gratias maximas to Ruth, who reminded me that today is the anniversary of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Here's an extract from Pliny the younger's famous description of the event, as he observed it from Misenum, across the bay from Pompeii:
iam cinis, adhuc tamen rarus. respicio: densa caligo tergis imminebat, quae nos torrentis modo infusa terrae sequebatur. ‘deflectamus’ inquam ‘dum videmus, ne in via strati comitantium turba in tenebris obteramur.’ vix consideramus, et nox - non qualis illunis aut nubila, sed qualis in locis clausis lumine exstincto.
audires ululatus feminarum, infantum quiritatus, clamores virorum; alii parentes alii liberos alii coniuges vocibus requirebant, vocibus noscitabant; hi suum casum, illi suorum miserabantur; erant qui metu mortis mortem precarentur; multi ad deos manus tollere, plures nusquam iam deos ullos aeternamque illam et novissimam noctem mundo interpretabantur. nec defuerunt qui fictis mentitisque terroribus vera pericula augerent... possem gloriari non gemitum mihi, non vocem parum fortem in tantis periculis excidisse, nisi me cum omnibus, omnia mecum perire misero, magno tamen mortalitatis solacio credidissem.
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… 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.
Pliny the younger, Epistularum libri decem VI.20