C. Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger) : Letters
: Manuscripts and transmission

Note:  This page does not pretend to be more than a second-hand summary of available information.  It is placed here as a service to those who wish to know on what the text of Pliny's letters is based, especially for book 10, letters 96 & 97, in which Pliny writes for advice on dealing with the Christians.

The Letters of the Younger Pliny have come down to us in 10 books, 9 of his personal letters, and book 10 containing his official correspondence with the Emperor Trajan.  The last was written during his tour of administration of Bithynia, during which he may well have died.

The route by which the text of all these letters reached us is a little complicated.  There were 4 main groups, which however are related:

There are also late 'mixed' manuscripts drawing on more than one of these sources; there are early editions printed from now lost MSS of excellent origin; and there is a manuscript including parts of two printed editions plus manuscript material of its own.  

Both the 9 and 10 book collection go back to antiquity; and books 1-9 in the 10-book collection are not copied from the 9-book collection.

A table of extant manuscripts will probably be useful and then a discussion of how they relate to each other.  The table does not include all the late Italici, and more of these are listed in Mynors.  There are also Florilegia with extracts from descendants of F.

Siglum Name Contains now Date Type Notes
P (pi) New York, Pierpont Morgan M.462 2.20.13-3.5.4, including index to book 3. (6 leaves only) s. V (late) 10-book Ancestor of all the 10-book MSS, and originally complete.  At St. Victor in Paris in 1500, where it was collated and foliated, and still complete then.  Originally 281 leaves.
B Florence, Laurentianus Ashburnham 98 1.1.1-5.6.31, minus 2.4.2-2.12.3 and 3.3.5-3.11.9. s. IX2 10-book (descended from P) Originally also contained Natural History of Pliny the Elder (now Florence, Bibl. Ricc. 488).  Written probably at Auxerre, and later belonged to Beauvais Cathedral (hence known as codex Beluacensis).  Originally complete.  This had no descendants.
F Florence, Laurentianus S. Marco 284 1.1-5.6 (100 letters).  No indexes, interpolated and glossed.

Also extra letter-and-a-half added in s.XV; 5.7, and 5.8.1-4.

s. XI ex. 100-letter (descended from P) Letters are preceded by philosophical works of Apuleius.  Many descendants.  Arrived in Italy in the renaissance and was owned by Coluccio Salutati, whose hand made the addition.  The extra piece came from the 8-book family, and marks the Italian copies of F.
  Berne 136 1.1-5.6 s. XII 100-letter (descended from F) Written at Orleans?  Apuleius & Pliny.
  Rouen O.9 (1111) 1.1-5.6 s. XIII 100-letter (descended from F) From the monastery of Lyre in Normandy. Apuleius & Pliny.
  Leiden, Bibliotheca Publica Latina 199 1.1-5.6 s. XIII 100-letter (descended from F) From Northern France. Apuleius & Pliny.
LOST Lost MS from s.XII catalogue of Bec 1.1-5.6? Unknown 100-letter (descended from F) Identifiable by the connection of Apuleius and Pliny.  
LOST Lost MS from s.XII catalogue of Limoges 1.1-5.6? Unknown 100-letter (descended from F) Identifiable by the connection of Apuleius and Pliny.
LOST Lost MS from later catalogue of Mont. St. Michel. 1.1-5.6? Unknown 100-letter (descended from F) Identifiable by the connection of Apuleius and Pliny.
A Printed edition of Avantius. 10.41-121. Venice, 1502 10-book, probably from P. Letters numbered xvii-lxxiii.  Avantius tells us that they had been discovered in France by Petrus Leander.  The truncation of this is a mystery.  This edition was reprinted by Beroaldus (Bologna, 1502/3) and Catanaeus (Milan, 1506/7).
I/i Oxford, Bodleian Auct. L.4.3
  • Books 1-9 in Beroaldus' edition of 1498 (which has a gap in the middle of 8, and missing 9.16)
  • Missing letters in 8; 8.8.3-18.11 hand-copied from P.
  • 9.16, hand-copied from P by Budé himself.
  • 10.4-40 hand-copied from P.
  • 10.41-121 in Avantius edition.
  • Marginalia hand-copied from P.
Constructed by Guillaume Budé.  s.XVI in. Mostly 10-book.  Beroaldus is an edition of the 8-book. The inserted letters were copied by a scribe to match the appearance of the printed letters.  Then Budé added 9.16 himself and the MS variants from P.

Bought in 1708 by Thomas Hearne.

I = MS letters
i = marginalia.

a Printed edition of Aldus  Complete Venice, 1508 Based on various sources; but he had P in his hands. Not purely 10-book.
LOST  Unknown Unknown, but included parts of book 8, although not 8.8.3-8.18.1 Unknown 9-book Q (theta)-branch No complete text now known, but various copies of parts, including Vatican Lat. 11468, Turin D.II.24, Paris Lat. 8620 and Vatican Chigi H. V. 154.
V Vatican Lat. 3864 1-4 s.IX ¾ 9-book, a (alpha)-branch Also contained Caesar's Gallic War, and the unique MS of the excerpts of Sallusts' Histories.  Written at Corbie under Hadoard.  Pomponius Laetus was able to borrow it from the Vatican in 1475, and it influenced some of the printed editions.
M Florence Laurentianus 47.36 1-9 (but not 9.16 of course), apart from 9.26.9-end.  All the Greek words, however, have been omitted. s. IX 9-book, a (alpha)-branch Written at Fulda, and once part of the Tacitus MS.  Stolen from Corvey and arrived in Rome in 1517.  An excellent text.

There are other MSS containing excerpts from the 9-book, a (alpha)-branch text, but which have no independent value.

EIGHT-BOOK MSS (g - gamma)
LOST Verona, Cathedral Library Books 1-7, 9. (But  not 1.8, 1.12, 1.23, 1.24, 9.16).  218 letters.  The letters in books5 and 9 were in a different order. Guarino tells us it was in 3 columns, so it was either ancient, or a faithful copy of an ancient codex. 8-book. Noted by Bishop Rather in s.X, and used at the start of s.XIV by Giovanni de Matociis, custodian of the Cathedral and the first to distinguish between the two Plinys, and also the author of the Verona Flores Moralium Auctoritatum.  Put into circulation ca. 1419 by Guarino of Verona and his circle.  No complete descendant exists, however, nor is it known what became of it.
  Oxford, Bodleian Holkham Hall 396 167 letters s.XV 8-book There are a large number of other s.XV MSS which contain parts of this collection.  Many are listed by Mynors.  These include Paris. Lat. 8621, 8622 and Dresden Dc 166.

To summarise, the text relies on a mess of witnesses from the various streams; fortunately although all of them tend to be lacunose, the lacunae are in different places.  The text of book X relies on the two editions printed from now lost portions of the St. Victor/New York MS, as is 8.8.3-8.18.11.

Like many Silver Latin writers, there is little evidence that Pliny's letters achieved the literary fame he had desired, until the revival of these writers in the Fourth century.  There is a full paraphrase of the famous letters 96 and 97 in Tertullian's Apologeticum in the second century.  This material appears again in Jerome (Chron. s.a. 108) and Eusbius (HE 3.33.3) in the Fourth Century, but quoted from Tertullian.  Cameron has analysed the quotation in Tertullian, and there is some indication that Tertullian may witness to at least one verbal variant which has not survived.

In the Fourth century, however, Jerome also witnesses to others of the letters of Pliny, as does the Scholiast on Juvenal and Ausonius.  Q. Aurelius Symmachus published his own correspondence in 10 books, 9 of personal and 1 of official letters.  In the fifth century, Sidonius Apollinaris published his own letters in 9 books, and quotes Pliny in many places.

By this time, it is likely that both the 9-book and 10-book versions were in existence.  It is quite possible that Book 10 had had a separate transmission immediately after Pliny's death, but the move over to the codex from the roll in Late Antiquity may have encouraged the combination at that point.  It would be  natural, with the greater capacity of the codex, to add the separate book at that point.  At all events, our volume P was written at the end of the 5th century; and the lost 8-book Verona codex probably even earlier.


This account is mainly taken from that of L.D.Reynolds in L.D.REYNOLDS, Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics, Oxford (1983), pp. 316-322.  Dr. Reynolds says that he derives his description from Mynors' preface.

A.D.E.CAMERON, The Fate of Pliny's Letters in the Late Empire, Classical Quarterly, New Series 15 (1965), pp.289-298. Checked

A.D.E.CAMERON, Pliny's Letters in the Later Empire: An Addendum, Classical Quarterly, New Series 17 (1967), pp.421-422. Checked.

E.T.MERRILL, On the Eight-Book tradition of Pliny's Letters in Verona, Classical Philology 5 (1910), pp.175-188.(Details from Mynors p.x n.1)

R.A.B.MYNORS, C. Plini Caecili Secundi: Epistularum Libri Decem, Oxford (1963).  Checked.  All in Latin, however.

R. SABBADINI, Storia e Critica di Testi Latini, (Catania, 1914), pp.355-365.  (Details from Mynors p.x n.1)  Details of 8-book family.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Written 4th September 2001.

This page has been online since 4th September 2001.

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