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The life of Pompeii will forever be linked to the manner of its death. Overshadowed by the spectre of Vesuvius, the famous city remains a site of enduring fascination, and the focal point of many different and often conflicting attitudes towards antiquity. As one of the most evocative and complete ruins of the ancient world, Pompeii represents an irrecoverable past. At the same time, it invites its interpreters to reconstruct and re-imagine that past through literature, art and film. The extent of Pompeii's continuing resonance in culture is remarkable, with an existence and meaning shaped as much by its destruction and 18th century rebirth as by its modern presence. In her exciting new book, Joanna Paul explores the paradoxical tension found in Pompeii, and its sister-city Herculaneum, between the fragility and inaccessibility of the past and its persistence. Drawing on examples and texts - written, painted, cinematic - from the last three centuries, Paul shows that these twin victims of the volcano have become emblematic of a prototype Ground Zero. The ancient city has evolved into a powerful modern symbol of destruction, to be used figuratively in connection with any contemporary urban apocalypse. This bold and thought-provoking study in reception will have considerable appeal to students of classics and Roman history.
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Joanna Paul is J P Postgate Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. Her first book, entitled Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, will be published in 2011.
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