As a resident of Memphis, I have visited Graceland three times–two of those times were with esteemed colleagues in ancient art and archaeology (Rabun Taylor and Bettina Bergmann). While teaching a seminar last fall on Roman domus and villas around the Bay of Naples, it dawned on me that Graceland is our best extant example of what a Roman luxury villa was meant to be.
I mean, it has everything:
- Locations for both otium (swimming pool, billiard room) and negotium (office, recording studio)
- It is located in a semi-rural area, outside a city (at least when first constructed)
- The house has now become a shrine to the memory of the residence’s most prominent owner
- That prominent owner is buried there in an eye-catching monument
- There are images of the owner’s ancestors (and their funerary monuments as well)
- In the decoration there are allusions to exotic locations (the “Jungle Room”) and more traditional, indigenous elements
- Animals in the decoration: peacocks (living room), monkey (media room)
- There are “water features” for an allusion to the taming of nature (indoor waterfall in the Jungle Room)
- The residence is situated on a large parcel of land
Perhaps unlike any Roman residence, there is at Graceland a very clear demarcation between public and private; visitors to the mansion are not allowed upstairs into the private bedrooms. Some rooms have a more consistent iconographical theme than what we see in ancient residences, rather than an eclectic blending of styles and subject matter.