Ch.6 : The Letter of Plinius  

On 5 February in the year 63 AD, Pompeii was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake.  Seneca recounts this event precursor of the final catastrophe of the year 79.

"-  Pompeii, the famous town in Campania, to which one side of the shore and Stabiae Sorrento, on the other that of Herculaneum join to form in front of the great sea, a charming bay, has just being hit by an earthquake suffered by all the neighboring countries, and this during the winter season that our ancestors believed immune to this danger This is the day of February nuns, under the consulate. Regulus and Verginius took place this disaster. The Campania, still exposed to this scourge and who so many times already, without further damage than fear, had escaped, is now covered with dead and ruins. Herculaneum also has in part collapsed and what remains standing is not without worry. The colony Nocera, less serious damage, though not unscathed. Naples, lightly touched by the terrible catastrophe, suffered greatly in homes Specific less in public buildings. The villas located on hilltops trembled without experiencing damage. Ajoutez à cela un troupeau de six cents brebis tuées, des statues fendues et, après le désastre, des hommes privés de raison et hors d'eux-mêmes errant au hasard. Add to that a herd of six hundred killed sheep statues split and after the disaster, men deprived of reason and out of themselves wandering at random.
 "Other tremors followed, more benign, indeed, fatal, however, because they were attacking proven, disjointed buildings which already shaky, waiting to collapse, not a shock, but a single shock. " 

Here is a first story of this first catastrophe that even important encor had nothing to do with what should happen after a few years. The city of Pompeii and all the others in the region, is remisent this ordeal.  Pompeii was improved, modified and embellished. But the history of this city like that of other sentatives of the Vesuvian area was to continue alone, many other projects were for this region. Sixteen years later, alor that reconstruction came to an end, August 24 in the year 79 AD, a terrible and final cataclysm was never clear to life around the Vesuvius.
 We have a clear and eyewitness testimony of the son of Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger; he tells the historian Tacitus events that happened and he too expressed his impressions in a tale of two letters sent to his testimony of those terrible times. Better to reproduce in full the two letters of Pliny the Younger.  No story can not be as lively or as lived ........

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__ "You ask me, in order to be able to transmit to posterity a faithful account, I tell you the death of my uncle; I thank you, and I know that, disclosed by you, his death will make his immortal memory ...
 __ "He was at Misenum, where he was in command of the fleet.  On the ninth day before the calends of September (24 August 79), toward the seventh hour, my mother warned you see a cloud of extraordinary size and appearance.  He had taken his sun bath of cold water and then, after eating expanded, began to work. He asks her sandals and rides in a place where he could better observe this wonderful phenomenon. The cloud lifted;  the spectators were unable, so far, distinguish what mountain;  learned later that it was Vesuvius.  More than any other tree, the pine can give an idea of the shape and appearance of this cloud. En effet,  Indeed, projected into the air like a huge trunk, she blossomed into branches.  I think, raised by a blast which then undergoes weakened and abandoned or defeated by its own weight, it was dispersing width, sometimes white, sometimes dark and spotted, following it caused the earth or ashes.

__ "Grandiose show, worthy for a scientist to be examined more closely.  My uncle is a lightweight sail vessels and offers me, if I wish, to accompany him. Je réponds que je préfère travailler ; I answer that I prefer to work; it was that he himself had given me something to write.  Leaving home, he receives a ticket Rectina, woman Caesius Bassus, who, frightened by the impending danger (because his house was at the foot of the mountain and the retreat was possible only by vessels}, 1 begged him to pull such a great danger. He changes his mind and what he had started with love of science, it will do devotion. He bring quadriremes and 3r up to rescue and many Rectina other also;. because this charming coast was crowded He hastens to places where others flee; it guides the helm, leading the right race to the danger, so free of fear that all phases of the scourge, all changing aspects he observes, he dictates or note.

__ "Already the ash fell on the ship, hotter and denser as we approached, and with them, pumice stones, black stones, charred, broken under the action of fire. The sea had removed enough depth;  debris from the mountains were inaccessible shore.  My uncle thought for a moment to go back and are committed to its driver.  "Fortune, said he finally favors the brave. Dirige vers Pomponianus. Towards Pomponianus. » "
 "Pomponianus lived Stabiae, a city isolated by a cove where the sea gradually sinks into the curve that describes the shore. Here, the danger was not imminent, however daunting and, in fact, next, since progressed incessantly. Pomponianus had instructed all his furniture on ships, decided to flee when the head wind would calm down.  Favored by the same wind, my uncle is trembling, kiss the console, encourage, and to strengthen it by his security, is wearing bathing.  Then he began to eat with table and gaiety, or which is no less great, with the appearance of cheerfulness.

__ "But on several points of Mount Vesuvius could be seen shining large flames and vast conflagrations which further increased night glare and lights.  And my uncle, to calm the fears of his companions, they repeated that they were country houses abandoned by terrified peasants and abandoned fire that consumed them in solitude.  Then he lay down and fell into a real sleep because those who stood near the door heard the sound of his breathing strong and sound because he was fat.  However the court by which it approached her room was filled with ash and pumice stones * that rose so that the output had he waited longer, had become impossible.  It awakens, he comes out to join Pomponianus and others who had not gone to bed.  Council is held in the home or roam the countryside?  The houses, with frequent and long shaking and as torn from their foundations, bowed to right and left, then returned to their former situation.  Outdoors, we had to fear falling pumice, it is true light and calcined.  Between the two dangers, it is the latter is chosen, uncle yielding to reason better, replacing his companions fear by another fear.  With towels on their heads pillows, protection against falling stones.

__ "Elsewhere the day was up, but here it was night, the blackest, thickest nights, however, opposed by many torches and lights of all kinds. We return to the shore to see if more closely the sea would attempt something; she was still restless and contrary There my uncle sets over an extended cloth and then twice, demand for cold water and drinks Soon flames that announce the approach.. put everyone on the run, forced my uncle to get up. Leaning on two young slaves, he stands up and immediately drops dead. I guess this thick smoke intercepted her breath and closed her airways which, with him, were naturally low, narrow, often breathless When the light returned, three days after my uncle had seen for i found his body intact without injury;. nothing was disturbed in his clothes, he looked like a man asleep more a death. "__

In this second letter, Pliny says, Tacitus again, his emotions and those of the population of Misenum during those sinister hours. Is it in the quote, tell what passed as Pompeii and all the coastal towns

 __ "My uncle gone, I continue the work for which I had stayed at home; then, bathing, eating, a short and uneasy sleep Since not many days the earth was shaking but not scare us much, because in. Campania, we have used. During that night, shaking redoubled violence, to the point that everything seemed unstirred, but reversed.  My mother rushes into my room when I myself got up to go wake him if, by chance, she was asleep.  We sit in the courtyard, narrow space alone separates the house from the sea Is this courage or reckless, I know. - I had while eighteen - but I demand a volume of Livy and as in the spare time I read it, even taking, following my usual extracts.  A friend of my uncle, recently came from the province of Espaniae to see, seeing us both sitting and I occupied my reading, my mother blames his resignation to me my security. Je n'en restai pas moins attentif à mon livre. I do nevertheless remained attentive to my book.

__ "It was the first time of the day, however, the light appeared low and we still doubtful.  The buildings around us were so shaken, that in this place, discovered it is true but narrow, falling walls that seemed certain was becoming a danger.  We decide to leave the city. The terrified crowd following us, obeying the instinct of fear of looking like prudence submission to the Other;  long and tight she waves us; it pushes us.  Once out of the houses, we stop;  and there still wonders, even frights.  The cars that we had to bring, though on level ground, were tossed in all directions and even with stones, we could hold them in place. The sea seemed to go by itself, as rejected by the shaking of the earth.  Anyway the shore had widened and many marine animals remained dry on the sand.  On the other side, a black cloud, horrible, torn by the sudden burst of lights that flashed meandering, is half open, revealing long flames similar to lightning and larger.
__ "So this friend of Spain challenges us with more vividness and insistence:" If your brother, if your uncle lives.  He wants your salvation;  if he died, he wanted you to survive him.  What are you waiting to escape?  "We reply that we are uncertain as to his fate we can not think about our safety.  Without further delay, and he leaves us with a fast running away from danger.  Soon after, the cloud down to earth, covers the sea;  it surrounds the island of Capriae and hides from view;  it hides the promontory of Misenum.  My mother asked me, release me, ordered me to flee in any way whatsoever;  young I may: meanwhile, weighed down, weakened talking years, she will die happy if she is not the cause of my death.  But I told him that if I have saved it will be with her.  I take her hand, I compel to hasten the step.  She obeyed reluctantly, blaming himself for delaying me.

__ "Here are the ashes, rare yet again. I turned. Behind us threatening, thick smoke, spread over the earth like a flood, we followed." Let us go into the field, as we see it encor, I said to my mother, lest on the road, we are, in the darkness, crushed by the crowd that accompanies us. "Just stop, we are enveloped by the night, not a night without moon or obscured by clouds, but the darkness of a closed room with no light. We only hear the screams of women, children complaints, the shouts of men. Some called their parents, other children, others their .. woman, recognizing that only those above the voice crying on themselves, those on their Some, for cruenté of death, called the death amounted Many hands to the gods;. many believed there were more gods, and that this night was the last for the world, the eternal night We saw that, for false and misleading terrors, added in real danger. "at Misenum, they said, Such a monument collapsed, another is in the Flame ". It was not true, but it was believed "__.

___ "A little clarity was made, which appeared to us to be not the day but the index that the fire was approaching. He stopped far from us though. Again darkness and ash too heavy and cumbersome. It was necessary, Occasionally, we get up and shake the fear of being buried, crushed even under that weight. I could boast of having in such danger, uttered no complaint, no word that was a sign of weakness . I imagined that with me everything and we were going to die with me, but miserable consolation of my death But that cloud cleared, and then, like smoke or cloud dissipated Finally the day came true;.. the sun shone but livid, like an eclipse. And so has our eyes encor still full of terror, everything seemed changed, and as a heavy snow, covered with a thick layer of ash.
Returned to Misenum, and after we somehow restored, we spend a night uncertain and suspended between fear and hope;  fear prevailed. Les secousses continuaient; The tremors continued; beaucoup,  many, exalted by ominous predictions were playing their own terrors and that of others. " As for us, despite the dangers and those encor we expected, we had not thought to move away before receiving news of my uncle. "

This table Pliny just drawn us, this exodus of an entire population in the country in the dark, in fear of a cataclysm that imagination can scarcely imagine, is a softened image of what happened to Pompeii, most proven, buried under a deep layer too so that people might like their more fortunate fellow citizens Misenum, return to their homes. A Pompéi. In Pompeii.  Also, the entire population frightened by the oscillations of buildings, fled into the fields.  In the streets, in the houses of the city, relatively few corpses were found;  there were more in the countryside, near Stabiae, where Pliny perished on the banks of the Sarno whose overflowing waters began obstacle to the progress of the fugitives, to the port where they are found even in large numbers.  Pliny recounts the events in enlightened man, anxious to observe things with a calm mind and make a story free from exaggeration.  He stands out from the crowd and, next terror legitimate reasons, we spoke little superstitious fears that seized the people. More than a century later, Dion Cassius has collected some echoes.  They imagined they saw during the days before the disaster, men, a much higher than that inherent human nature size seem, day and night on the mountain, in the surrounding area, in nearby towns and circulate in the air;  some believed that the giants they saw the forms amid the smoke of the eruption, revolted again and heard bursts of trumpets.  We imagined that the sun fell, by turning off and on earth, or the earth ascended to heaven.  All, and Pliny among them, ignoring the narrow limits of the devastated region were convinced that the entire universe came back into chaos or crashed into flames. Several thousand men lost their lives;  several cities, the main ones Herculaneum and Pompeii were killed, and on their graves, laid Martial pretty verses:

__ "This is Vesuvius yesterday shaded green vines; its renowned clusters crowded in wet tanks; Here the hills, over the hills of Nysa, dear to Bacchus. Naguère, Formerly, on this mountain, satyrs led choirs.  It was a milder remains to Venus as Sparta;  This was illustrated by the name of Hercules. Everything crashed in flames, everything is covered with gray ash and the gods would not having such power. »__ "__

It was not until the sixteenth century that this region gives us the emotions of those moments and calm and peaceful life that also reigned.  Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis and many other cities and homes, returning after millennia to bring us their messages.


Ch.7 : The Excavations...