by Dr. Mary K. Lindberg
Herculaneum, Italy, 79 CE

I am Ariosto and I keep knowledge alive. I love my job.
After my master Antony Maximus Fronto freed me
on my 30th birthday, I was hired to copy ancient texts,
safeguard philosophy scrolls in his villa’s library.

One day he requested a rare imperial seal. As I looked
for a key, ceiling lamps swayed, walls shimmied. Earthquake?
I fell back, loud crack, heavy pounding above. I was shocked
to see precious papyrus scrolls slide off shelves, surround me.

I bent over a see-sawing floor, crab-walked to the door.
Outside, guards thundered: Run to the sea! Sharp stones
will bury us alive. People tried to run in ankle-deep mounds
of tiny stones. Not a quake. No time to take sacred books.

Antony’s family rushed out, I threw blankets over them,
navigated through streets hammered by black hail. Shouts, cries
of terrorized animals — dark dissonance. Endless downpour,
sharp tuff. Children? Julius! Julia! Cerberus! Where are you?

Battering stops. Sunless silence wraps us like a charlatan’s cloak.
No one could have imagined beforehand what would happen
that night, when Vesuvius ignited gaseous flows hot enough
to boil our insides at Aurora’s rise. I wept.

I wept for my family, whom I never found, but more for countless
thinkers, whose words probed the meaning of human nature, our
existence. Their ideas, knowledge, discoveries — gone. Forever.
I yearned to embrace all the library’s scrolls in my arms.

Back Button