Wandering through a new exhibit on Pompeii at the Musée Maillol a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but imagine life as an ancient Roman housewife. Hundreds of objects from everyday life are on display, from perfume bottles and heavy-linked woven gold necklaces, to heart-shaped cake tins and terracotta vessels used to store garum, a salty fermented fish condiment similar to today’s Vietnamese fish sauce.
One of the most poignant aspects, to me at least, were the statuettes of household gods found in the lararium, the small shrine present in every home. There were two types of domestic guardian spirits in ancient Pompeii: the Lares, who protected the house and everyone in it (including slaves), and the Penates, who looked after the welfare of the master and his family.
The Lares were linked to their physical location — if their family moved, they stayed behind. The Penates, however, were linked to the family, following them hither and yon.
As someone with an itinerant lifestyle (which I’m writing about here), I would love to collect my own Lares and Penates, one god to guard over our current home, the other to travel and protect us as we move around the world.
Pompeii: An Art of Living runs until February 12, 2012.
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