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Vesuvius: A Biography

Alwyn Scarth

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01 Jan 2009
Terra Publishing
352 pages - 234 x 156 x 18mm
Vesuvius is one of the most dangerous volcanoes on Earth. Its story is fascinating - not only its rich geological and geographical history, but also the changing social, religious and intellectual impact that the volcano has always had upon the people living around it. Hence, this book is truly a biography of a formidable and richly colourful living entity.Volcanoes are not passive like other mountains, and Vesuvius has been less passive than most volcanoes. It is the paramount natural feature in the whole region of Campania in southern Italy, and the constant rival of the turbulent city of Naples that lies at its heart. Volcano and city have played a dominant role on the stage of Campania since the first literate Greek colonists settled there some 3000 years ago. The Campanians have never been able to remember with serenity, nor to orget with impunity, that theirs is a volcanic land. Vesuvius threatens in the east; a rash of smaller volcanoes riddle the landscape of the Campi Flegrei to the west; and between them lie Naples and a host of busy towns.For many centuries, the people believed that the Underworld lurked beneath the ground itself. The ways in which the people have interpreted the habits and behaviour of the volcano have given it a distinct personality, and an almost anthropomorphic quality. Vesuvius has been as capricious as a spoilt courtesan. During its more tempestuous outbursts, it has destroyed homes and whole villages, and sent thousands of people to the Underworld. In calmer times, the destructive lava and ash then weathered into soils of such exquisite fertility that they recalled legends of a Golden Age.Some of that character has been manifested in the behaviour of the Campanians. They have watched their volcano, and they have watched over it; they have suffered from its fits of temper; they have feared and revered it; they have taken out images of their patron saints to propitiate it; and they have taken it to their hearts. Vesuvius has played a part in Campanian society that has been perhaps surpassed only by the strongest of rulers - or, more recently, by the bosses of the notorious parallel government that holds sway in the region. And, of course, Vesuvius buried Pompeii. Vesuvius threatens its surroundings today.The development of contingency plans for its next great eruption shows that scientists can apply the latest techniques to discover when the next eruption is about to occur, but also how such plans meet with a range of opposition from the people under threat. "Vesuvius: A Biography" is based on the latest research and also on a prudent appraisal of contemporary historical accounts. Wherever possible, the story is based on eye-witness accounts; many are graphic word portraits the equal of photography and television coverage. Fresh translation of classical source material features extensively. Written with the non-specialist reader in mind, the book will be compelling reading for not only geologists and geographers but also emergency planners and all those fascinated by the dramatic face of the Earth and eager to explore its rich human dimensions as much as its spectacular physical processes.This is a complete history of the relationship between one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world and the many people who live perilously close to it. With new translations of classical sources, the story comes up to today and the ominous future.
Preface; Acknowledgements; 1 Introduction; Ancient settlements; Foreign rule; Authority questioned; Further reading; 2 Campanian volcanoes: in the beginning Campania; The Campi Flegrei volcanic field; The growth of Somma--Vesuvius; The eruptions of Somma--Vesuvius before 1631; Further reading; 3 The Avellino eruption: a prelude to Pompeii Two skeletons from the early Bronze Age; An early Bronze Age village; Calm after the Avellino eruption; Somma--Vesuvius just before AD 79; Further reading; 4 The eruption in AD 79: the day of wrath Roman Campania; The Roman Empire in AD 79; The Pliny family; The two letters of Pliny the Younger; Damaging earthquakes; Pompeii; Herculaneum; The southern flanks of Vesuvius: 24 August AD 79, morning; Misenum: 24 August AD 79, noon; Rectina asks for help; Enquiry and rescue: 24 August, afternoon; Pompeii: 24 August, afternoon and evening; Stabiae: 24 August, evening; Herculaneum: 24--25 August; Oplontis: 25 August; Pompeii: 24--25 August: the day of wrath; Stabiae: 25 August, dawn; Misenum: 24--25 August; Victims of the eruption; Aftermath; Aid; Further reading; 5 From antiquity to the Renaissance: tall stories Limitation of sources; Eruptions from AD 79 until AD 685. More persistent activity, c. AD 787--1139; Dormant Vesuvius; Further reading; 6 The eruption of Monte Nuovo: a new approach An intellectual change; Spanish rule; Pozzuoli and Tripergole; Warnings of an eruption; The eruption begins: Sunday 29 September 1538; The effects of the eruption on Pozzuoli; A calm interlude: Tuesday 1 October to Thursday 3 October; Thursday afternoon, 3 October; Marchesino explores: Friday 4 October; Sunday 6 October; The aftermath; Further reading; 7 The eruption in 1631: the Counter Reformation The wages of sin; Vesuvius in 1631; Real, unrecognized and imaginary warnings from Vesuvius; The eruption begins: Tuesday 16 December; Exodus; The viceroy acts: 16 December; Flight from Torre del Greco; The first religious procession, Tuesday, 16 December; A drumroll; The night of 16--17 December; Pyroclastic flows: Wednesday 17 December; The pyroclastic flows reach Torre del Greco; Tsunamis; The procession on Wednesday 17 December; The processions on Thursday 18 December; The floods at Nola: Thursday 18 December; Rescue and recovery?; Friday 19 December; The waning phases of the eruption; Refugees and sinners; Results of the eruption; Future generations; Further reading; 8 The old cities rediscovered: antiquity protected Old stones come to light; Excavations begin; Excavations at Pompeii; The role of Giuseppe Fiorelli; Further reading; 9 Hamilton and Vesuvius: volcano-watching Questions of pedigree; The envoy in Naples; Trespassing on Vesuvian territory; The eruption of 1766; The eruption of October 1767; The volcanoes of the Campi Flegrei and Etna; Campi Phlegraei; The eruption of 1779; The eruption of June 1794; Enter Nelson; Hamilton as a volcanologist; Further reading; 10 Vesuvius as a tourist attraction: the Grand Tour; Picturesque, sublime and classical; The view of Vesuvius from Naples; The trip to the foot of Vesuvius; Old lavas; Molten lavas; The cone and its crater; Descent; Further reading; 11 Persistent activity 1822--1944: scientific scrutiny; The eruption of 1822; The eruption of 1872; Agitation 1875--1906; The eruption of 1906; The eruption of 1944; Further reading. 12 The Campi Flegrei: an eruption that failed La Solfatara; Bradyseismic movements; Planning for the next eruption; Further reading; 13 The future: the eruption to be avoided The past is the key to the future; Warning signs; When will Vesuvius erupt again?; What will be erupted?; The contingency plan for Vesuvius; Communications and public awareness; The special problems of Campania; Some counter-suggestions; Relocation; Further reading; Appendix 1: The two letters of Pliny the Younger to Tacitus about the eruption of AD 79; Appendix 2: Cassiodorus: Variae Epistolae, letter 50; Glossary; Bibliography; Index.
Alwyn Scarth was a lecturer at the University of Dundee before retiring to concentrate on writing.
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