So whether the books, in fact, lie within, no one can know. The story of Piso's family saving the works of Great-grandfather's friend Philodemus is appealing, but it's hardly the only way things could have happened. Maybe there was no library - perhaps Piso's heirs were uninterested in such pursuits, their villa shelves as bare of reading matter as those of Camp David are said to have been during the presidency of Bush the Elder - and only the works of Philodemus were kept for sentimental reasons. Maybe they were stored separately, while the main library was bulldozed into the sea by the wall of mud.
Or maybe the rest of the library escaped with the villa's owners and slaves as they fled the cataclysm; maybe all was saved except for the works of Philodemus. Maybe Piso's heirs were among those who, early on in the eruption, managed to escape by sea, and as they sailed away, their world ablaze, maybe they gave a thought to the works of Philodemus left behind. Maybe they commemorated the loss by intoning the philosopher-poet's own prayer for a safe voyage:
Ino's son Melicertes, and you, Leukothea, grey ruling Spirit of the sea, protector from evils, And choruses of Sea-nymphs, and waves, and you, Poseidon, And Thracian Zephyrus, gentlest of the winds, Carry me softly across a flat sea as I flee To land safe at the sweet shore of Peiraeus.
Among all the maybes, though, some certainty: No one on that dreadful day imagined that the scrolls left behind, crushed into the earth by flaming rock, would last longer than Rome's empire, or any empire that followed it. No one dreamed they'd one day be the last of their kind on earth, their words read with light that the eye cannot see, rewritten on discs of melted sand