Pompeii 46 years after the death of Christ, and it was a classic disaster, every bit as spectacular as the more famous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It had been preceded by tremors and quakes -- chasms in the earth -- until the day came when the sky clouded over and lightning flashed and Mount Vesuvius erupted, so completely annihilating this once-thriving city that its very existence was forgotten for centuries afterwards.
What was it that deserved such a fate? Was this not a chastisement? And how did Pompeii's transgressions compare with those of our modern day?
We ask such questions this very week that John Paul II has visited the site, where he prayed a Rosary at a spot that has now been turned into a Marian shrine and where the Rosary is specially commemorated. "These ruins speak," the Pope said. "They pose the decisive question on the destiny of man. They are testimony of a great culture of which they reveal, along with luminous answers, disturbing questions."
Indeed, what happened?
Incredibly, the destruction of Pompeii had been preceded by a quake that had caused damage a few years before (in 62 A.D.) to virtually every one of its pagan temples. The quake was felt as far away as Rome, and caused chasms so deep that in one case a herd of sheep or cows was lost in one.
It was a sign, but instead of seeing God's disapproval in that event, the residents of Pompeii set about restoring the temples in earnest.
So there was the occult. There were the false deities -- the demon-gods. There was paganism. That was one of Pompeii's abominations. But there were others as well. There was materialism. The people of Pompeii were wealthy and were focused on that, to their own ruin.
"During excavation work there was a body discovered that had been embalmed by the ashes of that volcano," noted one preacher. "The body was that of a woman with her feet turned toward the city gate but her face turn backward toward something that lay just beyond her outstretched hands. Archaeologists discovered that the woman was reaching for a bag of pearls discovered also at that site. Maybe she had dropped them as she was fleeing for her life or maybe she found them when they had been dropped by another person. All the same, she knew that death was hard at her heels, life was calling out to her beyond the city gates, yet she could not resist the lure of those pearls."
There were other such examples. Pompeii and neighboring Herculaneum, which was also destroyed, were strongholds of materialism. Many who did not leave could not bear to lose their possessions. It was a luxurious place. It was a place for merchants. Everyone had a high standard of living.
And then there was the sexuality: Pompeii was a center for lust and erotic frescoes. Throughout the city, prostitutes advertised their services on public walls -- the ancient version of the media -- and even plied their trade in the temples.
Eight small frescoes showing lovemaking scenes with two or more participants decorated the changing rooms of public baths, one showing a lesbian love scene. The frescoes and the bath were buried along with the entire city. When archeologists scoured the ruins, they found obscene artifacts such as phalluses, enough to fill their entire drawers. Notes one news service, "Considerable evidence testifies that Pompeii's wealthy merchants and visiting sailors had a taste for eroticism and that prostitution flourished in Roman times." As one scholar emphasizes, it was not difficult to find a prostitute on the streets of Pompeii, as the calls of the lupae (she-wolves) led the men to the brothels, the largest of which was located in an alley appropriately called "Brothel Alley."
How does this compare to modern times? With our own sexual license? With the pornography on the internet? With what we see at the movies and on television or transacted between unmarried couples?
Was Pompeii any worse than what we see in our own time?
And if not, then what can we expect -- on a larger scale?
Yet hidden in this city were also the Christians. In the ruins of one home was found a scrawl that said "Sodom," as if warning the city of an even earlier chastisement, and on another wall was an indication that one of the first crosses had once secretly been placed there above a makeshift altar, as if a last attempt.
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