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Pliny the Elder
(Gaius Plinius Secundus)
Roman statesman and scholar and uncle of Pliny the Younger

(AD 23-79)



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Scrito enim conferentum autores me deprehendisse a iuratissimis et proximis veteres transcriptos ad verbum neque nominatos.
In comparing various authors with one another, I have discovered that some of the professedly reliable and modern writers have transcribed the older authors, word for word, without making acknowledgment.

-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 1, dedication, sect. 22

The world, and whatever that be which we call the heavens, by the vault of which all things are enclosed, we must conceive to be a deity, to be eternal, without bounds, neither created nor subject at any time to destruction. To inquire what is beyond it is no concern of man; nor can the human mind form any conjecture concerning it.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 2, sect. 1

The only certainty is that nothing is certain.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 2, sect. 7

It is ridiculous to suppose that the great head of things, whatever it be, pays any regard to human affairs.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 2, sect. 20

Brutum fulmen.
A harmless thunderbolt.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 2, sect. 43

Ut non sit satis aestimare, parens melior homini an tristior noverca fuerit.
It is far from easy to determine whether she [Nature] has proved to man a kind parent or a merciless stepmother.
-- On nature, in: Historia Naturalis, bk. 7, sect. 1

Man is the only one that knows nothing, that can learn nothing without being taught. He can neither speak nor walk nor eat, and in short he can do nothing at the prompting of nature only, but weep.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 7, sect. 4

With man, most of his misfortunes are occasioned by man.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 7, sect. 5

Indeed, what is there that does not appear marvelous when it comes to our knowledge for the first time? How many things, too, are looked upon as quite impossible until they have actually been effected?
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 7, sect. 6

Unde etiam vulgare Graeciae dictum 'Semper alique novi Africam adferre'.
Whence it is commonly said among the Greeks that 'Africa always brings [us] something new'.
[Often quoted proverbially as: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. (There is always something new from Africa.)]
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 8, sect. 42

Ruinis inminentibus musculi praemigrant.
When a building is about to fall down, all the mice desert it.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 8, sect. 103.

Vulgoque veritas iam attributa vino est.
And truth has come to be proverbially attributed to wine.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. XIV, sect. 141
[Often quoted proverbially as: In vino veritas. (Truth comes out in wine.) ]

A stage built for public spectacles arranged by Claudius Pulcher won great praise for its painted decoration, because some crows, deceived by a painted decoration of roof tiles, tried to alight on them.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 15

There exists ... a magnificent oration by Agrippa, worthy of the greatest of citizens, on the subject of making all statues and paintings public property, which would have been a more satisfactory solution than banishing them as exiles to country villas.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 15

Cincinnatus was ploughing his four jugera of land upon the Vaticanian Hill,—the same that are still known as the Quintian Meadows,—when the messenger brought him the dictatorship, finding him, the tradition says, stripped to the work.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 18, sect. 20.

The agricultural population, says Cato, produces the bravest men, the most valiant soldiers, and a class of citizens the least given of all to evil designs…. A bad bargain is always a ground for repentance.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk 18, sect. 26.

Optimumque est, ut vulgo dixere, aliena insania frui.
And the best plan is, as the popular sying goes, to profit by the folly of others.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 18, sect. 31

It is a maxim universally agreed upon in agriculture, that nothing must be done too late; and again, that everything must be done at its proper season; while there is a third precept which reminds us that opportunities lost can never be regained.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 18, sect. 44.

The bird of passage known to us as the cuckoo.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 18, sect. 249.

Addito granis salo.
With the addition of a grain of salt.
With the addition of a pinch of salt.
[Commonly quoted as: Cum grano salis. (With a grain of salt.)]
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 23, sect. 149.

Absentes tinnitu aurium præsentire sermones de se receptum est.
It is generally admitted that the absent are warned by a ringing in the ears, when they are being talked about.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 28, sect. 5.

Sal Atticum.
Attic wit.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 31, sect. 87.

Apelli fuit alioqui perpetua consuetudo numquam tam occupatum diem agendi, ut non lineam ducendo exerceret artem, quod ab eo in proverbium venit. idem perfecta opera proponebat in pergula transeuntibus atque, ipse post tabulam latens, vitia quae notarentur auscultabat, vulgum diligentiorem iudicem quam se praeferens; 85 feruntque reprehensum a sutore, quod in crepidis una pauciores intus fecisset ansas, eodem postero die superbo emendatione pristinae admonitionis cavillante circa crus, indignatum prospexisse denuntiantem, ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret, quod et ipsum in proverbium abiit.
It was a custom with Apelles, to which he most tenaciously adhered, never to let any day pass, however busy he might be, without exercising himself by tracing some outline or other; a practice which has now passed into a proverb. It was also a practice with him, when he had completed a work, to exhibit it to the view of the passers-by in some exposed place; while he himself, concealed behind the picture, would listen to the criticisms that were passed upon it; it being his opinion that the judgment of the public was preferable to his own, as being the more discerning of the two. It was under these circumstances, they say, that he was censured by a shoemaker for having represented the shoes with one shoe-string too little. The next day, the shoemaker, quite proud at seeing the former error corrected, thanks to his advice, began to criticize the leg; upon which Apelles, full of indignation, popped his head out, and reminded him that a shoemaker should give no opinion beyond the shoes, a piece of advice which has equally passed into a proverbial saying.
-- Historia Naturalis, bk. 35, sect. 84 (translated by John Bostock and H. T. Riley, 1855)
From this quote about Apelles, a 4th century BC painter, and a shoemaker two proverbial sayings have come:
(1)
Nulla dies sina linea.
No day without lines. (that is, If you are an an artist let no day pass without drawing lines. More generally, whatever your skill or your profession, let no day pass with doing some practice.)
(2)
Ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret.
The cobbler should not judge above his last. The shoemaker should stick to his last.


Quotes about Pliny the Elder

Dicere etiam solebat nullum esse lirum tam mallum ut non alique parte prodesset.
[Pliny] always said that there was no book so bad that no good could be got out of it.
-- Pliny the Younger, Letters, bk. 3, no. 5


Related Page
Pliny the Younger


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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