A Marriage of Pity then Pride

Pliny, Letters 18.7-10

“This final testament is more praiseworthy because duty, trust, and shame have dictated it and because in it [Tullus] articulates his gratitude to all his relatives for their duty to him and especially to his wife. His most enduring wife has received the most charming homes, a great deal of money and probably deserved as much if not more from a husband she was criticized for even marrying.

For a woman of a famous family with pristine character—no longer young and long widowed with two children—seemed too indecorous in seeking marriage to a rich old man so deformed by sickness that he would even seemed disgusting even to a woman he had married when he was healthy and young. Since he was twisted and broken in every limb, he used to enjoy his great wealth with only his eyes and could move in bed without others. And this is foul and pitiable to add, his teeth had to be cleaned and washed for him. It was often heard from him—when he was complaining about the insults of his condition—that he licked the fingers of his own slaves each day.

Still, he was alive and he wanted to live with his wife’s help mostly, someone whose perseverance turned the ‘mistake’ of her criticized marriage into an object of renown.”

Quo laudabilius testamentum est, quod pietas fides pudor scripsit, in quo denique omnibus adfinitatibus pro cuiusque officio gratia relata est, relata et uxori. Accepit amoenissimas villas, accepit magnam pecuniam uxor optima et patientissima ac tanto melius de viro merita, quanto magis est reprehensa quod nupsit.

Nam mulier natalibus clara, moribus proba, aetate declivis, diu vidua mater olim, parum decore secuta matrimonium videbatur divitis senis ita perditi morbo, ut esse taedio posset uxori, quam iuvenis sanusque duxisset. Quippe omnibus membris extortus et fractus, tantas opes solis oculis obibat, ac ne in lectulo quidem nisi ab aliis movebatur; quin etiam (foedum miserandumque dictu) dentes lavandos fricandosque praebebat. Auditum frequenter ex ipso, cum quereretur de contumeliis debilitatis suae, digitos se servorum suorum cotidie lingere. Vivebat tamen et vivere volebat, sustentante maxime uxore, quae culpam incohati mat/rimonii in gloriam perseverantia verterat.

 Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria

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