Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples c.1776-80 by Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797
Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius in Eruption

Iam navibus cinis incidebat, quo propius accederent, calidior et densior, iam pumices etiam nigrique et ambusti et fracti igne lapides, iam vadum subitum ruinaque montis litora obstantia. Cunctatus paulum, an retro flecteret, mox gubernatori, ut ita faceret, monenti ‘fortes’ inquit ‘fortuna iuvat: Pomponianum pete.’ Stabiis erat, diremptus sinu medio (nam sensim circumactis curvatisque litoribus mare infunditur); ibi, quamquam nondum periculo appropinquante, conspicuo tamen et, cum cresceret, proximo, sarcinas contulerat in naves, certus fugae, si contrarius ventus resedisset; quo tunc avunculus meus secundissimo invectus complectitur trepidantem, consolatur, hortatur, utque timorem eius sua securitate leniret, deferri in balineum iubet; lotus accubat, cenat aut hilaris aut, quod aeque magnum, similis hilari.
(Pliny Minor, Ep. 6.16.5-8)

Ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker as the ships drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames: then suddenly they were in shallow water, and the shore was blocked by the debris from the mountain. For a moment my uncle wondered whether to turn back, but when the helmsman advised this he refused, telling him that Fortune stood by the courageous and they must make for Pomponianus at Stabiae. He was cut off there by the breadth of the bay (for the shore gradually curves round a basin filled by the sea) so that he was not as yet in danger, though it was clear that this would come nearer as it spread. Pomponianus had therefore already put his belongings on board ship, intending to escape if the contrary wind fell. This wind was of course full in my uncle’s favour, and he was able to bring his ship in. He embraced his terrified friend, cheered and encouraged him, and thinking he could calm his fears by showing his own composure, gave orders that he was to be carried to the bathroom. After his bath he lay down and dined; he was quite cheerful, or at any rate he pretended he was, which was no less courageous. (tr. Betty Radice)


Omnia mihi studia, omnes curas, omnia avocamenta exemit excussit eripuit dolor, quem ex morte Iuni Aviti gravissimum cepi. latum clavum in domo mea induerat, suffragio meo adiutus in petendis honoribus fuerat; ad hoc ita me diligebat, ita verebatur, ut me formatore morum, me quasi magistro uteretur. rarum hoc in adulescentibus nostris. nam quotus quisque vel aetati alterius vel auctoritati ut minor cedit? statim sapiunt, statim sciunt omnia, neminem verentur, neminem imitantur, atque ipsi sibi exempla sunt. sed non Avitus, cuius haec praecipua prudentia, quod alios prudentiores arbitrabatur, haec praecipua eruditio quod discere volebat.
(Pliny Minor, Epist. 8.23.1-3)

Work, cares and distractions – all are interrupted, cut short, and driven out of my mind, for the death of Junius Avitus has been a terrible blow. He had assumed the broad stripe of the senator in my house and had my support when standing for office, and such moreover was his affectionate regard for me that he took me for his moral guide and mentor. This is rare in the young people of today, few of whom will yield to age or authority as being their superior. They are born with knowledge and understanding of everything; they show neither respect nor desire to imitate, and set their own standards. Avitus was not like this. His wisdom consisted in his belief that others were wiser than himself, his learning in his readiness to be taught. (tr. Betty Radice)