Wellness Check: Mount Vesuvius

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Mount Vesuvius in 2016. (Photo by R. Halfpaap)

In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying the nearby cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae. Though Vesuvius had erupted before, this was the first time that a large number of humans had been around to notice, and most found it a very rude and over-the-top way for the volcano to announce itself. The destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the cities’ almost perfect preservation in volcanic ash, have allowed this eruption to live on throughout history. Children growing up in far-off places like Illinois learn about Pompeii and, hence, to fear volcanoes (also known as murder mountains), at least until they realize that there are none around. Then, once a few years have passed, they learn about the Yellowstone supervolcano and realize that they do, in fact, have to worry about volcanoes. But I digress.

Vesuvius has erupted since 79 A.D. and has generally tried to be as obstructive as possible when doing it. Along with killing people and repeatedly causing damage to Naples and other nearby cities, which is always a nuisance, recent Vesuvius eruptions have also been wildly inconvenient. When Vesuvius erupted in 1906, Italy was preparing to host the 1908 Summer Olympics. Though the games were to be held in Rome, it was decided that the money meant for them should be diverted to the reconstruction of Naples. The 1908 Summer Olympics were instead held in London, and Rome would not host until 1960. Very anti-patriotic on Vesuvius’ part, to say the least. Vesuvius’ last eruption was in 1944, because there’s no better time to erupt than during a world war. Talk about an attention hog.

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Mount Vesuvius during its April 1872 eruption. (Library of Congress)

The 1944 eruption was almost 77 years ago now, and one has to wonder: What has Mount Vesuvius been up to? What’s it doing? This past summer, I was meant to visit Naples in order to see the beautiful city, try the delicious pizza, and throw myself into Mount Vesuvius’ hellish depths in sacrifice. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with these plans, which means that we still have no idea what Vesuvius is up to. Scientists will claim that Vesuvius is dormant — merely sleeping; taking a little cat nap. This is true, but, from a non-scientific perspective, it is probably also true that Vesuvius is plotting. After a sabbatical of over 75 years, one has to plan a dramatic return. Mount Vesuvius is currently considered one of the most dangerous murder mountains in the world due to the over three million people living in its wake (including Naples, Italy’s third-largest city), including 600,000 people in the danger zone. In other words, Vesuvius, like most murder mountains, cannot be trusted.

Besides its repeated inclusion on lists of Volcanoes to Worry About, the most recent Vesuvius-related news has been the discovery that Pompeii had fast food. While Vesuvius rules history classes, the modern news tends to be dominated by Mount Etna, which is always putting on a show. And so, Vesuvius sleeps, and Vesuvius waits. Meanwhile, murder mountain experts and the Italian authorities worry. Meanwhile, I still dream of a day when I can climb to its peak and toss myself into the abyss.

Wellness check: Mount Vesuvius is well. It is merely sleeping. Try to be quiet — it would be a shame to wake it.

Cat mom, librarian, and writer in Chicago.

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