In figure painting, clocks stop, time rests, and people look eternally poised. Carefully arranged and held in hardened pigment, they can look unruffled even when they’re not.

That peaceful air was forever stilled the moment the ancient city of Pompeii was driven into the ground, buried beneath 20 feet of volcanic ash rained down from Mount Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 AD.

For two days, the searing ash suffocated the city, burying everyone and everything in it. The paintings, submerged through the centuries, are so well-preserved now that they don’t look like antiquities.

What you see of this lost city are wall paintings found in what archaeologists say were banquet halls. One example depicts the ancient Greek myths of the god Apollo attempting to seduce Cassandra, daughter of the Troy king.

Greek myths, Old Rome style

As the Greek myth goes, Apollo wooed Cassandra with the gift of prophecy. But when she turned him down, he decreed that no one believed her when she foretold the fall of Troy. And we all know how that story ended.

The BBC reports the news of the excavated wall paintings in a three-part series, “Pompeii: The New Dig.” But there’s more to the story than well-preserved paintings. There’s the poor quality of Roman artmaking. The figures are stiff- far from the Greeks’ highly emotive depictions seen even on their pottery.

So, the Romans borrowed from Greek mythology for their subject matter and helped themselves to their imagery, though with less skill. Old Rome artists were not original.

Art historian Mortimer Wheeler, in his 1964 Book Roman Art and Architecture, said that Old Rome’s artists were not “intelligently selective.” Unlike those in Renaissance societies, they were unclear about where they wanted to go culturally, which created a “false image of Roman achievement.”

Imitation of life

Wheeler called Roman picture-making “dull and derivative pedestrian adaptations,” Translation: The Romans of old were copycats and not very good ones at that.

Because of this, the BBC tag of “treasures” for the unearthed frescoes applies only in the sense of, say, finding prehistoric flints intact. They are a record of an early civilization, but far from the high art of the Renaissance inspired by Greek art.

Consider the figures in the fresco depicting Apollo and Cassandra. By this god’s posture, he comes off less like a suitor and more like a passerby stopping for a casual chat with the princess.

Cassandra, in turn, looks like she’s begging off with a headache and wants him out of sight. Compare this enactment to Greek imagery.

Going to pot

While little of Greece’s paintings survive, its vase paintings persuasively recount the myth of Apollo and Cassandra. In one example, circa 370 BC, Cassandra is being dragged away by the spurned Apollo. And all this on a pot!