It was well known that the Phlegraean area was the favorite territory of the Roman aristocracy, but reading Maria Caputi’s book we can see how its fame resonated until the Red Sea.
Il viaggio di Apione is a historically accurate novel that can be interestingly read, recounting everyday life in the 2nd century A.D. Read the interview and let yourself be fascinated by our itinerary.
The book Il viaggio di Apione, published by Homo scrivens, is the probable story “exhumed” by a team of archaeologists of a young Egyptian who arrived in Miseno to join the Roman imperial fleet.
Why did you choose to talk about this fleet?
«The idea for the novel started when I saw, for the first time, two papyri found in the sand of the Faayyum Oasis, at the end of the 19th century, which are now kept in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.
When I read the words written to his father by this young sailor, who enlisted in the most important fleet of the Roman Empire, the Classis Praetoria Misenensis, I wondered who he was and what he had seen during his long stay in the phlegraean territory.
In the fiction, the papyri are discovered by a team of archaeologists working on an excavation mission, in the ancient Greco-Roman city of Philadelphia, Apion’s city.
In this way, I was able to imagine, starting from his words, both his arrival in Miseno and his enlistment and attendance of those places linked to the fleet, such as the port of Miseno, the training field, the current Miliscola and the shipyard.
The archaeological emergencies of the area attest to the importance of the imperial fleet, wanted by Augustus. From here, Pliny the Elder as an admiral, set sail to bring relief to the inhabitants of Pompeii, Stabia and Herculaneum during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.».
From the book, a beautiful and tolerant multi-ethnic society emerges. Tell us about it.
«The ancient Roman city of Puteoli was a crossroads of many cultures. Its port was the destination of merchants from provinces of the Empire that overlooked the Mediterranean and beyond.
Greeks, Nabataean Arabs, Egyptians and Africans carried out their activities related to the trade of goods which then took the road to Rome and the other cities of the Italian peninsula. Apion was also a foreigner, although he had obtained Latin citizenship by enlisting.
In the novel, he will meet other foreigners, such as a fellow soldier from Bithynia (whose real existence is attested by a funerary epigraph found in Miseno) or the sculptor Socrates, whose character refers to the presence in the Phlegraean area of sculptors from Greece. These artisans made copies of the splendid classical works that the Romans loved to exhibit in their buildings».
The narration also takes its cue from some finds now kept at the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegraean Fields and the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. What do you tell us about them?
«The reference to sculptures that Apion sees in his movements was a pretext to mention some wonderful works that we can admire in our Archaeological Museums, that of Naples and that of Baia, which confirm how the activity of the shops, in Pozzuoli, was flourishing in imperial era.
Thus, for example, Apion will see the couple of Tyrannicides in the completion phase, the marble copy of a bronze original from the 5th century B.C., found in Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. The pair of Athenian heroes is now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Naples and connected to a plaster copy, kept in the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegraean Fields. The second one was made starting from a careful comparison between some fragments of casts, brought to light after the war in an environment of the Terme di Baia with other marble copies of this group. These and other fragments exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegraean Fields represent a unicum in the field of ancient sculptural production».
In the book, the host Aulus tells of having taken part, in Herculaneum, in the relief efforts for the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Tell us something more.
«The story I narrated takes place in 118; Apion’s letters are dated to the first decades of the 2nd century A.D.: about 40 years have passed since the catastrophe that buried Pompeii. This allowed me to entrust to the character of Aulo Aufidio Felice (a veteran of the fleet, in the novel) the story of the rescue mission, wanted by Pliny the Elder. The character describes that tremendous experience from the point of view of a sailor.
The ship on which Aulus embarks then reaches Herculaneum to try to save the inhabitants, waiting to escape by sea and where, in the 1980s, more than 300 skeletons of citizens were found massed on the beach . Apion will listen in silence to the memory of the tragedy imagining the fleet departing from the port of Miseno, towards the erupting volcano».
The baths, in Roman times, were a place of sociality. One of the scenes in the book takes place in the Archaeological Park of Terme di Baia. Tell us about it.
«In the novel, I crossed the personal story of Apion with an event in the history of Rome that really happened: the so-called Conspiracy of the four consulars who attempted the life of the emperor. One of them, Lucio Publilio Celso , according to historical sources will be eliminated in Baia . This episode gave me an opportunity to describe the places that the Roman aristocracy attended during their long vacation periods, enjoying the mild climate and the beauty of the Phlegraean landscape, exploiting the volcanic nature for the well-being of the body in a magnificent thermal complex, today an archaeological site of extreme beauty».
Who is Maria Caputi
Maria Caputi is architect and owner of La Terra dei Miti, a cultural company that she founded to promote knowledge of the historical and environmental value of Phlegraean Fields, a territory of volcanic origin rich in archaeological and naturalistic sites of enormous cultural value and intertwined with ancient myths and legends. The activities of La Terra dei Miti are all aimed at making students and tourists, Italian and foreign, discover this sort of “widespread museum”, encouraging them to become aware of its uniqueness through cultural itineraries, designed according to specific topics.