Did Pliny’s House Look Like The Getty?

Pliny the Elder obviously lived in what we would call a Governor’s House in Roman Trier. What did such a place look like? None of the original Roman villas survives to this day intact, not in Trier, not in Italy, and not in Great Britain. In such places you don’t usually have more than a few standing columns or perhaps a floor full of mosaics to give you a clue of its former grandeur.

Probably the best example of such a villa nowadays exists in a place that Romans never visited and Romans never dreamed about. Such a villa has been painstakingly reconstructed on the California coast, land of dreams and elaborate reconstructions such as Disneyland and Hollywood.

It is no mere fantasy. In fact, it is an elaborate reconstruction of the villa of Calpurnius Piso, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar and father of Caesar’s last wife, Calpurnia, the one with the dreams and nightmares in Shakespeare’s play. It would be very similar to anything that Pliny would have owned. Both men were intellectuals of their day. Calpurnius Piso was a Stoic philosopher. Pliny the Elder was the author of the Natural History, the first of all encyclopedias in the western tradition.

This California villa was reconstructed by John Paul Getty, the billionaire who had a hobby of collecting Greek and Roman antiquities on a large scale. He wanted to build a place to house them. The Getty Villa opened in 1974. The Los Angeles Times interviewed John Paul Getty. Getty said: “It is fortunate that the United States has one ancient private building which is authentic in spirit. One could say go to Pompeii and Herculaneum and see Roman villas the way they are now — then go to Malibu and see the way they were in ancient times.”

Pliny also owned a villa on the seacoast along the Bay of Naples, so this comparision seems appropriate. It is inspirational to think that Pliny strolled through his peristylium and viewed the classical sculptures you find at the Getty.

Pliny the Elder is a character in two upcoming volumes of the Edward Ware Thriller Series: Old Faithful Plot and Pliny: A Novel.

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