Pliny describes an attack by slaves with little empathy and comes to a dehumanizing conclusion. Here is some excellent advice on how to teach and write about slavery from P. Gabrielle Foreman (@profgabrielle). I have not followed all of the advice in the translation in an effort to convey Pliny’s tone.
Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.14
“This terrible news deserves more than just a letter: Lucius Macedo, a former praetor has been overcome by his own slaves. He was an arrogant and harsh slave owner, one who remembered too little—or maybe too much—that his own father was enslaved. He was bathing in his Formian villa. Suddenly, the slaves stood around him. One attacked his throat; another beat his face; others struck his chest, gut, and—foul to report—they also struck his genitals.
When they believed he was dead, they left him to lie out cooking on the pavement just to see if he was alive or not. Whether he was conscious or not or just pretending not to be, he stayed there without moving, making them confident that he was completely dead. At that point he was taken out as if he were overcome by the heat. His more faithful slaves took him as his concubines rushed around with screaming and wailing. He was revived by such voices and perhaps the cooler place, and then seemed to believe it was safe to show he was alive with a glance of the eyes or some movement of the body.
The slaves fled and a great number of them have been caught while the others are being actively sought. Macedo himself was resuscitated for a few days and only with great labor. But he did not die without the comfort of vengeance, since he lived with the punishment meted out as if they had murdered him. You see here how many dangers and insults we are exposed to. There is no one who can feel safe just because he is gentle or restrained: slave owners are murdered not because of reason but because of an inclination toward crime.”
1 Rem atrocem nec tantum epistula dignam Larcius Macedo vir praetorius a servis suis passus est, superbus alioqui dominus et saevus, et qui servisse patrem suum parum, immo nimium meminisset. 2 Lavabatur in villa Formiana. Repente eum servi circumsistunt. Alius fauces invadit, alius os verberat, alius pectus et ventrem, atque etiam (foedum dictu) verenda contundit; et cum exanimem putarent, abiciunt in fervens pavimentum, ut experirentur an viveret. Ille sive quia non sentiebat, sive quia se non sentire simulabat, immobilis et extentus fidem 3 peractae mortis implevit. Tum demum quasi aestu solutus effertur; excipiunt servi fideliores, concubinae cum ululatu et clamore concurrunt. Ita et vocibus excitatus et recreatus loci frigore sublatis oculis agitatoque corpore vivere se (et iam tutum erat) confitetur.
Diffugiunt servi; quorum magna pars comprehensa est, ceteri requiruntur. Ipse paucis diebus aegre focilatus non sine ultionis solacio decessit 5ita vivus vindicatus, ut occisi solent. Vides quot periculis quot contumeliis quot ludibriis simus obnoxii; nec est quod quisquam possit esse securus, quia sit remissus et mitis; non enim iudicio domini sed scelere perimuntur.
Listen to the letter read aloud here on librivox (h/t to Dr. Liv Yarrow, @profyarrow, for that tip)
Thanks to @wophugus for bringing up this passage when discussing Dani Bostick’s essay on Slave Auctions and the Junior Classical League
Here’s another Letter from Pliny to show how his causal discussion of purchasing an enslaved person:
Pliny, Letters 1.21: To Plinius Paternus
“I place the highest value on the judgment of your mind and eyes, not just because—and don’t primp about this—it is great, but because it is as full of insight as mine is!
All jokes aside, I think the slaves whom I would buy at your advice look pretty good, but whether they are worthwhile remains to be seen: When it comes to a slave’s worth, it is better judged by the ears than the eyes. Goodbye!”
Plinius Plinio Paterno Suo S.
Ut animi tui iudicio sic oculorum plurimum tribuo, non quia multum (ne tibi placeas) sed quia tantum quantum ego sapis; quamquam hoc quoque multum est. Omissis iocis credo decentes esse servos, qui sunt empti mihi ex consilio tuo. Superest ut frugi sint, quod de venalibus melius auribus quam oculis iudicatur. Vale.