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By | March 2011
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Letters of gaius plinius caecilius secundus.
To Cornelius Tacitus

I understand you wish to hear about the earthquake at Misenum. After my uncle had left us on that day, I went on with my studies until it was time to bathe; then I had supper and went to bed. But my sleep was broken and disturbed. There had been many slight shocks, which were very frequent in Campania, but on this night they were so violent that it seemed as though everything must be overthrown. My mother ran into my room, and we went out into a small court which separated our house from the sea. I do not know whether to call it courage or rashness on my part, as I was only eighteen years old; but I took up Livy and read and made extracts from him. When morning came the light was faint and sickly; the buildings around us were tottering to their fall, and there was great and unavoidable danger in remaining where we were. We resolved to leave the town. The people followed us in consternation, and pressed in great crowds about us on our way out. Having gone a good distance from the house, we stood still in the midst of a dreadful scene. The carriages for which we had sent, though standing upon level ground, were being thrown from side to side, and could not be kept still even when supported by large stones. The sea appeared to roll back upon itself, driven from its shores by the convulsive movements of the earth; a large portion of the sea-bottom was uncovered, and many marine animals were left exposed. Landward, a black and dreadful cloud was rolling down, broken by great flashes of forked lightning, and divided by long trains of flame which resembled lightning but were much larger.

Soon afterwards the clouds seemed to descend and cover the whole surface of the ocean, hiding the island of Capri altogether and blotting out the promontory of Misenum. My mother implored me earnestly to make my escape, saying that her age and frame made it impossible for her to get away, but that she would...

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