Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Letter from Pliny the Younger to Calvisus

As the AFL season gets underway, I thought I should pass on a letter from Pliny the Younger to Calvisius, an electronic copy of which was forwarded to me a few weeks ago by Brian Miller.  Pliny the Elder was the great commentator on wine and viticultural practice in Roman times, with only Columella of more importance.
Pliny the Younger
To Calvisius

I have spent these several days past, in reading and writing, with the most pleasing tranquillity imaginable. You will ask, "How that can possibly be in the midst of Rome?" It was the time of celebrating the Circensian games: an entertainment for which I have not the least taste. They have no novelty, no variety to recommend them, nothing, in short, one would wish to see twice. It does the more surprise me therefore that so many thousand people should be possessed with the childish passion of desiring so often to see a parcel of horses gallop, and men standing upright in their chariots. If, indeed, it were the swiftness of the horses, or the skill of the men that attracted them, there might be some pretence of reason for it. But it is the dress they like; it is the dress that takes their fancy. And if, in the midst of the course and contest, the different parties were to change colours, their different partisans would change sides, and instantly desert the very same men and horses whom just before they were eagerly following with their eyes, as far as they could see, and shouting out their names with all their might. Such mighty charms, such wondrous power reside in the colour of a paltry tunic! And this not only with the common crowd (more contemptible than the dress they espouse), but even with serious-thinking people. When I observe such men thus insatiably fond of so silly, so low, so uninteresting, so common an entertainment, I congratulate myself on my indifference to these pleasures: and am glad to employ the leisure of this season upon my books, which others throw away upon the most idle occupations. Farewell.

Pliny the Younger
61AD - 112 AD

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome.

Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, who helped raise and educate him, was killed while observing the eruption of Mt Vesuvius at Pompeii.


Anonymous said...

Too many people are too quick to scoff at those who do not share their interests. Why not just live and let live?

Hartley Beer

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Wine is a nice Drink for enjoying the life.

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Michael Lang said...

So many comments from the ancient world remind us that some things change but little, and that insights into popular phenomena were as astute then as they can be now. Pliny wasn't scoffing at popular sport so much as decrying the valuing of tribalism over the display of skill.

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