Want to Hear a Story? The First Class Crudeness of This Man!

Pliny, Letters, 2.20C. Plinius Calvisio Suo S.

“Get your money out and get ready for premium story—really, stories, since the new one reminds me of others and there’s no difference in where I begin.

The widow of Piso—the one Galba adopted—was really sick. And who arrived on the spot, but Regulus! The first class crudeness of a man who visited her sick bed when he was her husband’s greatest foe and a terrible sight to her too. It’s enough that he visited, but he sat right next to her bed and asked her what day and hour she was born in! When he listened, he made a serious face, he looked straight at her while he moving his lips and counting up numbers on his fingers. Nothing after that.

After he left her in suspense, waiting for a while, he said, “You are in a climactic period, but you will survive. Still, to relieve you of anxiety, I will consult a fortune-teller whom I use from time to time.” Then, he immediately made a sacrifice and confirmed that the entrails are aligned with the star signs.

Already thinking her life was endangered, Verania asked for an amendment to her will, and added Regulus as a heir. Immediately, she got sicker and as she died she accused the evil, treacherous man, worse than the perjurer who swore an oath on the safety of his son.

Regulus does stuff no less criminal than this with some frequency, an act to enrage the gods whom he evades on a daily basis and leaves for his miserable son to worry about.

Veleius Blaesus, that wealthy ex-consul was derising to change his will too. Regulus, hoping for something from the new accounting, because he had recently begun to court Velleius, was begging the doctors to give just a little more time to the man. After the will was signed, well he changed his face, and turned to attack the same doctors, by saying “Why do you torture a miserable man? Why do you deprive him of an easy death when you can’t give him life?” Blaesus dies, perhaps he heard it all, and didn’t leave Regulus even a little.

Are two tales enough, or do you want to follow that academic law of three? There’s more where that came from. Aurelia bought the most beautiful clothes and was all dressed up for signing her will. When Regulus showed up for the event, he asked, “Will you leave these clothes to me?” And Aurelia thinks he’s joking. Of course, he insists, seriously. To cut to the chase, he forced the woman to unseal the will and add the very tunic she was wearing to the list, all while watching her write to make sure she had done it. Aurelia is still alive today, but he acted as if she were about to die. And this ‘inheritor’ gets his bequests and acts as if he earned them.

“But why get bothered” about this when I live in a country where wickedness and dishonesty have long earned the same—or even greater—rewards as shame and honor? Just look at Regulus who has climbed from poverty and nowhere to such great wealth on sinful steps that he actually told me that, when he was trying to figure out when he would be worth 60 million he found a double set of entrails implying that he would have twice as much!

So he will have it, that most immoral crook, if he continues as he started, dictating other poeple’s wills when they are most desperate to make them.”

Assem para et accipe auream fabulam, fabulas immo; nam me priorum nova admonuit, nec refert a qua potissimum incipiam. Verania Pisonis graviter iacebat, huius dico Pisonis, quem Galba adoptavit. Ad hanc Regulus venit. Primum impudentiam hominis, qui venerit ad aegram, cuius marito inimicissimus, ipsi invisissimus fuerat! Esto, si venit tantum; at ille etiam proximus toro sedit, quo die qua hora nata esset interrogavit. Ubi audiit, componit vultum intendit oculos movet labra, agitat digitos computat. Nihil. Ut diu miseram exspectatione suspendit, “Habes” inquit “climactericum tempus sed evades. Quod ut tibi magis liqueat, haruspicem consulam, quem sum frequenter expertus.” Nec mora, sacrificium facit, adfirmat exta cum siderum significatione congruere. Illa ut in periculo credula poscit codicillos, legatum Regulo scribit. Mox ingravescit, clamat moriens hominem nequam perfidum ac plus etiam quam periurum, qui sibi per salutem filii peierasset. Facit hoc Regulus non minus scelerate quam frequenter, quod iram deorum, quos ipse cotidie fallit, in caput infelicis pueri detestatur.

Velleius Blaesus ille locuples consularis novissima valetudine conflictabatur: cupiebat mutare testamentum. Regulus qui speraret aliquid ex novis tabulis, quia nuper captare eum coeperat, medicos hortari rogare, quoquo modo spiritum homini prorogarent. Postquam signatum est testamentum, mutat personam, vertit adlocutionem isdemque medicis: “Quousque miserum cruciatis? quid invidetis bona morte, cui dare vitam non potestis?” Moritur Blaesus et, tamquam omnia audisset, Regulo ne tantulum quidem.

Sufficiunt duae fabulae, an scholastica lege tertiam poscis? est unde fiat. Aurelia ornata femina signatura testamentum sumpserat pulcherrimas tunicas. Regulus cum venisset ad signandum, “Rogo” inquit  “has mihi leges.” Aurelia ludere hominem putabat, ille serio instabat; ne multa, coegit mulierem aperire tabulas ac sibi tunicas quas erat induta legare; observavit scribentem, inspexit an scripsisset. Et Aurelia quidem vivit, ille tamen istud tamquam morituram coegit. Et hic hereditates, hic legata quasi mereatur accipit.

Ἀλλὰ τί διατείνομαι in ea civitate, in qua iam pridem non minora praemia, immo maiora nequitia et improbitas quam pudor et virtus habent? Adspice Regulum, qui ex paupere et tenui ad tantas opes per flagitia processit, ut ipse mihi dixerit, cum consuleret quam cito sestertium sescentiens impleturus esset, invenisse se exta duplicia, quibus portendi miliens et ducentiens habiturum. Et habebit, si modo ut coepit, aliena testamenta, quod est improbissimum genus falsi, ipsis quorum sunt illa dictaverit. Vale.

The beginning of Pliny’s letters in the manuscript Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Ms. S.XX.2, fol. 1r. from Wikimedia Commons