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Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113).  Letters.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
CII. To Genitor
 
 
I HAVE received your letter, in which you complain of having been highly disgusted lately at a very splendid entertainment, by a set of buffoons, mummers, and wanton prostitutes, who were dancing about round the tables. 1 But let me advise you to smooth your knitted brow somewhat. I confess, indeed, I admit nothing of this kind at my own house; however, I bear with it in others. “And why, then,” you will be ready to ask, “not have them yourself?” The truth is, because the gestures of the wanton, the pleasantries of the buffoon, or the extravagancies of the mummer, give me no pleasure, as they give me no surprise. It is my particular taste, you see, not my judgment, that I plead against them. And, indeed, what numbers are there who think the entertainments with which you and I are most delighted no better than impertinent follies! How many are there who, as soon as a reader, a lyrist, or a comedian is introduced, either take their leave of the company or, if they remain, shew as much dislike to this sort of thing as you did to those monsters, as you call them! Let us bear therefore, my friend, with others in their amusements, that they, in return, may shew indulgence to ours. Farewell.  1
 
Note 1. These persons were introduced at most of the tables of the great, for the purposes of mirth and gaiety, and constituted an essential part in all polite entertainments among the Romans. It is surprising how soon this great people fell off from their original severity of manners, and were tainted with the stale refinements of foreign luxury. Livy dates the rise of this and other unmanly delicacies from the conquest of Scipio Asiaticus over Antiochus; that is, when the Roman name had scarce subsisted above a hundred and threescore years. “Luxuriæ peregrinæ origo,” says he, “exercitu Asiatico in urbem invecta est.” This triumphant army caught, it seems, the contagious softness of the people it subdued; and, on its return to Rome, spread an infection among their countrymen, which worked by slow degrees, till it effected their total destruction. Thus did Eastern luxury revenge itself on Roman arms. It may be wondered that Pliny should keep his own temper, and check the indignation of his friends, at a scene which was fit only for the dissolute revels of the infamous Trimalchio. But it will not, perhaps, be doing justice to our author to take an estimate of his real sentiments upon this point from the letter before us. Genitor, it seems, was a man of strict, but rather of too austere morals for the free turn of the age: “emendatus et gravis: paulo etiam horridior et durior ut in hac licentia temporum” (Ep. iii. l. 3). But as there is a certain seasonable accommodation to the manners of the times, not only extremely consistent with, but highly conducive to, the interests of virtue, Pliny, probably, may affect a greater latitude than he in general approved, in order to draw off his friend from that stiffness and unyielding disposition which might prejudice those of a gayer turn against him, and consequently lessen the beneficial influence of his virtues upon the world. M. [back]
 

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