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A boat trip in the Bay of Naples, December 1818;
from The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (3)
off an hour after sunrise one radiant morning
in a little boat: there was not a cloud in the sky,
nor a wave upon the sea, which was so translucent that
you could see the hollow caverns clothed with the
glaucous sea-moss, and the leaves and branches of
those delicate weeds that pave the unequal bottom of
As noon approached, the heat, and
especially the light, became intense. We passed
Posillipo and came first to the eastern point of the
bay of Pozzuoli, which is within the great bay of
Naples, and which again incloses that of Baiæ. Here
are lofty rocks and craggy islets, with arches and
portals of precipice standing in the sea, and enormous
caverns, which echoed faintly with the murmur of the
languid tide. This is called La Scuola di Virgilio.
We then went directly across to
the promontory of Misenum, leaving the precipitous
island of Nisida on the right. Here we were conducted
to see the Mare
Morto, and the Elysian Fields; the spot on
which Virgil places the scenery of the Sixth Æneid.
Though extremely beautiful, as a lake, and woody
hills, and this divine sky must make it, I confess my
disappointment. The guide showed us an antique
cemetery, where the niches used for placing the
cinerary urns of the dead yet remain.
We then coasted the bay of Baiæ to the left, in which we saw many picturesque and interesting ruins; but I have to remark that we never disembarked but we were disappointed - while from the boat the effect of the scenery was inexpressibly delightful. The colours of the water and the air breathe over all things here the radiance of their own beauty. After passing the bay of Baiæ, and observing the ruins of its antique grandeur standing like rocks in the transparent sea under our boat, we landed to visit lake Avernus. We passed through the cavern of the Sybil (not Virgil's Sybil) which pierces one of the hills which circumscribe the lake, and came to a calm and lovely basin of water, surrounded by dark and woody hills and profoundly solitary. Some vast ruins of the temple of Pluto stand on a lawny hill on one side of it, and are reflected in its windless mirror.
Passing onward we came to Pozzuoli, the ancient Dicæarchea, where there are the columns remaining of a temple to Serapis, and the wreck of an enormous amphiteatre, changed, like the Coliseum, into a natural hill of the overteeming vegetation. Here also is the Solfatara, of which there is a poetical description in the Civil War of Petronius, beginning - `Est locus', and in which the verses of the poet are infinitely finer than what he describes, for it is not a very curious place. After seeing these things we returned by moonlight to Naples in our boat. What colours there were in the sky, what radiance in the evening star, and how the moon was encompassed by a light unknown to our regions!