The Death of Pliny - Letters from the Eruption of Vesuvius

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Section A (in Latin)

iam navibus cinis incidebat, quo propius accederent, calidior et densior; iam pumices etiam nigrique et ambusti et fracti igne lapides; iam vadum subitum ruinaque montis litora obstantia. cunctatus paulum an retro flecteret, mox gubernatori ut ita faceret monenti 'fortes' inquit 'fortuna iuvat: Pomponianum pete.'

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Section A (in English)

Ash was falling onto the ships now, hotter and denser the closer they went; now it was even pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by the fire; now there was sudden shallow water, and debris from the mountain that blocked the shore. Having paused for a moment wondering whether to turn back, he [Pliny the Elder, the writer’s uncle] soon said to the helmsman, who was advising him to do just that, ‘Fortune favours the brave; head for Pomponianus’.

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Section B (in English)

Pomponianus was cut off at Stabiae by the middle of the bay – for the sea pours into shores that curve and turn gradually; there, although the danger was not yet approaching, it was nevertheless visible and nearby as it increased, and Pomponianus had brought his luggage into his ships, resolved on escaping if the contrary wind should die down. Having sailed in on this favourable wind, my uncle embraced the frightened man, comforted him and encouraged him; and, in order to lessen his fear by means of his own lack of concern, he asked to be taken for a bath. Having washed, he sat down and dined, either in a good mood or, which is equally impressive, pretending that he was in a good mood.

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Section C (in Latin)

interim e Vesuvio monte pluribus locis latissimae flammae altaque incendia relucebant, quorum fulgor et claritas tenebris noctis excitabatur. ille agrestium trepidatione ignes relictos desertasque villas per solitudinem ardere in remedium formidinis dictitabat. tum
se quieti dedit et quievit verissimo quidem somno; nam meatus animae, qui illi propter amplitudinem corporis gravior et sonantior erat, ab iis qui limini obversabantur audiebatur.

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Section C (in English)

Meanwhile, very broad flames and fires from Mount Vesuvius were shining in very many places; their light and brightness were being emphasised by the darkness of the night. My uncle kept saying, as a cure for people’s terror, that they were abandoned fires and deserted houses burning in loneliness because of the panic of country people. Then he dedicated himself to rest, and rested, in fact, in a very real sleep; for his snoring, which for him was heavier and noisier because of the size of his body, could be heard by those who were watching at the doorway.

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Section D (in English)

The courtyard from which the room was approached had now risen in level to such an extent, having been completely filled up with ash and pumice mixed in, that, if he had delayed any longer in the bedroom, escape would have been denied to him. Having got up, he went out, and returned to Pomponianus and those who had spent the night awake. They had a discussion together, whether to stay under cover or to wander in the open. For the buildings were threatening to fall, because of frequent and large tremors and, as if they had been uprooted from their foundations, they seemed to be moving forwards and backwards, now this way, now that. Outside, on the other hand, falls of pumice were being feared, although pumice was light and hollow – but this is what they chose after their comparison of the dangers; in my uncle’s case, at any rate, one logical argument defeated another logical argument; in the case of the others, one fear defeated another fear.

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Section E (in Latin)

cervicalia capitibus imposita linteis constringunt; id munimentum adversus incidentia fuit. iam dies alibi, illic nox omnibus noctibus nigrior densiorque; quam tamen faces multae variaque lumina
solvebant. placuit egredi in litus, et ex proximo adspicere, ecquid iam mare admitteret; quod adhuc vastum et adversum permanebat. ibi super abiectum linteum recubans semel atque iterum frigidam aquam poposcit hausitque.

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Section E (in English)

They placed pillows on their heads and tied them on with linen; this was a defence against the rockfalls. It was daylight elsewhere, but there it was a night blacker and thicker than any night; however, many torches and various lights were dispelling it. It was decided to go out onto the shore and see from close up if anything was now possible by sea; but it still remained monstrous and hostile. There, reclining on a sail that had been thrown down, he asked for cold water once and a second time, and drained it down.

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Section F (in English)

Then the flames, and the smell of sulphur that was the pre- warning of flames, caused others to run away, but woke him up. Leaning on two small slaves, he stood up, and immediately fell down again; as I understand it, his breathing was blocked by the denser fog of smoke, and his inner organs, which for him were weak and narrow and frequently agitated, were shut down. When daylight returned (that was the third day from the one we had most recently seen), his body was found untouched, unharmed, and covered as he had been dressed. The pose of his body was more like someone sleeping than someone dead.

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