1. Education

Letters of Pliny the Younger

Public domain English translation

Letters of the Younger Pliny with an introductory essay by John B. Firth.

Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Introduction |

Book 5.


I. -- To Annius Severus.
II. -- To Calpurnius Flaccus.
III. -- To Titius Aristo.
IV. -- To Julius Valerianus.
V. -- To Nonius Maximus.
VI. -- To Domitius Apollinaris.
VII. -- To Calvisius.
VIII. -- To Titinius Capito.
IX. -- To Rufus.
X. -- To Suetonius Tranquillus.
XI. -- To Calpurnius Fabatus.
XII. -- To Terentius Scaurus.
XIII. -- To Valerianus.
XIV. -- To Pontius.
XV. -- To Arrius Antoninus.
XVI. -- To Marcellinus.
XVII. -- To Spurinna.
XVIII. -- To Calpurnius Macer.
XIX. -- To Paulinus.
XX. -- To Ursus.
XXI. -- To Saturninus.

Book V

5.I. -- To Annius Severus.

I have come in for a legacy, inconsiderable in amount, yet more gratifying than even the handsomest one could be. Why so? I will tell you. Pomponia Galla, who had disinherited her son Asudius Curianus, had left me her heir and had given me as co-heirs Sertorius Severus, a man of praetorian rank, and other Roman knights of distinction. Curianus begged me to make my portion over to him, and so strengthen his position with the court by declaring in his favour beforehand, promising at the same time to make the amount good to me by a secret compact. My answer was that my character did not allow me to act in one way before the world and in another in private, and I further urged that it would not be a proper thing to make over sums of money to a wealthy and childless man. In short, my argument was that I should not benefit him by making over the amount, but that I should benefit him if I renounced my legacy, and that this I was perfectly willing to do, if he could satisfy me that he had been unjustly disinherited. His reply to this was to ask me to investigate the case judicially. After some hesitation I said, "I will, for I do not see why I should appear less honourable in my own eyes than I do in yours. But remember even now that I shall not hesitate to pronounce in favour of your mother if I feel honourably bound to do so." "Do as you will," he replied, "for what you will is sure to be just and right."

I called in to assist me two of the most thoroughly honourable men that the State could boast of possessing, Corellius and Frontinus. With these by my side I sat in my private room. Curianus then laid his case before us; I replied briefly, for there was no one else present to defend the motives of the deceased. Then I withdrew, and, in accordance with the views of Corellius and Frontinus, I said, "Curianus, we think that your mother had just grounds for resentment against you." Subsequently, he lodged an appeal before the centumvirs against the other heirs but not against me. The day for the hearing approached, and my co-heirs were disposed to agree to a compromise and come to terms, not because they doubted their legal position, but owing to the troubled state of the times. They were afraid that what had happened to many others might happen to them, and that they might leave the Centumvirs' Court with some capital charge against them. Moreover, there were some among their number who were open to the charge of having been friends of Gratilla and Rusticus, so they begged me to speak with Curianus. We met in the Temple of Concord, and I addressed him there in the following terms: "If your mother had left you heir to a fourth of her estate, could you complain? But what if she had left you heir to the whole, and yet had so encumbered it with legacies that not more than a fourth of the whole remained? I think you ought to be satisfied if, after being disinherited by your mother, you receive a fourth from her heirs, and this sum I will myself increase. You know that you did not lodge any appeal against me, that two years have passed, and that I have established my title to my share. But in order that my co-heirs may find you more tractable, and that you may lose nothing by the consideration you have shown me, I offer you of my own free will the amount that I have received."

I have reaped the reward not only of my scrupulously fair dealing, but also of my reputation. Curianus left me a legacy, and, unless I flatter myself unduly, he has given signal distinction to the honest course of action I pursued. I have written to tell you this because it is my custom to discuss with you any matters which give me pain or pleasure, as freely as though I were talking to myself. Besides, I thought it would be unkind to defraud you, who have such a great regard for me, of the pleasure which I have received therefrom. For I am not such a perfect philosopher as to think it makes no difference whether I receive or not the approbation of others -- which is itself a kind of reward -- when I think that I have acted in an honourable manner. Farewell.

5.II. -- To Calpurnius Flaccus.

I received the very fine sea-carp which you sent me. The weather is so stormy that I cannot return you like for like, either from the market here at Laurentinum or from the sea. So all you will get is a barren letter, which frankly makes no return and does not even imitate Diomede's clever device in exchanging gifts. But your kindness is such that you will excuse me all the more readily because I confess in my letter that I do not deserve it. Farewell.

5.III. -- To Titius Aristo.

While I gratefully acknowledge your many acts of kindness to me, I must especially thank you for not concealing from me the fact that my verses have formed the subject of many long discussions at your house, that such discussions have been lengthened owing to the different views expressed, and that some people, while finding no fault with the writings themselves, blamed me in a perfectly friendly and candid way for having written on such themes and for having read them in public. Well, in order to aggravate my misdeeds, here is my reply to them: "Yes, I do occasionally compose verses which are far from being couched in a serious vein. I don't deny it. I also listen to comedies, and attend the performances of mimes. I read lyrics, and I understand the poems of Sotades. Moreover, I now and then laugh, jest, and amuse myself; in short, to sum up in a word every kind of harmless recreation, I may say 'I am a man.'"

Nor does it annoy me that people should form such opinions about my character, when it is plain that those who are surprised that I should compose such poems are unaware that the most learned of men and the gravest and purest livers have regularly done the same thing. But I feel sure that I shall easily obtain permission from those who know the character and calibre of the authors in whose footsteps I am treading, to stray in company with men whom it is an honour to follow, not only in their serious but in their lightest moods. I will not mention the names of those still living for fear of seeming to flatter, but is a person like myself to be afraid that it will be unbecoming for him to do what well became Marcus Tullius, Caius Calvus, Asinius Pollio, Marcus Messalla, Quintus Hortensius, M. Brutus, Lucius Sulla, Quintus Catulus, Quintus Scaevola, Servius Sulpicius, Varro, Torquatus -- or rather the Torquati, -- Caius Memmius, Lentulus, Gaetulicus, Annaeus Seneca, Lucan, and, last of all, Verginius Rufus? If the names of these private individuals are not enough, I may add those of the divine Julius, Augustus and Nerva, and that of Tiberius Caesar. I pass by the name of Nero, though I am aware that a practice does not become any the worse because it is sometimes followed by men of bad character, while a practice usually followed by men of good character retains its honesty. Among the latter class of men one must give a pre-eminent place to Publius Vergilius, Cornelius Nepos, and to Attius and Ennius, who should perhaps come first. These men were not senators, but purity of character is the same in all ranks.

But, you say, I recite my compositions and I cannot be sure that they did. Granted, but they may have been content with their own judgment, whereas I am too modest to think that any composition of mine is sufficiently perfect when it has no other approbation but my own.

Consequently, these are the reasons why I recite in public, first, because a man who recites becomes a keener critic of his own writings out of deference to his audience, and, secondly, because, where he is in doubt, he can decide by referring the point to his auditors. Moreover, he constantly meets with criticism from many quarters, and even if it is not openly expressed, he can tell what each person thinks by watching the expression and eyes of his hearers, or by a nod, a motion of the hand, a murmur, or dead silence. All these things are tolerably clear indications which enable one to distinguish judgment from complaisance. And so, if any one who was present at my reading takes the trouble to look through the same compositions, he will find that I have either altered or omitted certain passages, in compliance perhaps with his judgment, though he never uttered a word to me. But I am arguing on this point as though I invited the whole populace to my reading room and not merely a few friends to my private chamber, while the possession of a large circle of friends has been a source of pride to many men and a reproach to none. Farewell.

5.IV. -- To Julius Valerianus.

The incident is trifling in itself, but it is leading up to important consequences. Sollers, a man of praetorian rank, asked permission of the Senate to establish a market on his property. The delegates of the people of Vicetia opposed it: Tuscilius Nominatus appeared as their counsel, and the hearing was postponed. At a later meeting of the Senate, the Vicetini entered without their counsel and said that they had been tricked, -- I cannot say whether it was merely a hasty expression, or whether they really thought they had been. When they were asked by the praetor Nepos whom they had instructed to appear for them, they said, "We have the same counsel as before." To the question whether on the previous occasion he had appeared for them gratuitously, they said they had given him 6000 sesterces, and on being asked whether they paid him a further fee, they replied, "Yes, a thousand denarii." Nepos demanded that Nominatus should be called, and matters went no further on that day. But, I fancy, the case has gone to much greater lengths than that, for it often happens that a mere touch is sufficient to set things in commotion, and then they spread far and wide. I have made you prick up your ears, so now you will have to ask in your very nicest manner for me to tell you the rest of the story, unless you decide to come to Rome for the sequel, and prefer to see it for yourself rather than read about it. Farewell.

5.V. -- To Nonius Maximus.

I have been told that Caius Fannius is dead, and the news has greatly upset me, in the first place, because I loved him for his taste and learning, and, secondly, because I used to avail myself of his judgment. He was naturally keen-witted; experience had sharpened his acumen, and he could detect the truth without hesitation. I am troubled, too, owing to the circumstances in which he died, for he has died without revoking an old will which contains no mention of those for whom he had the greatest affection, and is in favour of those with whom he has been on bad terms. However, this might have been got over -- what is most serious is that he has left unfinished his finest work. Although his time was taken up with his profession as a pleader, he was engaged in writing the lives of those who were put to death or banished by Nero. He had already finished three books, in an unadorned, accurate style and in the Latin language. They are something between narrative and history, and the eagerness which people displayed to read them made him all the more desirous to finish the remaining volumes.

It always seems to me hard and untimely when people die who are engaged upon some immortal work. For those who are devoted to their pleasures and live a sort of day-to-day existence exhaust every day the reasons why they should go on living, whereas when people think of posterity and keep alive their memory by their works, their death, come as it may, is always sudden, inasmuch as it cuts short something that is still unfinished. However, Caius Fannius had had for a long time a presentiment of what was to befall him. He dreamt in the quiet of the night that he was lying on his bed dressed for study and that he had a writing desk before him, as was his wont. Then he thought that Nero came to him, sat down on the couch, and after producing the first volume which Fannius had written about his crimes, turned over the pages to the end. He did the same with the second and third volumes, and then departed. Fannius was much alarmed, and interpreted the dream to mean that he would leave off writing just where Nero had left off reading, and so the event proved.

When I think of it I feel grieved to think how many wakeful hours and how much labour Fannius toiled through in vain. I see before me my own mortality and my own writings. Nor do I doubt that you have the same thought and anxiety for the work which is still on your hands. Let us do our best, therefore, while life lasts, that death may find as few works of ours as possible for him to destroy. Farewell.

5.VI. -- To Domitius Apollinaris.

I was charmed with the kind consideration which led you, when you heard that I was about to visit my Tuscan villa in the summer, to advise me not to do so during the season that you consider the district unhealthy. Undoubtedly, the region along the coast of Tuscany is trying and dangerous to the health, but my property lies well back from the sea; indeed, it is just under the Apennines, which are the healthiest of our mountain ranges. However, that you may not have the slightest anxiety on my account, let me tell you all about the climatic conditions, the lie of the land, and the charms of my villa. It will be as pleasant reading for you as it is pleasant writing for me.

In winter the air is cold and frosty: myrtles, olives and all other trees which require constant warmth for them to do well, the climate rejects and spurns, though it allows laurel to grow, and even brings it to a luxuriant leaf. Occasionally, however, it kills it, but that does not happen more frequently than in the neighbourhood of Rome. In summer, the heat is marvellously tempered: there is always a breath of air stirring, and breezes are more common than winds. Hence the number of old people to be found there: you find the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of the young people still living; you are constantly hearing old stories and tales of the past, so that, when you set foot there, you may fancy that you have been born in another century.

The contour of the district is most beautiful. Picture to yourself an immense amphitheatre, such as only Nature can create, with a wide-spreading plain ringed with hills, and the summits of the hills themselves covered with tall and ancient forests. There is plentiful and varied hunting to be had. Down the mountain slopes there are stretches of underwoods, and among these are rich, deep-soiled hillocks -- where if you look for a stone you will have hard work to find one -- which are just as fertile as the most level plains, and ripen just as rich harvests, though later in the season. Below these, along the whole hillsides, stretch the vineyards which present an unbroken line far and wide, on the borders and lowest level of which comes a fringe of trees. Then you reach the meadows and the fields -- fields which only the most powerful oxen and the stoutest ploughs can turn. The soil is so tough and composed of such thick clods that when it is first broken up it has to be furrowed nine times before it is subdued. The meadows are jewelled with flowers, and produce trefoil and other herbs, always tender and soft, and looking as though they were always fresh. For all parts are well nourished by never-failing streams, and even where there is most water there are no swamps, for the declivity of the land drains off into the Tiber all the moisture that it receives and cannot itself absorb.

The Tiber runs through the middle of the plain; it is navigable for ships, and all the grain is carried down stream to the city, at least in winter and spring. In summer the volume of water dwindles away, leaving but the name of a great river to the dried-up bed, but in the autumn it recovers its flood. You would be delighted if you could obtain a view of the district from the mountain height, for you would think you were looking not so much at earth and fields as at a beautiful landscape picture of wonderful loveliness. Such is the variety, such the arrangement of the scene, that wherever the eyes fall they are sure to be refreshed.

My villa, though it lies at the foot of the hill, enjoys as fine a prospect as though it stood on the summit; the ascent is so gentle and easy, and the gradient so unnoticeable, that you find yourself at the top without feeling that you are ascending. The Apennines lie behind it, but at a considerable distance, and even on a cloudless and still day it gets a breeze from this range, never boisterous and rough, for its strength is broken and lost in the distance it has to travel. Most of the house faces south; in summer it gets the sun from the sixth hour, and in winter considerably earlier, inviting it as it were into the portico, which is broad and long to correspond, and contains a number of apartments and an old-fashioned hall. In front, there is a terrace laid out in different patterns and bounded with an edging of box; then comes a sloping ridge with figures of animals on both sides cut out of the box-trees, while on the level ground stands an acanthus-tree, with leaves so soft that I might almost call them liquid. Round this is a walk bordered by evergreens pressed and trimmed into various shapes; then comes an exercise ground, round like a circus, which surrounds the box-trees that are cut into different forms, and the dwarf shrubs that are kept clipped. Everything is protected by an enclosure, which is hidden and withdrawn from sight by the tiers of box-trees. Beyond is a meadow, as well worth seeing for its natural charm as the features just described are for their artificial beauty, and beyond that there stretches an expanse of fields and a number of other meadows and thickets.

At the head of the portico there runs out the dining-room, from the doors of which can be seen the end of the terrace with the meadow and a good expanse of country beyond it, while from the windows the view on the one hand commands one side of the terrace and the part of the villa which juts out, and on the other the grove and foliage of the adjoining riding-school. Almost opposite to the middle of the portico is a summer-house standing back a little, with a small open space in the middle shaded by four plane-trees. Among them is a marble fountain, from which the water plays upon and lightly sprinkles the roots of the plane-trees and the grass plot beneath them. In this summer-house there is a bed-chamber which excludes all light, noise, and sound, and adjoining it is a dining-room for my friends, which faces upon the small court and the other portico, and commands the view enjoyed by the latter. There is another bed-chamber, which is leafy and shaded by the nearest plane-tree and built of marble up to the balcony; above is a picture of a tree with birds perched in the branches equally beautiful with the marble. Here there is a small fountain with a basin around the latter, and the water runs into it from a number of small pipes, which produce a most agreeable sound. In the corner of the portico is a spacious bed-chamber leading out of the dining-room, some of its windows looking out upon the terrace, others upon the meadow, while the windows in front face the fish-pond which lies just beneath them, and is pleasant both to eye and ear, as the water falls from a considerable elevation and glistens white as it is caught in the marble basin. This bed-chamber is beautifully warm even in winter, for it is flooded with an abundance of sunshine.

The heating chamber for the bath adjoins it, and on a cloudy day we turn in steam to take the place of the sun's warmth. Next comes a roomy and cheerful undressing room for the bath, from which you pass into a cool chamber containing a large and shady swimming bath. If you prefer more room or warmer water to swim in, there is a pond in the court with a well adjoining it, from which you can make the water colder when you are tired of the warm. Adjoining the cold bath is one of medium warmth, for the sun shines lavishly upon it, but not so much as upon the hot bath which is built farther out. There are three sets of steps leading to it, two exposed to the sun, and the third out of the sun though quite as light. Above the dressing-room is a ball court where various kinds of exercise can be taken, and a number of games can be played at once. Not far from the bath-room is a staircase leading to a covered passage, at the head of which are three rooms, one looking out upon the courtyard with the four plane-trees, the second upon the meadow, and the third upon the vineyards, so each therefore enjoys a different view. At the end of the passage is a bed-chamber constructed out of the passage itself, which looks out upon the riding-course, the vineyards, and the mountains. Connected with it is another bed-chamber open to the sun, and especially so in winter time. Leading out of this is an apartment which adjoins the riding-course of the villa.

Such is the appearance and the use to which the front of my house is put. At the side is a raised covered gallery, which seems not so much to look out upon the vineyards as to touch them; in the middle is a dining-room which gets the invigorating breezes from the valleys of the Apennines, while at the other side, through the spacious windows and the folding doors, you seem to be close upon the vineyards again with the gallery between. On the side of the room where there are no windows is a private winding staircase by which the servants bring up the requisites for a meal. At the end of the gallery is a bed-chamber, and the gallery itself affords as pleasant a prospect therefrom as the vineyards. Underneath runs a sort of subterranean gallery, which in summer time remains perfectly cool, and as it has sufficient air within it, it neither admits any from without nor needs any. Next to both these galleries the portico commences where the dining-room ends, and this is cold before mid-day, and summery when the sun has reached his zenith. This gives the approach to two apartments, one of which contains four beds and the other three, and they are bathed in sunshine or steeped in shadow, according to the position of the sun.

But though the arrangements of the house itself are charming, they are far and away surpassed by the riding-course. It is quite open in the centre, and the moment you enter your eye ranges over the whole of it. Around its borders are plane-trees clothed with ivy, and so while the foliage at the top belongs to the trees themselves, that on the lower parts belongs to the ivy, which creeps along the trunk and branches, and spreading across to the neighbouring trees, joins them together. Between the plane-trees are box shrubs, and on the farther side of the shrubs is a ring of laurels which mingle their shade with that of the plane-trees. At the far end, the straight boundary of the riding-course is curved into semicircular form, which quite changes its appearance. It is enclosed and covered with cypress-trees, the deeper shade of which makes it darker and gloomier than at the sides, but the inner circles -- for there are more than one -- are quite open to the sunshine. Even roses grow there, and the warmth of the sun is delightful as a change from the cool of the shade. When you come to the end of these various winding alleys, the boundary again runs straight, or should I say boundaries, for there are a number of paths with box shrubs between them. In places there are grass plots intervening, in others box shrubs, which are trimmed to a great variety of patterns, some of them being cut into letters forming my name as owner and that of the gardener. Here and there are small pyramids and apple-trees, and now and then in the midst of all this graceful artificial work you suddenly come upon what looks like a real bit of the country planted there. The intervening space is beautified on both sides with dwarf plane-trees; beyond these is the acanthus-tree that is supple and flexible to the hand, and there are more boxwood figures and names.

At the upper end is a couch of white marble covered with a vine, the latter being supported by four small pillars of Carystian marble. Jets of water flow from the couch through small pipes and look as if they were forced out by the weight of persons reclining thereon, and the water is caught in a stone cistern and then retained in a graceful marble basin, regulated by pipes out of sight, so that the basin, while always full, never overflows. The heavier dishes and plates are placed at the side of the basin when I dine there, but the lighter ones, formed into the shapes of little boats and birds, float on the surface and travel round and round. Facing this is a fountain which receives back the water it expels, for the water is thrown up to a considerable height and then falls down again, and the pipes that perform the two processes are connected. Directly opposite the couch is a bed-chamber, and each lends a grace to the other. It is formed of glistening marble, and through the projecting folding doors you pass at once among the foliage, while both from the upper and lower windows you look out upon the same green picture. Within is a little cabinet which seems to belong at once to the same and yet another bed-chamber. This contains a bed and it has windows on every side, yet the shade is so thick without that but little light enters, for a wonderfully luxuriant vine has climbed up to the roof and covers the whole building. You can fancy you are in a grove as you lie there, only that you do not feel the rain as you do among trees. Here too a fountain rises and immediately loses itself underground. There are a number of marble chairs placed up and down, which are as restful for persons tired with walking as the bed-chamber itself. Near these chairs are little fountains, and throughout the whole riding-course you hear the murmur of tiny streams carried through pipes, which run wherever you please to direct them. These are used to water the shrubs, sometimes in one part, sometimes in another, and at other times all are watered together.

I should long since have been afraid of boring you, had I not set out in this letter to take you with me round every corner of my estate. For I am not at all apprehensive that you will find it tedious to read about a place which certainly would not tire you to look at, especially as you can get a little rest whenever you desire, and can sit down, so to speak, by laying down the letter. Moreover, I have been indulging my affection for the place, for I am greatly attached to anything that is mainly the work of my own hands or that some one else has begun and I have taken up. In short -- for there is no reason is there? why I should not be frank with you, whether my judgments are sound or unsound -- I consider that it is the first duty of a writer to select the title of his work and constantly ask himself what he has begun to write about. He may be sure that so long as he keeps to his subject-matter he will not be tedious, but that he will bore his readers to distraction if he starts dragging in extraneous matter to make weight. Observe the length with which Homer describes the arms of Achilles, and Virgil the arms of Aeneas -- yet in both cases the description seems short, because the author only carries out what he intended to. Observe how Aratus hunts up and brings together even the tiniest stars -- yet he does not exceed due limits. For his description is not an excursus, but the end and aim of the whole work. It is the same with myself, if I may compare my lowly efforts with their great ones. I have been trying to give you a bird's eye view of the whole of my villa, and if I have introduced no extraneous matter and have never wandered off my subject, it is not the letter containing the description which is to be considered of excessive size, but rather the villa which has been described.

However, let me get back to the point I started from, lest I give you an opportunity of justly condemning me by my own law, by not pursuing this digression any farther. I have explained to you why I prefer my Tuscan house to my other places at Tusculum, Tibur and Praeneste. For in addition to all the beauties I have described above, my repose here is more profound and more comfortable, and therefore all the freer from anxiety. There is no necessity to don the toga, no neighbour ever calls to drag me out; everything is placid and quiet; and this peace adds to the healthiness of the place, by giving it, so to speak, a purer sky and a more liquid air. I enjoy better health both in mind and body here than anywhere else, for I exercise the former by study and the latter by hunting. Besides, there is no place where my household keep in better trim, and up to the present I have not lost a single one of all whom I brought with me. I hope Heaven will forgive the boast, and that the gods will continue my happiness to me and preserve this place in all its beauty. Farewell.

5.VII. -- To Calvisius.

It is beyond question that a community cannot be appointed heir and cannot take a share of an inheritance before the general distribution of the estate. None the less, Saturninus, who left us his heirs, bequeathed a fourth share to our community of Comum, and then, in lieu of that fourth share, assigned them permission to take 400,000 sesterces before the division of the estate. As a matter of strict law, this is null and void, but if you only look at the intentions of the deceased, it is quite sound and valid. I don't know what the lawyers will think of what I am going to say, but to me the wishes of the deceased seem worthy of more consideration than the letter of the law, especially as regards the sum which he wished to go to our common birthplace. Moreover, I, who gave 1,600,000 sesterces our of my own money to my native place, am not the man to refuse it a little more than a third part of 400,000 sesterces which have come to me by a lucky windfall. I know that you too will not refuse to fall in with my views, as your affection for the same community is that of a thoroughly loyal citizen. I shall be glad, therefore, if at the next meeting of the decurions, you will lay before them the state of the law, and I hope you will do so briefly and modestly. Then add that we make them an offer of the 400,000 sesterces, in accordance with the wishes of Saturninus. But be sure to point out that the munificence and generosity are his, and that all we are doing is to obey his wishes. I have refrained from writing in a public manner on this business, firstly, because I knew very well that our friendship was such, and that your judgment was so ripe, that you could and ought to act for me as well as for yourself, and then again I was afraid that I might not preserve in a letter that exact mean which you will have no difficulty in preserving in a speech. For a man's expression, his gestures, and even the tones of his voice help to indicate the precise meaning of his words, while a letter, which is deprived of all these advantages, is exposed to the malignity of those who put upon it what interpretation they choose. Farewell.

5.VIII. -- To Titinius Capito.

You urge me to write history, nor are you the first to do so. Many others have often given me the same advice, and I am quite willing to follow it, not because I feel confident that I should succeed in so doing -- for it would be presumption to think so until one had tried -- but because it seems to me a very proper thing not to let people be forgotten whose fame ought never to die, and to perpetuate the glories of others together with one's own. Personally, I confess that there is nothing on which I have set my heart so much as to win a lasting reputation, and the ambition is a worthy one for any man, especially for one who is not conscious of having committed any wrong and has no cause to fear being remembered by posterity. Hence it is that both day and night I scheme to find a way "to raise myself above the ordinary dull level": my ambition goes no farther than that, for it is quite beyond my dreams "that my victorious name should pass from mouth to mouth." "And yet -- !" -- but I am quite satisfied with the fame which history alone seems to promise me. For one reaps but a small reward from oratory and poetry, unless our eloquence is really first-class, while history seems to charm people in whatever style it is written. For men are naturally curious; they are delighted even by the baldest relation of facts, and so we see them carried away even by little stories and anecdotes.

Again, there is a precedent in my own family which impels me towards writing history. My uncle, who was also my father by adoption, was a historian of the most scrupulous type, and I find all wise men agree that one can do nothing better than follow in the footsteps of one's ancestors, provided that they have gone in the right path themselves. Why, then, do I hesitate? For this reason, that I have delivered a number of pleadings of serious importance, and it is my intention to revise them carefully -- though my hopes of fame from them are only slight -- lest, in spite of all the trouble they have given me, they should perish with me, just for want of receiving the last polishing and additional touches. For if you have a view to what posterity will say, all that is not absolutely finished must be classed as incomplete matter. You will say: "Yes, but you can touch up your pleadings and compose history at the same time." I wish I could, but each is so great a task that I should think I had done very well to have finished either.

I began to plead in the Forum in my nineteenth year, and it is only just now that I begin to see darkly what an orator ought to be. What would happen if I were to take on a new task in addition to this one? Oratory and history have many things in common, but they also differ greatly in the points that seem common to both. There is narrative in both, but of a different type; the humblest, meanest and most common-place subjects suit the one; the other requires research, splendour, and dignity. In the one you may describe the bones, muscles, and nerves of the body, in the other brawny parts and flowing manes. In oratory one wants force, invective, sustained attack; in history the charm is obtained by copiousness and agreeableness, even by sweetness of style. Lastly, the words used, the forms of speech, and the construction of the sentences are different. For, as Thucydides remarks, it makes all the difference whether the composition is to be a possession for all time or a declamation for the moment; oratory has to do with the latter, history with the former.

Hence it is that I do not feel tempted to hopelessly jumble together two dissimilar styles which differ from one another just because of their great importance, and I am afraid I should become bewildered by such a terrible medley and write in the one style just where I ought to be employing the other. For the meantime, therefore, to use the language of the courts, I ask your gracious permission to go on with my pleading. However, do you be good enough even now to consider the period which it would be best for me to tackle. Shall it be a period of ancient history which others have dealt with before me? If so, the materials are all ready to hand, but the putting them together would be a heavy task. On the other hand, if I choose a modern period which has not been dealt with, I shall get but small thanks and am bound to give serious offence. For, besides the fact that the general standard of morality is so lax that there is much more to censure than to praise, you are sure to be called niggardly if you praise and too censorious if you censure, though you may have been lavish of appreciation and scrupulously guarded in reproach. However, these considerations do not stay me, for I have the courage of my convictions. I only beg of you to prepare the way for me in the direction you urge me to take, and choose a subject for me, so that, when I am at length ready to take pen in hand, no other overpowering reason may crop up to make me hesitate and delay my purpose. Farewell.

5.IX. -- To Rufus.

I had gone down to the basilica of Julius to listen to the speeches of the counsel to whom I had to reply from the last postponement. The judges were in their places; the decemvirs had arrived; the advocates were moving to and fro, and then came a long silence, broken at last by a message from the praetor. The centumvirs were dismissed and the hearing was put off, at which I was glad, for I am never so well prepared that I am not pleased at having extra time given me. The postponement was due to Nepos, the praetor-designate, who hears cases with the most scrupulous attention to legal forms. He had issued a short edict warning both plaintiffs and defendants that he would strictly carry out the decree of the Senate. Attached to the edict was a copy of the decree, which provided "that all persons engaged in any lawsuit are hereby ordered to take an oath before their cases are heard, that they have neither given nor promised any sum to their advocates, nor have entered into any contract to pay them for their advocacy." In these words and other long sentences as well, advocates were forbidden to sell their services and litigants to buy them, although, when a suit is over, the latter are allowed to offer their counsel a sum not exceeding ten thousand sesterces. The praetor, who was presiding over the Court of the Centumviri, was embarrassed by this decree of Nepos and gave us an unexpected holiday, while he made up his mind whether or not he should follow the example set him. Meanwhile, the whole town is discussing the edict of Nepos, some favourably, others adversely. Many people are saying: "Well, we have found a man to set the crooked straight. But have there been no praetors before Nepos, and who is Nepos that he should mend our public morals?" On the other hand, a number of people argue: "He has acted quite rightly. He has mastered the laws before entering office, he has read the decrees of the Senate, he is putting a stop to a disgraceful system of bargaining, and he will not allow a most honourable profession to be bought and sold in a scandalous way." That is how people are talking everywhere, and there will be no majority for one side or the other till it is known how the matter will end. It is very deplorable, but it is the accepted rule that good or bad counsels are approved or condemned according to whether they turn out well or badly. The result is that we find the self-same deed ascribed sometimes to zeal, sometimes to vanity, and even to love of liberty and downright madness. Farewell.

5.X. -- To Suetonius Tranquillus.

Do, I beg of you, fulfil the promise I made in my verses when I pledged my word that our common friends should see your compositions. People are asking for them every day, clamouring for them even, and, if you are not careful, you may find yourself served with a writ to publish them. I myself am very slow to make up my mind to publish, but you are far more of a slow-coach than even I am. So either decide at once, or take care that I do not drag those books of yours from you by the lash of my satire, as I have failed to coax them out by my hendecasyllabics. The work is absolutely finished, and if you polish it any more you will only impair it without making it shine the more brightly. Do let me see your name on the title page; do let me hear that the volumes of my friend Tranquillus are being copied, read, and sold. It is only fair, considering the strength of our attachment, that you should afford me the same gratification that I have afforded you. Farewell.

5.XI. -- To Calpurnius Fabatus.

I have received your letter, from which I gather that you have dedicated a most beautiful portico in the joint names of yourself and your son, and that on the following day you promised a sum of money for the decoration of the gates, so as to signalise the completion of your earlier act of generosity by immediately beginning a new one. I am delighted to hear it, in the first place, on account of the reputation you will secure, of which some part will extend to me, owing to the closeness of our friendship; secondly, because I see that the name of my father-in-law will be perpetuated by these choice works; and, lastly, because our country is in such a flourishing state. Pleasant as it is to see her honoured by any one, it is trebly gratifying when the honour is paid by yourself. It only remains for me to pray Heaven to confirm you in this habit of mind, and bestow upon you long length of years. For I venture to prophesy that, when your latest promise is complete, you will set about something else. When once a man's generosity has been aroused it knows not where to stop, for the more it is practised the more beautiful it becomes in the eyes of the generous. Farewell.

5.XII. -- To Terentius Scaurus.

Before giving a recital of a little speech which I had some thoughts of publishing, I called a few friends to hear it, so as to put me on my mettle, but not many, so that I might get candid criticism. For there are two reasons why I give these recitals, one that I may screw myself up to the proper pitch by their anxiety that I should do myself justice, and the other that they may correct me if I happen to make a mistake and do not notice it because the blunder is my own. I got what I wanted and I found some friends who gave me their advice freely; while I myself noticed certain passages which required correction. I have revised the speech which I am sending you. You will see what the subject is from the title, and the speech itself will explain all other points. It ought now to become so familiar to people as to be understood without any preface. But I trust that you will write and tell me what you think of it as a whole as well as in parts, for I shall be the more careful to suppress it, or the more determined to publish it, according as your critical judgment inclines one way or the other. Farewell.

5.XIII. -- To Valerianus.

In compliance with your request -- and the promise I made to comply in case you asked me -- I will write and tell you the upshot of the demand of Nepos in the matter of Tuscilius Nominatus. Nominatus was brought into the Senate, and he pleaded his own case. There was no one to accuse him, for the legates of the Vicetini, so far from making matters difficult for him, smoothed his path. The substance of his defence was that in his conduct of the case he had failed not in loyalty but in resolution, that he had come down with the intention of pleading and had been seen in the Senate-house, but had been discouraged by what his friends told him in conversation, and so had left the chamber. He had been advised, he said, not to oppose, especially in the Senate, a member of that body who was now fighting hard not so much to get leave to establish a market on his estate, as to maintain his influence, reputation, and position, and he was warned that if he did not give way he would come in for greater ill-will than had been recently shown him. It was true that he had been hissed as he left the chamber on the previous hearing, but only by a few people. He spoke in a very appealing way and shed a number of tears, and, throughout his pleading, he used his undoubted abilities as a speaker to make it seem that he was not so much defending his conduct as asking pardon for it, which was certainly the safest and best course for him to adopt.

He was acquitted on the motion of the consul-designate, Afranius Dexter, whose speech may be summarised as follows. He argued that Nominatus would have done much better if he had gone through with the cause of the Vicetini with the same resolution with which he had undertaken it, but that since his conduct, though blameworthy, was not fraudulent, and he had not been convicted of having committed any crime, he had better be acquitted on the understanding that he should return to the Vicetini the fees he had received from them. All present agreed, with the exception of Fabius Aper, who proposed that Nominatus should be disbarred for the term of five years, and he continued firmly in that opinion though he drew no one over to side with him. He even produced the law under which the meeting of the Senate had been convened, and forced Dexter, who had been the first to propose the resolution opposed to his, to swear that his proposal was for the good of the State. Though this demand was perfectly legal, certain members loudly protested against it, on the ground that Aper seemed to be accusing Dexter of showing undue favour to Nominatus. But before any further speeches were made to the motion, Nigrinus, a tribune of the plebs, read out a learned and weighty remonstrance in which he complained that counsel were bought and sold, that they would sell their clients' cases, that they conspired together to make litigation, and that, instead of being satisfied with fame, they drew large and fixed amounts at the expense of citizens. He recited the heads of various laws, he recalled to their memories certain decrees of the Senate, and at last proposed that, as the laws and the decrees of the Senate were treated as a dead letter, they should petition their excellent Emperor to find a remedy for such a scandal.

A few days elapsed, and then the Emperor issued an edict which was at once moderate and severe. You will be able to read the text of it, for it appears in the official register. Imagine how delighted I am that I have always made a point of refusing for my services as counsel not only to enter into any understanding to receive presents and gifts in any shape, but even friendly acknowledgments! We ought indeed to refrain from doing anything that is not quite honourable, not because it is forbidden, but because we should be ashamed to do it; still it is gratifying to see a custom which you have never allowed yourself to follow publicly forbidden. Very likely -- and in fact there is no doubt on the point -- I shall reap fewer praises and my reputation will not shine as brightly when all the members of my profession find themselves compelled to behave as I did quite of my own free will. In the meantime I enjoy the pleasure of hearing some of my friends say that I must have foreseen what was coming, while others banter me by declaring that the new edict has been designed to put a stop to my plunder and greed. Farewell.

5.XIV. -- To Pontius.

I had already retired to my township when the news was brought to me that Cornutus Tertullus had accepted the curatorship of the Aemilian Way. I cannot tell you how delighted I am, both for his own sake and for mine. I am pleased for his sake, because, though he is unquestionably entirely void of all ambitious aspirations, he cannot but be gratified at being offered a post without seeking it; and I am pleased on my own account, because I am all the more satisfied with my own employment now that Cornutus has had a position of equal eminence given to him. For it is just as gratifying to be placed on an equality with worthy citizens as to receive a step up in one's official position. And where is there a better man than Cornutus, or a man of more noble life? Where will you find one who follows more closely the ancient pattern in all that is praiseworthy? I know his virtues not by hearsay alone, though he enjoys a richly deserved reputation everywhere, but from a personal experience extending over many years.

We both of us entertain an affectionate regard, and have done for years, for all the worthy persons of both sexes whom our age has produced, and this community of friendships has thrown us together into the most intimate relations. Another link in the chain has been the closeness of our public connection. As you know, he was my colleague as prefect of the Treasury -- thus realising, so to speak, my dearest wish -- and again he was associated with me in the consulship. It was there that I obtained my clearest insight into the character and real greatness of the man, when I followed his judgment as a magistrate and reverenced him as a parent, while my veneration was inspired not so much by the ripeness of his years as by the ripeness of his general character. Hence it is that I congratulate both him and myself, for public reasons quite as much as for personal ones, in that now at last a virtuous life leads a man not to peril, as it used to do, but to public honours.

I should let my pen run on for ever if I were to give my joy a free course, so I will turn back to tell you how I was engaged when the messenger came and found me. I was with my wife's grandfather and her aunt, and in the company of friends I had long wished to see. I was going the round of the estate, hearing no end of complaints from my tenants, reading over with an unwilling eye and in a cursory fashion the accounts -- for I have been consecrating my energies to papers and books of quite a different style -- and I had even begun to make preparations for my journey. For I am rather pressed owing to the shortness of my leave, and I am reminded of my own public duties by hearing of those which have been entrusted to Cornutus. I hope that your Campanian villa may spare you about the same time, lest, when I return to town, I should lose a single day of your company. Farewell.

5.XV. -- To Arrius Antoninus.

It is when I try to equal your verses that I most fully appreciate how excellent they are. For just as painters rarely succeed in putting a perfectly beautiful face on their canvas without doing injustice to the original, so, though I slave hard with your verses as my model, I always fall short. Let me urge you then to publish as many as possible, so good that every one will burn to imitate them, and yet no one, or but very few, will succeed in the attempt. Farewell.

5.XVI. -- To Marcellinus.

I am writing to you in great distress. The younger daughter of your friend Fundanus is dead, and I never saw a girl of a brighter and more lovable disposition, nor one who better deserved length of days or even to live for ever. She had hardly completed her fourteenth year, yet she possessed the prudence of old age and the sedateness of a matron, with the sweetness of a child and the modesty of a maiden. How she used to cling round her father's neck! How tenderly and modestly she embraced us who were her father's friends! Her nurses, her teachers and tutors, how well she loved them, each according to his station! With what application and quickness she used to read, while her amusements were never carried to excess and never overstepped the mark. What resignation, patience and fortitude she showed during her last illness! She obeyed her doctor's orders, she cheered her sister and father, and when her body had lost all its strength, she kept herself alive by the vigour of her mind. This never failed her right up to the end, nor was it broken down by her long illness or by the fear of death, and this has made us miss her all the more severely and made our sorrow all the heavier to bear. What a sad, heart-rending funeral it was! The moment of her death seemed even more cruel than death itself, for she had just been betrothed to a youth of splendid character; the day of the wedding had been decided upon, and we had already been summoned to attend it. Think into what terrible grief our joy was changed! I really cannot tell you in words how acutely I felt it when I heard Fundanus himself, for one sorrow always leads on to other bitter sorrows -- giving the order that the money he had intended to lay out upon wedding raiment, pearls and gems, should be spent upon incense, unguents and scents.

He is, it is true, a man of learning and wisdom, who from early years has devoted himself to the deeper studies and the nobler arts, but, at a moment like this, all the philosophy he has ever heard from others or uttered himself is put on one side. All virtues but one are disregarded for the time being -- he can only think of parental love. You will forgive and even praise him for this, if you consider the loss he has suffered. For he has lost a daughter who reflected in herself, not only his face and feature, but his character, and one who was the living image of her father in every particular. If you send him a letter in the midst of this rightful grief of his, be careful to use words of solace which will not flay the heart or deal roughly with his sorrow, but which will soothe and ease his pain. The time which has elapsed will make him the more likely to admit your words of consolation, for, just as a raw wound first shrinks from the touch of the doctor's hand, then bears it without flinching and actually welcomes it, so with mental anguish we reject and fly from consolation when the pain is fresh, then after a time we look for it and find relief in its soothing application. Farewell.

5.XVII. -- To Spurinna.

I know what an interest you take in the liberal arts, and how delighted you are when young men of rank do anything worthy of their ancestry. That is why I am losing no time to tell you that to-day I made one of the audience of Calpurnius Piso. He was reading his poem on the Legends of the Stars, and it was a learned and very excellent composition. It was written in fluent, graceful, and smooth elegiacs, and rose even to lofty heights as occasion demanded. The style was cleverly varied, in some places it soared, in others it was subdued; passing from the grand to the commonplace, from thinness to richness, and from lively to severe, and in each case with consummate skill. The sweetness of his voice lent it an additional charm, and his modesty made even his voice the sweeter, while his blushes and his nervousness, which were very plain to see, still further set off the reading. I don't know why, but diffidence becomes a man of letters much more than over-confidence. However, to cut the story short, -- though I would gladly say more, because such performances are all the more charming when given by a young man, and all the rarer when he is of noble birth, -- as soon as the reading was concluded, I embraced the youth with great cordiality, and by showering praises upon him -- which are always the best incentive when giving advice -- I urged him to go on as he had begun, and hold out to his descendants the light which his own ancestors had held out to him. I congratulated his excellent mother and also his brother, who made one of the audience, and indeed achieved as much reputation for brotherly feeling as his brother Calpurnius did for his eloquence, for while the latter was reading everybody noticed first the nervous look on the brother's face, and then the expression of joy. I pray Heaven that I may often have such news for you, for I am very partial to the age I live in, and I hope that it may not prove barren and worthless. I am really most anxious that our young men of rank should have some other beautiful objects in their houses besides the busts of their ancestors, and it seems to me that the latter tacitly approve and encourage these two young men, and even recognise them as their true descendants, which is in itself a sufficiently high compliment to both. Farewell.

5.XVIII. -- To Calpurnius Macer.

As all is well with you, all is well with me. You have your wife with you, and your son; you enjoy your sea-view, your fountains, greenery, estate, and your charming villa. I cannot doubt that the latter is most charming, inasmuch as it was the home of the man who was even happier there than when he became the happiest man on earth. I am staying at my Tuscan house; I hunt and I study, sometimes in turns, sometimes both together, and I cannot as yet tell you whether I find it more difficult to catch anything or to compose anything. Farewell.

5.XIX. -- To Paulinus.

I notice how kindly you treat your servants, so I will be quite frank with you, and tell you with what indulgence I treat mine. I always bear in mind that phrase in Homer, "like a father mild," and our own Latin phrase, "father of his family." Even if I had naturally been of a harsher and less genial disposition, the weakness of my freedman Zosimus would melt my harshness, for one has to show him greater kindness just in proportion as he needs it more at his time of life. He is an honest fellow, devoted to his duties and well-educated, but his chief accomplishment and, so to speak, his particular recommendation is his skill in playing comedy, in which he is really admirable. For his delivery is sharp, intelligent, to the point, and even graceful, and he plays the harp much better than is usually expected from a comedian. He is also so clever in reading speeches, history and poetry, that you would fancy he had never studied anything else. I have gone into all this detail to show you how many services this one man can render me, and how pleasant they are. Moreover, I have long entertained a great regard for him, which has been increased by his serious ill-health, for Nature has so arranged it that nothing fires and stimulates our affection so much as the fear of losing the object of it, and I have on more than one occasion been afraid of losing Zosimus.

Some years since, while he was reciting with great earnestness and fire, he spat blood, and I sent him on that account to Egypt, from which country he recently returned with his health restored. Then, after severely taxing his voice for days together, he was warned of his old malady by a slight cough, and once more brought up some blood. So I have decided to send him to the farm which you own at Forum Julii, for I have often heard you say that the air there is healthy, and the milk peculiarly beneficial to complaints of this kind. I should be glad, therefore, if you will write to your people to take him in at the house and give him lodging, and accommodate him with anything he may require at his expense. His needs will be very small, for he is so sparing and abstemious that his frugality leads him to deny himself, not only dainties, but even that which is necessary for his weak health. When he sets out, I will give him sufficient travelling money for one who is going to your part of the country. Farewell.

5.XX. -- To Ursus.

Within a short time of their impeaching Julius Bassus the Bithynians brought a second action, this time against Rufus Varenus, their proconsul, the very man whom, in their action against Bassus, they had received permission, at their own request, to retain as their advocate. On being brought into the Senate they applied for a commission to be appointed to investigate their charges, and Varenus sought leave to be allowed to bring witnesses from the province in his defence. To this the Bithynians objected, and the matter came to a debate. I acted on behalf of Varenus, and my pleading was not without good results. I am justified in saying this, as my written speech will show whether I spoke well or badly. For in delivering a speech chance has a controlling influence on success or failure. A speech either gains or loses a good deal according to the memory, voice, and gesture of the speaker, and even the time taken in delivery, to say nothing of the popularity or unpopularity of the accused; whereas a written speech profits nothing from these advantages, loses nothing by these disadvantages, and is subject neither to lucky nor unlucky accidents.

Fonteius Magnus, one of the Bithynians, replied to me at great length, but he made very few points. Like most of the Greeks, he mistakes volubility for fulness of treatment, and they pour forth in a single breath a perfect torrent of long-winded and frigid periods. Julius Candidus rather wittily says apropos of this that eloquence is one thing and loquacity another. For there have been only one or two people who can be described as eloquent -- not one indeed if Marcus Antonius is to be believed, -- but scores of persons possess what Candidus calls loquacity, and loquacity and impudence usually go together. On the following day, Homullus spoke on behalf of Varenus, and delivered a skilful, powerful, and polished speech, while Nigrinus replied with terseness, dignity, and elegance. Acilius Rufus, the consul-designate, proposed that the Commission of Enquiry asked for by the Bithynians should be allowed, and said not a word about the request of Varenus, which was tantamount to proposing that it should be negatived. Cornelius Priscus, the consular, moved that the requests of both the accusers and the accused should be granted, and he carried a majority with him. The point we asked for was not within the four corners of the law and was not quite covered by precedent, but none the less it was entirely reasonable, though why it was reasonable I shall not tell you in this letter, in order to make you ask for a copy of my pleading. For if it be true, as Homer says, that "men always prize the song the most which rings newest in their ears," I must beware lest by allowing myself to go chattering on in this letter I destroy all the charm of novelty in that little speech of mine, which is the main thing it has to commend itself to you. Farewell.

5.XXI. -- To Saturninus.

Your letter has aroused in me conflicting emotions, for part of the news it contained made me glad, and part made me sorrowful. I was glad to hear that you were detained in town, for though you say it was much against your will, it was not against mine, especially as you promise that you will give a reading as soon as I arrive. So I thank you for waiting my coming. The bad news was that Julius Valens is lying seriously ill, although even this should not sadden us, if we only think of what is best for him, for it will be much better for him to obtain as speedy a release as possible from a disease which is past all cure. No, the real sad news, or rather heartrending news is that Julius Avitus died on ship-board while returning from his quaestorship, miles away from the brother who was devoted to him, and from his mother and sisters. Those are circumstances which do not affect him now that he is dead, but they did affect him on his death-bed, and they are a great trouble to his surviving relatives, especially as he was a young man of such promise and would have reached the highest offices in the State if only his qualities had had time to ripen. And now he has been cut down in the very flower of manhood! What a keen and enthusiastic student he was, how well read, and what a number of essays he had made in writing! Yet all have perished with him and left no fruit for posterity to reap. But it is useless for me to indulge my sorrow, for if once one gives it free play, even the slightest occasions for grief are magnified into crushing blows. I will write no more, and so check the tears which this letter has made to flow. Farewell.

End of Vol. 1.

Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Introduction |


Loeb Letters of the Younger Pliny and Panegyricus


The URL for this resource page is
http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_plinyltrs5.htm
Letters of Pliny the Younger - Book V

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.