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

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)


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

Anger and Masks of Injury

Seneca, De Ira 5-8

“Some one will be said to have spoken badly of you: think whether you did this first; think of how many people you talk about. Let us think, I say, that some are not offending us, but repaying us; that some are doing good for us, that others are forced to act, and some are just ignorant. There are those who do what they do willingly and with full understanding who attach us not for the injury itself: one is either seduced by the sweetness of his wit; other does it not to move against us but because he cannot pursue his own aims unless he moves through us.

Often praise, although it flatters, offends. Whoever reminds himself of how many times he has encountered false suspicion or how many good services fortune has disguised with masks of injury, or how many people he learned to love after hating them, he will not anger quickly. As you are offended each time, say to yourself quietly: “I have done this myself.”

And where would you encounter a judge this just? The one who desires everyone’s wife and believes that it is just enough a reason to love her that someone else has her refuses to have his own wife seen. The traitor has the harshest demands on loyalty and the perjurer is obsessed with lies himself. The devious lawyer despises any charge made against him and the man who thinks nothing of his own shame will not abide the temptation of others. We keep everyone else’s vices in clear view, but own own behind our backs.”

Dicetur aliquis male de te locutus; cogita an prior feceris, cogita de quam multis loquaris. Cogitemus, inquam, alios non facere iniuriam sed reponere, alios pro nobis facere, alios coactos facere, alios ignorantes, etiam eos, qui volentes scientesque faciunt, ex iniuria nostra non ipsam iniuriam petere; aut dulcedine urbanitatis prolapsus est, aut fecit aliquid, non ut nobis obesset, sed quia consequi ipse non poterat, nisi nos repulisset; saepe adulatio, dum blanditur, offendit. Quisquis ad se rettulerit, quotiens ipse in suspicionem falsam inciderit, quam multis officiis suis fortuna speciem iniuriae induerit, quam multos post odium amare coeperit, poterit non statim irasci, utique si sibi tacitus ad singula quibus offenditur dixerit: “Hoc et ipse commisi.” Sed ubi tam aequum iudicem invenies? Is qui nullius non uxorem concupiscit et satis iustas causas putat amandi, quod aliena est, idem uxorem suam aspici non vult; et fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus, et mendacia persequitur ipse periurus, et litem sibi inferri aegerrime calumniator patitur; pudicitiam servulorum suorum adtemptari non vult qui non pepercit suae. Aliena vitia in oculis habemus, a tergo nostra sunt.


File:Bronze Cavalry Sports Mask Roman 2nd century CE.jpg
Roman Calvary Sports Mask, MET

Didn’t Get What You Want for Christmas? Cicero Writes His Brother About Books

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 25

“I believe that you will anticipate that I didn’t lose those books without some kind of a stomach ache…”

puto enim te existimaturum a me illos libros non sine aliquo meo stomacho esse relictos.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 24

“Concerning the issue of supplementing your Greek library and trading books in order to acquire Latin ones, I would really like to help get this done, since these exchanges are to my benefit as well. But I don’t have anyone even for my own purposes whom I can trust with this. The kinds of books which are helpful are not for sale and they cannot be procured without a deeply learned person who has a serious work ethic.”

De bibliotheca tua Graeca supplenda, libris commutandis, Latinis comparandis, valde velim ista confici, praesertim cum ad meum quoque usum spectent. sed ego mihi ipsi ista per quem agam non habeo. neque enim venalia sunt, quae quidem placeant, et confici nisi per hominem et peritum et diligentem non possunt.

Bonus Quotes from Cato, Dicta Catonis

“Read books”

“Remember the things you read”

Libros lege.

Quae legeris memento.


Picture stolen from here