• 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.


    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.’

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