Monday, 3 September 2012



The Younger Pliny (c.61-113 A.D.) was one of the greatest writers of the Post-Augustan or Silver Age of Latin literature (14-117 A.D.) His literary fame rests on his "Letters", nine books of which he published himself, while the tenth, his correspondence with Trajan on provincial administration, was published after his death. Further details of Pliny and his life are to be found in the introduction to the article "Pliny: Tres Feminae", to be found on this blog dated 12th July, 2011.

The following pieces are a delightful selection from Pliny's work, containing most of his most famous letters. They include his accounts of what happened both to himself and to his uncle when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., his ghost stories, the story of the friendly dolphin, and his correspondence with the Emperor Trajan concerning the treatment of Christians, but they contain much else and this selection well illustrates the breadth of content in his letters, which in turn reflects the breadth of his intellectual interests. As a man he was evidently loyal and humane, if somewhat pedantic and priggish. There can be no doubt that today he would be considered an academic "swat", as is shown most clearly when he preferred to continue his studies rather than join his uncle on his exciting if ultimately fatal expedition across the Bay of Naples during the eruptions of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Pliny's Latin is not particularly easy to translate, and his style often exemplifies the conciseness and compression of language for which Latin is noted. Compared with the writers of the late Republican period, such as Cicero and Caesar, Pliny's sentences are usually shorter and have more main verbs, and his use of ablative absolutes, impersonal passives and gerundives is relatively sparing. Particularly marked in his writing is the omission of the verb "to be", always a problem for the beginner to the Latin language, and he is relatively fond of historic infinitives and figures of speech such as chiasmus. In the translation below, main verbs are highlighted by italic script and ablative absolutes are underlined.

The Latin text for the translations below is taken from "Pliny on Himself", edited by H.A.B.White, M.A., and published by G.Bell and Sons, London, 1965. The translation has utilised the short summaries included in this this booklet at the head of each letter or extract. These are in italics. 

A.  Pliny, the letter writer: 

1.  To Septicius Clarus: Book I, 1.

Pliny explains that he has been asked to publish a selection of his letters and has done so. He hopes that neither the friend who suggested publishing nor he himself will have cause to repent such a step and he hopes to increase the selection. It should be noted that, whilst Cicero wrote with no eye to the publication of his letters, Pliny writes rather self-consciously, realising that his words will be open to the scrutiny of future generations.

Gaius Plinius Secundus (gives) a greeting to his (friend) Septicius.

You have frequently encouraged (me) to collect and publish my letters, if I have written any with some degree of care (lit. with a little exactness). I have made such a collection (lit. I have collected [them]), without keeping to the order in which they were written (lit. the order of time not having been preserved) [for I was not composing a history], but as each one had come to hand. It remains that you should not repent (lit. it should not repent you) of your plan, nor me of my obedience (to it). For it will happen thus, that I shall search for those (letters) which are still lying around neglected, and, if I shall add any (in the future), I shall not suppress (them). Farewell.

B.  The affectionate husband: 

It would appear that Pliny was married three times, but we have little information as to his first two marriages. It would seem that he was very young when he married for the first time and that his second wife died about 97 A.D. 

The next three letters describe his very happy third marriage. Calpurnia proved a very devoted wife. She probably survived him.

2.  To his wife Calpurnia: Book VII, 5.

It is unbelievable with what great longing for you I am possessed. With regard to the reason, love (is) first, then (it is) because we are not accustomed to being apart (from one another). After that it is because I spend 
a large part of the night awake thinking of you (lit. in your likeness), then because during the day my very feet take me to your room, as it is truly said, during those hours in which I am used to visiting you; (and) finally because, sick and sorrowful and like an excluded (lover), I depart from that empty threshold. The only occasion (which) frees (me) from these torments (is that) in which (I am) in the Forum and wearing (myself) out on the lawsuits of my friends. Just think what kind of a life is mine, for which (there is) rest (only) in work, and comfort (only) in trouble and cares. Farewell.

3.  To his wife Calpurnia: Book VI, 7.

You write that you are affected by my absence very much (lit. not moderately), and that you have this one consolation, (which is) that you hold my letters (as though they are) me, and you often even put (them) in my place (beside you). It is pleasing that you miss us (being together), and that you derive some consolation from such comforts as these. I am often reading your letters, and I take (them) in my hands repeatedly as if (they are) new; but I am inflamed (all) the more with longing for you. For, (just as) someone's letters have such great sweetness, what great charm there must be in his conversations! Do (lit. you) write very often, although it delights me in such a way that it tortures (me). Farewell.  

4.  To Calpurnia Hispulla: Book IV, 19.

Pliny sends a glowing account of his wife's virtues to Calpurnia's aunt and attributes in part to her the success of their married life. 

As you are a model of tender regard, and you loved your brother, the best (of men) and very devoted to you, with an equal affection, and, (as) you love his daughter as your own, and you show her the affection not only of an aunt but also of a lost father, I do not doubt that you will have (lit. there will be to you) the greatest joy, when you learn that she has turned out worthy of her father, worthy of you, and worthy of her grandfather. She loves me, which is a sign of her purity. In addition to these things, she is developing (lit. is coming to) an interest in literature, which she has taken up out of her love for me. She keeps my speeches, she reads (them) over and over again, she even learns (them) by heart. When I am thought to be about to plead (in court), what anxiety she has (lit. there is to her), (and,) when I have pleaded, with what great joy she is affected! She arranges for men to bring her the news (as) to my approval, what cheers I have aroused, (and) what outcome I have won from the jurymen. Whenever I recite, she sits close by (lit. in my proximity), separated (from me) by a curtain, and eagerly receives our praises with the most avid ears. Indeed, she even sings my verses and sets (them) to the lyre, without any craftsman teaching (her) but love, which is the best (one).

For these reasons I am led to the surest expectation that our harmony will be lasting and greater day by day. For she does not love my age or my body, which are gradually declining and decaying, but my high reputation. Nor is it otherwise seemly for (one) brought up at your hands, trained by your precepts, and who had seen nothing in your household except (what is) pure and decent, and who, in short, had grown accustomed to love me at your recommendation. For, as you respected my mother in the place of a parent, (so) right from my boyhood you were accustomed to shape my character, to encourage me with praise, and to predict that (I should be) such a man as I now seem to my wife (to be). Therefore, we give thanks to you eagerly together, I because you gave her to me, (and) she because (you gave) me to her, as though you chose (us) for each other (lit. in turn).

C.  Pliny's way of life:

5.  To Fuscus Salinator: Book IX, 36.

Pliny describes a typical summer-day routine of a Roman author on his country estate; an early rise, meditation behind closed shutters, the dictation to his secretary of what he has composed. 

You ask how (lit. in what way) I plan the day in the summer in my Tuscan (estate).

I awake when it pleases (me), usually about the first hour, often before, rarely later. The shutters remain closed. For, in the silence and darkness, amazingly detached and free from those things which distract (me) and left to myself, I do not follow my eyes with my mind, but my mind with my eyes, which see the same things as my mind, whenever they do not see any other (distractions). I consider, if (I have) any (work) in hand, I think it out like (one) writing and correcting the exact wording, (and) now less, now more can be composed or kept (in the head), according as to whether it is difficult or easy. I call my secretary and, the daylight having been admitted, I dictate what I had composed. He goes away, and is called back again, and is sent away again.

At about 10 or 11 o'clock he retreats to the terrace or covered portico for further reflection on his work. After that he goes for a ride in his carriage, returns for a rest, then takes a walk. Greek or Latin recitation follows (for the sake of strengthening the digestion!), then another walk, an anointing, a bath and supper. Music or rest and conversation with the household members round off the day.

When (it is) the fourth or fifth hour [for the time (is) not fixed and measured out], I go (lit. betake myself) to the terrace or the covered portico, as the weather (lit. day) suggests, (and) I meditate on and dictate the rest (of my work). I climb into my carriage. There (I) also (do) the same as (if I am) walking or reclining; my concentration lasts, refreshed by the very change (of scenery). I sleep a little again, then I go for a walk, next I read a Greek or Latin speech out loud and with emphasis (lit. distinctly), not so much for the sake of my voice as of my digestion (lit. stomach); and yet the former is equally strengthened (by this). I go for a walk again, I am anointed, I take exercise (lit. I am exercised), I have a bath (lit. I am bathed). A book is read to me (while) dining, if I am with my wife or a few (friends); after supper (there is) a comedian or (there are) lute-players; then I walk with (the members of) my (household), among the ranks of whom there are some scholars. So our evenings are prolonged by varied conversations, and even the longest day comes to  a close.

Occasionally he varies this routine by riding on horseback, receiving visitors from the neighbouring towns and going hunting, the last always with his riding tablets. He allots some time to his tenants. 

Sometimes (lit. not never) some things are changed from this order. For, if I have walked or reclined for a long time, I do not ride (lit. am not carried) until after my nap and my reading (aloud), (and then) not in my carriage but on horseback, which (is) more rapid (lit. shorter) because (it is) faster. My friends from the neighbouring towns appear on the scene and claim (lit. draw off) part of the day to themselves, and occasionally relieve me, wearied (as I am), with a welcome interruption. Sometimes I go hunting, but not without my note-books, so that I shall not bring nothing back, even if I have caught nothing. (Some) of my time is given to my tenants, (though) not enough, as it seems to them, whose rustic complaints to me make our letters and this city business more attractive. Farewell.

6.  To Fuscus Salinator: Book IX, 40.

In winter, Pliny retired to his country house at Laurentum. In this letter he describes minor changes in routine to allow for increased business at the law courts. 

You write that my letter, from which you learned how (lit. in what way) I spent my summer holiday on my Tuscan (estate), was very agreeable to you; you ask what I change from this (routine) in Laurentum during the winter. Nothing, except that my midday sleep is dispensed with, and much of the night either before or after the day is taken and, if the pressure of legal business is impending, which (is) frequent in winter, (there is) no longer any room for a comedian or for lute-players after supper, but those things which I have repeatedly dictated are worked on again, and at the same time it is fixed in my memory by frequent correction.

You have my way of life in summer and winter; now you may add (lit. it is permitted [to you] to add) to this spring and autumn, (as) the intermediate (seasons) between winter and summer, while they lose nothing of the day, so they gain very little from the night. Farewell.

D.  The householder:

7.  To Gallus: Book II, 17.

This is a brief extract from a long letter in which Pliny extols the virtues of his house at Laurentum. It is spacious without being too costly to maintain. There is a D-shaped portico, a pleasing inner hall and a dining hall which faces the sea. There are many windows in the dining hall from which there are fine views.  

My villa (is) spacious (enough) for my needs, (but) not expensive in its upkeep. Its hall in the front (lit. in the first section) (is) serviceable but not shabby, then (there are) porticoes rounded in the likeness of the letter D, by which a very small but lively courtyard is enclosed. These (provide) a splendid refuge against bad weather (lit. storms); for they are protected by windows and still more by overhanging roofs. Opposite the middle (of it) is a cheerful inner courtyard, then a handsome enough dining hall, which runs down towards the shore, and, whenever the sea is disturbed by the the south-west (wind), it is lightly washed by the spent and latest breakers. On all sides it has folding doors, or windows no less (large) than the folding doors, and so it commands a prospect, as it were, of three seas; from the rear it looks back at the inner court, a portico, the courtyard, a portico again, then the hall, the woods and the distant mountains.

To the left of these buildings and lying back a little is a large drawing room, and then a smaller room which has a view of the sea. This is sheltered in winter and serves as a gymnasium for his household. Only in bad weather is this room useless. 

A little further back on the left (side) of this is a spacious chamber, then another smaller (one), which admits the rising (sun) by one window (and) retains the setting (sun) by another, and from this (window) there is a view of the sea lying beneath at a longer (distance) certainly, but at a safer (one). From the siting (lit. interposing) of this chamber and of that dining hall an angle is enclosed, which catches and intensifies the purest (warmth of) the sun. This is the winter quarters, (and) this (is) also the gymnasium of my (household); there all the winds drop (lit. keep silent) with the exception of those winds which bring rain-clouds, and they (take away) the fine (weather) before they prevent (lit. take away) the use of the place.

E.  The educationalist.

8.  To Cornelius Tacitus: Book IV, 13.

Pliny wishes to see a school established in his native town, Novum Comum. At present, the inhabitants of Novum Comun are sending their children away to Milan for their education. Pliny suggests that money now spent on travelling and lodgings would be saved if a school could be established at Comum. This letter is addressed to the historian Tacitus. 

I rejoice that you have come to the city safely; but (while you are) longed for whenever you have come at another time, (you are) longed for by me especially now. I myself shall be staying at my Tusculum (estate) for a few days yet, in order that I may complete a small work which is in hand. For I am afraid that if I slacken in this (present) application (of mine) now (that I am) at the end (of it), I shall scarcely (be able to) resume (it). In the meantime, lest in my impatience any (time) may be lost, I am asking in this, so to speak, precursory letter what I shall be asking in person (lit. [when I am] present). But do learn the reasons for my asking, before I then ask anything itself.

When I was last in my native town, the son of a fellow-citizen of mine, wearing the toga of youth, came to give his respects to me (lit. for the purpose of me being saluted). I said to him "Do you go to school (lit. are you studying)?" "Yes," he replied. "Where?" "In Milan." "Why not here?" And his father [for he was together (with him) and he himself had even brought the boy] (replied): "Because we have no teachers here." "Why (do you have) none? For it is (surely) of urgent importance to you who are fathers" [and luckily several fathers were listening (to me)] "that your children should learn here in particular. For where can they pass their time more pleasantly than in their native town, or be brought up (lit. be restrained) more decently than under the eyes of their parents or with less expense than at home?

He proposes that suitable teachers be procured and offers himself to contribute one third of the expense incurred. 

So, get together, come to a joint agreement, and take greater encouragement from my (intention), (I) who wants what I am due to contribute to be as much as possible. You can bestow upon your children nothing more worthy (than this), (and) upon your native town nothing more welcome. Let (those) who are born here be educated here, and right from their infancy let them be accustomed to love and to frequent their native soil. And would that you attract such famous teachers that studying here will be sought by neighbouring towns, and that, (as) now your children (flock) to other people's places, so soon other people's (children) may flock to this place.

9.  To Terentius Junior: Book IX, 12.

Although Pliny had no children, he had strong views on the education of the young. In this letter he relates how he reproved a father for being too severe towards his extravagant son.  

A certain man was castigating his son, because he was spending a little too much on horses and dogs (lit. he was buying horses and dogs a little too expensively). I (said) to him, the youth having departed, "Now look here, did you never do (anything) which could have been criticised by your father? Did you (never) do that, I say (again), do you not sometimes (now) do what your son, if suddenly he (was) your father, and you (were) his son, might reprove with equal severity? Are not all men drawn into some (kind of) error? Does not one man indulge himself in one thing, (and) another man in another?

Having been warned by this example of undue severity, I have written to you by virtue of our mutual affection, lest, at some time or other, you too might treat your own son too harshly and too severely. Consider both that he is (but) a boy and that you were (one too), and use your authority as a father (lit. this [right] because you are his father) in such a way that you remember both that he is a man and that you (are) the father of a man. Farewell.

F.  Pliny puts hunting in its place. 

10.  To Cornelius Tacitus: Book I, 6.

Someone who takes writing materials to a hunt cannot be accused of wild enthusiasm for sport. This letter and the next, which mildly attacks spectators at horse racing, reveals Pliny's reservations about the 'sporting' life.

You will laugh and it is permitted (that) you laugh. I, that man whom you know, have caught three boars, and very fine ones indeed. "(You), yourself?" you say. (Yes, I) myself, but not so that I departed altogether from my inactivity and repose. I sat by the nets; there was no hunting spear or lance close at hand (lit. in the proximity), but a pen and note-books; I was thinking about something and making notes, so that, (even) if I were to bring back empty hands, (I should) still (bring back) full wax (tablets). There is no reason why you should despise this way of studying; it is amazing how my mind is stimulated by the exercise and movement of the body; moreover the woods on all sides, and the solitude, and that very silence, which is given to hunting, are great inducements to thought. So, when you are (next) going to hunt, it will be permitted, on my authority (lit. me [being] the authority), that as well as a bread basket and a small flask, so also you should bring your note-books; you will find that Diana does not wander in these hills more than Minerva. Farewell.

11.  To Calvisius Rufus: Book IX, 6.

I have passed all this time amongst my note-books and my papers in the most delightful peace. "How could you (do this) in the city?" you say. The races (lit. Circus [games]) were (on); I am not even occupied very lightly by this kind of entertainment. It can afford nothing new, nothing different, nothing which one has not once looked at (before). I am (all) the more surprised that so many thousands of men want so childishly to watch again and again horses running and men standing up in their chariots. But if they were attracted (lit. drawn) either by the swiftness of the horses or by the skill of the men, there might be some (lit. not no) reason (for it); but as it happens, they fancy the ribbon, they love the ribbon, and, if during the course itself, and in the midst of the contest, this colour were to be transferred to that one, (and) that (colour) to this one, their enthusiasm and their support would change over (lit. go across), and instantly desert those drivers whom they recognise from afar off, (and) whose names they shout out.

Such great charm, such mighty power in a single paltry (lit. most cheap) tunic, I dismiss its influence amongst the common crowd, which (is) more worthless than this tunic, but amongst serious-minded men!  When I remember these men sitting so insatiably idle at an event (so) trivial, (so) dull, (and so) commonplace, I take some pleasure that I am not taken prisoner by this pleasure. And I most gladly occupy my leisure-time upon literature during these days which others squander upon the most idle occupations. Farewell.

G.  The philosopher.

12.  To Nonius Maximus: Book V, 5.

The following brief extract is taken from a letter of sympathy to a friend on the death of Gaius Fannius, who died when his history of the lives of those who had been put to death or had been banished by the emperor Nero was still incomplete. Pliny deplores the death of those engaged upon immortal work. 

Moreover, the death of those who are preparing some immortal (work) always seems to me painful and untimely. For (those) who, devoted to their pleasures, live as it were for the day, daily put an end to their reason for living; but for those who think of posterity and prolong the memory of themselves by their works, any death is sudden (lit. no death is not sudden), as it always cuts short (lit. breaks off) some (project) which (is) unfinished.

13.  To Calpurnius Macer: Book V, 18.

Pliny's cheerful disposition and capacity for the enjoyment of simple pleasures are shown in this letter to a friend with similar tastes. 

(All) is well for me for me because (all) is well for you. You have your wife with you, and you have your son; you enjoy the sea, your fountains, your greenery, your land, your most delightful villa. For I do not doubt that that (villa) is most delightful, in which a man had settled quite happily before he became the happiest (man of all). I (am) at my Tuscan (estate), and I hunt and I study, which I do sometimes in turns, sometimes together, but I cannot yet declare publicly whether it is more difficult to catch or to write something. Farewell.

H.  The diner-out.

14.  To Junius Avitus: Book II, 6.

Pliny relates his misfortune in being asked to dine with a person who set meaner food before the less-respected guests,a practice which he roundly condemns. 

It would be tedious, nor is it of importance, to revisit too deeply, how (lit. in what way) it happened that I, a man by no means his intimate, was dining at the house of a certain man, (who), as it seemed to him, (was) sumptuous and economical, (but), as (it seemed) to me (was) mean and extravagant at the same time. For he put the best things before himself and a few (others), (and) some cheap and scrappy things before the rest. He had also apportioned the wine in very small decanters in respect of three kinds, in order not that (they might have) (lit. [there might be to them]) the power of choice, but in order that they should not have (lit. there should not be [to them]) the right of refusal, one kind (being) for himself and us, another for his lesser friends, and a third for his own and our freedmen. (The man) who reclined next to me asked (me) whether I approved (of this). I said no. "So, what custom do you follow?" he said. "I put the same things before everyone; I invite (people) for dinner, not for a grading, and I treat as equal in all respects (those) whom I have made equal at my table and on my couch." "Even the freedmen?" (he said.) "(Yes), even (them)" (I replied); "for I regard (them as) fellow-diners, not (as) freedmen." And he (went on): "It must cost you a great deal (lit. it stands at a great [price] to you)." "Not at all, " (I said). "How can it be done?" "Quite simply (lit. doubtless), because my freedmen do not drink the same as I, but I (drink) the same as my freedmen."

If only one abstains from gluttony and the modern self-indulgence alternated with meanness, one need not be extravagant. 

And, by heaven (lit. by Hercules), if you restrain your gluttony, it is not burdensome to share with many what you yourself enjoy. So (it is) that (gluttony that) must (lit. is needing to) be repressed, (it is) that (gluttony) that must (lit. is needing to) be reduced, as it were, to the ranks, if you are to be sparing of your expenses, which you will take rather better care of by your own moderation than by rudeness to others.

To what end (is all) this? (I am afraid) lest the extravagance of certain (people) with regard to the table under the appearance of frugality imposes (itself) upon you, a young man of the best character. But it becomes my affection for you that, whenever any such (folly) occurs, to point it out as an example of what you ought to shun. So, remember that there is nothing that you should avoid (lit. is needing to be avoided [by you]) more than that new association of extravagance and meanness; these are most shameful when they are set apart and divided, (and even) more shameful (when) joined (together).

I.  The naturalist.

15.  To Voconius Romanus: Book VIII, 8.

The source of the river Clitumnus is still a beauty spot, as it was in Pliny's time. 

Have you ever seen the source of the Clitumnus? If not yet [and I think (it is) not yet; for otherwise you would have told me], do see (it) as I saw (it) most recently [I regret (lit. it repents [me] of) my tardiness (in doing so)].

A fair-sized hill, well-wooded and shady with old cypresses, arises. At the foot of this a spring gushes out and is forced into numerous but unequally-sized channels, and, having broken out, forms an eddy as, clear and glassy, it opens out into a broad basin, so that you can count the small coins and shining pebbles (which have been) thrown (into it). Thence it is driven onwards, not by the sloping of the ground, but by its very abundance and by its weight, as it were, a spring thus far, and now a very wide river and (one) even allowing  (for the passage) of ships, which, (while) meeting and also proceeding with a contrary effort in different (directions), it conveys and brings through, (the current being) so strong that in that (direction) in which it hurries, even if through level ground, there is no need to row (lit. it is not helped by oars), (but) the same (current when going) upstream (lit. in the opposite direction) is overcome (only) with the greatest difficulty by means of oars and poles (combined). For (those) floating about (on the river), (it is) delightful, by reason of both fun and sport, to exchange toil for ease, (and) ease for toil, whenever they change course.

The banks of the stream are clad with trees which are reflected in the water. Beside the stream is a temple and small chapels. A bridge spans the stream, near which are baths, an inn and country houses. 

The banks are clothed with many ash-trees and many poplars, which the clear river counts up as if (they were) sunk in its green likeness. The coldness of the water will compete with snow, nor does its colour concede (anything). An ancient and venerable temple is close by. Clitumnus himself stands (inside it), clothed and adorned with a toga. The oracles declare that the deity (is) present and also prophesying. Several small shrines and the same number of deities are scattered around. Each has (lit. to each there [is]) its own form of worship, (and) its own name, (and) indeed some even have (lit. to some there (is) even) their own springs. For besides that (spring) (which is), as it were, the parent of the others, there are lesser (springs), separate in their sources, but they mingle with the river, which is crossed by a bridge. That (is) the boundary of the sacred and the commonplace. In the upper part, only navigation (is permitted), (but) below swimming (is) also permitted. The inhabitants of Hispellum, to whom the deified Augustus gave that place, provide a bath at the public expense, (and) they also provide an inn. Nor are villas lacking, which attracted by (lit. following) the charm of the river, are situated on its edges.

This place has all kinds of interest, for there are numerous inscriptions in praise of the god who watches over this shrine.

In short, there will be nothing from which you may not take pleasure. For you will also study; and you will read the many inscriptions of many people on all the pillars and on all the walls, in which that spring and its deity are celebrated. You will praise many (of them), you will laugh at many (lit. not none); although, in truth you and your humanity will laugh at none of these things. Farewell.

16.  To Caninius Rufus: Book IX, 33.

Pliny relates a strange story about a dolphin off the coast of Hippo in North Africa which allowed a boy to ride on its back. In view of our modern knowledge about dolphins, the story can by no means be discounted.  

There is in Africa the colony of Hippo, close to the sea; a navigable lagoon is situated (lit. lies) nearby; from this an estuary emerges in the form of a river, which, in alternate turns, at one time flows (lit. is brought) into the sea, (and) at another flows back (lit. is returned) into the lagoon, according as to whether the tide is ebbing or flowing. (People of) every age are occupied here by enthusiasm for fishing, sailing and also swimming, especially boys, whom leisure and play incites. With these (boys), (there is) glory and courage in swimming (lit. being carried forward) into the deepest (water); (and) he who leaves both the shore and the (other) swimmers behind at the same time by the greatest distance (is) the winner. With regard to this rivalry, a certain boy, bolder than the rest, struck out for the furthest (shore). A dolphin encounters (him), and at one moment precedes (him), at another follows (him), then swims around (lit. goes around) (him), and at last takes (him) on his back (lit. comes up from under [him]), sets (him) down, takes (him) on his back (lit. comes up from under [him]) again, and (then) carries the trembling (boy) firstly out into the deep (sea), (but) soon turns towards the shore and returns (him) to land and to his companions (lit. equals). The report (of this story) spreads throughout the colony; everyone comes running; they stare at (him) as if (he were) a prodigy, they ask (him) questions, they listen to (him), he tells the story (again).

 At first the dolphin causes apprehension, but gradually its tame behaviour began to inspire trust and boys swam up to it and stroked it. Another dolphin joined the first, but only as a spectator.

On the next day they thronged (lit. besieged) the shore, (and) watched the sea, and what, if anything, (is) like the sea (i.e. the lagoon and the estuary). The boys are swimming; that boy (I was speaking of) (was) among them, but more cautious (now). The dolphin [comes] again on cue (lit. on time), and (goes) again to the boy. He flees with the rest. The dolphin, as if he is inviting (them) and calling (them) back, leaps out (of the water and) dives, and coils and uncoils (himself in) various circles. (He did) this on the second day, (he did) this on the third (day), (he did) this on several days, until shame of timidity came over men brought up with the sea; they approach (it), they play with (it), they call to (it), they even touch and stroke (it as it is) offering (itself to them). Their daring grows with experience. In particular, the boy who first experienced (it), swims along by the side of it (while it is) swimming, jumps on its back, is carried (out to sea) and brought back (again), (and) he thinks that he is known and loved (by it), and he loves (it) himself; neither is afraid, neither is feared; (as) the trust of the one is increased, (so is) the tameness of the other. Some (lit. not none) of the other boys swim (lit. go) on the right (side) and (some) on the left, encouraging and warning. Another dolphin went together (with it) [that also (is) amazing], (but) only (as) a spectator and companion. For it did or allowed nothing similar, but escorted and escorted back that other (one), as the other boys (escorted) the boy.

Stranger still, the dolphin would even come on to the shore, dry itself and roll back into the sea. 

(It is) unbelievable, but as true as the former (part of the story) that the dolphin, that bearer and playfellow of boys, (was) also accustomed to come out of (lit. extract itself from) the water, and dry itself on the sand, (and) roll itself back into the sea, when it had grown hot.

The deputy governor saw fit to pour some ointment over it as it lay on the shore, and this caused it to retire for some days. When it returned, local magistrates came to visit the sight, and the cost of their entertainment was to much for the small community to bear. The place was also losing its seclusion. The dolphin was accordingly killed. 

It is well-known that Octavius Avitus, the proconsul's legate, on the basis of some absurd superstition, poured some ointment (over it when it had been) led out on to the shore, (and) he ran away from that strangeness and the smell of this into the deep (sea), and that (it was) not seen (again) except after several days, listless and dejected (but) that soon, its strength having been restored, it repeated its former playfulness and its usual tricks (lit. services).

All the magistrates flocked to (see) this sight, whose arrival and rather long (lit. moderate sized) stay burdened that community with fresh expenses. Finally, the place itself was losing its peace and privacy. They resolved (lit. it seemed good [to them]) that (the object) to which the crowds flocked (lit. to which it was being gathered together) should be secretly killed.

You will receive this story with pity. The truth needs no embellishment.  

With what compassion, with what an abundance (of tears) you will weep over, adorn (and) elevate these (events)! Although there is no need (that) you add or expand anything; it is sufficient that those things which are true are not diminished.

J.  Pliny, eyewitness of the eruption of Vesuvius. 

17.  To Cornelius Tacitus: Book VI, 16.

On the afternoon of August 24th, A.D. 79, the volcano Vesuvius erupted with such force that the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under a thick layer of volcanic matter. Pliny and his mother were at Misenum with his uncle who was in command of the fleet there. His uncle sailed out to rescue survivors. 

He (i.e. Pliny the Elder) was at Misenum and was commanding the fleet with authority in person (lit. being present). On the ninth day before the Kalends of September at about the seventh hour, my mother points out  to him that a cloud was in sight, unusual both in size and shape. Having sunbathed and taken a bath (lit. having enjoyed the sun and cold [water]), he had had a snack, (while) lying down, and was studying; he asks for his sandals, (and) climbs to a place from which that very amazing (phenomenon) could be seen. (It was) unclear to (those) looking from a distance from which mountain [it was afterwards learned that it was Vesuvius] the cloud was rising, the likeness and the shape of which no other tree better portrayed than a pine. For, having been raised to a (great) height, as if on a very long trunk, it was spread out into a certain (kind of) branches, because, I believe, having been carried upwards by a sudden gust of air, then having been abandoned, with this (gust) growing weaker, or even having been overcome by its own weight, it began to dissolve, (being) sometimes white, (and) sometimes dirty and spotted, according as to whether it had taken up earth or ash.

The Elder Pliny made ready to go to the rescue of friends and asked his nephew if he wished to accompany him. Pliny replied that he preferred to study the work his uncle had set him. The Elder Pliny accordingly set sail, and soon volcanic ash and small stones rained down on his boat. The next extract describes the Elder Pliny's brave rescue attempt. 

He hurries to that place from which others are fleeing, and he holds a straight course and a steady rudder into  the danger, so freed from fear that he dictated and made notes on all the movements of that disaster, as he had detected (them) with his eyes.

Now ash, (growing) hotter and thicker as he approached nearer, was falling on to the ships, now even pumice-stones and black stones both scorched and cracked by fire (were falling), (and) now (there was) sudden shallow water and debris from the mountain blocking the way to the shore. Hesitating for a moment (wondering) whether he should turn back, he soon says to the helmsman advising (him) to do so, "Fortune favours (lit. helps) the brave. Make for Pomponianus!"

Although many fires were blazing on Vesuvius, the Elder Pliny said that these were merely fires lighted by the country folk. He retired to rest and actually slept, snoring a little. The rain of ash and stones grew thicker, so Pliny's uncle was aroused, but the sea was too rough and the winds too high for him to return to Misenum. 

Meanwhile, from several places on Mount Vesuvius very broad flames and tall fires were blazing, the glare and brightness of which were emphasising the darkness of the night. As a remedy against fear, he kept saying that the fires had been left behind through the panic of country folk, and that deserted houses were burning throughout the abandoned area (lit. [the area of] solitude). Then he gave himself to rest, and indeed he rested in a very real sleep. For the passage of his breathing, which in his case was rather heavy and noisy on account of the corpulence of his body, was heard by those who were observed near to his door.

Now (there was) daylight elsewhere, (but) there (there was) night blacker and thicker than every (other) night; however many torches and various (kinds of) light relieved it. He decided (lit. it seemed good [to him]) to go down to the shore and to investigate from close by whether the sea might permit any (escape), (but) it still remained swollen (lit. enormous) and hostile.

The Elder Pliny lay down on a disused sail and repeatedly asked for cold water. When the smell of sulphur grew stronger, he stood up, supported by two slaves, but immediately collapsed. His body was found later in a position resembling sleep more than death. 

There, lying down upon a sail cloth (which had been) thrown on (to the ground), time and again he asked for, and drank, cold (water). Then the flames and the smell of sulphur, the precursor of flames, turn others to flight, (but) arouse him. He stood up, and at once collapsed, as I conclude, his breath having been obstructed by thicker fumes, and his windpipe, which in his case was weak by nature and narrow and often inflamed, having been blocked. When daylight returned [this (was) the third (day) from that which he had last seen], his body was found intact, unharmed and covered as he had been dressed; the appearance of the body (was) more like (someone) sleeping than (someone) dead.

18.  To Cornelius Tacitus: Book VI, 20.

Pliny is requested by Tacitus, to whom the last letter was also written, to give his personal experiences of the eruption. He explains how the earthquake shocks gradually increased in violence until he and his mother decided to leave their bedrooms and sit in the forecourt of the house. A Spanish friend of Pliny's uncle reproved Pliny for reading at such a time.  

You say that you, having been induced by the letter, which I wrote to you at your request (lit. to you asking [for it]) concerning your uncle's death, want to know what I, having been left behind at Misenum, endured, not only the terrors, but also the difficulties [for, having started to mention (it), I had broken off].  

Although my mind shudders to remember (it), I shall begin."

My uncle having set out, I myself spent the rest of the day (lit. the time [that was] left) on my studies [for (it was) on that account (that) I had remained (behind)]: then I had (lit. [there was to me]) a bath, dinner, (and) an uneasy and short sleep. For many days a tremor of the earth had occurred, not too frightening, since (this was quite) common in Campania; but it was so strong on that (particular) night that everything appeared not (only) to be disturbed but (actually) to be overturned. My mother rushed into my bed-chamber; in my turn, I was in the act of arising, about to awake (her) if she were (still) asleep. We sat down in the forecourt of the house, which separated the sea from the building by a small space. I hesitate to say (whether) I ought to call (this) courage or folly; for I was in (lit. completing) my eighteenth year. I asked for a book of Titus Livy, and, as if at my leisure, I read (this) and also made extracts, as I had begun (to do). Behold, a friend of my uncle, who had recently come from Spain to (see) him, when he sees me and my mother sitting (there), but also me reading, upbraids her passiveness and my unconcern. (But I was) in no way less actively (lit. more inactively)  absorbed in (lit. intent upon) my book.

At 6 a.m. the light remained poor. There was great danger from tottering houses. We decided to leave the town. A crowd followed us. We saw coaches running to and fro as the tremors continued and the sea was sucked back, leaving many creatures stranded on the shore. Inland a black cloud now and again gaped open to reveal long flames, like lightning flashes, but much larger. 

(It was) now the first hour of the day, and the daylight (was) still uncertain and, as it were, faint. The buildings situated around (lit. lying around) (us) now having been shaken, although (we were) on open ground, yet (as we were) on a narrow (patch of ground), the fear of falling (buildings) (was) great and definite. Only then did it seem (right to us) to depart from the town. A stunned crowd follows (us), and, (something) which (is) in respect of panic (being) similar to wisdom, prefers someone else's decision to its own, and, in a huge column, presses (us) hard and drives (us) on, (as we are) going out. Once clear of (lit. having gone out of) the buildings, we stop. There we experience many amazing (sights) and terrors. For, the carriages, which we have ordered to be brought out, although on very flat ground, began to run (lit. be driven) in different directions, and did not remain stationary, even (when they had been) supported by stones in the same tracks. Moreover, we saw the sea sucked back into itself and, as it were, driven back by the earthquake (lit. tremor of the earth). Certainly the shore had advanced, and many creatures of the sea were beached (lit. detained) on the dry sand. On the other side, a black and dreadful cloud, broken by jagged and darting flashes of fiery vapour, was splitting into long tongues (lit. figures) of flame; these were both like lightning flashes and greater than (lightning flashes).    

The Spanish friend again implored Pliny to escape, but himself hurried off when Pliny and his mother decided to await news of the Elder Pliny. Soon afterwards the cloud dropped lower, and Pliny's mother advised flight. Ash started falling. They turned aside to avoid being trampled by the crowd. It became pitch dark, and shrieks and crying could be heard. Many thought that the end of the world was at hand. 

Then, indeed, that same friend from Spain addresses (us) more earnestly and with more urgency: "If your brother, (if) your uncle is (still) alive, he wants you to be safe: if he has perished, he wanted (you to be) survivors. So, why do you delay your escape (lit. to escape)?" We replied that we should not commit (ourselves) to acting in our interests (while being) uncertain about his own safety. Delaying no further, he rushes (lit. drags himself) out, and hurries (lit. is transported) away from the danger with precipitous (lit. extravagant) speed. Not long afterwards that cloud began to descend to earth, (and) to cover the sea; it had surrounded and hidden Capri from sight. It had blotted out (lit. carried away) the promontory of (lit. what juts out at) Misenum. Then my mother began to beg, to exhort, and to command that I should escape; for (she said) that a young man could (escape) by whatever means (he could), and that she, weighed down by years and by her body, would die contented (lit. well), if (only) she had not been the cause of my death. I (was) absolutely against myself (being) safe, unless it would be together (with her); then, taking (lit. embracing) her hand, I compel her to quicken (lit. add to) her step; she complies reluctantly (lit. with difficulty), and she blames herself because she is delaying (me). Now ash (is falling), but (it is) still infrequent.  I look back; a dense mist was hanging over our backs, which was following us, spreading over the countryside like (lit. in the manner of) a torrent. "Let us turn aside (from the road), " I said, "while we can (still) see, lest, having been knocked down in the road, we are crushed in the darkness by (those) accompanying (us)." We have scarcely sat down, when night came upon us (lit. and there [is] night), not as though (it were) moonless or overcast, but like in a closed room with the light having been extinguished. You could hear the shrieking of women, the wailing of children, the shouts of men; some were seeking with their voices, and recognising by their voices, their parents, others their children, and others still their wives; some were bewailing their own misfortunes, others (those) of their relatives; there were (those) who were praying for death due to their fear of death. Many were beseeching (lit. raising their hands to) the gods; more were explaining that (there were) not any gods anywhere, and that that oft predicted eternal and last night (had come upon) the world.

Others increased the general panic by false rumours. Gradually it grew lighter. Then came more darkness and more ash. Pliny and his mother repeatedly had to shake off the falling ashes. Pliny might have boasted of his bravery at this time, had he not consoled himself with the belief that the world was coming to an end. 

Nor were there wanting (those) who augmented the real dangers by imaginary and invented terrors. There were (some) there who announced falsely, but to those (readily) believing (them), that this (part) of Misenum had collapsed in ruins, (and) that that (part) was on fire. It lightened a little; this seemed to us (to be) not daylight, but the sign of  approaching fire. And indeed (there was) fire, (but) it stopped quite some distance (from us), (then) the darkness (returned) again, (and then) ash (fell) again. Getting up repeatedly, we shook this off. I could boast that amidst (all) these very great dangers not a groan, not (even) a not very (lit. a too little) brave sound escaped me, except that in that wretched, yet mighty, consolation with regard to my death, I had believed that I was perishing with everything, (and) that everything (was perishing) with me.

At length day returned and the sun even shone. Everything was covered in a thick layer of cinders. Pliny and his mother returned to Misenum where they spent an anxious night, since the earthquake still continued and frenzied souls prophesied future evils. All the same, Pliny and his mother resolved to await news of his uncle. 

Pliny ends by stating that his letter is not worthy of being considered as history. If it is to be counted as a worth-while letter, the credit for this is to be imputed to Tacitus' request.   

At last the fog lifted (lit. went away), having been dissipated as though (we were) in smoke or cloud; soon real daylight (returned), (and) the sun even shone, but (it was) yellowish, as it is accustomed to be when it goes into an eclipse. Everything met our still flickering eyes (as) changed, and buried in deep ash, as if in snow. Returning to Misenum, our bodies having been attended to one way or another, we spent an anxious and uncertain night (poised) between hope and fear. (But) fear prevailed; for the earthquake (lit. tremor of the earth) was also continuing and many persons, distracted (by the ordeal), were making both their own and other people's sufferings ridiculous by their appalling predictions. But we, although having both experienced and (still) expecting danger, had (lit. [there was] to us, although having both experienced and [still] expecting dangers) not even then any intention of leaving, until news (came) concerning my uncle.

Being about to write, you will read these (details) (as) not worthy in any way of your history, and, if they may seem not even worthy of a letter, you will doubtless ascribe (this) to yourself, who asked for (them). Farewell.

K.  Pliny and the supernatural. 

19.  To Licinius Sura: Book VII, 27.

It becomes obvious from the ghost stories told below that Pliny places some belief in supernatural powers. 

The first concerns Curtius Rufus, attending upon the newly-appointed governor of Africa, to whom the spirit protecting Africa is said to have made certain predictions which came true. 

Our leisure gives both to me the chance of learning and to you (the chance) of teaching (me). So I should very much like to know (whether) you think that ghosts exist and have a form of their own and some sort of supernatural power, or whether, (being) empty and unreal, they take their shape from our fear.

I am particularly encouraged (lit. led) to believe that they exist by that (experience) which happened to Curtius Rufus. In low circumstances and unknown, he had attached (himself as) a companion to (a man) acquiring (by lot the governorship of) Africa. One afternoon (lit. the day having declined), he was walking about in the colonnade (of the governor's house); the figure of a woman appeared (lit. was presented) to him, greater in size and more beautiful than any human: she said to the frightened (man) that she (was) Africa, the foreteller of  the future (events in his life); for (she said that he would go back) to Rome again and would hold high offices of state, and that he would also return with supreme authority to the same province and would die there. Every circumstance came to pass (lit. occurred). Moreover, the story is (lit. it is told) that, with (him) arriving at Carthage and disembarking from the ship, the same figure met (him) on the shore. Certainly, he himself, (when) involved in illness, predicting the future on the basis of the past, (and) adverse (circumstances) on the basis of favourable (ones), gave up (lit. threw away) any hope of good health, (although) with none of his household despairing.

The second story concerns a haunted house in Athens. The ghost of an old man used to appear, accompanied by the clanging of iron. The house was abandoned to the ghost, but a poster was displayed to announce that it was for sale or lease. 

In Athens there was a large and spacious house, but of ill-repute and unhealthy. In the silence of the night the clanking of iron was heard (lit. was returned) and, if you paid very careful attention, the rattle of chains, at first some distance away, (and) then from close by (lit. from the proximity). Then, there appeared a spectre, an old man consumed by emaciation and squalor, with a long beard and with his hair standing on end; he was wearing shackles on his legs and was shaking the chains on his wrists (lit. hands). From then onwards, dismal and fearful nights were spent by the inhabitants, kept awake by terror; sickness followed the sleeplessness, (and then), with their fear growing, death. For even during the day, although the apparition had vanished (lit. departed), the memory of the apparition was flitting before their eyes, and their fear was longer lasting than the reasons for the fear. So the house (was) deserted and condemned to stand empty (lit. to solitude), and wholly abandoned to that ghost; however, a poster was put up (lit. it was advertised) (in case) either someone wished to buy (it) or someone (wished) to rent (it), (being) ignorant of its very evil (reputation).  

Athenodorus, a philosopher, came to Athens and, in spite of suspecting its cheapness, took over this house. He sat up all night until the ghost appeared, rattling its chains and motioning Athenodorus to follow it. Athenodorus took up his lamp and followed it into the courtyard where the ghost suddenly disappeared.  

The philosopher Athenodorus comes to Athens (and) reads the notice and, the price having been heard, having made enquiries because the low price was suspicious, but nevertheless (and) very much on the contrary he hires (it) all the more (readily). When it began to grow dark, he orders (a couch) to be made ready (lit. to be spread) in the front part of the house (and) he asks for his note-books, his pen, (and) a lamp; he sends away all his (servants) into the inner (rooms), (and) he himself directs his mind, his eyes, (and) his hand, lest his mind were to invent for itself the phantom, (which he had) heard about, and (other) vain fears. At first (lit. at the beginning), (there is) the silence of night; then iron was shaken, and chains were rattled; he did not raise his eyes, nor give up his pen, but steeled his mind and concentrated (lit. he put [his mind] before his ears). Then the noise grew louder, it came closer, and was heard now in the doorway (lit. on the threshold) and now in the room (lit. within the threshold); he looks round, he sees and recognises the ghost (which has been) described to him. It stood (before him) and beckoned (lit. signalled with its finger) as if calling (him). He in turn indicates with his hand that it should wait a little, and again gives his attention to his writing tablets and his pen. It rattled its chains over the head (of the man as he is) writing. He again looks up at the beckoning (ghost), as before, and, not delaying, he lifts up his lamp and follows. It went with a slow step, as though weighed down with chains. When it had turned into the forecourt of the house, having suddenly vanished, it deserted its companion.

Athenodorus marked the spot where the ghost had disappeared with grass and leaves. The following day he asked the magistrates to have the place dug up. Bones intertwined with chains were found. These were publicly buried and thereafter the ghost was duly laid. 

Having been (thus) abandoned, he places some grass and picked leaves on the spot (as) a sign. The next day he went to the magistrates (and) advises that they should order that place to be dug up. Bones were found, mixed and entwined with chains, which, bare and corroded, had left the body putrefied by age and earth. Having been collected, they are buried at public expense. Afterwards the house was deprived of these spirits (which had been) duly laid (lit. put away).

Pliny himself vouches for the truth of the third story. One of his freed men thought that he saw someone with a pair of shears in his hand cutting off the hair of his brother Marcus, another of Pliny's freed men. Hair was found on the floor next morning. A similar event happened again a little later. Pliny rather ingeniously attributes these happenings to the fact that he escaped being prosecuted by Domitian after being informed against by a certain Carus. 

He concludes by asking his correspondent to give deep consideration to the possibility that there are ghosts and then to reach a firm decision one way or the other, in order to dispel Pliny's uncertainty.  

I have (lit. there is to me) a freedman (called) Marcus, (who is) not illiterate. When his younger brother was sleeping in the same bed, it seemed that he saw someone sitting on the bed putting some scissors to his head, and even cutting hair from the very crown of his head. When it became light, he himself (had been) shorn around the top of his head, and his hair is found lying (on the floor). A short time elapsed, and again another  similar thing gave credit to the former (story). A slave boy was sleeping with several (others) in the slaves' apartment; two persons in white tunics came through the windows (so he states) and cut off (his hair as he was) lying (in the bed), and then departed (by the way) in which they had come. The daylight showed him also (to have been) shorn and his hair (to have been) scattered (all) around (on the floor). Nothing remarkable followed these (events), except perhaps (the fact) that I was not  prosecuted (lit. a defendant); I should have been, if Domitian, under whom these things had happened, had lived any longer. For in his desk a paper was found, provided by (Metius) Carus, concerning me; from this it could be conjectured, since it is (something) of a custom for those accused to let their hair grow long (lit. to lengthen their hair), that the hair of my (servants) having been cut was a sign of the danger, which was hanging over me, having been removed.

So, I ask (that) you apply your learned mind (to this question). The subject is a worthy (one), which you should consider for a long time and very carefully, nor indeed (am) I undeserving (as) someone to whom you can make the abundance of your knowledge (available). Although you may even (lit. it is permitted [that] you) argue on both sides, as you are accustomed (to do), yet (please do argue) more bravely on one side or the other, lest you leave me in suspense and uncertain, when my reason for (you) being consulted was that I might cease to doubt. Farewell.

L.  The Provincial Governor.

The last book of letters (Book X) illustrates the tasks that Pliny undertook as provincial governor in Bithynia. Some of these letters may be considered as pairs, when Pliny asks the Emperor Trajan for guidance on some point and receives a reply from him. The next two letters form such a pair: in the first Pliny reports a fire which caused considerable damage and asks that a guild of firemen be formed to extinguish fires. 

Trajan replies that similar guilds have troubled the peace of Pliny's province. He therefore instructs Pliny to see to the provision of fire-fighting equipment and to direct householders themselves to take steps for the protection of their homes. 

20.  Pliny to the Emperor Trajan: Book X, 33.

When I was travelling around a different part of the province, at Nicomedia a most extensive fire consumed many houses of private (citizens) and two public buildings, the Old People's Almshouse and the Temple of Isis, although with a road lying between (them).  Moreover, it was more widely spread at the beginning due to the violence of the wind, and then to the inactivity of the people, whom it is quite clear (lit. clear enough) stood by idle and motionless (as) spectators of so great a disaster, and, apart from this (lit. in other respects) (there is) nothing with regard to a public fire-engine anywhere, not a fire-bucket, and, in short, not any apparatus at all for the purpose of fires being quenched. And these will, indeed, be prepared, as I have now directed. Do you, lord, (please) consider whether you think that a guild of firemen should (lit. [is] needing to) be established, to the extent of 150 men. I shall take care that no one shall be recruited other a fireman, and that, this privilege having been granted, it may not be used for anything else; nor will it be difficult to keep a watch on so few (men).

21.  Trajan to Pliny: Book X, 34.

It has, indeed, come into your mind that a guild of firemen could be established among the inhabitants of Nicomedia, following the examples of several (other cities). But we should remember that this province of yours, and its cities in particular, have been disturbed by associations of this kind. Whatever name - (and) for whatever reason - we give to those who have come together (lit. have been drawn together) for a common (lit. the same) (purpose), in an equally short (space of time) they will become political clubs. Therefore it would be better (lit. it is quite enough) that those things should be made available (lit. prepared) which can be of assistance for the purpose of fires being controlled, and that the owners of properties should be enjoined  to both check (the flames) themselves, and, if the situation demands (it), to utilise the concourse of the people for this (purpose).  

22.  Pliny to the Emperor Trajan: Book X, 88.

Pliny sends felicitations to Trajan on his birthday.

I pray, lord, both (that) you may pass this birth(day) and very many others as felicitously as possible, and (that), both in good health and valiant in one good work after (lit. on top of) another, you may add to the glory of your virtue (which is) flourishing in eternal praise.

23.  Pliny to the Emperor Trajan: Book X, 96.

Treatment of early Christians is a very important subject in the next two letters. Pliny admits lack of experience in dealing with Christians, and asks whether consideration should be given to the age of the Christian and if recantation should bring pardon or whether the mere admission of Christianity is punishable. 

It is my rule (lit. custom), lord, to refer to you all (matters) about which I am in doubt. For who is better able either to resolve (lit. direct) my hesitation or to inform my ignorance (than you)? I have never been present at judicial examinations of Christians. For that reason I do not know how, and to what extent, it is customary either (for them) to be punished or to be questioned. Nor am I at all sure (lit. nor am I slightly at a loss) as to whether there should be any distinction on the grounds of age or whether those whom one may consider (as) young should differ in no way at all from adults (lit. the more mature), (whether) a pardon should be given for repentance, or whether there should be no advantage for a man who has been wholly Christian to have recanted, (and whether) the mere name (lit. the name itself), even if he should be without any crimes, or the crimes attaching to the name, are to be punished.

For the time being Pliny has followed this method: he asks suspects if they are Christians, then, if they confess, he asks them twice again, threatening death. Those who persevere in the same answer he leads out to be executed, on the grounds that inflexible obstinacy should be punished. 

Meanwhile, I have followed this method in respect of those who have been brought before me as Christians. I have asked them whether they were Christians. (Those) confessing I have asked (the question) again and for a third (time), threatening execution. (Those) persisting, I have ordered to be led out (to execution). For it should not (lit. [it is] not needing to) be doubted that whatever (the matter) which they confessed was, this obstinacy and inflexible stubbornness ought certainly to be punished. There were others of a similar madness; (but) these, because they were Roman citizens, I have enrolled to be sent back to Rome (for trial).

As accusation spread, a notice is put up giving the names of persons alleged to be Christians. This is unsigned. Pliny orders those persons to be sought out and then confronts them with an image of Trajan and bids them to pay homage to it and to the gods and to curse Christ. Their only crime, however, as far as he can ascertain, is to hold meetings, sing hymns to Christ and to promise not to commit sins. After this they separate and take food, quite harmless food. In spite of using torture on two female slaves, Pliny can discover no more than 'a depraved, excessive superstition'.  

Soon, by the very handling, as the number of charges grew (lit. the charge spreading itself), as is accustomed to happen, several forms (of this charge) have occurred. An anonymous pamphlet (lit. a pamphlet without an author) has been circulated, containing the names of many (accused people). They denied that they were Christians or that (they ever) had been, when, with me dictating the words (lit. leading the way), they invoked the gods and, with incense and wine, venerated your statue, which I had ordered to be brought into (court) for this (purpose) (together) with images of the gods, (and) in addition they reviled Christ, none of which things are said (to be things which those) who are truly Christians can be compelled (to do), (these) I have considered should (lit. are needing to) be dismissed. Some, having been named by an informer, said that they were Christians and then denied (it); (they said) that (they) had indeed been Christians, but had ceased (to be), certain (of them) after three years, others after several years, and some (lit. not no one) even after twenty-five years. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods as well: and they also reviled Christ.

Moreover, they declared that the sum of their guilt or error had been this, that they had been accustomed to come together before daylight on an appointed day to address a chant in turns between themselves to Christ as though to a god, and to bind themselves by a solemn oath, not in respect of some criminal purpose (lit. crime), but in order that they should not commit any theft, that they (should) not (commit) any robbery,  that they (should) not (commit) any adultery, (and) in order that they should not betray their good faith, and that they should not deny a deposit, having been called upon (to restore it). (They declared also) that, these things having been performed, they had a custom of going away and coming back again for the purpose of taking food, yet ordinary and (quite) harmless (food); that they had stopped doing this itself after my edict, by which, following your instructions, I had forbidden political societies to exist. I believed (it was) all the more necessary to investigate what was the truth, even by torture, from two slave-women, who were called deaconesses. I have found nothing other than an absurd and unreasonable foreign cult (lit. superstition).

Pliny has consulted Trajan because a large number of people are involved. The contagion has spread from the cities to the countryside. Yet the temples are now being frequented again and sacred festivals are being revived, so that many may be reclaimed from Christianity if they are offered the chance of repenting. 

The judicial enquiry having been postponed, I have hastened to consult you (lit. for the purpose of you being consulted). For it has seemed to me (to be) a matter worthy of your deliberation, especially on account of the number of those at risk. For many people, of every age, of every rank, and even of both sexes, are being  taken and will be taken to court (lit. are being summoned and will be summoned into danger). For the contagion of this cult is pervading not only cities but villages and country districts too; (but) it does seem (to me) that this (movement) can be checked and straightened out. Certainly it is clear enough that the temples, having almost been abandoned, are now beginning to be frequented, and the sacred rites, having been allowed to lapse (lit. having been interrupted) for a long time, are being resumed: and (the flesh of) victims, for which until lately a buyer was very rarely to be found, is now on sale everywhere. From this it is easy to conjecture that a lot of people could be reformed, if an opportunity for repentance should occur.

24.  Trajan to Pliny: Book X, 97.

The Emperor Trajan replies in a vein moderate for the times. No hard and fast rules can be applied. The guilty must be punished, but repentance gains full pardon. Unsigned information is inadmissible as evidence against anyone, for acceptance of such information would start a precedent both very evil and contrary to the spirit of the times. 

You have pursued the course of action which you ought (to have done), my (dear) Secundus (i.e. Pliny), with regard to the cases being examined of those who have been reported to you (as) Christians. For in general (there is) not anything which can be resolved as if it possesses a fixed formula. They ought not (lit. they are not needing) to be sought out; if they are brought before (you) and convicted, they ought (lit. are needing) to be punished; but (this should be done) in such a way that (a man) who has denied that he is a Christian, and has made (this) manifest by the act itself, that is by worshipping our gods, although he has been suspect in the past, may obtain a pardon by reason of his penitence. But pamphlets published anonymously (lit. without an author) ought to have no place in any accusation. For it is both (the mark) of a very bad precedent and not (characteristic) of our age.