Pliny the Younger

Create something, perfect it to be yours for all of time, for everything else you possess will fall to one or another master after you are dead, but this will never cease to be yours once it comes into being. Book 1-3

Slaves lose all fear of a considerate master once they are used to him, but they wake up at the sight of new faces and try and win his favor by giving his guests the service due to him. Book 1-4

Fear usually brings more support than popularity. Book 1-5

Even disinterested praise is very rarely well received, and it is all the harder to avoid a bad reception when a speaker refers to himself and his family. We feel resentment against merit unadorned, and still more when pride publishes it abroad; in fact it is only when good deeds are consigned to obscurity that they escape criticism and misconstruction. 1-8

I trained myself to some extent to think less of my riches, for though we seem to be born slaves to money saving, my love of liberal giving, long and deeply reasoned, has freed me from these besetting bonds of avarice, and my generosity seems likely to win more praise because I was led to it from principle and not out of mere impulse. 1-8

Anyone acting in the public interest must find attractive phrases to introduce a beneficial service which is not immediately popular. 1-8

A nobler spirit will seek the reward of virtue in the consciousness of it, rather than in popular opinion. Fame should be the result not the purpose of our conduct, and if for some reason it fails to follow, there is no less merit in cases where it was deserved. But when people accompany their generous deeds with words, they are thought not to be proud of having performed them but to be performing them in order to have something to be proud of. So what would win a glowing tribute from an independent opinion soon loses it if accompanied by self praise, for when men find an action unassailable they will criticize the doer for his pride in it, hence, either you conduct is blamed for anything in it which is best passed over in silence, or you can be blamed just as much yourself for not keeping silent about your merits. 1-8

Let me add what I have learned from the best of all teachers, experience. On the many occasions when I have been counsel, judge, or assessor, I have found that people are influenced in different ways, and that small points often have important consequences. Men’s powers of judgment vary with their temperaments, thus they can listen to the same case but reach different conclusions, or perhaps the same one by a different emotional reaction. Moreover, everyone is prejudiced in favor of his own powers of discernment, and will always find an argument most convincing if it leads to the conclusion that he has reached for himself; everyone must then be given something he can grasp and recognize as his own idea. 1-20

Many people have his impulse and urge to forestall death, but the ability to examine critically the arguments for dying, and to accept or reject the idea of living or not, is the mark of a truly great mind. 1-22

A wise man will choose a profession within his capacity to play to the end. 1-23

Scholars turned land owners need no more land than will suffice to clear their heads and refresh their eyes, as they stroll around their grounds and tread their single path, getting to know each one of their precious vines and counting every fruit tree. 1-24

For whenever I think of the whims and fancies of the reading public I realize I can only gain approval by keeping the text within bounds. 2-5

I have certainly tried to appeal to all the different types of reader by varying my style, and though I’m afraid that some people will disapprove of certain details because of their individual tastes, I still think that I can be sure that the speech as a whole will be generally liked because of this variety. 2-5

Ask yourself whether it is not ill advised to expect from others a service which you will not perform for yourself. 2-10

Experience shows that appeals for support and sympathy make an immediate strong impact, but gradually lose their fire and die down under the influence of a reasoned judgment. Hence the fact that in a general uproar many will support an opinion which no one is willing to defend when silence is restored, for only when separated from the crowd is it possible for one to form a clear view of a situation which the crowd hitherto obscured. 2-11

Being pleased with new property rarely happens – nothing is quite so attractive in our possession as it was when coveted. 2-15

Everlasting complaints come to an end through the shame of complaining further. 2-15

It is generally agreed that past benefits cease to count unless confirmed by later ones; for if a single thing is denied people who have every reason to be grateful, the denial is all they remember. 3-4

All duties have their limits and permission to be freed from them is best gained by previous compliance. 3-4

Privilege and self-interest are most likely to triumph when they can be concealed behind a mask of severity. 3-9

Honesty offends those it thwarts for a time, but afterwards these are the people from whom it wins respect. 3-9

No master can feel safe because he is kind and considerate; for it is their brutality, not their reasoning capacity, which leads slaves to murder masters. 3-14

The more famous words and deeds of men and women are not necessarily their greatest. Arria 3-16

To proffer advice on an Emperor’s duties might be a noble enterprise, but it would be a heavy responsibility verging on insolence, whereas to praise an excellent ruler and thereby shine a beacon on the path posterity should follow would be equally effective without appearing presumptuous. 3-18

As time goes on the remedy will breed its own abuses, with the risk of wanton irresponsibility finding a way in. Very few people are as scrupulously honest in secret as in public, and many are influenced by public opinion but scarcely anyone by conscience. 3-20

Pliny speaks of attempts at minimizing personal influence in elections 3-20

Good men are less forceful then bad: ‘Ignorance breeds confidence, reflection leads to hesitation’ (Thucydides), and so diffidence is the weakness of right thinking minds, while depravity gains strength through reckless abandon. 4-7

To deny a palpable fact is more likely to increase the severity of a charge rather than to remove it. 4-9

Continuity keeps up a speaker’s fire and an audience’s attention, but both weaken once the tension is relaxed and broken. 4-9

Everyone who is influenced by thoughts of honor and reputation takes an extraordinary pleasure in words of praise and appreciation even from a lesser man then himself. 4-12

For some reason it is widespread rather than outstanding fame which most men prefer. 4-12

There is no stronger bond in friendship then similarity in character. 4-15

Affection usually runs ahead with its demands, and, besides, in a country where opportunities have to be seized for anything to be done, if things wait for their due season they ripen not in time, but too late; and finally, anticipation of the object desired brings its own pleasure. 4-15

We must work at our profession and not make any one else’s idleness an excuse for our own. 4-16

Contrary to the general rule, when I knew him intimately I admired him even more. 4-17

This should be a warning never to lose heart and to be sure of nothing, when we see so many fluctuations of fortune following each other in rapid succession. 4-24

This is the confidence that unprincipled characters derive from the assurance that “No one will know”. 4-25

Nothing is more true than that “you may know a man by the company he keeps”. 4-27

You may say that all praetors are not so strict, but you are wrong there. It may take a strict praetor to establish or revive such a precedent, but once that is done the mildest of men can act on it. 4-29

Our close friendship obliges you to act for me as you would for yourself, just as your wise judgment enables you to do so. And I was afraid that a letter might seem lacking in the restraint which you will have no difficulty in keeping in a speech. There the tone is kept by the expression, gestures and voice of the speaker, whereas a letter lacks such recommendations and is liable to willful misinterpretation. 5-7

Right and wrong intentions are praised and blamed only insofar as their results are good or bad – that is the generally accepted practice, though it is nonetheless unfair. Hence it generally happens that the self-same actions are variously ascribed to zeal, conceit, independence, or folly. 5-9

A raw wound shrinks from a healing hand but later permits and even seeks help, and so the mind rejects and repeals any consolation in its first pangs of grief, then feels the need of comfort and is calmed if this is kindly offered. 5-16

It seems a law of nature for nothing to excite or intensify love so much as the fear of losing its object. 5-19

‘Men praise most the song which rings newest in their ears’ - Odyssey

Anything becomes disproportionate if unchecked. 5-21

Perhaps I think of you more in the places where we are usually together, or else it is that we never miss our absent friends so keenly as when they are not far away; the nearer you are to enjoying their company, the less you are able to be patient without it. 6-1

One of the first duties of a magistrate under oath is patience – an important element in justice itself. You will protest that a good deal is said which is irrelevant. That may be but it is better than leaving out essentials, and it is impossible to judge what is irrelevant without first hearing it. 6-2

We became friends as boys when feelings are warmest, and later judgment has not cooled our affection but strengthened it. 6-8

You know his witticisms, please do not let injustice turn them to bitterness and gall. The warmth of his affection should convince you of his passion if offended, and his bold spirit of independence will not submit to a loss coupled with insult. 6-8

Anxiety has a way of thinking nothing superfluous. 6-9

Loyalty in friendship is so rare and the deed so easily forgotten that we ought to set up our own monuments and anticipate all the duties of our heirs. 6-10

I do beg you most earnestly to reprove me with the same frankness whenever I seem to fail in my duty (I say ‘seem’ because I should never really fail. I shall understand that true love prompts your reproaches, and you may be glad to find that I did not deserve them. 6-12

Anyone giving a reading must beware of eccentricity either in himself or in the audience he invites.6-15

Jealousy is a signal of inferiority. 6-17

We were followed by a panic sticken mob of people wanting to act on someone else’s decision in preference to their own (a point in which fear looks like prudence). 6-20

I have described this case to you as a warning to rely chiefly on yourself and trust no one very far…but be always on your guard so that it will not be necessary, for the satisfaction of obtaining redress is no compensation for the misery of being deceived. 6-22

How often we judge actions by the people who perform them. The self-same deeds are lauded to the skies or allowed to sink into oblivion simply because the persons concerned are well known or not. 6-24

The same method does not appeal to everyone nor is it always suitable, and our reasons for doing or not doing anything depend on changes in human affairs as well as times and situations. 6-27

I have learned that there are occasions when silence is as effective a form of oratory as eloquence. 7-6

7-17 Pliny’s wisdom on editing works.

7-18 Pliny’s wisdom on avoiding corruption in an annual gift to a town.

7-19 Pliny’s praise of Fannia.

No one accepts criticism so readily as those who best deserve praise. 7-20

What a number of scholars are lost and hidden to fame through their own modesty or retiring habits. And yet when we are about to make a speech or give a reading we are nervous only of those who parade their learning, whereas the others who say nothing prove themselves superior by paying a noble profession the tribute of silence…he has increased my nervousness and made me respect these retired somewhat countrified people as much as the persons I know to be learned scholars. For in the field of letters, as of battle, there are men who may be rustic in appearance, but are found on closer inspection to be well armed and equipped and full of spirit and fire. 7-25


7-29 Pliny notes monuments dedicated to rascals.

Few people expect affection from others if they do not first feel it themselves. 7-31

For, according to the code of friendship, the one who takes the initiative puts the other in his debt and owes no more until he is repaid. 7-31 (interesting perspective of friendship)

Our enjoyment of pleasure increases the pain of deprivation. 8-5

I shall continue to be anxious about him until he can permit himself some distraction and allow his wound to heal; nothing can do this but acceptance of the inevitable, lapse of time, and surfeit of grief. 8-5

Very few people have the patience and willpower to learn what is never likely to be of any practical use, and it is besides difficult to remember what you have learned unless you put it into practice. So now that liberty is restored, she finds us awkward and inexperienced; carried away by her charms we are compelled to act in certain ways before we understand them. 8-14

Whether disaster is actual or expected the effect is much the same, except that suffering has its limits but apprehension has none; suffering is confined to the known event, but apprehension extends to every possibility. 8-17

We are always ready to make a journey and cross the sea in search of things we fail to notice in front of our eyes, whether it is that we are naturally indifferent to anything close at hand while pursuing distant objects, or that every desire fades when it can easily be granted, or that we postpone a visit with the idea that we shall often be seeing what is there to be seen whenever we feel inclined. 8-20

8-21 Pliny on friends.

You must know people who are slaves to every sort of passion while they display a sort of jealous resentment against the faults of others, and show least mercy to those they most resemble, though there are other people who need no man’s forgiveness but are best known for their tolerance. My own idea of the truly good and faultless man is one who forgives the faults of others as if he was daily committing them himself, and who keeps himself free of faults as if he could never forgive them. This then should be our rule at home and abroad, in every walk of life: to show no mercy to ourselves and be ready with it for others, even for those who can excuse no failings but their own. 8-22

It is a poor thing if authority can only test its powers by insults to others, and if homage is to be won by terror; affection is far more effective than fear in gaining you your ends. Fear disappears at your departure, affection remains, and, whereas fear engenders hatred, affection develops into genuine regard. 8-24

Everyone must choose between two considerations: that fame is imperishable or man is mortal. The former will lead him to a life of toil and effort, the latter will teach him to relax quietly and not to wear out his short existence with vain endeavors, as I see many doing, through their semblance of industry, as wretched as it is unrewarding, only brings them to despise themselves. 9-3

9-6 Pliny’s confusion at the ridiculous popularity of the races

Your love for him is increased by your sense of loss, unlike most people who feel affection only for the living, or rather make a show of doing so, and not even that unless they see their friends prospering: the unfortunate they forget as quickly as the dead. 9-9

Remember that your son is a boy and that you have been a boy yourself, and use your rights as a father without forgetting that you are only human and so is your son. 9-12

I have learned from experience that, if your mind is already made up, you should not consult people whose advice you should take if you ask for it. 9-13

I listened calm and unafraid, such is the strength to be won from an honest cause, and so much does confidence or fear depend on whether one’s conduct meets with active opposition or no more than disapproval. 9-13

Mercy wins most praise when there is just cause for anger. 9-22

It is the most unexpected and dangerous feats that win admiration. (Not a quote - the cautious go unnoticed, those that are seen to risk and succeed are praised, like the helmsman that successfully sails into harbor from the storm) 9-26

Information withheld only sharpens men’s curiosity to hear it. 9-27

It is better to excel in one thing than do several moderately well, but moderate skill in several things is better if you lack ability to excel in one. 9-29

9-30 Pliny’s views on generosity.

9-33 Murder of the dolphin.

If people assemble for a common purpose whatever name we give them and for whatever reason, they soon turn into a political club. Trajan 10-34

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