Book review: Ashen Sky: The Letters of Pliny the Younger on the Eruption of Vesuvius

Illustrated by Barry Moser


Here’s an interpretation of the two letters of Pliny the Younger to Tacitus, about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Black-and-white wood engravings by artist Barry Moser illustrate the grotesque images described in Pliny’s letters. Moser’s engravings have illustrated more than a hundred books, including Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland.

Ashen Sky is a good title. Ash from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in Italy spread to Egypt, Syria, and Africa, spreading pestilence. Two cities at its base, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were completely buried in ash and lost to history … finally uncovered 1,800 years later by a chance archaeological discovery.

Readers of my book about Revelation will immediately recognize the connection of Mount Vesuvius to my religious book blog. Its eruption eerily mimics the description of fire and brimstone torment in the book of Revelation, and many Bible scholars surmise that the image must have burned itself permanently into the mind of Revelation’s author. Read especially chapter eight, about the seven trumpets.

It’s hard to overestimate the cosmic importance of this event; an eruption of this magnitude happens somewhere on earth about once every 1,000 years. If parts of Revelation begin to sound like the ravings of a madman with a fist full of prophetic scriptures to explain, we can surely pardon its author. So if you’re curious about Revelation’s inspiration and wish to read the letters of Pliny the Younger, you may as well choose a fun picture book to read.

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