• Translating Pliny’s Letters about Vesuvius – update

    The blog posts about the Vesuvius eruption are on hold while I complete my book, Pliny and the Destruction of Vesuvius (Routledge, 2021). The book is about Letters 6.16 and 6.20, and has these chapters:

    1. Two Plinys: Short biographies of the Elder and Younger Pliny, setting the context for the Vesuvian letters;
    2. Two Letters: A reconstruction of the transmission history of Epp. 6.16 and 6.20 within the context of the whole manuscript tradition of the Epistulae. This is based on the collation of every known extant manuscript and early printed edition of the text of those letters (which has never been done before). It will show, among other things, how ‘November’ crept into the manuscript tradition as an error, how that error was propagated, and why the textual tradition cannot be used as a basis for arguing that the eruption happened in October or November, despite the repeated citation of problematic 17th-/18th-c. scholarship and recent press favoring a non-August date. Previews of my argument and evidence will be given at public lectures in Tampa Bay (Archaeological Institute of America, 6:00 p.m., 29 Oct. 2019), San Francisco St. University (18 Nov. 2019), Milwaukee (Archaeological Institute of America, 9 Feb. 2020), Spokane (Archaeological Institute of America, 20 Feb. 2020), and Knoxville (Archaeological Institute of America, 10 Mar. 2020).
    3. Two Days: a reconstruction, based on the latest volcanological studies and a new complete GIS model of the AD-79 topography of the Bay of Naples, of the eruption sequence, its effects upon the landscape and people of the Bay of Naples, and how those new studies enlighten the accounts in Pliny’s Epistulae, including the likely location of the Pliny’s villa from which the eruption was first spotted.
    4. Epistulae 6.16, The Elder’s Story: Text, new translation, and commentary;
    5. Epistulae 6.20, The Younger’s Story: Text, new translation, and commentary;
    6. An appendix of the manuscripts and printed editions, with a link to spreadsheets of the collations of Epp. 6.16 and 6.20, which will then be posted on this blog for public availability and study.

    Thank you kindly for your patience.

  • Translating Pliny’s letters about Vesuvius, pt. 11. The Elements Torn Asunder

    Drawback from the Boxing Day tsunami, 2004, Hat Rai Lay Beach, Thailand

    6.20.7-9: The Elements Torn Asunder.

    This post belongs to a serialized translation and commentary of Pliny the Younger’s letters (6.16 and 6.20) to the historian Tacitus about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. This is the third installment for letter 6.20, and the eleventh overall.

    This installment was completed with the contributions of DePauw LAT 223 students Jackson Hicks, Luke Lohrstorfer, and Leigh Plummer in Fall 2014 and 2015.

    The Younger Pliny and his mother have been unsettled by strong tremors at their seaside residence early on the morning of the second day of the eruption. The Elder Pliny, who sailed off the afternoon before, is on the Stabian seashore with his friend Pomponianus.

    7 Tum demum excedere oppido visum; sequitur vulgus attonitum, quodque in pavore simile prudentiae, alienum consilium suo praefert, ingentique agmine abeuntes premit et impellit.

    7. At that point, it finally seemed best to exit the town. A confounded mob followed — and what in fear seems akin to wisdom, each prefers another’s judgement to their own — and in a massive throng it presses and pushes us on as we leave.

    Tottering roof tiles have finally forced Younger Pliny, his mother, and their household to abandon their home at Misenum. They are joined by a mob of slaves, freedpersons, and neighbors (vulgus attonitum) who lack, and desire, direction. As he has since 6.20.4, Younger Pliny generates synchronicity—across the bay, at the same time (in letter 6.16.16), Elder Pliny and Pomponianus’ household are also deciding whether to stay or go. In these twin dilemmas, Younger Pliny focuses on the psychological processes of decision-making under stress: Continue reading

  • Translating Pliny’s letters about Vesuvius, pt. 10. When in Doubt, Study

    Angela Kauffmann, Pliny the Younger and his Mother at Misenum, 79 A.D. (1785) Princeton University Art Museum (detail)

    Angela Kauffmann, Pliny the Younger and his Mother at Misenum, 79 A.D. (1785) Princeton University Art Museum (detail; see full painting below)

    6.20.4-6: When in Doubt, Study.

    This post belongs to a serialized translation and commentary of Pliny the Younger’s letters (6.16 and 6.20) to the historian Tacitus about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. This is the second installment for letter 6.20, and the tenth overall.

    This installment was completed with the contributions of DePauw LAT 223 students Jackson Hicks and Leigh Plummer in Fall 2014 and 2015.

    At this point in the story, Younger Pliny has spent a restless and bumpy night while his uncle the Elder Pliny has sailed off to investigate the eruption and try to evacuate refugees. He awakens to a dark day.

    4 Inrupit cubiculum meum mater; surgebam invicem, si quiesceret excitaturus. Resedimus in area domus, quae mare a tectis modico spatio dividebat.

    4 My mother burst into my bedroom at the same time I was getting up, about to rouse her, were she still asleep. We sat down in a courtyard of the house which was separating, by a modest extent, the sea from the buildings.

    In the Latin, noteworthy is the mixed conditional with a present-contrary-to-fact imperfect subjunctive (quiesceret) in the protasis, and a future-more-vivid future active participle (exciturus) in the apodosis, all set up by the imperfect of surgebam: “Right then I was in the process of getting up, about to wake [my mom] up (which I was definitely going to do), if she were [still] sleeping (which she wasn’t).” In the second sentence, the relative clause (area…quae) is straightforward.

    The first line is dotted with adrenaline vocabulary (inrupit, surgebam, excitaturus) that perks up the reader at the same time that the story’s main characters (Pliny and his mother) are waking up during the night to find each other out of mutual concern. There is a running theme in this letter about the anxiety of separation. Uncle Pliny is away (and at about this time in letter 6.16, also being roused [excitatus]); he “left behind” Young Pliny (relictus, from 6.20.1). Can mother and son stay together as the volcanic storm descends upon them?

    Continue reading

  • Translating Pliny’s letters about Vesuvius, pt. 9. Shuddering to Remember

    Relief from the House of L. Caecilius Iucundus (V.1.26) at Pompeii depicting the earthquake of AD 62

    The world turned topsy-turvy: detail of a relief from Pompeii depicting the earthquake of AD 62/3 toppling the Temple of Jupiter (see below for details)

    6.20.1-3: Shuddering to Remember

    This post belongs to a serialized translation and commentary of Pliny the Younger’s letters (6.16 and 6.20) to the historian Tacitus about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. This is the first installment for letter 6.20, and the ninth overall.

    I  provide the Latin (using Mynors’ 1963 Oxford Classical Text [OCT]), and then work through it with a translation, dissection of grammatical constructions, and discussion of what the letters tell us. Other pages in the series detail the manuscript tradition and the cast of characters in the two letters. The Codex Laurentianus Mediceus for letter 6.20 can be viewed here Plut. 47.36, p. 186.

    The Latin is in italics; English translation follows in Roman text, indented, and then commentary in brown text. Parentheses indicate (‘understood’) words that are not explicit in the Latin. My purpose here is as much to look at the process of translating as to provide another translated product. So I tend to err on the side of a technical rather than a fluid English translation.

    The Younger Pliny has already written one account of the eruption (6.16) in order to describe the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. He now pens a follow-on to Cornelius Tacitus about his own, and his mother’s, flight from the volcanic storm.

    C. PLINIUS TACITO SUO S.

    Gaius Plinius greets his dear (friend) Tacitus.

    C‘ is the abbreviation for the common name ‘Caius‘, or ‘Gaius‘. ‘S‘ is short for ‘salutem‘, and goes with the gapped verb ‘dicit‘ to mean ‘says greeting’. ‘Suo‘ is a term of affectionate familiarity often used to denote ‘one’s own’ (i.e., family and friends) This address is identical to that of 6.16.

    1 Ais te adductum litteris quas exigenti tibi de morte avunculi mei scripsi, cupere cognoscere, quos ego Miseni relictus (id enim ingressus abruperam) non solum metus verum etiam casus pertulerim. ‘Quamquam animus meminisse horret, …incipiam.’

    Continue reading