The most important surviving encyclopedia from the ancient world, Pliny the Elder's Natural History is unparalleled as a guide to the cultural meanings of everyday things in first-century Rome. As part of a new direction in classical scholarship, Trevor Murphy reads the work not just for the information it contains, but to understand how and why Pliny collects and presents information as he does. Concentrating on the geographic and ethnographic information in Pliny, Murphy demonstrates the work's political importance. The selection and arrangement of the encyclopedia's material show that it is more than an instrument of reference: it is a monument to the power of Roman imperial society.
Trevor Murphy is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of California, Berkeley.