I do not live in this world alone, but in a thousand worlds (Uncertain clouds)

Pliny the Younger’s eyewitness account of Vesuvius erupting, as written in his second letter (VI: 20) to Tacitus, transcribed with ink on soluble paper, dissolved, and presented in a glass vial.

Text used in the creation of the artwork: “Meanwhile, my mother and I had stayed at Misenum. After my uncle left us, I studied, dined and went to bed, but slept only fitfully. We had earth tremors for several days, which were not especially alarming, because they happen so often in Campania. But that night they were so violent that everything felt as if it were being shaken and turned over. My mother came hurrying to my room and we sat together in the forecourt facing the sea. By six o’clock, the dawn light was still only dim. The buildings around were already tottering and we would have been in danger in our confined space if our house had fallen down. The made us decide to leave town. We were followed by a panic-stricken crowd that chose to follow someone else’s judgement rather than decide anything for themselves. We stopped once we were out of town and then some extraordinary and alarming things happened. The carriages we had ordered began to lurch to and fro, although the ground was flat, and we could not keep them still even when we wedged their wheels with stones. Then we saw the sea sucked back, apparently by an earthquake, and many sea creatures were left stranded on the dry sand. From the other direction over the land, a dreadful black cloud was torn by gushing flames and great tongues of fire like much-magnified lightning.

The cloud sank down soon afterwards and covered the sea, hiding Capri and Capo Misenum from sight. My mother begged me to leave her and escape as best I could, but I took her hand and made her hurry along with me. Ash was already falling by now, but not very thickly. Then I turned around and saw a thick black cloud advancing over the land behind us like a flood. “Let us leave the road while we can still see”, I said, “or we will be knocked down and trampled by the crowd.”We had hardly sat down to rest when the darkness spread over us. But is was not the darkness of a moonless or cloudy night, but it was just as if the lamps had been put out in a completely closed room.

We could hear women shrieking, children crying and men shouting. Some were calling for their parents, their children, or their wives, and trying to recognise them by their voices. Some people were so frightened of dying that they actually prayed for death. Many begged for the help of the gods, but even more imagined that there were no gods left and that the last eternal night had fallen on the world. There were also those who added to our real perils by inventing fictitious dangers. Some claimed that part of Misenum had collapsed or that another part was on fire. It was untrue, but they could always find somebody to believe them.

A glimmer of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of approaching fire rather than daylight. But the fires stayed some distance away. The darkness came back and ash began to fall again, this time in heavier showers. We had to get up from times to time to shake it off, or we would have been crushed and buried under its weight. I could boast that I never expressed any fear at this time, but I was only kept going by the consolation that the whole world was perishing with me.

After a while, the darkness paled into smoke or cloud, and the real daylight returned, but the Sun shone as wanly as during an eclipse. We were amazed by what we saw, because everything had changed and was buried deep in ash like snow. We went back to Misenum and spent an anxious night switching between hope and fear. Fear was uppermost because the earth tremors were still continuing and the hysterics still kept on making their alarming forecasts.”