Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger

Life

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, known in English as Pliny the Younger or Minor to distinguish him from Pliny the Elder, his uncle and adoptive parent after his father passed away. Pliny was actually born C. Caecilius Secundus at Como in 61/62 CE; he took his uncle’s name after the adoption.

He studied rhetoric in Rome under Quintilian and Nicetes Sacerdos of Smyrna, and soon thereafter began his legal career. Tragedy struck when in 79 his uncle died while investigating the eruption of Vesuvius, which Pliny detailed in letters 6.16 and 6.20.

Despite the loss, Pliny had an illustrious career. He held all the important offices—quaestor, tribune of the plebs, praefectus aerarii militarispraefectus aerarii Saturni, and finally was consul. Additionally, he was appointed governor of Bithynia and eventually elected as augur, an important priesthood of Rome.

Pliny was close to and corresponded with a number of political and literary elites such as Tacitus with whom he successfully prosecuted Marius Priscus in 100 for murder and corruption, and Martial, a well-known epigrammatist. He also was Suetonius patron.

Later in life Pliny was appointed imperial governor (legatus Augustiover Bithynia-Pontus, where he likely spent out the rest of his days.

Works

Pliny wrote extensively, but all of his poetry and all but one of his orations are lost. The only surviving works are his Epistulae, correspondence with various figures in ten books, and the Panegyricus, his gratitude to the emperor Trajan delivered in the Senate when he was appointed consul, enlarged for publication.

The first nine books of letters appear to be a conscious effort for posterity, something to mimic the success of Cicero’s collection. The letters appear highly polished and show, no matter how pretentiously, Pliny as a model Roman: he advises friends, recommends clients, sings the praises of his uncle, scoffs at sports, and is in love with reading and writing.

The tenth book is the anomaly. The set is a collected 72 of Pliny’s letters to the emperor Trajan while he was governor of Bithynia, along with 51 of the emperor’s replies. Two letters in particular (10.96 & 97) particular have attracted much attention for Pliny’s discussion of the persecution of Christians.

His final extant work and only surviving speech is the Panegyricus, which was delivered before the senate in thanks for receiving the consulship. Therein, he condemns the notoriously violent and dangerous reign of Domitian, contrasting it and expressing gratitude for the freedoms and restoration of rights under Trajan.

Texts Online

Further Reading