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some lawful occupation elsewhere than in his native



150 PLINY'S LETTERS.

country, if he had "been forbidden to worship after his
own manner. In Eome especially, where strangers
from all the world were assembled, the rule was re-
laxed, even to a degree which sometimes as when,
for instance, the worship of the Egyptian Isis was for-
bidden called forth the interference of the state. Of
all recognised religions, none was more commonly to
be seen flourishing in foreign countries than that of
the Jews. And it was with this religion of the Jews
that Christianity was, for the early years of its exist-
ence, confounded by all but the best-informed observer.
It shared the reverses of what may be called the mother
faith, as we may see in the banishment of Aquila
and Priscilla ; but it also shared its immunities. It
was not long, however, before the distinction between
the two began to be noticed. Christianity was the
more active, and therefore the more offensive, of the
kindred faiths. This unpopularity must have become
sufficiently marked when Nero selected the Christians
to bear the weight of the popular rage, which had been
roused by the destruction of Eome. Titus, if we may
trust the speech which Sulpicius Severus borrowing
probably from Tacitus puts into his mouth, recog-
nised the difference, though he thought the two reli-
gions to be so intimately connected that the overthrow
of the headquarters of the one would lead to the ruin
of the other.* The language quoted below displays the

* The occasion of the speech was the council held, after the
capture of Jerusalem, to determine the fate of the Temple. It
runs thus : " On the other hand, some, Titus himself among
them, were of opinion that the Temple, more than anything



POSITION OF THE CHRISTIANS. 151

growth of that feeling of suspicion and hostility which
was about to bear fruit in more than two centuries of
persecution. Titus does not seem in his short reign to
have taken any steps for giving effect to his feelings
about the new faith. Possibly he believed that what
he had done in the destruction of Jerusalem would
suffice. Domitian's capricious tyranny was not likely
to be peculiarly formidable to the Christians, though it
seems probable the informers of whom we have heard
as being peculiarly active in his reign took occasion
to bring against some of them the accusation of athe-
ism. Trajan was a vigorous ruler, full of the tradi-
tions of Eoman policy ; and it was inevitable that he
should come into collision with the great Society which
had now extended into all the provinces of the empire.
To him it seemed a secret society of the most dangerous
character. It had no home of its own to which it
could point as its national seat. It claimed to embrace
all nations in a strange brotherhood, which seemed to
be, as indeed it really was, the rival of that empire
which also claimed to be coextensive with the world.
With Pliny's famous letter on the subject, and Trajan's
reply, we conclude this chapter.

else, must be destroyed, that so the Jewish and the Christian
superstition might be thoroughly eradicated. These supersti-
tions, though mutually opposed, had had their origin in the
same people. The Christians had risen up from among the
Jews ; if the root was removed, the stem would soon perish."
The contradiction between this and the account given by Jose-
phus, who attributes the conflagration of the Temple to his own
countrymen, is remarkable.



152 FLINT S LETTERS.

PLINY TO THE EMPEROH.*

"It is my invariable rule to refer to you in all mat-
ters about which I feel doubtful. Who can better
remove my doubts or inform my ignorance ? I have
never been present at any trials of Christians, so that
I do not know what is the nature of the charge against
them, or what is the usual punishment. Whether any
difference or distinction is made between the young
and persons of mature years whether repentance of
their fault entitles them to pardon whether the very
profession of Christianity, unaccompanied by any
criminal act, or whether only the crime itself involved
in the profession, is a subject of punishment ; on all
these points I am in great doubt. Meanwhile, as to
those persons who have been charged before me with
being Christians, I have observed the following me-
thod. I asked them whether they were Christians;
if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and
threatened them with punishment ; if they persisted,
I ordered them to be at once punished. I could not
doubt that whatever might be the nature of their
opinions, such inflexible obstinacy deserved punish-
ment. Some were brought before me, possessed with
the same infatuation, who were Eoman citizens ; these
I took care should be sent to Home. As often happens,
the accusation spread, from being followed, and various
phases of it came under my notice. An anonymous
information was laid before me, containing a great
number of names. Some said they neither were and
* Epist. x. 97, 98.



LETTER ON THE CHRISTIANS. 153

never had been Christians ; they repeated after me
an invocation of the gods, and offered wine and
incense before your statue (which I had ordered
to be brought for that purpose, together with those
of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ;
whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who
are really Christians into any of these acts. These
I thought ought to be discharged. Some among them,
who were accused by a witness in person, at first
confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after
denied it; the rest owned that they had once been
Christians, but had now (some above three years,
others more, and a few above twenty years ago) re-
nounced the profession. They all worshipped your
statue and those of the gods, and uttered imprecations
against the name of Christ. They declared that their
offence or crime was summed up in this, that they met
on a stated day before daybreak, and addressed a form
of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding them-
selves by a solemn oath, not for any wicked purpose,
but never to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, never to
break their word, or to deny a trust when called on
to deliver it up : after which it was their custom to
separate, and then reassemble, and to eat together a
harmless meal. From this custom, however, they de-
sisted after the proclamation of my edict, by which,
according to your command, I forbade the meeting of
any assemblies. In consequence of their declaration,
I judged it necessary to try to get at the real truth by
putting to the torture two female slaves, who were
said to officiate in their religious rites ; but all I could



154 PLINY'S LETTERS.

discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant
superstition. And so I adjourned all further proceed-
ings in order to consult you. It seems to me a matter
deserving your consideration, more especially as great
numbers must be involved in the danger of these pro-
secutions, which have already extended, and are still
likely to extend, to persons of all ranks, ages, and of
both sexes. The contagion of the superstition is not
confined to. the cities, it has spread into the villages
and the country. Still I think it may be checked.
At any rate, the temples which were almost abandoned
again begin to be frequented, and the sacred rites, so
long neglected, are revived, and there is also a general
demand for victims for sacrifice, which till lately found
very few purchasers. From all this it is easy to con-
jecture what numbers might be reclaimed, if a general
pardon were granted to those who repent of their
error."

The following is the Emperor's reply :

TRAJAN TO PLINY.

" You have adopted the right course in investigating
the charges made against the Christians who were
brought before you. It is not possible to lay down
any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of
your way to look for them. If they are brought before
you, and the offence is proved, you must punish them,
but with this restriction, that when the person denies
that he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that
he is not by invoking the gods, he is to be pardoned,



ANSWER OF TRAJAN. 155

notwithstanding any former suspicion against him.
Anonymous informations ought not to be received
in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a very
dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit
of our age."

Pliny remained in his province two years, and then
returned to Borne.






CHAPTEE XII.
PLINY'S OPINIONS AND HABITS.

PLINY'S time, as we have seen, was divided between
Borne and the country. At Borne he was a busy man.
He was an advocate in considerable practice ; he was a
member of the senate, and took a lively interest in all
its proceedings; and he was evidently much in request
in fashionable and literary society. Often would he
have to hurry away from the court in which he had
been pleading, to hear and criticise the composition of
one of his many friends. He was, too, we should sup-
pose, a man of genial and social temper, and was never
unwilling to accept an invitation to dinner, provided he
thought the conversation and the general character of
the entertainment was likely to have about it a refined
and elegant tone. The banquets of the vulgar rich,
though occasionally he may have found it advisable to
attend them, he despised and detested.

Country life, with its quiet and repose, he really
enjoyed perhaps all the more from the weakness of
his constitution, which no doubt sometimes succumbed
to the fatigues of city life. He had an eye for the



FLINT'S OPINIONS AND HABITS. 157

beautiful scenery of Italy ; and it would seem, to judge
from his minute descriptions, that he felt a genuine
pride and pleasure in the arrangement of his gardens.
He is continually telling us in his letters how pecu-
liarly favourable he found the country to meditation
and to literary work ; and it was in the retirement of
one or other of his numerous villas that he used to
revise his various compositions. If we may judge
from one or two allusions, he was partial to the quiet
amusement of fishing. Hunting he regarded as good
for the refreshment of the mind rather than as a
pleasure in itself. A gentle ride or stroll were much
more to his taste than any such violent exercise. In
the following letter he gives us a pleasant picture of the
way in which he passed his time at his Tuscan villa :

PLINY TO FUSCUS.*

" You wish to know how I dispose of my time in the
summer at my Tuscan villa. I wake without being
called, generally about six o'clock, sometimes earlier,
but seldom later. My windows remain shut, as I find
the darkness and quiet have a very happy effect on the
mind. Being thus withdrawn from all objects which
call off the attention, I am left to my own thoughts,
and instead of suffering my mind to wander with my
eyes, I keep my eyes in subjection to my mind. If I
have any literary work on hand, I think over it, and
revise the style and expression, just as if I had my pen
in my hand. Thus I get through more or less work,
according as the subject is more or less difficult, and I
* Epist. vii. 9.



158 PLINY'S LETTERS.

find my memory able to retain it. Then I call for my
amanuensis, and having opened the windows, I dictate
to him what I have composed ; then I dismiss him for
a while, and call him in again. About ten or eleven
(for I do not observe any fixed hour), according to the
weather, I walk on the terrace or in the colonnade, and
then I think over or dictate what I had left unfinished.
Then I have a drive, and employ myself as before, and
find this change of scene refreshing to my mind, and
it enables me to apply it with more vigour. On my
return I take a short nap ; then I stroll out, and re-
peat aloud a Greek or Latin speech, not so much to
strengthen my voice as my digestion, though my voice
is improved at the same time. I then have another
stroll, take my usual exercise, and bathe. At dinner,
if I have only my wife or a few friends with me,
a book is read to us, and after dinner we have
some music or a little play acted. Then I walk out
with my friends, among whom are some men of learn-
ing. Thus we pass the evening in various conversation,
and the day, even when it is at the longest, soon comes
to an end. Sometimes I make a little change in this
order. If I have remained in bed, or taken a longer
walk than usual, I have a ride instead of a drive, after
having read aloud one or two speeches. Thus I get
more exercise in less time. My friends now and then
look in upon me from the neighbouring villages, and
occasionally, when I am tired, their visits are a pleasant
relief. Sometimes I hunt, but I always take my note-
book with me, so that if I get no sport, I may at any
rate bring something back with me. Part of my time



PLINY'S OPINIONS AND HABITS. 159

is given to my tenants, though not so much as they
would like. Their rustic squabbles make me return
with fresh zest to my studies and more cultivated
occupations."

There is an amusing letter, creditable to the writer's
good taste and feeling, in which Pliny tells us how he
treated his guests when he gave a dinner-party. It
was common enough among the rich men of the time
those, of course, especially who had suddenly acquired
wealth by disreputable means to draw very marked
distinctions in the company when they entertained.
Readers of Juvenal will remember his laughable de-
scription of Virro's party, how the great man treated
his poorer and less important guests with conspicuous
contempt. The dishes set before them contained the
coarsest and most indigestible fare, the wine was like
vinegar, and a slave stood over them to see that they did
not attempt to pocket some of the jewels with which
the drinking-cups were adorned. It was once Pliny's
misfortune to have to dine, as a comparative stranger,
with a man like Virro, who thought himself (so Pliny
says) an exceedingly elegant and attentive host, but
who really combined expense with stinginess. There
were three kinds of wine ; the best he reserved for him-
self and Pliny, the next best for his inferior friends,
while the worst was given to his freedmen and to
those of Pliny, who, it appears, were present. One of
the guests who sat by Pliny observed the arrange-
ment, and turning round asked him what he thought
of it, and whether he approved of it. Pliny shook



160 PLINY'S LETTERS.

his head. " Well, then, what do you do on such occa-
sions ?" " I give all my guests the same wine," said
Pliny, " for when I ask them to dinner, I look on my
freedmen as my guests, and forget that they were once
slaves." The letter in which this anecdote occurs is
addressed to Junius Avitus, who, it seems, was a young
man at the time, just entering into fashionable society.
" Take care," says Pliny, " that you avoid above every-
thing this new-fangled idea of combining a show of
splendour with actual meanness : either, by itself, is
bad enough; when combined, they are simply dis-
gusting."

In a letter, in which he accepts an invitation to
dinner, he says to his friend : " I must have a clear un-
derstanding with you that your dinner is not to be
very long and elaborate ; only let there be plenty of
the sort of conversation in which Socrates and his
friends indulged themselves, and even that must be
limited as to time, since I have official engagements early
in the morning." Once one of Pliny's friends, who
had promised to dine with him, disappointed him.
" I will bring an action against you," Pliny replies,
" and I will lay my damages at a high amount." He
then describes the menu, which seems to have been
singularly light, fruits and vegetables largely pre-
ponderating in it. Still, Pliny says there were attrac-
tions of no mean kind. There was to have been a
reading, or some acting, or some music, perhaps all in
succession. He playfully hints that his friend would
have preferred a less refined entertainment. From
what we know of him we can thoroughly believe what



Tim PUBLIC GAMES. 161

he says to his friend in conclusion : " You may have a
more splendid and expensive dinner in many houses ;
there is not one in which you can dine with more cheer-
ful accompaniments, and feel yourself more at ease,
than in mine."

- Pliny's tastes were altogether those of a cultivated
man. Many men of the time, no doubt, resembled him,
and thoroughly hated the vulgarity which they so often
saw associated with enormous wealth. One of the chief,
and in popular estimation one of the most attractive,
features of life in Rome was the annual celebration of
the great games the games of the circus, as they were
called during the first days of September. In one of
Pliny's letters we have his general opinion about them,
which was substantially the same as that of the man
he admired so much Cicero. He is writing to a
friend who had very possibly wondered how Pliny,
whom he knew to be in Rome, came to be absent from
the seats allotted to the senators for the grand spec-
tacle. He had passed, he says, all the tune amid his
books and papers, and had thoroughly enjoyed the
quiet. The games, he says, have really nothing in
them which one would care to see more than once.
Even the spectators, he hints, are not so much drawn
by the attractions of the sight itself as by a spirit of
gambling, to which a wide scope had been given in
Domitian's reign by the chariot -races, and the six
companies which engaged in them, and divided the
popular sympathies. Yet it is certain that many of the
best men of the time frequently witnessed these spec-
tacles. Very possibly a senator who was never seen
A. c. vol. xi. L



162 PLINY'S LETTERS.

in his place would have been a marked man, and in-
curred actual peril. Even in the better times of im-
perialism it may have been unadvisable for a man of
rank and position to have seemed to protest by his
habitual absence against so popular an amusement.
The letter from which we have been quoting may, and
we think, probably did, reflect Pliny's genuine senti-
ments ; but, at the same time, we must admit that it
looks a little as if he was anxious to impress his friend
with the delicacy and refinement of his tastes. He is
certainly inconsistent with himself when we find him
in another letter praising a friend who had exhibited
a magnificent spectacle of gladiators at Verona, and
expressing his regret that the African leopards which
had been purchased for the show were detained by
stress of weather, and arrived too late.

It does not appear that Pliny had any definite
philosophical opinions. He liked the society of
philosophers as agreeable and intellectual men, but he
never shows any trace of having adopted the dogmas
of either Stoicism or Epicureanism. Had he done so,
we may feel sure that his communicative disposition
would not have allowed him to conceal his preference.
He was of too gentle and sympathising a temper to
attach himself decidedly to any one set of opinions. It
would be interesting to know what he thought about
Providence, about the direction of human affairs, and
about such questions as a future state and the immor-
tality of the soul. All these subjects he must have
heard discussed from the most various points of view.
It seems very unlikely that he had any matured



A GHOST-STORY. 163

opinions about them. Sometimes in his letters we
come across passages which look as if he believed in
the unseen world, and in the possibility of occasional
revelations from it. His mind appears to have had
what we may call a religious basis. There is a very
remarkable letter which strikingly reminds us of a
modern ghost -story. It is an anecdote about a
haunted house. There was a house at Athens which
had long been deserted because frightful noises were
heard in it during the stillness of night, and the appa-
rition of a grisly old man, with a long and unkempt
beard, who had chains on his hands and feet, and
rattled them in a horrible manner, was to be seen in
one of its desolate chambers. It remained, as may be-
supposed, unlet,till a philosopher, by name Athenodorus,
came to Athens, and professed his willingness to take
the house ; all the more, says Pliny, because of its evil
repute. He at once became the tenant, and as he sat
the first evening in one of the outer rooms, he concen-
trated his whole attention on his philosophical studies.
Surrounded with his books and papers, he felt sure
that his imagination would not be distracted by any
idle and unreal terrors. In the silence of midnight
he hears the clanking of chains, and though he fixes
his mind yet more steadily on his work, the noise in-
creases, and seems to be on the threshold of his chamber.
He looks behind him and sees the apparition, which
makes signs to him, and on his again returning to
his paper, stands over him as he writes, shaking and
rattling its fetters. Again he looks behind him, takes
a light, and follows the figure. The spectre moves



164 PLINY'S LETTERS,

slowly, as though encumbered by the weight of the
chains ; then it turns aside into the courtyard and
vanishes. The philosopher marks the place of its dis-
appearance with some leaves. The next day he goes
to the magistrates and asks them to have the spot dug
up. Some bones are found belonging to a corpse
which had long since rotted in the earth, with chains
attached to them. These are carefully collected, and
are then publicly interred, after which the house is
perfectly free from the apparition. Pliny's comment
on this strange story is as follows : " I believe the
word of those who affirm all this." The tone of this
letter would certainly suggest to us that Pliny would
have been inclined to accept the alleged marvels of
modern spiritualism. At the close of it he relates two
singular incidents which had come within his own
knowledge, and to which he attributed great signifi-
cance. One of his freedmen was sleeping in the same
bed with his younger brother. The latter dreamt that
he saw some one sitting on the couch, who with a pair
of scissors approached his head and cut off some locks
of hair. In the morning he found that the top of his
head was shorn, and he saw the hair on the ground.
On another occasion one of Pliny's slaves was sleeping
with several of his companions in the slaves' dormitory.
Two men clothed in white appeared to him to enter
the room by the window, and to clip his locks as he
lay in bed. They then disappeared. The morning
showed that the dream was a reality ; the scattered
locks of hair were to be seen round the boy. Pliny
half looked on these two incidents as omens which



PREVALENCE OF SUICIDE. 165

pointed to his fortunate escape of the fate of many of
his friends under Domitian. " Nothing particularly
noteworthy," he says, "followed, except perhaps the
circumstance that in Domitian's time I was never the
subject of an accusation, though I should have been
had Domitian, during whose reign these incidents oc-
curred, lived longer. A paper was found in his desk
in which was written an accusation against me by
Cams Metius." " Hence one may conjecture," he
adds, "that, since accused persons usually let their hair
grow long, the cutting off of my two slaves' hair was
an intimation of the averting of a peril which was
hanging over me." Pliny had no doubt much good
sense, yet one would infer from all this that he was by
no means without a taint of superstition. The age, it
must be remembered, while sceptical and unbelieving
in one sense, was also addicted to marvels and pro-
digies ; and the best and wisest men, having no distinct
and definite assurance about the mysteries of the un-
seen world, could not rise above some of the lower and
weaker tendencies of the period.

"We see from Pliny's Letters that suicide was very
frequent among the Eomans of his time. His friend
Corellius Eufus, and the rich and luxurious Silius
Italicus, had both died a voluntary death with the most
cool and deliberate purpose. He also tells, with mani-
fest approval, the story of a most determined act of
suicide which had happened in the neighbourhood of
his own native town. He had been sailing with an
elderly friend on the Lake of Como, and had had pointed
out to him a house with a chamber projecting over the



166 PLINY'S LETTERS.

water, from which a lady, a native of Comum, had
thrown herself together with her husband. The man
was afflicted with a painful and incurable disease, and
his wife, convinced of the hopelessness of his recovery,
urged him to die, and was, in Pliny's words, " his com-
panion in death, nay, more, his guide, his example, and


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