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Quotes of Pliny the Elder

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Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus) lived from 23 to 79 CE. He was a Roman writer and scholar. His only surviving work is “Natural History”, a kind of encyclopedia, which is a mine of knowledge and ideas in Roman times.

  • “Not a single day without a line”
    • latin: [Nulla dies sine linea]
    • description: words spoken by the Greek painter Apelles.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history, XXXV, 84
  • “There is nothing certain, and that there is nothing more proud or more wretched than man”
    • latin: [Quasi quidquam infelicius sit homine cui sua figmenta dominantur]
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history II, 7
  • “[…] how happy, how truly delightful even would life be, if we were to desire nothing but what is to be found upon the face of the earth; in a word, nothing but what is provided ready to our hands!”
    • latin: [(…) quam beata, immo vero etiam delicata esset vita, si nihil aliunde quam supra terras concupisceret, breviterque, nisi quod secum est!]
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history XXXIII, 1
  • “Meaningless thunderbol”
    • latin: [Brutum fulmen]
    • description: later used as “empty threat”.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history II.43
  • “In a nutshell”
    • latin: [In nuce]
    • description: a reference to the words of Cicero, who claimed that on a small piece of parchment the text of Homer’s “Iliad” could fit in a nut shell.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history VII.21
  • “Only a doctor can kill a man with impunity”
    • latin: [Medicoque tantum hominem occidisse inpunitas summa est]
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history XXIX.8
  • “Out of Africa, always something new”
    • latin: [Ex Africa semper aliquid novi]
    • description: Greek saying used in antiquity, known in the “What’s new in Africa?” version. It emphasized the uniqueness of this area.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history II, 8, 42
  • “I died from having too many doctors”
    • latin: [Turba se medicorum perisse]
    • description: a tombstone inscription of an “unfortunate” patient. Pliny emphasizes that in his time doctors often differed as to the method of treatment, which was the main loss for the patient.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history XXIX, 5
  • “With a grain of salt”
    • latin: [Cum grano salis]
    • description: with the addition of skepticism.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history XXIII, 8, 149

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