6.20.7-9: The Elements Torn Asunder.
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 6.20, and the eleventh overall.
This installment was completed with the contributions of DePauw LAT 223 students Jackson Hicks, Luke Lohrstorfer, and Leigh Plummer in Fall 2014 and 2015.
The Younger Pliny and his mother have been unsettled by strong tremors at their seaside residence early on the morning of the second day of the eruption. The Elder Pliny, who sailed off the afternoon before, is on the Stabian seashore with his friend Pomponianus.
7 Tum demum excedere oppido visum; sequitur vulgus attonitum, quodque in pavore simile prudentiae, alienum consilium suo praefert, ingentique agmine abeuntes premit et impellit.
7. At that point, it finally seemed best to exit the town. A confounded mob followed — and what in fear seems akin to wisdom, each prefers another’s judgement to their own — and in a massive throng it presses and pushes us on as we leave.
Tottering roof tiles have finally forced Younger Pliny, his mother, and their household to abandon their home at Misenum. They are joined by a mob of slaves, freedpersons, and neighbors (vulgus attonitum) who lack, and desire, direction. As he has since 6.20.4, Younger Pliny generates synchronicity—across the bay, at the same time (in letter 6.16.16), Elder Pliny and Pomponianus’ household are also deciding whether to stay or go. In these twin dilemmas, Younger Pliny focuses on the psychological processes of decision-making under stress: Continue reading