The archaeological excavation initiated in 2023 in Insula 10 of Regio IX in Pompeii has uncovered two interconnected houses facing Via di Nola, adorned with frescoes in their interiors.

Frescoes and mosaics depicting mythological themes related to the Trojan War, such as Paris and Helen, and Apollo and Cassandra, were found within them, framed by white and green bands on lilac, violet, and cream moldings.

During the excavation, some fragments belonging to a figurative frieze that should be part of the decoration of the upper register of the room were also found. The frieze, which probably articulated into a series of panels, depicts several figures engaged in the preparation or celebration of rituals.

On the north wall of the triclinium of one of the houses, the encounter between Helen and Paris is represented, clearly indicated by a Greek inscription written in white in the center of the scene: ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΕΛΕΝΗ. Helen advances from left to right, with her left leg resting on the ground, the right one drawn back; her right arm is lowered and slightly extended forward, the left one bent under her chest and held by the hand of a maiden; her head slightly tilted forward, but her gaze directed to meet Paris’s, who is standing in front of her.

She wears a sky blue chiton adorned with golden buttons on her right arm. The transparency of the fabric reveals the whiteness of her skin and her delicate, sensual shapes. The chiton is partially covered by a gray-green himation, which wraps around her hips and legs, leaving the torso exposed. She wears red sandals.

Helen wears a ring on her left ring finger, a bracelet on her right forearm, an elaborate necklace around her neck, and pendant earrings; her red hair is adorned with a blue headdress or net.

Apollo and Cassandra in another of the frescoes discovered in Pompeii
Apollo and Cassandra in another of the frescoes discovered in Pompeii. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompeii

She is accompanied by a young maiden, seen frontally, with her head slightly turned to the left, looking at Helen. The maiden wears a green-blue chiton, wrapped in a purple-brown mantle; she has blonde, curly hair, and her neck is adorned with a necklace; in her left hand, she holds a fan.

Paris is depicted standing on his right leg, the left one slightly to the side, his right arm extended forward, as if he were taking Helen’s hand. The instinctive gesture of the young Trojan prince is reflected in his flushed face and intense gaze.

Paris’s left arm holds a peduncle, the shepherd’s staff; crouching at his feet, a large dog, probably a molosser. Both attributes recall Paris’s childhood when, as a shepherd, he would have expressed his own judgment about the most beautiful among the three goddesses: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.

The young prince wears luxurious oriental attire, the tunic of blue color with long sleeves in yellow stripes, tightened at the waist with a belt, is adorned with a row of yellow and red squares on a cream-white background, framed by two thin red bands. The anasarcid pants, in a green-yellow tone, are decorated with horizontal red and blue lines. A wide green mantle, resting on his left shoulder, partially covers his legs. The young man’s head is covered with a Phrygian cap with side bands falling over his shoulders.

The scene narrates the fateful encounter between the young Paris and the beautiful Helen, wife of the king of Sparta Menelaus, whom he will abduct and take with him to Troy, unleashing the famous twenty-year war between the Achaeans and the Trojans.

In the center of the south wall, a second couple is represented, without a Greek inscription, but identifiable, in all probability, as Apollo and Cassandra. The god is depicted naked, with a wide blue cloak bordered in gold over his left shoulder and a green belt, falling from his right shoulder onto his torso.

Detail of the arrangement of the frescoes on the wall of the triclinium
Detail of the arrangement of the frescoes on the wall of the triclinium. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompeii

He leans on the extended right leg, the left one crossed in front of the right; his right arm and hand are behind his back, the left hand rests on a lyre. The head, with long hair, is crowned with a laurel wreath.

The god stares intensely at the young woman sitting in front of him on a green omphalos, surrounded by a net of gold, resting on a podium of two steps. The female figure wears a brown tunic, which exposes her left shoulder. A wide beige mantle, fastened behind her back and, with probably erroneous perspective, under her right arm, covers her legs with soft folds.

The young woman rests her right foot on a rock, the left one directly on the ground; she wears bracelets on her wrists; her head, with long loose hair falling over her temples, neck, and shoulders, is adorned with laurel. Her left arm rests on her left leg, and she holds a laurel branch in her hand.

Her right arm seems to lean on a support, no longer visible, while her hand is on her forehead, in a gesture that seems to express great despair, also underlined by the sad gaze and tight lips. The posture, gestures, and facial expression of the young woman, seated on an omphalos, a symbol of Apollo’s oracles, allow her to be identified as Cassandra, the unfortunate prophetess, daughter of Priam, condemned by the god Apollo to not be believed for rejecting his love.

The two vignettes on the long walls of the triclinium thus narrate love stories fraught with ominous forebodings, which led to the war and the fall of Troy.


Sources

E-Journal Scavi di Pompeii (Parco Archeologico di Pompeii)


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