Botanical things considered : plants and imperialism in Pliny the Elder's Historia naturali

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2021-12-03

Authors

Meyer, Samantha

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Abstract

Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis is unique among documents from antiquity for many reasons, and has inspired an extensive and varied corpus of scholarship. Recent work on Pliny’s Historia Naturalis has focused on critical discussions of its relationship to the cultural ideals of the aristocracy or the literary culture in first-century, as well as on the connections between the text and Roman imperialism. The following study joins in these efforts by examining the representations of plants in the text, focusing on botanical spices and foreign plants within the framework of botanical imperialism. This report begins with a discussion of Pliny the Elder’s personal history and positionality, and a contextualization of the work in genre categories and structuring elements. Next, diving into a curated selection of botanical episodes, we argue that Pliny’s presentations of these foreign plants reveal specific imperial ideologies and anxieties about luxury and foreign botanical goods in Roman society. A comparison of the text with Roman triumphal processions and themes helps to understand part of Pliny’s larger project while grappling with the intertwined and complex ideologies rooted in the text.

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