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Bill Thayer

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Pliny the Elder: the Natural History

When I got on the Net in 1995, I heard all kinds of rumors of various projects out there supposedly putting Pliny on the Web. I waited a couple of years, then decided that a bird in the hand is worth an annotated inflection-searchable sacred chicken in a bush, and did it myself.

I hand-keyed the Latin text of Pliny from the Teubner edition of the text as established by Karl Mayhoff, 1875‑1906. It was, by the way, an instructive exercise much like that of the musician who copies Bach: my Latin comprehension improved immensely in the eight months it took me.

The transcription is being minutely proofread. I ran a first proofreading pass immediately after entering each Book, so that the text of all the Books is quite good already. I then run a second proofreading, detailed and meant to be final: in the table of contents below, Books the text of which I believe to be completely errorfree are shown on blue backgrounds; any red backgrounds indicate that the Book has not received that second final proofreading, and illustrations and notes may also be missing. The header bar at the top of each webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

There are two English translations of Pliny online: one complete, by John Bostock and H. T. Riley (1855) at Perseus; the other, of a sizable portion, by Philemon Holland (1601), slowly progressing on James Eason's site, including the following Books last time I checked: the Preface, Books 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, and the corresponding portions of Book 1. (Please note that if you have problems with those English-language pages, they are not part of my site and you will have to take them up with Mr. Eason!)

[And to forestall any more mail on yet another subject, no, the sections do not often match between Mayhoff's Latin text and Holland's translation: this is to be expected since the latter translated, and — adding a further difficulty — sometimes paraphrased, a Latin text as established in the Renaissance, whereas Mayhoff's 19c text benefited a great deal from scholar­ship in the intervening centuries. Mr Eason and I have therefore made no attempt to correlate the text and its translation on a section-by‑section basis: it isn't possible. At any rate, the Latin text and the Holland translation have each been faithfully transcribed, including where each editor chooses to break. Welcome to the real world of Plinian scholar­ship. . . .]

A printed modern English translation, tolerable if not really very good, is readily available: The Loeb Classics edition, in 10 volumes (Harvard University Press). It is commonly found in libraries; it is very much in print, and thus can be bought or ordered at almost any bookstore.

A Japanese translation of Book 9 was well underway and online, but with the shrinking Web, it too has now vanished.

Some other few short passages also appear on scattered pages thruout the Web: I've linked them to the original passage on my site.

For a good detailed biography of Pliny, in 3 webpages, see For some assessments of Pliny over the centuries, see this page. For an alternate table of contents, this page of the Livius.Org site.

For technical details about how this site is laid out, etc., see below after the table of contents.

Book Subject

Pliny's table of contents, index, and bibliography as he wrote them.

Astronomy and meteorology.

Geography of the Western Mediterranean.

Geography of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea, continental and northern Europe.

Geography of Africa, the Middle East and Turkey.

Geography of Asia; summary overview and wrap-up of world geography.

Anthropology and human physiology.

Land animals: elephants, lions, tigers, panthers; cows, horses, asses, mules, sheep, goats; mice, dormice and a few others.

Marine animals: whales, dolphins, fish, shellfish, etc.

Birds; animal reproduction; the five senses.

Insects, then comparative zoology, fumblings toward a taxonomy.

Exotic plants, spices and perfumes: from India, Egypt, Mesopotamia etc.

More plants, including aquatic plants.

Plants: the vine and wine.

Plants: the olive tree; oil and its uses; fruit and nut trees.

More trees, mostly evergreens.

Fruit trees and vines and the art of planting them.

How to run a farm.

Garden plants, including a long section on flax.

More garden plants: mostly vegetables.


Miscellaneous plants, including dye plants.

Medicinal properties of wine, vinegar, oil, nuts, fruit.

Medicinal properties of trees and herbs.

Medicinal properties of herbs.

Major medicinal herbs. The book opens with a section on new diseases.

Minor medicinal herbs, in roughly alphabetical order.

Medicinal uses of the human body's own products (and discussion of charms); of animal products.

Medicinal uses of animal products, continued; but the book starts with a long stiff diatribe against doctors.

Medicinal uses of animal products, continued; this time the book starts with a preamble about magic arts.

Medicinal uses of marine products: salt, plants, sponges, etc.

Medicinal uses of marine animals.

Metals: mostly gold, silver and mercury.

Metals: bronze and lead; but mostly a discussion of statues, in fact.

Uses of earth; but starting with pigments, is mostly a discussion of painters, although the end of the Book goes back to sulphur.

Stone. One of the better books. The first half is about sculpture; then a bit of fascinating architecture (obelisks, the Pyramids, the Cretan labyrinth), finally various building materials (plaster, sand, stone), then glass. Ends with a paean to fire and an utterly peculiar story in the very last paragraph.

Stones: rock crystal, amber, gemstones; semi-precious stones. At the very end of the Book, Pliny gives his list of "best of categories"; the best of countries is Italy, in case you were wondering . . .

Chapter and Paragraph Numbering

Both sets of numbering are used; the numbering of the chapters (in Roman numerals) follows the Loeb edition.

Search Constraints

Because of the way I've set up the text here, it is best to avoid searching across sentences or even sometimes across clauses separated by punctuation: successive sentences and occasionally clauses may be in different table segments and your search might yield a false negative.

Numbers with bars over them, e.g.MDCLXVI, the denarius sign (X), etc. should be searched for as MDCLXVI, X, etc.

Apparatus, Glosses

I'm not planning to put any apparatus online, but here and there the Teubner edition itself is not perfect, and a marginal correction may be made; or, in the best medieval style, a comment will have proved irresistible.


Various links are being inserted in the text, to appropriate pages of both my site (especially the Roman Gazetteer section), and of the better and more stable external websites, etc.

Between paragraphs, where searches would fail anyway, I'm very occasionally inserting images or other material.

Editions Used

Books 1‑6: Teubner, 1933 reprint of the 1905 edition
Books 7‑15: Teubner, 1909
Books 16‑22: Teubner, 1892
Books 23‑37: Teubner, 1897

I also consulted Teubner's 1898 index volume and the indexes to the current Loeb editions.

Other Partial Texts of the Natural History Online

A copy of my own Web edition started going up at Latin Library in Jun 01: the Preface and Books 1‑5 — at which point the copying stopped, probably because they were alerted to what follows.

That copy is less good than my original transcription here, partly because some of it was taken before I completed my proofreading, but partly also because it was intentionally degraded in several ways by someone who failed to understand what they were reading: for example, numbers with bars over them have seen them removed, thus dividing them by 1000 . . . so that Pliny is made to give distances in paces when they are in miles, etc. The Latin Library copy is therefore not recommended.

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Site updated: 15 Feb 18