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Pliny (the Elder),

roman history natural time

in full Gaius Plinius Secundus ( c .23–79) Roman writer on natural history: the first encyclopedist.

Pliny was a child of a wealthy Roman family and so was well educated; at 23 he began an official career as a member of the second great Roman order, the equestrian order. His early duties, as was usual, were in the army: he served in the cavalry on the Rhine frontier and his first writing was on the use of javelins by cavalry.

In about AD 57 he left the army and wrote on grammar and on Roman history, and travelled in the Roman empire as a financial controller. He must then have begun his most famous work, the 37 books of his Natural History . His last post was as commander of the fleet at Misenum near Naples. He probably never married, but adopted a nephew (Pliny the Younger) as his heir. His energy as a writer was remarkable: he needed little sleep, and his motto was ‘to live is to be awake’. He saw the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, and was killed near Pompeii by its fumes.

He was a passionate gatherer of the scientific and technical knowledge of his time, ever-anxious to record the facts for posterity. He wrote that ‘it is god-like for man to help man’; and his curiosity was boundless. His Natural History covers astronomy, geology, geography, zoology, botany, agriculture and pharmacology, and the extraction of metals and stone and their uses, especially in art. His emphasis was on facts, and his theorizing spasmodic. His fact-gathering was uncritical and myth and legend are mingled with observation. Pliny has a unique place as a source of information on the science and technology of his time.

Plummer, Brenda Gayle (1946–) - Haitian History; U.S. Foreign Policy [next] [back] Pleasure Cove

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