This is a big day for me. Right at the top of my bucket list is seeing Pompeii. I am going to have the experience of visiting the excavated ruins of Pompeii in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. I read a historical fiction novel this summer titled Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris. It was a good preparation.
The fictional part of the story is about a young water engineer, Aquarius, in charge of the immense aqueduct serving the coastal towns on the entire bay of Naples. This is a 60 mile aqueduct that brings water from the mountains to nine towns around the bay, including Pompeii. Some readers and reviewers are captivated by the description of the Roman engineering, water distribution systems, and the construction and maintenance of the aqueducts.
Me? Not so much. For me, the beginning of the novel was a bit tedious, but the description of the explosion was astounding. Here are a few of the facts I learned from this well researched book.
A cloud of ash and pumice 12 miles high shot from the central core as if from a canon. The exit velocity of the magma was approximately 1,440 km per hour (Mach 1). The thermal energy released during the A.D. 79 eruption was about that of 100,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. This information is from -Dynamics of Volcanism.
One of the parts of the book I found fascinating was when the young engineer convinces the admiral of the Roman Fleet, Pliny the Elder, to give him a fast ship to Pompeii. While on the ship, Minerva, pumice and rock began raining down and they had to go below deck.
"The incessant hammering of the pumice, sharp to begin with as it rattled on the timber of the deck, gradually became more muffled, as pumice fell on pumice, sealing them off from the world. And that, for him was the worst thing-the sense of this mass slowly pressing them down, burying them alive."
The Minerva and its crew did eventually smash upon the shore near Stabiae. Another description later..."It was grayer than the earlier pumice - denser, larger, as if several pieces had been fused together - and it was hitting the ground with greater force. The shower of frothy white rock had been unpleasant and frightening but not especially painful. To be struck by a piece of this would be enough to knock a man unconscious." And later yet..."All around them was a fury of noise - the heaving sea, the blizzard of rock, the boom of roofs giving way."
By getting to know the characters of the fictional story, one understands the confusion that must have surrounded the people of Pompeii and surrounding areas. Whether to run, to stay, or to ride out the horror makes me think of the people in New York City on September 11, 2001. In A.D. 79, just like on 9/11/2001, there were undoubtedly those heroes who ran toward the disaster in hopes of providing rescue for others.