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The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6) by Pliny, the Elder

The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6)
by Pliny, the Elder
Title: The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 1 (of 6) by Pliny, the Elder
Release Date: 2018-07-12
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.




H. T. RILEY, Esq., B.A.,





The only translation of Pliny’s Natural History whichhas hitherto appeared in the English language is that byPhilemon Holland, published in the latter part of the reignof Elizabeth. It is no disparagement to Holland’s merits,as a diligent and generally faithful translator, to say thathis work is unsuited to the requirements of the nineteenthcentury.

In the present translation, the principal editions ofPliny have been carefully consulted, and no pains havebeen spared, as a reference to the Notes will show, topresent to the reader the labours of recent Commentators,among whom stands pre-eminent the celebrated Cuvier. Ithas been a primary object to bring to the illustration of thework whatever was afforded by the progress of knowledgeand modern discoveries in science and art. Without ampleillustration, Pliny’s valuable work would want much of theinterest which belongs to it, and present difficulties scarcelysurmountable by any one who has not made the Author hisespecial study.

In the first two Books, the text of Hardouin, as given inLemaire’s edition (Paris, 1827), has been followed; in theviremainder that of Sillig (Gotha, 1851-3), excepting in somefew instances, where, for reasons given in the Notes, ithas been deemed advisable to depart from it. The firsttwo Books, and portions of others, are the performance ofthe late Dr. Bostock, who contemplated a translation ofthe entire work; but, unfortunately for the interests ofscience, he was not permitted to carry his design intoexecution.

Upwards of a hundred pages had been printed off beforethe present Translator entered on his duties; and as theyhad not the advantage of Dr. Bostock’s superintendencethrough the press, some trifling oversights have occurred.These are, for the most part, corrected in a short Appendix.


Caius Plinius Secundus was born either at Verona orNovum Comum1, now Como, in Cisalpine Gaul, in the yearA.U.C. 776, and A.D. 23. It is supposed that his earlier yearswere spent in his native province; and that he was still ayouth when he removed to Rome, and attended the lecturesof the grammarian Apion. It was in about his sixteenth yearthat he there saw Lollia Paulina2, as in the following shewas divorced by Caligula, and it was probably in his twentieththat he witnessed the capture of a large fish at Ostia,by Claudius and his attendants3, and in his twenty-secondthat he visited Africa4, Egypt, and Greece.

In his twenty-third year Pliny served in Germany underthe legatus Pomponius Secundus, whose friendship he soonacquired, and was in consequence promoted to the commandof an ala, or troop of cavalry. During his military careerhe wrote a treatise (now lost) “On the Use of the Javelinby Cavalry,” and travelled over that country5 as far asthe shores of the German Ocean, besides visiting BelgicGaul. In his twenty-ninth year he returned to Rome,and applied himself for a time to forensic pursuits, whichhowever he appears soon to have abandoned. About thistime he wrote the life of his friend Pomponius, and anaccount of the “Wars in Germany,” in twenty books,neither of which are extant. Though employed in writing aviiicontinuation of the “Roman History” of Aufidius Bassus, fromthe time of Tiberius, he judiciously suspended its publicationduring the reign of Nero, who appointed him his procuratorin Nearer Spain, and not improbably honoured him withequestrian rank. It was during his sojourn in Spain that thedeath of his brother-in-law, C. Cæcilius, left his nephew C.Plinius Cæcilius Secundus (the author of the Letters) an orphan;whom immediately upon his return to Rome, A.D. 70, headopted, receiving him and his widowed mother under his roof.

Having been previously known to Vespasian in theGerman wars, he was admitted into the number of hismost intimate friends, and obtained an appointment at court,the nature of which is not known, but Rezzonico conjecturesthat it was in connexion with the imperial treasury.Though Pliny was on intimate terms also with Titus, towhom he dedicated his Natural History, there is littleground for the assertion, sometimes made, that he servedunder him in the Jewish wars. His account of Palestineclearly shows that he had never visited that country. Itwas at this period that he published his Continuation of theHistory of Aufidius Bassus.

From the titles which he gives to Titus in the dedicatorypreface, it is pretty clear that his Natural History was publishedA.D. 77, two years before his death.

In A.D. 73 or 74, he had been appointed by Vespasianpræfect of the Roman fleet at Misenum, on the western coastof Italy. It was to this elevation that he owed his romanticdeath, somewhat similar, it has been remarked, to that ofEmpedocles, who perished in the crater of Mount Ætna.The closing scene of his active life, simultaneously with thedestruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii, cannot be betterdescribed than in the language employed by his nephew inan Epistle to his friend Tacitus the historian6:—“My unclewas at Misenum, where he was in personal command of thefleet. On the ninth7 day before the calends of September, atabout the seventh hour, 1 P.M., my mother, observing the appearanceof a cloud of unusual size and shape, mentioned it tohim. After reclining in the sun he had taken his coldbath; he had then again lain down and, after a slight repast,applied himself to his studies. Immediately upon hearingixthis, he called for his shoes, and ascended a spot fromwhich he could more easily observe this remarkable phænomenon.The cloud was to be seen gradually rising upwards;though, from the great distance, it was uncertainfrom which of the mountains it arose; it was afterwards,however, ascertained to be Vesuvius. In appearance andshape it strongly resembled a tree; perhaps it was more likea pine than anything else, with a stem of enormous lengthreaching upwards to the heavens, and then spreading out ina number of branches in every direction. I have little doubtthat either it had been carried upwards by a violent gust ofwind, and that the wind dying away, it had lost its compactness,or else, that being overcome by its own weight, ithad decreased in density and become extended over a largesurface: at one moment it was white, at another dingy andspotted, just as it was more or less charged with earth orwith ashes.

“To a man so eager as he was in the pursuit of knowledge,this appeared to be a most singular phænomenon, and one thatdeserved to be viewed more closely; accordingly he gaveorders for a light Liburnian vessel to be got ready, and leftit at my option to accompany him. To this however I madeanswer, that I should prefer continuing my studies; and asit so happened, he himself had just given me something towrite. Taking his tablets with him, he left the house. Thesailors stationed at Retina, alarmed at the imminence of thedanger—for the village lay at the foot of the mountain,and the sole escape was by sea—sent to entreat his assistancein rescuing them from this frightful peril. Upon thishe instantly changed his plans, and what he had alreadybegun from a desire for knowledge, he determined to carryout as a matter of duty. He had the gallies put to sea at once,and went on board himself, with the intention of rendering assistance,not only to Retina, but to many other places as well;for the whole of this charming coast was thickly populated.Accordingly he made all possible haste towards the spot,from which others were flying, and steered straight onwardsinto the very midst of the danger: so far indeed was hefrom every sensation of fear, that he remarked and hadnoted down every movement and every change that was tobe observed in the appearance of this ominous eruption.xThe ashes were now falling fast upon the vessels, hotterand more and more thickly the nearer they approached theshore; showers of pumice too, intermingled with blackstones, calcined and broken by the action of the flames:the sea suddenly retreated from the shore, where the debrisof the mountain rendered landing quite impossible. Afterhesitating for a moment whether or not to turn back, uponthe pilot strongly advising him to do so:—“Fortune favoursthe bold8,” said he, “conduct me to Pomponianus.” Pomponianuswas then at Stabiæ, a place that lay on the otherside of the bay, for in those parts the shores are winding,and as they gradually trend away, the sea forms a numberof little creeks. At this spot the danger at present was notimminent, but still it could be seen, and as it appeared to beapproaching nearer and nearer, Pomponianus had orderedhis baggage on board the ships, determined to take toflight, if the wind, which happened to be blowing the otherway, should chance to lull. The wind, being in this quarter,was extremely favourable to his passage, and my uncle soonarriving at Stabiæ, embraced his anxious friend, and did hisbest to restore his courage; and the better to re-assure himby evidence of his own sense of their safety, he requested theservants to conduct him to the bath. After bathing he tookhis place at table, and dined, and that too in high spirits, orat all events, what equally shows his strength of mind, withevery outward appearance of being so. In the mean timevast sheets of flame and large bodies of fire were to be seenarising from Mount Vesuvius; the glare and brilliancy ofwhich were beheld in bolder relief as the shades of nightcame on apace. My uncle however, in order to calm theirfears, persisted in saying that this was only the light givenby some villages which had been abandoned by the rusticsin their alarm to the flames: after which he retired to rest,and soon fell fast asleep: for his respiration, which with himwas heavy and loud, in consequence of his corpulence, wasdistinctly heard by the servants who were keeping watch atthe door of the apartment. The courtyard which led to hisapartment had now become filled with cinders and pumice-stones,to such a degree, that if he had remained any longerin the room, it would have been quite impossible for him toxileave it. On being awoke he immediately arose, and rejoinedPomponianus and the others who had in the meanwhilebeen sitting up. They then consulted together whetherit would be better to remain in the house or take theirchance in the open air; as the building was now rocking toand fro from the violent and repeated shocks, while the walls,as though rooted up from their very foundations, seemedto be at one moment carried in this direction, at anotherin that. Having adopted the latter alternative, they werenow alarmed at the showers of light calcined pumice-stonesthat were falling thick about them, a risk however to whichas a choice of evils they had to submit. In taking this stepI must remark that, while with my uncle it was reason triumphingover reason, with the rest it was only one feargetting the better of the other. Taking the precaution ofplacing pillows on their heads, they tied them on with towels,by way of protection against the falling stones and ashes.It was now day in other places, though there it was stillnight, more dark and more profound than any ordinary night;torches however and various lights in some measure servedto dispel the gloom. It was then determined to make forthe shore, and to ascertain whether the sea would now admitof their embarking; it was found however to be still toostormy and too boisterous to allow of their making the attempt.Upon this my uncle lay down on a sail which hadbeen spread for him, and more

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