According to the historian, Dion Cassius, this building, at the time of the eruption, was filled with people, gazing no doubt with bated breath into the dust and blood of the arena, or yelling fiercely at some gladiator's stroke; but, suddenly, the animals refused to fight and made so great an uproar in the dens below that the astonished populace turned their gaze from the arena to the darkening sky, and there beheld the awful declaration of their doom. Think of the fear that must have suddenly blanched every cheek and caused the gladiator's arm to fall, when from that peaceful dome rushed forth the fiery elements of death! Without any warning, a column of smoke burst from the overhanging mountain, and rose to a prodigious height in the clear autumn sky. There it gradually expanded in the form of a gigantic pine tree, till it hid the sun, and cast a shadow over the earth for miles. The people in the houses of the city were equally unprepared. Up to the moment of the eruption, that fifth day1 of November, in the year 79, had been beautiful, and the sky cloudless. Vesuvius looked down peacefully upon the lovely shore which it was soon to devastate, even more tranquil in appearance than it is to-day, as no smoke then emerged from its destruction-breathing cone. Nothing was feared from it, for it had not exhibited any signs of activity within the memory of man, and its smooth, cultivated slopes spoke only of fertility. The dreadful suddenness of the calamity is proved by the fact that in the houses almost everything has been discovered in its accustomed place. Bread was in the ovens, and meat and fowl were half cooked. In one mansion, a dining-table was found covered with petrified dishes and surrounded by bronze couches, the occupants of which had, doubtless, risen from their banquet to struggle for their lives. The darkness speedily deepened into the blackness of night, illumined only by terrific lightning from the sulphurous clouds. Soon a thick shower of ashes fell to the depth of about three feet. Then came a rain of hot pumice-stones, seven or eight feet deep, setting the city in a blaze of fire. Meanwhile the earth rocked with repeated shocks, and through the thick and suffocating air resounded peals of thunder, like salvos of artillery from the walls of heaven. Even those who finally reached a place of safety were nearly dead from terror and exhaustion.
The Temple Of Venus.
1 The generally accepted date of the catastrophe has been August 24, a.d. 79, but November 5th is mentioned in one ancient manuscript as the time of the eruption, and the historian. Dion Cassius, also, says that it took place in the autumn. The discovery in the ruins of fruits and nuts which botanists state positively do not ripen till November, and could not have been there had the city been destroyed in August, confirms the probability that the later date is the correct one.
A Pompeian Family.
Perhaps the most successful historical novel ever written is Bulwer's "Last Days of Pompeii." Its incidents come back to us at every step; and, in imagination, we trace the pathway of the blind girl - Nydia -who, in the dreadful darkness that prevailed, was by means of her very infirmity able to find her way, and thus conduct her lover - Glaucus - to the sea. How marvelous is the power of a skillful novelist! As London is forever peopled for us with the characters of Dickens, so are Pompeii's silent streets made real to us by our remembrance of Arbaces, Glaucus, Nydia and Ione. That Bulwer's fiction is, however, no exaggeration of the terrible reality, we can be easily convinced by looking on the bodies which have been discovered in the ruins.
It is evident that there came a time when flight was no longer possible. Those who had taken refuge in their cellars were destined to remain there until liberated by explorers in the nineteenth century. If any emerged, they were struck down by red-hot stones, or suffocated by the whirling ashes. Thus, panting for breath, groping in the darkness, not knowing where to turn, and blocked by the piles of pumice-stones which had been falling steadily for hours, and had already reached the windows of the first floors of their houses, they soon fell prostrate, and were buried in the constantly increasing mass. The most of those who perished probably lingered too long, in order to secure their property. Beside one woman's body, for example, were found two heavy bracelets, several rings of gold, and a well-filled purse. Another body discovered in Pompeii is that of an old man around whose waist is the mark of a money-belt containing gold and jewels, the efforts to secure which probably cost him his life.