Thursday, October 18, 2018

24 August 79 CE

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

A Day in Pompeii, a Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, was held at Melbourne Museum from 26 June to 25 October 2009. Zero One Studio created an animation for the exhibition. It starts the morning of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and ends the following night, when Pompeii, a city of some 10,000 to 20,000, was deeply buried in fragments of volcanic ash, pumice and debris (~ 9 m). The city of Pompeii was quickly forgotten, almost as though it never existed. Its excavation is well known (on-going) and provides remarkable insights into Greco-Roman life.

Pliny the Younger (61 CE - 112 CE), was seventeen years old and witnessed the event. He was asked by Cornelius Tacitus to report on his uncle. Pliny responded with two extraordinary letters. In the first, his account of the eruption was so scientifically accurate that these types of volcanic eruptions have since been name 'Plinian' eruptions.

The second letter includes many details about the eruption, e.g., ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. ‘Let us leave the road while we can still see’ I said, … ‘We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room...“you could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, other their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices… there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

Pliny the Elder moved quickly to the scene to witness the eruption as well as to help. He died while attempting a rescue.

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