June 01, 2015

#04-025: Pliny the Elder

seated marble statue of a scholarly-type man in robes; seems to be writing, but no pen is visible; in an alcove as on a cathedral
Pliny the Elder (supposedly)

Note: A true scientist who went into the field and "got his hands dirty," the Roman naturalist Pliny died while observing a the effects of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Get Ready: Have you ever been in an earthquake, hurricane, typhoon, volcanic eruption, tsunami, or other major natural disaster? What was it like?

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79 CE), is usually called Pliny the Elder to distinguish him from his nephew, the lawyer and author Pliny the Younger (61-113).

The elder author was a naturalist and military commander, and a personal friend of the Roman emperor. His work is distinguished by his willingness to go out in the field and "get his hands dirty," making direct observations rather than just speculating on the nature of things, like many natural philosophers of his day.

Pliny was a single man, without children. At times he lived with his sister, mother of Pliny the Younger, and is said to have adopted his nephew. Certainly the younger man was familiar with his uncle's daily routine, describing his eating and working habits in letters to his contemporaries.

His greatest work is called the Natural History, an encyclopedia that contained much of the current knowledge of his day. Its 37 books were completed within a few years of his death, and contain new materials as well as summaries of his earlier works and the works of others. It covers biology (both botany and zoology) as well as astronomy and geology. It is also a major source for understanding the art and artists of his time.

Pliny died as a result of one of the best-known events of classical times. As a naval commander, he was stationed at Misenum, across the Bay of Naples from Mount Vesuvius, which erupted spectacularly in the year 79. This was one of the volcano's many eruptions, and the one which buried the town of Pompeii (see Lesson #04-026).

Pliny was preparing to visit the shores near the blast to observe the phenomenon more closely when word came that some of his friends needed to be rescued. He sailed across the bay in a fast boat. Unable to leave again because the wind was against him, he dined with his friends, and was unable to stand up to leave. (One story says he was sitting in a bath, perhaps because he had asthma and he was trying to clear his lungs.) His friends left him behind, where he died, most probably from inhaling the bad air.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Elder

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. asthma
  2. botany
  3. encyclopedia
  4. geology
  5. inhaling
  6. naturalist
  7. phenomenon
  8. speculating
  9. volcano
  10. zoology

  1. a mountain that can explode and send out materials
  2. guessing; imagining
  3. an event; something that happens
  4. a set of books that discusses every subject known to a culture
  5. the study of plants
  6. the study of the earth
  7. a disease of the lungs which makes breathing difficult
  8. the study of animals
  9. an early kind of scientist
  10. breathing in

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 1, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. e; 3. d; 4. f; 5. j; 6. i; 7. c; 8. b; 9. a; 10. h