We're in Pompeii and today is "Volcano Day"

The Doctor fights off a magma creature in Pompeii.

Now, most of the time I talk about why I started this blog, I talk about the eruption of Chaiten in Chile as the catalyst. However, if you look back at my archives, you'll see that one of my first posts was on the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii" - so that might also be a good marker to point to on why I started this blog. Why do I bring this up? Well, Pompeii gets mentioned a couple times in the first few seasons of the revived Doctor Who. First off, when the Doctor meets Capt. Jack Harkness (a time-traveling huckster), Capt. Jack mentions that one of this favorite scams is to sell some alien a faked object and asks them to meet in Pompeii on the morning of the day that Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. - "volcano day" as he calls it. That way, the fake is buried in the eruption before the scammed buyer can figure it out, and Capt. Jack is long gone. However, later in the episode, one of Capt. Jack's scams (this one set in WWII London) backfires badly and the Doctor says something to the effect of "we're in Pompeii, and today is volcano day!"

Well, sure enough, today is "Volcano Day"! The eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii - and lead Pliny to write his Letters that birthed volcanology occurred (at least we think) on August 24, 79 A.D. So, eat some olives in memory of those who perished over 1,900 years ago - and hope that Naples is prepared the next time Vesuvius rumbles so that we don't repeat "Volcano Day".

Ash casts of the victims of the 79 A.D. of Vesuvius.

UPDATE: While we're at it, here are a few articles about the anniversary. I'll add any more I run across (and feel free to add your own in the comments).
- CBS News: Not much content, but some decent images (real and fake).
- Jerusalem Post: Pompeii as God's retribution.

More like this

I am certainly glad we here in the U.S. do not have such a combination of caldera and dangerous stratovolcano nearly in the heart of a major city. I likely live in the US's closest example as I work in Seattle near where they have found some of the lahar deposits from Mt. Rainier. Of course Nevada Del Ruiz not withstanding, its generally easier to out run flowing mud, than a pyroclastic flow. I enjoy following you on Twitter!

Well said, Erik. I will eat some olives companied with a good Italian wine. As a coincidence I'm reading "Vesuvius: A Biography" by Alwyn Scarth, at the moment. Interesting book, gives a living overview and eye witness reports of eruptions up to 1944.

By Peter Tibben (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Well, there is Mt. Tabor in eastern Portland Oregon..
Had a relative who lived on it's slopes and was
alarmed when her kid came home to say that he learned
in School that Tabor could possibly erupt. So she moved to
Hood River....

By Douglas DC (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

IIRC there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that the 79CE eruption took place in late September or early October rather than August. Amongst the findings from Pompeii were labels for that season's wine which would not have been ready in August, preserved fresh fruit found in the ash is from the autumn harvest, and what clothing has been reconstructed suggests temperatures were cooler than those found in a Neapolitan August.

The Doctor Who story you mention is a bit rubbish, but the eruption itself looks amazing before they let the show down by including the obligatory fire fountains - sigh...

By Mike Richards (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Shane: Yes, it's easier in theory to escape from a lahar (just run UPHILL!) than a pyroclastic flow, but don't count on that...remember that for a high steep-sided stratovolcano, lahars travel much farther (down river valleys) than most pyroclastic flows..look at Cotopaxi, del Ruiz, Mayon

...and Rainier

Erik: hadn't typed you as a Dr Who fan, they get everywhere :o)

Every since I was a kid, Vesuvius inspired me great awe, not only for the motion picture "The last days of Pompeii" but specially for the fact that one of the outstanding mentors of the Brazilian republic, journalist Silva Jardim, lost his life there in July, 1891. According to Wikipedia (Port.):
"At 31 years old, visiting Pompeii, Italy, and curious to know the volcano Vesuvius, despite having been warned that it could erupt at any moment, he was swallowed by a crack that opened up in the crater of the mountain... It's not known if it was an accident or a voluntary act"
Thought this fact might have some interest to my fellow bloggers.

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

With Rainier, (potential) M9+ earthquakes every 300 years and giant tsunamis with less than 10 mins advance warning, I'd say Seattle is a far more dangerous place to live in than Naples. Tonight, I will eat my olives and have a glass of Chianti, but as I do, I hope there will not ever be a corresponding night of fusion and Starbuck's.

Speaking of Dr Who, weren't the Daleks recently voted best monsters of all time or suchlike?

By Henrik, Swe (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

There is an other eruption which was documented at this time. The eruption of Methana near Athens around 230 BC.

Nevertheless the Vesuvius eruption of 79 has a better standing. Why?

Walter: as I understand it, the Methana eruption is known from the writings of a Greek historian (? -too lazy to look up exactly who) many years after the event, and the description is rather short on detail. Pliny's letters, OTOH, were written by an eyewitness, only a year or two later, and the details he mentions have largely been confirmed as accurate by later research

Henrik, up until reading the "girl with the dragon tatoo" series by Steig Larsson, I too thought Seattle was more dangerous than Sweden, but I'm not so sure now!

The ash casts of the Pompeii victims are an especially poignant reminder of this event. For me, they are hard to look at without thinking about those last agonizing moments captured in ash 'negatives' (the plaster casts are the 3-D 'positives' result).


We had a very good discussion here on the events preceding and following Pompeii and Vesuvius, not too long ago. It would be good to link it to this thread.

Diane will know.

Yes, I remember the thread, and by that time I related the unique experience I had visiting Pompeii in a lucky day, totally void of tourists. The view of the corpses doesn't leave my mind.
BTW Isn't steaming up Eyjaf a bit unusual for a dormant volcano?

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

#10 @Henrik, Swe:
Awesome, indeed. I always thought Mt. Somma as being a different vent from the system, but the article shows a terrible perspective for the future of Naples. I crossed the slope from Pompey to Naples by train, and I had the crater to my right, and Herculaenum to my left. You could see the lava paths right beneath the railroad. And all those villages... wonder how they can get any sleep at all.

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Boris doesn't think there is much risk. I'm not quite so sure.

However, you asked about Eyjaf. Not done yet, just a lull. Autumn, probably.

World feeling the heat as 17 countries experience record temperatures.


No tree ring proxy data. The deviation residuals timeline plot looks like it may have been...on a toasty trend of warming, in 79AD.

Now would be a good time for UK and Europe to think about advising their good folk to consider vacationing near home.

So much less catastrophic for all, because La Nina is back in action with consequences for the NAO and those blocking patterns that are returning. Planning ahead would be a Good Thing.

@11 Doug (and book tip of Pompeii for the rest):

Ah, a proponent of Swedish crime novells. We do have an awfull lot of writers churning out them. On a yearly basis a couple of thousand swedes get fictionally killed in them. I think our writers fascination with murders have to do with the rather few real ones we have. Sometimes I even think that our prospective murderers instead write about murders...
But the english aren't bad at it either. The poor village of Midsummer has about 50 murders a year, which is good going with a population of about 500...

For those of you who can read in swedish I recommend the book Pompeji by Maja Lundgren. It is set in the last days of Vesuvius, really well researched and you will learn all about what the graphiti in Pompeii really means;) Let me just say that I have never learned so many "bad" words in good latin ever. So if you really want to learn the meaning of fututrix and read about how Vesuvius leaves Vulcanus for an unfullfilled lovestory with Krakatau, don't miss this one.

By Carl on Books (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Just saw that Maja Lundgrens Pompeji actually is translated from Swedish into French (Pompéi), German (Der Tiger vom Pompeji) and of course in Spanish (Pompeya).
So now everyone can pick which of the four languages to read, no one left out:)

Me myself would have liked it in the penultimate world-language, but it seems that the Vatican didn't want to explain some of the words in it... So no Latin-version.
I guess I will have to stick with the latin edition of Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis lovingly translated so the cardinals would get it.

By Carl on Books … (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Doug, any place can prove lethal if you're ignorant of its dangers, even cotton-wool-wrapped Sweden. That said, I suspect that out of all nationalities, Swedes are at the greatest risk when abroad. Tarot triumph 0...

Renato, I'm glad you had the same epiphany as I had when going on Professor Dutch's "Virtual Field Trip" to Vesuvius 79AD. *Only* VEI 5, strewth! Have you checked out his "The Missoula Floods" yet?

Carl, "Romanes eunt domus"?

By Henrik, Swe (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Well it would have been hard for them to go home since both Pompeii and Herculeanum was a part of Rome then:)

"Nemo saltat sobrius, nisi forte vulcanit!" as Plinius said after the first ever volcanoparty.
For those that are not fully fluid in latin that would be "Nobody dances sober, except the volcano!". We should all get t-shirts with that imprint...

By Carl in Latin (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Carl, the full quote is - "What's this, then? 'Romanes Eunt Domus'? 'People called Romanes they go the house'? ("Life of Brian", scene 9) In a very round-about way, I'm saying that staying at or close to home is what killed so many of them. Same phenomenon as observed at Armero and other places threatened by natural disasters. Because we are attached to our worldly possesions, we will delay departure until it's too late. Has also been expressed as "Given the choice between two courses of actions where the first gives a short-term advantage (keeping our possessions safe) but a long-term disadvantage (losing both them and our lives) and the second which give a short-term disadvantage (we lose our possessions) but a long-time advantage (we keep our lives and can rebuild), people will invariably chose the first and hope the second never comes to pass".

By Henrik, Swe (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Romani ite domum, but I prefer the Brianistic version for so many reasons... Or why not "Romani ite fimiaedum?"

Sorry, that was the best version I could come up with for the word "skithus" this early in the morning:)

Rumex pro decessio thema!

Henrik, quis ego contemno plurimus latinem est grammar. Tamen, est valde tripudium facio sursum novus lacuna huic aevum latinem lingua.
Tergum ut vulcanum!

@ Carl, Doug and other book lovers:
Talking about novels (and apart from the fact that I just spent another night reading the Swedish Larsson trilogy mentioned above), I just wanted to add Pompeii by Robert Harris to the Vesuvius-related novels worth reading. I thought it was a great novel (another one on the last days of Pompeii) and it was also one of the factors that originally got me interested in volcanoes.

By Anita in Austria (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

@Carl and @Henrik, Swe
You guys sound like true "Illuminati". Deo gracias.
Thanks for the books tips, but I'd rather pick the neo latin versions, since my ancestors are some of those who succeeded in fleeing from Pompeii when they heard "Ite domus!".
But they escaped fire to fall into a warming pan:
In my country, unfortunately, many of us are actually killed by criminality, thence our lack of passion for murder novels. And you bet the figures are higher than all of Vesuvius casualties summed up.

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

"Rumex pro decessio thema!" Err...? About ten past twelve I'd say. My "latin" never progressed beyond the Asterix stage, y'see. :( On the other hand, "the house" is fully adequate to convey the correct idea to native BrE speakers, although you could alternatively use the prevalent northern colloquial for "swamp" or "marsh". ;)

Renato, I'm glad your ancestors made the correct call. Btw, how do you know?

By Enricus, Sueci… (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

"Rumex pro decessio thema!" is in neo-latin Sorry for going OT! :)

Tergum ut vulcanum! = Back to the Volcanos!

#25 They were all smokers. ;)
Tergum ut vulcanum: Eyjaf has stopped smoking, for now.

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

The thing about Naples is that it is not just Vesuvius which is a deadly threat to the city. Vesuvius is not even the nearest volcano to Naples! That dubious honour goes to Campi Flegri, parts of which (including an active crater!) are within the western suburbs of the city itself. Beyond those two volcanoes there is also the island of Ischia to the west which whilst not nearly such a threat to the city is still within a short enough distance for significant ash fall to be a problem, and if there was a catastrophic collapse eruption for a tsunami to be a big problem for the city.

With respect to tsunamis we also have to consider the recently discovered rather large submarine volcanoes to the west of Naples as well.

By David Newton (not verified) on 25 Aug 2010 #permalink

Hey, what about the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars? Pliny the Younger stated that the eruption occurred on what we call August 24. But that observation was based on the Julian calendar, which I believe differs from the Gregorian calendar now by 13 days. So doesn't that push Volcano Day back to, um, Sept 6?

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