Don't Take Things that Don't Belong to You: The Pompeii Curse

View from the entrance of Pompeii in 2017. 
Copyright Jessica Scott Romano

I could write a whole book about how fascinating it is to explore Pompeii, the city famous for having been completely buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. (and I actually did write a novel partially inspired by Pompeii), but I'll save that experience for another post. Today, even though it is closer to Christmas than to Halloween now, I want to talk about something spooky: cursed objects from Pompeii.

I am not really one for kitchy souvenirs like "I ♥ New York" t-shirts or magnets shaped like carnival masks from Venice. Instead, I like to collect rocks. I have rocks from the beach in Sicily, rocks from Pisa, rocks from Florida, rocks from my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky — everywhere I have been, I have collected at least one rock to remember it by.

That is why I was a bit alarmed to read an article a couple weeks ago that said that a Canadian woman collected some rocks from Pompeii in 2005... and got cursed because of it. 

 

The "Crime"

When I visited Pompeii in 2017, I personally didn't see any signs saying not to collect any rocks, but it is pretty much understood that you shouldn't take artifacts from a famous (and still active) archaeological site (although I may or may not have picked up a lava rock just outside the grounds... it was actual, thousand-plus-year-old lava from Vesuvius, for crying out loud! I couldn't resist!). 

The woman in question, though, chose to ignore this and take home a few mosaic tiles, pieces of an ancient vase, and a small chunk of ceramic wall that looked a whole lot like the types of rocks I usually pick up on my own travels.

 

The "Curse" Begins

As soon as she returned home to Canada, however, the trouble started. She was diagnosed with breast cancer not once, but twice, and had to undergo a double mastectomy, all before she turned 36 years old. Then her family suffered some severe financial trouble with no end in sight, leading her to feel that they just could not "get ahead in life." 

Instead of just chalking this up to run-of-the-mill bad luck, she claimed that her misfortune was due to her stealing those artifacts from Pompeii fifteen years ago. The only way to reverse the curse, she reasoned, was to send the artifacts back, along with a letter explaining why she had taken them, and why she needed to get them as far away from her as possible.

 

How to Reverse the Curse?

She was "young and dumb" at the time, she wrote, and "I wanted to have a piece of history that couldn't be bought." But she "took a piece of history captured in a time with so much negative energy attached to it," and this, she said, was the reason why she was cursed. She had brought home items associated with such a terrible moment without caring what they really meant or how their previous owners had suffered, and those items had carried the negativity of the past with them and passed it on to her.

While I have to admit that I wasn't quite ready to believe in a Pompeii curse based just on this story, I did a bit more digging and found out that this woman isn't the only one who has experienced bad luck after taking home a piece of Pompeii. According to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, around a hundred others have previously sent back artifacts they took from the site, saying that they, too, had been plagued with bad luck ever since. 

Unfortunately, these items can't be placed back where they were found since the park workers don't know where exactly they came from. So they are put on display in the Pompeii Antiquarium, along with the letters sent by their desperate former owners. In most cases, they aren't really worth much in the grand scheme of things since they are mostly just rocks and tiles. But now they have two different types of cultural significance: one from the time in which they were made, back when Pompeii was a flourishing Roman city, and one from modern times, when people believed so much in a curse that they would do all they could to get rid of them. 

 

A Happy Ending (for Pompeii)

So, in the end, the artifacts are back where they belong, and the Archaeological Park says that these kind of stories help to keep people from stealing other artifacts in the future, which is great news. It isn't clear from the article whether or not the woman from Canada has seen an improvement in his luck since returning the artifacts, but surely she feels better for having done the right thing.

As for me, I haven't yet suffered any bad luck I can directly attribute to the lava rock I took from the land near Pompeii, but you can bet I won't be taking anything else the next time I visit!
 

What do you think about this story? Do you think her bad luck was a curse or just coincidence? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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