A Man Who Does Only What Must Not Be Done

Pliny, Letters 4.2

To My Dear Friend Attius Clementius,

“Regulus lost his son, a single suffering he did not merit but I don’t know if he considered it a bad thing. The boy was clever but of an unreliable nature who still could have turned out well if he had not favored his father. Regulus freed the boy so he could stand as a heir for his mother’s estate. Once the boy was freed—as they commonly say thanks to the man’s habits—his father enchanted him with the foul pretense of indulgence which is not customary to parents.

It is hard to believe, but look at Regulus. He mourns the lost boy madly. The child used to keep many ponies for riding and driving, and he used to have big and small dogs along with nightingales, parrots, and blackbirds. Regulus slaughtered them all around his son’s pyre.This is not grief but a show of grief. There’s also a sudden, miraculous celebrity to him. Everyone despises, hates him, but they rush, even crowd him as if they approve of him, admire him. In short, if I may put it in a phrase, they rival Regulus in Regulus’ way.

He stays in his gardens across the Tiber, a place where he has covered a huge area with giant porticos and covered the bank with his own statues, because he is as luxuriant in his greed as he is effulgent in his severe infamy. In this way, he troubles the whole city at an unhealthy time of year and he thinks it is some solace that he annoys people.

He claims that he wants to take another wife, which is as perverse as everything else he does. You will hear soon enough of the marriage of the mourning old man. Too early for one, too late for the other. How can I predict this, you ask? It is not anything the man said—nothing is more likely a lie than that—but because it is a sure thing that Regulus will do whatever should not be done. Good bye.”

C. Plinius Attio Clementi Suo S.
1Regulus filium amisit, hoc uno malo indignus, quod nescio an malum putet. Erat puer acris ingenii sed ambigui, qui tamen posset recta sectari, si patrem non referret. Hunc Regulus emancipavit, ut heres matris exsisteret; mancipatum (ita vulgo ex moribus hominis loquebantur) foeda et insolita parentibus indulgentiae simulatione captabat. Incredibile, sed Regulum cogita. Amissum tamen luget insane. Habebat puer mannulos multos et iunctos et solutos, habebat canes maiores minoresque, habebat luscinias psittacos merulas: omnes Regulus circa rogum trucidavit. Nec dolor erat ille, sed ostentatio doloris. Convenitur ad eum mira celebritate. Cuncti detestantur oderunt, et quasi probent quasi diligant, cursant frequentant, utque breviter quod sentio enuntiem, in Regulo demerendo Regulum imitantur. Tenet se trans Tiberim in hortis, in quibus latissimum solum porticibus immensis, ripam statuis suis occupavit, ut est in summa avaritia sumptuosus, in summa infamia gloriosus. Vexat ergo civitatem insaluberrimo tempore et, quod vexat, solacium putat. Dicit se velle ducere uxorem, hoc quoque sicut alia perverse. Audies brevi nuptias lugentis nuptias senis; quorum alterum immaturum alterum serum est. Unde hoc augurer quaeris? Non quia adfirmat ipse, quo mendacius nihil est, sed quia certum est Regulum esse facturum, quidquid fieri non oportet. Vale.

Relief from a Roman Sarcophagus

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