ricardienne: (tacitus)
Seriously Pliny, keep your Trajan-RPF to yourself...

Now I picture that future triumph: dripping not with plunder from the provinces or gold extorted from our allies, but with enemy arms and the chains of captive kings. I picture myself noting one by one the impressive names of chieftains and the bodies appropriate to those names. I imagine gazing on the litters burdened with barbarians’ massive and bold works, each one, his hands bound, following his own deeds. Then you yourself on high, standing on a chariot on the backs of conquered peoples, and before your chariot shields that you yourself pierced. Nor would you lack the “richest spoils”, if any king should dare to come within range, to shrink back as your throw not only your spear, but your threatening eyes across the whole field and the whole army.
--Pan.17.1-4
ricardienne: (tacitus)
I stayed late ostensibly to finish rewriting a section, but while I was doing word searches, I got distracted by Pliny (the Younger).

This one is kind of bizarre (and totally irrelevant to what I'm working on, but whatever):


(Ep. 1.21) Dear Plinius Paternus
Just as I honor your mental discernment, so do I your visual -- not because you have so much good taste (don't get conceited!) but because you have exactly as much as I do (although this is no small amount!). Joking aside, I think the slaves I bought on your recommendation are quite suitable. It remains to be seen that they are reliable, which in chattel one judges more with the ears than with the eyes.
Best,
Gaius Plinius


What's interesting to me is the eyes/ears joke (?) at the end, because it's so reverse historiographical. *Everyone* knows that the eyes are more reliable than the ears, usually. I mean, I guess it's just "character > appearance" with excessive learned wit, but I want it to be something more... (Pliny is obsessed with historiography). Also, I think that Pliny would have been all over emoticons, if they had been available to him.
ricardienne: (tacitus)
What is it with Pliny the Younger? You may remember the worst Roman mystery series ever (where Pliny was Sherlock Holmes and Tacitus was a really dim incarnation of Watson). And now there seems to be a new series by Bruce Macbain, who is a real live Ph.D. in classics: the "Plinius Secundus" mysteries. The inner flap promises that Pliny will be paired with Martial to solve the murder of a notorious delator in the last years of Domitian's terror.

I will probably do a full review/rant when I finish (and it's a fleet book), but I'm now six chapters in. There is a LOT of info-dump, to the point where it the author periodically drops his novelist persona and starts writing an introductory textbook on Flavian Rome. That said, it appears to be a decent, if not super-subtle, textbook, and Macbain is not so in love with Pliny as a modern avatar that he can't integrate him into Roman elite norms and show him as a patriarchal, self-important pompous ass. It's still a much more positive and moderate picture than just about anyone who reads Pliny's Letters comes away with.

The thing that is ridiculous about historical novels based on literary figures is that they inevitably adopt absurdly biographical readings of their work -- it's a problem I'm not entirely sure can be avoided. Nevertheless, Martial is pretty entertainingly drawn, if with a certain amount of eye-rolling "grit and realism", and I'm a little impressed that Macbain appears to be going the Roman pederasty route with one of his main characters.

There is someone who seems, dare I say, conspicuously absent from this novel, however. Tacitus, one of the more notable of Pliny's acquaintances, does not appear in the list of characters, and I'm fairly sure he won't be appearing in this mystery. What's odder, though, is that Tacitus doesn't appear anywhere in the "for further reading" afterward. Macbain recommends Cassius Dio, for crying out loud (not that there's anything wrong with Dio), but he omits Tacitus?

Now I do know that Tacitus doesn't have to be everywhere, and not everyone has to love him, and that Tacitus is inevitably going to overshadow Pliny whereever the two appear together. Furthermore, we don't have a sustained Tacitean narrative of the end of Domitian's reign. But when you have your hero pondering the question of whether "a good man can exist under a bad emperor" and justifying his own "useful obedience" with "those senators who insisted upon throwing their lives away in futile defiance," it's a little ungrateful not to acknowledge that author anywhere. I'm just sayin'.



ETA: Ultimately, a decently-balanced book. Having Martial as a cynical scrappy secondary point of view who can see through Pliny's self-delusion really helped, and Pliny, I have to say, was done really quite well as an ambitious time-server who tells himself that he is serving the public good so he doesn't have to face his share in the collective shame of serving a tyrant, &c. A few really howler-ific lines, as when Pliny muses that "anyone with a bit of philosophy knows that slavery is unnatural." There was ultimately a single reference to Tacitus, where Pliny recalls Annals 15.44 (it seems unbelievable that Tacitus would be known as a historian at all at this point, let alone be giving recitations from the Very Freaking End of his extant work, but whatever), but Tacitus continued to be pervasive: if someone hypothetically read this mystery, and was interested in Life Under Domitian (at least as the senators tell it), sure, I would advise hir to read some of Pliny's letters (the Regulus ones, the one about the hair-cutting ghost, the ones about Fannia and Arria), but the main thing to read would be the Agricola.

Pliny

Dec. 28th, 2008 10:31 pm
ricardienne: (Default)
has somehow made me quite depressed. Part of it is just the number of depressing things that happen: the terminally ill commit suicide, promising young men and noble old ones get sick and die, wives and daughters die in childbirth, children and favorite slaves die tragically. Women heroically encourage their husbands to commit suicide (at least two letters reference Arria stabbing herself and gasping out "it doesn't hurt, Paetus", not to mention the wife of the terminally ill man who tied herself to him and jumped off a pier).
But part of it must be all the things that are referenced, and that are lost (i.e. almost everything). "I love your hendecasyllables: I know they'll make you immortal." "They tried to burn Helvidius' books, but Fannia saved them: literature doesn't die." (Don't I wish it were true: I hate that bit of dramatic irony.)
ricardienne: (Default)
From Pliny (IV.25) (The greatest virtue of the silly mystery is that I am now inspired to read Pliny all the way through (in English, with the ones that seem entertaining in Latin):


Dear Maesius Maximus,

I had written to you that we should be worried about some vice turning up in this secret voting.* It's happened. In the last elections certain ballots had lots of jokes and even obscenities, in one, moreoever, the names of the sponsors were found instead of the candidates'! The senate exploded and with lots of noise begged the emperor to exercise his anger on on the one who had written them. But he got away and hid: perhaps he was even among those enraged. What do we think this man does at home, who in such an important business at so serious a time jokes so scandalously, and finally, who is so utterly sarcastic and witty and cute in the senate? So much license does this trust [of anonymity] give to perverted minds, "for who will know?" He asks for a ballot, takes his pen, lowers his head [to write],** disregards himself. Hence these mockeries worthy of the stage or circus platform. But where are you to turn? What remedies to seek? Everwhere vices are stronger than their remedies. But these are the concern of him above us, to whose great daily task of vigil much labor is added by this useless but still unrestrained insolence of ours.*** Farewell.
*Secret voting had just been introduced in the senate. In the first letter, Pliny interestingly claims that people are less honest when they are voting secretly, probably because they aren't then going to be influenced by the right people.
**Or: "diminishes his status [by writing stupid things on the ballot]"
***cf. Galba to Piso in Tacitus: "you will be ruling over a people who will not endure servitude, but who also cannot handle total freedom."


In more recent news RNC split over whether Obama parody is offensive/dangerous to party's image. To which issue I have nothing to say directly, but to this:
The dispute illustrates a larger Republican challenge in the months ahead: how to oppose the first black president without seeming antiblack.
do you think that a good starting place would be parody and criticism that, you know, don't involve his race?

commutavi

Oct. 29th, 2006 07:11 pm
ricardienne: (Default)
I didn't do much at all today, but I did make it to the library to check last night's translation. It was instructive. Instructive as to how little a grasp I have of Latin idiom at all. But now I can produce a slightly better version:

not of general interest )
ricardienne: (snail)
Courtesy of Cicero's second Catilinarian: "How can these men endure the Apennines and that hoar-frost and snow? Unless they think perhaps that they will bear winter more easily because they have learnt to dance naked at banquets!" (In the original: "Quo autem pacto illi Apenninum atque illas pruinas ac nivis perferent? Nisi iddcirco se facilius hiemem toleraturos putant, quod nudi in conviviis salter didicerunt!")

So I found that NAXOS has the Globe cd set in their catalog -- my day is made.

And now more Latin-y things. I was poking around Pliny's letters this afternoon, and I found this one, which seems really neat. But I can't find an English translation of Book VII on-line, and I am too lazy to go to the library to check one out. Thereofore, I must translate for myself (oh the horror!):

Book VII, Letter 20 -- original Latin and my translation )

Tomorrow I may have to go and find a good translation; I am very uncertain about a bunch of places, and, well, I am generally sloppy. (If any of you want to correct my mistakes, I'll
"bear reproofs patiently" (and gratefully!))

As I said, I was browsing, and the first couple of sentences caught my eye. I love the idea of Pliny and Tacitus "peer-reviewing" so to speak, each other's work, for one thing. But it's also the friendship that comes through here (and in the other letters I've read (in English) from Pliny to Tacitus). Yes, it is a little overwrought, and perhaps I am a bit too sentimental, but I was getting a fuzzy, happy feeling the entire time I was working on it. I've been thinking a lot about letters, recently, too, and friendship, and whether or not I'm a "good" friend and so on, so it struck a chord there.

Of course this is a letter meant to be read for posterity, and so it doesn't probably reflect reality completely, but it seems to me such a perfect declaration of friendship. Although they do seem to have been close friends, and they were certainly colleagues. I think that's part of it. I really like Tacitus, and I rather like Pliny, and the idea that two writers whom I tend to think of as abstract authors were interacting regularly and in a friendly way is wonderful and amazing. I wish more of the Histories were extant, so I could see how Tacitus incorporated the account Pliny the Elder's death that Pliny gave him, and see whether he included Pliny's smackdown of Bæbius Massa. Damn it -- WHY did the library at Alexandria have to burn?
ricardienne: (Default)
You know what annoys me? Going to the supermarket and seeing fruit that says "tree-ripened" or something but that clearly isn't. Who do these companies think they're fooling? And how can they get away with such a blatant lie?

I have been tenatively pursuing information of Aquilius Regulus (The link is perhaps not a particularly reliable source, but most of if it is straight out of Pliny, so it's probably not any more inaccurate than anything else) -- a lawyer, informer, and legacy-hunter under Nero and Domitian. Not much connection with Regulus Black, then. The accounts of gold-digging and persuading little old ladies to include him in their wills put me more in mind of Tom Riddle than anything. He seems to have lived into Nerva and maybe Trajan's reign, so no clear parallel there. Oh well.

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