Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "Pliny the Elder and Man's Unnatural History,"
Greece & Rome
37.1 (April, 1990) 80-96 (at 80):
Not everybody shares my enthusiasm for the elder Pliny. We all have
a nodding acquaintance with the Natural History, but few wish to
pursue the relationship to the level of intimacy. Critics who care for
the purity of Latin prose take a particularly dim view of him. Eduard
Norden's verdict in Die antike Kunstprosa (i.314) is much cited: 'His
work belongs, from the stylistic point of view, to the very worst
which we have.' This negative judgement was firmly endorsed by
Frank Goodyear in the Cambridge History of Latin Literature:
Pliny is one of the prodigies of Latin literature, boundlessly energetic and
catastrophically indiscriminate, wide-ranging and narrow-minded, a pedant who
wanted to be a popularizer, a sceptic infected by traditional sentiment, and an
aspirant to style who can hardly frame a coherent sentence.
Not that Goodyear would have us ignore him. On the contrary, he
serves as a deterrent exemplum of all that is frightful in Latin prose:
Students of Latin language and style neglect Pliny at their peril. Here, better than in
most other places, we may see the contortions and obscurities, the odd combinations
of preciosity and baldness, and the pure vacuity to which rhetorical prose, handled
by any but the most talented, could precipitously descend and would indeed often descend again.