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Gaius Plinius Secundus, called the Elder. A Roman representative of encyclopaedic learning, born A.D. 23, at Novum Comum (Como), in Upper Italy. Although throughout his life he was almost uninterruptedly occupied in the service of the State, yet at the same time he carried on the most widely extended scientific studies to which he laboriously devoted all his leisure hours, and thus gained for himself the reputation of the most learned man of his age. Under Claudius he served as commander of a troop of cavalry (praefectus alae) in Germany; under Vespasian, with whom he was in the highest favour, he held several times the office of imperial governor in the provinces, and superintended the imperial finances in Italy. Finally, under Titus, he was in command of the fleet stationed at Misenum, when in A.D. 79, at the celebrated eruption of Vesuvius, his zeal for research led him to his death. For a detailed account of this event, as well as of his literary labours, we have to thank his nephew, the Younger Pliny (Epist. iii. 5; vi. 16).

Besides writings upon military, grammatical, rhetorical, and biographical subjects, he composed two greater historical works—a history of the Germanic wars in twenty books, and a history of his own time in thirty-one books. His last work was the Natural History (Historia Naturalis), in thirtyseven books, which has been preserved to us. This was dedicated to Titus, and was published in A.D. 77; but he was indefatigably engaged in amplifying it up to the time of his death. This encyclopaedia is compiled from 20,000 notices, which he had extracted from about 2000 writings by 474 authors. Book i. gives a list of contents and the names of the authors used; ii. is on astronomy and physics; iii.-vi., a general sketch of geography and ethnography, mainly a list of names; vii.-xix., natural history proper (vii., anthropology; viii.-xi., zoölogy of land and water animals, birds, and insects; xii.-xix., botany); xx.-xxxii., the pharmacology of the vegetable kingdom (xx.-xxvii.) and of the animal kingdom (xxviii.-xxxii.); xxxiii.xxxvii., mineralogy and the use of minerals in medicine and in painting, sculpture, and the engraving of gems, besides valuable notices upon the history of art. A kind of comparative geography forms the conclusion.

Considering the extent and varied character of the undertaking, the haste with which the work was done, the defective technical knowledge and small critical ability of the author, it cannot be surprising that it includes a large number of mistakes and misunderstandings, and that its contents are of very unequal value, details that are strange and wonderful, rather than really important, having often unduly attracted the writer's attention. Nevertheless, the work is a mine of inestimable value in the information it gives us respecting the science and art of the ancient world; and it is also a splendid monument of human industry. Even the unevenness of the style is explained by the mosaic-like character of the work. At one time it is dry and bald in expression; at another, rhetorically coloured and impassioned, especially in the carefully elaborated introductions to the several books. On account of its bulk, the work was in early times epitomized for more convenient use. An epitome of the geographical part of Pliny 's encyclopaedia, belonging to the time of Hadrian, and enlarged by additions from Pomponius Mela and other authors, forms the foundation of the works of Solinus and Martianus Capella. Similarly the Medicina Plinii is an epitome prepared in the fourth century for the use of travellers.

About two hundred manuscripts of Pliny are in existence, divided into two general classes—the vetustiores, all more or less incomplete, but truer to the original, and the recentiores, which are less fragmentary, but also less accurate. Of the former the best is the Codex Bambergensis of the tenth century, containing only bks. xxxii.-xxxvii. The recentiores are all of the same “family,” going back to a single archetype now lost. See Fels, De Codicibus Plinianis (Göttingen, 1861).

Editions are those with notes by Barbari (Rome, 1492); by J. F. Gronovius, 3 vols. (Leyden, 1669); by Hardouin (Paris, 1685); by Franz, 10 vols. (Leipzig, 1778-91); by Sillig, with critical notes and indices, 8 vols. (Gotha, 1853-55); by Jan, 6 vols. (Leipzig, 1854-65); 2d ed. by Mayhoff (1870 foll.); and by Detlefsen, 6 vols. (Berlin, 1866-73). There is a Chrestomathia Pliniana by Urlichs (Berlin, 1857); a good French translation by Grandsagne with notes by various scholars, 20 vols. (Paris, 1829-33); and a fair English one with good index in the Bohn Library (London, 1856). On the language and style of Pliny , see Wannowski, Pliniana (Posen, 1847); Grasberger, De Usu Pliniano (Würzburg, 1860); J. Müller, Der Stil des älten Plinius (Innsbruck, 1883); and Thüssing (Prague, 1890).


Called the Younger, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, nephew and adopted son of the elder Pliny , born A.D. 62, at Novum Comum. After the early death of his father Caecilius, he was carefully brought up by his mother Plinia and by his adoptive father. He was trained in rhetoric under Quintilian, and began his public career as an advocate in the nineteenth year of his age. After serving in Syria as military tribune, he devoted himself under Domitian to the service of the State, and became the emperor's quaestor, and also a tribune of the people and praetor (A.D. 93). Under Trajan, he held the consulship in 100, and about 112 governed the province of Bithynia as imperial legate. He died about 114, very widely respected on account of his mild and benevolent character, his exemplary private life, his ability as an orator, his refined taste, and his services to letters. He was distinguished by the favour of the emperor, and was in friendly intercourse with the most celebrated men of his time and the representatives of literature. Among his friends appear Quintilian (Epist. ii. 14.9), Silius Italicus (iii. 7), Martial (iii. 21), Suetonius (i. 8; iii. 8; v. 10; ix. 34), and, above all, Tacitus (i. 6, 20; iv. 13; vi. 6, 16, 20; vii. 20, 33; viii. 7; ix. 10, 14), to whom he was bound by the most genuine mutual attraction.

Of his poems and forensic speeches, which he published himself, nothing has been preserved, with the exception of a panegyric addressed to Trajan, which he pronounced in the Senate in A.D. 100 in order to thank the emperor for the consulship conferred upon him. This he afterwards published in a revised form. It is composed in an affected and artificial style, and is full of the most exaggerated pieces of flattery addressed to the emperor; it served as a pattern for the later panegyrists. Besides this, we possess a collection of letters in nine books, dating from the year 97-108, edited by himself. To this collection there is added a tenth book, consisting of the official correspondence between him and Trajan, belonging chiefly to the time of his Bithynian governorship, published, we may presume, after his death. (The best-known letters in this book are that on the punishment of the Christians, No. 97, and the emperor's reply, No. 98.) His letters, in which he happily imitates Cicero, give a clear picture of his own personality, his studies, and his intercourse with his friends, as well as of the public, social, and literary life of his time, and are therefore valuable as authorities for the history of the same.

The only existing manuscript which contains all the nine books of Pliny is the Codex Laurentinus (Mediceus) of the ninth or tenth century, from which several others are derived. A very old manuscript, now lost, gave its readings to the editio Aldina of 1508.

The editio princeps (eight books only) appeared at Venice in 1471. The first complete edition is that of Aldus (Venice, 1508). Other editions are those of Gruter (1611); Veenhusen, with notes (Leyden, 1669); Döring (Freiburg, 1843); Waltz (Paris, 1833); of bk. iii. with English notes by Mayor (London, 1880); of bks. i. and ii. by Cowan (London, 1889). The best critical text is that of Keil, with indices, etc. by Mommsen (Leipzig, 1853). The Panegyric is edited by Dübner (Paris, 1843). There is a good English version of the Letters by Lewis (London, 1880). See Cauvet, Étude sur Pline le Jeune (Toulouse, 1857); Lagergren, De Vita et Elocutione C. Plinii Secundi (Upsala, 1872); Schöntag, Plinius der Junger (Hof, 1876); Kraut, Syntax und Stil des jung. Plinius (Schönthal, 1872); Morillot, De Plinii Minoris Eloquentia (Grenoble, 1888); and Platner in the American Journal of Philology, iv. pp. 214-218.

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