Pompeii is the archaeological site that goes on giving. Only last month new finds went on show there, including a fresco depicting Leda’s seduction by Zeus in the guise of a swan.

From the house of a wealthy Pompeiian buried in the lava from the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius, it stood alongside frescoes of Narcissus admiring himself and – smut alert! – Priapus, the god of fertility, weighing his willy.

Also discovered during a recent period of intense exploration was a large thermal bath, unfinished at the time of the eruption.

During the discovery of this, archaeologists found the skeleton of a small child. The leader of the dig, Alberta Martellone, said: “He or she was looking for shelter, and found death instead.”

Such a fate awaited the so-called ‘resin woman’ of Oplontis, who is on display in the final room of the Ashmolean Museum’s wonderful exhibition Last Supper in Pompeii which continues – don’t miss it! – till January 12.

The presence of this much-travelled relic creates a solemn conclusion to what is in other respects an up-beat show, celebrating as it does the delights of food and wine. Moulded in transparent epoxy resin, the woman was almost certainly a member of the family that owned the agricultural processing complex in the basement of which her body – and those of 59 other people – were found.

The exhibition curator Paul Roberts writes affectingly of her in the splendid catalogue: “She dined in the fine apartments above the warehouse, surrounded by beautiful frescoes, mosaics and fine silverware. Here she must have reflected on the wealth and privilege that the land and Vesuvius had brought her – never imagining Vesuvius would also take her business, her city and her life.

“We must imagine for her the journey’s end she would have wished: reclining with her friends and loved ones, drinking and feasting into eternity.”

‘Reclining’, by the way, is the right word; for one of the things the exhibition taught me, is that while we wouldn’t take it lying down – food I mean – prosperous Romans certainly did.

Leisurely meals were enjoyed by the wealthy in the posture – stretched out on a bench – recently demonstrated on the green leather of the House of Commons by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It mattered on which side the feaster lay; our construction is such that if you lie on your right side you quickly feel stuffed. So left it was.

Paul Roberts tells us – that fine catalogue again – that some diners induced vomiting in order to eat more. “Vomunt ut edant, edant ut vomant. (“They vomit in order to eat, they eat in order to vomit.”)

The calamitous end to Pompeiian feasts wrought by Vesuvius is a demonstration of the massive power of volcanoes seen again so recently in the terrifying eruption, with the death of 18 people (so far), on New Zealand’s White Island..

Not the least horrific aspect of this was that the victims were tourists there to see the volcano.

New Zealand pastor Geoff Hopkins, present with his daughter, helped to comfort the survivors (and, perhaps, the dying).

He told the Sunday Times: “A lot of people were in shorts, T-shirts, so their faces, their arms, their hand, their legs [were burned]. Skin falling off and hanging from their chins. From fingers. From elbows.”

“Is it time,” asked the Sunday Times’s Tony Allen-Mills, “for tourists to stay away from volcanoes?”

There has always been a fascination with them. Members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, with their intrepid leader David Kirke, actually used to hang-glide from their slopes.

A famous visitor to the crater of Vesuvius, in February 1845, was Charles Dickens, who described the experience vividly in a letter.

He wrote: “The sensation of struggling up it, choked with the fire and smoke, and feeling at every step as if the crust of ground between one’s feet and the gulf of fire would crumble in and swallow one up (which is the real danger), I shall remember for some little time, I think. But we did it. We looked down into the flaming bowels of the mountain and came back again, alight in half-a-dozen places, and burnt from head to foot. I never saw anything so awful and terrible.”

Further horrors occurred on the descent when the English guide “suddenly staggers away from the narrow path on to the smooth ice, gives us a jerk, lets go, and plunges head foremost down the smooth ice into the black night, five hundred feet below! Almost at the same instant, a man far behind, carrying a light basket on his head with some of our spare cloaks in it, misses his footing and rolls down in another place; and after him, rolling over and over like a black bundle, goes a boy, shrieking as nobody but an Italian can shriek, until the breath is tumbled out of him.”

Guide and boy survived, but of the basket-carrying man (and the cloaks) nothing had been heard when Dickens left the mountain.

Volcanic feast: See page 44