(Written 27 Jul 2011)
Dear All,
Some quite spectacular pictures of the volcano in Chile are doing the rounds on the internet at the moment and they prompted Keith to tell me something of the joys of teaching Latin to schoolboys.
He writes, “Pliny the Elder gave an account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Watching from a nearby harbour, where he was a naval commander, he described the rising cloud as similar to a ‘pinus’ which, of course, is Latin for “pine tree”. An amazingly accurate description when one looks at the picture (of the volcanic cloud).
It won’t come as a surprise to you that in my experience of teaching Latin over 30 years there has never been a boy who, in his first attempt at any rate, translates ‘pinus’ as a pine tree… Funny that. Maybe a pine tree is not the first thing that comes to mind when they see the picture.”
There are two very good write-ups on the topics in Wikipedia.See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plinian_eruption
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Elder

What caught my eye was Pliny the Younger writing to Tacitus,

“I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading”.