Plzeňské sympozia

Jana Kepartová

Reflections of the ancient Vesuvius disaster in 19th century Czech journalism

pp. 252–266 (Czech), Summary 264–265 ((English), 265–266 (Deutsch)

We know the description of the Vesuvius explosion long ago from antique times, as it was sent to Tacitus the historian by an eye-witness of this disaster, Pliny the Younger, the nephew of the natural scientist Pliny the Elder, who was moved first by scientific curiosity and ultimately by the desire to help those affected to sail closer to the volcano, so paying with his life. This description was first presented to Czech society in an abridged free translation in 1816 in Prvotiny pěkných umění (First Elements of Fine Arts) and it was not until 41 years later that Josef Jireček's translation found its way into the reading book for the lower grammar school third year class. This translation by Jireček came out 46 years later in v Pražák's book Mrtvé město Pompeje (The Dead City of Pompeii), although it had previously appeared in various interpretations and journal contributions, as well as in children's reading. The first Czech reporter on Vesuvius and its environs, who knew these locations from an autopsy was the National Revival poet, writer and aide-de-camp to Baron Koller, Milota Zdirad Polák. His reports were published in instalments in Dobroslav between 1820 and 1822 and published as a book forty years later. From the 1860s, reports on the Neapolitan landscape, dominated by Vesuvius and often admired following an exhausting ascent to the summit, became widespread. On these occasions mention was usually made of the destruction of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae in ancient times. In addition to descriptions of trips up the active volcano some authors also dealt with the aftermath of that cataclysmic explosion, informing Czech readers of the newly discovered sites once buried under Vesuvius. Vesuvius, which was generally well-known in this country, could even become a symbol, and some writers used it to express various feelings, ideas and attitudes towards politics at that time, both in serious and unserious ways.

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