Ancient, preserved graffiti can help scientists trace history.

Experts digging through the remains of one of Pompeii’s largest villas claim to have identified its owner thanks to the discovery of graffiti left by a mischievous young girl.

Excavations at the buried site, just outside the walls of the Roman city, turned up stables complete with the remains of horses, a large terrace with sea views and sprawling quarters with brightly coloured frescoes — but no one knew to whom it belonged. The mystery may have been solved by the discovery of the word “Mummia” scratched twice in a child-like style into the paintwork of a wall, a likely reference to the wealthy family of that name who gave ancient Rome politicians, playwrights and consuls including Lucius Mummius, who conquered Greece in 146BC.

“The graffiti is a first name in the female form and since it is only 1.39m [1.5 yards] off the ground I believe it was left by a small girl,” Massimo Osanna, the director of the site, said. Girls in ancient Rome were often given the female version of the family name as a first name, he said. “We knew this very important Roman family had property in Rome but we had no idea they had a villa in Pompeii too,” he said.

Graffiti uncovered at Pompeii has proved crucial to historians. Two years ago a scribbled dated message found on a wall helped to prove that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, which buried the city, occurred in October, not August as previously thought.

If you look closely, you can see the scrawl that reads, “Mummia.”

The villa now being excavated was partially explored in the early 20th century, but little serious research was done. “Artefacts removed ended up in private hands or in the Pompeii museum, which was bombed by the Allies in 1943,” Professor Osanna said.

The site of the villa is now bisected by a road, with the remains of slave quarters and the stables on one side, where digging restarted in 2018. In the stable the team found the remains of three well-bred horses along with traces of expensive bronze harness. One of the horses is still tethered to a manger and appears to have been struggling to flee when it was killed by the boiling ash cloud that swept through the city. On the other side the experts are now exploring family rooms and last week stumbled on ornate floors and walls painted green — a rare colour in Pompeii. Measuring 66 yards from the stables to the family quarters, the Augustan-era villa appears to be bigger than Pompeii’s renowned Villa of the Mysteries, Professor Osanna said.

As they explore the villa, the team is following in the footsteps of tomb raiders, including one man, now on trial, who bought the land around the villa and dug a shaft down to it, disguising the entrance with a shack. Robbers also dug a 66-yard tunnel to reach the stables. “We are finding spaces where frescoes have been torn off,” Professor Osanna said. What is left, however, is still more than enough to show how rich the owners were, he added. “We want to unite the two parts of the villa and open it to the public, possibly by diverting the road around it,” he said.

A squirrel seeks refuge in a trusty pocket while scanning the horizon for nuts.
Some of Princess Marie-Chantal’s favorite children’s books.

The world of the Crown Princess of Greece revolves in large part around children—she is a mother of five, writes a parenting blog, and runs an eponymous children’s clothing line—making her publication of Manners Begin at Breakfast, out now from Vendome, seem like nothing out of the ordinary. Yet the weight carried by this self-described guide to “modern etiquette for families” is notable: “To say that manners begin at breakfast is to say that every day should begin with an effort to treat one another politely,” writes pediatrician and N.Y.U. professor Dr. Perri Klass in an introduction to the book—something everyone, from a child learning to read to a grandparent doing the reading, could use a little more of these days. “I wrote a book about manners for children because I felt that as a society we were slowly losing focus on how to be kind to one another,” says Princess Marie-Chantal. Here, she recommends four books that proved both educational and entertaining for her kids.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

From a child’s point of view, this story presents an image of selfless love: the tree gives the little boy everything he asks for, and the boy takes and continues to take all the way until he is an old man. Yet, since its publication in 1964, the story’s moral has been long debated—is it an endorsement of love or a warning about selfishness? On reflection, these are not mutually exclusive lessons: the book warns of the “take, take, take” attitude, whilst also emphasizing the beauty of kindness, selflessness, and generosity. I remember all of my children being so sad for the tree as the little boy took everything, and only a stump of the tree is left. Children can be selfish, and we parents have a duty to teach them empathy, to care and nurture what we have, to be respectful of what is offered to us, and, most fundamentally, to be kind to those around us.

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This one’s an old favorite—an odyssey through moral lessons and ideas seen, again, through a child’s eyes. I just love the simplicity of the story and its central moral theme—“It is only with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the human eye”—one that echoes within the mind long after reading. Moreover, the story stresses the importance of how one person’s actions affect others, and it helps a great deal that its lessons are delivered from child to adult.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

My youngest son, Aristides, and I are just about to finish the last of the seven-book series. He has loved the stories, specifically the interaction between “our” world and the fantastical Narnia. Lewis’s ability to immerse readers in the world of Narnia, with its iconic talking animals, and the thrilling way in which four young children are transformed into heroic kings and queens are all elements of this deeply entertaining and thought-provoking set of tales.

Mr. Peabody’s Apples, by Madonna

Madonna published this book in 2003, but it draws from a much older story told by a rabbi 300 years ago. The story focuses on the irreparable damage that one person’s words can cause to others; it’s both a lesson in the importance of kindness and a warning of the damage careless words can do.