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)

 

 

Merely Playing with Words: Learning For School Not for Life

Seneca, Moral Epistle 106.11-12

“In sum, whatever we do we are compelled to do by either malice or virtue. What controls a body, is corporeal; what gives force to a body is a body. The good of a body is corporeal good; the good of a person is the good of a body—therefore it too is corporeal.

Since I have pursued this custom as you wanted, now I myself will say what I expect you to say: “we have been playing games!” Our wit is worn thing by silly things—they make us learned but not good. To be wise is a more obvious matter—it is much better to use literature to improve the mind, but we waste the rest of our time in empty matters, and so we waste philosophy itself. Just as in all things, so too we labor excessively over literature. We learn not for life but for school. Goodbye.”

Denique quidquid facimus, aut malitiae aut virtutis gerimus imperio. Quod imperat corpori, corpus est, quod vim corpori adfert, corpus. Bonum corporis corporalest,bonum hominis et corporis bonum est; itaque corporale est.

11Quoniam, ut voluisti, morem gessi tibi, nunc ipse dicam mihi, quod dicturum esse te video: latrunculis ludimus. In supervacuis subtilitas teritur; non faciunt bonos ista, sed doctos. Apertior res est sapere, immo simpliciter satius est ad mentem bonam uti litteris, sed nos ut cetera in supervacuum diffundimus, ita philosophiam ipsam. Quemadmodum omnium rerum, sic litterarum quoque intemperantia laboramus; non vitae sed scholae discimus. Vale.

Dirc van Delf | Table of Christian Faith | Illuminated by the Masters of Dirc van Delft | ca. 1405–10 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Dirc van Delf, Table of Christian Faith, in Dutch, The Netherlands, Utrecht(?), ca. 1405-10, Illuminated by the Masters of Dirc van Delft (from pinterest)

 

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

Pliny Writes to Redfin

Pliny Letters 3.19

“I am seeking your advice in a personal matter, as I usually do. The property next to mine, which intrudes upon it in many places, is for sale. This interests me for many reasons, but there are a few detractors too. The foremost attraction is the beauty of joining the lands and then, which is no less useful than pleasurable, to be able to visit both at the same time on the same trip, to have both under the same steward and have nearly all the same workers, to build and decorate only one house, provided the other was kept safe. On this balance sheet, I place the expenditure of furniture, domestic labor, gardeners, and handymen along with hunting materials since there is a big different in cost if you have all of these in one place instead of spreading them around several.

Against this, I fear that it may be irrational to leave a property of so great a size to the same climate risks and the same fortunes. It seems safer to dilute risk by having property in different places. In addition, there is a much delight in a change of location and a journey between places. The final point of our decision is this: the fields are fertile and has access to water; the property is filled with fields, vineyards, and a forest which produces a regular income.”

Plinius Calvisio Rufo Suo S.

1Adsumo te in consilium rei familiaris, ut soleo. Praedia agris meis vicina atque etiam inserta venalia sunt. In his me multa sollicitant, aliqua nec minora  deterrent. Sollicitat primum ipsa pulchritudo iungendi; deinde, quod non minus utile quam voluptuosum, posse utraque eadem opera eodem viatico invisere, sub eodem procuratore ac paene isdem actoribus habere, unam villam colere et ornare, alteram tantum tueri. Inest huic computationi sumptus supellectilis, sumptus atriensium topiariorum fabrorum atque etiam venatorii instrumenti; quae plurimum refert unum in locum conferas an in diversa dispergas. Contra vereor ne sit incautum, rem tam magnam isdem tempestatibus isdem casibus subdere; tutius videtur incerta fortunae possessionum varietatibus experiri. Habet etiam multum iucunditatis soli caelique mutatio, ipsaque illa peregrinatio 5 inter sua. Iam, quod deliberationis nostrae caput est, agri sunt fertiles pingues aquosi; constant campis vineis silvis, quae materiam et ex ea reditum

redfin

The Greater Deeds of Famous People

Pliny, Letters 3.16

“I believe I have already noted that the more famous deeds and words of men and women are sometimes not their greatest ones. My opinion was confirmed yesterday during a conversation with Fannia. She is a granddaughter of that Arria who was a source of strength and an example for her husband in his death. She was telling me many things about her grandmother which were no less important even if they were less well-known. I think they will be as amazing for you to read as they were for me to hear them.

Her husband Caecina Paetus was sick, and their son was sick, and it seemed that both would died. The son did die and he was a boy of exceeding beauty matched by his humble character who was dear to his parents no less for these qualities than for the fact he was their son. Arria prepared everything for the funeral and then led the ceremony in such a way that her husband did not know. Indeed, whenever she went into his bedroom, she pretended that their son was still alive and was actually getting better.

When he was asking how the boy was doing, she would respond, “he slept well and is eating easily.” And then, when her tears which she had held back overcame her and burst out, she left the room and surrendered herself to sorrow. When she was done, she returned with dry eyes and a composed face as if she had left her loss outside.

It was truly a famous deed when she took a dagger, drove it into her chest, pulled it out again, and then, as she offered it to her husband, added that immortal and nearly divine word, “Paetus, it does not hurt.” But when she was doing these things and saying them, fame and eternity stood before her eyes. For this reason it was greater when she suppressed her tears, hid her grief, and still acted as a mother once she had lost herself without the promise of eternity or the prize of glory to come.”

On Arria’s death.

C. Plinius Nepoti Suo S.

Adnotasse videor facta dictaque virorum feminarumque alia clariora esse alia maiora. Confirmata est opinio mea hesterno Fanniae sermone. Neptis haec Arriae illius, quae marito et solacium mortis et exemplum fuit. Multa referebat aviae suae non minora hoc sed obscuriora; quae tibi existimo tam mirabilia legenti fore, quam mihi audienti fuerunt. Aegrotabat Caecina Paetus maritus eius, aegrotabat et filius, uterque mortifere, ut videbatur. Filius decessit; eximia pulchritudine pari verecundia, et parentibus non minus ob alia carus quam quod filius erat. Huic illa ita funus paravit, ita duxit exsequias, ut ignoraret maritus; quin immo quotiens cubiculum eius intraret, vivere filium atque etiam commodiorem esse simulabat, ac persaepe interroganti, quid ageret puer, respondebat: “Bene quievit, libenter cibum sumpsit.” Deinde, cum diu cohibitae lacrimae vincerent prorumperentque, egrediebatur; tunc se dolori dabat; satiata siccis oculis composito vultu redibat, tamquam orbitatem foris reliquisset. Praeclarum quidem illud eiusdem, ferrum stringere, perfodere pectus, extrahere pugionem, porrigere marito, addere vocem immortalem ac paene divinam: “Paete, non dolet.” Sed tamen ista facienti, ista dicenti, gloria et aeternitas ante oculos erant; quo maius est sine praemio acternitatis, sine praemio gloriae, abdere lacrimas operire luctum, amissoque filio matrem adhuc agere.

Antoine Rivalz - La Mort de Paetus.jpg
La Mort de Paetus by Antoine Rivalz

 

Sure, I’ll Read Your Manuscript On Vacation

Pliny. Letters 3.15

“You are asking me to read some of your poems when I am on vacation to see if they should be published. You add pleading and provide an example, when you ask if I can find any spare moments of time to spend on this. You say that Cicero nurtured poetic talent with amazing kindness.

But I do not need to be begged or encouraged. I worship poetry itself almost religiously and I love you most deeply. I would do what you want as carefully as I would happily. Nevertheless, I think I can already respond to you that the work is fine and should not be suppressed, as much as this is possible to evaluate from the parts you have already recited to me, unless it was your power of recitation which moved me (since you read sweetly and skillfully). But I am still confident that I was not misled enough by my ears that the clarity of my judgment was at all dulled. Perhaps my wits have weakened and restrained a little, but they can’t be plucked and removed completely. That’s already my statement on the work as a whole, but I will test its parts by reading them.”

C. Plinius Silio Proculo Suo S.

Petis ut libellos tuos in secessu legam examinem, an editione sint digni; adhibes preces, adlegas exem¬plum: rogas enim, ut aliquid subscivi temporis studiis meis subtraham, impertiam tuis, adicis M. Tullium mira benignitate poetarum ingenia fovisse. Sed ego nec rogandus sum nec hortandus; nam et poeticen ipsam religiosissime veneror et te valdissime diligo. Faciam ergo quod desideras tam diligenter quam libenter. Videor autem iam nunc posse rescribere esse opus pulchrum nec supprimendum, quantum aestimare licuit ex iis quae me praesente recitasti, si modo mihi non imposuit recitatio tua; legis enim suavissime et peritissime. Confido tamen me non sic auribus duci, ut omnes aculei iudicii mei illarum delenimentis refringantur: hebetentur fortasse et paulum retundantur, evelli quidem extorquerique non possunt. Igitur non temere iam nunc de universitate pronuntio, de partibus experiar legendo. Vale.

Plinio Il Giovane.jpg
Pliny the Younger on the Duomo Di Como