My dear Tacitus,
You asked me to write you something about the death of my uncle
Pliny, who died in an unforgettable disaster. I will tell you
all I remember and read in my uncle's notes. I hope you can use
it for the history book that you are writing.
We lived in southern Italy. On the 24th of August in 79 AD,
between two and three in the afternoon my mother drew my uncle’s
attention to a cloud of unusual size and shape. We watched it
rising from a mountain - at such a distance we couldn't tell
which one, but we later learnt that it was Mount Vesuvius. Some
of the cloud was white; in other parts there were dark spots of
dirt and ash. The sight of it awoke the scientist in my uncle to
go and see it from closer at hand.
He ordered a boat to be prepared. As he was leaving the house,
he was brought a letter from his friend's wife Rectina, who was
frightened by the danger. Her house lay at the foot of Vesuvius,
and there was no way out except by boat. She begged him to save
her. He changed his plans. What started out as a trip for
knowledge now called for courage. He hurried to a place from
which others were fleeing, and held his course directly into
danger. Was he afraid? I don't think so, because he wrote a
report about all he observed during his trip.
Ash and bits of rock that were burnt black were falling onto the
ship now, darker and more, the closer they went. He paused for a
moment wondering whether to turn back as the captain urged him.
But after rescuing Rectina he wanted to rescue his friend Pompy.
On the other side of the bay Poppy had made his ships ready even
before the danger arrived. He had to wait for a good wind,
blowing the other way than the one that carried my uncle right
in. Upon arrival my uncle hugged Pompy and tried to give him
courage. In order to help the other calm down, he asked to be
taken to the baths. He bathed and had dinner, giving everyone
the impression that there was no danger at all. After dinner my
uncle said he wanted to sleep, and it seemed as if he really did
so. Flames lighted up many parts of Vesuvius; their light scald
people but my uncle told them that the flames came from the
homes of farmers who had left in a panic with the kitchen fires
still on. Of course this was not true. They discussed what to
do: to stay in the house or to try the open air. There were
earthquakes and a rain of burning rocks was coming down. They
decided to go outside.
They tied pillows on top of their heads as protection against
the shower of asks. It was daylight now in other parts of the
world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any
night. They carried torches. My uncle drank some cold water.
Then came a smell of sulphur, and then flames. Helped by two
slaves he stood up, and immediately fell down dead. When
daylight came again two days after he died, his body was found.
He looked more asleep than dead.
I will stop here. I have written down everything that I saw and
heard while memories are still fresh. You can pick out the
important bits, for it is one thing to write a letter, another
to write history, one thing to write to a friend, another to
write for the public. Farewell.
(Senior English for China Student's Book 2A Unit