Monday, August 27, 2012

Suetonius and the Death of Pliny the Elder

Before Suetonius wrote about the Roman emperors, he wrote a series of biographies of Roman grammarians, rhetoricians, poets, and historians, a compilation known as De viris illustribus.1 Most of this collection is now lost, but some fragments are extant, including the Vita Plinii, a short biography of Pliny the Elder. It is less than one hundred words in length, with the first half recounting Pliny's distinguished military service (equestribus militiis industrie functus, "performing with energy the military service required of members of the equestrian order") and his prolific career as an author (non temere quis plura in otio scripserit, "hardly anyone who had complete leisure wrote more than he").2 The second half of the vita then describes Pliny's death during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius:

Periit clade Campaniae; cum enim Misenensi classi praeesset et flagrante Vesuvio ad explorandas propius causas liburnica pertendisset, nec adversantibus ventis remeare posset, vi pulveris ac favillae oppressus est . . .

He lost his life in the disaster in Campania. He was commanding the fleet at Misenum, and setting out in a Liburnian galley during the eruption of Vesuvius to investigate the causes of the phenomenon from nearer at hand, he was unable to return because of head winds. He was suffocated by the shower of dust and ashes . . .

Via http://historyoftheancientworld.com/2012/08/suetonius-and-the-death-of-pliny-the-elder/