Sometimes Happiness Will Kill You (Aulus Gellius, 3.15)

Literature and popular memory holds that sudden, unhoped for joy has killed many, when the breath is stalled and incapable of enduring the force of a new, and large emotion.

The philosopher Aristotle reports that when Polycrita heard happy but unexpected news without warning, the noblewoman from the island of Naxos expired. Philippides as well, a comic poet of no mean talent, died of joy itself when he learned he was victorious in a poet’s competition at an advanced age.

The story of Diagoras of Rhodes is also well known. That Diagoras had three children, one was a boxer, the second was a mixed-martial artist, and the third a wrestler. He watched all three win victories and be crowned on one day at the Olympics. When the three embraced him there and kissed him as they placed their garlands on his head; even as the people were throwing flowers on him in congratulations, he wheezed out his soul in that same stadium amid the kisses and the embraces as the people watched.

I have read written in our annals  that when the Roman army was destroyed in the storm at Cannae, a messenger afflicted an elderly mother with grief and sorrow over the death of her son. But the messenger was wrong! The youth returned to the city from the battle not much later. When the old woman say her son, she was so overcome by a confused, ruinous torrent of unhoped for joy that she immediately died.”

15 Exstare in litteris perque hominum memorias traditum, quod repente multis mortem attulit gaudium ingens insperatum interclusa anima et vim magni novique motus non sustinente.

1 Cognito repente insperato gaudio exspirasse animam refert Aristoteles philosophus Polycritam, nobilem feminam Naxo insula. 2 Philippides quoque, comoediarum poeta haut ignobilis, aetate iam edita, cum in certamine poetarum praeter spem vicisset et laetissime gauderet, inter illud gaudium repente mortuus est. 3 De Rhodio etiam Diagora celebrata historia est. Is Diagoras tris filios adulescentis habuit, unum pugilem, alterum pancratiasten, tertium luctatorem. Eos omnis vidit vincere coronarique Olympiae eodem die et, cum ibi cum tres adulescentes amplexi coronis suis in caput patris positis saviarentur, cum populus gratulabundus flores undique in eum iaceret, ibidem in stadio inspectante populo in osculis atque in manibus filiorum animam efflavit. 4 Praeterea in nostris annalibus scriptum legimus, qua tempestate apud Cannas exercitus populi Romani caesus est, anum matrem nuntio de morte filii adlato luctu atque maerore affectam esse; sed is nuntius non verus fuit, atque is adulescens non diu post ex ea pugna in urbem redit: anus repente filio viso copia atque turba et quasi ruina incidentis inopinati gaudii oppressa exanimataque est.

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