The year is 63 CE. The resort of Stabiae is a playground for the wealthy. But those with money still have problems, grand in scale, and they travel to evade, to forget… or solve them. From private estates to spas and stadiums, beaches and baths to temples and retreats, there are distractions of all kinds, and as Roman nobles come equipped with full households of families, servants, and slaves, it isn’t only the noblemen who enjoy the chance to get away from it all. Then there are the festivals - Lemuria, the annual exorcism of spirits, rendering the month unlucky for marriages; Mercuriala, celebration of the god of merchants; Agonalia, a sacrifice for the city’s defense marked by drinking and dancing, the Ludi Piscatorii, fishermen’s games, celebrated with gladiatorial combat in the arena of Pompeii and the biggest fish-fry ever held in a temple; and Vestalia, a celebration reserved only for women. The Romans like an excuse to party.
But it isn’t all parties. There’s a once-rich family with a pressing debt to pay, a senator whose patronage and promises come and go like the wind, a pair of lovers cursed by unhappy circumstance to be parted, a shrewd mother despairing for her hapless child, and the struggle between higher position and family reunion between rival patriarchs’ slaves. Nothing world-shaking, but certainly life-changing events one an all, played out against the backdrop of a sun-drenched harbor, a vine-covered countryside of sprawling rustic villas, and the impressive splendor of a smoking mountain.
Welcome, fair Travelers, to Naples, where the best efforts to forget life’s woes may generate woe in turn, and precious few of life’s triumphs last beyond an hourglass’ turn.
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