Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Despite perennial interest in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History as a record of the prodigious, the quotidian, and the useful in Rome in the first century AD, for over half of a millennium Pliny has been considered little more than an inept compiler of facts and marvels intellectually incapable of formulating a cogent argument supported through the selective marshalling of his materials. It is my contention that Pliny’s encyclopedic text is in fact a first-rate work of political philosophy constituting an apology for Roman imperial expansion grounded in a sophisticated conception of man as the only being capable of passing down its discoveries to its descendants. According to Pliny’s theory of human nature, man is distinguished from the beasts by his ability to acquire new faculties and forms of knowledge through time. Once acquired, man’s capacities for speech and memory provide him with the unique ability to share his discoveries with his children, and the process of development characteristic of the life of the individual is thereby recapitulated at the level of the species as a whole, with the accumulation of discoveries through time uniting men as men across the succession of generations. Prior to the establishment of the Roman Empire, however, political and linguistic boundaries had divided the human race, preventing the inclusion of all men within a single process of species development. Importantly, for Pliny, the supersession of the bounded forms of human order characteristic of the Hellenic and Hellenistic worlds by the unbounded form of the Roman Empire was thus a necessary precondition for the fullest realization of the human animal. Pliny’s Natural History, written in a newly established universal language, incarnates the collective memory of the human race, and in the encyclopedist and his encyclopedia, the process of human development is brought to perfection at both the level of the individual and the level of the species. The publication of Pliny’s text is thus itself the ultimate justification for Rome’s conquest of the world.
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Laehn, Thomas Raymond, "Pliny's defense of empire" (2010). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 3314.
Eubanks, Cecil L.