Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus)

Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus)
SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
b. c. 23 AD Como, Italy
d. 25 August 79 AD near Pompeii, Italy
Roman encyclopedic writer on the natural world.
Pliny was well educated in Rome, and for ten years or so followed a military career with which he was able to combine literary work, writing especially on historical subjects. He completed his duties c. 57 AD and concentrated on writing until he resumed his official career in 69 AD with administrative duties. During this last phase he began work on his only extant work, the thirty-seven "books" of his Historia Naturalis (Natural History), each dealing with a broad subject such as astronomy, geography, mineralogy, etc. His last post was the command of the fleet based at Misenum, which came to an end when he sailed too near Vesuvius during the eruption that engulfed Pompeii and he was overcome by the fumes.
Pliny developed an insatiable curiosity about the natural world. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans made few original contributions to scientific thought and observation, but some made careful compilations of the learning and observations of Greek scholars. The most notable and influential of these was the Historia Naturalis. To the ideas about the natural world gleaned from earlier Greek authors, he added information about natural history, mineral resources, crafts and some technological processes, such as the extraction of metals from their ores, reported to him from the corners of the Empire. He added a few observations of his own, noted during travels on his official duties. Not all the reports were reliable, and the work often presents a tangled web of fact and fable. Gibbon described it as an immense register in which the author has "deposited the discoveries, the arts, and the errors of mankind". Pliny was indefatigable in his relentless note-taking, even dictating to his secretary while dining.
During the Dark Ages and early Middle Ages in Western Europe, Pliny's Historia Naturalis was the largest known collection of facts about the natural world and was drawn upon freely by a succession of later writers. Its influence survived the influx into Western Europe, from the twelfth century, of translations of the works of Greek and Arab scholars. After the invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century, Pliny was the first work on a scientific subject to be printed, in 1469. Many editions followed and it may still be consulted with profit for its insights into technical knowledge and practice in the ancient world.
The standard Latin text with English translation is that edited by H.Rackham et al.(1942– 63, Loeb Classical Library, London: Heinemann, 10 vols). The French version is by A.
Ernout et al. (1947–, Belles Lettres, Paris).
Further Reading
The editions mentioned above include useful biographical and other details. For special aspects of Pliny, see K.C.Bailey, 1929–32, The Elder Pliny's Chapters on Chemical Subjects, London, 2 vols.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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