Pliny the Younger – The Eruption of Vesuvius (Letter 6.20)
To Cornelius Tacitus:
- In the last letter, I wrote about my uncle’s
death. But now you’re asking about me, so I’ll tell my version of the events.
- My uncle left us & I went to go read. Afterwards, I had dinner & went to sleep. There’d been trembling from the ground for the previous several days, which is quite common in the area. But that night was so bad that everything in the house got knocked over. My mother & I went outside to a small space between the house & the sea. I was 18 & I’m not sure if it was bravery or stupidity but I just grabbed my book by Livy & sat outside readings.
- My uncle’s friend from Spain was shocked at the sight of this. My mother was equally as calm. We stayed there until dawn when it was clear that staying there was going to be very dangerous. We left as many other people did. Our chariot taxi gave us the bumpiest ride of our lives.
- The sea was visibly affected by the happenings.
The tide was very low, with some animals beached on the shore.
- The sky was black with cloud & there were many zigzag flashes & masses of flames everywhere
- The Spaniard told us my uncle would probably want us to get out of the area to be safe but we couldn’t look after our own safety until we had heard some news from him.
- The cloud lowered & began to cover the sea.
The island of Capreae & the promontory of Misenum disappeared.
- Now, my mother was telling me to leave but I refused to leave her & forced her to come with me. She agreed reluctantly.
- The ash began to fall on us. I looked back to see the clouds growing
- I suggested we get off the high road because the
clouds were bearing down on us. We weren’t able to see the crowds which were
likely to crush us.
- You heard women & children shrieking, men shouting, people calling out for each other. Some people were wishing to die. Some were expressing their fear of death. Some were crying out for the gods. Some though that it was the end of the world.
- The news being passed around was crazy, although it was mostly untrustworthy rumors.
- The daylight was trying to break through the clouds but the darkness kept growing as was the downfall of ash. We had to whip off the ash every now & again.
- It was so strange to have every member society fearing death – that was my main thought throughout this.
- Eventually, the darkness wore off & the real
day peeked through. Everything looked as if it was covered in snow.
- We went back to Misenum, where we bathed & spent the rest of the night still shaken up from the event. The earthquakes continued & you could still hear people panicking.
- My mother & I felt safe enough to stick around the house until we heard news about my uncle.