The Pacific wind visits us often, bringing a cool freshet to the hot Willamette Valley. I’m outside with warm ginger tea beginning the blog of which subject I have no idea.
I got two “Smithsonian” magazines today; I just subscribed to a great deal. June and July/August. Also a friend dropped off several “New York Times Review of Books”. And there is the “New Yorker”. And the AARP mag.
This leads me to the subject, at last, which comes from, while sitting here and listening to my next door neighbor mow his lawn—we both own the exact same electric mower—reading an article about Philip II of Macedonia. I’ve been dipping my gold-painted toenails into ancient history of the Western world, by reading up on a couple of interesting guys” Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the younger, Philip and his son Alexander the Great.
As always when I read about men like these, whose smarts, big ideas and obsession with documenting their prospective Roman and Grecian worlds intrigues me, I argue with myself about the lack of documentation on female rulers who accomplished similar feats, but are rarely the subjects of theses or scientific papers or Smithsonian magazines. However, I think reading about these individuals is the best way to uncover the mysteries of history; because they have been so heavily documented, there is a treasure-trove of information to be found in their biographies.
From the library I borrowed the ebook The Shadow of Vesuvius; A Life of Pliny by Daisy Dunn (I read about it in the New York Times Review of Books). In the June edition of “Smithsonian” is a detailed profile of Philip of Macedonia, arguing for the pre-work he laid down so that Alexander could conquer the world and get all the credit.
In northern Greece, near the border of the Republic of North Macedonia, a vast complex erected by Philip is being excavated and restored. Philip, of Macedonian barbarian stock, belittled by Athenians to the south, proceeded to engineer the unity of Greece through marriage, diplomacy and his thousands of paid warriors. His son Alexander, described as “a bold, headstrong boy of unusual intelligence”, was tutored by Aristotle. Alexander, like Pliny the Elder, was fascinated by the natural world. Aristotle was happy to feed this hunger, but their relationship soured later when Aristotle argued with Alexander’s tendency to treat his conquered nations with respect and generosity, rather than enslave them and think of them as “plants and animals” as Aristotle did.
In Alexander the Great’s case, it was skill at war that catapulted him into indelible history. His father had improved fighting tactics, paid his soldiers, and had plenty of them—more than anyone else.
Rome erased Alexander’s empire by the 2nd century B.C., and Pliny the Elder was born 150 years later.
Daisy Dunn’s book opens with the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. when Pliny the Younger was 17. His Uncle, Pliny the Elder and admiral of one of Rome’s imperial fleets, sailed across the Bay of Naples for an attempted rescue, and ended up succumbing to noxious fumes. Scholars thought for many years that Pliny Y and Pliny E were the same guy. A priest sorted this out in the fourteenth century. Pliny E nursed a literary talent, and he wrote, while he was commanding the Navy, about trees and mushrooms.
Pliny E also had a thing about gold rings. He despised them for their ostentatious, declaring gold rings adorned with pearls and other gems extravagant and destructive to the environment.
Pliny Y left behind a vast quantity of letters to emperors of Rome and others. And he wrote extensively about his uncle, thus why Pliny E is more interesting to scholars that Pliny Y. He also was pretty ambitious, rising rapidly in Roman rule as consul, augur, and governor of Bithynia where he terrorized Christians.
Interesting guys. And well-documented. But in reading for this blog, I ran across two others who are pretty interesting too, inspired by the name of one of Philip’s daughters, and an individual mentioned in a Roman Empire timeline. Another blog will be in the works, this time a brief profile of Cleopatra and Boudicca.
And from the garden, nasturium.