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Arthist 337 Article Review by Cimone Trout

The Pregnant Moment: Tragic Wives in the Roman Interior


By Bettina Bergmann
Article Summary
In this article Bettina Bergmann mainly discuses Roman house in which she discusses is
called The House of Jason or sometimes The House of the Fatal Loves which is a modest
house found in the ruins of Pompeii. It is called the house of Jason after a large panel that
was found in most likely the triclinium or the dining room of the house, but since its
removal there are only two other rooms with third style murals. The one that Bergmann
focuses on is situated to the left of triclinium and can only be access through an
antechamber and as one passes through the antechamber the murals in the back room
are dramatically revealed. The first image that is reveal as one moves closer to the room
is that of Medea, to the left is the image of Phaedra, and then Helen with Paris.
She states to these three images are pregnant moments because the three images on
the walls of the room, [show] a wife consumed by her passion contemplating violence
against men (Bergmann 199). Thus, the moments that are imagined, framed and
suspended on these three walls are the moments right before these three notorious
mythological Greek women betray their husbands and families. Their betrayals included
infanticide which is committed by Medea, incest which is committed by Phaedra.
Bergmann asserts that the inclusion of such dramatic moments before these tragic wives
commit their betrayals seems odd to include in ones home from a Modern perspective,
but it was not an uncommon mural motif that was influenced by several aspects of
Roman culture.

Discussion
Although she states that no one could really know the intent behind these murals in this
room but provides evidence that could explain some theories that influenced the
creation of these murals. On page 210, she lists more murals that depict some more
images of these tragic women and also groups these women with other Greek
mythological women and goddess as well. She explains that this pattern of grouping and
listing figures was influenced by Greek poetry which often lists such mythological figures
together to create motifs and comparisons. Another possible influence is that the main
goddess of Pompeii was Venus and was celebrated as both mother and seductress. The
dual nature of this goddess of love also reflects the roman perspective of love as dual
natured and would potentially view these tragic women as passionate examples of the
consuming power of love. Also these three stories were very popular plays and those
who sat closest to the stage in Augustan theaters were often rich and powerful, and so
this room would have been impressive because it created a fiction of elite status (212).
Lastly, she states that these murals were painted in 10 C.E., a time period were there
was much moral reform and those that were upper-class women were held more
accountable for their actions then the middle and lower class women. This caused upper*All Greek Figures and Terms Referenced from the Oxford Classical Dictionary

Arthist 337 Article Review by Cimone Trout

class women to often disguise themselves as actresses and prostitutes in order to get
away with actions not appropriate for an upper-class women to do. So Bergmann states
that these murals could potentially, reflect the current preoccupation with the
hypocritical behavior of private life (211). Overall, these paintings reflect the
importance of Greek mythology, theatre, architectural drama on roman domestic murals.

Terms to Know
Medea- Magical woman who falls in love with Jason and helps him retrieve the Golden
Fleece. As told by Euripides, later Jason leaves her for another woman and she kills their
children and his new lover in revenge.
Euripides- A famous Greek writer that was thought to have been born in 480 B.C.E. He
is best known for his plays and wrote about 90 plays including Medea.
Phaedra- Daughter of King Minos and eventually betrayed wife of Theseus and some
stories say she then falls in love with her stepsons and commits suicide.
Triclinium- dining room in Roman home
Antechamber- a room that leads to another room

Images of the House of Jason


Phaedra
and Paris

Medea

Helen

Bibliography of References:
Bergmann, B. (1996). The Pregnant Moment: Tragic wives in the Roman Interior. In N. Kampen
(Ed.), Sexuality in Ancient Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
In Hornblower, S., In Spawforth, A., & In Eidinow, E. (2012). The Oxford classical dictionary.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
*All Greek Figures and Terms Referenced from the Oxford Classical Dictionary

Arthist 337 Article Review by Cimone Trout


Kleiner, F. (2010). A History of Roman Art Enhanced Edition. Victoria: Thomson/Wadsworth.

*All Greek Figures and Terms Referenced from the Oxford Classical Dictionary