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Pliny The Elder

Pliny, The Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus) (23-79 A.D.), ancient naturalist, was born at Comum, and was educated at Rome by excellent teachers. When twenty-three years old he went to Germany as a soldier with Pomponius Secundus, and during that campaign began his career as a writer, one of his works being a history of the German wars. On his return to Rome he studied law, and became an advocate. Previous to Nero's death he was procurator of Spain, and by Vespasian was made commander of the fleet. In the year 72 he adopted his nephew, the Younger Pliny (Caius Ccecilius Plinius Secundus). His desire for knowledge of the wonders of Nature was so intense that he would undergo great privations and sufferings to learn the smallest fact. He began to write his greatest work, the Natural History, and devoted years to the collection of material. He was a wonderfully industrious writer and an omnivorous reader, and most of his knowledge came from his close study of the ancient writers. In 79 the terrible devastation occurred which overwhelmed Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Pliny lost his life in his curiosity and thirst for information. Wishing to observe the phenomenon nearer, he went to Stabias and made as many notes as he could of the catastrophe, but was suffocated by the noxious vapours from the crater. This occurred in the first year of Titus's reign. His work is in thirty-seven books, and contains most minute and interesting material about geography, natural history, astronomy, meteorology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, etc. There is much that is absurd and ridiculous as well as exceedingly valuable in his compilation, which is written in an admirable style. He derived most of his material from about one hundred authors and two thousand volumes. His nephew, already mentioned, was born in 62, and, after receiving a thorough education, became an orator and tribune in Syria and prastor in Rome at the age of thirty-one. He refused to -serve under Domitian, but accepted a consulship later from Trajan, and shortly after the year 100 was appointed pro-consul of Bithynia. He died in 110, leaving a good reputation for learning and character. His most important productions are his Epistolte or Letters, which are classics. They give very valuable information about his period, and those to Trajan describe the progress of Christianity and are of the highest importance.