Incredibly Preserved Frescoes of Trojan War Figures Unearthed in Pompeii

Archaeologists in Pompeii have uncovered exceptionally preserved frescoes depicting legendary subjects of the Trojan War myth in a banquet hall on a known residential and commercial block in the ancient city.

One painting depicts the god Apollo, equipped with his symbolic lyre, attempting to seduce Cassandra. According to myth, Apollo gave Cassandra the power of foresight in an effort to win her affection. When he failed and was unable to revoke the divine gift, he applied a curse so that no one would believe her prophecies. Thus, Cassandra couldn’t prevent the Trojan War, which began when her brother Paris (also known as Alexander) abducted the beautiful Helen of Troy, who was married to Trojan king Menelaus. Some accounts state that Helen fell in love with Paris and went willingly. The god Zeus taking the form of a swan to seduce Spartan Queen Leda, a popular artistic reference depicting Helen’s parents, appears in another fresco.

The paintings are associated with the Third or Ornamental Style of Roman wall painting, known for small, finely painted figures and subjects that seem to float within monochromatic fields adorned with intricate borders. Popular 20 BCE through around 60 CE, Third Style frescoes were designed to mimic framed works of art or altars through illusions resembling carved beams, shaded pillars, and shining candelabras — all of which were painted on flat walls.

Pompeii’s Archaeological Park Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel explained in a public statement that the paintings were likely executed on dark backgrounds, rather than the typically colorful ones seen in other rooms across the Vesuvian city, because they obscured carbon residue left by lamps hung along the walls.

“Here people gathered to feast after sunset, the flickering light of the lamps made the images seem to move, especially after a few glasses of good Campania wine,” Zuchtriegel added.

This particular banquet hall was part of a high-status residential property within Pompeii’s Regio IX (Region 9) and funneled into an open-air courtyard toward a staircase leading to the site’s first floor. The archway of the staircase had a large amount of construction materials beneath it, indicating that the home was undergoing renovations at the time of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 CE.

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