Pliny the Elder (Plinius)

23-79 AD

Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, naturalist, archivist, and naval and military commander. He wrote a 37 volume of natural history called Naturalis Historia or Natural History. In his books he outlined, among other things, herbal remedies for medical problems. He also reported on several cases involving specific memory lapses that today we were refer to as anomia, aphasia, or alexia:

A man has been known when struck by a stone to forget how to read and write but nothing else. One who fell from a very high roof forgot his mother and his relatives and friends, another when ill forgot his servants also; the orator Mesalla Corvinus forgot his own name. Similarly tentative and hesitating lapses of memory often occur when the body even when unijurued is in repose; also the gradual approach of sleep curtails thememory and makes the unoccupied mind wonder where it is (Pliny the Elder, 77 AD Book 7, Stanza 24, p. 92).

Critchley (1970, p. 55) describes Pliny as the founder of modality-specificity and the selective impairment of memory.

Writings about Pliny the Elder

Benton, A. & Joynt, R. (1960). Early descriptions of aphasia. Archives of Neurology, 3, 205-221.

Critchley, M. (1970). Aphasiology and other aspects of language. London: Edward Arnold.

O’Neill, Y. (1980). Speech and speech disorders in western thought before 1600. Westport, CO: Greenwood Press.