I read Pliny before bed every night. Every once in a while, I get to wishing it was Caesar instead, because the ol’ dictator really had quite the winning literary style. But then I roll across some of the crazy-ass shit Pliny writes about, and it makes me out-and-out gleeful.
Colophone in Apollinis Clari specu lacuna est cuius potu mira redduntur oracula, bibentium breviore vita. Amnes retro fluere et nostria vidit aetas Neronis principus supremis, sicut in rebus eius retulimas. (Loeb Classical, translated by H. Rackham.)
The first sentence deals with an oracular shrine where drinking from the river shortens your life but gives you powers of prophecy, which is a story idea if I ever heard one. The second is a mention of Nero’s death, and of rivers running backward to mark the occasion. “Even our generation has seen,” he says, and adds, “as we have recorded.” Of course this Pliny, being the Elder, survived Nero and was a personal friend of Vespasian, so it would be de rigeur for him to add a subtle jibe at Terrible Nero since it was impolitic, to say the least, to do otherwise. (Much as it was impolitic to refer to Mary Queen of Scots’s legitimacy in Elizabeth I’s time.)
One of the fascinating things about Pliny is that he had a scientific bent, and he wrote down what seemed reasonable and verifiable to him. It was perfectly possible for the Mephitic Caves to be the work of a god taking sacrifices without requiring human agents to kill said sacrifice. Stranger things happened. Of particular interest is Pliny’s listing of “what is known” about earthquakes and the like.
Anyway, those two sentences in juxtaposition delighted the hell out of me a couple nights ago.
Pliny, man. *shakes head*