The Poetical Quotidian
April 2007


TO CANINIUS RUFUS
from Letters
by Pliny the Younger (c.62 c.113 A.D.)

"Is there anything in nature so short and limited as human life, even at its longest?

Does it not seem to you but yesterday that Nero was alive? And yet not one of all those who were consuls in his reign now remains!

Though why should I wonder at this? Lucius Piso (the father of that Piso who was so infamously assassinated by Valerius Festus in Africa) used to say, he did not see one person in the senate whose opinion he had consulted when he was consul: in so short a space is the very term of life of such a multitude of beings comprised! so that to me those royal tears seem not only worthy of pardon but of praise. For it is said that Xerxes, on surveying his immense army, wept at the reflection that so many thousand lives would in such a short space of time be extinct.

The more ardent therefore should be our zeal to lengthen out this frail and transient portion of existence, if not by our deeds (for the opportunities of this are not in our power), yet certainly by our literary accomplishments; and since long life is denied us, let us transmit to posterity some memorial that we have at least LIVED.

I well know you need no incitements, but the warmth of my affection for you inclines me to urge you on in the course you are already pursuing, just as you have so often urged me."


GAIUS PLINIUS CAECILIUS SECUNDUS, usually known as Pliny the Younger, born at Como in 62 AD, and observer of the great eruption of Vesuvius (near Pompeii) in which his uncle, Pliny the Elder, Praefect of the Roman Fleet at Misenum, perished.

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