Philemon Holland, translator (1601): C. Plinius Secundus The Historie of the World. (Unnumbered pages ix-xvi)



The Preface or Epistle Dedicatorie to Prince Vespasian*, his [freind]
C. Plinius Secundus sendeth greeting.

THese books containing the Historie of Nature, which a few daies since I brought to light (a new work in Latin, and namely among the Romanes, your citizens and countrimen) I purpose by this Epistle of mine to present and consecrate unto you, most sweet and gentle Prince [for **this title accordeth fittest unto you, seeing that the name of [Most mightie***] sorteth well with the age of that Emperor your father:] which haply might seeme boldnesse and presumption in me, but that I know how at other times you were wont to have some good opinion of my toies and fooleries. Where, by the way, you must give me leave to mollifie a little the verses which I borrow of my countriman Catullus. (See also how I light upon a word†† used among soldiors, which you are acquainted with, since time we served both together in the camp:) For he as you wot full well, changing the former sillables of his verses one for another,††† made himselfe somewhat more harsh than he would seeme to be unto the fine ears of his familiar friends, the Veranioli & Fabulli. And withall, I would be thought by this my malapart writing unto you, to satisfie one point, which, as you complained in your answer of late to another rude & audacious letter of mine, I had not performed, to wit, That all the world might see (as it were upon record) how the Empire is managed by you and your father equally: and notwithstanding this imperiall maiestie wherunto you are called, yet is your affabilitie and maner of conversing with your old friends, fellow-like, & the same that alwaies heretofore it had been. For albeit you have triumphed with him for your noble victories, ben Censor in your time, and Consull six times,§ executed the sacred authoritie of the Tribunes, patrones, and protectors of the Commons of Rome, together with him; albeit I say you have otherwise shewed your noble heart in honouring and gracing both the court of the Emperor your father, and also the whole state of Knights and Gentlemen of Rome, whiles you were captaine of the guard, and Grand master of his house and roiall pallace (in which places all, you carried your selfe respectively to the good of the Commonweale) yet to all your friends, and especially to my selfe, you have borne the same colours, and lodged together in one pavilion. So as in all this greatnesse and high estate whereunto you are mounted, there is no other change and alteration seen in your person but this, That your power is now answerable to your will, & able you are to do and performe that good which you ever meant, and still intend.

And howsoever this great maiestie, resplendent in you on every side, in regard of those high dignities above rehearsed, may induce the whole world besides to reverence your person in all obeisance, yet I for my part am armed onely with a kind of audacitie and confidence to shew my dutie and devoire unto you, after a more familiar manner than others: and therfore, this my adventurous rashnes, whatsoever, you must impute unto your own courtesie; and if I chaunce to fault therein, thanke your selfe therefore, and seeke pardon at your own hands. Well, bashfulnesse I have laid aside, and put on a bold face, and all to no purpose. For why? although your gentlenesse and humanitie be one way attractive and induceth me to draw neare unto your presence, yet another way you appear in great maiestie: the sublimitie I say of your mind, your deepe reach, high conceit, and rare perfections, set me as far back: no lictors & huishers marching before you, so much, that I dare not approch. In the first place: Was there ever any man, whose words passed from him more powerfull, & who more truly might be said to flash forth as lightning the force of eloquence? What Tribune was there known at any time to persuade & move the people with good language, more effectually? How admirable was your utterance in those publick Orations, wherin you thundered out the praise-worthie acts of the Emperor your father, that all the grand-place rung therwith? What a singular testimonie he shewed you of rare kindnesse & affection to your brother, in setting out his praises to the full? as for your skill in Poetrie, how excellent, how accomplished is it. Oh the bountie of your mind! Oh the fertilitie of your pregnant spirit! that you should find means to imitat, yea and to match your brother§§ in that kind. But who is able boldly to give an estimat of these gifts to their worth? How may a man enter into the due consideration therof, without feare of the exquisit censure and exact iudgement of your wit, especially being provoked and challenged therunto as you are. For to say a truth, the ease of them who publish a worke in generall tearmes, is far unlike to theirs that will seeme to dedicat it particularly, and by name, to a prince so iudicious as your selfe. For had I set forth this my booke simply, & staied there without any personall dedication, the[n] I might have come upon you and said, Sir, what should a mightie Commander and Generall of the field as you are, busie himselfe to read such matters? written these treatises were to the capacitie of the vulgar people, for base commons, rude husbandmen, and peasants of the countrie, for poor artisans, and in one word, to gratifie them who had no other means of great emploiment, nor time & leasure but to studie upon such points and nothing els: What should you make your selfe a censor of this worke? And verely, when I made first shew of this enterprise of mine, I never reckned you in the number of those iudges that should passe their sentence upon these writings; I wist full well that you were a greater person far, & I supposed that you would never abase your selfe nor stoupe so low as to read this book of mine. Over and besides, a common case it is, and incident to men of deepe learning and great conceit, that otherwhiles exception may be taken against them, and their iudgement reiected in this behalfe. Even M. Tullius that renoumed Orator, and who for wit and learning had not his fellow, taking the vantage of that libertie, useth the benefit therof: and (whereat we may well marvell) maintaineth the action by an advocat, and taketh example (for his defence) from Lucilius: for in one part of his workes thus hee saith, I would not have learned Persius to read these bookes of mine, loth I am that he should censure me. As for Lælius Decimus, I am content to submit them to his opinion. Now if such an one as Lucilius, who was the first that durst controule the writings of others, and tooke upon him to scoffe at their imperfections,1 had reason thus to say; if Cicero took occasion to borrow the said speech of him for to serve his own turne, and namely in his Treatise of Politiques, where he wrote of a Commonweale, how much greater cause have I to distrust my selfe, and to decline & avoid the censure of some iudge of deepe understanding? But cut I am from this refuge and meanes of defence, in that I expressely make choise of you in this dedication of my worke: for one thing it is to have a iudge, either pricked by pluralitie of voices, or cast upon a man by drawing lots; and a farre other thing to chuse and nominat him from all others: and great difference is there betweene that cheare and provision which we make for a guest solemnely bidden and invited, and the suddaine fare and intertainement which is readie for a stranger who commeth to our house unlooked for. Cato, that professed enemie of ambition, vainglorie, and indirect suit for offices, who took as great contentment in those estates and dignities which he refused and reiected, as in them which he enioied, attained to this good name of uprightnesse and synceritie, that when in the hotest broile about election of Magistrats that ever was in his time, they that stood therfore, put into this hands their mony upon trust, as a cautionarie pawne and assurance of their integritie and fidelitie that way; they professed that they did it in testimonie of their conceit of his equitie and innocence, the cheefe and onely thing that a man is to regard in this life: wherupon ensued that noble and memorable and exclamation of M. Cicero, who speaking of the said Cato, brake out into these words: Oh gentle M. Portius, how happie and blessed art thou, whom no man was ever so hardie as to sollicite to any leaud thing, or contrary to right and honestie! L. Scipio, surnamed Asiaticus, at what time as he appealed unto the Tribunes of the Commons, and besought their lawfull favour (among whome, C. Gracchus was one, a man whom he tooke for his mortall enemie) presuming upon the goodnesse of his cause, gave out and said, That his verie enemies, if they were his iudges, could not chuse but quit him and give sentence on his side. Thus wee see how everie man maketh him peremptorily the supreme and highest iudge of his cause, whom himselfe chuseth and appealeth unto: which manner of choise the Latines call Provocatio. As for your selfe verely, who are set in the most eminent & cheefe place among men, & otherwise endued with singular eloquence and profound knowledge, no marvell is it, if those that doe their dutie unto you, salute you, kisse your hand, and come with great respect and reverence: In which regard, exceeding care above all things would be had, that whatsoever is said or dedicated unto you, may beseem your person, & be worth acceptation. And yet the gods reiect not the humble praiers of poore countrey peasants, yea, and of manie nations, who offer nothing but milke unto them: and such as have no Incense, find grace and favour manie times with the oblation of a plaine cake made onely of meale and salt; and never was anie man blamed yet for his devotion to the gods, so he offered according to his abilite, were the thing never so simple.

For mine own part, challenged I may be more still for this my importune and inconsiderat boldnesse, in that I would seeme to present these bookes unto you, compiled of so slender stuffe & matter as they be: for therin can be couched no great wit (which otherwise in me was ever mean and simple) neither admit they any digressions, orations, speeches, and discourses, ne yet admirable cases & variable chaunces, nor any other occurrent, either pleasant to rehearse, or delectable to hear. The truth is, the nature of all things in this world, that is to say, matters concerning our daily and ordinary life, are here deciphered & declared, and that in barrain tearms, without any goodly shew of gay and glorious phrases: and whatsoever I have put down, concerne it doth the basest points therof, insomuch as for the most part I am to deliver the thing in hand, either in rusticall speech, or els in forrain, nay, in barbarous language, such also as may not well be uttered, but with reserving honour to the hearers, and reverence to the readers.

Moreover, the way that I have entred into, hath not ben troden beforetime by other writers, being indeed so strange & uncouth, as a mans mind would not willingly travell therin. No Latin author among us hath hitherto once ventured upon the same argument, no one Grecian whatsoever hath gone through it and handled all: and no marvell, for many of us love not to take any pains, but study rather to pen matters of delight and pleasure. True it is, I must needs say, that others have made profession hereof, but they have done it with such subtiltie and deepnesse, that all their travels and writings by that means, lie as it were dead and buried in darknesse. Now come I, & take upon me to speake of every thing, and to gather as it weere a compleat body of arts and sciences (which the Greeks call ἐγκυκλαπαιδείος) that are either altogether unknown or become doubtful, through the overmuch curiositie of fine wits: again, other matters are deciphered in such long discourses, that they are tedious to the readers, insomuch as they loath and abhor them. A difficult enterprise it is therfore to make old stuffe new, to give authoritie & credit to novelties, to polish and smooth that which is worne and out of use, to set a glosse & lustre upon that which is dim and dark, to grace & countenance things disdained, to procure beleef to matters doubtfull, & in one word, to reduce nature to all, and all to their own nature. And verely to give the attempt only & shew a desire to effect such a desseigne as this, although the same be not brought about and compassed, were a brave and magnificent enterprise. Certes of this spirit am I, that those learned men & great students, who making no stay but breaking through all difficulties, have preferred the profit of posterity before the tickling and pleasure of itching ears in these daies; which I may protest that I have aimed at, not in this worke only, but also in other of my books alreadie: and I professe, that I wonder much at T. Livius, otherwise a most renowned & famous writer, who in a preface to one of his books of the Roman historie which he cõpiled from the foundation of Rome, thus protested, That he had gotten glorie ynough by his former writing, and might sit still now & take his ease, but that his mind was so restlesse and so ill could abide repose, that contrariwise it was fed and nourished with travell & nothing els. But surely me thinks, in finishing those Chronicles, he should in dutie have respected the glory of that people which had conquered the world and advanced the honour of the Romane name, rather than displaied his owne praise and commendation: Ywis, his demerit had been the greater, to have continued his storie as he did, for love of the subject matter, and not for his privat pleasure; to have I say performed that peece of work more to gratifie the state of Rome, than to content his owne mind and affection. As touching my selfe (forasmuch as Domitius Piso saith, That bookes ought to be treasuries2 & store-houses indeed, and not bare & simple writings) I may be bold to say and averr, That in 36 Books I have comprised 20000 things, all worthie of regard & consideration, which I have collected out of 2000 volumes or therabout, that I have diligently read (and yet verie few of them there be that men learned otherwise, and studious, dare meddle withall, for the deepe matter and hidden secrets therein contained) and those written by 100 severall elect and approved authors: besides a world of other matters, which either were unknown to our forefathers and former writers, or els afterwards invented by their posteritie. And yet I nothing doubt but many things there be, which either surpasse our knowledge, or els our memorie hath overslipt: for men we are, & men emploied in many affairs. Moreover, considered it would be, that these studies we follow at vacant times and stolne hours, that is to say, by night season onely; to the end that you may know, how wee to accomplish this, have neglected no time which was due unto your service: The daies wholly employ & spend in attendance upon your person; we sleepe only to satisfie nature, even as much as our health requireth, and no more; contenting our selves with this reward, That whiles we studie and muse (as Varro saith) upon these things in our closet, we gaine so many hours to our life; for surely we live then onely, when wee watch and be awake. Considering now those occasions, those lets and hinderances above-named, I had no reason to presume or promise much; but in that you have emboldened me to dedicat my books unto you, your selfe perfourmeth whatsoever in me is wanting: not that I trust upon the goodnesse and worth of the worke, so much, as that by this means it will be better esteemed and shew more vendible: for many things there be that seeme right deare & be holden for pretious, only because they are consecrated to some sacred temples.

As for us verely, we have written of you all, your father Vespasian, your selfe, and your brother Domitian, in a large volume which we compiled touching the historie of our times, beginning there where Aufidius Bassus ended. Now if you demand & aske me, Where that historie is? I answer, That finished it was long since, and by this time is iustified and approved true by your deeds: otherwise I was determined to leave it unto my heire, & give order that it should be published after my death, least in my life time I might have ben thought to have curried favor of those, whose acts I seemed to pen with flatterie, & beyond all truth. And therfore in this action I do both them a great favour who haply were minded before me to put forth the like Chronicle, and the posteritie also which shall come after; who, I make reckning & know, will enter into the lists with us, like as we have done with our predecessors. A sufficient argument of this my good mind & frank hart that way you shal have by this, That in the front of these books now in hand, I have set down the verie names of those writers, whose help I have used in tthe compiling of the[m]: for I have ever ben of this opinion, That it is the part of an honest minded ma[n] & one that is full grace & modesty, to confesse frankly by whõ he hath profited & gotten any good: not as many of those unthankful persons have done, whõ I have alledged for my authors. For to tell you a plaine truth, know thus much frõ me, that in cõferring the[m] togither about this work of mine, I have met with some of our modern writers, who word for word have exe[m]plified & copied out whole books of old authors, & never vouchsafed so much as the naming of them, but have taken their labors & travels to themselves. And this they have not done in that courage and spirit to imitate, yea and to match them as Virgil did Homer: much lesse have tthey shewed that simplicitie & apert proceeding of Cicero, who in his books of Pollicie and Common-weale professeth himselfe to hold with Plato; in his Consolatorie Epistle written to his daughter, confesseth and saith plainly thus, I follow Crantor, & Panætius likewise in his Treatise concerning Offices. Which worthie monuments of his (as you know well) deserve not onely to be seene, handled, and read daily, but also to be learned by heart everie word. Certes, I hold it for a point of a base and servile mind, and wherein there is no goodnesse at all, to chuse rather to be surprised and taken in theft, than to bring home borrowed good, or to repay a due debt, especially when the occupying, use, and interest thereof, hath gained a man as much as the principall.

Now as touching the titles and inscriptions of Bookes, the Greeks therein have a woonderfull grace and great felicitie: some have entituled them Κηρίον, whereby they would give us to understand of A swet hony-combe:§§§ others κήρας Αμαλθείας, that is to say, The horne of plentie and store: in such sort, that whosoever readeth these goodly titles, must needs hope for some great matters in such books, and as the proverb goeth, looke to drinke there or els no where, a good draught of hens milke. You shall have moreover their books set out with these glorious inscriptions, The Muses, The Pandects, Enchiridion,¶¶ Λειμὼν,¶¶¶ Πινακίδιον: Goodly names all, & such, as who would not make default of appearance in court, and forfeit a recognisance or obligation, to unclaspe such books and turne over the leafe? But let a man enter into them and read forward, Lord! how little or no substance at all shall he find within the verie minds, answerable to that brave shew in the front or outside thereof? As for our countreymen (Latines I meane and Romans) they be nothing so fine and curious as the Greeks, grosse are they in comparison of them in giving titles to their books: they come with their Antiquities, Examples, and Arts, and those also be such authors as are the most pleasant and of finest invention amongst them all. Valerius who (as I take it) was named Antias, both for that he was a citizen of Antium, and also because the auncestours of his house were so called, was the first that gave to a booke of his own making, the title of Lucubratio, as a man would say, Candle-worke or Night-Studie.3 Varro, he tearmeth some of his Satyres Sesculyxes and Flexibulæ. Diodorus among the Greeks was the first that laid aside toyish titles, and because he would give some grave name to his Chronicles, entituled it Bibliotheca, i. a Librarie. Apion the famous Grammarian, even he whome Tiberius Cæsar called the Cymball of the world (whereas indeed he deserved to be named a Timbrell or Drum rather for ringing and sounding publicke fame) was so vainglorious, that he supposed all those immortalized unto whom he wrote or composed any pamphlet whatsoever. For mine owne part, although I nothing repent me that I have devised no pretier Title for my Booke than plaine Naturalis Historia, i. The reports of Nature, without more ceremonie, yet because I would not be thought altogither to course and rate the Greeks, I can be content, nay I am willing to bee thought in this behalfe like unto those excellent grand-masters in Greece for Painting and Imagerie, whome you shall find in these Reports of mine, to have entituled those rare and absolute peeces of worke (which the more we view and looke upon, the more wee admire and wonder at for their perfection) with halfe titles and unperfect inscriptions, in this manner, Apelles‡‡ went in hand with this Picture: or, Polycletus was a making this Image: as if they were but begun, never finished and laid out of their hands: which was done (no doubt) to this end, that for all the varietie and diversitie of mens iudgements scanning of their workemanship, yet the artificer thereby had recourse to make excuse; had means (I say) to crave and have pardon for any faults and imperfections that could be found; as if he meant to have amended any thing therein amisse or wanting, in case hee had not been cut off and prevented by death. These noble workemen therfore herein shewed right great modestie, that they set superscriptions upon all their painted tables, pourtraitures, and personages, as if they had been the last peeces of their workmanship, and themselves disabled by unexpected death that they could not make a finall end of any one of them: for there were not knowne (as I take it) above three in all, which had their absolute titles written upon them in this forme, Ille fecit, i. This Apelles wrought: & those Pictures will I write of in place convenient. By which it appeared evidently, that the said three tables were fully finished, and that the workeman was so highly contented with their perfection, that he feared the censure of no man: No marveile then, if all three were so much envied and admired throughout the world, no marveile if everie man desired to be master of them.

Now for my selfe, I know full well & confesse freely, that many more things may be added, not to this storie alone, but to all my books that I have put forth alreadie: which I speake by the way, because I would prevent and avoid those fault-finders abroad, those correctors and scourgers‡‡‡ of Homer, (for surely that is their verie name) because I heare say there be certain Stoike Philosophers, professed Logicians, yea and Epicureans also (for at Grammarians hands and Criticks I never looked for other) who are with child still and travaile untill they be delivered of somewhat against my books which I have set forth as touching Grammer: and for this ten yeers space, nothing is come to light, but evermore the fruit miscarrieth belike before the full time, as the slip of an unperfect birth; whereas in lesse space than so, the verie Elephant bringeth foorth her calfe, be it never so big. But this troubleth me never a whit, for I am not ignorant that a silly woman, even a harlot and no better, durst encounter Theophrastus and write a booke against him, notwithstanding hee was a man of so incomparable eloquence that thereupon he came by his divine name Theophrastus: from whence arose this proverbe and by-word,+ Marie then go chuse a tree to hang thy selfe. And surely I cannot containe and hold my tongue, but I must needs set downe the verie words of Cato Censorius, so pertinent to this purpose; whereby it may appeare, that even Cato himselfe a most worthie personage, who wrote of militarie Discipline, who had been brought up and trained to feats of warre under Great Scipio Africanus, or rather indeed under Anniball, who in the end could not endure Africanus himselfe, but was able to controll him in martiall affaires: and who besides having the conduct as L. Generall of the Romane armie, atchieved the better hand over his enemies in the field, and returned with victory: this Cato (I say) could not avoid such backbiters and slaunderers, but knowing that there would bee many of them readie to purchase themselves some name and reputation by reproving the knowledge and skill of others, brake out into a certain speech against them: And what was it? I know right well (quoth he, in that booke aforesaid) that if these writings of mine come abroad once and be published to the view of the world, there will be many step foorth to quarrell and cavill therwith; such fellows soonest and most of all who are quite void of vertue and honestie, and know not what belongeth to true honour. But surely say what they will, I let their words run by, like raine water. It was a prettie speech also and a pleasant apothegme, that Plancus uttered in the semblable case: for beeing informed that Asinus Pollio was devising and framing certaine invective Orations against him, which should be set foorth either by himselfe or his children, after the decease of Plancus and not before, to the end that they might not be answered by him; hee said readily by way of a scoffe, That none but vaine bugs & hobgoblins use to fight with the dead: with which word he gave those orations such a counterbuffe, that (by the iudgement of the learned) none were accounted afterward more impudent and shamelesse than they. For mine own part, being sure that these busie bodies shall never be able to bite me (and verely Cato hath given such fellows a proper name, and called them Vitilitgatores, by a tearme elegantly compounded of vices and quarrels: for to say a truth, what did they else but picke quarels and make brawls?) I will proceed and goe on still in my intended purpose.

Now to conclude and knit up mine Epistle: Knowing as I doe, that for the good of the Commonweale, you should be spared and not empeached by any privat business of your owne, and namely in perusing these long volumes of mine; to prevent this trouble therefore, I have adioyned immediatly to this Epistle and prefixed before these books, the Summarie or Contents of everie one: and verie carefully have I endeavoured, that you should not need to read them throughout, whereby all others also after your example, may ease themselves of the like labour: and as any man is desirous to know this or that, he may seeke and readily find in what place to meet with the same. This learned I of Valerius Sorranus one of our owne Latin writers, who hath done the like before me and set an Index to those Books which he entituled Ἐποπτίδων.

Text Decoration


*The running title of this chapter is Plinies Epistle to T. Vespasian. The pages are unnumbered. Pliny's Preface in Latin: LacusCurtius * Pliny the Elder's Natural History — Preface.

* i. Titus.

** Suavissimus.

*** Maximus.

Namque tu solebas, Meas esse aliquid putare nugas. [Catullus, 1, to Cornelius Nepos; "For you alone thought that my scribblings were something".]

†† Conterraneum. [From the same territory and city. What exactly it means in this context, or indeed if it should not be another word altogether, is a matter of some argument among classicists, who, let me tell you now, are among the most contentious people on this earth. The general consensus, for now at least, is that it means "from the same territory", i.e., Gallia Transpadana.]

††† It seemeth that Pliny read thus in Catullus. Tu putare namque, Nugas esse aliquid meas solebas, which indeed was but an hard composition and couching of the words. [Catullus Carmina I.3-4]

§ Sexies, or rather Septies, out of Suetonius. [Suetonius, Titus 6. The text of Pliny has sexies, six. This dates the work, or at least the dedicatory letter, to the years AUC 830-1. Titus was consul in 823, 825, 827, 828, 829 and 830; then he was consul for a seventh time in 832.]

§§ For Domitian Vespasian was reputed an excellent Poet. [Perhaps. See Sueton. Domitian 2.2.]

1.. ["Control" here, as elsewhere in Holland, means "to challenge, criticize, find fault with", etc., an obsolete extension of its meaning "to compare, test, etc.". Pliny's "qui primus condidit styli nasum".

2. [The catchword bottom of page [xii] is "to" rather that "treasuries".]

§§§ To wit, Helius Melissus.

Containing all things, as Tyro Tullius did.

¶¶ A manuell to be carried alwaies in hand.

¶¶¶ Medow.

A Table or Index.

3.. [The text here is corrupt; Holland has chosen his reading and translated it.]

‡‡ Apelles faciebat. [The imperfect rather than the perfect; as if to say, "Apelles was making this", as opposed to "Apelles fecit", "Apelles made this".]

‡‡‡ Homeromastiges.

+ If women may be allowd to controll me[n]s writings, wee may be wearie of our lives and goe ha[n]g our selves well enough.

This page is by James Eason.

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