Sunday, April 01, 2012

Letters to Procula

Facere Scribenda et Scribere Legenda: Words and Deeds in Pliny's Vesuvius Letters

Mark Wells as Pliny the Younger
IV a.d. Id. Aug.
Plinia Marcella sends greeting to Procula,
Although I most fervently protested our foolish excursion, Gaius Caecilius insisted that a summer at Misenium would do me good. There is no slight intended to you, my dear, but you must understand that he is yet a young man, and the looming prospect of impending marriage this fall seems only to encourage him to linger longer here by the Bay of Naples. Of course, he needs little encouragement to stay here with his uncle; the two of them have become thick as thieves ever since Gaius went away to Rome. The rhetoric he studied with Quintilian and Nicetes of Sacerdos was certainly evident when he so eloquently convinced me to venture to Misenium this summer! Though I know he is a grown man who has received a notable education and will soon marry you, a beautiful young woman of the best family, Procula, my heart still longs for my little boy whom I raised in my house after his father died when he was so young. I long for the days when Lucius Verginius Rufus (his guardian, you know) ordered his tutoring at home, and we would escape to Stabiae in the summers. Oh how wonderful were those days! In parting, I assure you that Gaius Caecilius looks forward to the wedding, and I shall remind him about writing to you. He will not forget his duty, do not worry!

Id. Aug.
Gaius Caecilius Cilo sends greeting to Procula,
So sorry to have put this off so long. Quite rude of me, I know. Anyhow, I remain entirely faithful and look forward with great anticipation to our wedding come fall. My Uncle Pliny is a great character, and I am sure you two would get along famously. A bit of an odd bird of course, but with a sharp mind like his, one cannot fault him! I should imagine that he would practically risk death to make an interesting scientific discovery. Well then, until the fall!

XIV a.d. Kal. Sept.
Plinia Marcella sends greeting to Procula,
You must have patience for Gaius Caecilius, my dear. Misenium has him quite distracted, and I can only imagine that his correspondence must be brief! But he is a learned man with his uncle's thirst for knowledge. You must allow him this summer to explore scholarly pursuits before the wedding and the start of his political career. You need not worry about him as a husband; he is not one to take needless risks, and he is far more likely to have his head buried in a book than to go out cavorting at all hours. His letters may seem flippant, but gravity of character is one thing that my son has been blessed with to an extreme degree. Ever since his father died when he was very young, Gaius has attempted to shoulder a responsibility as my protector, even though his guardian, Lucius Verginius Rufus, was entirely capable of providing for us. In short, dear Procula, do not fret about any reluctance Gaius Caecilius may show in his letters (or in his lack of letters). His intentions are good, his heart true, his intellect vast, but he is awfully shortsighted, and he is utterly devoted to scholarly pursuits with his beloved Uncle Pliny at the moment.

XI a.d. Kal. Sept.
Gaius Caecilius Cilo sends greeting to Procula,
This letter writing business is not my forte, I suppose, but I shall endeavor to persevere, Procula, just as you must endeavor to bear with my hurried correspondence. Perhaps time will improve my letters. My intellectual venture with my uncle are simply engrossing; do forgive me for this neglect. Uncle Pliny is always intent on new scientific discoveries, but I find myself favoring less adventurous paths to knowledge. He has posed many questions to me, and I find myself writing of them in a scholarly fashion. I can only imagine how fabulously you two will get along. Misenium is a fine place to spend one's summer, and indeed I think that I may purchase a villa out here eventually and we may spend our summers here. What with Uncle Pliny so nearby, there would be very fine company and the seashore itself is beautiful. I can imagine that you must be longing to leave the stifling heat of Rome, but be warned: this area is oft afflicted by earthquakes, little tremors that serve to frighten the women and annoy the rest of us. We have had a rather lot of these little tremors in the past few days, it seems that the gods are angry, which worries Mother (her respect for the gods crosses frequently into blind terror, I am afraid). I shall write again soon, but be also prepared for a letter from my mother, whom I have seen furiously writing away, presumably attending to wedding details. Until my next letter, vale!

X a.d. Kal. Sept.
Plinia Marcella sends greeting to Procula,
I have enclosed a list of wedding preparations, and I hope that you will oblige me in looking them over. I attempt to while away my time here by planning for the wedding, but there is only so much that I can do in Misenium. My brother Pliny truly enjoys it here, and I can tell that Gaius Caecilius does as well, for they adore their scholarly pursuits and their long baths and their dozes in the sun. Unfortunately, I fear that my brother takes a far too foolhardy approach to his research. Do you know, I think he would even risk his own life in pursuit of his beloved sciences! But he is also a greatly selfless man, though I am not sure that he considers protecting his own life for our sakes to be a selfless act.  My time here at Misenium is made ever more uncomfortable by these little earth tremors, which grow more frequent all the time. Pliny and Gaius assure me that they are a harmless, even everyday, occurrence, but they do rather trouble me. Please do look over those arrangements for the wedding, and let me know what you think!

IX a.d. Kal. Sept.
Plinia Marcella sends greeting to Procula,
My son and brother have spotted a dark cloud over Mt. Vesuvius, and though they do not seem concerned, I must admit it frightens me that the gods must be angry, and so I am writing to you. Gaius has continued studying, but Pliny decided about an hour ago to examine the phenomenon more closely, and ordered a boat made ready. However, just now before he left, he received a message from Rectina, wife of Tascius, requesting help in escaping from their villa which lies directly underneath the mountain. Pliny has now ordered his warships launched and set off to rescue the people leaving along the Bay of Naples close to Vesuvius. He himself headed for the villa of his friend Pomponianus, at Stabiae. Gaius and I have remained at Misenium, where we shall be safe.

IX a.d. Kal. Sept.
Plinia Marcella sends greeting to Procula,
My dear, I must keep writing to you in order to keep my head. We had very violent tremors overnight, and I was fiercely afraid. Pliny has not yet returned, and I have no intention of leaving without him, so Gaius has continued to read his books in the library despite the admonition of a dear friend of his uncle's who is visiting from Spain. We finally chose to leave the house, but knew we could not abandon my dear brother. The ash fell down all around us, the sky went black. I just knew that it was the end of my life at the very least, and I begged Gaius to continue on without me, so that he could marry you and live out a long life. Not at all dramatic in the moment, I assure you. My son refused, Procula, and I think that speaks greatly to his character. Instead, we left the main road, and sat down against a building, shaking the ash off our backs every so often. It was a long and awful wait, but finally a hazy yellow daylight dawned, and we found our way back to the villa. We have just discovered that Pliny has not yet returned, and I am sick with worry over what this means. Procula, thank you for putting up with the long-winded letters of an old, fearful, and rambling woman; I know that your union with Gaius will be very blessed.

IV a.d. Kal. Sept.
Gaius Caecilius Cilo sends greeting to Procula,
Awfully sorry not to have written, dashed awful few days, you know. My uncle Pliny has turned up dead after a very brave attempt. It seems that some fumes from Vesuvius simply snuffed the life right out of him. His slaves tell me that he was calm until the last, first arriving at the villa of Pomponianus and taking a bath, dining, and sleeping soundly. When ash began to fall heavily, he was wakened, and joined his friends on the beach, where the fumes of Vesuvius overcame his weak windpipe, and he passed away suddenly. My uncle's great love of science and his bravery and selflessness proved his undoing, but I can take comfort in the fact that he died with a good friend, after helping numerous people escape with their lives, and after witnessing an amazing and terrible phenomenon of nature. The dark cloud did not lift until the VII a.d. Kal. Sept., and then his body was discovered, looking more asleep than dead. I am sorry to place a burden of such sad news at your feet, Procula, but it may cheer you to know that I was named my uncle's heir, which is a great honor to be accorded to me. We shall still marry in the fall, though I will most likely remain in Misenium for a short while to take care of affairs before returning to Rome. I shall see you in Rome quite shortly, dear Procula.

Eleventh grader Marina Macklin from Warrenton, Virginia, USA took first place in the International category of the Golden Sponge-stick Competition for 2011 with this impressive epistolary story alternately narrated by Pliny the Younger and his mother. 

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