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C. Pli'nius Caeci'lius Secundus or the younger Plinius or Plinius the younger

was the son of C. Caecilius, and of Plinia, the sister of C. Plinius, the author of the Naturalis Historia. His native place was probably Comum, now Como, on the Lake Larius, Lake of Como, on the banks of which he had several villae (Ep. 9.7). The year of his birth was A. D. 61 or 62, for, in a letter addressed to Cornelius Tacitus (Ep. 6.20), in which he describes the great eruption of Vesuvius, which happened A. D. 79, he says that he was then in his eighteenth year. His father died young, and after his death Plinia and her son lived with her brother, who adopted his nephew, Caecilius. Under the republic his name after adoption would have been C. Plinius Caecilianus Secundus.

The education of Plinius was conducted under the care of his uncle, his mother, and his tutor, Verginis Rufus (Ep. 2.1). From his youth he was devoted to letters. In his fourteenth year he wrote a Greek tragedy (Ep. 7.4); but he adds, "what kind of a thing it was, I know not : it was called a tragedy." He studied eloquence under Quintilianus and Nicetes Sacerdos (ep. 6.6). His acquirements finally gained him the reputation of being one of the most learned men of the age ; and his friend Tacitus, the historian, had the same honourable distinction. He was also an orator. In his nineteenth year he began to speak in the forum (Ep. 5.8), and he was frequently employed as an advocate before the court of the Centumviri (Ep. 1.18--9.23), and before the Roman senate, both on the side of the prosecution, as in the cases of Baebius Massa and Marius Priscus, and for the defence, as in the cases of Julius Bassus and Rufus Varenus (Ep. 6.29).

He filled numerous offices in succession. While a young man he served in Syria, as tribunus militum, and was there a hearer of the stoic Euphrates (Ep. 1.10), and of Artemidorus. He was subsequently quaestor Caesaris, praetor in or about A. D. 93 (Ep. 3.11), and consul A. D. 100, in which year he wrote his laneqyricus, which is addressed to Trajanus (Ep. 3.13). In A. D. 103 he was appointed propraetor of the province Pontica (Ep. 10.77), where he did not stay quite two years. Among his other functions he also discharged that of curator of the channel and the banks of the Tiber (Ep. 5.15, and an inscription in Gruter, p. 454. 3).

Plinius was twice married. His second wife was Calpurnia, the granddaughter of Calpurnius Fabatus, and an accomplished woman : she was considerably younger than her husband, who has recorded her kind attentions to him, and her affection in a letter to her aunt Hispulla (Ep. 4.19). He had no children by either wife, born alive.

The life of Plinius is chiefly known from his letters. So far as this evidence shows, he was a kind and benevolent man, fond of literary pursuits, and of building on and improving his estates. He was rich, and he spent liberally. He built a temple at Tifernum, at his own cost, and an aedes to Ceres, on his own property. He contributed, or offered to contribute a third of the cost of establishing a school in his patria (probably Comum), for the education of the youth there, and he asked his friend Tacitus to look out for teachers (Ep. 4.13). The dedication of a library at the same place, and the establishment of a fund for the benefit of youths (“annuos sumptus in alimenta ingenuorum”, Ep. 1.8), are among the instances of his generosity recorded in his letters. He was a kind master to his slaves. His body was feeble, and his health not good. Nothing is known as to the time of his death.


The extant works of Plinius are his Panegyricus and the ten books of his Epistulae.

The Panegyricus is a fulsome eulogium on Trajanus, in the exordium of which he addresses the patres conscripti, but in the course of the Panegyricus the emperor himself is addressed in the second person. It is of some small value for the information which it contains about the author himself and his times.

The letters of Plinius, contained in ten books, furnish the chief materials for his life, and also considerable information about his contemporaries. The tenth book consists entirely of letters from Plinius to Trajanus, and from Trajanus to Plinius. The index to Schaefer's edition of Plinius indicates the names of all the persons to whom his extant letters are addressed.

Plinius collected his own letters, as appears from the first letter of the first book, which looks something like a preface to the whole collection. He speaks of collecting others of his letters. It is not a improbable conjecture that Plinius may have written many of his letters with a view to publication, or that when he was writing some of them, the idea of future publication was in his mind. However they form a very agreeable collection, and make us acquainted with many interesting facts in the life of Piinius and that of his contemporaries.

The letters from Plinius to Trajanus and the emperor's replies are the most valuable part of the collection. The first letter in the tenth book is a letter of congratulation to Trajanus on his accession to the imperial dignity. Other letters contain requests for favours to himself or his friends; and many of them are on public affairs, on which he consulted the emperor during his government in Asia Minor. The replies of Trajanus are short, and always to the purpose in hand; for instance, in the matter of the aqueduct of Nicomedia (10.46, 47), and the aqueduct of Sinope (10.91, 92); as to covering over a dirty drain in Amastris, which sent forth a pestilent stench (10.99); on the plan for uniting the lake of Niconmedia to the sea by a canal (10.50, 51, 69, 70); and on the proposal to compel the decuriones to accept loans of the public money, in order that the interest might not be lost : the emperor's notions of justice would not allow him to accede to such a proposal.

The letter on the punishment of the Christians (10.97), and the emperor's answer (10.98), have furnished matter for much remark. The fact of a person admitting himself to be a Christian was sufficient for his condemnation; and the punishment appears to have been death (“supplicium minatus : perseverantes duci jussi”). The Christians, on their examination, admitted nothing further than their practice of meeting on a fixed day before it was light, and singing a hymn to Christ, as God (quasi Deo); their oath (whatever Plinius may mean by sacramentum) was not to bind them to any crime, but to avoid theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and denial of a deposit. Two female slaves, who were said to be deaconesses (ministrae), were put to the torture by Plinius, but nothing unfavourable to the Christians could be got out of them : the governor could detect nothing except a perverse and extravagant superstition (“superstitionem pravam et immodicam”). Hereupon he asked the emperor's advice, for the contagion of the superstition was spreading; yet he thought that it might be stopped. The Romans had a horror of secret meetings, especially for religious celebrations, and they had experience of their mischief, as in the case of the Bacchanalia (Liv. 39.8). They made no distinction between the Christians and others who congregated contrary to law : nor did they concern themselves about the particular character of any of these unions : the Roman policy was generally opposed to all meetings at irregular times or places (Ep. 10.43). "It is not true," says Dr. Taylor (Elements of Civil Law, p. 579), "that the primitive Christians held their assemblies in the night to avoid the interruptions of the civil power : but the converse of that proposition is true in the utmost latitude; viz. that they met with molestations from that quarter, because their assemblies were nocturnal." It remains a question if they would have been permitted to hold their assemblies in the day time; and it is not clear that they would. This being premised, the emperor's answer is mild and merciful; more mild than the practice of his governor had been, more merciful and just than the proceedings of the Inquisition, and of many religious persecutions among Christians themselves : he approves of the governor's conduct, as explained in his letter, and observes that no general rule can be laid down. Persons supposed to be Christians are not to be sought for : if they are accused and the charge is proved, they are to be punished; but if a man denied the charge, and could prove its falsity by offering his prayers to the heathen gods (“diis nostris”), however suspected he may have been, he shall be excused in respect of his repentance. Charges of accusation (“libelli”) without the name of the informant or accuser, were not to be received, as they had been : it was a thing of the worst example, and unsuited to the age.


The first edition of the Epistolae and Panegyricus of Plinius is that of Venice, 1485, 4to. One of the latest and best editions is that of J. M. Gesner, by G. H. Schaefer, Leipzig, 1805, 8vo. The best edition of the Epistolae alone is said to be by Cortius and Longolius, Amsterdam, 1734, 4to. Schaefer's edition contains the life of Plinius by Cellarius, who has given references to the several passages in the letters, which are evidence of the facts. There is a much more elaborate life by Masson, Amsterdam, 1709, 8vo. There are German translations of the Epistolae, by E. Thierfeld, 1823-1829; by E. A. Schmid, 1782, &c.; and by J. B. Schaefer, 1801, &c. There is an English version of the Epistolae by Lord Orrery, and another by W. Melmoth.


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