Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, a.d. 62-113)
of the eruption of Vesuvius
It was almost
dawn, but it was slow and seemed to hesitate. Around us, houses began
to crack open and even though we found ourselves outside, the narrowness
of the streets made us fear their inevitable collapse. We then decided
to flee the town; the dazed populace followed, choosing, as their panic
converted into caution, to make theirs the advice of others. Soon an immense
horde pushed us hurriedly toward the outskirts of town. As soon as we
escaped the city walls we halted, overcome with shock and fright. Although
the ground appeared firm, the carts we hauled were sliding in every direction,
even when we wedged their wheels with stones. Also, the sea had noticeably
retreated, as if driven away by the quaking earth.
region was enlarged and a great number of marine creatures lay stranded
on the exposed sand. On our other side, a horrendous black cloud, pierced
by fiery vapors twisting convulsively, threw up long flames like huge
thunderballs. No sooner had we sat to rest, than all became dark, not
like a moonless night or overcast weather, but like a closed room without
light. We heard women lamenting, babies complaining, men calling, some
for their parents, some for their children ; some called their wives and
tried to recognize their voices ; here some complained of their fate,
there others complained of the fate of their loved ones. Others, out of
the fear of death, begged the darkness to take them. Many reached toward
their gods, many more maintained their gods had abandoned them and that
this final night would be eternal.
the real dangers were also false rumblings and the frightening lies of
those who wandered about proclaiming to all who would listen that in Misene
this quarter had collapsed or another was burning --all of which was untrue.
A pale light reappeared which we recognized, not as the day, but an advance
sign of fire. Fortunately, it went no further and we were againburied
in darkness accompanied by the heavy rain of ashes. We had to wash ourselves
often to get rid of it, otherwise we might have been entirely coated and
suffocated under the weight.
black clouds began to fade, diluting like smoke or fog, and then the real
day appeared, the sun as well, but with that sickly look it gets during
an eclipse. To our troubled eyes, the countryside seemed strange under
its heavy coat of ashes instead of snow.
to Misene and recouped our strength as well as we could, spending the
night torn between hope and fear.
Liber VI, 20,6 et sequ.