After 100 Letters, Seneca Mentions His Wife

Seneca, Moral Epistles 104.1-3

“I fled to my place in Nomentum. Why do you think? To leave the city? no, to escape a fever that was working its way through me. It already grabbed ahold of me. My doctor was saying that the movement was troubled and uncertain and ruining my natural state. So, I ordered my car to be readied immediately and I persisted in leaving, although Paulina was trying to keep me at home. I remember that word from my teacher Gallio who, when he began to develop a fever in Achaea, ran aboard a ship right away shouting that his body wasn’t sick but the place was.

This is what I said to my Paulina who urges me to think about my health.  I understand that her breath turns on mine and I am trying to care for myself to take care of her. And although old age has helped me be braver about many things, I am losing one benefit of this time of life. Indeed, the idea has entered my mind that there is a young man in this old age who needs compassion.

So, because I cannot persuade her to love me more stoically, she has persuaded me to treat myself more carefully.  Real emotions should be indulged, even if other things press upon us in the meantime. Breath must be called back and held in  even in pain to honor those we care for–the good person must not live as long as it is pleasing, but instead as long as they must. Someone who doesn’t think their spouse or friend worth living a bit longer for, who persists in wanting to die, is truly selfish.”

In Nomentanum meum fugi, quid putas? Urbem? Immo febrem et quidem subrepentem. Iam manum mihi iniecerat. Medicus initia esse dicebat motis venis et incertis et naturalem turbantibus modum. Protinus itaque parari vehiculum iussi; Paulina mea retinente exire perseveravi; illud mihi ore erat domini mei Gallionis, qui cum in Achaia febrem habere coepisset, protinus navem ascendit clamitans non corporis esse, sed loci morbum. Hoc ego Paulinae meae dixi, quae mihi valitudinem meam commendat. Nam cum sciam spiritum illius in meo verti, incipio, ut illi consulam, mihi consulere. Et cum me fortiorem senectus ad multa reddiderit, hoc beneficium aetatis amitto. Venit enim mihi in mentem, in hoc sene et adulescentem esse, cui parcitur. Itaque quoniam ego ab illa non impetro, ut me fortius amet, a me impetrat illa, ut me diligentius amem. Indulgendum est enim honestis adfectibus; et interdum, etiam si premunt causae, spiritus in honorem suorum vel cum tormento revocandus et in ipso ore retinendus est, cum bono viro vivendum sit non quamdiu iuvat sed quamdiu oportet. Ille, qui non uxorem, non amicum tanti putat, ut diutius in vita commoretur, qui perseverabit mori, delicatus est.

Color photograph of a wall painting from the medieval period. A servant helps a husband get into bed with his wife. both spouses are shirtless
Memmi di Filippuccio, Profane love scenes: The spouses retired to bed, c. 1306. Level San Gimignano (Details of level on Google Art Project) room Civic Museums of San Gimignano: Palazzo Comunale, Picture Gallery, Big Tower (


One thought on “After 100 Letters, Seneca Mentions His Wife

  1. Maybe review the translation more carefully: there are words missing (as in “It already grabbed ahold of my. “) Some sentences are confusing, ie: “Breath must be called back and held in the both itself even in pain to honor those we care for–the good person must not life as long as it is pleasing, but instead as long as they must.”

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