UNDER THE VOLCANO                   
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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.

Pliny, the Younger.

 

(Senior English for China  Student's Book 2A  Unit 10   Reading)

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