Pliny the Younger

views updated May 29 2018


Nephew and adopted son of Pliny the Elder, Roman orator, letter writer, and administrator; b. Comum (in north Italy), A.D. 61 or 62; d. before 114. After his adoption Pliny's name became C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus. As a member of the senatorial class he received the typical rhetorical education of the time and entered a career of public service. He served as praefectus aerarii militaris under Domitian and was appointed praefectus aerarii Saturni by Nervaboth important financial posts. As consul suffectus in 100, he delivered the laudatory address that he developed subsequently into his elaborate and fulsome Panegyricus. He achieved a reputation as a prosecutor and defense counsel in political cases, but his forensic speeches are not extant. It is most probably owing to his special knowledge of Bithynia, exhibited when he defended two former governors of that province accused of maladministration, that Trajan sent him as an imperial legate to order the affairs of Bithynia. He served in this capacity from 111 to 113.

The nine books of letters Pliny wrote between 97 and 109 were originally intended for publication and lack the intimacy and sparkle of Cicero's Letters to Atticus, but they contain much personal information on both Pliny and his times. Book 10 of his Letters is different, however, because it is comprised of official correspondence between Pliny and Trajan respecting affairs in Bithyniaeven those of minor import. It is only too evident that a provincial governor had very little scope for personal initiativeor at least did not deem it prudent to show any appreciable independence in action.

Letters 96 and 97 are of prime importance because they are about the policy to be adopted toward the Christiana. Pliny's letter (96) describes the Christian gatherings in some detail and makes the earliest nonChristian reference to the celebration of the Eucharist and Agape. Trajan's reply (letter 97) contains the first extant statement of imperial policy respecting Christians. Its inconsistency, as was pointed out later by tertullian, indicates that the Roman state was faced with a new and unique problem and was conscious of that fact.

Bibliography: r. g. c. levens, The Oxford Classical Dictionary. ed. m. cary et al. (Oxford 1949) 704705. j. w. and a. m. duff, A Literary History of Rome in the Silver Age (2d ed. London 1960) 425443. m. schanz, c. hosius, and f. krÜger, Geschichte der römischen Literatur (Munich 191435) 2:656673. m. schuster, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 21.1 (1931) 439496. m. durry, Pline le Jeune: Lettres X et panégyrique de Trajan (Paris 1947). j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 195155) 1:18.

[m. r. p. mcguire]

Pliny the Younger

views updated May 23 2018

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger (ca. 61-ca. 113) was a Roman author and administrator. He left a collection of letters which offers intimate glimpses into public and private life during the Roman Empire.

Born of the wealthy Caecilius family at Comum in northern Italy, Pliny the Younger, as he was later known, was probably given his early education by tutors at home and then sent to Rome to study. He inherited the full estate of his uncle Pliny the Elder at his death in 79 and at this time changed his name to Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.

Pliny began his career as a lawyer at the age of 18 and enjoyed success at the bar. In his 20s he entered the magistracy of Rome and held various posts over a period of about 30 years, including a seat on the court which heard inheritance cases, the presidency of the board in charge of the banks of the Tiber and the sewers of Rome, positions in the military and senatorial treasuries, and the consulship. In 110 Trajan sent him on a special mission to investigate corruption in Bithynia. He died there about 2 years later.

Pliny's letters are preserved in 10 books. The first 9 contain 247 personal letters, and the tenth is his official correspondence with Trajan from Bithynia. Also preserved is his Panegyricus, a speech praising Trajan. The letters of books 1-9, selected, rewritten, and arranged with care by their author, were published in his lifetime. The letters of book 10 were published posthumously.

The topics of the letters are quite diverse, although each has a single subject and is written with skill, the style being historical, poetical, or oratorical to suit the theme. Some are to young men whose careers Pliny wished to further. Many are on moral, philosophical, political, or literary subjects. Many have to do with business and litigation. Others are descriptive. One considers the existence of ghosts—and contains a fascinating ghost story. Yet another tells of his third wife's touching devotion.

The letters are the best source available for the political and social history of Rome for the period they cover. In addition, there emerges from them a portrait of Pliny himself. Shrewd, magnanimous, stoical, self-satisfied, efficient, loyal, and, above all, tolerant, Pliny represents a type who at that time made workable the complex administration of the vast Roman Empire.

Further Reading

Betty Radice prepared an edition of Pliny the Younger's Letters and Panegyricus with Latin text and translation (2 vols., 1969); she also translated The Letters of the Younger Pliny (1963). See also S. E. Stout, Scribe and Critic at Work in Pliny's Letters (1954); Ronald Syme, Tacitus (2 vols., 1958); and A. N. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny (1966). □

Pliny the Younger

views updated May 29 2018

Pliny the Younger

c. a.d. 61-c. 113

Roman scholar and official whose published letters illustrated life during the Roman Empire. Following his father's death, Pliny the Younger was adopted by his uncle, the elder Pliny. He began practicing law at age 18, and eventually held several administrative positions, serving as praetor, consul, prefecture of the military and senatorial treasuries, and head of the drainage board in Rome. His collected correspondence, published in nine volumes between 100 and 109, carefully detailed the social and political life of the Roman Empire.

Pliny the Younger

views updated May 17 2018

Pliny the Younger ( Plinius the Younger, Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) (ad 62–c.116). Roman politician, orator, and writer. From ad 106 he was superintendent of aqueducts, but his chief importance in architecture lies in his descriptions of his Laurentine and Tuscan villas that have exercised the imaginations of scholars ever since.


Ruffinière du Prey (1994)