Comfort in Literature in the Face of Disease and Death

Pliny, Letters 8.19

“I have so much joy and comfort in literature that there’s nothing that can’t be made happier because of it and there’s nothing sad enough to detract from its effect. I am so troubled by the sickness of my wife and the danger to my household, even the threat of death, that I have fled to my study as the only distraction from pain. I may sense my troubles more in this way but I yet bear them more easily. 

It is my custom, however, to test on my friends’ judgment–especially yours– anything I intend to circulate publicly. So, if you have ever before done so, please examine the book which you are receiving with this letter, since I fear that have focused too poorly because of my sorrow. I was able to overcome my grief enough to write, but I could not do it with a light and happy spirit. For happiness to come from study, study must arise from joy.  Goodbye”

Et gaudium mihi et solacium in litteris, nihilque tam laetum quod his laetius, tam triste quod non per has minus triste. Itaque et infirmitate uxoris et meorum periculo, quorundam vero etiam morte turbatus, ad unicum doloris levamentum studia confugi, quae praestant ut adversa magis intellegam sed patientius feram. Est autem mihi moris, quod sum daturus in manus hominum, ante amicorum iudicio examinare, in primis tuo. Proinde si quando, nunc intende libro quem cum hac epistula accipies, quia vereor ne ipse ut tristis parum intenderim. Imperare enim dolori ut scriberem potui; ut vacuo animo laetoque, non potui. Porro ut ex studiis gaudium sic studia hilaritate proveniunt. Vale.

Rattenberg (Tyrol). Augustine museum – Memento-mori-painting ( 1694 ) from Kitzbühl – detail with inscription: “All skulls are signed but one; write your name on it, it is yours.”

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