Plinii Epistula I.1

Commentary by J. Bailly


C. Plinius Septicio Suo S.
Frequenter hortatus es ut epistulas, si quas paulo curatius scripsissem, colligerem publicaremque. Collegi non servato temporis ordine (neque enim historiam componebam), sed ut quaeque in manus venerat. Superest ut nec te consilii nec me paeniteat obsequii. Ita enim fiet, ut eas quae adhuc neglectae iacent requiram et si quas addidero non supprimam. Vale.

Text is from, as submitted by Hansulrich Guhl (Frauenfeld, Switzerland) from an unidentified edition.


From the first two sentences, this letter seems obviously composed for the purpose of introducing a collection of letters, and it also seems that the collection has already been put in order and perhaps also made available. The reference in the last sentence to searching out overlooked letters and revealing any future letters refers to the promise of future collections, or addenda to the one already collected.

si quas paulo curatius scripsissem: 1) this protasis is in indirect speech, and so had to be subjunctive. It is in secondary sequence referring to a time before the leading verb hortatus es and so has to be pluperfect. The direct speech version would have been a simple conditional protasis: si quas paulo curatius scripsisti. 2) curatius comparative adverb, with paulo ablative of degree of difference. 3) quas: remember that "after si, nisi, num, and ne, all the ali's drop away." 4) this is the criterion which Pliny gives for how he selected which letters to include in the collection. Note that the manner of writing is important, but he does not mention subject matter as a criterion.
ut colligerem publicaremque: indirect command, secondary sequence dependent on hortatus es. Also apodosis to preceding si clause.
neque enim historiam componebam: Pliny's letters are an important source for history, especially for the social life of upper-crust Rome.
ut . . . venerat: remember that not every ut introduces a subjunctive clause. Here ut means "how," "as," "in the manner in which."
superest ut . . . obsequii: the subject of the apparently impersonal superest is actually the ut clause. The ut clause is a substantive clause (i.e. the clause as a whole has the function of a noun). Remember that paenitet me huius facti is translated into good English as "I regret this deed."
consilii: refers to the suggestion Septicius Clarus made to Pliny that he should collect his letters.
ita . . ., ut . . . ita: prepares for the ut result clause. That ut result clause is actually the subject of the passive verb fiet. Ita enim "for thus" or "for in that way" is the equivalent of a sort of protasis = "for, if things happen that way, fiet ut ...."
ut . . . requiram . . . si . . . addidero . . . supprimam: requiram and supprimam can be translated as English futures. Morphologically, they could be future indicative or present subjunctive. That leads to a further question which is hard to decide. Namely, what is the structure of this sentence? Two possibilities:

Interestingly, the contents and meaning of the sentence is the same either way, although on the second possibility, et non supprimam seems to be a kind of afterthought. (Thank you, James Aglio, for pointing out this grammatical ambiguity).
quas: again, remember that "after si, nisi, num, and ne, all the ali's drop away."


addo, addere, addidi, additum, add, increase
adhuc, up to this point
colligo, colligere, collegi, collectum, gather
compono, componere, composui, compositum, put together
curatus, a, um, careful
fio, fieri, factus sum, happen, occur
frequenter, often
hortor (1), urge
iaceo, iacere, iacui, lie, be situated
manus, us, f., hand
neglego, neglegere, neglexi, neglectum, disregard, overlook
obsequium, i, n., compliance, obedience
ordo, ordinis, f., order
paenitet (impesonal + acc. of person +gen. of thing), regret
publico (1), publish
quisque, quaeque, quicque, each
requiro, requirere, requisivi, requisitum, look for
servo (1), preserve
superest, remain
supprimo, supprimere, suppressi, suppressum, keep secret