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.

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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:

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The Awe Of St. Elmo’s Fire


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.

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