When the peak of Mount Vesuvius erupted in a volcano on August 24, 79, everybody in the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum was caught by surprise. Lacking today’s technology which can predict when a volcano might erupt, the 12 noon catastrophe left for future generations a picture of devastation and the daily activities of the two cities that no historian could have written.
About 20,000 people lived in Pompeii and 5,000 in Herculaneum. Both cities were prosperous, evidenced by gambling in Herculaneum and a brothel in Pompeii.
The evidence of the licentiousness and frivolous lifestyles unearthed by archaeologists in the 18th to the 20th centuries has provided ammunition to preachers of doom and extremists to read “brimstone, fire and pestilence” into the catastrophe to warn against present-day immorality. However, according to Pliny the Younger, volcanic ash and pumice stones rained on Pompeii for 12 hours during which time many of the inhabitants fled in terror.
It was the next day, August 25 when the people who remained in the city were killed by a lethal cloud of toxic gas and were subsequently buried by the flow of rock and ash that followed. After 18 hours, Pompeii was buried under 14 -17 feet of ash and pumice. Herculaneum in turn was buried under 60 feet of mud and volcanic material.
The point to consider here is not “brimstone, fire and pestilence”, or ash, wind and rocks, but action versus inaction. It is hard to predict the outcome of a catastrophe – that is why it is a catastrophe! Probably less people would have perished but for the inaction.
Today too, we face moments of decision all the time. In moments of impending hurricanes and possible tornadoes, warnings are issued. Still, many people remain petrified with indecision. In personal matters too – be they health issues, relationships or lifestyles changes – decision far outweighs indecision.