Plinii Epistula I.2
Commentary by J. Bailly
C. PLINIUS <MATURO> ARRIANO SUO S.
(1) Quia tardiorem adventum tuum prospicio, librum quem prioribus
epistulis promiseram exhibeo. Hunc rogo ex consuetudine tua et legas et
emendes, eo magis quod nihil ante peraeque eodem ζήλῳ
scripsisse videor. (2) Temptavi enim imitari Demosthenen semper tuum,
Calvum nuper meum, dumtaxat figuris orationis; nam vim tantorum
virorum, 'pauci quos aequus ...' assequi possunt. (3) Nec materia ipsa
huic - vereor ne improbe dicam - aemulationi repugnavit: erat enim
prope tota in contentione dicendi, quod me longae desidiae indormientem
excitavit, si modo is sum ego qui excitari possim. (4) Non tamen omnino
Marci nostri ληκύθους fugimus, quotiens paulum itinere
decedere non intempestivis amoenitatibus admonebamur: acres enim esse
non tristes volebamus. (5) Nec est quod putes me sub hac exceptione
veniam postulare. Nam quo magis intendam limam tuam, confitebor et
ipsum me et contubernales ab editione non abhorrere, si modo tu
fortasse errori nostro album calculum adieceris. (6) Est enim plane
aliquid edendum - atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis
desidiae votum - edendum autem ex pluribus causis, maxime quod libelli
quos emisimus dicuntur in manibus esse, quamvis iam gratiam novitatis
exuerint; nisi tamen auribus nostris bibliopolae blandiuntur. Sed sane
blandiantur, dum per hoc mendacium nobis studia nostra commendent. Vale.
Text is from www.thelatinlibrary.com, as submitted by Hansulrich Guhl
(Frauenfeld, Switzerland) from an unidentified edition: improvements
may have been made to the text for this site.
This letter is a request that a friend read and critique a work which
Pliny sent to him. Sherwin-White suggests that the work to which Pliny
refers may be his de Helvidi Ultione
or Pro Patria.
C. Plinius Arriano Suo S.
1. Quia tardiorem adventum tuum prospicio, librum quem prioribus
epistulis promiseram exhibeo. Hunc rogo ex consuetudine tua et legas et
emendes, eo magis quod nihil ante peraeque eodem ζήλῳ scripsisse
tardiorem: the comparative can have several meanings: longior, for
mean "longer," "quite long," or "too long."
rogo . . . et legas et emendes: indirect command with omitted ut.
emendes: this tells us that Pliny revised his works. He probably
polished up the letters as well prior to public dissemination.
eo magis: literally "by this more," this phrase means "all the more."
quod: remember that quod can be a relative adjective or a conjunction.
eodem ζήλῳ: Greek for "zeal." eodem modifies ζήλῳ,
which is a Greek dative (used for instrument: Greek lacked an ablative
case). Greek adds a touch of urbanity.
2. Temptavi enim imitari Demosthenen semper tuum, Calvum nuper meum,
dumtaxat figuris orationis; nam vim tantorum virorum 'pauci quos aequus
. . .' adsequi possunt.
Demosthenen: Demosthenes was a renowned Attic orator, who here stands
for the Attic style, which was compressed, precise, and polished (and
was not florid, rich, or bold, like the Asian style opposed to it:
'Asian' and 'Attic' are inadequate to fully describe the styles of
Greek and Roman oratory, but they nonetheless are often used to
describe the opposing schools of thought about oratory in Rome).
Latin does a bewildering variety of things with Greek nouns, because
there is confusion about how to decline them, as the Greeks do, or as
Latin would. Demosthenen, with an n, is a transliteration of the Greek
Calvus: a contemporary of Cicero who practiced the Attic style of
oratory in Rome.
pauci quos aequus . . .: quotation from Virgil, Aeneid VI, 129, where
the Sibyl is telling Aeneas that only a few favored by Jupiter can
return from the underworld. Pauci fits into the syntax of the sentence
well, but quos aequus does not and can safely be ignored (just think of
it as identifying the literary allusion).
3. Nec materia ipsa huic (vereor ne improbe dicam) aemulationi
repugnavit: erat enim prope tota in contentione dicendi, quod me longae
desidiae indormientem excitavit, si modo is sum ego qui excitari
nec . . . repugnavit: if the subject matter does not resist, it
encourages. This may be a litotes. The (mock?) humility of these words
is reinforced by the parenthetic remark.
dicam: why subjunctive?
tota: fetch a feminine noun from the preceding context for this
nominative to modify.
dicendi: gerund or gerundive?
quod: a neuter relative pronoun, but there are no neuter nouns in the
surrounding context to act as antecedents. The thought of the preceding
clause is the antecedent.
si modo . . . qui . . . possim: this additional expression of (mock?)
humility contains a relative clause of characteristic.
4. Non tamen omnino Marci nostri ληκύθους
paulum itinere decedere non intempestivis amoenitatibus admonebamur:
acres enim esse non tristes volebamus.
Marci nostri refers to Marcus Tullius Cicero, whose rhetorical toolbox
included some bombast.
ληκύθους Greek for 'oil flask.' Although the
exact reference is
unclear, this must refer to some sort of colorful, bold mode of speech.
Compare Cicero's letter Ad Atticum 1.14.3, which talks about bombastic
rhetoric using this term: cf. also Horace Ars Poetica 96-7 "pauper et exul
uterque/ proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia uerba."
fugimus . . . admonebamur: the plural is used either when there really
is someone else to be included in "we" or for modesty, when "I" would
be too bold. In other words, Pliny wants to boast but not to be seen to
be doing it.
Is fugimus present or perfect (hint: it is in keeping with the tenses
of the other verbs in the sentence).
quotiens . . . admonebamur: the metaphor is that of a path which the
speech follows, but there are charms on the side of that road which
enticed Pliny to richer rhetoric.
acres . . . non tristes: these words are used to describe literary
style. acer means something like sharp, and is sometimes accompanied by
words meaning precise, compressed, or polished. Tristis means something
5. Nec est quod putes me sub hac exceptione veniam postulare. Nam quo
magis intendam limam tuam, confitebor et ipsum me et contubernales ab
editione non abhorrere, si modo tu fortasse errori nostro album
nec est quod putes: literally, "and there is not which you should
think," but (non) est quod + subjunctive is used to mean "there is (no)
reason to . . .." Putes is a verb of thinking, which means it takes
quo magis: quo ( = ut eo) is used to introduce purpose clauses which
contain a comparative (A&G 317b). This purpose clause is modifying
ab editione non abhorrere perhaps another litotes, for 'not to shrink
from' might mean 'to be eager for.'
editione editio is the part of the process of ancient publishing where
the work is given over to the booksellers (bibliopolae or librarii),
who will have copies made for sale.
si . . . adieceris: this is the protasis of a condition, which makes it
a subordinate clause. It is in indirect speech. What is the mood of
subordinate clauses in indirect discourse? (A&G 337).
album calculum: in trials, a white pebble signified acquittal, and a
condemnation. Pliny calls the act of
publication an 'error,' and the 'pebble' sets up a metaphorical trial
of him for that error.
6. Est enim plane aliquid edendum <atque utinam hoc potissimum quod
paratum est! audis desidiae votum> edendum autem ex pluribus causis,
maxime quod libelli quos emisimus dicuntur in manibus esse, quamvis iam
gratiam novitatis exuerint; nisi tamen auribus nostris bibliopolae
blandiuntur. Sed sane blandiantur, dum per hoc mendacium nobis studia
nostra commendent. Vale.
utinam: utinam usually takes a subjunctive of wish. Here we must
desidiae votum: the wish referred to is what Pliny has just said,
namely that he would like to offer something already edited to the
public rather than have to edit something anew.
libelli: this must refer to some work(s) already published, and so
different from the works referred to above: the booksellers have told
Pliny that his previous work has a certain following, but it has lost
its novelty, and so something new is desirable.
in manibus esse: an idiom meaning "to be being read."
nisi tamen . . . blandiuntur: Pliny has said that he must publish
earlier in this sentence, then given a reason why he must do so. Now he
is saying that the reason might be suspect.
Perhaps publishing cost Pliny money, and the bibliopolae want more of
dum . . . commendent: dum + subjunctive is used in a clause of proviso.
It means "if only," "on the condition that," or "as long as."
abhorreo, abhorrere, abhorrui, shrink from
acer, acris, acre, bitter
adiicio, adiicere, adieci, adiectum, throw in, add
admoneo, admonere, admonui, admonitum, prompt
adsequor, adsequi, adsecutus sum, pursue, reach
adventus, -us, m., arrival
aemulatio, -onis, f., imitation
albus, -a, -um, white
amoenitas, -atis, f., charm, allurement
bibliopola, -ae, m., bookseller
blandior, blandiri, blanditus sum, + dat., flatter, coax
calculus, -i, pebble; vote
commendo (1), entrust; recommend; make acceptable
confiteor, confiteri, confessus sum, admit
consuetudo, consuetudinis, f., habit (ex consuetudine, according to
contentio, -onis, f., struggle, effort
contubernalis, -e, associate, colleague
decedo, decedere, decessi, decessum, withdraw, make way
desidia, -ae, f., idleness
dumtaxat, at least
editio, editionis, f., publication
edo, edere, edidi, editum, put forth, publish
emendo (1), correct
error, erroris, m, mistake
exceptio, -onis, limitation; objection raised by an opponent
excito (1), rouse
exhibeo, exhibere, exhibui, exhibitum, produce, display, hold out
exuo, exuere, exui, exutum, cast off
figura, -ae, f., figure
gratia, -ae, f., grace, charm
imitor (1) copy
improbe, badly, wrongly
indormio, indormire, indormivi, indormitum, fall asleep, grow careless
intempestivus, -a, -um, unseasonable
intendo, intendere, intendi, intentum, direct one's attention (to)
iter, itineris, n., road, way
lego, legere, legi, lectum, read
libellus, -i, m., little book
lima, -ae, f., file; revision
materia, -ae, f., (subject) matter, stuff
mendacium, -i, n., lie
novitas, -atis, f., novelty
oratio, orationis, f., speech
paucus, -a, -um, few
peraeque, uniformly, quite evenly
plus, pluris, more, several
postulo (1), demand
potissimum, adv., especially
promitto, promittere, promisi, promissum, promise
prospicio, prospicere, prospexi, prospectum, to see in the distance
quotiens, as many times as
repugno (1), resist
tardus, -a, -um, slow
tempto (1), try
utinam, adv. + subj., would that
venia, -ae, f., indulgence, forgiveness
votum, -i, n., wish, prayer, hope