Pliny the Elder.

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Transcriber’s notes:

Italic text is denoted _thus_.

The spelling, hyphenation, punctuation and accentuation are as the
original, except for apparent typographical errors which have been

In footnote 3897:—
See B. ii. c. 116.
corrected to read:—
See B. ii. c. 110.

In footnote 4348:—
A king of ... see B. xvi. c. 89 of the present Book.
is incorrect, as B. xvi is to be found in Vol. III.













H. T. RILEY, ESQ., B.A.,








The only translation of PLINY’S NATURAL HISTORY which has hitherto
appeared in the English language is that by Philemon Holland, published
in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth. It is no disparagement
to Holland’s merits, as a diligent and generally faithful translator,
to say that his work is unsuited to the requirements of the nineteenth

In the present translation, the principal editions of Pliny have been
carefully consulted, and no pains have been spared, as a reference to
the Notes will show, to present to the reader the labours of recent
Commentators, among whom stands pre-eminent the celebrated Cuvier.
It has been a primary object to bring to the illustration of the
work whatever was afforded by the progress of knowledge and modern
discoveries in science and art. Without ample illustration, Pliny’s
valuable work would want much of the interest which belongs to it, and
present difficulties scarcely surmountable by any one who has not made
the Author his especial study.

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

Upwards of a hundred pages had been printed off before the present
Translator entered on his duties; and as they had not the advantage
of Dr. Bostock’s superintendence through 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 or Novum Comum[1],
now Como, in Cisalpine Gaul, in the year A.U.C. 776, and A.D. 23. It
is supposed that his earlier years were spent in his native province;
and that he was still a youth when he removed to Rome, and attended
the lectures of the grammarian Apion. It was in about his sixteenth
year that he there saw Lollia Paulina[2], as in the following she was
divorced by Caligula, and it was probably in his twentieth that he
witnessed the capture of a large fish at Ostia, by Claudius and his
attendants[3], and in his twenty-second that he visited Africa[4],
Egypt, and Greece.

In his twenty-third year Pliny served in Germany under the legatus
Pomponius Secundus, whose friendship he soon acquired, and was in
consequence promoted to the command of an _ala_, or troop of cavalry.
During his military career he wrote a treatise (now lost) “On the Use
of the Javelin by Cavalry,” and travelled over that country[5] as far
as the shores of the German Ocean, besides visiting Belgic Gaul. In his
twenty-ninth year he returned to Rome, and applied himself for a time
to forensic pursuits, which however he appears soon to have abandoned.
About this time he wrote the life of his friend Pomponius, and an
account of the “Wars in Germany,” in twenty books, neither of which
are extant. Though employed in writing a continuation of the “Roman
History” of Aufidius Bassus, from the time of Tiberius, he judiciously
suspended its publication during the reign of Nero, who appointed him
his procurator in Nearer Spain, and not improbably honoured him with
equestrian rank. It was during his sojourn in Spain that the death 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, he adopted, receiving him and his widowed
mother under his roof.

Having been previously known to Vespasian in the German wars, he was
admitted into the number of his most intimate friends, and obtained an
appointment at court, the nature of which is not known, but Rezzonico
conjectures that it was in connexion with the imperial treasury. Though
Pliny was on intimate terms also with Titus, to whom he dedicated his
Natural History, there is little ground for the assertion, sometimes
made, that he served under him in the Jewish wars. His account of
Palestine clearly shows that he had never visited that country. It was
at this period that he published his Continuation of the History of
Aufidius Bassus.

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

In A.D. 73 or 74, he had been appointed by Vespasian præfect of the
Roman fleet at Misenum, on the western coast of Italy. It was to this
elevation that he owed his romantic death, somewhat similar, it has
been remarked, to that of Empedocles, who perished in the crater of
Mount Ætna. The closing scene of his active life, simultaneously with
the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii, cannot be better described
than in the language employed by his nephew in an Epistle to his friend
Tacitus the historian[6]:—“My uncle was at Misenum, where he was in
personal command of the fleet. On the ninth[7] day before the calends
of September, at about the seventh hour, 1 P.M., my mother, observing
the appearance of a cloud of unusual size and shape, mentioned it to
him. After reclining in the sun he had taken his cold bath; he had then
again lain down and, after a slight repast, applied himself to his
studies. Immediately upon hearing this, he called for his shoes, and
ascended a spot from which he could more easily observe this remarkable
phænomenon. The cloud was to be seen gradually rising upwards; though,
from the great distance, it was uncertain from which of the mountains
it arose; it was afterwards, however, ascertained to be Vesuvius. In
appearance and shape it strongly resembled a tree; perhaps it was more
like a pine than anything else, with a stem of enormous length reaching
upwards to the heavens, and then spreading out in a number of branches
in every direction. I have little doubt that either it had been carried
upwards by a violent gust of wind, and that the wind dying away, it had
lost its compactness, or else, that being overcome by its own weight,
it had decreased in density and become extended over a large surface:
at one moment it was white, at another dingy and spotted, just as it
was more or less charged with earth or with ashes.

“To a man so eager as he was in the pursuit of knowledge, this appeared
to be a most singular phænomenon, and one that deserved to be viewed
more closely; accordingly he gave orders for a light Liburnian vessel
to be got ready, and left it at my option to accompany him. To this
however I made answer, that I should prefer continuing my studies; and
as it so happened, he himself had just given me something to write.
Taking his tablets with him, he left the house. The sailors stationed
at Retina, alarmed at the imminence of the danger—for the village lay
at the foot of the mountain, and the sole escape was by sea—sent to
entreat his assistance in rescuing them from this frightful peril. Upon
this he instantly changed his plans, and what he had already begun
from a desire for knowledge, he determined to carry out 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 onwards
into the very midst of the danger: so far indeed was he from every
sensation of fear, that he remarked and had noted down every movement
and every change that was to be observed in the appearance of this
ominous eruption. The ashes were now falling fast upon the vessels,
hotter and more and more thickly the nearer they approached the shore;
showers of pumice too, intermingled with black stones, calcined and
broken by the action of the flames: the sea suddenly retreated from
the shore, where the debris of the mountain rendered landing quite
impossible. After hesitating for a moment whether or not to turn back,
upon the pilot strongly advising him to do so:—“Fortune favours the
bold[8],” said he, “conduct me to Pomponianus.” Pomponianus was then
at Stabiæ, a place that lay on the other side of the bay, for in those
parts the shores are winding, and as they gradually trend away, the sea
forms a number of little creeks. At this spot the danger at present
was not imminent, but still it could be seen, and as it appeared to
be approaching nearer and nearer, Pomponianus had ordered his baggage
on board the ships, determined to take to flight, if the wind, which
happened to be blowing the other way, should chance to lull. The wind,
being in this quarter, was extremely favourable to his passage, and my
uncle soon arriving at Stabiæ, embraced his anxious friend, and did
his best to restore his courage; and the better to re-assure him by
evidence of his own sense of their safety, he requested the servants
to conduct him to the bath. After bathing he took his place at table,
and dined, and that too in high spirits, or at all events, what equally
shows his strength of mind, with every outward appearance of being so.
In the mean time vast sheets of flame and large bodies of fire were to
be seen arising from Mount Vesuvius; the glare and brilliancy of which
were beheld in bolder relief as the shades of night came on apace.
My uncle however, in order to calm their fears, persisted in saying
that this was only the light given by some villages which had been
abandoned by the rustics in their alarm to the flames: after which he
retired to rest, and soon fell fast asleep: for his respiration, which
with him was heavy and loud, in consequence of his corpulence, was
distinctly heard by the servants who were keeping watch at the door of
the apartment. The courtyard which led to his apartment had now become
filled with cinders and pumice-stones, to such a degree, that if he had
remained any longer in the room, it would have been quite impossible
for him to leave it. On being awoke he immediately arose, and rejoined
Pomponianus and the others who had in the meanwhile been sitting up.
They then consulted together whether it would be better to remain in
the house or take their chance in the open air; as the building was
now rocking to and fro from the violent and repeated shocks, while the
walls, as though rooted up from their very foundations, seemed to be
at one moment carried in this direction, at another in that. Having
adopted the latter alternative, they were now alarmed at the showers
of light calcined pumice-stones that were falling thick about them,
a risk however to which as a choice of evils they had to submit. In
taking this step I must remark that, while with my uncle it was reason
triumphing over reason, with the rest it was only one fear getting the
better of the other. Taking the precaution of placing 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 still night, more dark and more profound than any ordinary
night; torches however and various lights in some measure served to
dispel the gloom. It was then determined to make for the shore, and to
ascertain whether the sea would now admit of their embarking; it was
found however to be still too stormy and too boisterous to allow of
their making the attempt. Upon this my uncle lay down on a sail which
had been spread for him, and more than once asked for some cold water,
which he drank; very soon however, they were alarmed by the flames and
the sulphurous smell which announced their approach, upon which the
others at once took to flight, while my uncle arose leaning upon two
of the servants for support. Upon making this effort, he instantly
fell to the ground; the dense vapour having, I imagine, stopped the
respiration and suffocated him; for his chest was naturally weak and
contracted, and often troubled with violent palpitations. When day was
at last restored, the third after the closing one of his existence,
his body was found untouched and without a wound; there was no change
to be perceived in the clothes, and its appearance was rather that of
a person asleep than of a corpse. In the meantime my mother and myself
were at Misenum—that however has nothing to do with the story, as it
was only your wish to know the details connected with his death. I
shall therefore draw to a conclusion. The only thing that I shall add
is the assurance that I have truthfully related all these facts, of
which I was either an eye-witness myself, or heard them at the time of
their occurrence, a period when they were most likely to be correctly
related. You of course will select such points as you may think the
most important. For it is one thing to write a letter, another to write
history;—one thing to write for a friend, another to write for the
public. Farewell.”

Of the mode of life pursued by Pliny, and of the rest of his works, an
equally interesting account has been preserved by his nephew, in an
Epistle addressed to Macer[9]. We cannot more appropriately conclude
than by presenting this Epistle to the reader:—“I am highly gratified
to find that you read the works of my uncle with such a degree of
attention as to feel a desire to possess them all, and that with this
view you inquire, What are their names? I will perform the duties of
an index then: and not content with that, will state in what order
they were written: for even that is a kind of information which is by
no means undesirable to those who are devoted to literary pursuits.
His first composition was a treatise ‘on the use of the Javelin by
Cavalry,’ in one Book. This he composed, with equal diligence and
ingenuity, while he was in command of a troop of horse. His second
work was the ‘Life of Q. Pomponius Secundus,’ in two Books, a person
by whom he had been particularly beloved.—These books he composed as
a tribute which was justly due to the memory of his deceased friend.
His next work was twenty Books on ‘the Wars in Germany,’ in which he
has compiled an account of all the wars in which we have been engaged
with the people of that country. This he had begun while serving in
Germany, having been recommended to do so in a dream. For in his sleep
he thought that the figure of Drusus Nero[10] stood by him—the same
Drusus, who after the most extensive conquests in that country, there
met his death. Commending his memory to Pliny’s attentive care, Drusus
conjured him to rescue it from the decaying effect of oblivion. Next
to these came his three books entitled ‘The Student’[11], divided,
on account of their great size, into six volumes. In these he has
given instructions for the training of the orator, from the cradle to
his entrance on public life. In the latter years of Nero’s reign, he
wrote eight books, ‘On Difficulties in the Latin Language[12];’ that
being a period at which every kind of study, in any way free-spoken
or even of elevated style, would have been rendered dangerous by the
tyranny that was exercised. His next work was his ‘Continuation of the
History of Aufidius Bassus,’ in thirty-one books; after which came
his ‘Natural History,’ in thirty-seven books, a work remarkable for
its comprehensiveness and erudition, and not less varied than Nature
herself. You will wonder how a man so occupied with business could
possibly find time to write such a number of volumes, many of them
on subjects of a nature so difficult to be treated of. You will be
even more astonished when you learn, that for some time he pleaded
at the bar as an advocate, that he was only in his fifty-sixth year
at the time of his death, and that the time that intervened was
equally trenched upon and frittered away by the most weighty duties of
business, and the marks of favour shewn him by princes. His genius,
however, was truly quite incredible, his zeal indefatigable, and his
power of application wonderful in the extreme. At the festival of the
Vulcanalia[13], he began to sit up to a late hour by candle-light, not
for the purpose of consulting[14] the stars, but with the object of
pursuing his studies; while, in the winter, he would set to work at
the seventh hour of the night, or the eighth at the very latest, often
indeed at the sixth[15]. By nature he had the faculty of being able to
fall asleep in a moment; indeed, slumber would sometimes overtake him
in his studies, and then leave him just as suddenly. Before daybreak,
he was in the habit of attending the Emperor Vespasian,—for he, too,
was one who made an excellent use of his nights,—and then betook
himself to the duties with which he was charged. On his return home,
he devoted all the time which was still remaining to study. Taking an
early repast, after the old fashion, light, and easy of digestion, in
the summer time, if he had any leisure to spare, he would lie down
in the sun-shine, while some book was read to him, he himself making
notes and extracts in the meanwhile; for it was his habit never to
read anything without making extracts, it being a maxim of his, that
there is no book so bad but that some good may be got out of it. After
thus enjoying the sunshine, he generally took a cold bath; after which
he would sit down to a slight repast, and then take a short nap. On
awaking, as though another day had now commenced, he would study till
the hour for the evening meal, during which some book was generally
read to him, he making comments on it in a cursory manner. I remember,
on one occasion, a friend of his interrupting the reader, who had given
the wrong pronunciation to some words, and making him go over them
again. “You understood him, didn’t you?” said my uncle. “Yes,” said
the other. “Why, then, did you make him go over it again? Through this
interruption of yours, we have lost more than ten lines.” So thrifty
a manager was he of time! In summer he rose from the evening meal by
daylight; and, in winter, during the first hour of the night[16], just
as though there had been some law which made it compulsory on him to
do so. This is how he lived in the midst of his employments, and the
bustle of the city. When in retirement in the country, the time spent
in the bath was the only portion that was not allotted by him to study.
When I say in the bath, I mean while he was in the water; for while his
body was being scraped with the strigil and rubbed, he either had some
book read to him, or else would dictate himself. While upon a journey,
as though relieved from every other care, he devoted himself to study,
and nothing else. By his side was his secretary, with a book and
tablets; and, in the winter time, the secretary’s hands were protected
by gloves, that the severity of the weather might not deprive his
master for a single moment of his services. It was for this reason also
that, when at Rome, he would never move about except in a litter. I
remember that on one occasion he found fault with me for walking—“You
might have avoided losing all those hours,” said he; for he looked
upon every moment as lost which was not devoted to study. It was by
means of such unremitting industry as this that he completed so many
works, and left me 160 volumes of notes[17], written extremely small
on both sides, which in fact renders the collection doubly voluminous.
He himself used to relate, that when he was procurator in Spain, he
might have parted with his common-place book to Largius Licinius for
400,000 sesterces; and at that time the collection was not so extensive
as afterwards. When you come to think of how much he must have read, of
how much he has written, would you not really suppose that he had never
been engaged in business, and had never enjoyed the favour of princes?
And yet, on the other hand, when you hear what labour he expended
upon his studies, does it not almost seem that he has neither written
nor read enough? For, in fact, what pursuits are those that would not
have been interrupted by occupations such as his? While, again, what
is there that such unremitting perseverance as his could not have
effected? I am in the habit, therefore, of laughing at it when people
call me a studious man,—me who, in comparison with him, am a downright
idler; and yet I devote to study as much time as my public engagements
on the one hand, and my duties to my friends on the other, will admit
of. Who is there, then, out of all those who have devoted their whole
life to literature, that ought not, when put in comparison with him,
to quite blush at a life that would almost appear to have been devoted
to slothfulness and inactivity? But my letter has already exceeded its
proper limits, for I had originally intended to write only upon the
subject as to which you made inquiry, the books of his composition
that he left. I trust, however, that these particulars will prove no
less pleasing to you than the writings themselves; and that they will
not only induce you to peruse them, but excite you, by a feeling of
generous emulation, to produce some work of a similar nature.—Farewell.”

Of all the works written by Pliny, one only, the ‘Historia Naturalis’
has survived to our times. This work, however, is not a ‘Natural
History’ in the modern acceptation of the term, but rather a vast
Encyclopædia of ancient knowledge and belief upon almost every known
subject—“not less varied than Nature herself,” as his nephew says. It
comprises, within the compass of thirty-seven books, 20,000 matters of
importance, collected from about 2000 volumes (nearly all of which have
now perished), the works, as Pliny himself states, of 100 writers of
authority; together with a vast number of additional matters unknown to
those authorities, and many of them the results of his own experience
and observation. Hardouin has drawn up a catalogue of the authors
quoted by Pliny; they amount in number to between 400 and 500.

The following is a brief sketch of the plan of this wonderful monument
of human industry. After a dedicatory Epistle to Titus, followed by a
table of contents of the other Books, which together form the First
Book, the author proceeds to give an account of the prevailing notions
as to the universe, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the
more remarkable properties of the elements (_partes naturæ_). He then
passes on to a geographical description of the face of the earth as
known to the ancients. After the Geography comes what may in strict
propriety be termed “Natural History,” including a history of man,
replete indeed with marvels, but interesting in the highest degree.
Having mentioned at considerable length the land, animals, fishes,
birds, and insects, he passes on to Botany, which in its various
aspects occupies the larger portion of the work. At the same time,
in accordance with his comprehensive plan, this part includes a vast
amount of information on numerous subjects, the culture of the cereals
and the manufacture of oil, wine, paper (_papyrus_), and numerous
other articles of daily use. After treating at considerable length

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