Pliny on Public Readings and the Difficulty of Studying

Pliny 17, to his friend Claudius Restitutis

“I am unable to control the fact that I am a bit upset after leaving the reading of a certain friend so I will pour out my feelings to you in a letter since I can’t see you in person. The work which was read was completely done. Two or three learned men—as they seemed to themselves and a few others—were listening as if they were deaf and dumb. They did not move their lips or flick a hand—they did not even rise to their feet because they were bored of sitting.

What’s all this seriousness for? What’s with such great learning? This, really, is lazy negligence, a lack of manners or common sense to spend the whole day so you might offend someone and leave a man you approached as a dearest friend an enemy?

Are you a more learned speaker? Then for this much alone you should not begrudge him since it is the lesser man who envies. Indeed, whether you appear greater or less or the same praise him whether he is lesser, greater or equal. For, you can’t possibly be praise if the one who is superior to you isn’t and it matters for your own reputation if anyone you surpass or equal seems to have the greatest amount of glory possible.

In truth, I am in the habit of honoring and feeling wonder at everyone who achieves something in their studies. For scholarship is a difficult, impatient, and temperamental affair likely to show contempt for those who disregard it.

Perhaps you believe something different, even though no one else is a more admiring or serious judge of this matter than you. I have selected you rather than any other friend I have for my anger since you are most capable of sharing it. Farewell!”

Plinius Restituto Suo S.

1Indignatiunculam, quam in cuiusdam amici auditorio cepi, non possum mihi temperare quo minus apud te, quia non contigit coram, per epistulam effundam. Recitabatur liber absolutissimus. Hunc duo aut tres, ut sibi et paucis videntur, diserti surdis mutisque similes audiebant. Non labra diduxerunt, non moverunt manum, non denique adsurrexerunt saltem lassitudine sedendi. Quae tanta gravitas? quae tanta sapientia? quae immo pigritia adrogantia sinisteritas ac potius amentia, in hoc totum diem impendere ut offendas, ut inimicum relinquas ad quem tamquam amicissimum veneris? Disertior ipse es? Tanto magis ne invideris; nam qui invidet minor est. Denique sive plus sive minus sive idem praestas, lauda vel inferiorem vel superiorem vel parem: superiorem quia nisi laudandus ille non potes ipse laudari, inferiorem aut parem quia pertinet ad tuam gloriam quam maximum videri, quem praecedis 5 vel exaequas. Equidem omnes qui aliquid in studiis faciunt venerari etiam mirarique soleo; est enim res difficilis ardua fastidiosa, et quae eos a quibus contemnitur invicem contemnat. Nisi forte aliud iudicas tu. Quamquam quis uno te reverentior huius operis, quis1 benignior aestimator? Qua ratione ductus tibi potissimum indignationem meam prodidi, quem habere socium maxime poteram. Vale.


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