Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pliny The Elder and the Lack of Landspeeders

Pliny the Elder
23-79


His full name was Gaius Plinius Secundus, but you can call him Pliny the Elder. He was an ancient Roman senator, military commander, lawyer, historian, scientist, writer, pin-setter, moose patroller, know-it-all, typical over-achieving busy body. Kind of like Oprah.

Presumably, he was called plain old Pliny for most of his life until his upstart namesake nephew, Pliny the Younger, came along. Had there been a third Pliny, one younger than the Younger, the Younger would have become Pliny the Middle, and the Elder would have had to be transformed to the extreme case – Pliny the Eldest, leaving the youngest to be Pliny the Youngest. Since there weren’t three Plinies we can avoid such confusing talk and simply accept the comparative nicknames, and probably forget most of this paragraph.

Pliny the Younger must have made quite an impression on the ancient Roman scene to prompt people to have to distinguish between the two Plinies. Although it has not been documented, Pliny the Younger’s prominence (or at least the threat of greatness) may have provided motivation to the Elder’s persona of being a mover and a shaker, a condition that eventually led to the Elder’s death. It turns out that Pliny the Elder had nothing to worry about, since Pliny the Younger proved himself to be a bit of a slacker and parasite.

Sure, the Younger did go on to become the governor of Bithania under the Emperor Trajan, but the Roman Empire was so huge at that time, being a governor carried as much distinction as being a homeroom monitor today. Rumor has it that his gubernatorial opponent in the election was a cheating, lying drunk who never met a bribe his denari bag couldn’t envelop. That kind of behavior might entice today’s voters, but in those days it was frowned upon, since corruption didn’t become fashionable until the Catholic church was firmly established hundreds of years later.

After Pliny the Elder’s death in 79 (not to be confused with the death of disco in 1979), the Younger took it upon himself to publish numerous writings of the Elder, enjoying every bit of the royalties and exploiting the Elder’s renown. He certainly cashed in on the Elder’s death in the press – appearing with any oracle in any forum for any price, similar to Courtney Love’s mourning of Kurt Cobain, except he never sucked on a microphone for dramatic effect. The circumstances surrounding Pliny the Elder’s death ooze of irony, which provided the Younger an engaging story from which to platform his self-promotion, proving his less than upstanding nature.

Pliny the Elder is most remembered for writing a thirty-seven volume set of encyclopedia about natural history. Oddly enough it was titled, THE NATURAL HISTORY. Above all, history defines Pliny the Elder as a scientist. Back in the early first millennium AD, the scientific technique of favor was based on observation: “If it smells like shit, looks like shit, feels like shit, plops in the toilet like shit and tastes like shit, then it’s shit!” Little did they know that it was actually Aunt Rita’s goose liver pate’. But, they couldn’t have known since they never bothered to test the validity of their observations with experimental study. This is precisely the mindset that led to the demise of the more ancient of the Plinies.

The fatal natural event that sparked Pliny the Elder’s curious eye was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 (not to be confused with the Southeast crater eruption of Mount Etna in 1979), which destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. (Remember that traveling museum exhibit of the plaster cast-like human forms who appeared to be swallowed in their tracks by the serpiginous lava? That’s how I want to go, but instead of lava, I hope it is sour cream.) At that time, Pliny was enjoying semi-retirement, spending his time writing about things like dog-headed people, people with eyes in their shoulders and super-reptilian serpents that killed bushes and exploded rocks with their breath. Either he was branching out into fantasy fiction, or he was well on his way to marble misplacement. His wife noticed a plume of smoke escaping Mount Vesuvius across the bay and alerted him (note: it is this historical event that led to the practice of all husbands throughout the history that followed to stop listening to anything their wives have to say). The naturalist in him forced him to commandeer a ship and a crew, as he had Naval connections, being commander of the fleet in the Bay of Naples and all. (He was also a nighttime tollbooth operator on the Apian Way, which has nothing to do with this story, but I thought you’d like to know.) He sailed across the bay to observe the destruction up close.

As they neared the shore, Pliny must not have noticed Chicken Little hauling ass in the other direction, because the sky was definitely falling. Fatefully, he chose to proceed. Standing on the shore, making his scientific observations of the phenomenon of all hell breaking loose, Pliny the Elder failed to observe the invisible noxious fumes accompanying the fascinating lava and smoke and shards of mountain that were spewed from the volcano. Unfortunately, his respiratory system made the observation and determined accurately that you shouldn’t be breathing that stuff. He died on the shore in the arms of a couple of his slaves (serves him right for oppressing another human life). Subsequent scientists benefited from Pliny’s deadly observations, which led to the invention of placing a handkerchief over your nose while being doused by a volcano.


Pliny the Elder’s example of being an over-exuberant busy-body who meddled in the business of gods and his ultimate death because of it scared the shit out of other like-minded scientists. They decided to hide in ignorance rather than incite the ire of the gods. This, among other things, like the coinciding formation of the Catholic Church, sowed the seeds for the Dark Ages. One can safely suggest that Pliny the Elder’s shenanigans were responsible for the squandering of 500 years of potential scientific progress. Assuming that’s true, and why wouldn’t it be, one can surmise that without Pliny’s influence, we would be driving around in land speeders by now and shooting each other with lasers instead of barbaric bullets. Thanks a lot, Pliny!

17 comments:

LIM said...

A gem...thank you Moist Rub. Sour cream huh? Interesting...not surprising, just interesting.

HR said...

Helping Moist Rubson with his homework again, aren't you...

Malum quidem nullum esse sine aliquo bono - There is, to be sure, no evil without something good. --Pliny the Elder

Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam - I have a catapult. Give me all your money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head--some nameless guy who really built Rome.

Moist Rub said...

Italia est paene insula - Italy is almost an island

--pretty much all I remember from four years of Latin in high school.

keysunset said...

y'all are much more edumicated than I am!

Esse quam videri - To Be Rather Than to Seem - the motto of the state of North Carolina

Pliny the Younger proved himself to be a bit of a slacker and parasite. the young ones always seem to have this trait. You'd have thought hundreds of years would have bred this out ... hmmm, seeing as what happened to Pliny the Elder, maybe this is an example of how to survive.

Where do I sign up to be a slacker and a parasite?

Thanks for the post Moist.

Anonymous said...

Disco's dead ?! Loved the Oprah reference : )

K

Espiritu Santi D'Internet said...

…but in those days it was frowned upon, since corruption didn’t become fashionable until the Catholic church was firmly established hundreds of years later.

It has come to our attention that you are not currently a member of the Catholic Church Online program. If you are a member of the on-site church program, you may be entitled to reference the Church, it’s symbols, saints, etc. in your regular correspondence, conversations, and lapsus linguae, and to incorporate same into your personal effects (home d├ęcor, jewelry, bumper stickers, etc.). However, only CC Online members may reference the Church and its related activities, scriptures, and graphics on their Internet web pages. CC Online is a separate application process. Members of this program must be 18 or older, have a valid e-mail address, and pay an additional fee (please indicate ‘general use’ or ‘blasphemer’). Someone will be contacting you shortly…

p.s. Participation may not ensure, but will increase your chances of not going to hell. We accept Paypal.

Augustus Fatas said...

Real scientific progress on Earth didn’t exist until the Asgard crashed on July 2, 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico.

del said...

HR, I had the same thought! Hopefully this ISN'T the paper Rubson handed in, although the teacher would have been ROFL as he graded it.

Hey ESD. Just wanted to check into any possible smiting for unauthorized use of Catholic references online, and ensure that it only applies to the author and not the readers. Although, I do believe God Above is a member of this message board, and therefore Mr. Rub may have had special dispensation for his supposedly unauthorized use of and reference to Catholocism and Catholic symbols.

E.S.D. said...

Dear Del –

I’m asked this question a lot, though typically with a little less familiarity than “Hey ESD”. I presume that you’re asking because the material on these pages has inspired shameful or impure thoughts or deeds. Because we have no way to administer smite control at the reader/participant level, we ask that you remain on the honor system until you can assuage your guilt by traditional means. Please keep track of your own transgressions, and be sure to include the 6% late payment fee when settling your account.

As to whether or not Mr. Rub ideates with a certain freedom afforded only by special dispensation – if by ‘special dispensation’ you mean ‘beer’, then most assuredly, he does…

del said...

ESD, I most humbly beg your pardon for any untoward familiarity in the saluation of my most recent comment.

Regarding any possible impure thoughts, deeds, etc. that may have been inspired by this blog and the relevant fees, I thought you were all-knowing? This really makes me question your divinity. Nothing personal, of course.

And, BTW, how many transgressors can you really trust with the honour system? Hmmm, I guess it really depends on who you get to do the collecting.

e.s.d. said...

Hey Del –

ESD, I most humbly beg your pardon for any untoward familiarity in the salutation of my most recent comment.

I believe the apology you’re looking for is “OMG, I’m heartly sorry for having offended thee”. Not that I’m that guy, but seriously, even Madonna knows the words. Moving on…

I thought you were all-knowing? This really makes me question your divinity. Nothing personal, of course.

I wasn’t implying that we weren’t aware of all of your transgressions, just that the bookkeeping is sometimes too cumbersome to be cost-efffective. I suppose you think that you could do a better job. Smarty pants. Pride is a sin, you know. A big one. Huge, in fact. Keep that in mind the next time that you calculate your remittance, and don’t forget the 6%.

p.s. After January 1, 2007, a 3% convenience fee will be added to all wages of sin accrued via the Internet or telephone. Spread the word…

keysunset said...

Humble greetings Espiritu Santi d'Internet,

“OMG, I’m heartly sorry ..."

hmmm "heartly" or "heartily"? Even Madonna knows the words!

This is most certainly true.

Keep that in mind ... and don’t forget the 6% ... after January 1, 2007, a 3% convenience fee will be added ...

You're really just trying to pay off those bills you ran up doing Fat Guy Gift Day shopping, aren't you? Confess, confess!

del said...

Dearest ESD. Will you take an IOU? BTW, can we avoid the convenience charge by pre-paying for potential transgressions? And if so, can we get a bulk discount?

e.s.d. said...

Dear Key -

hmmm "heartly" or "heartily"?

‘Heartly’ was somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ (a practice that we frown upon, BTW, in case you were wondering). Madonna didn’t bother to include the lyrics in her liner notes, which is why so many people get this wrong. You’d be surprised at how often we also hear ‘partly sorry’, which is probably more accurate, but equally incorrect. It really doesn’t matter – as long as you follow your intro with something worthy of confessing, everyone’s happy…

p.s. As for Fat Guy Gift Day – I’m giving Absolution (an electrically charged Vodka
that they make for me in Sweden – good stuff! )

e.s.d. said...

Dear Del –

Will you take an IOU? BTW, can we avoid the convenience charge by pre-paying for potential transgressions? And if so, can we get a bulk discount?

We need more forward-thinking people like you. I’ve been advocating the rechargeable pre-paid sin card for years. Rates would be scaled much like they are for photo printing, based on size and quantity, with bulk discounts if you buy blocks in advance. “A penance system for the modern age, offering convenience, portability, and (here’s the sticking point) peace of mind…”. I’ll send you my PowerPoint presentation so that you can tell me what you think. I could use a little encouragement, instead of the predictable lame-ass argument that the card will eliminate the middle man and reduce our reserves of untraceable cash. To that, I say boo-freakin’-hoo - we’re trying to run a business here!

Thanks for your support…

p.s. I must bid you adieu. I’ve overstayed my welcome here, and it’s time to go reprimand the moron who approved that “Peace, Love, the GAP” commercial…

keysunset said...

ah, e.s.d., we hardly knew ye.

Godspeed.

del said...

Oh, E.S.D., why hast though foresaken us? :-(