Pliny

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There are two well-known Latin authors with the name Pliny (pronounced PLI-ni, IPA: /'plɪnɪ/). They are Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79 CE), nowadays usually known as Pliny the Elder; and his nephew and adopted son, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (?62-?114 CE), nowadays usually known as Pliny the Younger. (The adjective from Pliny is Plinian.)


Pliny the Elder was a member of the minor nobility and had a distinguished military career under the emperors Claudius (reigned 41-54) and Vespasian (reigned 69-79). He wrote a number of works on historical, military, and scientific subjects, including a very detailed history of Rome from the death of the emperor Claudius (in 54). The only one of his works to have survived is Naturalis historia (Natural History), a vast compendium of information on topics in Geography, Anthropology, Zoology, Botany, and Mineralogy.


Pliny the Elder was one of the victims of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. He was at the time in charge of the Roman fleet at Misenum (modern Miseno, near Naples), and scientific curiosity led him to approach too close to the erupting volcano and resulted in his death from asphyxiation - events described in two of the letters (6.16 and 6.20) of his nephew, Pliny the Younger.


Pliny the Younger achieved eminence as a lawyer in Rome and held high public office under the emperors Domitian (reigned 81-96), Nerva (reigned 96-98), and Trajan (reigned 98-117): at the time of his death he was governor of the Roman province of Bithynia (in Asia Minor). He is best known, however, for his letters, of which ten books have survived. These letters seem to have been written, or edited by Pliny himself, with a view to publication, and most of them - nine of the ten volumes - were in fact published in his lifetime. Pliny's correspondents included the emperor Trajan, the historians Tacitus and Suetonius, and the poet Martial. As well as giving a vivid picture of the lifestyle of wealthy, well-educated Romans during the first century CE, the letters touch on many of the significant events of the period. Of particular interest are the two letters (6.16 and 6.20), already mentioned, which describe the eruption of Vesuvius; and two letters (10.96 and 10.97) which shed light on the attitude of the Roman authorities of the time to Christianity - in 10.96 Pliny seeks guidance from the emperor Trajan about the appropriate way to deal with those suspected of being Christians, while 10.97 contains the emperor's reply.