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The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

Page: 59

[299] Cyclopean remains in these countries are generally attributed to the Pelasgi. These structures are remarkable for the immense size of the stones of which they are built.

PLINIUS, (Secundus C.)

A Roman writer, generally known as Pliny the Elder; is equally celebrated as a historian and a naturalist. It is not easy to understand how one man could have followed so many different avocations, filled high offices under different emperors, and yet have found time for such a vast amount of composition. While still quite young, Pliny served in Germany, where he commanded a troop of cavalry; he afterwards practised as a pleader at the Roman bar, filled the office of procurator in Spain, and we find him, at the time of his death, in command of the fleet which guarded the coast of Italy.

The application of Pliny to literary pursuits was uninterrupted. He rose to his studies at two in the morning, and during the entire day, whether in the bath, at table, or sitting in his garden, he either listened to reading, wrote, or dictated. Even on his journeys and military expeditions, a secretary always sat in his chariot. We are told that in winter Pliny was careful to provide him with a warm glove of peculiar make, that his fingers might not be too much benumbed to hold the stylus.

[300] We have but one complete work of this author, his Natural History, in thirty-seven books. It treats, not only of natural history, properly so called, but also of astronomy, biography, history, physiology, medicine and the fine arts. The portion which treats of animals possesses now but little interest.

In many instances, the description is so vague as to leave us in doubt as to the particular animal he would designate. He also mingles facts, really observed, with fables of winged horses, monsters with human heads and the tails of scorpions, etc. The ten books on botany are open to the same objections. He attributes to many plants properties altogether fabulous, and his work, although formerly much quoted on these points, has rendered very little service to the art of medicine. The case is different where he speaks of geography, history and the fine arts. On all these points, he imparts much valuable information of which we would otherwise be deprived. The Natural History may be considered, from its wide range of subjects, a sort of Cyclopædia, and it is said that if the Latin language were lost, it might be restored from this work alone.

Pliny perished in the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. He observed the phenomena accompanying it from the deck of his ship. Wishing to take a nearer view, and also to succor some of his friends whose villas lay near the [301] scene of peril, he steered across the bay, and landed at the foot of the mountain. The next morning, while pursuing his investigations, regardless of the remonstrances of his friends, he was suffocated by the noxious vapors of the volcano. His body was discovered three days later, entirely uninjured, and in an attitude of repose.

C. Plinius Cæcilius Secundus, nephew of the preceding, is generally distinguished as Pliny the Younger. Under the care of his uncle he made such rapid progress in literature, that he was generally accounted one of the most learned men of his age.

He began his career as an orator at the early age of nineteen. After filling the high offices of quæstor, consul and augur, Pliny was appointed by Trajan governor of Bithynia. It was from this country that he wrote his celebrated letter in favor of the Christians. It is interesting and important, as showing the progress of Christianity, and bearing testimony to the purity of life which was the distinguishing mark of its professors.

Pliny has left a collection of letters in ten books. They are addressed to some of the most celebrated persons of the time, and are valuable and interesting for the information they convey with regard to public events, and the manners and habits of his contemporaries. The style of these letters is studied, and they have none of the ease and familiarity of friendly correspondence. It seems probable that they were intended rather [302] for posterity, than for the persons to whom they were ostensibly addressed.

PROCOPIUS.

One of the most celebrated historians of the Eastern Empire. He flourished during the reigns of Justin the Elder and Justinian, and accompanied Belisarius as secretary on his military expeditions.

SIMONIDES.

This poet excelled particularly in elegiac verse. When the most distinguished poets of Greece wrote verses in honor of those who fell at Marathon, the elegy of Simonides took the prize, although Æschylus was one of the competitors. The compositions of the great tragedian were deficient in the tenderness and pathos for which Simonides was particularly distinguished. The lament of Danaë, and a few scattered fragments, are all that remain of his verses, but these are sufficient to prove that his reputation in this respect was well deserved.

Simonides brought the epigram to all the perfection of which it was capable. The most celebrated of his epitaphs is the monumental inscription composed for the Spartans who died at Thermopylæ: “Stranger, tell the Lacedæmonians that we lie here in obedience to their laws.”

Simonides was held in high esteem at the court [303] of Hiero, king of Syracuse. This prince having inquired of him concerning the nature of God, the poet requested a day to deliberate on the subject. When Hiero repeated his question on the morrow, he asked for two days. As he continued in this manner, doubling the number of days, the king required an explanation. Simonides replied that he postponed his answer, because, the longer he meditated on the subject, the more obscure it became, and the more he felt his inability to treat it in an adequate manner.

Simonides was the master of Pindar; he lived to a very advanced age, so that he became the contemporary of the Pisistratidæ and of Pausanias, king of Sparta. This poet is accused of having become mercenary in his old age, and Greek writers speak of him as the first who wrote verses for money. In this connection, we have a story which would show that the poet was not believed to have forfeited the favor of the gods by his avarice.


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