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I think my original
did the Greeks call Mt. Vesuvius when they got here?
It may be, according to at least some sources, that the Greeks called it Somma, as in "summit"—in other words, "the mountain." It is not uncommon in many languages to call the most important something The Something. Other mountains have names—Harry, Bob—but this one is simply THE MOUNTAIN. It's archetypal and ominous. You can hear it rumbling. Even modern Neapolitan dialect may refer to Vesuvius as la muntagna. Indeed, the complete name of the most famous volcano in the world is the Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex. It is a composite, really, made up of an older volcano, Monte Somma, the activity of which ended with the great eruption of 79 AD and a summit caldera collapse, producing the more recent cone, Vesuvius, contained within the caldera. Thus, before the great eruption, it was Mt. Somma; yet, there are ample Roman references to "Vesuvius" from before the great eruption. So, did they use both names? Or was there a gradual change from one to the other? Probably both.
those "some sources" I am reading is Diario del Monte Vesuvio
by Giovanni P. Ricciardi.1
He simply says, "Mt. Somma, Vesuvius to the
Romans...." So, it seems straightforward. The Greeks
called it "mountain" or "summit" and the Romans came
along and called it Vesuvius,
so we just have to figure out what Vesuvius means.
But wait. A few paragraphs later, Ricciardi cites a
fascinating passage from Berossus, the Babylonian
historian, a rough contemporary of Alexander the
Great. Berossus claims that one of the ancient kings
of Assyria (in the year 1894 BC [sic!]) used
"Vesuvius" in a reference to the fiery zones of Italy.2
—from a Roman
mispronunciation of the Greek for "Son of Zeus,"
referring to Hercules, closely connected to Greek
mythology in the Bay of Naples;
—from the Latin expression Vae suis! (roughly: Man, are we in trouble now!). That explanation was current around the time of the great eruption of 1631. It, too, is a good story, like the one with the Assyrian king, but on a scale of one to ten? Minus 6.
(1. Published by the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology of the Vesuvius Observatory, Edizioni scientifiche e artistiche, Naples 2009). ^back to text
The complete bibliographic citation is Beroso,
Caldeo [Chaldean, i.e. Babylonian] Antichità, da
frammenti di Beroso Caldeo e di altri antichi
scrittori, cap V. 1823. Naples.)