I have been always fascinated by the extraordinary episodes in the life of Sir William Douglas Hamilton, (1730-1803), a multi-faceted man born in Scotland who was a diplomat, archeologist, antiques expert, and volcanologist and the resident Englishman at the Bourbon court in Naples for a very long time in a period that witnessed great political, cultural and social upheaval. He remained in Naples from 1764 to 1800. "Vidi Napule e po' muori" [See Naples and then die], indeed! Mount Vesuvius, today as in the past, dominates the breath-taking scenery of the gulf and has attracted swarms of artists, poets, and scientists fascinated by its silhouette seemingly drawn by a Japanese calligraphist and struck by its apparently benevolent presence that is actually high risk, full of peril and periodic terrible eruptions.
Hamilton devoted many of his studies and essays to Mount Vesuvius. His long-standing passion emerges in Susan Sontag's novel about Hamilton that was published in 1992: set in Naples in the late 18th century it is called, as a matter of fact, "The Volcano Lover". Mount Vesuvius, and everything connected, is something that has strongly conditioned the life in this entire geographical area. It is a regal yet duplicitous and ambiguous host, the dispenser of life and death. San Gennaro – Saint Januarius – help us!