No volcano?

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No volcano?

Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Wed Mar 02, 2005 5:42 pm

Salvete Romani,

I heard a strange thing the other day, someone told me there isn't a Latin word for "Volcano". This struck me as being rather odd seeing as two of their cities got destroyed by one.

However, my knowledge of the Latin language is basic at best and I'd like to know if this is true. If so, what word would you suggest to describe a volcano with?

Valete,
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Postby Q Valerius on Wed Mar 02, 2005 11:08 pm

Vulcanus was the God of the Forge and IIRC personified as a volcano, but think, volcanoes didn't need to exist until after 79 AD. Vesuvius was merely a mons.
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:50 pm

Salvete omnes,

I checked my old Latin dictionary and there it says as translation for volcano:

mons ex cuius vertice flammae erumpunt

I was reading the novel "Pompeii" by Robert Harris and his main charackter Marcus Attilius Primus had to deal with the aquaeduct Augusta where there were problems with the water supply shortly before the eruption of the volcano. He was referring to Greek texts about mons Etna where it was identified as a volcano and when comparing these texts to what was happening around Pompeii he realized that the mons Vesuvius must be a volcano shortly before an eruption as well. But the people of that area weren't aware of it.

This might be only a novel but I guess that Robert Harris thought there must've been a reason why so many people died in Aug. 79 simply because they weren't aware of the danger. If they'd known mons Vesuvius is a volcano they could've interpreted the quakes before as an upcoming eruption and would've taken precautions. If I'm not mistaken the last eruption before that was so long ago that nobody could remember it, that maybe that aerea wasn't as highly populated than it was in Roman times.
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Postby P. Scribonius Martialis on Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:52 pm

I heard a strange thing the other day, someone told me there isn't a Latin word for "Volcano". This struck me as being rather odd seeing as two of their cities got destroyed by one.

However, my knowledge of the Latin language is basic at best and I'd like to know if this is true. If so, what word would you suggest to describe a volcano with?


Pliny the Younger talks about the death of his father (Pliny the Elder, the Natural Historian) in book VI, letter XVI of his famous collection of letters. Pliny the Elder died, as I'm sure we all know, at Pompeii, after being overcome by the sulphurous fumes. His son, who could observe the column of ash and smoke, describes the eruption and relates an account of his father's death. The interesting thing is that he always refers to Vesuvius as a "mons". But...

Nubes - incertum procul intuentibus ex quo monte (Vesuvium fuisse postea cognitum est) - oriebatur.


The cloud was rising - it was uncertain from afar from which mountain (Afterwards it was known to be Vesuvius)

So there is evidence that there was some discussion or uncertainty from which mountain the cloud rose. But they did know it came from a mountain - so they must have known about volcanos, even if they didn't have a word for them.
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Postby P. Scribonius Martialis on Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:55 pm

This might be only a novel but I guess that Robert Harris thought there must've been a reason why so many people died in Aug. 79 simply because they weren't aware of the danger. If they'd known mons Vesuvius is a volcano they could've interpreted the quakes before as an upcoming eruption and would've taken precautions. If I'm not mistaken the last eruption before that was so long ago that nobody could remember it, that maybe that aerea wasn't as highly populated than it was in Roman times.


Then perhaps scholars were aware of them, but the ordinary plebs did not - after all they lived in an age without universal schooling or newspapers or TV.
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Postby Q Valerius on Mon Mar 07, 2005 2:25 am

I doubt they knew them very well, why else would Pliny the Elder go to the mountain to investigate (being a naturalist and all).
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Postby P. Scribonius Martialis on Mon Mar 07, 2005 10:18 pm

I doubt they knew them very well, why else would Pliny the Elder go to the mountain to investigate (being a naturalist and all).


I was going to say that it was down to scholarly curiosity, but then I remembered that he asked his son to come along.

Hmmm...rereading it, this seems to be germane:

Egrediebatur domo; accipit codicillos Rectinae Tasci imminenti periculo exterritae (nam villa eius subiacebat, nec ulla nisi navibus fuga): ut se tanto discrimini eriperet orabat. Vertit ille consilium et quod studioso animo incohaverat obit maximo.

As he was leaving home, he received a message from Rectina, Tascius' wife, who was terrified by the danger, because her villa lay at the foot of the mountain and could only be reached by boat. She begged him to rescue her from her fate. He changed his plan and what he began in the spirit of a scholar he performed with that of a hero


And I'm aware that doesn't meet your high standards for literal translation Mr W but it will do for the time being :)

So it seems that, according to Pliny the Younger, he went to rescue one of his acquaintances.

I'm a bit puzzled by the part later in the letter where it says he has a bath and a bit of a sleep. One would think he'd be keen to get out of there as quickly as possible. Perhaps the wind was not favourable?
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Tue Mar 08, 2005 3:06 am

Read a little further in Pliny's letter about his uncle's death. I think he does mention something about the winds being unfavorable, and it is while waiting for the winds to change that Plinius the Elder bathes.

In his Historia Naturalis, Plinius the Elder mentions Mt Etna as "a source of wonder at night because of its fires." He also mentions some other places, like sulfurous Lake Avernus and the Campanian hotsprings, which we would know resulted from volcanic activity. Even if Plinius and other Romans would have associated together the sulfurous fumes, hotsprings, and lava flows as they knew from Mt. Etna, Vesuvius had been inactive. When it did erupt it was unlike Mt. Etna. They believed that each mountain had its own characteristic spirits, each manifesting in different ways. Not all mountains were volcanic, but each had its own dangers, each one was unique. How they perceived the world did not exactly lend itself to their formulating a concept of volcanoes to explain all the activities with which they were familiar.
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Antepenultimate Vesuvius

Postby Aldus Marius on Tue Mar 08, 2005 7:04 am

Avete, amici...

(I can't believe I haven't been bounced off the Board yet! I've even been to Artium!!) >({|:-D

It is more than true that, prior to AD 79, the last time Vesuvius Mons had an 'episode' Campania was not thickly-inhabited. Indeed, it was not humanly-inhabited at all...I don't have the exact timeframe, but it was in the 10- to 13-thousands BC...

So let us relieve the poor Patricians from the suspicion of knowing it might erupt and keeping it from the Plebs.

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Postby Q Valerius on Tue Mar 08, 2005 11:19 am

Well, when I was doing Pliny translations (oh the good ol' days) there seemed to be several things absurd with Pliny the Younger's text, parts about odd sleeping habits and such, but one thing I noticed was the exaggerated portrayal of his uncle. It's obvious that he wanted to make him look as good as possible, so it's not entirely inconceivable that the claim of "rescue" is either fabricated or largely exaggerated.
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Postby Q Valerius on Tue Mar 08, 2005 11:24 am

P. Scribonius Martialis wrote:And I'm aware that doesn't meet your high standards for literal translation Mr W but it will do for the time being :)

Ha! Where did you hear about my strict standards of translation? Did I already mention them on this board?
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