Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Before Pompeii’s destruction in the volcanic eruption of 79 c.e., the city was a jewel of the Roman world, featuring luxurious houses and seaside villas that were the fashionable dwellings and summer resorts of wealthy Romans. The houses, baths, streets, and temples described by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and peopled by his characters are those that had been excavated and restored when he wrote the book. For example, Glaucus’s house, the House of the Tragic Poet, is a small gem of a house that is built in the typical Roman style but adorned by artworks that reveal his Greek heritage.
The Greek temple pictured with the Triangular Forum may have been the temple in which Glaucus, a wealthy Athenian, worshiped the gods of his ancestors. Glaucus meets his friends Lepidus and Sallust in the street near the Temple of Fortune, considered one of the most graceful examples of Roman architecture. The street’s raised footpath allows passersby to view the interior artwork and frescoes through the open doors of the painted houses along the street. It is in the portico of the Temple of Fortune that Glaucus and his beloved Ione take refuge from the raining ash after Vesuvius begins to erupt.
*Vesuvius. Volcano on the east shore of Italy’s Bay of Naples whose eruption in 79 c.e. provides the novel’s climax. Even before its eruption, the volcano’s dark presence is suggested throughout the novel by a strange dark cloud that hovers over it and becomes more ominous with each mention. The growing cloud appears to be a prophetic omen of both the disaster to come and the dark deeds being plotted against the wealthy Greek Glaucus, his Neapolitan lover Ione, her brother Apaecides, and the blind flower girl of Thessalian origins. The primary evildoer is the Egyptian priest Arbaces, who performs evil rites and manipulations against them in the Temple of Isis. Adding to the evil foreboding is the wicked witch in her cavern on the deadly mountain, who curses Glaucus for attacking the snake that is her familiar creature.
Bulwer-Lytton’s settings for his plot provide a cross section of the restored city and its romanized culture. Glaucus entertains his friends at an intimate dinner party at his house. A fashionable house party allows the guests of a wealthy Roman to meet and judge the gladiators and place their wagers before the scheduled games. Readers glimpse the private dressing room of a Pompeian beauty who wants the attention of Glaucus.
In the gates, marketplace, baths and forum of Pompeii, Bulwer-Lytton moves his plot along through encounters that presage doom for the lovers and doom for the city. The blind flower girl serves to personify the eternal darkness of the city soon to be buried by the mountain’s rain of volcanic ash. Thus, in street scenes and descriptions of revelers in the amphitheater, forum, and marketplace, alongside mourners at Apaecides’ funeral, the novelist weaves a tapestry of the doomed city’s cultural life and religious practices.