Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian

What the Moon Saw-Eleventh Evening

Moon by Ashe ArterberryWhat the Moon Saw-Eleventh Evening

On the eleventh evening the moon came to the artist and told him about Pompeii. The moon had shone on the ruins of Pompeii. There some German mercenaries were holding out, but others came down from the mountains. They wanted to see Pompeii in the moonlight. The moon showed them the city. There was the temple. There was a fountain. There was the main street.

An old amphitheater remained. There was a wall painting on it depicting the local mountains. One of the group of people happened to be a singer. She got on the stage and sang. Once again the empty town echoed with music. Music had not graced the town of Pompeii in some time. In the end though, all left, and the city was once more a city of the dead.

That was the eleventh evening.

I actually know a bit about Pompeii. I’ve never been there, but my mother is highly interested in volcanoes. I’ve heard a lot about Vesuvius. In addition to that, I took an ancient Greek and ancient Roman art history class in college. Pompeii is a highlight of Italian art.

Pompeii is near present day Naples and Pompei. The new Pompeii is spelled with only one “i.” The eruption was recorded in history by the Plinys(elder and younger). It was discovered in 1748, but the eruption of Vesuvius happened in 79. Pompeii itself was formed somewhere in the 7th to 9th BCE.

There is in fact an amphitheater in Pompeii. Hans knew his stuff. A large part of Pompeii was preserved because the atmosphere and weather in the area lends to keeping things intact. The people of Pompeii died of suffocation. When Vesuvius exploded, because erupted sounds violent, but exploded sounds better, it sent ash everywhere. The ash was very hot and swept down into Pompeii and people died. They died where they stood, or laid, or whatever, and the ash covered their bodies. I’m sure you’ve seen the images of the almost perfectly preserved bodies from Pompeii.

Pompeii was actually found because of a bunch of penises, no joke. Some people started finding an awfully lot of stone penises around an area. The people of Pompeii were rather frisky and also saw the phallus as a fertility symbol and perhaps something of a good luck symbol. They had penis wind chimes called tintinnabula(for the record this word means “wind chime” not “penis wind chime”) that were used as amulets. The wall paintings were often erotic. There were brothels. There penises carved in stone. The nearby city of Herculaneum also followed along with this tradition.

The wall paintings are something else to consider. The moon mentions the wall paintings in this story. There were several types of Roman wall paintings. The types of wall paintings are determined by the subject matter of the painting and how the paintings are framed. I’m not talking about an actual frame; I’m talking about painted frames. The Roman artists would paint various designs around their wall paintings. Maybe just a simple border, or maybe representations of columns flanking either side of the painting, depending on what type of wall painting it was.

I don’t know the exact reason Hans knew about Pompeii, but I do know that the writings of the Plinys had probably been available to Hans and some of the artwork had actually toured around Europe. The King of Naples was quite flustered with Pompeii’s erotic art and asked for it to be stored away because it made him uncomfortable.


Pompeii is a tourist attraction now and not a real town, well, the new Pompei is a real town, but the old Pompeii is not a place people live. It is a city of the dead. Sure, there are living people there when they go sightseeing, but Pompeii is a place where the dead rule. Despite the fact that Pompeii is a city of the dead, you have to admit that the people of Pompeii left their mark on the world. They all died in 79 AD, but we know about their lives. We know about their houses. We know about their brothels. We know about their penis worship. We know about their artwork.

We can make a lasting impression in the world. The city of Pompeii is once again alive with the people who go there to see it. It’s not quite the bustling city it had been, but it’s been revived. We breathed new life into this old city with our curiosity. That’s saying something.

We took something that was dead and made it alive again simply by being interested in it. That’s pretty profound. The idea of Pompeii and its practices lives on because we talk about it; we pay it attention; we think about it; we write about it. We’ve kept the idea of something alive long after it died.


I would really like to see Pompeii someday.

Weigh In

Do you believe that we live on through our ideas?

What do you think makes Pompeii so interesting?


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