November 03, 2002
A Truly Useful Classic

Imshin / Not a Fish links to an Israeli Defense Force pamphlet on earthquakes and how to survive them. For geographic reasons, it does not say what to do in case of a volcanic eruption accompanied by earthquakes. The Younger Pliny knew. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., he was eighteen years old and living across the Bay of Naples at Misenum with his mother and his uncle, the Elder Pliny.

Two of his published letters (6.16 and 6.20) give a vivid account of the eruption and the death of his uncle, overcome by fumes while rescuing people and investigating the phenomenon. The Elder Pliny was admiral of the fleet, and author of numerous books, including an extant Natural History in 37 volumes. He was quite fat, which is no doubt why he died and his companions survived, though subjected to the same fumes.

Anyway, some day I hope to find time to translate both letters and put them up on the web. In the mean time, I will mention just one detail that those living near Mount Etna or Mount St. Helens may find useful. After they crossed the bay, the Elder Pliny and his crew were afraid to stay inside the houses there because frequent strong earthquakes threatened to knock them down. At the same time, they were afraid to go outside, because chunks of rock were falling from the sky. What did they do? Select the next sentence to see the answer. They tied pillows to their heads and stayed outside. I don't know if I would have thought of that.

Tangential Note: One of neatest book titles -- or rather subtitles -- I know is Stanley F. Bonner's Education in Ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the Younger Pliny.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at November 03, 2002 06:49 PM