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Plinys letters

Letter One – his uncle

         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 having dinner

         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.


Content                     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 was applauded

         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 her miscarriage

         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 of others


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


Content                   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

(Teach's) Comments         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 Court

         CF tells P to forget what he said in his letters about what he thought of P.

         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 unconscious

         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 was alive

         The slaves ran away most were captured, others were still being looked for.       

         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 real.

         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.



Content                  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 less.

         He suggests that they save the money they send on the fares and hire teachers.

         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.


Content                    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     

(Teach's) opinion         Pliny here seems very generous in these letters and advises Caninus what he should do.

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