Monday, June 26, 2017


Pliny the Elder

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.

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