August 24: A Heroic Nap In The Face Of Disaster

I unsuccessfully tried to find an image for "Vesuvius Italian Restaurant," so I could make a joke about "9/11 New York Pizza" places 2000 years from now. But here's pasta!

The media loves anniversaries -- I just heard a Katrina-three-years-after piece on the NPR -- so I imagine they're going to go absolutely crazy 71 years from now at the 2000th anniversary of Vesuvius. Assuming, of course, Vesuvius doesn't blow again right before it, because nothing spoils an anniversary-news package like actual news.

The eyewitness account comes from Pliny the Younger, and his letter about the eruption also helps the general reader make a distinction between Pliny the Younger and Elder -- which is, the Elder is the one who died at the end of the narrative written by the Younger. Although, as so often happens in these disasters, it could have been otherwise:
A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance... was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine-tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches;...This phenomenon seemed to a man of such learning and research as my uncle extraordinary and worth further looking into. He ordered a light vessel to be got ready, and gave me leave, if I liked, to accompany him. I said I had rather go on with my work.
And then the Elder gets trapped and keels over, but not without some dying-Roman virtue first. Like many people who know how to find the History Channel on their cable systems, I am something of a Romanophile, and even though (as Curtis Mayfield says in the song "No Thing On Me"), I believe people are the same everywhere, I'm a sucker for that ostentatious Roman virtue in the face of disaster:
...he [Pliny the E.] embraced him [his friend he's trying to rescue] tenderly, encouraging and urging him to keep up his spirits, and, the more effectually to soothe his fears by seeming unconcerned himself, ordered a bath to be got ready, and then, after having bathed, sat down to supper with great cheerfulness, or at least (what is just as heroic) with every appearance of it.
Come on, there's food on the table. What, you're not gonna eat? What are ya, afraid or something?

And then Pliny takes a nap (he can be heard snoring). To be fair, they couldn't get the ship out, because of the winds and the earthquake-induced high seas, but a nap? On the other hand, he did keel over upon waking up, so maybe he knew the jig was up, and one doesn't want to head to Hades de-rested.

Also, in a footnote we read:
The Romans used to lie or walk naked in the sun, after anointing their bodies with oil, which was esteemed as greatly contributing to health, and therefore daily practised by them.
I don't think we see fat old naked Romans enough on the History Channel.

1 comment:

Lisa Simeone said...

For some reason, the Comments thingy on the August 23rd entry isn't showing up, so I'm posting this here. Just wanted to second your "I am skeptical of the power of reason to change anyone's mind anyway."

It's one of life's sad lessons, but yes.