chapter  11
26 Pages

Nature and views of her landscapes in Pliny the Elder

Landscapes in Pliny? On initial consideration the possibility is unlikely. His frenetic lifestyle can have left little time for gazing at the view. This impression is compounded by the Historia natu ralis. Here the author states clearly his belief that nature’s artistry is nowhere more spectacularly manifest than in her smallest and least regarded creations (11. 1-4).1 Thus he pledges himself to examine every detail of the natural world; and the result is an itemization of the various components of nature rather than an overview of their wider context. It is his zeal in performing his task, holding even the common housefly up for the close inspec­ tion of his readers, that ensures that Pliny has his vision fixed at close range. Seldom does he step back to admire a wider vista, unless the subject under consideration is itself on a large scale. Trees, rivers, and mountains are thus the individual components of nature which most frequently figure in the context of their wider environment. Yet, overall, these three features do offer a reason­ able number of what may be termed landscape portrayals, and the passages examined in the course of this paper will, for the most part, be focused on them. The comparative wealth of refer­ ences to such ‘parts of nature’ in isolation is also of considerable value in assessing Pliny’s reaction to the wider view. The whole

picture, as it were, emerges when both types of observation are placed against the backdrop of Pliny’s philosophical concept of the natural world.