More Latin. During the day it’s Caesar’s Gallic War, when I go to bed it’s at least one page of Pliny. Right now, the Belgae are besieging Bibrax, and one of the things I like about reading aloud from a Loeb Classical edition is sometimes I hear a fellow writer using words for effect. Case in point:
Cum finem oppugnandi nox fecisset, Iccius Remus, summa nobilitate et gratia inter suos, qui tum oppido praefuerat, unus ex eis qui legati de pace ad Caesarem venerant, nuntium ad eum mittit, nisi subsidium sibi submittatur, sese diutius sustinere non posse. —The Gallic War, Loeb Classical, p.98
By the time we get to “subsidium” Caesar’s having a bit of fun, and throws the alliterative sibilants down with what I imagine is a languorous dinner-party wave of one manicured (but manly!) hand. The entire page is really a joy, especially once one catches the rhythm. Sentence by sentence, one gets a sense of a man who liked writing almost as much as he liked winning battles.
I’m working from Loeb Classical Library’s editions, and starting at Books 1-2 of Pliny’s Natural History. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, direct from Harvard, Indiebound) As we check our luggage and visit the restroom one last time, climb aboard and find a congenial seat (since this is an imaginary train, we can all travel in seperate cars if we so wish) and hand your ticket to the conductor–yes, thank you, sir or ma’am, and there will be someone along in just a bit to offer you a drink, a meal, a hot towel or a pillow, or anything else you shall require.
In short, this guy saw Vesuvius erupting, and instead of deciding to wait until things calmed down, immediately strapped on his goggles and went in for Science. And, you know, got asphyxiated by poison gases. (Well, he was also going to evacuate people, and might have had an asthma attack…but still.)
The introduction to Rackham’s translation of the Natural History gives us a few telling details about Elder Pliny the BAMF. He read nothing without making a lot of notes and extracts, was a bit of a pedant, and chided his nephew for any “wasted time” away from his studies. (Said “wasted time” was sometimes his nephew walking around Rome instead of being carried in a chair, reading, so…yeah, that tells us a lot about him.) In his dedication–for he dedicated the Natural History to Vespasian–you get the idea that he was more comfortable in a library or a military camp than anywhere else.
Pliny the Elder never married and had no children; he adopted his sister’s son to leave his estate in the family. After reading the dedication–full of in-jokes for Vespasian, learned digs at other authors, and not a few mentions of Cicero–I received the distinct impression that all Pliny’s love was saved for his books and his fellow soldiers. I know, it’s hard to tell after thousands of years, and I’m probably assuming too much, but I think Pliny was more than a little in love with “his” Emperor. He also explains a little of his motivation for engaging on such a huge project:
It is a difficult task to give novelty to what is old, authority to what is new, brilliance to the commonplace, light to the obscure, attraction to the stale, credibility to the doubtful, but nature to all things and all her properties to nature. Accordingly, even if we have not succeeded, it is honourable and glorious in the fullest measure to have resolved on the attempt. (p.11)
In other words, “MOTHERFUCKAS, THIS IS A BIG JOB, BUT SOMEONE’S GOTTA AT LEAST TRY IT. LET’S GO.”
He also explains that in order to make things easier for people who don’t want to read the whole damn 37-book series, he’s going to give us a Table of Contents, and that’s where we’ll start next week. In the meantime, please enjoy your beverages, and feel free to read ahead.
 I won’t go into who had an axe to grind in making Nero out to be a complete asshole. At least, not right now.  I suppose I should admit that I had a moment of confusing the translator with Arthur Rackham, and having a fit of giggles.