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3.2: Nature's Helping Hand

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    Cooperation between Builder and Nature as a Rhetorical Strategy in Vitruvius, Statius and Pliny the Younger

    Bettina Reitz


    The achievements of engineers are one of the things which we today associate most readily with Roman civilisation. The building of roads and bridges, the construction of aqueducts, the digging of huge tunnels, clearance of mountain passes, construction of vast palaces – what could be more Roman? However, in antiquity no less than today, such massive engineering projects and alterations of the natural landscape were not only appreciated and admired, but also criticised and condemned. In this paper, I aim neither at an ecological assessment of the impact of Roman civilisation, nor a reconstruction of Roman environmental attitudes from contemporary literary sources [1]. Rather, I would like to consider how literary texts describe interventions in nature, and how these descriptions are designed to steer our evaluation of such projects.

    In analysing ancient texts which evaluate manipulations of nature, we need to be aware that condemnation or approval of any instance of engineering or construction does not depend on the kind or scale of the activity itself. Rather, the kind of text and the context of the evaluation determine whether the positive or the negative sides of such an intervention are activated. Any engineering event can potentially be cast in a positive or a negative light. Roman authors need to negotiate this ambivalence inherent in the theme of intervention in nature. But what specific strategies do they employ in order to convince readers either of the virtues or the dangers of such activity? The strategies most widely used in Roman texts are to stress public usefulness on the one hand and private luxury on the other. For example, a text describing the building of a new aqueduct could make this project look like the hallmark of a good ruler by emphasising that the aqueduct was intended to supply the city with clean water. If, on the other hand, the description implied that the aqueduct was intended to supply the builder’s own gardens with water, the construction appears an act of wanton luxury [2]. This paper deals with a less common rhetorical strategy, employed by authors for the purpose of suppressing the potentially immoral connotations of altering nature on a grand scale.

    The Rhetoric of War with Nature

    When Roman authors describe large-scale alterations of nature or the landscape, they often increase the drama and vividness of their descriptions by (more or less explicitly) personifying nature, so that she can react to the act of alteration. In the majority of instances, nature is portrayed as resisting the interventions. The builder, therefore, has to overcome this resistance through a struggle and coerce nature into submission.

    This rhetoric of struggle and victory can be used both positively and negatively in the debate about the moral implications of engineering. Nature’s unwillingness to cooperate can be one way of highlighting the transgressive and immoral nature of the enterprise [3]. However, more commonly, the rhetoric of fight and victory over nature can serve the purpose of those authors wanting to praise the achievement: emphasizing nature’s resistance can add to the prestige of the victorious engineer, who celebrates a triumph over nature subdued.

    One example of such a rhetorical use of the metaphors of war and victory is Domitian’s triumphal victory over the river Volturnus in Statius’ Silvae 4.3, a poem about the construction of the Via Domitiana [4]. In this poem, the river god Volturnus himself rises from the depths, and, leaning against the newly-built bridge, thanks the emperor Domitian for ordering and taming him and turning him into a clean and channeled stream (Silvae 4.3.72-84):

    “Kind orderer of my plains, who bound me in the law of a straight channel when I spread over distant valleys nor knew to keep within my banks, see, now I, the turbulent bully, that in time past barely tolerated imperiled barks, I bear a bridge and am trampled by crossing feet. I that was wont to carry off the land and whirl woods (ah shame!) begin to be a river. But I give you thanks and my servitude is worthwhile because I have yielded under your guidance at your command, and because you shall be read of as supreme ruler and conqueror of my bank.” (translation: Shackleton Bailey, adapted) [5]

    The eventual acquiescence of the river has been achieved, as the martial metaphors show, only by a struggle in which man has triumphed over river. The river god speaks of himself in the language of a slave taken in war: the river is bound (ligasti 75), suffers servitude (servitus 80), while the builder is in command and gives orders (te duce, te iubente 81) [6]. Of course, there is the question of whether to read this ‘straight’, as an exuberant praise poem for the emperor [7]. Some have rather interpreted the rhetoric of war and violence as working the other way and suggested that the enslavement of the river, now trampled underfoot, is supposed to evoke the reader’s unease [8]. However we choose to read Statius’ provocative praise, it should be noted that this kind of martial language is a very common way of representing human involvement with nature [9].

    Natural Cooperation

    I would now like to consider a selection of passages which, exceptionally, show nature not as resisting (the ‘default’ situation) but as willingly cooperating with the builder. These cases are comparatively rare because this cooperative stance of nature lightens the work of the builder and therefore makes it appear less of an achievement. However, this rhetoric of cooperation has the advantage of rendering the alteration of nature a morally less ambivalent process. In order to downplay the dangerous sides of construction, the author turns nature into a partner who cooperates with the enterprising builder. This strategy potentially lessens the achievement of the builder, but it also makes his work morally unexceptionable.

    In this article, I consider three instances of this strategy at work. I begin with Vitruvius, the first century BCE author of the De Architectura. One of the fundamental principles underlying his entire work is the cooperation between architect and nature, and I focus on one programmatic passage where this general principle is formulated. I then discuss two instances where the moral legitimacy of specific alterations of nature is at stake: firstly, the earliest of the villa poems in Statius’ Silvae, and secondly, the elder Pliny’s chapters on the use of marble.

    Vitruvius’ De Architectura and the Ideal Architect

    In the De Architectura, building is described as a natural process, which mirrors in its different aspects processes found in nature. An ideal of harmony between nature and the architect underlies Vitruvius’ entire work [10]. In the preface to book 2, Vitruvius expresses the ideal of cooperation between architecture and nature by means of an introductory anecdote [11]. While Alexander the Great was engaged in holding court and dispensing justice, an architect, Dinocrates, dressed himself up in the clothes and attributes of Hercules and approached the king. When asked what he wanted, he told the king (2 praef. 2):

    He replied: “I am Dinocrates, a Macedonian architect, who brings you ideas and plans worthy of your distinction. For I have moulded Mount Athos into the shape of the statue of a man, in whose left hand I have shown the ramparts of a very extensive city, in his right a bowl to receive the water of all the rivers which are in that mountain, so that they will flow thence into the sea.” (translation: F. Granger, adapted) [12]

    Alexander is pleased with this plan, but he does ask the architect whether the city designed in this way could easily be supplied with agricultural produce:

    Alexander, delighted with this conception, at once inquired if there were fields round about which could furnish that city with a corn supply. When he found this could not be done, except by sea transport, he said: “I note, Dinocrates, the unusual formation of your plan, and am pleased with it, but I perceive that if anyone were to establish a colony in that place, his judgment would be blamed. For just as a child when born, if it lacks the nurse’s milk cannot be fed, nor led up the stairway of growing life, so a city without cornfields and their produce abounding within its ramparts, cannot grow, nor become populous without abundance of food, nor maintain its people without a supply. Therefore, just as I think your planning worthy of approval, so, in my judgment, the site is worthy of disapproval …” (translation: F. Granger, adapted) [13]

    Alexander himself then discovers a more suitable location for the foundation of a great city, equipped with a natural harbour and surrounded by fertile lands, and Dinocrates receives the commission of laying out a city in this spot: Alexandria (2 praef. 4).

    I read this episode as a programmatic statement of Vitruvius’ attitude to architecture in relation to nature. In Vitruvian thought, architecture ideally develops organically out of nature, respects natural conditions and works in harmony with them. In this anecdote, the architect Dinocrates does not initially take this fundamental ‘philosophy of architecture’ into account. It is significant that Alexander’s reason for his refusal in the Vitruvian version of the story differs from other known versions. In the most extensive version of the anecdote apart from Vitruvius’ own, Plutarch has Alexander refuse because Athos already bears witness to the arrogance of another ruler, the Persian king Xerxes [14].

    In Vitruvius’ version, Alexander’s refusal has nothing to do with his fear of hybristic or tyrannical behaviour. His refusal is also not motivated solely by economic motives. A larger ideal lies behind Alexander’s desire to let human ingenuity be combined with natural suitability. Nature and architecture have to work together to achieve results (in this case, the megalopolis par excellence, Alexandria). Admittedly, there is a certain imbalance in this cooperative relationship. For the most part, the architect has to adapt to what nature provides. However, nature is also represented as taking an active part in the process: she has to support the foundation of the city by providing produce, just as the nurse, in Alexander’s simile, has to feed the child to allow it to grow [15].

    Another difference between the Vitruvian version and the legend as it is told by Plutarch is also instructive. In Plutarch, the architect describes the site of Mount Athos as naturally suitable to such a project: the formation of the rock apparently already suggests the human form [16]. Tellingly, this detail does not feature in Vitruvius’ account, where Dinocrates plans to shape Athos so himself, not adapt what already exists [17]. Vitruvius’ point is precisely that the Athos-plan does not rely on the cooperation of nature, and is therefore inferior to the Alexandria-plan, where nature supports the foundation of a city and offers the architect fertile land and a natural harbour.

    The programmatic statement exemplified by this anecdote is that the basis of (good) architecture has to be cooperation between man and nature. Architecture has to adapt to what nature offers and proceed in accordance with her laws. Nature, on the other hand, often lends the architect a hand in achieving his designs – provided he accepts the offered hand. To bring home the point, the Dinocrates-episode is immediately followed by another, equally important, programmatic passage: Vitruvius’ description of the development of culture, and especially architecture, from its earliest beginnings. Here, too, architecture develops harmoniously and organically, as humans respond to the provisions nature offers them [18].

    Statius’ Silvae and the Villa of Miracles

    In the second example, the focus shifts from architecture adapting to nature, to architect and nature actively working together to achieve a complete result. Compared to the Vitruvian example, nature’s role here becomes more active. This example can be found in the first book of the Silvae of the Flavian poet Statius. This might be surprising since a Statian poem (Silvae 4.3) was used earlier to illustrate the ‘default’ situation of hostile nature successfully subdued by the engineer. However, when responding to different challenges, Statius can change his tune. In the poem we are about to consider, nature is cast as very cooperative indeed [19].

    In Silvae 1.3, he describes and praises the country villa of a friend, Manlius Vopiscus [20]. Famously, the moral legitimacy of luxurious Roman country retreats was fiercely contested by philosophers, moralists and writers in Rome [21]. A writer wanting to praise a luxurious country villa, therefore, found himself in a difficult position. He had to enter this debate, and address the moralist criticism voiced by other writers. For Statius, one such opponent in the debate is the poet Horace (65-8 BC), who wrote several odes condemning the luxurious villas of Roman nobles, criticizing them for their size, their disrespect of natural boundaries (for example between land and sea) and the use of expensive and unnecessary building materials [22]. Newlands has argued that Statius in his villa poems deliberately evokes Horace as a literary model but answers the strictures against luxurious buildings in various ways [23]. For example, one of the most obvious of Statius’ reactions to Horace is his bold assertion that a villa praised for its gilded beams (35) coloured marbles (36), and an art collection containing everything from bronze sculptures to ivory carving and gems (47-51), provides luxu (…) carentes deliciae (92-3) – “pleasure without luxury”, while all of these features are named by Horace as synonymous with despicable luxury [24].

    What Newlands does not note is that not only Horace, but also Seneca, is a formidable literary opponent for Statius. The younger Seneca devoted several of his Epistulae Morales to the topic of suitable living and the dangers of the country villa, as well as raging against excesses of daring and luxurious architecture in general. Again, Statius specifically addresses the points which Seneca puts forward as his strongest arguments against luxury living. One example of this literary response: Seneca argues at length that the luxurious surroundings of his villa encouraged in a man called Vatia not the productive leisure of the philosopher (otium), but inertia, laziness (Ep. 55.3-5). It is no accident that Statius dwells extensively on the particular kind of otium and quies (quiet) enjoyed by Manlius Vopiscus and another friend, Pollius Felix (who features in Silvae 2.2), in their respective retreats and on the ways in which this state is a result of the architectural surroundings: not laziness, but precisely otium conducive to reflection and the writing of poetry [25].

    Among the different methods by which Statius counters Seneca and Horace to make a powerful case for the moral acceptability of building luxury villas [26], there is one strategy of particular interest, designed to respond to both Seneca and Horace (among others): his use of the topos of cooperation between man and nature. Both Horace and Seneca stress that builders of luxurious dwellings interfere with natural boundaries (especially between water and land), and that artificiality and technology threaten to disrupt the ‘natural state’ of things. Horace, in the first of his so-called ‘Roman Odes’, depicts the building of a villa into the sea as an illustration of sinful human desire for luxury and stresses the shock it causes to the natural system, focalised through the fish who feel their natural habitat shrink [27].

    In Silvae 1.3, on the other hand, nature actively complements the activities of the architect through her own devices (Silvae 1.3.15-23):

    How gentle the nature of the ground! What beauty in the blessed spot before art’s handiwork! Nowhere has Nature indulged herself more lavishly. Tall woods brooded over rapid waters. A deceptive image answers the foliage and the reflection flows unchanging in the long stream. Anio himself (what wondrous allegiance!), full of rocks above and below, here rests his swollen rage and foamy din, as though loath to disturb the Pierian days and song-filled slumbers of tranquil Vopiscus. (Translation: Shackleton-Bailey, adapted) [28].

    The builder has only to help nature complete what she has already begun. Nature herself has made the site of the villa a luxurious space, and the builder is following nature’s lead in continuing in this luxurious vein [29]. In Silvae 4.3, as we saw above, the river Volturnus first had to be subdued and channeled by force, before he claimed now to flow more happily under human control (4.3.72-84). The river Anio does not offer Vopiscus an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to win the war against nature. In order to render the landscape suitable for Vopiscus’ poetic slumbers, he quietens down of his own accord.

    In the first line of this passage, the cooperation between nature and engineer is expressed most clearly. The ground has a gentle ingenium (15) – a clear personification, since ingenium is, in its most basic meaning, that with which man is born, and is only very rarely used of non-human agents [30]. The ingenium of the ground is then complemented by the artes (16) of the engineer. The classic combination of ingenium and ars, both of which the artist needs in order to create a great artefact, is a commonplace in ancient literature [31]. Statius separates the pair and distributes the necessary qualities between nature and the engineer. Only if they cooperate can the villa be truly perfect [32].

    The harmony and happy co-existence of cultivation and nature goes to quite extraordinary lengths. It is encapsulated in the exquisitely humorous image of the Anio going for a night-time swim in the clean waters of the nearby aqueduct, the Aqua Marcia (70-74), thereby cleansing the estate’s large-scale water-management (64-7) of its dangerous associations [33]. In lines 59-63, the poet describes that a tree has been preserved in the middle of the house (mediis servata penatibus arbor, 59), which passes through roofs and doorways to emerge into the open sky (tecta per et postes liquidas emergis in auras, 60). This house carries no suggestion of having been won from nature: the rhetoric of war and victory has here been replaced by that of harmonious and fruitful cooperation between architect and nature. One of the main arguments of the moralising critics, that the luxurious villa violates natural boundaries through unnatural excess, has been effectively disproved [34].

    Pliny’s Natural History and the Sustainability of Luxury

    Pliny the Elder, the author of a huge Natural History in 37 books, describes nature as fundamentally beneficial to mankind [35]. Nature exists to help man and to provide generously for all his needs. However, whilst nature is designed in this beneficial way, man must, according to Pliny, not try to lay his hand on things which nature does not readily provide. Diving into the depth of the sea for pearls, or excavating the earth in mining for precious metals is to take from nature things which she has deliberately withheld from mankind since they are harmful and corrupting [36]. Mining or pearl-diving are therefore sinful activities, driven by luxuria, and contrary to nature [37]. Pliny thus approves of the human use and deployment of all the resources nature readily provides, but not of major human interventions in the ‘natural state’, which are driven by human desire for more than an appropriate share [38].

    Keeping Pliny’s general ideas about the relationship between man and nature in mind, let us now consider his treatment of one particular kind of intervention in nature, namely the quarrying (and subsequent use of) marble, discussed in book 36 of the Natural History. The book begins with a diatribe against the use of the luxury material ‘marble’ as such (36.1-5). Quarrying marble is called an insania, madness (36.1), and is condemned for disturbing the natural boundaries of nature (36.1-3):

    Mountains, however, nature had made for herself to serve as a kind of framework for holding firmly together the innards of the earth … we quarry these mountains and haul them away for mere pleasure … We should each of us reflect … when we see the masses of marble that are being conveyed or hauled and think how much more happily many people live without them. (translation: Eichholz, adapted) [39]

    This diatribe is followed by a long list of things that can be made from marble (and stone more generally): statues, then buildings all over the world, and finally, buildings in Rome. Some, but by no means all of these statues and buildings are described as luxurious and immoral. When Pliny turns to the city of Rome and its miracula, its miraculous features, he finds there, too, a combination of buildings he claims are praiseworthy (such as the Forum of Augustus or the Templum Pacis), and of luxurious abominations (especially the theatres of Scaurus and Curio).

    The weakness in Pliny’s logic is obvious. According to his own principles, any building made of marble should be condemned as immoral. But in the case of Rome, he can hardly avoid praising many of the additions to the cityscape, especially those by ‘good’ citizens or emperors. Unfortunately, the buildings he approves of tend to actually be decorated with exactly the same sorts of coloured marbles as those he criticizes [40].

    Pliny’s main strategy for protecting in buildings from the charge of luxury is the stress he puts on their usefulness (utilitas), the strategy referred to in the introduction. The clearest example of this is his concluding list of vera aestimatione invicta miracula, miracles unsurpassed in their genuine value (36.121). This list includes the most high-profile engineering achievements of the Roman empire: the aqueducts, harbours, roads, and channels which so convincingly demonstrate Roman supremacy over nature. Despite the huge intervention in nature that they represent, these achievements are clearly praiseworthy in the eyes of any Roman on account of their undisputable utilitas [41].

    Another strategy, which provides more general justification for the presence of (partly luxurious) marble architecture in Italy and Rome, is to suggest that these alterations of the natural state are in fact assisted by nature herself. In this way, Pliny can show that the activities comply with his own moral precept of taking from nature only what she provides of her own accord. At the very end of the long section on Roman architecture, Pliny returns very briefly to the quarrying of marble (36.125):

    Among the many marvels of Italy itself is one for which the accomplished natural scientist Papirius Fabianus vouches, namely that marble actually grows in its quarries; and the quarrymen, moreover, assert that the sores on the mountainsides fill-up of their own accord. If this is true, there is reason to hope that there will always be marble sufficient to satisfy luxury’s demands. (translation: Eichholz) [42]

    This passage picks up the introduction to book 36, where quarrying marble was still roundly condemned. At this stage, it is suggested that nature does, after all, provide marble of her own accord. The anatomical language applied to nature in 36.1 and there employed to stress the violation committed by man in quarrying marble (telluris viscera, the innards of the earth) is picked up and overwritten in this passage. In 36.1, quarrying was condemned for causing irreparable damage: here, the sores (ulcera) of the quarries turn out to heal of their own accord [43]. It remains important that the re-growth of marble only applies to Italy: it is called a marvel of Italy (miraculum Italiae), a natural miraculum to match and justify the many man-made mirabilia and miracula of Rome and Italy [44]. In Italy, at least, nature’s cooperative stance provides some justification for the exploitation of marble. Quarrying marble might not be morally excellent, and it is inextricably connected with luxury, but the ‘sustainability’ (to use a modern term) of its exploitation renders it at least acceptable.


    The rhetoric of cooperation between man and nature is, as we have seen, employed in texts ranging from encomiastic poetry to technical and encyclopedic writing, in order to respond to specific challenges and protect large-scale interventions in nature from moral criticism.

    On some counts, the rhetoric of Pliny, Statius or Vitruvius seems very modern – the idea of working with nature, not against it, has a distinctly green tinge to it, and it even seems as though Pliny was interested in something like the sustainability of natural resources. But the differences between ancient and modern rhetorics of environmental reassurance are in fact considerable. I conclude with a more general, though tentative, suggestion, which builds on literary analysis for some (speculative) cultural-historical remarks. Our modern-day evaluation of the acceptability of human intervention in nature tends to depend on the actual consequences of these actions. Our anxieties are focused around (actual) sustainability, potential dangers for us or future generations, and the harm and suffering created for other species. The rhetoric used for example by politicians or environmental organisations, and intended to convince us that some project is good or bad, reflects and addresses these anxieties. Roman environmental attitudes differ fundamentally from ours in that respect. Roman texts, too, reveal concerns about interfering with nature on a large scale, but often they are not related to actual dangers or consequences. The concerns activated or allayed by the rhetorical strategy I have focussed on are more abstract: they relate to a general idea that there is such a thing as a ‘natural state’ and natural boundaries, and that crossing them is a moral offense [45]. Where we worry about the consequences of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the radioactive pollution in the Pacific, it was villas built too far out into the sea that caused ‘environmentally-conscious’ Romans sleepless nights.


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    1. Weeber (1990) and more recently Thommen provide basic and readable introductions to both of these questions, Thommen also offers extensive bibliographical help (2009: 149-76). Hughes’s investigation (1994) is more detailed: he focuses specifically on environmental history, combining evidence from literary sources and modern scientific investigations, although his judgement of ancient interventions is heavily influenced by modern environmental problems. See also Fedeli (1990) for a predominantly literary perspective.

    2. See e.g. Pliny’s praise for the beneficial aqueduct building of the emperor Claudius (Natural History 36.121-3 and the praise of Frontinus in De Aquis Urbis Romae, especially section 16 on useful Roman aqueducts being superior to the (useless) Egyptian pyramids. An example of aqueduct construction (allegedly) for private luxury is the emperor Nero’s construction of an extension of the Aqua Claudia, partly used to supply his huge new nymphaeum built into the podium of the unfinished temple of Divus Claudius in the gardens of the Domus Aurea (Scheithauer 2000: 120-1, see also Suetonius’ Life of Claudius 45, Life of Vespasian 9). On frauds concerning the distribution of the new aqueduct’s waters, see Frontinus’ De Aquis Urbis Romae 76-7. On the combined functions of display and utility of aqueducts in the Roman empire, see Wilson (2008: 308-9) with further bibliography there.

    3. For a pointed formulation of this attitude, cf. Tacitus’ negative evaluation of the architects Severus and Celer in Annals 15.42: quae natura denegavisset per artem temptare (to attempt through art what nature had denied).

    4. On this poem and the triumphal subjugation of the river, see e.g. Newlands (2002: 284-325), Smolenaars (2006). See also Kleiner (1991) on rivers, bridges and the triumph over nature in Rome more generally.

    5. “camporum bone conditor meorum, / qui me vallibus aviis refusum / et ripas habitare nescientem / recti legibus alvei ligasti, / en nunc ille ego turbidus minaxque / vix passus dubias prius carinas, / iam pontem fero perviusque calcor! / qui terras rapere et rotare silvas / assueram, (pudet) amnis esse coepi. /sed grates ago servitusque tanti est, / quod sub te duce, te iubente, cessi, / quod tu maximus arbiter meaeque / victor perpetuus legere ripae.”

    6. This kind of martial language is also employed in Silvae 2.2 (esp. 52-59) and 3.1 (20: obluctantia saxa (struggling rocks), and 12-16). Newlands (2011) well analyses this aspect of 2.2, see esp. 134-5. See also Pavlovskis (1973: 2-21). However, in 2.2, the language of war and servitude is combined with the language of natural cooperation; cf. e.g. 25-6: mira quies pelagi. ponunt hic lassa furorem / aequora et insani spirant clementius austri. (Wonderful is the calm of the sea; here the weary waters lay their rage aside and the wild south winds breathe more gently. Translation: Shackleton Bailey), clearly reminiscent of 1.3.20-3, on which see further below. The combination of subdued nature and cooperating nature is most clearly expressed in 2.2.53: his favit Natura locis, hic victa colenti / cessit et ignotos docilis mansuevit in usus. (Some spots Nature has favoured, in others she has been overcome and yielded to the developer, letting herself be taught new and gentler ways. Translation: Shackleton Bailey). Van Dam’s claim that “whereas Seneca is nostalgic and idealizes the cooperation of man and nature, Statius rather regards nature as something savage to be tamed” (1984: 188) should be read with his nuancing remarks at 190. Schneider (1995: 98-101) presents too one-sided a picture of human domination in Statius.

    7. For such a (generally) ‘straight’ reading see e.g. Coleman’s detailed commentary (1988) on this poem (esp. 103-5). Note however her remarks ad 56-8, where Statius boldly uses the historical example of Xerxes at the Athos and Hellespont not to illustrate hybris but to express the magnitude of Domitian’s achievement: “It is not clear whether St. was sceptical or not …” (118).

    8. For such a reading see Newlands (2002, ch. 4 with 306-7 specifically on Volturnus). Gale has shown that in Vergil’s Georgics, too, the force of the war-metaphor is difficult to pin down, since the poet there makes a double use of the metaphor of farming as war: on the one hand, the farmer is at war with nature, but on the other hand, he also appears as a general who trains his land and plants to cooperate with him as an ally in his struggle (2000: 252-7).

    9. See generally Weeber (1990: 155-6). A few specific examples: the conceptualisation of water management as war against the floods (Kleiner 1991, Purcell 1996: 199-209), agriculture represented as the farmer’s war against nature, and mining as victory over nature (see Weeber 1990: 65-75, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History 33.73).

    10. For example, in De Architectura 4.1.6-7 the Ionic and Doric orders are said to have been developed in imitation of the proportions of the male or female human body. In 10.1.4 the development of mechanical devices is also portrayed as arising from natural necessity and proceeding in an evolutionary fashion. Conversely, in 9.1.2, Vitruvius argues that rather than architecture mirroring and imitating nature, nature-made and created the world according to the rules of architecture.

    11. This anecdote also appears in a number of other sources: see Traina (1988: 311 with n. 21- 4), McEwen (2003: 95-6). On the cultural implications of the anecdote in Rome, see Purcell (1987: 190-1).

    12. “Dinocrates,” inquit, “architectus Macedo qui ad te cogitationes et formas adfero dignas tuae claritati. Namque Athon montem formavi in statuae virilis figuram, cuius manu laeva designavi civitatis amplissimae moenia, dextera pateram, quae exciperet omnium fluminum, quae sunt in eo monte, aquam, ut inde in mare profunderetur.”

    13. Delectatus Alexander ratione formae statim quaesiit, si essent agri circa, qui possint frumentaria ratione eam civitatem tueri. Cum invenisset non posse nisi transmarinis subvectionibus: “Dinocrates,” inquit, “adtendo egregiam formae compositionem et ea delector. Sed animadverto, si qui deduxerit eo loco coloniam, forte ut iudicium eius vituperetur. ut enimnatus infans sine nutricis lacte non potest ali neque ad vitae crescentis gradus perduci, sic civitas sine agris et eorum fructibus in moenibus affluentibus non potest crescere nec sine abundantia cibi frequentiam habere populumque sine copia tueri. itaque quemadmodum formationem puto probandam, sic iudico locum inprobandum…

    14. Plutarch, De fortuna Alexandri, Moralia 335e: “But,” said he, “let Athos remain in its place. It is enough that it be the memorial of the arrogance of one king; but my imprint the Caucasus shall show and the Emodia range and the Tanaïs and the Caspian Sea; these will be the images of my deeds. (Translation: Babbitt, adapted). The hybris of Xerxes that Plutarch mentions is related not only to Xerxes’ failed attempt to build a channel through the Isthmus of Mount Athos (see Herodotus 7.22-24) but also to the military defeat the Persian fleet suffered in this very spot in 492, and perhaps more generally to his eventual military defeat at the hands of the Greeks. For literary and architectural sources on Mount Athos in antiquity, see Hübner (1995). On this passage, see also Traina (1988: 321), who also discusses the relevance of the exemplum of Xerxes for the entire anecdote (320-32). For a collection of commonplaces about Xerxes, see Mayor (1878: 127-8).

    15. A further idea behind Alexander’s comparison may be that the child/city has a natural inclination to growth, passing through a number of stages (stairway). This inclination can however only be realised if the nurse/nature feed the child/city according to its needs.

    16. Plutarch, De fortuna Alexandri, Moralia 335 d: For Mount Athos in Thrace, in that part where is its highest and most conspicuous summit, has well-proportioned surfaces and heights, limbs and joints and proportions that suggest the human form. When it has been properly carved and worked into shape, it can be called Alexander’s statue, and Alexander’s statue it will be … (Translation: Babbitt). This difference between the versions of Vitruvius and Plutarch is also noted by McEwen (2003: 100-1).

    17. Vitruvius 2 praef. 2: Athon montem formavi in statuae virilis figuram. (I have shaped Athos into the shape of the statue of a man).

    18. See Vitr. 2.1.1-7. On the philosophical background of Vitruvius’ story of civilisation, see Morel (2003).

    19. On the combination of rhetoric of cooperation and of domination in Silvae 2.2, see above.

    20. We know nothing about Manlius Vopiscus save what the poet tells us in the preface to book 1 (24-5): vir eruditissimus et qui praecipue vindicat a situ litteras iam paene fugientes. (a very learned gentleman and one who more than most others is rescuing our now almost vanishing literature from neglect. Translation: Shackleton-Bailey). On epigraphic evidence about two Vopisci (whose precise relation to the Vopiscus of the poem is uncertain) see Cancik (1978: 120-1). See also Newlands (2002: 127-8).

    21. See Edwards (1993: 144 ff.), Beagon (1995: 75-9) and Schneider (1992: 105-10).

    22. Newlands argues that the villa in Horace’s poetry can function as “a symbol of physical and moral excess” (2002: 130). See Odes 2.15, 2.16, 2.18, 3.1, 3.24. For more on Horatian moralising about architecture, see Nisbet and Hubbard (1977 on 2.15), Pearcy (1977), Whitehorne (1969).

    23. Newlands (2002: 130): “Statius boldly throws down the gauntlet to the critics of luxury, particularly Horace.” Horace’s poetry is an unavoidable intertext for Statius’ poem. In his fourth book of Odes, Horace presents himself as a poet living in Tibur, just as Statius presents Vopiscus in Silvae 1.3. Furthermore, one of his main themes is the peaceful existence in the country (albeit not in a luxurious villa but on a ‘humble’ farm) and the moral alternative such a life offers to political participation and life in Rome. Since Statius wants to describe his patrons as leading just such a life in their sumptuous villas, Horace’s stern condemnation of large and luxurious country houses has somehow to be addressed. For Newlands’ analysis of Silvae 1.3 see Newlands (2002: chapter 4), with 127-38 especially on Statius’ response to Horatian strictures on luxury.

    24. Cf. e.g. Odes 2.18.1-4 (ivory, gold ceilings, coloured marbles) and Epistulae 1.10 (water from pipes). For an overview of texts dealing with sumptuous interior decoration, see Drerup.

    25. See esp. 1.3.22-3, 90-104 (fecunda quies, virtus serena, etc.) and 108-9 (docta… otia). On changing attitudes towards otium in the early empire see briefly Newlands (2002: 124, with n. 29 for bibliography). Especially in the case of Silvae 2.2, Statius’ poem also enters another debate, since it arguably presents an Epicurean response to (Senecan) Stoic criticism. For a thorough exploration of the Epicurean background of 2.2, see Van Dam (1984) 190-2, 208-10 specifically on quies), and 267-72. On placidus and quies in Statius see further Pitcher (1990: 91-4).

    26. For further analysis of Statius vindication of luxury, cf. Newlands (2002: 154-98) on Silvae 2.2.

    27. Horace, Odes 3.1.33-6: contracta pisces aequora sentiunt / iactis in altum molibus; huc frequens /caementa demittit redemptor /cum famulis dominusque terrae / fastidiosus … (Fish feel the sea shrinking when massive piers are dropped into the deep. Here come crowding the contractor with his slaves throwing in the concrete, and the master bored with the land. Translation: West). Cf. also Seneca, Epistulae morales 89.21: ubicumque in aliquem sinum litus curvabitur, vos protinus fundamenta iacietis nec contenti solo nisi quod manu feceritis, mare agetis introrsus (…wherever the shore curves into some bay, you will immediately be laying foundations, and not content with land that you have made by hand, you will also bring the sea inside. Translation: Gummere, adapted).

    28. ingenium quam mite solo, quae forma beatis / ante manus artemque locis! non largius usquam / indulsit Natura sibi. nemora alta citatis / incubuere vadis; fallax responsat imago / frondibus et longas eadem fugit umbra per undas. / ipse Anien (miranda fides!) infraque superque / saxeus, hic tumidam rabiem spumosaque ponit / murmura, ceu placidi veritus turbare Vopisci / Pieriosque dies et habentes carmina somnos.

    29. Newlands (2002: 132): “The extravagance of the house is fully matched by the extravagance of nature’s own designs.”

    30. For the exceptional usage of ingenium of res naturales, see Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 7(1).1534.84-1535.37. Wray (2007) argues for a special use and significance of ingenium in the Silvae. Newlands notes the use of ingenium here to express the nature’s creative power, but not the combination with ars (2002: 139).Wray does comment on the combination, suggesting that the image of the ground should be read as a “poetological allegory” (2007: 140). Cf. Silvae 2.2.45, where the ingenia of the place and the builder combine to great effect (pace Schneider 1995: 99, cf. Wray 2007: 140): locine ingenium an domini mirer prius? (Should I admire first the ingenium of the place or of the master?)

    31. See Horace, Ars Poetica 295-301, 408 ff., Longinus 22.1, 36.4, Quintilianus 1 pr. 26, Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus 33.1-3, Cicero, Epistulae ad Quintum fratrem 2.11 (on Lucretius), Ovid, Amores 1.15.14. Significantly, to express the natural talent part of the equation, the word natura is frequently used instead of ingenium. Cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.159 for a similar play on the combination of ars, ingenium, and natura.

    32. This combination of ars and ingenium in the villa is also played out in the combination of the two kinds of water nymphs which the poem features. Fantham notes the contract between the two different groups (mentioned in lines 37 and 46): “The first nymphs, then, are personified plumbing, the second group the living spirits of the stream” (2009: 166). Behind the choice of image stands also the idea that the combination of ingenium and artes render this particular landscape ideally suited to poetic production. Newlands (2002:138-42) also identifies a specific poetic quality of the landscape, and locates it especially in the description of the river Anio.

    33. On the potentially tyrannical implications of water management, see Purcell (1987: 192-3). On the cultural significance of water engineering in Rome more generally, see Purcell (1996).

    34. Newlands (2002:132): “Contrary to moralising strictures against architectural excess, Vopiscus’ house is in harmony with its environment, not in violation of it.”

    35. On attitudes to nature in Pliny, see Beagon (1992 and 1996) Wallace Hadrill (1990: 80-96), and Sallmann (1986). On the beneficial attitude of nature towards humans, see especially Wallace Hadrill (1990: 83).

    36. For the most extensive statement of this idea, see Pliny’s condemnation of mining in 33.1-5.

    37. Wallace Hadrill (1990: 86): “… For the whole work is underpinned by the simple idea that Nature supplies, unasked and ungrudgingly, everything man needs, but that man, blinded by luxuria, abuses nature and turns it into the tool of his own destruction; the function of science is to reveal the proper use of nature and so save mankind.”

    38. This ideal of the ‘natural’ is never clearly defined, but in general, as Wallace-Hadrill phrases it, “the idea of the natural is … intimately linked with simplicity, cheapness, and accessibility. ... Luxury, by contrast, is characterised by superfluity. It is always excess to requirements. It is wasteful and destructive” (1990: 88). Cf. also Beagon (1996: 306): “Indeed, it is Pliny’s careful evaluation of what man’s needs really are, both material and moral, that often leads him to place restrictions on man’s activities in nature.”

    39. Montes natura sibi fecerat ut quasdam compages telluris visceribus densandis … Caedimus hos trahimusque nulla alia quam deliciarum causa … Secum quisque cogitet, et … quas vehi trahique moles videat, et quam sine iis multorum sit beatior vita.

    40. Edwards suggests that the buildings Pliny approves of are often not described, because otherwise it would immediately become obvious that they are made of exactly the same materials as all the buildings described as decadent (1996: 105). However, in the case of these very prominent and visible features of the Roman cityscape, it would very likely have been obvious to a Roman reader that they too were decorated with marble. On the paradox of sinful quarrying versus beneficial use of marble in Pliny, see also Edwards (1996: 108-9).

    41. Pliny points to utilitas as a moral justification for large-scale quarrying, if only implicitly, by repeatedly stressing the uselessness of the luxurious building projects he criticizes most fiercely, such as the pyramids in 36.75: dicantur obiter et pyramides in eadem Aegypto, regum pecuniae otiosa ac stulta ostentatio. (And the pyramids, also in Egypt, should be mentioned in passing, the useless and stupid display of the wealth of kings). The utility of harbours and aqueducts in comparison speaks for itself. On the importance of utilitas in Pliny’s work, see Citroni Marchetti (1982).

    42. Et inter plurima alia Italiae ipsius miracula marmora in lapicidinis crescere auctor est Papirius Fabianus, naturae rerum peritissimus, exemptores quoque adfirmant compleri sponte illa montium ulcera. Quae si vera sunt, spes est numquam defutura luxuriae.

    43. These passages also recall the extensive use of anatomical language in 33.1-3.

    44. On mirabilia and miracula in the Natural History, see Carey (2003: passim).

    45. This relationship between natural boundaries in society and in nature is explored by Edwards (1993: ch. 4). Cf. the passages quoted in n. 3, n. 28 and n. 40. On the philosophical (especially Stoic) background of the idea of the natural, see Kullmann (2010). Sallmann (1961) investigates the force of natura in the work of Lucretius. However, Edwards (points out that the meaning of the ‘natural’ in moralising literature has a diffuse philosophical background which precludes one precise definition (1993: 144-5).

    This page titled 3.2: Nature's Helping Hand is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jo Heirman and Jacqueline Klooster (Academia Press) .