• Translating Pliny’s letters about Vesuvius, pt. 5. The Hero Embarks


    Relative location of Vesuvius compared to the naval base at Misenum (inner and outer harbors visible at lower center). Based on GoogleEarth.

    6.16.7-10: The Hero Embarks

    This post belongs to a serialized translation and commentary of Pliny the Younger’s letters (6.16 and 6.20) to the historian Tacitus about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. This is the third installment for letter 6.16.

    The Younger Pliny has just unfolded a detailed description of the volcanic cloud that was first spotted by his mother around noon. (Note that this just provides a terminus ante quem for the initial explosion, but because of the explosive nature of ‘Plinian eruptions’, it is unlikely to have begun too long before Plinia noticed it.) Pliny is working from three sources: his memory, notes he took shortly after the event, and conversations with other people after the eruption (as he says later in section 22 of this letter).

    As the crater of Vesuvius is about 30 km. away from Misenum by direct line of sight, the Elder Pliny, his curiosity alight, decides to have a closer look. It is perhaps 2 or 3 in the afternoon (we don’t know how long Pliny took with his bath, his lunch, and his climb to a vantage point). There was as yet no sense of urgency, but that was about to change. Continue reading