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Pliny "In a Nutshell"

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I recently heard a delightful podcast interview with Daisey Dunn, a British classicist and author of the new book, The Shadow of Visuvius: The Life of Pliny. Although Pliny the Elder is a looming figure in the book, the book explores more thoroughly the life of his nephew, Pliny the Younger. (Of course, the book takes its title from the eruption of Visuvius of 79 AD that took the life of Pliny the Elder.)

In the interview, Dunn mentions the expression "in a nutshell." She reminds us that the phrase (which means "in few words or to sum up briefly") seems to have originated with Pliny the Elder from his scientific encyclopedia The Natural History. Here's the interesting quote from Book VII, Chapter 21 "Instances of Acuteness of Sight":



Instances of acuteness of sight are to be found stated, which, indeed, exceed all belief. Cicero informs us,1 that the Iliad of Homer was written on a piece of parchment so small as to be enclosed in a nut-shell. He makes mention also of a man who could distinguish objects at a distance of one hundred and thirty-five miles.2 M. Varro says, that the name of this man was Strabo; and that, during the Punic war, from Lilybæum, the promontory of Sicily, he was in the habit of seeing the fleet come out of the harbour of Carthage, and could even count the number of the vessels.3 Callicrates4 used to carve ants and other small animals in ivory, so minute in size, that other persons were unable to distinguish their individual parts. Myrmecides5 also was famous in the same line;6 this man made, of similar material, a chariot drawn by four horses, which a fly could cover with its wings; as well as a ship which might be covered by the wings of a tiny bee.7





Daisey Dunn's book sounds like an interesting read that I will hopefully enjoy soon.




guy also known as gaius




Edited by guy

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