The Dolphin Of Hippo

Pliny the Younger described in one of his letters a story noted both for its sadness and its revelatory quality on a characteristic of human nature.  The letter was written to the poet Caninius Rufus (IX.33), and in it Pliny recounts extraordinary interactions between a boy and a dolphin.  I am not quite sure whether the word “friendship” would be appropriate in this context, but one could say that the relations between the two looked very much like this.

Continue reading

Grave Offenses, And Little Thanks

In a letter to Titinius Capito, the Roman official and career lawyer Pliny discusses the idea of writing a book of history.  Of particular concern to him was the choice of topic:  he was uncertain whether he should treat an ancient or a modern subject.  Valid arguments existed for both options.  An older subject might allow for a more considered perspective, far removed from the passions of immediate memory; whereas the treatment of a current subject might inflame unreasonable emotions in his readers.  Pliny has serious doubts about choosing a subject that might be within the living memory of his readers.  He summarizes his feelings with this sentence:

Continue reading

The Awe Of St. Elmo’s Fire

fire1

The phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire has always fascinated man.  To witness it is an unsettling experience, to which I can personally testify.  Aboard a military ship in 1992 traveling from Okinawa to Pohang, South Korea, it appeared for a brief period of time in the superstructure of the ship.  And then it was gone.

Continue reading