Selected Letters of Pliny - by Gerald Allen - PDF ebook

Selected Letters of Pliny.

Selected Letters of Pliny.
Selected Letters of Pliny


Historically, the letters are of the highest value as a first-hand authority for the era of Trajan, an era of restoration and advance, for which the literary evidence is singularly scanty. 

It is true that Pliny lived in a comparatively narrow circle and that his letters give us little information as to the life of the great mass of the people, yet, when this has been fully admitted, it remains true that the thoughts and recollections of a man who lived from Nero to Trajan, whose prime corresponded to one of the most glorious periods in the history of the empire, must have a value of their own. 

Moreover, if the circle in which their author lived was small, the subjects of the letters themselves are varied, politics, professional matters, literature, natural history, domestic affairs, the claims of friendship. On all these topics we have before us the views and interests of one who may fairly be said to represent the attitude of the best men and women of his time; while three of the letters, those describing the eruption of Vesuvius (vi. i6 and 20) and that in which he asks how to deal with the Christians in Bithynia (x. 96), have unique importance. 

As literature, the letters have always held a high place in spite of some adverse criticism.^ They have often been compared with those of Cicero to the advantage of the latter. Cicero wrote for the private reader during one of the most thrilling periods of Roman history in the Golden Age of the Latin language. Pliny's letters were clearly designed for publication, * E. g. in Mackail's History of Latin Literature ^and were written for the most part in a time of restored peace aid prosperity age dominated by convention. Yet they have their characteristic charm. Pliny's Latin at its best is unsurpassed in the Silver Age. His style is for the most part clear ; he has a few little tricks,, but very few obscurities, none intentional. 

The obscurities that do occur are largely due to the freedom allowed in letter-writing. The letters themselves are in some respects strikingly modern; the descriptions of nature both in its peaceful and in its most terrific aspects are fresh and vivid; the delight in country life and the appreciation of scenery *are of a kind rare in classical literature; while the story of the haunted house is the exact counterpart of the modern ghost story. 
Still, the chief charm of the letters lies in the character they reveal. It is perhaps unfortunate for Cicero that we know so much about him.

 Of Pliny, we know practically nothing beyond what he tells us himself in the letters. But it is difficult to believe that there is anything unpleasant behind. A certain vanity and priggishness no doubt appear in places; a strong desire for posthumous fame, a tendency to take credit for good actions, a lack of the sterner virtues, all this is clear enough; yet these defects are easily excused when compared with the sincerity, the kindness, the invariable good temper, and good taste, the consideration for other people, not least for women and for slaves, which appear throughout. Pliny was certainly not a hero, but he was a perfect gentleman.
Author: Gerald Allen
Publication date: 1915

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