“Septicia as well, the mother of Ariminum’s Trachali, because she was angry with her sons, married Publicius who was already old, even though she could no longer have children, as an insult against them. Then she took both of them out of her will. When they appealed to him, the divine Augustus criticized both the woman’s marriage and her final allotments. He ordered that the sons have their mother’s inheritance and the dowry since she had not begun the marriage for the purpose of having children.
If Fairness herself were to judge this affair, could she have come up with a more just or more substantial opinion? You spurn the children you bore, make a sterile marriage, make a mess of a final will because of your malicious spirit, and you don’t blush to hand all your wealth over to a man whose body you climb under even when it has already been laid out like a corpse? So, since you acted like this, you are struck by divine lightning even among the damned!”
Septicia quoque, mater Trachalorum Ariminensium, irata filiis, in contumeliam eorum, cum iam parere non posset, Publicio seni admodum nupsit, testamento etiam utrumque praeteriit. a quibus aditus divus Augustus et nuptias mulieris et suprema iudicia improbavit: nam hereditatem maternam filios habere iussit, dotem, quia non creandorum liberorum causa coniugium intercesserat, virum retinere vetuit. si ipsa Aequitas hac de re cognosceret, potuitne iustius aut gravius pronuntiare? spernis quos genuisti, nubis effeta, testamenti ordinem malevolo animo confundis, neque erubescis ei totum patrimonium addicere cuius pollincto iam corpori marcidam senectutem tuam substravisti. ergo dum sic te geris, ad inferos usque caelesti fulmine adflata es.
Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. CW: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.
Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10
“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.
When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”
Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.
“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”
In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:
Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.
If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.
“You ask how this information finds me, who informed me that you were contemplating something you had revealed to no one? It was the one who knows the most, rumor. “What,” you ask, “am I so great that I incite rumor?” Well, you shouldn’t be measuring yourself according to this place: look to where you are.
Anything that overshadows its neighbors is a big deal, where it is large by comparison. For size does not have an absolute standard. Comparison increases one thing but diminishes another. A ship in the midst of a great wave is small. But its rudder, massive on another ship, is tiny on a different one.
So in your region, you are a big deal, even if you look down on yourself. What you do, how you eat, how you sleep, is investigated, it is known. For this reason you need to like carefully.
Judge yourself lucky at that time when you can live out in the open, when the walls protect you but don’t hide you–even though we can believe for the most part that we surround ourselves with walls not to be safe, but to sin more in secret.”
Quomodo hoc ad me pervenerit quaeris, quis mihi id te cogitare narraverit, quod tu nulli narraveras? Is qui scit plurumum, rumor. “Quid ergo?” inquis, “Tantus sum, ut possim excitare rumorem?” Non est quod te ad hunc locum respiciens metiaris; ad istum respice, in quo moraris. Quicquid inter vicina eminet, magnum est illic, ubi eminet. Nam magnitudo non habet modum certum; comparatio illam aut tollit aut deprimit. Navis, quae in flumine magna est, in mari parvula est. Gubernaculum, quod alteri navi magnum, alteri exiguum est.
Tu nunc in provincia, licet contemnas ipse te, magnus es. Quid agas, quemadmodum cenes, quemadmodum dormias, quaeritur, scitur; eo tibi diligentius vivendum est. Tunc autem felicem esse te iudica, cum poteris in publico vivere, cum te parietes tui tegent, non abscondent, quos plerumque circumdatos nobis iudicamus non ut tutius vivamus, sed ut peccemus occultius.
“Our stupidity is clear from the fact that we think we are purchasing only those things we spend money on. We consider those things free we pay for with our very selves. These are the kind of things we would refuse to buy if our home had to be given in exchange, if some profitable or pricy holding were required, yet we are super eager to acquire them through anxiety, danger, giving up all shame and freedom and our free time–so much so that there’s nothing anyone treats more cheaply than themselves.
So, let us behave this way in all our plans and actions: just as we usually act when we approach some conman for a purchase, let us see how much is asked for what we want. Often the highest price is paid for nothing. I can show you many things for which searching and acquiring takes away our very freedom. We would be our own, if we did not have these things.”
Ex eo licet stupor noster appareat, quod ea sola putamus emi, pro quibus pecuniam solvimus, ea gratuita vocamus, pro quibus nos ipsos inpendimus. Quae emere nollemus, si domus nobis nostra pro illis esset danda, si amoenum aliquod fructuosumve praedium, ad ea paratissimi sumus pervenire cum sollicitudine, cum periculo, cum iactura pudoris et libertatis et temporis; adeo nihil est cuique se vilius.
Idem itaque in omnibus consiliis rebusque faciamus, quod solemus facere, quotiens ad institorem alicuius mercis accessimus; videamus, hoc quod concupiscimus, quanti deferatur. Saepe maximum pretium est, pro quo nullum datur. Multa possum tibi ostendere, quae adquisita acceptaque libertatem nobis extorserint; nostri essemus, si ista nostra non essent.
Claudia Severa invites her friend Sulpicia Lepidina (wife of the prefect at Vindolanda) to a birthday party. Despite the use of soror, the two women are not believed to be sisters. With part of the document written by Severa herself, this (and the accompanying notes) is believed to be the earliest-known Latin written by a woman.
Cl(audia) · Seuerá Lepidinae [suae
iii Idus Septembr[e]s soror ad diem
sollemnem natalem meum rogó
libenter faciás ut uenias
ad nos iucundiorem mihi
[diem] interuentú tuo facturá si
Cerial[em t]uum salutá Aelius meus .[
et filiolus salutant … … sperabo te soror uale soror anima mea ita ualeam karissima et haue
(The italicized text was written by Severa herself)
“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina, greetings. On September 11, sister, for my birthday celebration, I ask you sincerely to make sure you come to (join) us, to make the day more fun for me by your arrival…Say hello to your Cerialis. My Aelius and little boy say hello. I await you, sister. Be well, sister, my dearest soul, so I may be well too. Hail.”
A sad text. Also a good one to use in class, it utilizes both Latin and Hebrew, and goes well with a discussion of diversity in the city and empire. It is also one of the latest dated texts in this document.
(H)Ic iacet Gaudi=
qui bissit annoru=
m plus minu(s) tre=
s requiebit in
“Here lies the child Gaudiosa, who lived around three years. She will rest in peace. Shalom (in Hebrew)
“You write to me that Cicero is amazed that I say nothing about his deeds. Since you are hassling me, I will write you what I think thanks to your coaxing.
I know that Cicero has done everything with the best intention. What could be more proved to me than his love for the republic? But certain things seem to me, what can I say, that the most prudent man has acted as if inexperienced or ambitiously, this man who was not reluctant to take on Antony as an enemy when he was strongest?
I don’t know what to write to you except a single thing: the boy’s desire and weakness have been increased rather than repressed by Cicero and that he grinds on so far in his indulgence that he does not refrain from invectives that rebound in two ways. For he too has killed many and he must admit that he is an assassin before what he objects to Casca—in which case he acts the part of Bestia to Casca—
Or because we are not tossing about every hour the Ides of March the way he always has the Nones of December in his mouth, will Cicero find fault in the most noble deed from a better vantage point than Bestia and Clodius were accustomed to insult his consulship?
Our toga-clad friend Cicero brags that he has stood up to Antony’s war. How does it profit me if the cost of Antony defeated is the resumption of Antony’s place? Or if our avenger of this evil has turned out to be the author of another—an evil which has a foundation and deeper roots, even if we concede <whether it is true or not> those things which he does come from the fact that he either fears tyranny or Antony as a tyrant?
But I don’t have gratitude for anyone who does not protest the situation itself provided only that he serves one who is not raging at him. Triumphs, stipends, encouragement with every kind of degree so that it does not shame him to desire the fortune of the man whose name he has taken—is that a mark of a Consular man, of a Cicero?
1Scribis mihi mirari Ciceronem quod nihil significem umquam de suis actis; quoniam me flagitas, coactu tuo scribam quae sentio.
Omnia fecisse Ciceronem optimo animo scio. quid enim mihi exploratius esse potest quam illius animus in rem publicam? sed quaedam mihi videtur—quid dicam? imperite vir omnium prudentissimus an ambitiose fecisse, qui valentissimum Antonium suscipere pro re publica non dubitarit inimicum? nescio quid scribam tibi nisi unum: pueri et cupiditatem et licentiam potius esse irritatam quam repressam a Cicerone, tantumque eum tribuere huic indulgentiae ut se maledictis non abstineat iis quidem quae in ipsum dupliciter recidunt, quod et pluris occidit uno seque prius oportet fateatur sicarium quam obiciat Cascae quod obicit et imitetur in Casca Bestiam. an quia non omnibus horis iactamus Idus Martias similiter atque ille Nonas Decembris suas in ore habet, eo meliore condicione Cicero pulcherrimum factum vituperabit quam Bestia et Clodius reprehendere illius consulatum soliti sunt?
Sustinuisse mihi gloriatur bellum Antoni togatus Cicero noster. quid hoc mihi prodest, si merces Antoni oppressi poscitur in Antoni locum successio et si vindex illius mali auctor exstitit alterius fundamentum et radices habituri altiores, si patiamur, ut iam <dubium sit utrum>ista quae facit dominationem an dominum [an] Antonium timentis sint? ego autem gratiam non habeo si quis, dum ne irato serviat, rem ipsam non deprecatur. immo triumphus et stipendium et omnibus decretis hortatio ne eius pudeat concupiscere fortunam cuius nomen susceperit, consularis aut Ciceronis est?
“But should all these things befall us, the Ides of March may console. Our heroes too accomplished most gloriously and magnificently everything it was in their power to do. For the rest, we need money and troops, neither of which we have.”
Sed omnia licet concurrant, Idus Martiae consolantur. nostri autem ἥρωες quod per ipsos confici potuit gloriosissime et magnificentissime confecerunt; reliquae res opes et copias desiderant, quas nullas habemus
Cicero, Letters to Brutus I.15 (23) 14 July 43
“Therefore, come here, by the gods, as fast as possible; Convince yourself that it would do your country no greater good if you come quickly than you did on the Ides of March when you freed your fellow citizens from slavery.”
subveni igitur, per deos, idque quam primum, tibique persuade non te Idibus Martiis, quibus servitutem a tuis civibus depulisti, plus profuisse patriae quam, si mature veneris, profuturum.
Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1.15 (23) July 43
“After the death of Caesar and your unforgettable Ides of March, Brutus, you will not have lost sight of the the fact that I said that one thing was overlooked by you—how much a storm loomed over the Republic. The greatest disease was warded off thanks to you—a great blight was cleansed from the Roman people—and you won immortal fame for your part. But the mechanism of monarchy fell then to Lepidus and Antonius—one of whom is more erratic, while the other is rather unclean—both fearing peace and ill-fit to idle time.”
Post interitum Caesaris et vestras memorabilis Idus Martias, Brute, quid ego praetermissum a vobis quantamque impendere rei publicae tempestatem dixerim non es oblitus. magna pestis erat depulsa per vos, magna populi Romani macula deleta, vobis vero parta divina gloria, sed instrumentum regni delatum ad Lepidum et Antonium, quorum alter inconstantior, alter impurior, uterque pacem metuens, inimicus otio.
“How I wish that you had invited me to that most sumptuous feast on the Ides of March! We would now have no little scraps if you had. But now you have with them such difficulty in preventing that divine benefit which you bestowed upon the Republic from exciting some complaint. But, though it is hardly right, I am on occasion angry with you, because it was by you – a noble man indeed – it was by you and by your good service that this pest [Marc Antony] was led away and still lives. Now you have left behind more trouble for me alone than for everyone else.”
Quam vellem ad illas pulcherrimas epulas me Idibus Martiis invitasses! reliquiarum nihil haberemus. at nunc cum iis tantum negoti est ut vestrum illud divinum <in> rem publicam beneficium non nullam habeat querelam. quod vero a te, viro optimo, seductus est tuoque beneficio adhuc vivit haec pestis, interdum, quod mihi vix fas est, tibi subirascor; mihi enim negoti plus reliquisti uni quam praeter me omnibus.
“Caesar left certain of his friends the impression that he did not want or desire to live longer because of his worsening health. This is why he ignored what the omens warned and what his friends revealed. Others believe that he dismissed the Spanish guards who accompanied him with swords because he was confident in the Senate’s recent decree and their sworn oath. Others report that he preferred to face the plots that threatened him at once rather than cower before them. There are those who assert that he used to say that his safety should be of more importance to the state than to himself: he had acquired an abundance of power and glory already, but the state, should anything happen to him, would have no rest and would suffer civil war in a worse condition than before.
The following is generally held to be the case, however: his manner of death was scarcely against his desire. For, when he read Xenophon’s account of how in the final days of illness Cyrus gave the plans for his own funeral, Caesar expressed disdain for so slow a death and wished that his own would be sudden and fast. And on the day before he died during dinner conversation at the home of Marcus Lepidus on the topic of the most agreeable end to life, Caesar said he preferred one that was sudden and unexpected.”
Suspicionem Caesar quibusdam suorum reliquit neque uoluisse se diutius uiuere neque curasse quod ualitudine minus prospera uteretur, ideoque et quae religiones monerent et quae renuntiarent amici neglexisse. sunt qui putent, confisum eum nouissimo illo senatus consulto ac iure iurando etiam custodias Hispanorum cum gladiis †adinspectantium se remouisse.  alii e diuerso opinantur insidias undique imminentis subire semel quam cauere … solitum ferunt: non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse, uti saluus esset: se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum; rem publicam, si quid sibi eueniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione ciuilia bella subituram.
illud plane inter omnes fere constitit, talem ei mortem paene ex sententia obtigisse. nam et quondam, cum apud Xenophontem legisset Cyrum ultima ualitudine mandasse quaedam de funere suo, aspernatus tam lentum mortis genus subitam sibi celeremque optauerat; et pridie quam occideretur, in sermone nato super cenam apud Marcum Lepidum, quisnam esset finis uitae commodissimus, repentinum inopinatumque praetulerat.
“When I encourage you so sternly to study, I am pursuing my own interest. I want to have you as a friend–but this can’t happen unless you keep up as you started, with your self-improvement. Now, while you may love me, you are not my friend. “Wait, what?” you say, “do these words mean different things? truly, they are completely different.
Someone who is a friend loves you; but everyone who loves you isn’t necessarily a friend. Friendship is always useful, but sometimes love also hurts. Forge ahead for this reason if for no other: to learn how to love.”
Cum te tam valde rogo, ut studeas, meum negotium ago; habere te amicum volo, quod contingere mihi, nisi pergis ut coepisti excolere te, non potest. Nunc enim amas me, amicus non es. “Quid ergo? Haec inter se diversa sunt?” Immo dissimilia. Qui amicus est, amat; qui amat, non utique amicus est. Itaque amicitia semper prodest, amor aliquando etiam nocet. Si nihil aliud, ob hoc profice, ut amare discas.