Natural History (Pliny)

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Natural History (Pliny)_table_infobox_0

Naturalis HistoriaNatural History (Pliny)_table_caption_0
AuthorNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_0_0_0 Pliny the ElderNatural History (Pliny)_cell_0_0_1
CountryNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_0_1_0 Ancient RomeNatural History (Pliny)_cell_0_1_1
SubjectNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_0_2_0 Natural history, ethnography, art, sculpture, mining, mineralogyNatural History (Pliny)_cell_0_2_1
GenreNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_0_3_0 Encyclopaedia, popular scienceNatural History (Pliny)_cell_0_3_1

The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia) is a work by Pliny the Elder. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_0

It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover all ancient knowledge. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_1

The work's subject area is thus not limited to what is today understood by natural history; Pliny himself defines his scope as "the natural world, or life". Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_2

It is encyclopedic in scope, but its structure is not like that of a modern encyclopedia. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_3

It is the only work by Pliny to have survived, and the last that he published. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_4

He published the first 10 books in AD 77, but had not made a final revision of the remainder at the time of his death during the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_5

The rest was published posthumously by Pliny's nephew, Pliny the Younger. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_6

The work is divided into 37 books, organised into 10 volumes. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_7

These cover topics including astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture, pharmacology, mining, mineralogy, sculpture, painting, and precious stones. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_8

Pliny's Natural History became a model for later encyclopedias and scholarly works as a result of its breadth of subject matter, its referencing of original authors, and its index. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_9

Overview Natural History (Pliny)_section_0

Pliny's Natural History was written alongside other substantial works (which have since been lost). Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_10

Pliny (AD 23–79) combined his scholarly activities with a busy career as an imperial administrator for the emperor Vespasian. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_11

Much of his writing was done at night; daytime hours were spent working for the emperor, as he explains in the dedicatory preface addressed to Vespasian's elder son, the future emperor Titus, with whom he had served in the army (and to whom the work is dedicated). Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_12

As for the nocturnal hours spent writing, these were seen not as a loss of sleep but as an addition to life, for as he states in the preface, Vita vigilia est, "to be alive is to be watchful", in a military metaphor of a sentry keeping watch in the night. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_13

Pliny claims to be the only Roman ever to have undertaken such a work, in his prayer for the blessing of the universal mother: Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_14

The Natural History is encyclopaedic in scope, but its format is unlike a modern encyclopaedia. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_15

However, it does have structure: Pliny uses Aristotle's division of nature (animal, vegetable, mineral) to recreate the natural world in literary form. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_16

Rather than presenting compartmentalised, stand-alone entries arranged alphabetically, Pliny's ordered natural landscape is a coherent whole, offering the reader a guided tour: "a brief excursion under our direction among the whole of the works of nature ..." The work is unified but varied: "My subject is the world of nature ... or in other words, life," he tells Titus. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_17

Nature for Pliny was divine, a pantheistic concept inspired by the Stoic philosophy, which underlies much of his thought, but the deity in question was a goddess whose main purpose was to serve the human race: "nature, that is life" is human life in a natural landscape. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_18

After an initial survey of cosmology and geography, Pliny starts his treatment of animals with the human race, "for whose sake great Nature appears to have created all other things". Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_19

This teleological view of nature was common in antiquity and is crucial to the understanding of the Natural History. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_20

The components of nature are not just described in and for themselves, but also with a view to their role in human life. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_21

Pliny devotes a number of the books to plants, with a focus on their medicinal value; the books on minerals include descriptions of their uses in architecture, sculpture, painting, and jewellery. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_22

Pliny's premise is distinct from modern ecological theories, reflecting the prevailing sentiment of his time. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_23

Pliny's work frequently reflects Rome's imperial expansion, which brought new and exciting things to the capital: exotic eastern spices, strange animals to be put on display or herded into the arena, even the alleged phoenix sent to the emperor Claudius in AD 47 – although, as Pliny admits, this was generally acknowledged to be a fake. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_24

Pliny repeated Aristotle's maxim that Africa was always producing something new. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_25

Nature's variety and versatility were claimed to be infinite: "When I have observed nature she has always induced me to deem no statement about her incredible." Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_26

This led Pliny to recount rumours of strange peoples on the edges of the world. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_27

These monstrous races – the Cynocephali or Dog-Heads, the Sciapodae, whose single foot could act as a sunshade, the mouthless Astomi, who lived on scents – were not strictly new. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_28

They had been mentioned in the fifth century BC by Greek historian Herodotus (whose history was a broad mixture of myths, legends, and facts), but Pliny made them better known. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_29

"As full of variety as nature itself", stated Pliny's nephew, Pliny the Younger, and this verdict largely explains the appeal of the Natural History since Pliny's death in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_30

Pliny had gone to investigate the strange cloud – "shaped like an umbrella pine", according to his nephew – rising from the mountain. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_31

The Natural History was one of the first ancient European texts to be printed, in Venice in 1469. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_32

Philemon Holland's English translation of 1601 has influenced literature ever since. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_33

Structure Natural History (Pliny)_section_1

The Natural History consists of 37 books. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_34

Pliny devised a summarium, or list of contents, at the beginning of the work that was later interpreted by modern printers as a table of contents. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_35

The table below is a summary based on modern names for topics. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_36

Natural History (Pliny)_table_general_1

VolumeNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_1_0_0 BooksNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_1_0_1 ContentsNatural History (Pliny)_header_cell_1_0_2
INatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_1_0 1Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_1_1 Preface and list of contents, lists of authoritiesNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_1_2
2Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_2_0 Astronomy, meteorologyNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_2_1
IINatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_3_0 3–6Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_3_1 Geography and ethnographyNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_3_2
7Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_4_0 Anthropology and human physiologyNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_4_1
IIINatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_5_0 8–11Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_5_1 Zoology, including mammals, snakes, marine animals, birds, insectsNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_5_2
IV–VIINatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_6_0 12–27Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_6_1 Botany, including agriculture, horticulture, especially of the vine and olive, medicineNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_6_2
VIIINatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_7_0 28–32Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_7_1 Pharmacology, magic, water, aquatic lifeNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_7_2
IX–XNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_8_0 33–37Natural History (Pliny)_cell_1_8_1 Mining and mineralogy, especially as applied to life and art, work in gold and silver, statuary in bronze, painting, modelling, sculpture in marble, precious stones and gemsNatural History (Pliny)_cell_1_8_2

Production Natural History (Pliny)_section_2

Purpose Natural History (Pliny)_section_3

Pliny's purpose in writing the Natural History was to cover all learning and art so far as they are connected with nature or draw their materials from nature. Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_37

He says: Natural History (Pliny)_sentence_38


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural History (Pliny).