A.2. The book-bound scholar

  • Mary Beagon Department of Classics and Ancient History School of Arts, Languages and Cultures University of Manchester
Keywords: Pliny, Natural History


This paper takes as its starting point Geoffrey Lloyd's comment that the sources for Pliny's Natural History are 'overwhelmingly literary'. While the encyclopaedic nature of his project might seem to make this inevitable, it is suggested that there are deeper‐seated reasons for Pliny's approach to be found in the attitudes of Rome's cultural élite in the late Republic and early Empire. For this élite, literary culture reflected the socio‐political dynamics of their society, while practical investigations of nature, on the other hand, may for the most part have been associated with the negation of these values. The contrast should not be over‐emphasised: texts on practical subjects could use and exploit empirical evidence and one or two individual enthusiasts may be tentatively posited. However, the breadth and depth of the literary tradition gave the text an authority denied to the particularities of personal experience.


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