Monday, 5 December 2016

Pliny the Elder (LSE): Personality Type Analysis

Gaius Plinius Secundus, generally known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, historian, and naturalist, as well as a career army officer and civil servant of the Roman Empire who lived in the 1st century AD. All of his known books are lost except the Natural History, the oldest known encyclopedia. Details of his life are known mainly from Pliny's own remarks in that work, from the writings of his nephew and adopted son Pliny the Younger (IEI), who also left summaries of Pliny's other books, and from archaeological evidence. I argue that the available information suffices to make at least a reasonable case for his most likely Socionics type.

Pliny was born in Como, Italy, in the early years of the Emperor Tiberius (ILI), to a family of equestrian rank, that is, the junior aristocracy, below the senatorial rank. Pliny pursued throughout his life an equestrian public career, suggesting that he either lacked the means to rise to senatorial rank - as his adopted son eventually did - or that he found an equestrian career personally more rewarding. In any case, as a young man, now in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (ILI), Pliny first served as a military officer in several postings along the Rhine frontier with Germany. In what today is Xanten, Germany, Pliny wrote his first book, a small military manual, 'On the throwing of spears while on horseback'. Returning to Rome, where he worked as a lawyer for a while, he wrote his second book, more ambitious, a biography of his old commanding officer, 'Life of Pomponius Secundus', of great historical significance as the first biography in Roman literature we are aware of. He then wrote an even more ambitious book, ten times the length of the previous one, "History of the German Wars". Afterwards, in the politically dangerous later years of the Emperor Nero (SEI), Pliny kept a low profile, avoiding potentially political subjects, writing two rather safe books: a textbook on the teaching of rhetoric, "The Student", and "Problems in Grammar".

After the generalized revolt against Nero, with Nero's suicide, and one year of civil war that led to the ascension of the Emperor Vespasian, Pliny's star could rise again, especially as he was friendly with Vespasian's son, Titus. He began writing a serious book of contemporary history, 'A Continuation of the History of Aufidius Bassus', probably covering the period from Tiberius to Vespasian (ESE). However, he ordered that it should be only published after his death, so that people would not think he wrote it to flatter Vespasian and Titus (EIE), to whom he was close. In the new regime, Pliny's political career took off, with him appointed procurator (i.e. chief financial officer), in quick succession, in provinces in today's France, Spain and Tunisia. During those years he wrote his largest work, and the only one surviving today, his 'Natural History', making use of his personal observations in those many locations, which was probably published in the later years of Vespasian. At about this time he was appointed prefect (i.e. commander) of the fleet based at Misenum, at the bay of Naples, remaining there when Titus became emperor upon Vespasian's death.

Pliny's Natural History is the ancestor of all modern encyclopedias, aiming at summarizing all the scientific knowledge of the time: it contains chapters on astronomy, geography, zoology, botany, biology, geology, mining, medicine, agriculture, and art. Like modern authors - and unlike almost all ancient writers - Pliny actually references the authors of the books he consulted. The book reads, however, much more "chaotically" than a modern work as he interjects his own personal "on the ground" observations while summarizing the information from other books. The result is a book that contains a vast amount of "raw" information, much of it validated by direct observation, but in an often disorganized way. The whole book is of huge historical value; however, from a scientific point of view, it mixes reliable facts and descriptions with questionable ones, and even plain nonsense. Nevertheless the book was "the" encyclopedia during the Medieval period, its accuracy only beginning to be challenged in the Renaissance of the 15th century.

I argue that the information so far already gives clues to Pliny's Socionics type. First, for a man with literary ambitions, it is remarkable that all of his work was non-fiction: natural science, history, biography, grammar, a military manual. By contrast, his old commander, Pomponius Secundus, the subject of Pliny's biography, was a prestigious poet and author of tragedies, some written while he was in prison under Tiberius. Pliny's own adopted son. Pliny the Younger, also preferred to write poetry. The relevance of this is that Pliny the Elder's literary choices, exclusively non-fiction, suggest that these were the subjects he wanted to write about and found more congenial writing, which in itself, at face value, already points to P as stronger, and/or more valued, than E, that is, that Pliny the Elder was a Logical type or, if Ethical, at most one with P6.

I would add that the "on-the-ground" nature of the Natural History, plus its quirky way of looking at many different subjects, aiming at presenting as much detailed information, and direct observation as possible while being at the same time a rather cumbersome read, points to a P preference over L, that is, Pliny was far more concerned with providing information than categorize, organize or analyze it.  The strong focus on direct observation and the wide scope of subjects also point to S and I as quadra values, rather than F and T. The information so far, together, points to Delta as Pliny the Elder's likely quadra.

Going back to Pliny's life. While based at Misenum as commander of the fleet, the younger Pliny was living with him, and he left a description of Pliny the Elder's habits - essentially of a man who did not stop working, reading, and writing, a rather hyperactive man. At face value, this points more to an Energizer type. Finally. it was during that time, in 79 AD, when the famous eruption of the Vesuvius took place. From his position in Misenum, across the bay of Naples, Pliny was at first fascinated from a scientific point of view (he was familiar with volcanoes, like Mt. Etna) and intended to sail close to it on a small ship, But, made aware of the human disaster taking place, he assembled the available ships from the fleet and sailed towards the range of of the eruption on a rescue mission. That was completely unsuccessful as the fall-out from the eruption prevented the ships from getting close to Pompeii or Herculaneum, and the winds prevented them from sailing back, so they were trapped into sailing on to Stabiae on the Sorrentine Peninsula, where friends of his had a villa which was not being hit by the worst of the eruption. According to Pliny the Younger, while walking to get a closer look at the eruption, the elder Pliny just collapsed suddenly and died; his nephew attributed that to poisonous fumes, while modern historians suggest that a heart attack was more likely.

The events above reveal an interesting characteristic of Pliny's: that he would literally sail into a terrifying volcanic eruption, first out of scientific curiosity, then in order to attempt to rescue the locals, seemingly without realizing that he could be getting himself into a trap, not looking before he leaped. That is a trait pointing to a type with F stronger than T, and very weak T, probably T4.

Delta Energizer, with very weak T. and much more focused on P than E. I argue that the available information, however limited, consistently points to LSE as Pliny the Elder's likely type.

Sources: besides Wikipedia, an alternative summary of Pliny the Elder's life and works can be found in the site. A full translation of his Natural History can be found here , and the letters of Pliny the Younger, including his eyewitness description of the eruption of the Vesuvius and his summary of his uncle's works, here .

To learn more about LSE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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