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The classical world witnessed many forms of landscape change in its physical geography, mostly due to longer-term geological and climatological processes, whilst only a minority were due purely to human action. The physical environment of Greek and Roman societies saw alterations through earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, sea-level fluctuations, erosion, and alluviation.

Already in Greek antiquity, Plato (Critias iii) observed how the Aegean physical landscape was being worn down over time as erosion from the uplands filled the lowland plains. Indeed, the Mediterranean region is amongst the most highly erodible in the world.1 However, scientific research in the field known as geoarchaeology has revealed a more complex picture than a continuous degradation of the ancient countryside.2

To uncover a more realistic picture of Mediterranean landscape change, the element of timescales proves to be central, and here the framework developed by the French historian Fernand Braudel3 provides the appropriate methodology. Braudel envisaged the Mediterranean past as created through the interaction of dynamic forces operating in parallel but on different “wavelengths” of time: the Short Term (observable within a human lifetime or less), the Medium Term (centuries or more, not clearly cognisant to contemporaries), and the Long Term (up to as much as thousands or millions of years, not at all in the awareness of past human agents).


Aetna, of unknown authorship, is an example of Latin didactic poetry. It aims to explain the volcanic activity of Mt. Etna (see Aetna (1)). The poem, included in the so-called Appendix Vergiliana, is ascribed to Virgil in our earliest manuscripts and included amongst his juvenilia by the Vita Donati, where, however, doubt is expressed about its authenticity. Few, if any, would now maintain this ascription or any of the other attributions that have been suggested. The poem predates the eruption of Vesuvius in 79ce, for it describes the volcanic activity of the Naples region as extinct. It is generally agreed to postdate Lucretius, and it likely alludes to Virgil and M. Manilius. Because of its resemblances to Seneca’s Natural Questions, and because Seneca himself shows no knowledge of the poem, a late-Neronian or Vespasianic date is perhaps probable, but an earlier date cannot be ruled out.Ancient authors tended to focus on particular examples of volcanic activity instead of generalizing about a broader category. Nevertheless, the devotion of an entire work to Aetna seems to have been unprecedented. The Aetna poet offers an explanation of the volcano as a purely natural phenomenon.



Liba Taub

In classical times, wind was in some cases understood to be a god, or as being under the influence of a god; it was understood by some to be a phenomenon liable to prediction and/or explanation as a natural (often regarded as seismic) phenomenon. Wind was important for navigation, agriculture and town planning, as well as managing health and disease.Wind, and both its beneficial and destructive powers, features importantly in the earliest Greek texts. Individual winds are themselves gods, or associated with gods. The epic poets offer names for several specific winds: Boreas (the north wind; Op. 505–518), Notus (south), and Zephyrus (west) are described by Hesiod as sons of Astraeus and Eos (Theog. 378–380; see also 869–880), while a fourth wind, Eurus, also features in the Homeric poems (Od. 5.295); other, unnamed winds are also mentioned. Such conceptions of wind pervaded Graeco-Roman popular culture. Aristotle refers to painters’ depictions of wind (Mete.