By Rex Winsbury
Bloomsbury (2015) p/b 246pp £21.99 (ISBN 9781474237123)
At the beginning of this book W., a veteran journalist and historian, puts Pliny in the dock. He acknowledges that his letters give us a unique insight into the social, literary and domestic conventions of upper class life in first century AD Rome, so that we seem to know their author, a genial and bumbling lawyer, almost better than any other Roman writer, but records too that others have seen him as a fraud and hypocrite, one who wittingly falsified the details of his career to his own advantage, and as a staggering bore with a hugely inflated view of his own abilities, both literary and political. Is Gaius Plinius Secundus innocent of these offences, asks W., or is he guilty as charged?
To answer the question he embarks on a cross-examination of Pliny’s life, at pains to point out…
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