If you were writing a biography of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus—or Pliny the Younger, the author of one of the most famous collections of letters surviving from the early Roman Empire—it would be hard not to start with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, on the Bay of Naples, in 79 A.D., for Pliny was the only writer to leave us an eyewitness account of the catastrophe. The English classicist Daisy Dunn, in her book “” (Liveright), wisely does not resist the temptation. For Westerners, that explosion is probably the paradigmatic natural disaster. When we think of the worst thing Mother Nature could do to us, we are likely to think of Vesuvius. Likewise, Pompeii, the hardest hit of the communities lying at the base of the volcano, is, for many people, the world’s most compelling archeological site. Although some two thousand of the town’s inhabitants were killed, much of their world—the tools they gardened with, the paving stones they walked on, the graffiti they scratched on the walls of their brothels (“Posphorus fucked here”), the loaves of bread left baking in the oven, marked off into eight portions, just like a modern pizza—survived, however altered, under the layers of ash and pumice and rock that the volcano dumped on it.
Today, these things stand as a kind of textbook of how the citizens of Campania, the region over which Vesuvius loomed, lived in the late first century. Who, before the excavations of Pompeii, knew that many ordinary Romans, having only small, rudimentary kitchens, seem to have eaten takeout for dinner? But if you go to Pompeii, as millions of tourists do each year, you can view the storefront food shops with the pots, sunk in their counters, that once contained fish stews, boiled lentils, and so on, ready to be bought and carried home.
And who, apart from those who have survived a war, knew what a person dying from thermal shock looked like? Archeologists examining Pompeii and neighboring cities eventually came upon rooms full of skeletons, many of them surrounded by a bubble of empty space, which marked the outline of the victims’ flesh. At a town just south of Vesuvius, known in ancient times as Oplontis, you can see the so-called Resin Lady, a facsimile created by pumping transparent epoxy resin into such a void. The Resin Lady is lying face down and spread-eagled, just as she was when she was found. Around her are the objects she was carrying when she died: some jewelry, an iron key (to what?), the traces of a cloth bag holding a small collection of coins, five silver and seven bronze. Apparently she thought that, wherever she was going, she might need money. Her mouth is open, in a silent scream. In front of this, one turns away, ashamed of having looked.
2020欧洲杯最新战况There is more, at least quantitatively. Herculaneum, on the coast, lay upwind from Vesuvius, giving the inhabitants time to seek shelter from the blast. Hundreds of people, Dunn writes, “made their way to the shore, where a series of arched vaults, probably boat stores, was set back from the coast.” Each vault was barely ten feet wide by thirteen feet deep. The people who could not fit inside one of the vaults—many men ceded their places to women and children—remained exposed on the shore. A recent study suggests that those in the shelters may in fact have met slower and more agonizing deaths, perhaps by asphyxiation, than those outside, who were probably killed instantly by the heat. Other researchers have identified some glassy black material found in Herculaneum as the brain matter of one of the victims, vitrified by the eruption’s pyroclastic flow—burning clouds of gas and ash. As this avalanche poured down on the coast at a speed of at least sixty miles an hour, the temperature on the ground rose to about seven hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Lead melts at six hundred and twenty-one degrees Fahrenheit.
2020欧洲杯最新战况The terrible day dawned prettily. Pliny the Younger, seventeen years old, was staying at a villa in Misenum, across the Bay of Naples from Vesuvius, with his mother, Plinia, and her brother, Gaius Plinius Secundus, usually known as Pliny the Elder. (I will call the nephew Pliny, and the uncle the Elder.) Plinia was the first to notice that something strange was going on across the bay. Atop Vesuvius, there was a cloud that looked like an umbrella pine, Dunn says, “for it was raised high on a kind of very tall trunk and spread out into branches.”
2020欧洲杯最新战况Plinia went into the house and spoke to her brother. The Elder was the admiral of Rome’s navy, which, at that time, was docked at Misenum. He put down his book and called for his shoes, so that he could climb to a higher vantage point and see what was happening.
2020欧洲杯最新战况The Elder, who was fifty-five, was not just a military man. He was also a naturalist—the greatest, perhaps, that the ancient world produced. He proudly claimed that his thirty-seven volume “Natural History” contained facts gleaned not just from observation but from as many as two thousand volumes by Greek and Roman geographers, botanists, physicians, artists, and philosophers. In the book, he described his homeland, Campania, as a blessed spot, with
The fertility of the region’s vineyards was famous. Some said that this was because of soil enriched by volcanic explosions, but Vesuvius had been dormant for around seven hundred years. Who remembered? There were frequent earthquakes in the area, but people were used to this. They didn’t suspect that it was owing to anything going on inside their noble mountain.