Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/238

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228

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

smoke, but which was in reality a mass of dust, ashes, stones, and vapors, the form of which was likened by Pliny to a tall pine-tree throwing out great branches at its top.

Struck with surprise at the new phenomenon, the elder Pliny, a man of philosophical mind, hastened to the shore, that he might examine it more closely. He disembarked at Stabiæ, and went to the house of his friend Pomponianus. Here he remained till evening, gazing at the spectacle, and trying to quiet the fears of those around him. The streaks of fire on the mountain he attributed to the burning of the woods and villages, and when he became weary of the spectacle retired to bed and fell asleep. Meanwhile the shower of stones increased fast in Stabiæ, and began to fill the streets and the courts of the villa. Pliny's servants became alarmed and aroused their master, who joined his friend Pomponianus and his assembled family. What follows is best described in the graphic words of the younger Pliny:

"They took counsel together as to whether they should shut themselves in the house, or whether they should betake themselves to the fields, for the houses were so shaken by the violent tremblings of the earth, which followed each other in quick succession, that they seemed to be torn from their foundations, turned to every point of the compass, and then brought back to their places. On the other hand, they feared outside of the city the falling stones, though they were light and dried up by the heat. Of these two perils they chose the latter. With my uncle the strongest reason prevailed over the weakest. In the minds of those who summoned him, one fear prevailed over another. They fastened pillows around their heads as a sort of shield against the falling stones. Day was breaking elsewhere, but around them the darkest night reigned, though lighted up by the conflagration, and all kinds of fires.

"They approached the shore in order to attempt to escape by the sea, but it was stormy and contrary. There my uncle lay down upon a blanket and asked for some cold water, of which he drank twice. Very soon the flames, and a sulphurous smell which preceded them, put every one to flight, and forced my uncle to get up. He rose, supported by two young slaves, and instantly fell dead. I suppose that the thick smoke arrested respiration and suffocated him. He had a naturally narrow, weak chest, often panting for breath.

"When the light reappeared—three days after the last that had shone for my uncle—his body was found uninjured, the clothing undisturbed, and his attitude was rather that of sleep than of death."

The materials ejected from the mountain consisted of scoriae and ashes, and their quantity far exceeded its own bulk. The shower of ashes, dust, pumice, and stones, continued to fall for eight successive days, accompanied by torrents of rain, and the cities of Stabiæ, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, were entirely buried. Pompeii was situated several miles farther from the crater than Herculaneum, and was buried only in ashes and loose stones; while Herculaneum was entombed deeper, and in a much more consistent substance, which was evidently plastic, and appears to be composed of volcanic ashes cemented by mud.