The volcanic eruption that occurred in Pompeii almost two millennia ago and the city’s more recent excavation have fuelled the literary imaginations of many great thinkers. This paper examines the evolutions of the motif in the Twentieth Century, through the inter and intratextual meeting of Joseph Conrad’s The Arrow of Gold, Sigmund Freud’s “Jensen’s Gradiva and Other Stories” and Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever. The treatment of the Pompeiian motif in these texts suggests that the themes of mourning and loss that inevitably color the tragic event are coupled by themes of desire, longing and hope. The latter are incited precisely where loss has been fixed, and the lost object can no longer be resurrected or found. For Conrad, the Pompeiian image signals a recurring theme of unrequited yearning or impossible love. Consummation is deferred or impeded, eliciting both the protagonist’s and the reader’s desire. Freud describes the manner in which the motif of Pompeii is emblematic of his notion of repression, where the latent exerts its power over the manifest. However, where Conrad delights in delay, Freud expounds the psychoanalytic drive to unmask and recover. In Derrida’s reading, the Pompeiian motif is likened to the figure of the archive which is not only responsible for the preservation of memory, but is also a dynamic force that forms its content as it comes into being. In opposition to Freud, the emphasis is placed not on the past but on the future, on the singular experience of the promise. Although this recalls Conrad’s temporality of deferral, here the promise is not ironized by an underlying impossibility but rather suffused with hope. The juxtaposition of the three writers thus testifies to the paradoxical fusion that lies at the heart of the ancient site. At once past and present, the image of Pompeii endures in the imagination as an object of desire, a figure that can never be possessed.