W. Lucas (William Lucas) Collins.

Cicero online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

any loss of self-respect, could look upon the Emperor
as a friend. In the year A.D. 77, he dedicated his
great work on natural history to Vespasian's son and


Vespasian encouraged architecture as well as letters.
He adorned both Rome and the provincial cities with
splendid structures. The Colosseum, the greatest
building of the ancient world, was begun by him.
The Temple of Peace was also his work. He spared
no expense in making the capital, and the empire
generally, more imposing and magnificent. His reign
was peaceful and prosperous ; there were none of those
commotions in Gaul, Germany, or the East which
before and after his time almost seemed to threaten the
Roman world with dissolution. As might have been
expected from a prudent and energetic soldier, he
maintained the armies of the state, which numbered
about 400,000 men, in thorough efficiency. In A.D.
78, the great Julius Agricola, Taqjtus's father-in-law,
whom Vespasian had raised to the patrician rank, was
sent to Britain, and strengthened the Roman hold
on the island by the conquest of North "Wales and
Anglesey. In the following year the Emperor died,
and was succeeded by his son Titus.

The chief event which we usually associate with the
name of Titus is the capture of Jerusalem,* and the
destruction of the Jewish nationality. His short reign
of two years was perfectly tranquil. He was so
popular an emperor that he was spoken of as "the
delight of the human race." Though he had seen and
himself taken part in peculiarly horrible scenes of war,
there was much less of the stern soldier in him than
in his father. He could win men's affections as well
as gain their respect. He was lavish of money, and
* Jerusalem was taken in the month of September, A.D. 70.


was sincerely anxious to spread comfort and happiness
among his subjects. The hateful class of informers
who from the time of Tiberius had traded successfully
on false accusations of treason, were driven out of Rome
in disgrace. Like his father, he improved the capital
with great public works. He completed and dedicated
the Colosseum, and gave to Rome the famous baths
which are called by his name. His reign, however,
was not without serious disasters. The great eruption
of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, a fire which raged uninterrupt-
edly in Eome for three days, and was hardly less de-
structive than that in Nero's reign, and a pestilence
which for a while, according to Eusebius, daily de-
stroyed 10,000 of the population, followed in quick
succession. In the eruption of Vesuvius perished a
man who, both for his own merits and for the bene-
ficial influence which he exercised over the mind
of the young Pliny, deserves a detailed notice. To
the elder Pliny we must certainly give the first place
among the authors of his time. He did not, indeed,
escape the weaknesses and defects which marred all
the natural philosophy of the ancients, but he pursued
his studies with an ardour and enthusiasm which could
not fail to produce substantial results.

The nephew, we may be sure, owed much to such an
uncle. In one of his letters,* of which we subjoin a
translation, he describes, with evident admiration, his
uncle's marvellous devotion to study. From this letter
we derive our chief acquaintance with the elder Pliny's
manner of life.

* Epist. iii. 5.


"It is a great pleasure to me," he writes to his
friend, Baebius Macer, " that you are so fond of reading
my uncle's books that you wish to possess them all,
and ask for a complete list of them. I will do the
part of an index, and also tell you the order in which
they were written, for the studious reader likes to
know this. First comes a work in one volume, on the
use of the dart by cavalry, a careful and ingenious
treatise, which he composed when he was in command
of one of the cavalry corps of our allied troops. Two
volumes of the life of Pomponius Secundus, a work
which he intended as a tribute to the memory of a
friend who was singularly attached to him. Wars with
Germany, in twenty books ; in these, he compiled a
nistory of all our wars with the German tribes. A
dream which he had when serving with the army in
Germany suggested the work. Drusus Nero, whose
victories in Germany were on the widest scale hitherto
known, and who perished in the country, seemed to
stand by him as he lay asleep, and to entreat him to
rescue his memory from oblivion. The Student, in
three parts, which from their length spread into six
volumes : a work in which is discussed the earliest
training and subsequent education of the orator.
Questions of Grammar and Style, in eight books,
written in the last years of Nero's reign, when every
sort of literary pursuit requiring freedom and elevation
of tone was dangerous in our enslaved condition. A
History of the State, in continuation of the work of
Aufidius Bassus, in thirty -one books. Last comes his
Natural History, in thirty-seven books; a work of vast


extent, and as various as nature itself. You wonder at
a busy man having completed such a number of "books
books, too, containing much abstruse matter ; you will
wonder more when I tell you that for some time he
was a pleader, that he died at the age of 56, and that
meantime he was much hindered and distracted by
important state business, and by his intimacy with our
emperors. But his intellect was quick, his industry
perfectly marvellous, his power of remaining awake
remarkable. From the 23d of August he began to
study at midnight, and through the winter he con-
tinued to rise at one, or at the latest at two in the
morning, often at twelve. Sleep he could always com-
mand. Often it used to come upon him and leave
him in the midst of his books. Before daybreak he
would go to the Emperor, Yespasian, who also worked
at night, and thence to his official duties. On returning
home he gave what time remained to study. After
taking a light meal, as our forefathers used to do, he
would often in summer, if he had leisure, recline in the
sun, and have a book read to him, on which he wrote
notes, or from which he made extracts. He read no-
thing without making extracts, for he used to say that
you could get some good from the worst book. After
reading in the sun he generally had a cold bath, then
a light meal and a very short nap, after which, as if he
was beginning another day, he would study till dinner-
time. During dinner a book was read to him, and he
made notes upon it as it went on. I remember one of his
friends once stopping the reader, who had pronounced
a word incorrectly, and making him repeat it. My


uncle said to him, 'Did you not understand the word?'
' Yes,' he replied. ' Why then did you stop him ? We
have lost more than ten lines by this interruption.' So
parsimonious was he of his time. He rose from dinner
in the summer by daylight, in winter before seven, as
regularly as if constrained by law. Thus he lived in
the midst of his work and in the bustle of Rome. In
the country, he exempted only his bathing-time from
study ; I mean, the actual time of his immersion in
the water, for while he was being rubbed or dried, he
would hear something read or would dictate something.
While travelling, he threw aside every other care, and
gave himself up to study; he always had a scribe
at his side with a book and a writing-tablet, whose
hands in winter were protected by gloves, so that the
cold weather might not rob him of a single moment.
Even at Rome, he used to be carried in a litter with
this view. I remember his rebuking me for taking
a walk. 'You might have managed,' he said, 'not
to lose these hours.' In fact, he thought all tune
lost which was not given to study. It was by this
intense application that he completed so great a num-
ber of books, and left me, besides, a hundred and
sixty volumes of extracts, written on both sides of
the leaf, and in the minutest hand. He used to tell
me that when he was governor in Spain, he might
have sold these volumes to Largius Licinus for more
than 3000, and then there were fewer of them.
Would you not think, when you call to mind how
much he read and wrote, that he had never held office
or enjoyed an emperor's favour ? And again, on hear-


ing of the intensity of his application, would you not
say that he had not read or written enough 1 It makes
me smile, when people call me a student; for, compared
with him, I am a mere idler. ' For myself, I am but a
man whose attention is divided between public business
and services rendered to friends. Yet of those who
devote their life to letters, who would not blush at
being compared with my uncle, and feel himself utterly
lazy and slothful ? I have written a long letter, though
you wished only to know what works he left behind
him ; but I am sure that this account of him will be
quite as acceptable to you as a list of the books them-
selves, and it may have the effect of urging you in a
spirit of emulation not merely to read them, but even
to accomplish some similar work,"

The nephew, as we shall see, was a less close student
than the uncle, but a man whose range of interests was
wider and more diversified.



THE summer of A.D. 79 was made memorable by a
frightful catastrophe, of which Pliny was an eye-
witness, and of which he has left us a singularly
valuable account, in two letters written some years
afterwards to his friend the historian Tacitus. The
writer was, as usual, residing at the time with his
uncle and his mother near Misenum, where the elder
Pliny was in command of the fleet stationed at that
place a promontory which forms the northern ex-
tremity of the Bay of Naples. The Bay, then, as
now, one of the most beautiful spots in the world,
was crowded with the villas of the Roman nobility.
Baiae, the Brighton of Eome, with its splendid baths
and terraces built out into the sea ; Puteoli, with
its busy harbour; Neapolis, one of the largest and
wealthiest of the Italian cities ; with Herculaneum,
Pompeii, and Stabise, occupied the sea-coast in an
almost continuous line. Behind them, with its slopes
reaching almost to the sea, rose Vesuvius, clad to its
summit, which reached the height of about 4000 feet,


with olive and vine. A luxuriant vegetation concealed
all traces of the volcanic nature of the mountain, and
neither history nor tradition preserved any record which
might warn the populous cities at its base of the
danger which threatened them. Earthquakes, indeed,
were not unfrequent in the country ; and one of more
severity than usual had, sixteen years before, seriously
injured both Herculaneum and Pompeii. But of the
existence of a volcano no suspicion seems to have been

* It was at one o'clock in the afternoon of the 24th of
August that the elder Pliny, always an eager observer
of natural phenomena, was summoned by his sister-in-
law from his study to witness a strange sight a cloud
of unusual size and shape, which was visible on the
opposite side of the Bay. It rose from one of the
hills, which the observers did not know at the time
to be Vesuvius, like a stone-pine with a lofty trunk
and a cluster of branches at the top, continually vary-
ing in height, and of a changing hue, sometimes fiery-
bright, sometimes streaked with black. It was the
beginning of that great shower of ashes and dust which
is said a not incredible assertion, when we compare it
with the records of other eruptions to have reached
as far as Africa and Egypt. The old philosopher,
anxious to get a nearer view of what was happening,
ordered one of the light vessels belonging to the fleet
to be manned. At the same time he invited his nephew
to accompany him; an offer which the young man, who
was more attached to literature than to natural science,
* This account gives the substance of Epist. vi. 16.


declined, pleading in excuse a literary task which
his uncle had set him. The two did not meet again.
The uncle, whose fortunes our narrative will follow
for the present, changed his purpose on arriving at the
shore. A letter was put into his hands from Rectina,
the wife of Csesius Bassus, a poet of some eminence,
who had a villa on the shore of the Bay. This lady
was terrified at the danger in which she found her-
self not without reason, if it "be true, as we are told,
that her husband actually perished in the eruption.
The admiral's philosophical curiosity gave place to a
more serious purpose. Others besides Eectina were
imperilled, and he might give them help. The galleys
of the fleet were ordered to put to sea, and to steer for
the opposite side of the Bay, where the danger was
obviously most imminent. How serious this danger
was, became more evident as they approached the
scene. Showers of cinders and fragments of heated
stone fell around and upon the ships. At the same
time it was found that the soundings of the Bay were
altered an effect attributed to the falling masses, but
probably in a great measure owing to an elevation of the
sea-bed. The elder Pliny, who had continued calmly
to note down his observations, hesitated for a moment
whether or no he should proceed ; his sailing-master
strongly advised return. His resolve was soon taken.
Crying out, " Fortune helps the bold," he gave orders
that the fleet should make for the little town of Stabiae,
near the extreme southern point of the Bay, where his
friend, or, as some suppose, his second in command,
Pomponianus, was residing. While the ships were


busy in embarking the terrified inhabitants of the
coast, the admiral himself, who had landed at his
friend's villa, did his best to encourage the frightened
inmates, and proceeded, with what was anyhow an
admirable assumption of cheerfulness, to enjoy the
bath and dinner which formed the customary close of
a Eoman gentleman's day. Flames, which the ap-
proaching darkness had now made more visible, were
seen to break forth from the summit and sides of
Vesuvius, and the alarm at the villa increased. The
philosopher made light of these fears, and accounted
for the flames by the theory that some of the country
houses in the neighbourhood, which had been deserted
by their inhabitants, had caught fire. He then retired
to his bedchamber; the other inmates of the house
were in no humour for sleep, but as they passed his
door they heard the deep snoring (the philosopher
was of a corpulent habit) which indicated that his
slumbers were undisturbed. Before long, however,
it was found necessary to rouse him. His apartment
was approached from an open court, and this was fill-
ing up so rapidly with ashes and stones that egress
would soon have become impossible. He rose and
joined his friends, who were in doubt what course to
pursue. The house was trembling with frequent shocks
of earthquake, and threatened destruction to its in-
mates. Out of doors there was the peril of the falling
stones, which, though calcined with fire, and therefore
light in proportion to their size, seemed sufficiently
heavy to be dangerous.* To leave the house appeared,
* Some have been found at Pompeii, which was, however,


on the whole, the preferable alternative. With pillows
and cushions fastened upon their heads by way of pro-
tection, the party sallied forth, first making their way
to the sea, by which they hoped to secure their escape.
They found it wild and stormy, with the wind blowing
strongly on shore, and were compelled for the pre-
sent to abandon the idea. The old man, fatigued with
his exertions, lay down upon a rug which the attend-
ants spread for him. Twice he asked for a draught of
cold water ; then, when the sudden approach of flames
and sulphurous vapour dispersed the party, in attempt-
ing, with the help of two of his servants, to rise from
the ground, he fell dead. The actual cause of his death
cannot be determined. His nephew says that he was
choked with sulphurous vapour, which acted the more
readily on him as his breathing was affected by chronic
weakness. But this account was collected from hear-
say, and was written many years after the occurrence ;
while it may well be doubted, according to a writer of
the first authority on such subjects,* whether flames and
sulphurous vapours could have been present at Stabiae,
ten miles from the centre of the eruption. We may
conjecture, as a more probable cause of death, a sudden
attack of illness. This supposition agrees with what we
are told was the appearance of the corpse when it was
found three days afterwards, "The attitude of the body
was more like that of a sleeper than that of a dead man."

considerably nearer to Vesuvius, weighing as much as eight
pounds. At Stabije, none have been found exceeding an ounce
in weight.
* Professor Phillips : ' Vesuvius,' p. 20.


"We must now return to the younger Pliny and his
mother. The narrative which he gives us of his own
adventures* is so characteristic of the man, and at times
so graphic in its descriptions, that we cannot do better
than present it to our readers in a form as closely
resembling the original as possible.

" When my uncle had started, I spent such time as
was left on my studies it was on their account, in-
deed, that I had stopped behind. Then followed the
bath, dinner, and sleep, this last disturbed and brief.
There had been noticed for many days before a trem-
bling of the earth, which had caused, however, but
little fear, because it is not unusual in Campania. But
that night it was so violent, that one thought that
everything was being not merely moved but absolutely
overturned. My mother rushed into my chamber ; I
was in the act of rising, with the same intention of
awaking her should she have been asleep. "We sat
down in the open court of the house, which occupied
a small space between the buildings and the sea. And
now I do not know whether to call it courage or
folly, for I was but in my eighteenth year I called for
a volume of Livy, read it, as if I were perfectly at
leisure, and even continued to make some extracts
which I had begun. Just then arrived a friend of my
uncle, who had lately come to him from Spain ;t when
he saw that we were sitting down that I was even
reading he rebuked my mother for her patience, and
me for my blindness to the danger. Still I bent my-

* Epist. vii. 20.

t The elder Pliny had been Procurator in Spain.
A. C. Vol. XL B


self as industriously as ever over my "book. It was
now seven o'clock in the morning, but the daylight
was still faint and doubtful. The surrounding build-
ings were now so shattered, that in the place where we
were, which though open was small, the danger that
they might fall on us was imminent and unmistakable.
So we at last determined to quit the town. A panic-
stricken crowd followed us. They preferred the ideas
of others to their own in a moment of terror this has
a certain look of prudence and they pressed on us and
drove us on, as we departed, by their dense array.
When we had got away from the building, we stopped.
There we had to en'dure the sight of many marvellous,
many dreadful things. The carriages which we had
directed to be brought out moved about in opposite
directions, though the ground was perfectly level ;
even when scotched with stones they did not remain
steady in the same place. Besides this, we saw the
sea retire into itself, seeming, as it were, to be driven
back by the trembling movement of the earth. The
shore had distinctly advanced, and many marine
animals were left high and dry upon the sands. Be-
hind us was a dark and dreadful cloud, which, as it
was broken with rapid zigzag flashes, revealed behind
it variously-shaped masses of flame : these last were
like sheet-lightning, though on a larger scale. Then
our friend from Spain addressed us more energetically
and urgently than ever. 'If your brother,' he said,
' if your uncle is alive, he wishes you to be saved ; if
he has perished, he certainly wished you to survive
him. If so, why do you hesitate to escape ? ' We


answered that we could not bear to think about our
own safety while we were doubtful of his. He lingered
no longer, but rushed off, making his way out of the
danger at the top of his speed. It was not long before
the cloud that we saw began to descend upon the
earth and cover the sea. It had already surrounded
and concealed the island of Capreae, and had made
invisible the promontory of Misenum. My mother
besought, urged, even commanded me to fly as best I
could ; ' I might do so,' she said, ' for I was young ;
she, from age and corpulence, could move but slowly,
but would be content to die, if she did not bring
death upon me.' I replied that I would not seek
safety except in her company; I clasped her hand,
and compelled her to go with me. She reluctantly
obeyed, but continually reproached herself for delaying
me. Ashes now began to fall still, however, in small
quantities. I looked behind me ; a dense dark mist
seemed to be following us, spreading itself over the
country like a cloud. ' Let us turn out of the way,'
I said, 'whilst we can still see, for fear that should
we fall in the road we should be trodden under foot in
the darkness by the throngs that accompany us.' "We
had scarcely sat down when night was upon us, not
such as we have when there is no moon, or when the
sky is cloudy, but such as there is in some closed room
when the lights are extinguished. You might hear
the shrieks of women, the monotonous wailing of
children, the shouts of men. Many were raising their
voices, and seeking to recognise by the voices that
replied, parents, children, husbands, or wives. Some


were loudly lamenting their own fate, others the fate
of those dear to them. Some even prayed for death, in
their fear of what they prayed for. Many lifted their
hands in prayer to the gods ; more were convinced
that there were now no gods at all, and that the final
endless night of which we have heard had come upon
the world.* There were not wanting persons who
exaggerated our real perils with terrors imaginary or
wilfully invented. I remember some who declared
that one part of the promontory Misenum had fallen,
that another was on fire ; it was false, but they found
people to "believe them. It now grew somewhat light
again ; we felt sure that this was not the light of day,
but a proof that fire was approaching us. Fire there
was, but it stopped at a considerable distance from us ;
then came darkness again, and a thick heavy fall of
ashes. Again and again we stood up and shook them
off; otherwise we should have been covered by them,
and even crushed by the weight. I might boast that
not a sigh, not a word wanting in courage, escaped me,
even in the midst of peril so great, had I not been
convinced that I was perishing in company with the
universe, and the universe with me a miserable and
yet a mighty solace in death. At last the black mist I
had spoken of seemed to shade off into smoke or cloud,
and to roll away. Then came genuine daylight, and the
sun shone out with a lurid light, such as it is wont to
have in an eclipse. Our eyes, which had not yet re-

* This final annihilation of the universe, in which the gods
themselves would be included, was an idea common to the
classical and Scandinavian mythologies.


covered from the effects of fear, saw everything changed,
everything covered deep with ashes as if with snow.
We returned to Misenum, and, after refreshing ourselves
as best we could, spent a night of anxiety in mingled
hope and fear. Fear, however, was still the stronger
feeling ; for the trembling of the earth continued, while
many frenzied persons, with their terrific predictions,
gave an exaggeration that was even ludicrous to the
calamities of themselves and of their friends. Even
then, in spite of all the perils which we had experienced
and which we still expected, we had not a thought of
going away till we could hear news of my uncle."

This account, though sufficiently vivid in its descrip-
tion of the feelings and demeanour of the writer and
his companions, is scarcely satisfactory as a narrative
of facts. The writer does not tell us in what direction
the fugitives proceeded, though we may gather, from
what he says about the island of Capreae having become
invisible, that they advanced along the shore of the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 14 of 24)