Commentary on Pliny's Letter VI.iv

Angeline Chiu, revised by J. Bailly



(1) Numquam sum magis de occupationibus meis questus, quae me non sunt passae aut proficiscentem te valetudinis causa in Campaniam prosequi aut profectam e vestigio subsequi. (2) Nunc enim praecipue simul esse cupiebam, ut oculis meis crederem quid viribus quid corpusculo apparares, ecquid denique secessus voluptates regionisque abundantiam inoffensa transmitteres. (3) Equidem etiam fortem te non sine cura desiderarem; est enim suspensum et anxium de eo quem ardentissime diligas interdum nihil scire. (4) Nunc vero me cum absentiae tum infirmitatis tuae ratio incerta et varia sollicitudine exterret. Vereor omnia, imaginor omnia, quaeque natura metuentium est, ea maxime mihi quae maxime abominor fingo. (5) Quo impensius rogo, ut timori meo cottidie singulis vel etiam binis epistulis consulas. Ero enim securior dum lego, statimque timebo cum legero. Vale.

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


This letter was written to Pliny's third wife, Calpurnia, during an illness from which she was apparently recovering in a countryside retreat. Letters VI.7 and VII.5 are also written to her. She was said to have accompanied him to Bithynia during his magistracy there.
Questions worth asking are whether the letter is sincere (do you feel that it is?) and whether the style makes it more or less so. Such questions probably have no right or wrong answers, because they depend on the stylistic norms of the writer, the recipient, the times, and later readers. Perhaps a better way of asking is to ask what constructions in particular create the effect of sincerity or undermine it.

sum . . . questus perfect deponent
occupationibus Pliny held the office of curator alvei Tiberis and was busy in court.
aut ... aut "Either . . . or"; "not only . . . but also."
me accusative subject of subsequi and prosequi.
causa used as a "postposition" with the genitive valetudinis.
profectam from proficiscor. "(her) having left." Refers back to Calpurnia, Pliny's wife.
e vestigio idiomatic, meaning "at once, instantly."
cupiebam epistolary tense (i.e. Pliny is writing as though the "present" is when the letter is read, not when he writes it).
crederem subjunctive in a result clause; imperfect in secondary sequence.
viribus . . . corpusculo datives with apparares.
corpusculo used as a term of endearment, "your sweet little self."
apparares subjunctive in indirect question; imperfect in secondary sequence.
ecquid introduces an indirect question.
secessus voluptates regionisque abundantiam: Campania was a health resort and high-society resort area, so it may not have afforded much peace and quiet. It was also a fertile region.
transmitteres subjunctive in indirect question; imperfect in secondary sequence. The meaning is "to let pass by, without neglecting or ignoring"
te . . . etiam fortem i.e. etiam si fortis esses, te desiderarem
non sine cura "Not without care" a litotes indicating that Pliny was very worried.
desiderarem imperfect unreal subjunctive (etiam fortem acts like a protasis).
suspensum et anxium i.e. suspensa et anxia res. The adjectives are causative (they mean "causing anxiety" rather than "anxious").
eo quem diligas subjunctive diligas in a relative clause of characteristic. You can tell it is a clause of characteristic, because Pliny shifts to masculine eo and quem, but his wife, to whom the idea applies, is feminine.
vereor . . . imaginor deponent verbs, with omnia as objects.
metuentum is normally metuentium, which some texts print here.
ea object of fingo and antecedent of the following quae.
mihi dative of reference/interest.
quaeque = quae + que. quae refers to the whole clause ea maxime mihi quae maxime abominor fingo.
quo adverb.
timori meo consulo takes the dative of the object involved.
consulas subjunctive in a result clause; present in primary sequence.
singulis . . . binis epistulis ablatives of means/instrument.
vel adverb, here to mean "even."
statimque the -que here might be translated "but," just as English "and" sometimes means "but" (e.g. "He said no, and then did it anyway.")


abominor, -ari, -atus, deprecate, detest
anxius, -a, -um, worried, troubling
apparo (1), add to (+dat.)
ardens, ardentis, ardent
bini, -ae, -a, two at a time, in pairs
causa with a preceding genitive, for the sake of
consulo, consulere, consului, consultum, + dat., be considerate of, consult interests of
corpusculo, -i, n., little body
ecquid adverb, whether
equidem = ego quidem
exterreo, -ere, -iu, -itum, frighten
fingo, -ere, finxi, fictum form, shape, imagine, suppose
imaginor, -ari, picture to oneself, imagine
impensus, -a-, -um, great, earnest
infirmitas, -tatis, f., sickness, weakness, infirmity
inoffensus, -a, -um, uninterrupted, unhindered
interdum, sometimes, meanwhile
magis, adverb, more
occupatio, -onis, f. business, engagement
patior, pati, passus sum, to allow
praecipue adverb, especially
proficiscor, proficisci, profectus sum, set out, go forth
prosequor, -qui, -cutus, attend, escort
queror, queri, questus sum, complain
quo, adv., for which reason
ratio, rationis, f., thought
secessus, -us, m., retreat, solitude
simul, adv., together
subsequor, -qui, -cutus follow, support
suspensum, -a, -um, tense, in suspence
transmitto, -ttere, -si, -ssum, let (an experience) pass by
vestigium, -i, n. trail, footprint; e vestigio idiomatic
for "at once."