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The Lake of Alba

IT is curious to observe the ignorance of the ancients in natural causes. This ignorance has been the fertile source of many strange tales being recorded in their histories; to which a more intimate knowledge with natural philosophy might have afforded a very easy solution. The following may serve as an instance:

The lake that was near the ancient town of Alba had something in it which appeared extraordinary; although it had its source in itself, and its waters were no where diffused, because surrounded with mountains, it sometimes swelled prodigiously, even in the drier seasons, and was raised often to the height of those mountains which served for its barriers, and all this without any appearance of wind or other agitation. The swell of this lake was so great at the time the Romans besieged Veia, that it occasioned one of the hills to give way, and inundated the neighbouring lands. The Romans, on the word of an old man who had deserted Veia, sent to consult the oracle of Delphos, because he had assured them, that the fate of the town depended on the inundation. The priestess, it appears, was very much embarrassed by this embassy, and gave for answer, that they must force the water to return into the lake, or raise trenches to hinder it from falling into the sea; this the superstitious Romans performed, as well as they could.

This priestess knew but little of physics. It hardly admits a doubt (observes Marville) but that this place, as well as many others in Italy, abounded with sulphur and salt-petre; these inflammables occasion the eruptions of volcanoes; and it is reasonable to believe that it was the same cause which elevated to so prodigious a height the waters of the lake of Alba. Certainly, the Gods did not interfere in the accident, no more than they inspired the Delphian oracle!