Bulwer-Lytton's narrator introduces Christianity in a way that much resembles — and may well have inspired — Robert Browning's brilliant dramatic monologue, "Cleon," a poem set near the end of the classical ages in which a brilliant polymath who obviously yearns for a belief in the afterlife cannot accept Christianity because its believers are neither Green nor members of the wealthey, educated classes. When Clodius is asked, "'What think you of this new sect, which I am told has even a few proselytes in Pompeii, these followers of the Hebrew God—Christus?,'" he responds that the Nazarenes "have not a single gentleman amongst them; their proselytes are poor, insignificant, ignorant people!' (Book Book I, Chapter I) As Browning later showed, notions of class and ethnicity blind people to their own good.
The Last Days of Pompeii continues its presentation of the way Pompeiians regarded Christianity by showing how pagans, like many Victorian and earlier Christians, charged anyone with atheism who religion differed from their own. As Pansa exclaims "with vehemence; 'they deny Venus and Jove! Nazarene is but another name for atheist.'" (Book Book I, Chapter III). A few chapters later when Glaucus points out to the philosopher "'that these people are not absolutely atheists. I am told that they believe in a God—nay, in a future state', his acquaintance's response shows how matters of names prevent understanding: "'Quite a mistake, my dear Glaucus,' said the philosopher. 'I have conferred with them—they laughed in my face when I talked of Pluto and Hades.' (Book Book I, Chapter VII). To the naive philosopher, if one doesn't believe in Pluto and Hades one can't believe in any afterlife.
Last modified 4 January 2007