1902 Encyclopedia > Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger
Roman orator, writer and official
(62-113 AD)

PLINY THE YOUNGER (61-c. 115 A.D.). Caius Caecilius Secundus, commonly called Pliny the Younger, was the nephew and heir of the elder Pliny, the naturalist. He was born 61 A.D. at Comum (Como) on the southern shore of Lake Larius in northern Italy, near to which, on the east side, stood the spacious and beautiful family villa.5 He took the name of Caecilius from his father, who had married Plinia, the elder Pliny's sister. At ten years of age he was left to the care of Virginius Rufus, a distinguished man and thrice consul.6

Pliny was a man of refined taste, highly accomplished, devoted to literature, kind and indulgent to his freedmen and his slaves, gentle and considerate in all his family relations, just in his dealings, munificent in the use of his wealth, humane and forgiving to. all who had offended him.7 By profession an advocate, and a pupil of the famous Quintilian (ii. 14), he was a frequent and very popular pleader at the courts of the centumviri held in the Julian basilica, as well as occasionally in the senate and in public prosecutions (vi. 29).

His fame in centumviral trials, which were chiefly concerned with will cases, is attested by Martial (x. 19, 17), whose epigram he quotes in lamenting the poet's death (iii. 21). But, though himself somewhat ambitious of praise as a pleader (for he seems to have regarded Cicero as his model in everything), he sternly reproved the arts of bribery and flattery which were commonly adopted by patrons to secure the applause of their clients. " For half-a-crown a head," he complains, "you may fill the benches with any number of shouters and bawlers of your praises." Fond as he was of eloquence, he seems to have given up legal practice from some feeling of disgust at these abuses, and to have devoted himself to the duties of the state-offices. He was appointed augur and prsefect of the treasury in the temple of Saturn, and rose in due course through the offices of quaestor, praetor, and tribune of the people, finally attaining to the consulship, 100 A.D. His inaugural address to the emperor Trajan, a long and finished but rather pedantic oration in Ciceronian 6 " Quid agit Comum, tuai meaeque delicte ?" he writes to Caninius Rufus, Ep. i. 3. He had several country houses on this estate (plures vilte, Ep. ix. 7). Two of these, his especial favourites, he playfully called. " Tragedy and Comedy," comparing the low and the lofty site to the soccus and the cothurnus of the actors.

Latinity, entitled Panegyricus, is extant. " The good old custom," he says in his opening sentence, "of com-mencing all public business with prayers to the gods is especially to be observed by a consul, and on an occasion of offering public thanks to the best of princes by the command of the senate and the state." The piece teaches us a good deal about the imperial policy and the military career of Trajan (§§ 13-16).

Between Pliny and Trajan the sincerest regard and even affection seem to have subsisted. In the last book of the Epistles, which contains a hundred and twenty-one letters and replies on matters of business connected with the pro-vince between Pliny and the emperor, the latter is always addressed as " Domine "o (sire), the former as " Secunde (or mi Secunde) carissime." Most of these were written by Pliny as propraetor (103-5) of Bithynia and Pontica, and they show the careful interest taken in the welfare and prosperity of the cities under his charge. The replies of the emperor are characteristically brief; they are written in good and literary Latin, and show Trajan to have been a man of letters as well as a man of business. Pliny's celebrated inquiry what should be done with recusant Christians, in which he says that " not only cities but country towns and rural districts have been touched by the contagion of this superstition," is briefly replied to; "conquirendi non sunt," writes the emperor, "si defer-aritur et arguantur, puniendi sunt, ita tamen ut qui negaverit se Christianum esse, idque re ipsa manifestum fecerit, id est supplicando dis nostris, quamvis suspectus in praeteritum, veniam ex pcenitentia impetret." Pliny had said :— "Those who obstinately persisted that they were Christians, after being warned of the consequence, I ordered to be led off to punishment, not doubting that, whatever it was that they professed, their inflexible obstinacy deserved it." Doubts have even been raised as to the genuineness of a passage which appears so inconsist-ent with the established Roman policy of tolerating every superstitio. But it is clear that what Pliny doubted was the fidelity to the emperor of those who refused to make the customary religious offerings to his statue. It was zeal for loyalty that led him into a course which his humane nature condemned.

Pliny was twice married, but had no children. The emperor bestowed on him the jus trium liberorum, which conferred certain state privileges upon those who brought up that number of legitimate children to become Roman citizens. Three affectionate letters, none of them long, are addressed to his second wife Calpurnia Hispulla.

In health Pliny seems to have been far from robust. He speaks of his slight and thin figure, " gracilitas mea," though in his youth he had seen military service in the East. He was fond too of hunting, but used to boast that he combined the worship of Diana with that of Minerva.
Pliny's great wealth was most liberally bestowed, both privately and publicly. He undertakes to rebuild a temple of Ceres on his estate, entirely at his own cost, with a new statue and the addition of a portico; with walls and floor decorated with marbles. To his friend Bomatius Firmus, a fellow-townsman, he- writes that in order to have the pleasure of seeing him an eques he offers £2500 to make up the equestrian census. To Calvina, in addi-tion to nearly £I000 which he had given her as a marriage portion, he offers to remit the whole of the mortgage debt on an encumbered estate which she had inherited from her father. He founded and endowed with landed property an almshouse for people of free birth of both sexes. He presented his nurse with a farm worth nearly £1000 ; he gave fifty sestertia as a marriage present to the daughter of his tutor Quintilian ; he gave up to the township of Comum a sum of about £3500, which, having been illegally left to it by Saturninus, Pliny, as his heir, could have claimed for himself,—and this in addition to over £10,000 which he had already given to the same township. He generously returned a large percentage of the sum he hadi sold his vintage for, when the produce had been found to disappoint the purchasers. In a beautiful letter to. Sabinianus he kindly intercedes for a libertus with whom his friend was offended. In a word, the letters are full of acts of Pliny's goodness and generosity, and these are not boastfully expressed, but rather with the view of inciting others by his example.

There are few, if indeed any, remains of Roman prose literature which are as elegant, as interesting, and as varied as Pliny's Letters.. They were evidently written and published on the model and, precedent of Cicero's Letters. They are all carefully composed,, and couched in the most graceful and polished Latinity. The first letter is a reply to a friend, Septicius, who had often requested: Pliny to collect and publish his more carefully written correspondence,—"si quas paullo curatius scripsisset." An admirer of nature,. and with the faculty for observation perhaps learnt from his.uncle, he sometimes describes, and in the most beautiful language, the scenes or wonders he had visited. Of his spacious and beautiful villas in Tuscany and at Laurentum he has given full and detailed accounts, which are of especial value as almost the sole authority on the difficult subject of Roman houses. The Tuscan estate appears to have been his favourite residence. In reply to his friend Fuscus (ix. 36) he gives a pleasing account of the daily life and studies of a refined and temperate man, and a considerate country gentleman, neighbour, and landlord. Of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. , and the death of his uncle, he gives a minute and evidently faithful account as an eye-witness. This is contained in two long letters to his friend Tacitus the historian. Two excellent ghost-stories are-given, and a letter to Tacitus on the omens of dreams shows that both the friends had considerable credulity on this subject.

Like Cicero, but not so frequently, Pliny occasionally '' venti-lates " his Greek, and he tells us that at the age of fourteen he wrote a Greek tragedy, adding jocosely, " qualem ? inquis : nescio ; tragcedia vocahatur " (vii. 4, § 2). Like Cicero too, he was fond of art; he describes with enthusiasm a Corinthian bronze statuette which he had just purchased out of a legacy received.

As a writer Pliny the younger is as graceful, fluent, and polished, as the style of the elder Pliny is crabbed and obscure. Indeed, the Latinity of the epistles cannot fairly be called inferior to that of Cicero himself. There are few


(if progress and development in a language ought so to he called) of the Silver Age." That he imitated Cicero both in his style and his eloquence is avowed by himself. As a friend of Tacitus, whom he often mentions, he predicts the "immortality" of the books of his history, and he even proffered his services in reading Tacitus's MSS. He writes also to Suetonius and to Cornelius Nepos, the latter of whom he speaks of as "vir gravissimus, doctissimus, disertissimus;" the former he praises to Trajan, in asking for him the jus trium liberorum, as '' probissimum honestis-simum ernditissimum virum."

Pliny's Epistles were first printed in 1471, but incomplete, as was the Aldine edition of 1508. A full account of the MSS. and editions is given by H. Keil in his preface; among the best editions of later times are that of Cortius, published in 1734; after his death that of G. H. Schaefer (who reprinted with corrections, in 1805, the text of Gesner and Gierig, 1800), and that of Maurice Doering, 1843. The latest and best is the Teubner text of H. Keil (Leipsic, 1865, 12mo), with full indices and brief introductory notice of the most important different readings. (F. A. P.)


6 Pliny speaks of him with great regard in ii. 1, § 8 :—" Ille mihi tutor relictus adfectum parentis exhibuit."

7 His motto was " to pardon others as if one daily needed pardon oneself, and to abstain from sins as if one viewed sin as unpardonable," viii. 22. In Ep. 2 of the same book he finely says, " Mihi egreghnn in primis videtur, ut foris ita domi, ut in magnis ita in parvis ut in alienis ita in suis, agitare justitiam."

7 ix. 39. A similar offer is made to Trajan, including the dedica--i tion of his statue, Ep. PI. et Tr., 8.
8 i. 19. 9 vii. 18. 10 vi. 3.
11 About £430, vi. 32. 12 viii. 2.
13 ix. 21. " Tunc p'rsecipna mansuetudinis laus," he well says, " cum

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Pliny the Elder (Pliny the Naturalist)

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