Campania Felix: Rome and the Bay of Naples


Guidebooks to Rome:  You cannot do better than Georgina Masson's Companion Guide to Rome, published many decades ago and updated in this century (!).  Likewise, Kate Simon's Rome:  Places and Pleasures is pleasingly old-fashioned, but then so too is Rome.  And if you like dusty old guidebooks, as I certainly do, see if you can get ahold of H. V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome, the very book that got me stuck on this city when I first visited more than 40 years ago.  If you're looking for something more up-to-date and concise, I think the Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness guidebooks are quite good, even if they lack the voice of the author.

And specifically on the Bay of Naples:

***Pompeii by Robert Harris.  This exciting tale of love and corruption within the public waterworks takes place in and around the Bay of Naples during the eruption of Vesuvius.  Very good archeology and a great story.

For further reading on life in Ancient Rome, try A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by tv host and history popularizer Alberto Angela, translated by Gregory Conti.  It reads like a box of chocolates:  fun, consumable, slightly addictive but not terribly substantial.  Right up my alley!  Also recommended to me though I have not read it is 24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Phillip Matayszak, a book that takes a similarly anecdotal approach to history.  

The Fires of Vesuvius by Mary Beard.  Beard is a highly respected Classicist at Cambridge.  This book, however, she has written for non-academic audiences.  It is fascinating, light-hearted, and the perfect non-fiction bookend to Harris’s Pompeii.

 ***Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis is a remarkable account of the year the writer was stationed in Naples at the end of the war. 

**I Claudius by Robert Graves.  You simply cannot beat this rip-roaring portrait of the Emperor Augustus, his wife, his descendants, and their lives of both rigor and excess.  It provides a delightful entry into the world of the Roman Empire.  The television miniseries is terrific, even after all these years.

Gomorrah by Robert Saviano.  This gruesome chronicle of organized crime in and around Naples propelled journalist Saviano to fame and fortune but also made him a hunted man.  The Sicilian Mafia seems tame by comparison.

Ingrid Rowland’s excellent From Pompeii:  The afterlife of a Roman Town examines what Pompeii has meant to us over time.  Who visited, how, why, and what they took away with them.  A proto-history of sorts. 

Any booklist for Naples would be incomplete without Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.  The first in a trilogy, this is a novel about growing up in Naples, where organized crime and corruption are subtly woven into everyday life.  I found it fascinating and raced through all three books in the trilogy.

Axel Munthe, a Swedish doctor born in 1857, moved as a young man to Capri where he built a wonderful villa that he embellished with archeological finds from the island. In 1929, he published The Story of San Michele, an autobiographical account of his time on Capri. It remains one of the 20th centuries best selling books, world wide. If you cannot find this in your public library, rest assume that you can purchase it when we visit the villa! It is both old fashioned and delightful as well as a fascinating glimpse of this island in the 19th century and into the 20th.

A trusted friend recommended Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss, a noted classicist from Cornell. It is sitting on my bedside table, but, based on the first chapter, it’s a lively account of key emperors from Augustus to Constantine. An interesting way to span over 300 years of Roman history.



Gladiator, of course, with Russel Crowe as a gladiator and our own Nancy as one of the Talking Heads.

Ben Hur, of course.  The 1959 version with Charlton Heston in the lead and William Wyler directing.

Spartacus, of course.  With Kirk Douglas in the lead and Stanley Kubrick directing.

I Claudius, the tv mini series.  It holds up wonderfully.

I could go on and on.  But I do love Hollywood's many takes on Ancient Rome.  Even the much maligned Cleopatra with Burton and Taylor.