1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pliny the Younger

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PLINY, THE YOUNGER. Publius Caecilius Secundus, later known as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (A.D. c. 61–c. 113), Latin author of the Letters and the Panegyric on Trajan, was the second son of Lucius Caecilius Cilo, by Plinia, the sister of the Elder Pliny. He was born at Novum Comum, the modern Como, the date of his birth being approximately determined by the fact that he was in his 18th year at the death of his uncle in August A.D. 79 (Epp. vi 20, 5). Having lost his father at an early age, he owed much to his mother and to his guardian, Verginius Rufus, who had twice filled the office of consul and had twice refused the purple (ii. 1, 8). He owed still more to his uncle. When the Elder Pliny was summoned to Rome by Vespasian in A.D. 72, he was probably accompanied by his nephew, who there went through the usual course of education in Roman literature and in Greek, and at the age of fourteen composed a “Greek tragedy” (vii 4, 2). He afterwards studied philosophy and rhetoric under Nicetes Sacerdos and Quintilian (vi. 6, 3, ii 14, 9), and modelled his own oratorical style on that of Demosthenes, Cicero and Calvus (i. 2). The Elder Pliny inspired his nephew with something of his own indomitable industry; and in August 79, when the author of the Historia naturalis lost his life in the famous eruption of Vesuvius, it was the sister of the Elder and the mother of the Younger Pliny who first descried the signs of the approaching visitation, and, some twenty-seven years later, it was the Younger Pliny who wrote a graphic account of the last hours of his uncle, in a letter addressed to the historian Tacitus (vi. 16). By his will the Elder Pliny had made his nephew his adopted son, and the latter now assumed the nomen and praenomen of his adoptive father.

A year later he made his first public appearance as an advocate (v. 8, 8), and soon afterwards became a member of the board of decemviri stlitibus judicandis, which was associated with the praetor in the presidency of the centumviral court. Early in the reign of Domitian he served as a military tribune in Syria (A.D. 81 or 82), devoting part of his leisure to the study of philosophy under the Stoic Euphrates (i. 10, 2). On returning to Rome he was nominated to the honorary office of sevir equitum romanorum, and was actively engaged as a pleader before the centumviri, the chancery court of Rome (vi. 12, 2).

His official career began in A.D. 89, when he was nominated by Domitian as one of the twenty quaestors He thus became a member of the senate for the rest of his life. In December 91 he was made tribune, and, during his tenure of that office, withdrew from practice at the bar (i. 23). Early in 93 he was appointed praetor (iii. 1 1, 2), and, in his year of office, was one of the counsel for the impeachment of Baebius Massa, the procurator of Hispania Baetica (iii. 4, vi. 29, vii. 33). During the latest and darkest years of Domitian he deemed it prudent to withdraw from public affairs, but his financial abilities were recognized by his nomination in 94 or 95 to the praefertura aerarii militaris (ix. 13, 11).

On the death of Domitian and the accession of Nerva he delivered a speech (subsequently published) in prosecution of Publicius Certus, who had been foremost in the attack on Helvidius Priscus (ix. 13). Early in 98 he was promoted to the position of praefect of the public treasury in the temple of Saturn. After the accession of Trajan in the same year, Pliny was associated with Tacitus in the impeachment of Marius Priscus for his maladministration of the province of Africa (ii. 11). The trial was held under the presidency of the emperor, who had already nominated him consul suffectus for part of the year A.D. 100. The formal oration of thanks for this nomination, described by Pliny himself as his gratiarum actio (iii. 13, 1 and 18, 1), is called in the MSS. the Panegyricus Trajano dictus.

The following year was marked by the death of Silius Italicus and Martial, who are gracefully commemorated in two of his Letters (iii. 7 and 21). It is probable that in 103–104 he was promoted to a place in the college of Augurs, vacated by his friend Frontinus (iv. 8), and that in 105 he was appointed curator of the river Tiber (v. 14, 2). In the same year he employed part of his leisure in producing a volume of hendecasyllabic verse (iv. 14, v. 10). He usually spent the winter at his seaside villa on the Latian coast near Laurentum, and the summer at one of his country houses, either among the Tuscan hills, near Tifernum, or on the lake of Como, or at Tusculum, Tibur or Praeneste.

It was probably in 104, and again in 106, that he was retained for the defence of a governor of Bithynia, thus becoming familiar with the affairs of a province which needed a thorough reorganization. Accordingly, about 111, he was selected by Trajan as governor of Bithynia, under the special title of “legate pro praetor with consular power.” He reached Bithynia in September, held office for fifteen months or more, and probably died in 113.

His health was far from robust. He speaks of his delicate frame (gracilitas mea); and he was apt to suffer from weakness of the eyes (vii. 21) and of the throat or chest (ii. 11, 15). Frugal and abstemious in his diet (i. 15; iii. 1 and 12), studious and methodical in his habits (i. 6, v. 18, ix. 36 and 40), he took a quiet delight in some of the gentler forms of outdoor recreation. We are startled to find him telling Tacitus of his interest in hunting the wild boar, but he is careful to add that, while the beaters were at work, he sat beside the nets and was busily taking notes, thus combining the cult of Minerva with that of Diana (i. 6). He also tells the historian that, when his uncle left Misenum to take a nearer view of the eruption of Vesuvius, he preferred to stay behind, making an abstract of a book of Livy (vi. 20, 5).

Among his friends were Tacitus and Suetonius, as well as Frontinus, Martial and Silius Italicus; and the Stoics, Musonius and Helvidius Priscus. He was thrice married; on the death of his second wife without issue, Trajan conferred on him the jus trium liberorum (A.D. 98), and, before 105, he found a third wife in the accomplished and amiable Calpurnia (iv. 19). He was generous in his private and his public benefactions (i. 19, 2, ii. 4, 2, vi. 32). At his Tuscan villa near Tifernum Tiberinum (iv. 1, 4), the modern Città di Castello, he set up a temple at his own expense and adorned it with statues of Nerva and Trajan (x. 8). In his lifetime he founded and endowed a library at his native place (i. 8, v. 7), and, besides promoting local education (iv. 13), established an institute for the maintenance and instruction of the sons and daughters of free-born parents (vii. 18). By his will he left a large sum for the building and the perpetual repair of public baths, and the interest of a still larger sum for the benefit of one hundred freedmen of the testator and, ultimately, for an annual banquet.

On a marble slab that once adorned the public baths at Comum, his distinctions were recorded in a long inscription, which was afterwards removed to Milan. It was there broken into six square pieces, four of which were built into a tomb within the great church of Sant’ Ambrogio. Of these four fragments only one survives, but with the aid of transcripts of the other three made by Cyriacus of Ancona. in 1442, the whole was restored by Mommsen [C.I.L. v. 5262]. It is to the following effect:—

Gaius Plinius Caecilius <Secundus>, son of Lucius, of the Ufentine tribe; <consul;> augur; legate-propraetor of the province of Pontus and Bithynia, with consular power, by decree of the senate sent into the said province by the emperor Nerva Trajan <Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, pater patriae>; curator of the bed and banks of the Tiber and of the <sewers of the city>; praefect of the Treasury of Saturn; praefect of the Treasury of War; <praetor>, tribune of the plebs; emperor’s quaestor, sevir of the <Roman> knights; military tribune of the <third> Gallic legion; <decemvir> for the adjudication of <suits>; provided by will for the erection of baths at a cost of . . . , adding for the furnishing of the same 300,000 sesterces (£2400) and furthermore, for maintenance, 200,000 sesterces (£1600); likewise, for the support of one hundred of his own freedmen <he bequeathed> to the township 1,866,666 sesterces (c. £15,000), the eventual accretions <whereof> he devised to the townsfolk for a public entertainment; . . . <likewise, in his lifetime> he gave for the support of sons and daughters of the townsfolk <500,000> sesterces (£4000); <likewise a library, and>, for the maintenance of the library, 100,000 sesterces (£800).

With the exception of two mediocre sets of verses, quoted by himself (vii. 4 and 9), his poems have perished. His speeches were apt to be prolix, and he defended their prolixity on principle (i 20). He was apparently the first to make a practice of reciting his speeches before a gathering of his friends before finally publishing them (iii. 18). The only speech that has survived is the Panegyric on Trajan, first delivered by Pliny in the emperor’s presence, next recited to the orator’s friends for the space of three days, and ultimately published in an expanded form (Epp. iii. 18). It is unduly florid and redundant in style, but it supplies us with the fullest account of the emperor’s antecedents, and of his policy during the first two years and a half of his rule.

It describes his entering Rome on foot, amid the rejoicings of the citizens, his liberality towards his soldiers and to the citizens of Rome, a liberality that was extended even to persons under eleven years of age; his charities for the maintenance of the children of the poor; his remission of succession-duties in cases where the property was small or the heirs members of the testator’s family; his establishment of free trade in corn between the various parts of the empire; his abandonment of vexatious and petty prosecutions for “high treason”; his punishment of informers; his abolition of pantomimes; his repairs of public buildings and his extension and embellishment of the Circus Maximus. The speech was discovered by Aurispa at Mainz in 1432, as part of a collection of Panegyrici; and was first printed by Fr. Puteolanus at Milan about fifty years later.

Besides the Panegyric, we possess the nine books of Pliny’s Letters, and a separate book containing his Correspondence with Trajan.

In the first letter of the first book Pliny states that he has collected certain of his letters without regard to chronological order (non servato temporis ordine). Pliny’s learned biographer, the Dutch scholar, Jean Masson (1709), wrongly assumed that this statement referred to the whole of the collection. He inferred that all the nine books were published simultaneously; and he also held that Pliny was governor of Bithynia inA.D. 103–105. It was afterwards maintained by Mommsen (1868) that the books were in strictly chronological order, that the letters in each book were in general arranged in order of date, that all of them were later than the death of Domitian (September 96), that the several books were probably published in the following order: i. (97); ii. (100); iii. (101–102); iv. (105); v. and vi. (106); vii. (107); vii. (108); and ix. (not later than 109); and, lastly, that Pliny was governor of Bithynia from A.D. 111–112 to 113. The letter which is probably the earliest (ii. 20) has since been assigned to the last part of the reign of Domitian, and it has been suggested by Professor Merrill that the nine books were published in three groups: i.–ii. (97 or 98); iii.–vi.(106); vii.–ix. (108 or 109).

In his Letters Pliny presents us with a picture of the varied interests of a cultivated Roman gentleman. The etiquette of the imperial circle, scenes from the law-courts and the recitation room, the reunions of dilettante and philosophers, the busy life of the capital or of the municipal town, the recreations of the seaside and of the country—all these he brings vividly before our eyes. He elaborately describes his Laurentine and his Tuscan villa, and frankly tells us how he spends the day at each (ii. 17, v. 6, ix. 36 and 40); expatiates on his verses and his speeches, his holiday-tasks in Umbria (vii. 9, ix. 10), and his happy memories of the Lake of Como (i. 6). He gives an enthusiastic account of a statuette of Corinthian bronze he has recently purchased (iii. 6). He is interested in providing a teacher of rhetoric for the place of his birth (iv. 13); he exults in the devotion of his wife, Calpurnia (vi. 19); towards his servants he is an indulgent master (viii. 16); he intercedes on behalf of the freedman of a friend (ix. 21), and, when a freedman of his own is in delicate health, sends him first to Egypt and afterwards to the Riviera (v. 19). He consults Suetonius on the interpretation of dreams (i. 18); he presents another of his correspondents with a batch of ghost-stories (vii. 27) or a marvellous tale about a tame dolphin on the north coast of Africa (ix. 33). He discourses on the beauties of the Clitumnus (viii. 8) and the floating islands of the Vadimonian lake (viii. 20). He describes an eruption of Vesuvius in connexion with the last days of the Elder Pliny (vi. 16 and 20), giving elsewhere an account of his manner of life and a list of his writings (iii. 5). He laments the death of Silius Italicus (iii. 7), of Martial (iii. 21), and of Verginius Rufus (ii. 1), and of others less known to fame. He takes as his models Cicero and Tacitus (vii. 20), whose name is so often (to his delight) associated with his own (ix. 23). He rejoices to learn that his writings are read at Lyons (ix. 11). He complains of the inanity of circus-races (ix. 6), of the decay of interest in public recitations (i. 13), of bad taste in matters of hospitality (ii. 6), and of the way in which time is frittered away in the social duties of Rome (i. 9). He lays down the principles that should guide a Roman governor in Greece (viii. 24); he maintains the cause of the oppressed provinces of Spain and Africa; and he exposes the iniquities of the informer Regulus, the only living man whom he attacks in his Letters, going so far as to denounce him as omnium bipedum nequissimus (i. 5, 14).

The Letters are models of graceful thought and refined expression, each of them dealing with a single topic and generally ending with an epigrammatic point. They were imitated by Symmachus (Macrobius v. 1, 7) and by Apollinaris Sidonius (Epp. ix. 1, 1). In the middle ages they were known to Ratherius of Verona (10th century), who quotes a passage from i. 5, 16 (Migne, cxxxvi. p. 391). Selections were included in a volume of Flores compiled at Verona in 1329; and a MS. of bks. i.–vii. and ix. was discovered by Guarino at Venice in 1419. These books were printed in the editio princeps (Venice, 1471). Part of bk. viii. appeared for the first time at the end of the next edition (Rome, c. 1474). The whole of bk. viii. was first published in its proper place by Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1508).

Pliny’s Correspondence with Trajan supplies us with many interesting details as to the government of Bithynia, and as to the relations between the governor and the central authority. It reflects the greatest credit on the strict and almost punctilious conscientiousness of the governor, and on the assiduity and the high principle which animated the emperor.

On reaching the province, Pliny celebrates the emperor’s birthday, and proceeds to examine the finances of Prusa. His request for a surveyor to check the outlay on the public works is refused on the ground that the emperor has hardly enough surveyors for the works he is carrying on in Rome. He asks the emperor to sanction the repair of the ancient baths at Prusa, the building of an aqueduct at Nicomedia and a theatre at Nicaea, and the covering in of a stream that has become a public nuisance at Amastris. When he consults the emperor as to the baths at Claudiopolis, the emperor sensibly replies: “You, who are on the spot, will be best able to decide” (40). When Pliny hesitates about a small affair relating to Dio Chrysostom (the Bithynian friend of Nerva and Trajan), the emperor betrays a not unnatural impatience in his response: potuisti non haerere, mi Secunde carissime (82). Pliny also asks for a decision on the status and maintenance of deserted children (65), and on the custom of distributing public doles on the occasion of interesting events in the life of a private citizen. The emperor agrees that the custom might lead to “political factions,” and should therefore be strictly controlled (117). Owing to a destructive fire at Nicomedia, Pliny suggests the formation of a volunteer fire-brigade, limited to 150 members. The emperor is afraid that the fire-brigade might become a “political club” and cautiously contents himself with approving the provision of a fire-engine (34).

Trajan’s fear of factions and clubs in these two last cases has sometimes been connected with the question of his attitude towards the Christians in Bithynia. Pliny (Epp. 96) states that he had never taken part in formal trials of Christians, and was therefore unfamiliar with precedents as to the extent of the investigation, and as to the degree of punishment. He felt that a distinction might be drawn between adults and those of tender years; and that allowance might be made for any one who recanted. There was also the question whether any one should be punished simply for bearing the name of Christian or only if he was found guilty of "crimes associated with that name." Hitherto, in the case of those who were brought before him, he had asked them three distinct times whether they were Christians, and, if they persisted in the admission, had ordered them to be taken to execution. Whatever might be the real character of their profession, he held that such obstinate persistence ought to be punished. There were others no less "demented," who, being Roman citizens, would be sent to Rome for trial. Soon, as the natural consequence of these proceedings, a variety of cases had come under his notice. He had received an anonymous statement giving a list of accused persons. Some of them, who denied that they had ever been Christians, had consented to pray to the gods, to adore the image of the emperor, and to blaspheme Christ; these he had dismissed. Others admitted that they were Christians, but presently denied it, adding that they had ceased to be Christians for some years. All of these worshipped images of the gods and of the emperor, and blasphemed Christ. They averred that the sum and substance of their "fault" was that they had been accustomed to meet on a fixed day before daylight to sing in turns a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by a solemn oath (sacramento) to abstain from theft or robbery, and from adultery, perjury and dishonesty; after which they were wont to separate and to meet again for a common meal. This, however, they had ceased to do as soon as Pliny had published a decree against collegia, in accordance with the emperor's edict. To ascertain the truth, he had also put to the torture two maid-servants described as deaconesses, but had discovered nothing beyond a perverse and extravagant superstition. He had accordingly put off the formal trial with a view to consulting the emperor. The question appeared to be worthy of such a consultation, especially in view of the number of persons of all ages and ranks, and of both sexes, who were imperilled. The contagion had spread through towns and villages and the open country, but it might still be stayed. Temples that had been well nigh deserted were already beginning to be frequented, rites long intermitted were being renewed, and the trade in fodder for sacrificial victims was reviving. It might be inferred from this how large a number might be reclaimed, if only room were granted for repentance.

Trajan in his reply (Epp. 97) expresses approval of Pliny's course of action in the case of the Christians brought before him. It was impossible (he adds) to lay down any uniform or definite rule. The persons in question were not to be hunted out, but if they were reported and were found guilty, they were to be punished. If, however, any one denied that he was a Christian, and ratified his denial by worshipping the gods of Rome, he was to receive pardon. But no attention was to be paid to anonymous charges. It would be a bad precedent and unworthy of the spirit of the age.

The view that the Christians were punished for being members of a collegium or sodalitas (once held by E. G. Hardy, and still maintained by Professor Merrill) is hard to reconcile with Pliny's own statement that the Christians had promptly obeyed the emperor's decree against collegia (§ 7). Further reasons against this view have been urged by Ramsay, who sums up his main results as follows: (1) There was no express law or formal edict against the Christians. (2) They were not prosecuted or punished for contravening any formal law of a wider character. (3) They were judged and condemned by Pliny (with Trajan's full approval) by virtue of the imperium delegated to him, and in accordance with the instructions issued to governors of provinces to search out and punish sacrilegious persons. (4) They had already been classed as outlaws, and the name of Christian in itself entailed condemnation. (5) This treatment was a settled principle of imperial policy, not established by the capricious action of a single emperor. (6) While Trajan felt bound to carry out the established principle his personal view was to some extent opposed to it. (7) A definite form of procedure had been established. (8) This procedure was followed by Pliny (W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 223).

It has been well observed by E. G. Hardy that the "double aspect of Trajan's rescript, which, while it theoretically condemned the Christians, practically gave them a certain security," explains "the different views which have since been taken of it, but by most of the church writers, and perhaps on the whole with justice, it has been regarded as favourable and as rather discouraging persecution than legalizing it" (Pliny's Correspondence with Trajan, 63, 210–2I7).

Authorities.—The correspondence with Trajan was apparently preserved in a single Paris MS.; Epp. 41–121 were first printed by Avantius of Verona. (1502); and Epp. 1–40 by Aldus Manutius (1508). The original MS. has vanished; but the "copy" supplied to the printers of the Aldine text was discovered by Mr. E. G. Hardy in the Bodleian in 1888. The two letters on the Christians were known to Tertullian (Apol. c. 2). The attacks on the genuineness of the whole or part of the collection have been refuted by Wilde (Leiden, 1889).

For a critical edition of text, see H. Keil (Leipzig, 1870), with full index of names by Mommsen; for plain text, Keil (1853), &c., C. F. W. Muller (1905); the best annotated editions are those of Gesner and Schaefer (1805) and G. E. Gierig (1796–1806); of the Letters alone, G. Kortte (1734), and the less trustworthy edition of M. Doring (1843); of bks. i and ii, Cowan (1889); of iii., Mayor (1880, with Life by G. H. Rendall); of vi., Duff (1906); of the Panegyricus, C. G. Schwarz (1846); of the Correspondence with Trajan, E. G. Hardy (1889); of Selected Letters, E. T. Merrill (1903); best Eng. trans. by J. D. Lewis (1879).

On Pliny's life, see the works by J. Masson (Amsterdam, 1709); H. Schontag (Hof, 1876); and Giesen (Bonn, 1885). On the chronology of the letters, &c., Mommsen, in Hermes, iii. 31–114 (1868; trans. into French by Morel, 1873); Criticized by Stobbe (Philologus, 1870); Gemoll (Halle, 1872); C. Peter (Philologus, 1873); Asbach (Rhein. Mus., 1881); and Schultz (Berlin, 1899). For style, the works of H. Holstein (1862-1869); K. Kraut (1872); J. P. Lagergren (1872); and Mortilot (Grenoble, 1888). On the villas, Burn's Rome and the Campagna (1871), 411–415; Aitchison, in the Builder (Feb. 8, 1890); Winnefeld, in Jahrb. des arch. Inst. (1891), pp. 201–217; and Magoun, in Trans. Amer. Philol. Assoc. 1895 .

See also bibliography in Hubner and Mayor's Lat. Lit. (1875), pp. 147–149; and in Schanz. Rom. Lit. §§ 444–449. For recent literature on Pliny and the Christians, see C. F. Arnold, Studien (Königsberg, 1887); Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, ii. 7 (ed. 1889); Neumann, Der römische Staat und die allgemeine Kirche (1890) vol. i.; Mommsen, in Hist. Zeitschrift (1890); W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire (ed. 1893), ch. 10, pp. 196–22; and E. G. Hardy, Christianity and the Roman Government (1894, reprinted in Studies in Roman History (1906), pp. 1–162; with the literature quoted in these works and in Schanz, Rom. Lit. § 641.  (J. E. S.*)