In This Article Pliny the Younger

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Concordances
  • Textbooks
  • Social and Literary Context
  • Models
  • Poetry

Classics Pliny the Younger
by
Kathleen M. Coleman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0314

Introduction

Pliny the Younger—to be distinguished from Pliny the Elder, his maternal uncle and the author of the encyclopedic Natural History—was born in Comum (modern Como) in Transpadane Italy c. 62 CE. His uncle adopted him, probably in his will. Pliny and his mother were living with him at Misenum when Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. When his uncle went to investigate, Pliny stayed behind reading Livy, but his two eyewitness accounts of the event several decades later are among the most celebrated writings to have survived from Antiquity. As an adult, he led the busy life of a senator, landowner, and married man, dividing his time between the courts and Senate House in Rome and his estates in the country, which included villas at Comum, on the upper Tiber in Umbria, and on the coast of Latium south of Rome. He was highly educated and a dedicated member of intellectual circles in the city, attending recitations and writing risqué verse in his spare time. He advanced through the cursus honorum (series of public offices) to the consulship of 100. His effusive gratiarum actio (speech of thanks) to Trajan on his assumption of this office, which he polished up afterward in repeated drafts, has survived at the head of a collection of twelve Latin panegyrics and is known as the Panegyricus. Apart from the Apologia of Apuleius, which was probably delivered in 158/9 CE, it is the only Latin speech surviving intact between the last invective against Antony by Cicero—Pliny’s hero and model—in 43 BCE and a panegyric celebrating the emperor Maximian’s birthday in 289 CE, and is therefore precious testimony to the development of Latin oratory under the empire. Yet it may not be representative of the many other speeches that Pliny composed and circulated, none of which has survived, and it may therefore skew our perceptions of his rhetorical skills. In the second decade of the 2nd century, Pliny’s career culminated in an appointment to govern the eastern province of Pontus-Bithynia as a special emissary of Trajan. A total of 107 letters exchanged between them while he was abroad constitute the tenth book of his Epistulae, prefaced by fourteen more addressed to Trajan earlier in Pliny’s career. Many of his vast circle of associates are visible elsewhere among the rich literary and epigraphic sources surviving for the Flavian and Trajanic periods, and in the nine books of private letters that he selected for publication, his skill as a raconteur and consummate stylist bring the kaleidoscope of contemporary society to life with unparalleled vividness of detail and elegance of expression. As a letter-writer and an orator, he has earned the posterity that—he frankly admits—he so ardently desired.

General Overviews

Most handbooks and encyclopedias of the ancient world have an entry for Pliny the Younger. The detailed article comprising Schuster 1951 in the canonical German encyclopedia, the Realencyclopädie (otherwise known by the names of its editors as “Pauly-Wissowa”), is necessarily dated, but still very useful. Its successor in Krasser 2000 is much less comprehensive but buttressed by (selective) reference to the intervening fifty years of scholarship. Goodyear 1982, in a companion to classical literature, focuses on Pliny as a literary figure. Champlin 1982 gives more treatment to historical matters alongside Pliny’s literary oeuvre. Conte 1994 is an economical account that includes brief treatment of the reception of Pliny’s work down to the Renaissance.

  • Champlin, Edward. 1982. Pliny the Younger. In Ancient writers: Greece and Rome. Vol. 2. Edited by T. J. Luce, 1035–1048. New York: Scribner’s.

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    Stresses Pliny’s unusual career-path and his talent, especially at financial management; characterizes Panegyricus as “propaganda”; emphasizes the clarity and historical value of the correspondence with Trajan, the neatness and brevity that characterize the letters overall, and the correlation of style and topic that creates exceptional variety in the private correspondence; shows that the informer Regulus is presented as a foil to Pliny himself, and that Pliny’s self-presentation depends principally on his role as a senator.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Pliny the Younger. In Latin literature: A history. By Gian Biagio Conte, 525–529. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow. Revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Balanced and economical survey of Pliny’s oeuvre, treating Panegyricus and the correspondence with Trajan together under the heading “Pliny and Trajan” and the private letters under the heading “Pliny and the society of his day.” The final section, “Literary success,” sketches the popularity of the letters in Late Antiquity, to wane in the Middle Ages and be revived in the Renaissance, along with Panegyricus and its model for addressing a supreme authority.

  • Goodyear, F. R. D. 1982. Pliny the Younger. In The Cambridge history of classical literature. Vol. 2. Edited by E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen, 655–660. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Acute, graceful, and economical account of compositional, literary, and stylistic aspects of the private letters and (more briefly) Panegyricus.

  • Krasser, Helmut. 2000. Plinius. [2] P. Caecilius Secundus, C. (der Jüngere). Der neue Pauly. Vol. 9. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, 1142–1144. Stuttgart and Weimar: J. B. Metzler.

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    Succinct account of Pliny’s career; account of works focuses on the letters within their social and cultural context, with specific mention of the most famous. Letters to Trajan and Panegyricus scarcely mentioned. Useful selective bibliography.

  • Schuster, Mauriz. 1951. C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus, der “jüngere Plinius,” Realencylopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft 21/1. Edited by Konrat Ziegler, 439–456. Stuttgart and Waldsee, Germany: Alfred Druckenmüller.

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    Comprehensive account of life; personality (“Der Mensch und seine Wesensart”); works; questions of composition and style; transmission; reception; editions and commentaries; scholarly studies. Necessarily dated, but still useful for its wealth of detail.

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