Natural History by Pliny (1938) 9 Volumes PDF ebooks

Natural history by Pliny. Translated by Harris Rackham.

Natural history by Pliny
Natural History by Pliny


(Latin and English on opposite pages)


Gaius Plinius Secundus — usually called Pliny the Elder to distinguish him from his nephew and ward, Gaius Phnius Caecihus Secundus, whose collected correspondence has preserved such a vivid picture of Roman life in the time of Trajan — belonged to a family of wealth and position in the North of Italy.

He was born at Como in A.D. 23. After studying at Rome, he started when twenty-three years old on an official career, serving in Germany under L. Pomponius Secundus, and rising to the command of a cavalry squadron. Seven or eight years later he came back to Rome and took up the study of law. During most of Nero's principate, he lived in retirement, but towards the close of it, he reentered public life and became Procurator in Spain. He held this post until Vespasian won the principate when he returned to Rome and was admitted to the Emperor's intimate circle; they had been acquainted in earlier days when at the front in Germany. 

He also launched into another field of activity, receiving a naval commission. Throughout his busy career as a man of action, he had kept up a constant practice of study and authorship. His interest in science finally cost him his life, at the age of 56. He was in command of the fleet at Misenum on the Bay of Naples in A.D. 79 when the famous eruption of Vesuvius took place on August 23 and 24, overwhelming the little towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. 

Pliny as a man of science sailed across the bay to obtain a nearer view; he landed at Stabiae, and there was killed by poisonous fumes. The circumstances are recorded by his nephew in a letter to Tacitus (Pliny, Epp. VI. xvi). Vespasian had died and had been succeeded as Princeps by his son Titus two months before. Pliny's earlier writings were on subjects suggested by his professional experiences, e.g., the use of the javelin by cavalry, a history of the German wars, the training of the orator. 


During his retirement he produced Dubius Sermo, a treatise on grammar, and later a continuation down to his own time of the history of Rome by Aufidius Bassus; and lastly Natural History, the largest and most important of his works and the only one that has survived, although his historical -writings on the defense of the German frontier and on the events of his own period were clearly works of value, the loss of which is much to be regretted. 

The substance of both, however, is doubtless largely incorporated in the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius, the former indeed repeatedly citing PHny as his authority both in Annals and in Histories. Natural History is dedicated to Titus, who is referred to in the Preface, § 3, as " series consul '; this dates the completion of the work at a.d. 77, two years before the author's death and the accession of Titus. It is an encyclopedia of astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology, and botany, i.e. a systematic account of all the material objects that are not the product of man's manufacture; but among these topics, which are implied by the title, Pliny inserts considerable essays on human inventions and institutions (Book VII), as well as minor digressions on similar subjects, inter- spersed in various other parts of the work. 

He claims in his Preface that the work deals with 20,000 matters of importance, drawn from 100 selected authors, to whose observations he has added many of his own; some of the latter he has indicated as they occur, and there are doubtless others not so labeled, but even so, they form only a small fraction of the work, which is in the main a second-hand compilation from the works of others. In selecting from these he has shown scanty judgment and discrimination, including the false with the true at random; his selection is colored by his love of the marvelous, by his low estimate of human ability and his consciousness of human wickedness, and by his mistrust of Providence. 

Moreover, his compilations show a little methodical arrangement and are sometimes un- intelligible because he fails to understand his authority, or else because he gives wrong Latin names to things dealt ^vith by his authorities in Greek. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to underrate the value of his work. He is diligent, accurate, and free from prejudice. Though he had no considerable first-hand knowledge of the sciences and was not himself a systematic observer, he had a naturally scientific mind, and an unaffected and absorbing interest in his subjects.


Translated by Harris Rackham who is an English translator of works by Aristotle and other classical authors; Fellow of Christ's Church, Cambridge. 
Vols. 6-8 translated by W.H.S. Jones; 

Gaius Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian. He wrote the encyclopedic Naturalis Historia, which became an editorial model for encyclopedias. Died: 79 AD.

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