• Caroline K. Mackenzie

In the Shadow of Vesuvius: a Life of Pliny - Daisy Dunn's fabulous new biography.

Daisy Dunn created quite a stir with her racy biography of the Roman love poet Catullus and her most recent book about the lives of the Plinys has erupted onto the literary scene with equal drama.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius: a Life of Pliny (published by Harper Collins)


Daisy explained the process of writing it (a four year task) and shared some of the highlights of the resulting book at an immensely enjoyable event at Hatchards of Piccadilly last week. My favourite anecdote was how a seventeen year old Pliny the Younger declined his uncle's (Pliny the Elder) invitation to join him on an excursion to examine more closely the strange phenomenon which transpired to be the devastating (and for Pliny the Elder fatal) eruption of Mount Vesuvius. What was the teenager's unlikely reason for staying at home instead of joining his uncle on the promised adventure? He had homework to complete. This could be a useful tactic for me to employ with my Latin and Greek pupils: stay at home and study as it can be dangerous out there.


The book is beautifully written and cleverly structured to follow the seasons, reflecting the subject matter of Pliny the Elder's great masterpiece, the Natural History. I won't include any spoilers here but suffice to say there are some fascinating and amusing passages from Pliny's encyclopaedia which will get you thinking about the extraordinary potential uses of many plants and animals (some more dubious than others - don't try these at home).

Daisy Dunn signing copies of her new book at Hatchards of Piccadilly

© Caroline Mackenzie


The official launch party where family, friends and fellow historians joined in the celebrations was held at the beautiful Panter & Hall gallery on Pall Mall. In the Shadow of Vesuvius: a Life of Pliny has already received rave reviews and brings to life a story that may be familiar to many of us from the exceptional sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum (from where many artefacts and archaeological remains came to the British Museum for the hugely successful exhibition in 2013) but in a manner which conveys the personal and tragic experience of a first-hand witness.


Pliny the Younger's homework not only saved his life but also ensured that the story of his life could be recorded and preserved initially in his own letters (Epistulae) and now in this tremendous tribute to one of the most famous uncle and nephew relationships in history.

Daisy Dunn celebrating the launch with author and historian Jessie Childs

© Caroline Mackenzie

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© 2020 by Caroline K. Mackenzie.