Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pliny the Younger and Pompeii

One very famous ancient text is the letter from Pliny the Younger to the great historian Tacitus concerning Vesuvius eruption 79 Ad. This is a short passage from that letter:

"On the 24th of August, about one in the afternoon, my mother desired him [Pliny the elder, an admiral and the author of a large encyclopaedia] to observe a cloud which appeared of a very unusual size and shape. He had just taken a turn in the sun93 [sic] and, after bathing himself in cold water, and making a light luncheon, gone back to his books: he immediately arose and went out upon a rising ground from whence he might get a better sight of this very uncommon appearance. A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance (but it was found afterwards to come from Mount Vesuvius), was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches; occasioned, I imagine, either by a sudden gust of air that impelled it, the force of which decreased as it advanced upwards, or the cloud itself being pressed back again by its own weight, expanded in the manner I have mentioned; it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders."

Pliny the Younger, Epistulae (letters) VI.16.
Translated by William Melmoth

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