Letter One –
Pliny loved reading his uncles books; “How
to throw a javelin while riding a horse”, “Bad Grammar”, “How to be a Scholar”, “Are jam
donuts injurious to the health?” etc. (approx 8)
Pliny was surprised that his uncle could write so
many books because he was a very busy man
He was a good friend of the emperor, had a razor
sharp mind and was a workaholic
A typical day in the city would be, sunbathing followed
by a cold bath, then a snack and a nap, between tea time and dinner he would have done a whole days work, a slave would read
to him and he would copy out more parts at dinner time.
· In the country, he would work constantly except in the bath, even in
the cold winter, he would just cover his hands with his sleeves
· He blamed Pliny for walking because it was a waste of time. He is Pliny’s
idol and P thinks that he will inspire us to write like him
Letter two – How his uncle died
· P thanks Tacitus for writing about his uncles death as it will keep
his memory alive
· If men are blessed, P believes that their deeds must be written about
or write books that must be read.
· P’s uncle was in charge of the Roman fleet at Misenum
· Pliny’s mother showed him a big odd cloud. At this time, his Uncle
had been sunbathing, had a cold bath and had lunch
· When he saw the cloud, he was studying and asked his slaves for his
shoes and climbed up a hill.
· The cloud had a flat head and looked like a Mediterranean pine tree.
It had a long trunk which broke into branches, sometimes glowed white hot and sometimes earth and ash in it made it dirty
and blotchy. This cloud was coming from Vesuvius
· P’s Uncle ordered a fast boat while P studied. As he was leaving
the house, he received a message from Rectine
· She was scared because she could only escape from her villa by boat,
so he went to save her.
· As he approached, he took notes; it was dark, there was falling pumice,
ash and stones
· This shows how brave he was
· They were then cut off and could only escape by sea, however, the wind
was blowing against them
· P’s Uncle clamed Pomponianus by having a bath, laying down then
· Huge flames rose up while they were having dinner
· P‘s uncle said that the peasants had left fires burning in the
field or the only houses which were burning were those that were left abandoned. So they went to sleep
· After a while, the yard was covered in Pumice and ash.
· Outside, the houses were shaking and were being torn from their foundations
· They escaped from the house by putting pillows over their heads then,
they decided to set sail, but the wind was still against them.
· He could smell the sulphur and soon, the fumes blocked his windpipe
and gullet and he choked to death. He had a weak gullet.
Letters one and two use a number of narrative and descriptive techniques. In letter one, he accurately describes the
eruption of Vesuvius and gives a very vivid account of the incident. He also describes in a lot of (unnecessary) detail for
example, he lists ALL the books his uncle has written. He expresses clearly his uncle’s feelings before his death.
(Teachs)Comment From these letters we can see that P thought very highly
of his uncle and he admires him. He followed his uncle’s writing ways and diligentness. Others may think of him as being
very sycophantic as without his money, P wouldn’t have been able to qualify for his offices subsequently wouldn’t
have been able to write these letters.
(Teach's) opinion P the elder seemed very intelligent e.g. he wrote a whole
book on Bad Grammar. He was also very heroic when he went to save Rectine during the eruption.
Letter three – to Calpurnia Hispulla about Calpurnia
· CH is his wife’s aunt who shows her family to love on another
· C is sharp, careful, reads literature and learns P’s books OBH,
she only loves P
· P taught her to love literature
· When P goes to the courts, she sends a slave to see how many times he
· When he invites friends over for a reading, C sits behind a curtain,
and laps up the applause.
· She has set all his poems to music and plays them on the lyre
· According to P she loves him for what he stands for.
In this letter P seems very egotistical, “She
loves me for what I stand for”; sycophantic when he says that we fall over ourselves to thank you; a control freak making
C learn his books
Letter four – to C who is ill
· C is going to Campania to recover from
· P can’t go with her because he is too busy writing
· He hopes that she will avoid temptation
· P is anxious because he knows she is ill and she is away from him and
in his fear, he invents bad things happening to her
· So he asks her to write at least once or twice a day to banish his fear
and make him happy
Selfish, possessive and loving
Letter five – what C’s letters do to Pliny
· C says she misses him but gets comfort from his books
· When he reads her letters, they make him burn with desire even more
Letter six – P’s love letter to C
· P misses C because he loves her and is not used to being away from her
· In her absence he lays awake and goes to her room at the times when
he used to visit her
· He doesn’t do that when he is worn out from the forum or law courts
· The only other time he finds comfort is from the misery and problems
Letter seven – Bad news to CH
· C had almost died from a miscarriage
· Now she is cheerful and out of danger
· P wants CH to explain what has happened to C to her grandfather
Letter eight – Silly girl to CF
· He tells him that C has had a miscarriage because she didn’t know
she was pregnant and didn’t take precautions
· However, he can look forward to grandchildren
· Their children’s future would be good as they would have a good
background and they would have a splendid start in public life and carry on the reputation of the family
Letters 3 – 8 show P’s concern (or
otherwise) for C about her miscarriage and the progress of Calpurnia to others. He writes to various members of her family
criticising C for not looking after herself properly
His purpose for writing was probably to show that he was a human and that he was a family man. His love for her is
fairly condescending e.g. “You silly girl”. Letters 4 – 6 are written directly to C and are more personal
whereas 3, 7 and 8 are more formal and sycophantic. To a modern reader, he appears to be talking down to C and doesn’t
appear truly concerned about her health as is shown in 8 rather for his own status to be affected. He sounds to us rather
pompous and formal. CF is the most important male family member to C and therefore can’t annoy him and has to suck up
esp. important for the liaison between the families. He seems more interested in wanting children than anything else.
(Teach's) opinion Pliny appears very paternalistic towards C (he probably does love her)
but also sounds very big – headed. In CF’s letters he is much more measured and careful in what he says. To C’s
aunt, he also very refined and formal and tries to show his ‘understandings of matters referring to women’
Letter nine – CF is a generous man
· CF gave P a splendid colonnade with his and his son’s name on
and money to decorate the doors.
· These gifts made him always remember his father-in-law.
· P is pleased because it will keep alive CF’s family’s name
+ that his town is doing so well
· P hopes that CF will always be generous.
Letter ten – P has made CF very angry
· P tells CF not to hesitate to commend to him people who need his help
· P will help Bittius Priscus in the Centumviral
· CF tells P to forget what he said in his letters about what he thought
· P says that he likes to remember them so they make him feel how much
he loves him and he should tell him off with the same rough frankness.
Content These two letters are very formal and sycophantic. There is a sense
of meta-language and is not friendly. It reads in a somewhat stilted manner. There are glimpses of self centeredness in places
e.g. “I was right…”
(Teach's) Comments This letter shows what type of donation upper class
Romans give. There are actually two types. One like that of CF’s, for self importance no real benefit for anyone except
himself. There is also an altruistic donation e.g. Pliny’s for the Students in Comum.
(Teach's) opinion P is a typical person keen to keep the liaison between the families
although sometimes goes too far.
Letter twelve – P’s ill freedman.
· P is fond of his freedmen and regards them as part of the family
· A comoedus is an entertainer
· He thinks that a comoedus is a suitable title for his freedman
as he can play the lyre, read speeches, recite poems and speak in a lively manner
· One day his freedman coughed up blood (TB?) and was sent to Egypt by
P to recover
· P sends him to his estate at Forum Iulli because the air is refreshing
and the milk is perfect to cure the disease
· The freedman is thrifty by nature
Letter thirteen – Murdering slaves
· Larcius Makedo, a governor, had been killed by his slaves
· He was a proud and cruel master.
· During his bath, his slaves closed in on him. One strangled him, another
kicked him in various parts of the anatomy. Then they dropped him on the hot floors to ensure he was dead however he was only
· Then the slaves carried him out as though he had fainted and they ran
around shouting making a lot of noise. This made him wake up and he opened his eyes and shook himself to show them that he
· The slaves ran away most were captured, others were still being looked
· Their master died but he knew that they would be punished
· P explains that the slaves abuse them and play deadly games even if
you have been kind and gentle. They always have two sides to their nature. When their instincts get the better of them, they
turn on their masters and try to kill them.
Letter sixteen – when slaves die
· P finds comfort in giving slaves freedom or letting them make a will.
· He does not see them as legal ones but treats them as though they were
· Other men see the death of slaves as money gone down the drain. A real
man would grieve and have feelings for them
· He gets pleasure out of the grief when he weeps with a friend.
In these letters we get to hear about
people other than rich/powerful. The letters are very contradictory, in letter 13 he says how we should be wary of slaves
and in the last one we should treat them as humans. We get a good description of the type of illness endured by his freedman
and the attack by the slaves. In letter 16 we see P’s more human side when he says that we should regard them as more
than just a financial drain. They are all part of P’s ‘familia’
(Teach's) Comments Letter 12 gives us a good description of P’s
freedman with regards to his illness and to the descriptions of his skills. Letter 13 is an excellent dramatic setting o the
attack/murder of Larcius Makedo. The writing is quite vivid and one can get a good picture of the ferocity of the attack as
well as an insight into the unpleasant nature of LM’s character.
(Teach's) opinion Interesting insight into slaves, and the way the upper class treated
them. A bit contradictory, saying how mean they can be in 13 an dhow they shouldn’t be trusted even if you are kind
to them however, he is very nice to them.
Letter 18 – A teacher for Comum
· P is glad because Tacitus has arrived safely.
· P is staying in Tusculum in his villa
· The children go to a school in Milan because there
are no teachers in Comum
· P thinks that they should be taught in their own towns because it is
their home town, it is a pleasant place to learn, they would be brought up under the eyes of the parents and it would cost
· He suggests that they save the money they send on the fares and hire
· He offers to give them a third of what they raise
· Not more because the may take advantage of his generosity someday. Also
if the parents have to find the money they will hire good teachers
· First class people would be better to hire as they are more educated
and it would encourage others to join the classes giving more money for the town
· In P’s opinion, the teachers must have confidence
Letter nineteen – How to do good for the town
· Caninus wants to know how he can save money for the citizens of Comum
for a feast.
· P tells him, he could put some money aside and give it to the council
– but they may waste it. He could buy some land and give it to the town, but they may not look after it
· P tells him he should sell his land and rent it back
· He thinks that this is a good idea as the town will have no problems
getting eth money
· C must be careful of making a gift then making a profit.
In these letters P attempts to show us how cleverness,
forethought and planning have ensured the success of his bequest. He shows how he is financially aware but also how he is
careful. His advice is very prudent and shows he has a good grip on human nature. His intent is for the better man of his
own town and to show how astute he is. It is also written as are his other letters, to educate people. He regards himself
as a model
(Teach's) Comments Pliny obviously had numerous aristocratic friends
and had some sort of social conscience and that their gifts were to benefit others that were less fortunate
Pliny here seems very generous in these letters
and advises Caninus what he should do.