Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pliny the Younger

 In his delightful book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Robert Louis Wilken does a wonderful job teasing out all sorts of information about Roman habits and attitudes - how a social club worked, for example, or the difference in Roman eyes between a "superstition" and a "religion."  But I particularly enjoyed his portrait of the diligent and dutiful aristocrat Pliny the Younger, who famously encountered Christians while serving as governor of Bithynia and Pontus in 112 AD and corresponded with the Emperor Trajan about what to do with them.

Like most upper class Romans, Pliny wore his ambition on his sleeve.  But at the same time his frankness on the subject conveys an almost child-like innocence rather than arrogant grasping.  I just loved his straightforward admission in a letter to his friend, the historian Tacitus, of his desire to be mentioned at least in one of Tacitus's works:

I believe that your histories will be immortal, a prophecy that will surely prove correct.  That is why, I frankly admit, I am anxious to appear in them.

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