Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Pliny (PLIHN-ee) the Younger came from Rome’s equestrian class, which supplied businessmen and government bureaucrats for centuries. He was adopted by his uncle, Pliny the Elder, and prepared to practice law and hold government offices. He was a renowned orator, but only one of his speeches, Panegyricus (100 c.e.; Pliny’s Panegyric, 1644), a panegyric in honor of the emperor Trajan, survives. After holding some minor offices, Pliny obtained a consulship in 100 c.e. In 112 c.e., Trajan appointed him governor of Bithynia, a province in northern Turkey. No event in his life can be dated after that year. Though married several times, he was childless.

Throughout his life Pliny exchanged letters, actually literary essays, with numerous friends; while in Bithynia, he wrote frequently to the emperor. His Epistulae (97-109 c.e., books 1-9; c. 113 c.e., book 10; The Letters, 1748) consists of 248 letters in ten books. Book 10, perhaps published posthumously by friends, consists of business correspondence; the other nine books contain letters on various subjects. Most noteworthy are two letters describing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 c.e., which Pliny witnessed, and one detailing his persecution of Bithynian Christians.