Authors: Pliny the Younger

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman orator and letter writer

ca. 61 ce

Comum (now Como, Italy)

ca. 113 ce

Bithynia, Asia Minor (now in Turkey)

Biography

Pliny (PLIN-ee) the Younger, or Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, was born in Comum, Italy, in 61 c.e. His was an aristocratic family of much importance in the Comum area, where several inscriptions relating to the family have survived. His father was Gaius Caecilius, and his mother was Plinia, the sister of Gaius Plinius. (Gaius Plinius is more commonly known as Pliny the Elder—the soldier, lawyer, scholar, and author of the famous natural history.) In 71 the younger Pliny’s father died, leaving his son to the guardianship of his brother-in-law, the elder Pliny. In 79 the elder Pliny adopted the younger by will, and the young man combined his adopted father’s name with his own. From both his father’s and his mother’s side of the family, Pliny the Younger inherited considerable wealth and, more important, influence. {$I[AN]9810000402} {$I[A]Pliny the Younger} {$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Pliny the Younger} {$I[tim]0061 c.e.;Pliny the Younger}

Statue of Pliny the Younger.

By Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Pliny’s early education was overseen by his mother, his uncle, and his tutor, Virginius Rufus. From his early years Pliny devoted himself to writing; in one letter he states that he wrote a tragedy in Greek when he was fourteen. A lesson assignment given him by his uncle on the day in 79 when Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii kept Pliny from accompanying his scientifically curious uncle to the site of that cataclysm and thus spared him from the disaster that killed his uncle. Pliny’s later education was at least in part guided by the greatest of Roman teachers, Quintilian.

At the age of eighteen Pliny began to practice law in Rome. Most of his legal career was spent pleading before the court of the Centumviri, and thus he dealt primarily with cases having to do with wills and inheritances. He did deal with other kinds of cases, however, and achieved a wide reputation as a lawyer. He is known to have pleaded before the Senate.

Thanks to the influence of his family and to his own talents, Pliny from his earliest years served in a succession of important public offices. While a young man he was a military tribune in Syria, where he heard the Stoic philosophers. Afterward, he held the governmental position of quaestor and that of praetor (around 93), and in 100 he achieved the consulship. In honor of his appointment to that position he wrote his Panegyric, a rather stilted oration in praise of Emperor Trajan, who had given him the post. The Panegyric is the only surviving oration of the many that Pliny published. Other offices Pliny held from time to time were the prefecture of the military treasury, the prefecture of the state treasury, the custodianship of the banks and channel of the Tiber, the propraetorship of Pontica, and, about 111, the governorship of Bithynia—a position to which he was appointed, it is thought, because of his skill in fiscal matters. (The finances of Bithynia were in some disorder.) It is to his tenure as governor of Bithynia that we owe Pliny’s most important single letter (10.96), his inquiry to Emperor Trajan as to how he should treat members of the young but growing and troublesome Christian sect.

Throughout his life Pliny was a model of the active Roman gentleman. This fact is reflected in great detail in the 338 surviving texts in the ten books of his letters. Books 1 through 9 comprise letters to various friends, including the historians Tacitus and Suetonius. Book 10, which was probably published by someone other than Pliny, contains letters from Pliny to Trajan concerning his governorship of Bithynia. Book 10 also includes many of Trajan’s replies to Pliny.

Pliny was a patron of the arts—Martial was one of the poets he helped at one time or another—a sponsor of public works, a good landlord, a helpful and generous friend, a public-spirited civil servant, an astute lawyer, an amateur scholar (the great historian Tacitus was a close associate), a careful overseer of his wealth and estates, a connoisseur of the good life, and an observer of the bounties and beauties of nature. He married two or three times but had no children. His second wife was Calpurnia, granddaughter of Calpurnius Fabatus. She was much younger than her husband and reputed to have been an accomplished woman. Pliny praises her for her kind attentions to him.

Author Works Nonfiction: Epistulae, 97–109 (books 1–9), c. 113 (book 10; The Letters, 1748) Panegyricus, 100 (Pliny’s Panegyric, 1644) Bibliography Dirda, Michael. "The Letters of Pliny the Younger: Dispatches from a Dying Pompeii." Salon, 3 July 2010, /www.salon.com/2010/07/03/letters_pliny_the_younger. Accessed 10 Oct. 2017. Discusses Pliny the Younger's description of Vesuvius eruption. Also assesses his writing style and other subject matter. Du Prey, Pierre de la Ruffinière. The Villas of Pliny from Antiquity to Posterity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Discusses Pliny’s contributions to architecture by means of his compelling descriptions of villa life. Hadas, Moses. A History of Latin Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952. Hadas’s conversational style is engaging as he describes the Roman literary world, including Pliny and his letters. Hoffer, Stanley E. The Anxieties of Pliny, the Younger. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999. Finds evidence in Pliny’s letters of conscious and unconscious tension in the writer’s upper-class Roman life. Sherwin-White, A. N. The Letters of Pliny: A Social and Historical Commentary. 1966. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Indispensable for studies of Pliny. Winsbury, Rex. Pliny the Younger: A Life in Roman Letters. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Investigates the truthfulness of Pliny's correspondence. Provides an account of Pliny's personal relationships, professional circles, and politics.

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