Labores pro Bono Publico: the Burdensome Mission of Pliny's Natural History

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Pliny the Elder's boasts of primacy and sole authorship for an encyclopaedic work sound strange to those acquainted with the modern concept of an encyclopaedia. They were, however, in keeping with Roman imperial attempts to marshall the entire sum of knowledge into an ordered whole and with an enterprise at once more totalising than its Greek precursors and different in conception from its Roman predecesors.More fundamentally, however, Pliny's claim to a unique accomplishment should be construed within the competitive ethos of the Roman elite and their striving for political and social preeminence. This paper shows how Pliny's text encapsulated the essence of such an outlook, not only in its conception but also in its actual context. It considers, firstly, instances in the 'Natural History' where an interplay between the traditional elements of political primacy and concepts of literary preeminence may be discerned. It then considers how this motif is developed within the paradoxical but crucial moral restraints imposed in this society by the important principle of labouring for the common good.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopaedism from Antiquity to the Renaissance
EditorsJ Koenig, G Woolf
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)978-1107038233
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2013


Dive into the research topics of 'Labores pro Bono Publico: the Burdensome Mission of Pliny's Natural History'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this