Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Securdus)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Securdus)

Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Securdus) (ca. A.D. 61-ca. 113) Roman writer An eyewitness to the flourishing empire of A.D. first-century Rome, the Roman writer of letters called Pliny the Younger held subjective views of customs and government. Born Gaius Caecilius, he was the nephew of Pliny the Elder, Rome's first encyclopedist; the son of a cavalry officer posted to the Rhine River; and a member of the knight class. After his father's death, Pliny was raised and homeschooled by his mother at Novum Comum (present-day Lake Como, Italy) during the mental decline of Emperor Nero and the enthronement of Vespasian, a successful soldier, in A.D. 69. On August 24, A.D. 79, Pliny was a student of rhetoric at Rome. His uncle, then commander of a fleet, saw the eruption of Vesuvius and died of s uffo - cation. As heir to Pliny the Elder's fortune, the teenager received a priceless legacy—his uncle's estate, a massive library, and research notes, which he housed at his country villa at Laurentinum, south of Rome.

Of the settled life, Pliny declared, “For my part I like a well-ordered course of life … just as I admire the regular order of the stars” (Pliny 1872, 114). Of particular value to him, intellectual discussions, good manners, and friendship offered the most solace during the empire's difficulties. At a time when he felt “harassed by a thousand troubles,” he confided to a friend the need to retreat from Rome “with its idle pursuits and laborious trifles” (125) to enjoy relaxation and private reading. After becoming a lawyer, Pliny worked as accountant to the III Gallica legion in Syria, the palace quaestor (magistrate), and treasury supervisor under Emperor Domitian. After joining his friend TACITUS in prosecuting Marius Priscus, governor of Africa, for malfeasance, Pliny became consul and chair of the senate. He accepted promotions to the provinces, where he judged cases of gubernatorial graft and embezzlement. Accompanying him to Bithynia (present-day Turkey) in A.D. 109 was his mentor, the historian SUETONIUS.

From boyhood, Pliny dedicated himself to serious writing, beginning with verse and, at age 15, a Greek tragedy. By A.D. 80, he had pled his first court case. In the Panegyricus Traiani (Encomium to Trajan, A.D. 100), an address to the senate praising Emperor Trajan, Pliny, then aged 39, emulated the speaking skills of Cicero. The text emphasizes contrasts between Trajan's skill at governance and fiscal control and the failures of his predecessor Domitian. In the Epistulae (Letters, A.D. 97-113) Pliny describes contemporary events—for instance, the details of his uncle's attempted rescues by sea of Pompeiian citizens and his death from the eruption of Vesuvius; the Roman quandary over the rising popularity of Christianity, which he considered a ridiculous superstition. In an investigation of Christians, Pliny admits, “I judged it necessary to try to get at the truth by putting to the torture two female slaves” (153). He gives up interrogating the cultists and turns the issue over to the emperor. His last letters to Trajan complained of the lackluster supervision of Roman provinces by venal officials. Pliny's reputation for veracity was so respected that the Christian apologist TERTULLIAN of Carthage quoted his letters in essays on religious faith and worship styles.


Hoffer, Stanley E. The Anxieties of Pliny the Younger.

Philadelphia: American Philological Association, 1999.

Pliny. Pliny’s Letters. Translated by Alfred Church and W. J. Brodribb. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1872.