Pliny in Roman Biography

Plln'y [Fr. Punk, plen ; It. Plinio, plee'ne-o] THE Elder, (or, more fully, Ca'ius Plin'ius Secun'dus,) a celebrated Roman naturalist, was born at Verona, or, according to some authorities, Novum Comum, (the modern Como,) in 23 a.d. He served in the army in Germany, under Lucius Pomponius, and returned to Rome about the age of thirty. He studied law, and practised as a pleader for a few years. He was afterwards procurator in Spain in the reign of Nero, and became a friend and favoured officer of Vespasian. We possess but little other information of his public life, except that at the time of his death he had command of a fleet stationed at Misenum. In August, 79 a.d., occurred a great eruption of Vesuvius. Observing the immense cloud of smoke which arose in the form of a tree from the volcano, he embarked at Misenum on a vessel and approached nearer to the scene of danger. He calmly noted the variations of the portentous phenomenon, amidst the shower of cinders and pumicestones which fell around his vessel, and landed at Stabia. In the ensuing night he attempted to return to the vessel, but he perished on land, suffocated by ashes or sulphurous exhalations. This was probably the eruption which destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herc'tilanetim. He left historical and grammatical works, which are lost. The only work of Pliny that has come down to us is his " Natural History," (" Naturae Historiarmn Libri XXXVII.,") which is thus characterized by Cuvier, (in the " Biographie Universelle :") " It is at the same time Be of the most precious monuments that antiquity has left 4 * o«e 01 ityfojj us, and the evidence of an erudition very wonderful in ~-i.% v% *arrfer and statesman. In order to appreciate justly r* ;;trii^va$A'£nd celebrated composition.it is necessary to ejr# 1 p-t; ,t oag attention to the plan, the facts, and the style. ./, ,^'?r|jjTOpla*v5s\jrtjmen.se. . . . He includes astronomy, #>6|*-al yV geography, agriculture, commerce medicine, and the arts, as well as natural history properly so called. . . . Pliny was not an observer like Aristotle; still less was he a man of genius, capable, like that great philosopher, of tracing the laws and relations in accordance with which the works of nature are formed and arranged, (co-ordonnee.) In general, he is only a compiler. ... A comparison of his extracts with the originals which are extant, especially with Aristotle, convinces us that Pliny did not prefer to take from the authors he consulted that which was most important or most exact. In general, he prefers the singular and marvellous. ... If Pliny has for us little merit as a naturalist and critic, it is far otherwise in respect to his talent as a writer, and the vast treasury of Latin terms and locutions which have made his work one of the richest depositories of the language of the Romans." He was a decided pantheist, and had no faith in the future existence of the human soul. His style is vigorous, condensed, pointed, and abounds in antithesis. Among the best editions of Pliny is that published bv Sillig, Hamburg. " His profound erudition," says Buffon, "is enhanced by elevation of ideas and nobleness of style. He not only knew all that could be known in his time, but he had that large faculty of thinking which multiplies science, he had that delicacy (finesse) of reflection on which depend elegance and taste, and he imparts to his reader a certain freedom of spirit and boldness of thought, which is the germ of philosophy." See Salmasius, " Exercitationes Plinianze," 1629; A. Jos. a Turrs Rezzonico, " Disquisitiones Plinianae," 2 vols., 1763-07; Paul Ebhr, " Dissertatio de Vita C. Plinii," 1556; A. U A. Fee, " Eloge de Pline le Naturaliste," 1S21 ; Baiir, " Gesclliclite der Rdtnischen Literatur:" "Nouvelle Biographie GeWrale."

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