Chapter XII - House of the Dioscuri

Chapter 11 Contents Chapter 13

Having passed up the Via dei Mercurii, beyond the lupanare and the fountain of Mercury at the smaller gate of the house of the second fountain, which is opposite to it, a narrow vicus or alley on the right separates the line of houses, beginning at the arch of Caligula, from the most splendid of all the habitations yet discovered at Pompeii, which has been named the House of the Dioscuri, or Castor and Pollux, from two figures representing those personages on the walls.

In the vicus, opposite to a little private entrance to the lupanare, may be observed the window of an upper chamber of this house, a very rare circumstance in these remains.

The walls of the house of the Dioscuri are, as may be seen in plate LXI, painted below in large red panels, and above represent in plaster a slightly indented rustication. The red panels ought always to be well examined, on the first moment of their excavation, for inscriptions ; as, in one part of this wall, may be found curious Greek alphabets of the imperial times, and, among many other scratched inscriptions, may be distinguished


and perhaps, with perseverance and the application of a wet sponge, something more of an historical fast or event might be recovered.

The plate LXI gives a representation of this street, looking back from this house of the Dioscuri, under the two triumphal arches, toward the forum ; and, though the upper story may be wanting throughout, it must give a tolerable idea of what a street in Pompeii might have been before the eruption. There are even certain mouldings which seem to indicate that the houses were not, in some parts, higher than at present.

The plan which is given in plate LX of this part of the street will enable the reader to understand the view.

The house of Ceres, the atrium of which is given in plate LXII, occupies a very large portion of the street on the left, and presents to it only a door and a few very small upper windows.

Of the house succeeding to that of Ceres, which has its vestibule, atrium, with its ala, in the centre of one side, and four cubiculi only as yet excavated, there is little to remark.

In the wall which follows the door are four small windows above ; and below are written, in large characters :


Nearer the door is




Besides these we find


and in another place


We have also


and it is not impossible that, amongst so much bad and very equivocal writing, though in capitals, the three letters under C. Casellium may be intended, by a certain rounding of the D, to be taken either for Duumvir, or Orat ut faveat.

Near the next door is written


and, on this account, the house is considered to have been under the protection of the aedile Pomponius, whose name is so ill written. This house has its atrium and four small rooms now visible ; but the remainder was not excavated in March, 1829. Still ascending the street, the following house was protected by Avellius Firmus, and that was succeeded by the thermopolion or lupanare. On the house of Avellius is written


The name of Canusia is very uncertain, but it would seem that he, with Nymphius, might be considered as proprietors of the dwelling.

Of the lupanare - for so it appears a house may fairly be called, which, under pretence of being an ordinary wine-shop, or thermopolion, in front, has an inner chamber, painted with every species of indecency - nothing can be given except the plan, the waggon, and a drinking-scene which is the subject of plate LXXX.

The shop in front has the usual table, in the form of a right angle, covered with marbles, and furnished with its jars. On the right is, remarkably well preserved, a sort of little staircase, consisting of six diminutive steps of marble, and serving to set out the numerous cups and glasses which were used by the customers - a method commonly practised in the Neapolitan wine-houses and trattorias at the present day. Under this is an arch, and in the recess is a serpent with a little altar painted.

Behind the shop, on the right, is a very small anteroom, in which is painted the waggon of the Thermopolite, with his horses unharnessed, and his servants filling his amphorae, given in plate LXXXI.

There was a door from this room into a court ; and within is a still smaller apartment, scarcely eight feet square, the walls of which are ornamented by wretched daubs, representing Venus fishing and several tiger-hunts. This room has a little window to the south with an iron grating, and, to the east, another with two wooden bars.

The door, on the left, from the shop, leads into the obscene chamber, which is of small dimensions, and has a little postern door opening into the vicus of the house of the Dioscuri.

In this chamber, two of the exterior pictures on one sicle are highly indecent. In the centre two men seem inviting each other to drink, on the left is the picture of a party playing at dice, and on the right the painting represented in plate LXXX.

There is, in the same room, another painting of a waggon, the horses, and two youths filling the amphorae, very much resembling the former.

The ancients entertained notions so different from ourselves on the subject of delicacy, that it is not, perhaps, quite safe to decide on the nature of this habitation from the paintings it contains ; but it would be a curious speculation to discover whether, in Pompeii, a thermopolium was generally understood to be also a lupanare, or whether there is something peculiar in the house in question. Claudius, and after him a Roman prefect called Ampelius, tried in vain to repress, or rather to regulate, houses of this kind, which proves that they were at one time tolerated (1).

(1)  At a subsequent period, but while this work was in the press, a further excavation was made in the house connected with this lupanare, by which it was discovered that other apartments, ornamented with better taste and more careful execution, existed in the habitation.