Pliny On Young Poets

Pliny the Younger (61-113) writes about a young poet he was enthused with in Book 5, Letter 17 of his letters.


I know what an interest you take in the liberal arts, and how delighted you are when young men of rank do anything worthy of their ancestry. That is why I am losing no time to tell you that to-day I made one of the audience of Calpurnius Piso. He was reading his poem on the Legends of the Stars, and it was a learned and very excellent composition. It was written in fluent, graceful, and smooth elegiacs, and rose even to lofty heights as occasion demanded. The style was cleverly varied, in some places it soared, in others it was subdued; passing from the grand to the commonplace, from thinness to richness, and from lively to severe, and in each case with consummate skill. The sweetness of his voice lent it an additional charm, and his modesty made even his voice the sweeter, while his blushes and his nervousness, which were very plain to see, still further set off the reading. I don’t know why, but diffidence becomes a man of letters much more than over-confidence. However, to cut the story short,–though I would gladly say more, because such performances are all the more charming when given by a young man, and all the rarer when he is of noble birth,–as soon as the reading was concluded, I embraced the youth with great cordiality, and by showering praises upon him–which are always the best incentive when giving advice–I urged him to go on as he had begun, and hold out to his descendants the light which his own ancestors had held out to him. I congratulated his excellent mother and also his brother, who made one of the audience, and indeed achieved as much reputation for brotherly feeling as his brother Calpurnius did for his eloquence, for while the latter was reading everybody noticed first the nervous look on the brother’s face, and then the expression of joy. I pray Heaven that I may often have such news for you, for I am very partial to the age I live in, and I hope that it may not prove barren and worthless. I am really most anxious that our young men of rank should have some other beautiful objects in their houses besides the busts of their ancestors, and it seems to me that the latter tacitly approve and encourage these two young men, and even recognise them as their true descendants, which is in itself a sufficiently high compliment to both. Farewell.



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