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Indoor plumbing. It’s gonna be big.

Episode 48: In which Pliny and Frontinus argue over indoor plumbing, and Vitruvius reveals his secret for getting likes from Leonardo to LEGO.

This episode of Real Housewives of Hades (a Mt. Olympus spin-off) brought to you by the latest archaeological news on – and by CLAS-C 419 Art and Archaeology of Pompeii.

[SETTING: Underworld Scientific Academy]

PLINY THE ELDER, ANCIENT SCIENTIFIC WRITER AND TERRIBLE VULCANOLOGIST: Good news, everyone! Frontinus and I made the mortal news again!


FRONTINUS, ANCIENT ENGINEER AND AQUEDUCT AUTHORITY: Well, I’m glad to hear the mortals are finally acknowledging my contributions to hydraulic engineering. I knew when I was writing, if I just kept my eye on the prize and wrote about what really mattered, it would eventually pay off in glory. And what really matters is regulating fraudulent water access.

PLINY THE ELDER: Um, that’s not exactly what I meant. The mortal news isn’t about you, it’s about a Roman water system that they discovered near Pompeii. But they did mention lead water pipes in a positive context! And without implying everyone died because of them! That’s your thing!

Modern warning label: “Avoid prolonged contact with skin. Do not take internally.” Latin translation: “Wear as makeup. Boil and eat like candy.”

FRONTINUS: But did they mention me by name? Because that’s a critical part of obtaining the immortality of fame, around which we elite Roman men structured our existence.

PLINY THE ELDER: You? By name? Well…no.

FRONTINUS: Did they mention you by name?

PLINY THE ELDER: Yes. But we talked about this, Old Chap. When it comes to winning fame, modestly informed speculation about popular subjects like art and astronomy will always beat long treatises full of technical expertise.

VITRUVIUS: I don’t know about that. I wrote a treatise that discusses concrete recipes at length, and tons of people still read my work. All I had to do was dress it up as a tribute to a sociopathic dictator that everyone still admires, for some reason.

After drastically overdoing the famous Marvel shirtless scene, Vitruvian Man found his solo movie bumped to Marvel Phase ILXII.

FRONTINUS: What are these pipes, that are apparently so much more impressive than I am?

PLINY THE ELDER: Well, they uncovered a lead water tank in the Villa Arianna at Stabiae…

VITRUVIUS: Oh, I love picking apart domestic architecture of the super rich! Who wants to talk geometric proportions?

FRONTINUS: Stabiae? Isn’t that where you died, Pliny, because you sailed your fleet into an erupting volcano’s wind vortex, like a chump?

PLINY THE ELDER: I died somewhere in the vicinity, yes. Anyway, the tank has taps to regulate the flow of water from the rainwater cistern in the atrium, to rooms throughout the villa.

VITRUVIUS: I bet it was for the spa facilities! Our bizarre Roman habit of bathing every day does take a lot of water.

FRONTINUS: The sort of villa spa facilities where you famously took a bath while Vesuvius erupted, instead of, you know, continuing to try to escape?

PLINY THE ELDER: Facilities like that, yes. You know what’s really interesting? This water system was left partially exposed in one of the secondary open-air peristyles. The mortals think is was to make maintenance easier, but I think it was probably to show off the complicated and totally decadent use of water. They even decorated the tank! Hardly evidence they weren’t aware of their lead pipes, eh Old Boy?

MTV Cribs, the Stabiae season.

FRONTINUS: A peristyle like the one where you died choking when you finally made an effort to get out of the villa?

PLINY THE ELDER: You know what, Frontinus, I really have tried to be friendly with you. But your insistence on hounding me with snark, just out of jealousy, is very undignified and will give Romans a bad name. I’m going to go over to the Gardens of Famous Writers and visit with more pleasant company, like Catullus or Ovid. I’d invite you to come, but only some of us have a pass to that area of the Underworld (leaves).

FRONTINUS: You may love domestic architecture of the super rich, Vitruvius, but you could say Pliny loved villa architecture to death!

VITRUVIUS: I don’t think sick architectural burns are going to be your way to writing fame, either. Hey, speaking of dying, as we always are down here, didn’t Pliny take your place in that priest association when you died?

FRONTINUS: That was his snot-nosed nephew, another Pliny. His greatest accomplishment is writing about his uncle’s death, and his account doesn’t even make any sense! It’s not clear what day it was, he reports things that no one could have possibly seen and lived to tell the tale…man, it really makes me mad that idiots like that get eternal fame and technical writers like us wallow in obscurity.

VITRUVIUS: Speak for yourself. I’m a Morgan Freeman LEGO.

Alright, everyone, the game is Movie Mad-libs, and the categories are “Famous Actor,” “Beloved Children’s Toy,” and… “Early Augustan Architectural Theorist”?

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To learn more about how the ancients lived large in Pompeii (until they all died terribly), check out CLAS-C 419 Art and Archaeology of Pompeii, coming up Spring 2025 with no pre-reqs. Or to learn more about Roman architecture and infrastructure (which was just fine, thank you very much), enroll in CLAS-C 102 Ancient Roman Culture, also coming up Spring 2025, and earn GEC credits while you’re at it! If you’re curious about the debate of dating the Vesuvian disaster, or how Pliny the Elder famously sailed to his death, look for our 1-credit “appetizer” course CLAS-B 312 Plague, Disasters, and Death in the Ancient World, coming up in Fall 2024 with no pre-reqs. Can’t get enough of Ancient Greece and Rome? Earn a Classics Minor in just 15 credits!