Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
They have thrown a right fuck into our Bradley Manning and permanently ruined him by the looks of it. Professional American torturers, not satisfied with Guantanamo Bay they bring it on home to sweet Virginia.
Here, look at these photographs of Adolf Eichmann during his imprisonment and trial in Israel. Was Eichmann forced to sleep naked I wonder?
How twisted and perverse and cruel and brutal are these American military jailers? You could call them 'inhuman' ... except that they are eminently human. And they are hardly acting alone either; there is a whole organization with members at every rank who are participating, night shift, day shift. Not so unlike Bradley himself back in the day in Iraq as he watched a very one-sided shootout on the streets of Baghdad.
Hmmm ... I was sure I had posted this link before but I can't find it (?), here is the Wikileaks video of the Baghdad shootout - Collateral Murder.
I was trolling through the NYT and came across this: When the Dead Arise and Head to Times Square; a review of a show of artifacts from Pompeii. One line caught my attention: "Some, he continued, 'raised their hands to the gods, but most of them thought there were no gods at all.'"
The 'he' in this case was Pliny the Younger - a bona fide witness on the scene of Pompeii's destruction. So ... off to Wikipedia for a brief bio and a list of his writings, thence to the Epistulae and specifically those on Vesuvius, and then straightaway to the University of Virginia and two letters to Tacitus, copied below as XVI & XX. The line I was looking for was not quite exactly there, so a few more minutes to search for another version, find one at Gutenberg, download it and poke about to find the same letters but with different names, copied below as LXV & LXVI.
The whole exercise took half an hour - mark one up for the Internet. But the texts were not formatted very nicely to be read and understood, and they all contained spelling errors (likely from poor scanning it looks like) so I had to tidy them up. Quite clear really, that no one had ever read them before.
Two translations then:
"Many lifted up their Hands to Heaven; a Multitude disbeliev'd all the Gods, and look'd upon the Time to be the last eternal Night, that has been prophecy'd."I don't know when I learned about Pompeii; a long time ago for sure; in elementary school maybe, certainly by the end of highschool. When I started to read the NYT review I wondered how it could still be news?
"Some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world."
The images on the Internet are numerous, but none with any provenance that I could easily see; and so many vapid & banal travelogues by eager bourgeois vacationers that I abandoned hope. Somewhere near Naples is or was the museum warehouse pictured above with the figure I focussed on; photographs from four viewpoints; and a trite reminder that this plaster represents what was once living flesh.
It turns out that there have been, from the very beginning of archeological excavation, 'secret museums' to contain the sexually explicit material found in Pompeii.
Nothing like a bit of prurient interest to brighten the day ... and since Karima el-Mahroug is back in the news with her triumph at the Vienna Opera Ball ... and it's all related, isn't it eh? So ... some spiral geometries.
I had to look up 'hamadryad', maybe you don't quite know what it means either ... here it is from the OED:
1 - A wood-nymph fabled to live and die with the tree which she inhabited.
Usage: 'I am not sure that the tree was a gainer when the hamadryad flitted and left it nothing but ship-timber.'
2 - A large, very venomous, hooded serpent of India allied to the cobra (Naja hamadryas, or Hamadryas elaps).
3 - A large baboon of Abyssinia (Cynocephalus hamadryas).
Drawing a locus from 'hamadryad' through 'snake' to 'baboon' seems apt, and the usage citation hearkens to a frequent theme here - the unstoppable secular march of demystification.
This is what Pliny puts at the beginning of the second letter, two translations again:
"Though my shock'd soul recoils, my tongue shall tell."He seems to be quoting someone? But I can't find who or what? Not with Google & Bing at least.
"Tho' the Remembrance fills my Soul with Horror, yet I'll begin."
... let these two poets wind it up:
I’m weary as Hell. The confusion I’m feelin’ ain’t no tongue can tell.
Bob Dylan, With God On Our Side, 1963.
You plunge your hand in and draw it back, scorched. Beneath it's shining like gold, but better.
Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory, 1985.
What is this? Maria Aragon & Lady Gaga 'perform' in Toronto.
Photographs of a demonstration on the last day of February somewhere in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; in one of the suburbs of the biggest city in Ivory Coast; maybe it's Abobo, or maybe Treichville, can't be sure; and of course the people on the front lines have no names.
"Gbagbo Degage Trop C'Trop"
"Let Go Gbagbo, Too Much Is Too Much"
And it goes for all of them: Stephen Harper and his gaggle of psychotic ministers; the sick and the halt and the lame - Elizabeth May, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff; Nicholas Sarkozy and his pneumatic wife; Barack Obama too I guess with his bourgeois pretentions; is there one leader out there anywhere who puts his or her people first?
Two collages by Karel Teige, a Czech avant-garde artist. He died in 1951. Imagine!
Miss Jodie uses 'eponymous' in her latest post. More than just a pretty face then, eh?
What motivated this post ... was reading about David Suzuki's lifetime-achievement award.
We have been at it for 50 years and things are getting worse, he tells us.
And I have been thinking and thinking ... he's right of course, but I can't make sense of it.
Maybe, as an old friend of mine once opined, there are really two species of human, one with a sensibility to recognize agapé and one without. Suzuki and some others, maybe even myself, belong to Homo agapiens, and the other species can neither be convinced nor controlled by any means ... or, or ... Just keep fillin' up that 'social imaginary' kid and keep hitting the keys and eventually, finally, suddenly ... the tide will turn ... or the trumpet will sound ... whatever.
Listen carefully to this as James Hansen speaks with Julia Kilpatrick of the Pembina Institute. She's their Media Manager and Communications Lead. I love it when they use the word 'lead' in titles like that - reminds me of working with the Geordies building oil platforms.
But tell me Miss Muffet so soft-spoken, my sweet Julia, why is it that I can download just about any piece of American dreck masquerading as a 'movie', or any sort of pornography, all in a few minutes and with ease, but if I want to watch Even the Rain or Waste Land or Sun Come Up I can't? Not with Internet banditry, not for money, not no way, no.
Here are the Stones to sing us all on outa here ... with All Down The Line recorded in 1972 ... not quite 50 years ago, but gettin' there ...
You can't say yes and you can't say no but you'll be right there when the whistle blows.
It has been snowing here in Toronto as I write these lines. Not snowing too hard, but enough to cover things a bit; and a gentle wind making graceful whorls & spirals in the air outside my window.
Be well gentle reader.
1. When the Dead Arise and Head to Times Square, Ruth Fremson, March 3 2011.
4. LXV (account of my uncle's death), Gutenberg.
5. LXVI (curiosity to know what terrors ...), Gutenberg.
6. David Suzuki Gets Lifetime Award: Says Earth in "Far Worse Shape", Marcus Hondro, February 15 2011.
When the Dead Arise and Head to Times Square, Ruth Fremson, March 3 2011.
There is a lot of traffic these days in well-preserved bodies, human and otherwise. They are sliced and pickled for artistic effect or uncannily dissected and plasticized, with every blood vessel visible. They have toured the world, wrapped and mummified in the manner of ancient Egypt, or have been displayed, more modestly preserved by the dry desert sands of the Silk Road. And there are many, many more mummies yet to come.
Why this onslaught of the almost-living dead in museums? Are we latter-day Ezekiels seeking prophetic messages from ancient skeletal remnants? Has the technology used to prepare the dead for world travel suddenly advanced? Or has the need for income by the overseers of mummies suddenly increased?
Perhaps all are true. But “Pompeii the Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius,” which opens on Friday at Discovery Times Square, is unusual because its dead bodies are not really dead, and they are not really bodies. They are, however, often more affecting, and they form the fulcrum of an absorbing show about a place more widely heard of than thoroughly understood.
The bodies are made of white plaster, and their rough surfaces allow only vague outlines. But, like death masks, they capture a moment when their subjects ceased to be. A man sits crouched, his legs pulled up to his chest, covering his face, as if in despair. A girl desperately thrusts herself at her mother, grasping for comfort. A man, prostrate, begins to pull himself up a staircase but can go no farther. These bodies are writhing, groping, reaching, protecting. And their white forms are starkly displayed on black platforms in a dimly lighted gallery, looking like otherworldly figures enduring infernal agonies.
They are plaster casts from Pompeii — more, we are told, than have ever been gathered together for an exhibition. Pompeii, of course, was the Roman village near Naples that was entirely wiped out in the year 79, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, engorging the town with its ash and lava, preserving it as if it were a bug caught in sap that would turn to amber.
Waves of volcanic ash, heat and poisonous gases trapped the fleeing remnants of the town’s population, often in midstride, some carrying keys and valuables. Others cowered in basements or clung to family. The plaster is rough, but we can see touching detail, including the delicate folds of a dead child’s tunic. And there are suggestions of bronze studs in a collar on a chained dog’s neck: did it strangle itself as it strained to escape, its body rolled into a contorted ball?
Volcanic detritus swept over these beings, liquid eventually solidifying into tombs of stone. Flesh and muscle decayed, leaving for later archaeological study hollowed-out molds of rock. A 19th-century archaeologist had the brilliant idea of pouring plaster into those hollows, then shattering the rock. What remained were life-size reproductions of animals and humans caught in the final moments of life.
These images also confirm the account of the eruption by Pliny the Younger, who was a safe-enough distance away to observe, but close enough to want to flee: “You could hear women shrieking, children screaming, men shouting,” he wrote. (The words are cited on the exhibition walls.) “Some called for their children, others for their parents or husbands.”
Some, he continued, “raised their hands to the gods, but most of them thought there were no gods at all.”
One room here is devoted to casts of 32 skeletal remains found four miles away from Pompeii, in Herculaneum, which was also destroyed. Nine of the skeletons were of children younger than 12. Another was accompanied by a complete set of surgical instruments, suggesting, perhaps, preparation and precaution, but no recognition of the forces unleashed.
These scenes are all the more stark because the exhibition — deftly designed and planned by Ralph Appelbaum Associates — makes sure that we encounter them only after we have come to know something about Pompeii as a thriving town. The volcanic debris that destroyed it also preserved it, along with elaborately painted frescoes, exquisite mosaics, tools of business and trade, gladiators’ armor, and artifacts and murals that this exhibition associates with bordellos. The show provides a brief glimpse of that world. It decorously places erotically explicit items in a nearly private space, prefaced by a warning and tucked away inside the main galleries.
Since the ruins of Pompeii were discovered and recognized in the 18th century, there have been debates over how to interpret these and other objects. (The classicist Mary Beard is particularly evocative and provocatively irreverent in her 2008 book, “The Fires of Vesuvius.”) But the selection of artifacts here suggests that Pompeii was an earthy, cosmopolitan society, thriving on trade that came through Naples, seeded with influences from the Etruscans, the Greeks, the Romans and local mountain tribes.
The statues of Dionysus and the brass miniatures of hybrid deities (including some allusions to Eastern religions) are as sybaritic as they are refined. The frescoes, whose colors still amaze, would have graced fine dining rooms and villas; omitted here are examples of the iconoclastic and comic first-century graffiti found in public places.
At least as portrayed here, this was a culture preoccupied with vitality, almost devoted to the life force until confronting its opposite. We are given some suggestion of what happened when we enter a bare room, and the doors close. On a screen a computer simulation chronicles what inhabitants of Pompeii might have seen during the day and a half of destruction. As the tumult grows, the walls and floor vibrate. Images of volcanic activity become more apocalyptic, and after the climactic devastation, the room’s panels open, and we face the darkened gallery of ghostly figures.
After passing through that realm, we are led into Pompeii’s afterlife. A timeline maps the history of the site, something that is traced in more detail in the book “Pompeii Awakened,” by Judith Harris, a consultant for the exhibition.
The story is ripe with carelessness, dishonesty and political jockeying. It would have been good to find even more of this material here, along with a sense of how Pompeii’s exploration led to the development of modern archaeology. The discoveries also, as the exhibition suggests, fed the 19th-century Romantic fascination with Nature’s wild powers. Pompeii became a site of international pilgrimage.
Here too are the intriguing artifacts of daily life: carbonized olives, figs and a walnut; burnished glazed bowls; Roman-inspired plumbing; an enormous glass funerary jar miraculously unshattered; and jewelry, including a winding gold snake bracelet inscribed by a master to his slave.
This exhibition was created by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Napoli e Pompei, which oversees Pompeii, in conjunction with Discovery Times Square and Running Subway Productions. The $25 adult ticket price will, no doubt, help provide some support for the archaeological site, which has long suffered from poor maintenance, low budgets, large crowds and plunder.
But the best evidence of the show’s success is that though touch screens provide some glimpses of Pompeii, no one can see this exhibition’s small fraction of the site’s relics and not also wish to see them all.
Epistle XVI On the Death of Pliny the Elder, UVa.
You desire an Account of the Death of my Uncle; that you may transmit it down more truly to Posterity. I am oblig'd to you for the Favour: For I am sensible, that immortal Glory will be the Crown of his Death, if it be describ'd by your Pen. For tho' he dy'd a Fate a-kin to that of many a beautiful Country; by a memorable Fall, as whole Nations and Cities have been destroy'd, (a Presage of Eternity to his Memory) tho' he compos'd a Variety of Works, that will long survive him; yet the Perpetuity of your Writings will be a great Addition to his own.
Indeed, I look upon those to be happy, that, by the Blessing of Heaven, either perform such Actions, as deserve to be recorded, or write such as merit a Reading; but those I esteem to be compleatly bless'd, that are favour'd with this double Advantage. My Uncle will stand in this List, both in your books and his own: This engages me the more readily to obey you, and demand of you in Return, what you enjoin me.
He was at Misenum, where he commanded a Squadron of the Fleet in Person on the Ninth of the Calends of September, (i.e. August 22nd) about one of the Clock in the Afternoon, my Mother inform'd him, that a Cloud appear'd of an unusual Size and Shape. After he had repos'd sometime, according to his Practice, in the Sun, and taken a Draught of cool Water, he lay on a Couch and read; then he puts on his Shoes, and mounts an Eminence, to take the best Observation of this Prodigy: A Cloud arose (it was uncertain, at a Distance, from what Mountain, tho' it appear'd after to be a Vesuvius) in Likeness and Form resembling a Pine-Tree; for it was elevated to a good Height, with a long Trunk, and distributed in several Branches.
The Reason, I suppose, was, that it was rais'd aloft by a sudden Wind, and then relinquish'd by it, as it decay'd, or else overpower'd by its own Weight, it spread it self into a large Breadth; appearing sometimes white, sometimes Shadowy, and variously colour'd, as it was loaded with Ashes or with Earth.
It struck him with Surprize, and seem'd to merit a nearer Examination. He orders a light Frigate to be fitted out, and gives me leave, if I thought proper, to go along with him. I answer'd him, that I was rather inclin'd to Study, and by a great Hazard, he had deliver'd something to me, in order to be transcrib'd. He parted from his House, and took his Table-Book with him. The Sea-Officers at Retina, alarm'd at the impending Danger (for that Village was exactly below Misenum, nor was there any way to escape but by Sea,) importun'd him to prevent so terrible a Disaster. He would not alter his Resolution, but pursu'd with the utmost Courage, what he had enter'd upon with an eager Curiosity. He draws out the Gallies, and goes on Board himself, with a Design to give Succour not only to Retina, but to many other Places; for the Coast was delightful, and throng'd with Villages.
He proceeds with Expedition thither, from whence all the World were retiring, and makes a direct Course to the Point of Danger: So fearless, that he view'd, remark'd, and noted down all the Motions and Figures of the Prodigy. Now the Ashes fell among the Gallies warmer and thicker, the nearer they approach'd; then Pumice-Stones and others, burnt to a Coal, and broken with the Fire. Soon the Passage appear'd to be too rapid, and the Shore inaccessible, by the Ruins of the Mountain; and after he had consider'd a-while, whether he should retreat, he immediately said to the Pilot, that advis'd him to it, "Fortune assists the Daring; tack about towards Pomponianus."
He was at Stabiæ, separated by a little Bay from him; (for the Sea insensibly steals upon the Shores, that are winding there and crooked.) In this Quarter, tho' as yet the danger was at a distance, yet, as it was full in view, and when it rose to a height, very near him; he had put all his Baggage into the Vessels, and resolv'd to go off, if the Wind had once turn'd contrary. My Uncle, carry'd hither by a favourable Gale, embrac'd him, trembling as he was, buoy'd him up, and encourag'd him: And to ease his Fears by his own Confidence, he gives Orders to be convey'd to the Bath; after Bathing, he sits down to Supper chearfully, or, what is equal, with all the Appearance of his ordinary Gaiety.
In the meantime, large and high Eruptions of Fire glar'd from Mount Vesuvius in several Places, the Brightness of which was heightened by the Gloom of the Night. My Uncle, to remedy their Fears, often told them, that what they saw in the Flames, was only the Villages abandon'd by the Peasants, and destroy'd for want of Hands to assist them, then he compos'd himself to Rest, and slept very soundly. For as he was large-siz'd, his Snoring was pretty audible, and heard as far as the Anti-Chamber.
But the Court that led to his Apartment, was, now so choak'd up with Ashes and Pumice-Stones, that, had he stay'd longer in his Room, the Passage out of it would have been entirely obstructed. As soon as he was awaken'd, he goes out and joins Pomponianus, and the rest that sat up all Night: They debated all together, whether they should stay in the House, or walk in the open Field: For the Buildings were shock'd by violent and repeated Earthquakes, and seem'd to rock on one Side and the other, as if they had been mov'd from their Foundations. Abroad, the Fall of the Pumice Stones, tho' light and eaten thro', alarm'd them. A Comparison of the two Dangers, fix'd their Choice on the Field; as to the rest, one Fear surmounted the other; but with him, the stronger Reason took Place of the weaker: And to Guard against the fall of the Stones, they ty'd each of them a Pillow about their Heads with Handkerchiefs or Napkins.
It was now Day in other Places, but there it was still Night, more black and dismal than ever was known; but it was something dissipated by a multitude of Lights and Flambeaux. They thought it proper to advance to the Shore, and examine more nearly, as far as the Sea allow'd them, which still ran high, and was ruffled with a contrary Wind. There my Uncle lying down upon a Sheet that was spread under him , ask'd once or twice for Water, and took a Draught of it; soon after, the Flames, and a stench of Sulphur, a fore runner of the Flames, dispers'd all the Company; and rous'd him. He got up supported by two Servants, and at that Moment, fell and expir'd.
The Cause of it, as I guess, was, that his Breath was obstructed by the gross smoaky Air, and the Passages of his Stomach, naturally weak and narrow, and often Feaverish, were shut up by Suffocation. On the Return of Light, which was three Days after, the Body was found entire, unhurt, and cover'd with the Dress in which he dy'd. The State of his Body had the Appearance of Sleep more than of Mortality.
In the mean Time, I and my Mother were at Misenum. But this is nothing to the History, and you desir'd no Information, but upon his Death. Therefore I will conclude on that Head, only will add one Thing, that I have given a just detail of every Particular I saw or heard at that Time, when the Truth of a Relation is the most unexceptionable. Do you single out the most important: For it is one Thing to write a Letter to a Friend, and another to describe a History for all the World.
Epistle XX Accidents relating to Pliny at the Time of his Uncle's Decease, UVa.
You tell me your Curiosity is rais'd by the Letter I sent to you, on your Desire, about the Fate of my Uncle, to know the Apprehensions and the Circumstances I was in while I was left at Misenum; for I had enter'd upon that Part of the Story, but broke off from it.
Tho' the Remembrance fills my Soul with Horror,
Yet I'll begin.
After my Uncle had taken his leave, I employ'd the Remainder of my Time in Study; for I stay'd behind for that Purpose: Then I bath'd, supp'd, and repos'd, but unquietly and shortly.
We had been for many Days before sensible of an Earthquake, but it was less terrible, since not only the Castles, but the Towns of Campania, were frequently subject to it. However, it redoubled that Night with so much violence, that every Thing was not only shock'd, but seem'd to be overturn'd by it. My Mother came hastily into my Chamber; I rose up, with a design to awaken her, had she slumber'd. We took a Seat in the Court, that separates the Buildings from the Sea, by a very narrow interval: I am in some Doubt, whether I ought to stile it Courage, or Imprudence, for I was then no more than Eighteen.
I call'd for Livy, and read at my Ease, and took Notes out of it, as I had begun. A Friend of my Uncle's, who had lately arriv'd from Spain, on a Visit to him, came to us: When he perceiv'd us both sitting, and me reading, he reproach'd her Indolence, and my Confidence; yet I still kept my Eyes fix'd on my Book. It was now Seven in the Morning, and the Day as yet was breaking, and hardly more than Twilight: The Houses around us were shaken, so that the Dread of a Fall of them was great and certain; the Place being small, tho' open.
Then we thought to quit the Village. The People follow'd in a Panic; the general Fear had something in it like Prudence; for every Man preferr'd another's Contrivance to his own, and press'd forward the Crowd that was retiring.
When we had got clear of the Town, we made a Stop, and here met with new Prodigies, new Terrors. For the Carriages which we order'd out, were toss'd to and fro, even upon the level Ground, and would not stay in a Place, tho' supported with large Stones. Besides, the Sea appear'd in a kind of Eddy, and was driven back upon it self by the Earthquake. The Shore was enlarg'd, and a Number of Fishes were left upon the Beach.
On the other Side, a gloomy and dreadful Cloud, rent by the unequal vibrating. Motions of a fiery Meteor, open'd in Flames of a various Length; they did not much differ from Lightening, but were larger. Then our Spanish Friend spoke to us with greater Force and Eagerness; "Had your Brother, and your Uncle been alive, he would have been sollicitous for your Safety; tho' Dead, he must have been desirous, that you should survive him: Therefore, why do not you try to escape?" We answer'd, That we would not give him Occasion to think, we would entirely consult our own Safety, while we were uncertain of my Uncles Welfare. He paus'd no longer upon it, but fled from the Danger with all the Precipitancy imaginable.
Soon after, that Cloud descended to the Earth, cover'd the Sea, surrounded and hid Capreæ from our Eyes, and intercepted the Promontory of Misenumfrom us.
Then my Mother conjur'd, press'd and commanded me, by any means whatever, to save my self: That it was easy at my Years; but encumber'd as she was, with Age, and heavy with Infirmities, she would be content to die, if she should not be the Cause of my Death. I reply'd, that I would not accept of Security but with her. Then I seiz'd her Hand, and forc'd her to go along with me; she complies unwillingly, and often blames herself for retarding me. The Ashes began to fall upon us, but in a small Quantity: I look'd back, a gross Mist follow'd us, and spread it self on the Earth like a Deluge. On the Sight of it, I said to my Mother, Let us turn out of the Way while we are in View of it, least we fall in the Road, and be trodden to death by the Crowd in the Dark.
We had scarcely quitted the Way, when a perfect Night hung over us, not like one that is overcast, without a Moon, but a Room, where all the Lights are extinguish'd. You might hear the Shrieks of Women, the Cries of Children, the Noise of Men: Some call'd aloud for their Parents, some for their Husbands, and knew them only by their Voices; some bewail'd their own Share in the Calamity; and others that of their Neighbours; some wish'd for Death from the Fear of Dying; many lifted up their Hands to Heaven; a Multitude disbeliev'd all the Gods, and look'd upon the Time to be the last eternal Night, that has been prophecy'd. Some improv'd the real Dangers by feign'd and imaginary Fears; others gave it out, that this House at Misenum was fallen, that was burnt; both falsly, but they met with Believers.
A Glimpse of Light appear'd, that did not show us the Return of Day, but the Approach of the Fire that threatned us: The Fire indeed, stood at a Distance; then the Darkness reviv'd, and after that, a plentiful Shower of Ashes and Cinders: We rose up now and then and shook them off, otherwise we shou'd have been cover'd and oppress'd with the Weight of them.
I could boast, that neither a Sigh, nor a complaining Expression drop'd from me in the midst of these Alarms; but I was supported by this Consolation, not very Reasonable indeed, but natural enough, to think that all the World perish'd with me.
At last, this pitchy Vapour was dissipated by Degrees, and was lost like Smoke, or a Cloud; presently the Day appear'd in Reality, and the Sun shone out, but with a lowering and a dull Complexion, as if it was Eclips'd. Our trembling Eyes meet with every thing chang'd, and hid beneath a Depth of Ashes like a Snow.
On our Return to Misenum, after having taken a moderate Care of our selves, we pass'd the Night, divided between Hope and Fear; but the latter had the Advantage; for the Earthquake continu'd, and most of the People distracted with Terror, entertain'd their own Apprehensions, and those of others, with frightful Presages. Yet I could not even then resolve to depart, tho' I had experienc'd the Danger, and expected more, 'till I receiv'd some News of my Uncle.
You may amuse your self with reading this short Narrative, tho' as unworthy of a Place in History, you will not commit to writing; and you must lay the Imputation on your self for asking it, if you do not think it deserves a Letter.
LXV (account of my uncle's death), Gutenberg.
Your request that I would send you an account of my uncle's death, in order to transmit a more exact relation of it to posterity, deserves my acknowledgments; for, if this accident shall be celebrated by your pen, the glory of it, I am well assured, will be rendered forever illustrious. And notwithstanding he perished by a misfortune, which, as it involved at the same time a most beautiful country in ruins, and destroyed so many populous cities, seems to promise him an everlasting remembrance; notwithstanding he has himself composed many and lasting works; yet I am persuaded, the mentioning of him in your immortal writings, will greatly contribute to render his name immortal.
Happy I esteem those to be to whom by provision of the gods has been granted the ability either to do such actions as are worthy of being related or to relate them in a manner worthy of being read; but peculiarly happy are they who are blessed with both these uncommon talents: in the number of which my uncle, as his own writings and your history will evidently prove, may justly be ranked. It is with extreme willingness, therefore, that I execute your commands; and should indeed have claimed the task if you had not enjoined it.
He was at that time with the fleet under his command at Misenum. On the 24th of August, about one in the afternoon, my mother desired him to observe a cloud which appeared of a very unusual size and shape. He had just taken a turn in the sun and, after bathing himself in cold water, and making a light luncheon, gone back to his books: he immediately arose and went out upon a rising ground from whence he might get a better sight of this very uncommon appearance.
A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance (but it was found afterwards to come from Mount Vesuvius), 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; occasioned, I imagine, either by a sudden gust of air that impelled it, the force of which decreased as it advanced upwards, or the cloud itself being pressed back again by its own weight, expanded in the manner I have mentioned; it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders.
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 it so happened, he had himself given me something to write out. As he was coming out of the house, he received a note from Rectina, the wife of Bassus, who was in the utmost alarm at the imminent danger which threatened her; for her villa lying at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, there was no way of escape but by sea; she earnestly entrealed him therefore to come to her assistance. He accordingly changed his first intention, and what he had begun from a philosophical, he now carries out in a noble and generous spirit.
He ordered the galleys to be put to sea, and went himself on board with an intention of assisting not only Rectina, but the several other towns which lay thickly strewn along that beautiful coast. Hastening then to the place from whence others fled with the utmost terror, he steered his course direct to the point of danger, and with so much calmness and presence of mind as to be able to make and dictate his observations upon the motion and all the phenomena of that dreadful scene.
He was now so close to the mountain that the cinders, which grew thicker and hotter the nearer he approached, fell into the ships, together with pumice-stones, and black pieces of burning rock: they were in danger too not only of being aground by the sudden retreat of the sea, but also from the vast fragments which rolled down from the mountain, and obstructed all the shore.
Here he stopped to consider whether he should turn back again; to which the pilot advising him, "Fortune," said he, "favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus is." Pomponianus was then at Stabiae, separated by a bay, which the sea, after several insensible windings, forms with the shore. He had already sent his baggage on board; for though he was not at that time in actual danger, yet being within sight of it, and indeed extremely near, if it should in the least increase, he was determined to put to sea as soon as the wind, which was blowing dead in-shore, should go down.
It was favourable, however, for carrying my uncle to Pomponianus, whom he found in the greatest consternation: he embraced him 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.
Meanwhile broad flames shone out in several places from Mount Vesuvius, which the darkness of the night contributed to render still brighter and clearer. But my uncle, in order to soothe the apprehensions of his friend, assured him it was only the burning of the villages, which the country people had abandoned to the flames: after this he retired to rest, and it is most certain he was so little disquieted as to fall into a sound sleep: for his breathing, which, on account of his corpulence, was rather heavy and sonorous, was heard by the attendants outside. The court which led to his apartment being now almost filled with stones and ashes, if he had continued there any time longer, it would have been impossible for him to have made his way out.
So he was awoke and got up, and went to Pomponianus and the rest of his company, who were feeling too anxious to think of going to bed. They consulted together whether it would be most prudent to trust to the houses, which now rocked from side to side with frequent and violent concussions as though shaken from their very foundations; or fly to the open fields, where the calcined stones and cinders, though light indeed, yet fell in large showers, and threatened destruction. In this choice of dangers they resolved for the fields: a resolution which, while the rest of the company were hurried into by their fears, my uncle embraced upon cool and deliberate consideration. They went out then, having pillows tied upon their heads with napkins; and this was their whole defence against the storm of stones that fell round them.
It was now day everywhere else, but there a deeper darkness prevai1ed than in the thickest night; which howevcr was in some degree alleviated by torches and other lights of various kinds. They thought proper to go farther down upon the shore to see if they might safely put out to sea, but found the waves still running extremely high, and boisterous.
There my uncle, laying himself down upon a sail cloth, which was spread for him, called twice for some cold water, which he drank, when immediately the flames, preceded by a strong whiff of sulphur, dispersed the rest of the party, and obliged him to rise. He raised himself up with the assistance of two of his servants, and instantly fell down dead; suffocated, as I conjecture, by some gross and noxious vapour, having always had a weak throat, which was often inflamed.
As soon as it was light again, which was not till the third day after this melancholy accident, his body was found entire, and without any marks of violence upon it, in the dress in which he fell, and looking more like a man asleep than dead.
During all this time my mother and I, who were at Misenum — but this has no connection with your history, and you did not desire any particulars besides those of my uncle's death; so I will end here, only adding that I have faithfully related to you what I was either an eye-witness of myself or received immediately after the accident happened, and before there was time to vary the truth. You will pick out of this narrative whatever is most important: for a letter is one thing, a history another; it is one thing wrIting to a friend, another thing writing to the public.
LXVI (curiosity to know what terrors ...), Gutenberg.
The letter which, in compliance with your request, I wrote to you concerning the death of my uncle has raised, it seems, your curiosity to know what terrors and dangers attended me while I continued at Misenum; for there, I think, my account broke off:
"Though my shock'd soul recoils, my tongue shall tell."
My uncle having left us, I spent such time as was left on my studies (it was on their account indeed that I had stopped behind), till it was time for my bath. After which I went to supper, atmd then fell into a short and uneasy sleep.
There had been noticed for many days before a trembling of the earth, which did not alarm us much, as this is quite an ordinary occurrence in Campania; but it was so particularly violent that night that it not only shook but actually overturned, as it would seem, everything about us. My mother rushed into my chamber, where she found me rising, in order to awaken her. We sat down in the open court of the house, which occupied a small space between the buildings and the sea.
As I was at that time but eighteen years of age, I know not whether I should call my behaviour, in this dangerous juncture, courage or folly; but I took up Livy, and amused myself with turning over that author, and even making extracts from him, as if I had been perfectly at my leisure.
Just then, a friend of my uncle's, who had lately come to him from Spain, joined us, and observing me sitting by my mother with a book in my hand, reproved her for her calmness, and me at the same time for my careless security: nevertheless I went on with my author.
Though it was now morning, the light was still exceedingly faint and doubtful; the buildings all around us tottered, and though we stood upon open ground, yet as the place was narrow and confined, there was no remaining without imminent danger: we therefore resolved to quit the town.
A panic-stricken crowd followed us, and (as to a mind distracted with terror every suggestion seems more prudent than its own) pressed on us in dense array to drive us forward as we came out. Being at a convenient distance from the houses, we stood still, in the midst of a most dangerous and dreadful scene. The chariots, which we had ordered to be drawn out, were so agitated backwards and forwards, though upon the most level ground, that we could not keep them steady, even by supporting them with large stones. The sea seemed to roll back upon itself, and to he driven from its banks by the convulsive motion of the earth; it is certain at least the shore was considerably enlarged, and several sea animals were left upon it.
On the other side, a black and dreadful cloud, broken with rapid, zigzag flashes, revealed behind it variously shaped masses of flame: these last were like sheet-lightning, but much larger. Upon this our Spanish friend, whom I mentioned above, addressing himself to my mother and me with great energy and urgency: "If your brother," he said, "if your uncle be safe, he certainly wishes you may be so too; but if he perished, it was his desire, no doubt, that you might both survive him: why therefore do you delay your escape a moment?" We could never think of our own safety, we said, while we were uncertain of his. Upon this our friend left us, and withdrew from the danger with the utmost precipitation.
Soon afterwards, the cloud began to descend, and cover the sea. It had already surrounded and concealed the island of Capreae and the promontory of Misenum. My mother now besought, urged, even commanded me to make my escape at any rate, which, as I was young, I might easily do; as for herself, she said, her age and corpulency rendered all attempts of that sort impossible; however, she would willingly meet death if she could have the satisfaction of seeing that she was not the occasion of mine. But I absolutely refused to leave her, and, taking her by the hand, compelled her to go with me. She complied with great reluctance, and not without many reproaches to herself for retarding my flight.
The ashes now began to fall upon us, though in no great quantity. I looked back; a dense dark mist seemed to be following us, spreading itself over the country like a cloud. "Let us turn out of the high-road," I said, "while we can still see, for fear that, should we fall in the road, we should be pressed to death in the dark, by the crowds that are following us." We had scarcely sat down when night came upon us, not such as we have when the sky is cloudy, or when there is no moon, but that of a room when it is shut up, and all the lights put out.
You might hear the shrieks of women, the screams of children, and the shouts of men; some calling for their children, others for their parents, others for their husbands, and seeking to recognise each other by the voices that replied; one lamenting his own fate, another that of his family; some wishing to die, from the very fear of dying; some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world. Among these there were some who augmented the real terrors by others imaginary or wilfully invented.
I remember some who declared that one part of Misenum had fallen, that another was on fire; it was false, but they found people to believe them. It now grew rather lighter, which we imagined to be rather the forerunner of an approaching burst of flames (as in truth it was) than the return of day: however, the fire fell at a distance from us: then again we were immersed in thick darkness, and a heavy shower of ashes rained upon us, which we were obliged every now and then to stand up to shake off, otherwise we should have been crushed and buried in the heap.
I might boast that, during all this scene of horror, not a sigh, or expression of fear, escaped me, had not my support been grounded in that miserable, though mighty, consolation, that all mankind were involved in the same calamity, and that I was perishing with the world itself.
At last this dreadful darkness was dissipated by degrees, like a cloud or smoke; the real day returned, and even the sun shone out, though with a lurid light, like when an eclipse is coming on. Every object that presented itself to our eyes (which were extremely weakened) seemed changed, being covered deep with ashes as if with snow.
We returned to Misenum, where we refreshed ourselves as well as we could, and passed an anxious night between hope and fear; though, indeed, with a much larger share of the latter: for the earthquake still continued, while many frenzied persons ran up and down heightening their own and their friends' calamities by terrible predictions. However, my mother and I, notwithstanding the danger we had passed, and that which still threatened us, had no thoughts of leaving the place, till we could receive some news of my uncle.
And now, you will read this narrative without any view of inserting it in your history, of which it is not in the least worthy; and indeed you must put it down to your own request if it should appear not worth even the trouble of a letter.
David Suzuki Gets Lifetime Award: Says Earth in "Far Worse Shape", Marcus Hondro, February 5 2011.
David Suzuki has worked hard to improve the condition of the planet and at 74 years-old he continues to. He's been given a 'Lifetime Achievement Award.'
Well-known Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, who has been working to better the plight of Mother Earth long before it became popular, was made the 18th recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday Feb. 3 2011 at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver.
The city of Vancouver was part of establishing the award and mayor Gregor Robertson was in attendance. Suzuki's message as he accepted was less than encouraging. After 50 years of working in Canada and the world for a planet he revers he told the audience that our Earth is in "far worse shape" than it was when he began and that progress "has gone backwards."
The father of five is the host of The Nature of Things, a CBC science magazine that looks at science, nature and the environment; the show began in 1960 and Suzuki was named host in 1979. Until his retirement in 2001 he was also for 38 years a professor in the genetics department at Vancouver's University of British Columbia.
Suzuki has written more than 50 books and spoken about the environment and how humans are destroying it and his remarks last night show him to be less than optimistic about our species' chances of saving the Earth from a terrible fate. At 74 he said that his age enables him to speak more openly about his concerns.
"I am freed from any desire for fame or money or power and now I can speak the truth that comes from my heart," he said. "I believe that's the role of elders, to look back over a lifetime lived and to try to distill lessons learned in that lifetime to try and pass on to future generations."
Suzuki, from Vancouver, established 'The David Suzuki Foundation' in 1990 as a method of finding ways, he said, " ... for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us." Among many activities the foundation funds studies, such as one published in October of 2010 that said they have found a dozen harmful chemicals in common cosmetics on the shelves in Canada.
The award was presented to Suzuki by the City of Vancouver, who began the award 18 years ago with the Vancouver Library and Pacific Book World News, This year the Writer's Trust of Canada was also a part of presenting the award. Past recipients include Barry Broadfoot, Phyllis Webb, P.K. Page, Alice Munro, Jack Hodgins and W.P. Kinsella.
The night at the Fairmont included Suzuki long-time friend, Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, who presented him with the award; Atwood is an honorary member of the board of the Suzuki Foundation. The event was a fund-raiser and was preceded by Atwood presenting a narrative of her book, 'The Year of the Flood' which included artists from the cast of the stageplay version of the story. Shelagh Rogers of CBC Radio emceed the evening.