The Greater Deeds of Famous People

Pliny, Letters 3.16

“I believe I have already noted that the more famous deeds and words of men and women are sometimes not their greatest ones. My opinion was confirmed yesterday during a conversation with Fannia. She is a granddaughter of that Arria who was a source of strength and an example for her husband in his death. She was telling me many things about her grandmother which were no less important even if they were less well-known. I think they will be as amazing for you to read as they were for me to hear them.

Her husband Caecina Paetus was sick, and their son was sick, and it seemed that both would died. The son did die and he was a boy of exceeding beauty matched by his humble character who was dear to his parents no less for these qualities than for the fact he was their son. Arria prepared everything for the funeral and then led the ceremony in such a way that her husband did not know. Indeed, whenever she went into his bedroom, she pretended that their son was still alive and was actually getting better.

When he was asking how the boy was doing, she would respond, “he slept well and is eating easily.” And then, when her tears which she had held back overcame her and burst out, she left the room and surrendered herself to sorrow. When she was done, she returned with dry eyes and a composed face as if she had left her loss outside.

It was truly a famous deed when she took a dagger, drove it into her chest, pulled it out again, and then, as she offered it to her husband, added that immortal and nearly divine word, “Paetus, it does not hurt.” But when she was doing these things and saying them, fame and eternity stood before her eyes. For this reason it was greater when she suppressed her tears, hid her grief, and still acted as a mother once she had lost herself without the promise of eternity or the prize of glory to come.”

On Arria’s death.

C. Plinius Nepoti Suo S.

Adnotasse videor facta dictaque virorum feminarumque alia clariora esse alia maiora. Confirmata est opinio mea hesterno Fanniae sermone. Neptis haec Arriae illius, quae marito et solacium mortis et exemplum fuit. Multa referebat aviae suae non minora hoc sed obscuriora; quae tibi existimo tam mirabilia legenti fore, quam mihi audienti fuerunt. Aegrotabat Caecina Paetus maritus eius, aegrotabat et filius, uterque mortifere, ut videbatur. Filius decessit; eximia pulchritudine pari verecundia, et parentibus non minus ob alia carus quam quod filius erat. Huic illa ita funus paravit, ita duxit exsequias, ut ignoraret maritus; quin immo quotiens cubiculum eius intraret, vivere filium atque etiam commodiorem esse simulabat, ac persaepe interroganti, quid ageret puer, respondebat: “Bene quievit, libenter cibum sumpsit.” Deinde, cum diu cohibitae lacrimae vincerent prorumperentque, egrediebatur; tunc se dolori dabat; satiata siccis oculis composito vultu redibat, tamquam orbitatem foris reliquisset. Praeclarum quidem illud eiusdem, ferrum stringere, perfodere pectus, extrahere pugionem, porrigere marito, addere vocem immortalem ac paene divinam: “Paete, non dolet.” Sed tamen ista facienti, ista dicenti, gloria et aeternitas ante oculos erant; quo maius est sine praemio acternitatis, sine praemio gloriae, abdere lacrimas operire luctum, amissoque filio matrem adhuc agere.

Antoine Rivalz - La Mort de Paetus.jpg
La Mort de Paetus by Antoine Rivalz

 

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