nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

Like the oncoming of a wall of night at the last end of the world

Watching Mary Beard on Pompeii the other night night (there's a woman that likes to swear on TV) I was reminded that I meant to post this video, which I saw some time ago, but which became rather more pertinent standing in Herculaneum as loud thunder came from the direcion of Vesuvius, of a journalist who found himself in the Mt St Helen's ashfall and filmed the experience. It is incredibly dark. The key part starts about 2 minutes into the video.

The video images of how dark it is, and Crockett's description of the experience, feel as if they could be straight out of Pliny's account of the eruption of 79AD:

Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. 'Let us leave the road while we can still see,' I said, 'or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.' We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found others to believe them. A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight. However, the flames remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it."

It is fair to say that fascinating as volcanoes are to visit, I am very glad not to live near one. Among other things, as a tourist it is a hell of a lot easier as soon as something happens to cut and run than when leaving one's whole life behind - or even than when just risking looking like a paranoid idiot.
Tags: volcanoes
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