My Heart’s Trouble: On the Death of Young Mothers

Pliny, Letters 4.21

To My Friend Velius Cerialis

“The death of the Helvidii sisters is so sad and bitter! Both from childbirth—each one died while giving birth to a daughter. I am super disturbed, and I do not grieve beyond reason: it seems so mournful to me because motherhood took these most honorable girls in the prime of their life. I feel awful as well for the fate of the infants who are born without mothers and for their noble husbands.

I mourn too on my own part. I have continued loving their father since he died as is proved in my actions and my publications since. Now only one of his three children remain, he alone supports and sustains a household which just a little time ago relied on many pillars.

My sorrow may grow quiet despite such trouble if fate will at least keep him safe, strong, and sound and an equal man to his father and his grandfather. I have more anxiety for his safety and habits now because he is alone. You know my heart’s trouble, you know my fear in love—it will not surprise you any less, then, that I fear more about one for whom I have more hope. Goodbye.”

C. Plinius Velio Ceriali Suo S.

Tristem et acerbum casum Helvidiarum sororum! Utraque a partu, utraque filiam enixa decessit. Adficior dolore, nec tamen supra modum doleo: ita mihi luctuosum videtur, quod puellas honestissimas in flore primo fecunditas abstulit. Angor infantium sorte, quae sunt parentibus statim et dum nascuntur orbatae, angor optimorum maritorum, angor etiam meo nomine. Nam patrem illarum defunctum quoque perseverantissime diligo, ut actione mea librisque testatum est; cui nunc unus ex tribus liberis superest, domumque pluribus adminiculis paulo ante fundatam desolatus fulcit ac sustinet. Magno tamen fomento dolor meus adquiescet, si hunc saltem fortem et incolumem, paremque illi patri illi avo fortuna servaverit. Cuius ego pro salute pro moribus, hoc sum magis anxius quod unicus factus est. Nosti in amore mollitiam animi mei, nosti metus; quo minus te mirari oportebit, quod plurimum timeam, de quo plurimum spero. Vale.

Marble Grave Stele, Greek 450 BCE (MET)

 

 

Passion and Genius: A Reader’s Report from Pliny

Pliny, Letters 4.20

To My friend Novius Maximus

What I thought about each part of your book I sent you once I finished reading it. Now you can have my general judgment about the whole. It is a beautiful work, strong, sharp, deep; it is full of varied language with clear figures.

Its capacious nature will be equaled by the greatness of the praise you receive for it. In this work, you were driven as widely by your intelligence as your passion and each of these in turn has given the other strength: for your intelligence has added depth and magnitude to your passion while your passion has given your genius force and focus.

Plinius Novio Maximo Suo S.

Quid senserim de singulis tuis libris, notum tibi ut quemque perlegeram feci; accipe nunc quid de universis generaliter iudicem. Est opus pulchrum validum acre sublime, varium elegans purum figura­tum, spatiosum etiam et cum magna tua laude diffusum, in quo tu ingenii simul dolorisque velis latissime vectus es; et horum utrumque invicem adiumento fuit. Nam dolori sublimitatem et magnificentiam ingenium, ingenio vim et amaritudinem dolor addidit. Vale

Roman fresco of a blond maiden reading a text, Pompeian Fourth Style (60-79 AD), Pompeii, Italy

Falling Down in the World: From Senator to Professor

Pliny, Letters 4.11

To My Friend Cornelius Minicianus,

Have you heard that Valerius Licinianus is teaching in Sicily. I don’t think you have since the news just reached me. This Praetorian Senator was only just recently considered among the most eloquent advocated in Rome. But he has fallen to this: an exile from the Senate and a professor of rhetoric.

Thus, in his first lecture, he spoke these words soulfully: “What games do you play with us, Fortune? You make professors from senators, and senators from professors!” So much bile, so much bitterness—perhaps he got himself made a teacher just to say it! When he entered wearing a Greek cloak—since those who have been exiled are forbidden the toga—he composed himself, looked himself over, and announced, “I will lecture in Latin!”

C. Plinius Cornelio Miniciano Suo S.
Audistine Valerium Licinianum in Sicilia profiteri? nondum te puto audisse: est enim recens nuntius. Praetorius hic modo inter eloquentissimos causarum actores habebatur; nunc eo decidit, ut exsul de senatore, rhetor de oratore fieret. Itaque ipse in praefatione dixit dolenter et graviter: “Quos tibi, Fortuna, ludos facis? facis enim ex senatoribus professores, ex professoribus senatores.” Cui sententiae tantum bilis, tantum amaritudinis inest, ut mihi videatur ideo professus ut hoc diceret. Idem cum Graeco pallio amictus intrasset (carent enim togae iure, quibus aqua et igni interdictum est), postquam se composuit circumspexitque habitum suum, “Latine” inquit “declamaturus sum.”

Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century AD

Still Enslaved, on A Technicality

Pliny, Letters 4.10

To My Friend Statius Sabinus,

You were describing to me that Sabina, when she designated us as heirs, did not explain that her slave Modestus should be freed, but still left him a legacy by saying, “to Modestus whom I ordered to be freed”. You ask to hear what I think. I have talked to people who are experienced in the law. It is agreed by all of them that he is not owed freedom since she did not give it nor the legacy because she gave it to him when he was a slave.

But this seems to be a clear error to me and I think that we would act as if she had written it out because she believe that she wrote it. I have faith that you will agree with my take on this, since you are customarily sedulously in carrying out the will of those who have passed away—it should be understood by good heirs as if it were the law. Respect puts no less a demand on us as law does for others. Therefore, let Modestus enjoy his freedom with our approval and receive the legacy as if Sabina had cared for everything with utmost precision. Truly, she did care, since she chose her heirs well! Goodbye!”

C. Plinius Statio Sabino Suo S.
Scribis mihi Sabinam, quae nos reliquit heredes, Modestum servum suum nusquam liberum esse iussisse, eidem tamen sic adscripsisse legatum: “Modesto quem liberum esse iussi.” Quaeris quid sentiam. Contuli cum peritis iuris. Convenit inter omnes nec libertatem deberi quia non sit data, nec legatum quia servo suo dederit. Sed mihi manifestus error videtur, ideoque puto nobis quasi scripserit Sabina faciendum, quod ipsa scripsisse se credidit. Confido accessurum te sententiae meae, cum religiosissime soleas custodire defunctorum voluntatem, quam bonis heredibus intellexisse pro iure est. Neque enim minus apud nos honestas quam apud alios necessitas valet. Moretur ergo in libertate sinentibus nobis, fruatur legato quasi omnia diligentissime caverit. Cavit enim, quae heredes bene elegit. Vale.

File:Roman slave shackles.jpg
Roman Slave Shackles

Like Something Written By a Child: Self-Publishing Rich Guys

Pliny, Letters 4.7

To My Friend Catius Lepidus,

I have often told you about the force of Regulus. It is a wonder how he completes whatever he dreams up. It was to his taste to mourn his son, so he mourns as no one does. It was to his taste to have as many statues and images of him made as possible. He assigned this to all the shops: he makes boy in colors, the boy in wax, the boy in bronze, the boy in silver, the boy in gold, ivory, marble.

He also recently recited a book on the life of his son to a huge audience he had summoned. It was about he life of a boy, but he read it still. And then he send that same story copied out countless times through all of Italy and the provinces. He wrote openly to the members of the town leaderships so that the most eloquent of their number would read the book in public: it is done!

If he had used this force—or by whatever other name the desire to get what we want should be called—if he had focused on better things, how much good he could have accomplished! A good person is just less forceful than a bad one, as the saying goes, “ignorance makes you bold, thought makes you hesitate. A sense of propriety weakens right thinking people; depravity encourages rash daring.”

Regulus is a good example of this. His lungs are weak, his mouth is muddled, his tongue isn’t fluent, he is really slow at composing with a worthless memory and has nothing apart from a crazy wit. But his lack of shame has won him so much passion that he is considered an orator. For this reason, Herennius Senecio has marvelously altered that Catonian comment on an oratory for him: “This orator is a bad man, untrained at speaking.” My god, Cato himself did not define an orator as well as Senecio described Regulus!

Are you at all able of making a letter equal to this one in thanks? You are if you will write about whether any of my friends in your town—even you—has been forced to read out Regulus’ mournful book like a carnival barker in the forum or, putting it the way Demosthenes does, “crying out and harmonizing his voice”. For it is so ridiculous that it is as likely to elicit laughter as sorrow. You would think it was written by a boy not about one! Goodbye!

C. Plinius Catio Lepido Suo S.

Saepe tibi dico inesse vim Regulo. Mirum est quam efficiat in quod incubuit. Placuit ei lugere filium: luget ut nemo. Placuit statuas eius et imagines quam plurimas facere: hoc omnibus officinis agit, illum coloribus illum cera illum aere illum argento illum auro ebore marmore effingit. Ipse vero nuper adhibito ingenti auditorio librum de vita eius recitavit; de vita pueri, recitavit tamen. Eundem in exemplaria mille transcriptum per totam Italiam provinciasque dimisit. Scripsit publice, ut a decurionibus eligeretur vocalissimus aliquis ex ipsis, qui legeret eum populo: factum est. Hanc ille vim, seu quo alio nomine vocanda est intentio quidquid velis optinendi, si ad potiora vertisset, quantum boni efficere potuisset! Quamquam minor vis bonis quam malis inest, ac sicut ἀμαθíα μὲν θράσoς, λoγισμòς δὲ ὄκνoν φέρει, ita recta ingenia debilitat verecundia, perversa confirmat audacia. Exemplo est Regulus. Imbecillum latus, os confusum, haesitans lingua, tardissima inventio, memoria nulla, nihil denique praeter ingenium insanum, et tamen eo impudentia ipsoque illo furore pervenit, ut orator habeatur. Itaque Herennius Senecio mirifice Catonis illud de oratore in hunc e contrario vertit: “Orator est vir malus dicendi imperitus.” Non mehercule Cato ipse tam bene verum oratorem quam hic Regulum expressit. Habesne quo tali epistulae parem gratiam referas? Habes, si scripseris num aliquis in municipio vestro ex sodalibus meis, num etiam ipse tu hunc luctuosum Reguli librum ut circulator in foro legeris, ἐπάρας scilicet, ut ait Demosthenes, τὴν φωνὴν καì γεγηθὼς καì λαρυγγíζων. Est enim tam ineptus ut risum magis possit exprimere quam gemitum: credas non de puero scriptum sed a puero. Vale.

Image result for roman funeral masks

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

Marcus Valerius Martial is Dead!

Pliny, Letters 3.21

To My Dear Friend Cornelius Priscus.

I am hearing that Valerius Martial is dead and I am taking it badly. He was a brilliant, subtle, and sharp man who had both wit and acuity in his writing without sacrificing sincerity. I sponsored his trip home when he left Rome—I gave him this because of our friendship and for the verses he composed about me.

It was the ancient custom to reward poets with honors or money when they had composed encomia for individuals or cities. This has become less common in our times along with other remarkable and exceptional gestures. For once we stop doing things worthy of praise, we also consider it inappropriate to be praised.

You wonder which were the verses which earned my thanks? I would send you the book if I had not memorized them. If you like these lines, you can look up others in his books. The poet is speaking to to muse, and he orders her to you’re your house on the Esquiline and approach with respect:

“Muse, don’t knock on his door at he wrong time, and drunk
He dedicates every day to bitter Minerva
Hard at work for the ears of the Hundred Men
On compositions which later generations
Will compare to Arpi’s pages too.
You will arrive more safely when the lights are on.
This is your time when Lyaeus goes wild
When the rose reigns and hair is wet.
Then may even the uptight Catos read me.”

Did I dismiss someone who wrote these things about me in a friendly manner rightly and do I now mourn the lost as one of my best friends.? He surely gave me as much as possible and would have given more if he could have. Still, is there anything greater to be given to a person than praise which is famous and eternal? But will what he wrote be eternal? Perhaps not, but he still wrote it as if it would be. Farewell.

C. Plinius Cornelio Prisco Suo S.

1Audio Valerium Martialem decessisse et moleste fero. Erat homo ingeniosus acutus acer, et qui plurimum in scribendo et salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus. Prosecutus eram viatico secedentem; dederam hoc amicitiae, dederam etiam versiculis quos de me composuit. Fuit moris antiqui, eos qui vel singulorum laudes vel urbium scripserant, aut honoribus aut pecunia ornare; nostris vero temporibus ut alia speciosa et egregia, ita hoc in primis exolevit. Nam postquam desîmus facere laudanda, laudari quoque ineptum putamus. Quaeris, qui sint versiculi quibus gratiam rettuli? Remitterem te ad ipsum volumen, nisi quosdam tenerem; tu, si placuerint hi, ceteros in libro requires. Adloquitur Musam, mandat ut domum meam Esquilis quaerat, adeat reverenter:

Sed ne tempore non tuo disertam
pulses ebria ianuam, videto.
Totos dat tetricae dies Minervae,
dum centum studet auribus virorum
hoc, quod saecula posterique possint
Arpinis quoque comparare chartis.
Seras tutior ibis ad lucernas:
haec hora est tua, cum furit Lyaeus,
cum regnat rosa, cum madent capilli.
Tunc me vel rigidi legant Catones.

Meritone eum qui haec de me scripsit et tunc dimisi amicissime et nunc ut amicissimum defunctum esse doleo? Dedit enim mihi quantum maximum potuit, daturus amplius si potuisset. Tametsi quid homini potest dari maius, quam gloria et laus et aeternitas? At non erunt aeterna quae scripsit: non erunt fortasse, ille tamen scripsit tamquam essent futura. Vale.

File:Martialis - Bust - by Melero01.jpg
Martialis by Juan Cruz Melero