Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If I did not know, Marcia, that you were as far removed from womanish weakness of mind as from all other vices, and that your character was looked upon as a model of ancient virtue, I should not dare to assail your grief — the grief that even men are prone to nurse and brood upon — nor should I have conceived the hope of being able to induce you to acquit Fortune of your complaint, at a time so unfavorable, with her judge so hostile, after a charge so hateful. But your strength of mind has been already so tested and your courage, after a severe trial, so approved that they have given me confidence. How you bore yourself in relation to your father is common knowledge; for you loved him not less dearly than your children, save only that you did not wish him to outlive you. And yet I am not sure that you did not wish even that; for great affection sometimes ventures to break the natural law.
The death of your father, Aulus Cremutius Cordus, you delayed as long as you could; after it became clear that, surrounded as he was by the minions of Sejanus, he had no other way of escape from servitude; favor his plan you did not, but you acknowledged defeat, and you routed your tears in public and choked down your sobs, yet in spite of your cheerful face you did not conceal them — and these things in an age when the supremely filial was simply not to be unfilial! When, however, changed times gave you an opportunity, you recovered for the benefit of men that genius of your father which had brought him to his end, and thus saved him from the only real death, and the books which that bravest hero had written with his own blood you restored to their place among the memorials of the nation.
You have done a very great service to Roman scholarship, for a large part of his writings had been burned; a very great service to posterity, for history will come to them as an uncorrupted record whose honesty cost its author dear: and a very great service to the man himself, whose memory now lives and will ever live so long as it shall be worth while to learn the facts of Roman history — so long as there shall be anyone who will wish to hark back to the deeds of our ancestors, so long as there shall be anyone who will wish to know what it is to be a Roman hero, what it is to be unconquered when all necks are bowed and forced to bear the yoke of a Sejanus, what it is to be free in thought, in purpose, and in act. A great loss, in very truth, the state had suffered, had you not rescued this man who had been thrust into oblivion for the sake of two of the noblest things — eloquence and freedom. But he is now read, he lives, and ensconced in the hands and hearts of men he fears no passing of the years; but, those cutthroats — even their crimes, by which alone they deserved to be remembered, will soon be heard of no more.
This evidence of the greatness of your mind forbade me to pay heed to your sex, forbade me to pay heed to your face, which, since sorrow once clouded it, unbroken sadness holds for all these years. And see! — I am not stealing upon you with stealth, nor am I planning to filch from you any of your sufferings. I have recalled to your memory old misfortunes, and, that you may know that even this deep-cut wound will surely heal, I have shown you the scar of an old wound that was not less severe. And so let others deal with you gently and ply soft words. I myself have determined to battle with your grief, and your eyes that are wearied and worn — weeping now, if I may speak the truth, more from habit than from sorrow — shall be checked by measures that, if so it may be, you welcome, if not, even against your will, even though you hug and embrace the sorrow that you have kept alive in place of your son. Else what end shall it have? Every means has been tried in vain. The consolations of your friends, the influence of great men who were your relatives have been exhausted.
Books, your love for which was a boon bequeathed by your father, now void of comfort and scarcely serving for brief distraction, make their appeal to unheeding ears. Even time, Nature's great healer, that lays even our most grievous sorrows, in your case only has lost its power. Three whole years have now passed, and yet the first violence of your sorrow has in no way abated. Your grief is renewed and grows stronger every day — by lingering it has established its right to stay, and has now reached the point that it is ashamed to make an end; just as all vices become deep-rooted unless they are crushed when they spring up, so, too, such a state of sadness and wretchedness, with its self afflicted torture, feeds at last upon its very bitterness, and the grief of an unhappy mind becomes a morbid pleasure. And so I should have liked to approach your cure in the first stages of your sorrow. While it was still young, a gentler remedy might have been used to check its violence; against inveterate evils the fight must be more vehement.
This is likewise true of wounds — they are easy to heal while they are still fresh and bloody. When they have festered and turned into a wicked sore, then they must be cauterized and, opened up to the very bottom, must submit to probing fingers. As it is, I cannot possibly be a match for such hardened grief by being considerate and gentle; it must be crushed. I am aware that all those who wish to give anyone admonition commonly begin with precepts, and end with examples. But it is desirable at times to alter this practice; for different people must be dealt with differently. Some are guided by reason, some must be confronted with famous names and an authority that does not leave a man's mind free, dazzled as he is by showy deeds. I shall place before your eyes but two examples — the greatest of your sex and century — one, of a woman who allowed herself to be swept away by grief, the other, of a woman who, though she suffered a like misfortune and even greater loss, yet did not permit her ills to have the mastery long, but quickly restored her mind to its accustomed state. Octavia and Livia, the one the sister of Augustus, the other his wife, had lost their sons — both of them young men with the well-assured hope of becoming emperor.
Octavia lost Marcellus, upon whom Augustus, at once his uncle and his father-in-law, had begun to lean, upon whom he had begun to rest the burden of empire — a young man of keen mind, of commanding ability, yet withal marked by a frugality and self-restraint that, for one of his years and wealth, commanded the highest admiration, patient under hardships, averse to pleasures, and ready to bear whatever his uncle might wish to place or, so to speak, to build upon him: well had he chosen a foundation that would not sink beneath any weight. Through all the rest of her life Octavia set no bounds to her tears and moans, and closed her ears to all words that offered wholesome advice; with her whole mind fixed and centered upon one single thing, she did not allow herself even to relax.
Such she remained during her whole life as she was at the funeral — I do not say lacking the courage to rise, but refusing to be uplifted, counting any loss of tears a second bereavement. Not a single portrait would she have of her darling son, not one mention of his name in her hearing. She hated all mothers, and was inflamed most of all against Livia, because it seemed that the happiness which had once been held out to herself had passed to the other woman's son. Companioned ever by darkness and solitude, giving no thought even to her brother, she spurned the poems that were written to glorify the memory of Marcellus and all other literary honors, and closed her ears to every form of consolation. Withdrawing from all her accustomed duties and hating even the good fortune that her brother's greatness shed all too brightly around her, she buried herself in deep seclusion. Surrounded by children and grandchildren, she would not lay aside her garb of mourning, and, putting a slight on all her nearest, accounted herself utterly bereft though they still lived.
And Livia lost her son Drusus, who would have made a great emperor, and had already shown himself a great leader. For he had penetrated far into Germany, and had planted the Roman standards in a region where it was scarcely known that any Romans existed. He had died on the campaign, and his very foes had reverently honored his sick-bed by maintaining peace along with us; nor did they dare to desire what their interests demanded. And to these circumstances of his death, which he had met in the service of his country, there was added the unbounded sorrow of his fellow-citizens, of the provinces, and of all Italy, through the length of which crowds poured forth from the towns and colonies, and, escorting the funeral train all the way to the city, made it seem more like a triumph. His mother had not been permitted to receive her son's last kisses and drink in the fond words of his dying lips.
On the long journey a through which she accompanied the remains of her dear Drusus, her heart was harrowed by the countless pyres that flamed throughout all Italy — for on each she seemed to be losing her son afresh,— yet as soon as she had placed him in the tomb, along with her son she laid away her sorrow, and grieved no more than was respectful to Caesar or fair to Tiberius, seeing, that they were alive. And lastly, she never ceased from proclaiming the name of her dear Drusus. She had him pictured everywhere, in private and in public places, and it was her greatest pleasure to talk about him and to listen to the talk of others — she lived with his memory. But no one can cherish and cling to a memory that he has rendered an affliction to himself.
Do you choose, therefore, which of these two examples you think the more laudable. If you prefer to follow the former, you will remove yourself from the number of the living; you will turn away your eyes both from other people's children and from your own, even from him whom you mourn; mothers will regard you as an unhappy omen; honorable and permissible pleasures you will renounce as ill-becoming to your plight; hating the light of day, you will linger in it, and your deepest offence will be your age, because the years do not hurry you on and make an end of you as soon as possible; you will show that you are unwilling to live and unable to die — a condition that is most disgraceful and foreign, too, to your character, which is conspicuous for its leaning toward the better course.
If, on the other hand, you appropriate the example of the other most exalted lady, showing thus a more restrained and more gentle spirit, you will not dwell in sorrow, nor rack yourself with anguish. For what madness it is — how monstrous! — to punish one's self for misfortune and add new ill to present ills! That correctness of character and self-restraint which you have maintained all your life, you will exhibit in this matter also; for there is such a thing as moderation even in grieving. And as to the youth himself, who so richly deserved that the mention of his name and your thought of him should always bring you joy, you will set him in a more fitting place, if he comes before his mother as the same merry and joyous son that he used to be when he was alive.
Nor shall I direct your mind to precepts of the sterner sort, so as to bid you bear a human fortune in inhuman fashion, so as to dry a mother's eyes on the very day of burial. But I shall come with you before an arbiter, and this will be the question at issue between us — whether grief ought to be deep or never-ending. I doubt not that the example of Julia Augusta, whom you regarded as an intimate friend, will seem more to your taste than the other; she summons you to follow her. She, during the first passion of grief, when its victims are most unsubmissive and most violent, made herself accessible to the philosopher Areus, the friend of her husband, and later confessed that she had gained much help from that source — more than from the Roman people, whom she was unwilling to sadden with this sadness of hers; more than from Augustus, who was staggering under the loss of one of his main supports, and was in no condition to be further bowed down by the grief of his dear ones; more than from her son Tiberius, whose devotion at that untimely funeral that made the nations weep kept her from feeling that she had suffered any loss except in the number of her sons.
It was thus, I fancy, that Areus approached her, it was thus he commenced to address a woman who clung most tenaciously to her own opinion: "Up to this day, Julia, at least so far as I am aware — and, as the constant companion of your husband, I have known not only everything that was given forth to the public, but all the more secret thoughts of your minds — you have taken pains that no one should find anything at all in you to criticize; and not only in the larger matters, but in the smallest trifles, you have been on your guard not to do anything that you could wish public opinion, that most frank judge of princes, to excuse. And nothing, I think, is more admirable than the rule that those who have been placed in high position should bestow pardon for many things, should seek pardon for none. And so in this matter also you must still hold to your practice of doing nothing that you could wish undone, or done otherwise.
"Furthermore, I beg and beseech of you, do not make yourself unapproachable and difficult to your friends. For surely you must be aware that none of them know how to conduct themselves — whether they should speak of Drusus in your presence or not — wishing neither to wrong so distinguished a youth by forgetting him, or to hurt you by mentioning him. When we have withdrawn from your company and are gathered together, we extol his deeds and words with all the veneration he deserved; in your presence there is deep silence about him. And so you are missing a very great pleasure in not hearing the praises of your son, which I doubt not, you would be glad, if you should be given the opportunity, to prolong to all time even at the cost of your life.
"Wherefore submit to conversation about your son, nay encourage it, and let your ears be open to his name and memory; and do not consider this burdensome, after the fashion of some others, who in a calamity of this sort count it an added misfortune to have to listen to words of comfort. As it is, you have tended wholly to the other extreme, and, forgetting the better aspects of your fortune, you gaze only upon its worse side. You do not turn your thought to the pleasant intercourse and the meetings you had with your son, nor to his fond and boyish caresses, nor to the progress of his studies; you dwell only on that last appearance of fortune, and just as if it were not horrible enough in itself, you add to it all the horror you can. Do not, I pray you, covet that most perverse distinction — that of being considered the most unhappy of women!
"Reflect, too, that it is no great thing to show one's self brave in the midst of prosperity, when life glides on in a tranquil course; a quiet sea and a favoring wind do not show the skill of a pilot either — some hardship must be encountered that will test his soul. Accordingly, do not be bowed down — nay, on the contrary, plant your feet firmly, and, terrified only at first by the din, support whatever burden may fall from above. Nothing casts so much contempt on Fortune as an unruffled spirit." After this he directed her to the son that was still alive, he directed her to the children of the son she had lost.
It was your trouble, Marcia, that was dealt with there, it was at your side that Areus sat; change the role — it was you that he tried to comfort. But suppose, Marcia, more was snatched from you than any mother has ever lost — I am not trying to soothe you or to minimize your calamity. If tears can vanquish fate, let us marshal tears; let every day be passed in grief, let every night be sleepless and consumed with sorrow; let hands rain blows on a bleeding breast, nor spare even the face from their assault; if sorrow will help, let us vent it in every kind of cruelty. But if no wailing can recall the dead, if no distress can alter a destiny that is immutable and fixed for all eternity, and if death holds fast whatever it has once carried off, then let grief, which is futile, cease. Wherefore let us steer our own ship, and not allow this power to sweep us from the course! He is a sorry steersman who lets the waves tear the helm from his hands, who has left the sails to the mercy of the winds, and abandoned the ship to the storm; but he deserves praise, even amid shipwreck, whom the sea overwhelms still gripping the rudder and unyielding.
"But," you say, "Nature bids us grieve for our dear ones." Who denies it, so long as grief is tempered? For not only the loss of those who are dearest to us, but a mere parting, brings an inevitable pang and wrings even the stoutest heart. But false opinion has added something more to our grief than Nature has prescribed. Observe how passionate and yet how brief is the sorrow of dumb animals. The lowing of cows is heard, for one or two days only, and that wild and frantic running about of mares lasts no longer; wild beasts, after following the tracks of their stolen cubs, after wandering through the forests and returning over and over to their plundered lairs, within a short space of time quench their rage; birds, making a great outcry, rage about their empty nests, yet in a trice become quiet and resume their ordinary flight; nor does any creature sorrow long for its offspring except man — he nurses his grief, and the measure of his affliction is not what he feels, but what he wills to feel.
Moreover, in order that you may know that it is not by the will of Nature that we are crushed by sorrow, observe, in the first place, that, though they suffer the same bereavement, women are wounded more deeply than men, savage peoples more deeply than the peaceful and civilized, the uneducated, than the educated. But the passions that derive their power from Nature maintain the same hold upon all; therefore it is clear that a passion of variable power is not ordered by Nature. Fire will burn alike people of all ages and of all nationalities, men as well as women; steel will display its cutting force upon every sort of flesh. And why? Because each derives its power from Nature, which makes no distinction of persons. But poverty, grief, and ambition are felt differently by different people according as their minds are colored by habit; and a false presumption, which arouses a fear of things that are not to be feared, makes a man weak and unresisting.
In the second place, whatever proceeds from Nature is not diminished by its continuance. But grief is effaced by the long lapse of time. However stubborn it may be, mounting higher every day and bursting forth in spite of efforts to allay it, nevertheless the most powerful agent to calm its fierceness is time —time will weaken it. There remains with you even now, Marcia, an immense sorrow; it seems already to have grown calloused — no longer the passionate sorrow it was at first, but still persistent and stubborn; yet this also little by little time will remove. Whenever you engage in something else, your mind will be relieved. As it is now, you keep watch on yourself; but there is a wide difference between permitting and commanding yourself to mourn. How much better would it accord with the distinction of your character to force, and not merely to foresee, an end to your grief, and not to wait for that distant day on which, even against your will, your distress will cease! Do you of your own will renounce it!
"Why then," you ask, "do we all so persist in lamenting what was ours, if it is not Nature's will that we should?" Because we never anticipate any evil before it actually arrives, but, imagining that we ourselves are exempt and are travelling a less exposed path, we refuse to be taught by the mishaps of others that such are the lot of all. So many funerals pass our doors, yet we never think of death! So many deaths are untimely, yet we make plans for our own infants — how they will don the toga, serve in the army, and succeed to their father's property! So many rich men are stricken before our eyes with sudden poverty, yet it never occurs to us that our own wealth also rests on just as slippery a footing! Of necessity, therefore, we are more prone to collapse; we are struck, as it were, off our guard; blows that are long foreseen fall less violently. And you wish to be told that you stand exposed to blows of every sort, and that the darts that have transfixed others have quivered around you!
Just as if you were assaulting some city wall, or were mounting, only half-armed, against some lofty position manned by a host of the enemy, expect to be wounded, and be sure that the missiles that whirl above your head, the stones and the arrows and the javelins, were all aimed at your own person. Whenever anyone falls at your side or behind you, cry out: "Fortune, you will not deceive me, you will not fall upon me confident and heedless. I know what you are planning; it is true you struck someone else, but you aimed at me." Who of us ever looked upon his possessions with the thought that he would die? Who of us ever ventured to think upon exile, upon want, upon grief? Who, if he were urged to reflect upon these things, would not reject the idea as an unlucky omen, and demand that those curses pass over to the head of an enemy or even to that of his untimely adviser? You say: "I did not think it would happen." Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened to many? A striking verse this — too good to have come from the stage:
Whatever can one man befall can happen just as well to all!
That man lost his children; you also may lose yours. That man was condemned to death; your innocence also is in imminent peril.
Such is the delusion that deceives and weakens us while we suffer misfortunes which we never foresaw that we ourselves could possibly suffer. He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.
All these fortuitous things, Marcia, that glitter about us — children, honors, wealth, spacious halls and vestibules packed with a throng of unadmitted, clients, a famous name, a high-born or beautiful wife, and all else that depends upon uncertain and fickle chance — these are not our own but borrowed trappings; not one of them is given to us outright. The properties that adorn life's stage have been lent, and must go back to their owners; some of them will be returned on the first day, others on the second, only a few will endure until the end. We have, therefore, no reason to be puffed up as if we were surrounded with the things that belong to us; we have received them merely as a loan.
The use and the enjoyment are ours, but the dispenser of the gift determines the length of our tenure. On our part we ought always to keep in readiness the gifts that have been granted for a time not fixed, and, when called upon, to restore them without complaint; it is a very mean debtor that reviles his creditor. And so we should love all of our dear ones, both those whom, by the condition of birth, we hope will survive us, and those whose own most just prayer is to pass on before us, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever — nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long. Often must the heart be reminded — it must remember that loved objects will surely leave, nay, are already leaving. Take whatever Fortune gives, remembering that it has no voucher.
Snatch the pleasures your children bring, let your children in turn find delight in you, and drain joy to the dregs without delay; no promise has been given you for this night — nay, I have offered too long a respite! — no promise has been given even for this hour. We must hurry, the enemy presses upon our rear. Soon these companions will all be scattered, soon the battle-cry will be raised, and these comrade ties sundered. Nothing escapes the pillage; poor wretches, amid the rout ye know not how to live! If you grieve for the death of your son, the blame must go back to the time when he was born; for his death was proclaimed at his birth; into this condition was he begotten, this fate attended him straightway from the womb.
We have come into the realm of Fortune, and harsh and invincible is her power; things deserved and undeserved must we suffer just as she wills. With violence, insult, and cruelty she will maltreat our bodies. Some she will burn with fire, applied, it may be, to punish, it may be, to heal; some she will bind with chains, committing the power now to an enemy, now to a fellow-countryman; some she will toss naked upon the fickle sea, and, when their struggle with the waves is over, she will not even cast them up on the sand or the shore, but will hide them away in the maw of some huge monster; others, when she has worn them down with diverse diseases, she will long keep suspended between life and death. Like a mistress that is changeable and passionate and neglectful of her slaves, she will be capricious in both her rewards and her punishments. What need is there to weep over parts of life?
The whole of it calls for tears. New ills will press on before you have done with the old. Therefore you women especially must observe moderation, you who are immoderate in your grief, and against your many sorrows the power of the human breast must be arrayed. Again, why this forgetfulness of what is the individual and the general lot? Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth. You, who are a crumbling and perishable body and oft assailed by the agents of disease,— can you have hoped that from such frail matter you gave birth to anything durable and imperishable? Your son is dead; that is, he has finished his course and reached that goal toward which all those whom you count more fortunate than your child are even now hastening. Toward this, at different paces, moves all this throng that now squabbles in the forum, that looks on at the theatres, that prays in the temples; both those whom you love and revere and those whom you despise one heap of ashes will make equal. This, clearly, is the meaning of that famous utterance ascribed to the Pythian oracle:
And is this the prime
What is man? A vessel that the slightest shaking, the slightest toss will break. No mighty wind is needed to scatter you abroad; whatever you strike against, will be your undoing. What is man? A body weak and fragile, naked, in its natural state defenseless, dependent upon another's help, and exposed to all the affronts of Fortune; when it has practiced well its muscles, it then becomes the food of every wild beast, of everyone the prey; a fabric weak and attractive only in its outer features, unable to bear cold, heat, and toil, yet from mere rust and idleness doomed to decay; fearful of the foods that feed it, it dies now from the lack of these, and now is burst open by their excess; filled with anxiety and concern for its safety, it draws its very breath on sufferance, keeping but a feeble hold upon it — for sudden fear or a loud noise that falls unexpectedly upon the ears will drive it forth and fosters ever its own unrest, a morbid and a useless thing.
Do we wonder that in this thing is death, which needs but a single sigh? Is it such a mighty undertaking to compass its destruction? For it, smell and taste, weariness and loss of sleep, drink and food, and the things without which it cannot live are charged with death. Whithersoever it moves it straightway becomes conscious of its frailty; unable to endure all climates, from strange waters, a blast of unfamiliar air, the most trifling causes and complaints, it sickens and rots with disease — having started life with tears, what a mighty bother all the while does this despicable creature make! Forgetting his inevitable lot, to what mighty thoughts does man aspire! He ponders upon everlasting and eternal things, and makes plans for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, while meantime, amid his far-reaching schemes, death overtakes him, and even this, which we call old age, is but the passing round of a pitifully few years.
But your sorrow — granting that there is any reason in it — tell me, does it have in view your own ills or the ills of him who is gone? In the loss of your son are you stirred by the thought that you have received no pleasures from him, or is it that you might have experienced greater pleasures if he had lived longer? If you answer that you have experienced none, you will render your loss more bearable; for the things from which men have experienced no joy and gladness are always less missed. If you confess that you have experienced great pleasures from him, then it is your duty not to complain about what has been withdrawn, but to give thanks for what you have had. Surely his rearing alone has yielded you ample reward for all your toil, unless perhaps it happens that those who spare no pains in raising pups and birds and other silly pets derive some slight pleasure from the sight and touch and fawning caresses of these dumb creatures, while those who raise children miss the rearer's reward that comes from the mere act of rearing them. And so although his industry may have gained you nothing, although his carefulness may have saved you nothing, although his wisdom may have taught you nothing, yet in having had him, in having loved him, lies your reward.
"But," you say, "it might have lasted longer, might have been greater." True, but you have been better dealt with than if you had never had a son; for if we should be given the choice — whether it is better to be happy for a short time only or never at all — it is better for us to have blessings that will flee than none at all. Would you rather have had a son who was a disgrace, someone who has possessed merely the place and the name of a son, or one with the fine qualities your son had, a youth who was early discerning, early dutiful, early a husband, early a father, who was early diligent in every public duty, early a priest, as though he were always hastening? Great and at the same time long-lasting blessings fall to scarcely any man's lot; it is only the good fortune which comes slowly that lasts and goes with us to the end.
The immortal gods, not purposing to give him to you for a long time, gave to you from the first a son such as length of time is able to produce. And you cannot say even this — that the gods picked you out in order to deprive you of th enjoyment of your son. Cast your eyes upon the great company of people you know, or do not know — everywhere you will find those who have suffered greater losses than yours. Great generals have experienced such as yours, princes have experienced them; story has left not even the gods a exempt, in order, I fancy, that the knowledge that even divinities can perish may lighten our grief for the dead. Look about you, I say, at everyone; you will not mention a single home so wretched that it could not take comfort from knowing one more wretched. But I do not think so ill of your character — Heaven forbid! — as to believe that you would be able to bear your own misfortune more lightly if I should bring before you a mighty number of mourners. The solace that comes from having company in misery smacks of ill-will. Nevertheless, I shall cite some others, not so much to show you that this calamity often befalls mankind — for it would be absurd to collect the examples of man's mortality — as to show you that there have been many who sweetened bitter fortune by enduring it calmly. I shall begin with a man who was most fortunate.
Lucius Sulla lost a son, but that circumstance neither blunted his malice and the great energy of his prowess against his enemies and his fellow-countrymen nor made it appear that he had wrongly used his famous title; for he assumed it after the death of his son, fearing neither the hatred of men, by whose misfortune that excessive prosperity of his was purchased, nor the envy of the gods, whose reproach it was that Sulla was so truly "the Fortunate." The question, however, of Sulla's character may be left among the matters not yet decided — that he took up arms honorably and honorably laid them aside even his enemies will admit. But the point at present involved will be clear — that an evil which reaches even the most fortunate men is not the greatest of evils.
Greece had a famous father, who, having received news of the death of his son while he was in the very act of offering sacrifice, merely bade the flutist be silent, withdrew the chaplet from his head, and finished duly the rest of the ceremony; but, thanks to Pulvillus, a Roman priest, Greece cannot give him too much glory. He was dedicating the temple on the Capitoline, and was still grasping the door-post when he received news of the death of his son. But he pretended not to hear it, and repeated the words of the pontifical ritual in the appointed manner; not a single moan interrupted the course of his Prayer, and he entreated the favor of Jove with the name of his son ringing in his ears.
Do you not think that such grief must have an end, when even the first day of it and its first fury failed to divert him, father though he was, from his duty at the public altar and from an auspicious delivery of his solemn proclamation? Worthy, in truth, was he of the notable dedication, worthy was he to hold the most exalted priesthood — a man who did not desist from the worship of the gods even when they were angry! Yet when he had returned to his home, this man's eyes were flooded with tears and he indulged in a few tearful laments, then, having completed the rites that custom prescribed for the dead, he resumed the expression he had worn at the Capitol.
Paulus, about the time of his most glorious triumph, in which he drove Perses, that king of high renown, in chains before his car, gave over two of his sons to be adopted by others, and the two whom he had kept for himself he buried. What manner of men, think you, were those whom he retained when Scipio was one of those whom he bestowed on others! Not without emotion did the Roman people gaze upon the car of Paulus that now was empty. Nevertheless he made a public address, and gave thanks to the gods for having granted his prayer; for he had prayed that, if he should be required to make some payment to Envy on account of his mighty victory, the debt might be discharged by a loss to himself rather than to the state. Do you see with how noble a spirit he bore himself? He congratulated himself on the loss of his children! And who would have had a better right to be deeply moved by so great a shift of fortune? He lost at the same time both his comfort and his stay. Yet Perses never had the pleasure of seeing Paulus sad!
But why should I now drag you through the countless examples of great men, and search for those who were unhappy just as though it were not more difficult to find those who were happy? For how few families have endured even to the end with all members intact? What one is there that has not known trouble? Take any one year you please and call for its magistrates. Take, if you like, Lucius Bibulus and Gaius Caesar; you will see that, though these colleagues were the bitterest foes, their fortunes agreed.
Lucius Bibulus, a good, rather than a strong, man, had two sons murdered at the same time, and that, too, by Egyptian soldiery, who had subjected them to insult, so that not less than the bereavement itself the source of it was a matter that called for tears. Yet Bibulus, who, during the whole year of his consulship, on account of his jealousy of his colleague, had stayed at home in retirement, on the day after he had heard of the twofold murder came forth and performed the routine duties of his office. Who can devote less than one day to mourning for two sons? So quickly did he end his grief for his children — he who had grieved for the consulship a year.
Gaius Caesar, when he was traversing Britain, and could not endure that even the ocean should set bounds to his success, heard that his daughter [Julia, wife of Pompey] had departed; and with her went the fate of the republic. It was already plain to his eyes that Gnaeus Pompeius would not endure with calmness that any other should become "great" in the commonwealth, and would place a check upon his own advancement, which seemed to cause him offence even when it was increasing to their common interest. Yet within three days he returned to his duties as a general, and conquered his grief as quickly as he was wont to conquer everything. Why should I recall to you the bereavements of the other Caesars, whom Fortune seems to me at times deliberately to outrage in order that so also they may benefit the human race by showing that not even they who are said to be born from gods, and to be destined to give birth to gods, can have the same power over their own fortune that they have over the fortune of others.
The deified Augustus, when he had lost his children and his grandchildren, and the supply of Caesars had been exhausted, bolstered his depleted house by adoption; nevertheless he bore his lot with the bravery of one who was already counting it a personal affair and his deepest concern that no man should make complaint of the gods. Tiberius Caesar lost both the son he had begotten and the son he had adopted; nevertheless he himself delivered a panegyric upon his own son from the Rostra, and he stood there beside the corpse, which lay in plain view, with but a veil intervening, so that the eyes of a high-priest might not look upon a corpse, and, while the Roman people wept, he did not even change countenance. To Sejanus, standing by his side, he offered an example of how patiently he could endure the loss of his dear ones!
You see how long is the list of men who were most eminent and yet were not exempted from this misfortune that lays everything low — men, too, upon whom so many gifts of mind had been heaped, so many distinctions in public and private life! But it is very plain that this storm of disaster moves upon its round, lays waste everything without distinction, and drives everything before it as its prey. Order all men one by one to compare their accounts; no man has escaped paying the penalty for being born. I know what you are saying: "You forget that you are giving comfort to a woman; the examples you cite are of men."
But who has asserted that Nature has dealt grudgingly with women's natures and has narrowly restricted their virtues? Believe me, they have just as much force, just as much capacity, if they like, for virtuous action; they are just as able to endure suffering and toil when they are accustomed to them. In what city, good heavens, are we thus talking? In the city where Lucretia and Brutus tore the yoke of a king from the heads of the Romans — to Brutus we owe liberty, to Lucretia we owe Brutus. In the city where Cloelia, who braved both the enemy and the river, has been almost transferred by us, on account of her signal courage, to the list of heroes: the statue of Cloelia, mounted upon a horse, stands on the Sacred Way in the city's busiest quarter, and, as our young coxcombs mount to their cushioned seats, she taunts them with journeying in such a fashion in a city in which even women have been presented with a horse!
But if you wish me to cite examples of women who have bravely suffered the loss of dear ones, I shall not go from door to door to find them. From one family I shall present to you the two Cornelias — the first one, the daughter of Scipio and mother of the Gracchi. Twelve births did she recall by as many deaths. The rest whom the state never knew as either born or lost matter little; as for Tiberius and Gaius, who even the man who denies that they were good will admit were great men, she saw them not only murdered but left unburied. Yet to those who tried to comfort her and called her unfortunate she said: "Never shall I admit that I am not fortunate, I who have borne the Gracchi."
Cornelia, the wife of Livius Drusus, had lost a son, a young man of distinguished ability and very great renown, who, while following in the footsteps of the Gracchi, was killed at his own hearth by an unknown murderer, just when he had so many measures pending and was at the height of his fame. Yet she showed as much courage in supporting the death of her son, untimely and unavenged as it was, as he had shown in supporting his laws.
If Fortune, Marcia, has pierced the Scipios and the mothers and daughters of the Scipios with her darts, if with them she has assailed the Caesars, will you not now pardon her if she has not held them back even from you? Life is beset with full many and varied misfortunes; they grant to no one long-extended peace, scarcely even a truce. Four children, Marcia, you had borne. Not a single dart, they say, that is hurled into the thick of the line falls without a victim — is it surprising that such a company as yours has not been able to get by without incurring envy and harm? But Fortune was all the more unfair because she not only carried off your sons but chose them out! Yet you should never call it an injustice to be forced to share equally with one more powerful; she has left you two daughters and the children of these. And even the son whom you, forgetful of an earlier loss, mourn so deeply has not been utterly taken from you; you still have the two daughters he left — great burdens if you are weak, great comforts if you are brave.
Do bring yourself to this — whenever you see them, let them remind you of your son and not of your grief! When the farmer sees his fruit-trees all ruined — completely uprooted by the wind, or twisted and broken by the sudden fury of a cyclone — he nurses the young stock they have left, and immediately plants seeds and cuttings to replace the trees that were lost; and in a moment (for if time causes speedy and swift destruction, it likewise causes swift and speedy growth) more flourishing trees grow up than those he lost. Do you no now put these daughters of your son Metilius in his stead, and fill the vacant place, and lighten your sorrow for one by drawing comfort from two! Yet such is the nature of mortals that they find nothing so pleasing as what they have lost. Yearning for what is taken away makes us too unfair towards what is left. But if you are willing to count up how very merciful Fortune has been to you even when she was angry, you will find that she has left you much beside consolations; look at all your grandchildren, your two daughters. And, Marcia, say this also to yourself: "I might indeed be disturbed, if everyone's lot accorded with his conduct, and if evils never pursued the good; as it is, I see that there is no distinction and that the good and the bad are tossed to and fro after the same fashion."
"Nevertheless it is hard," you reply, "to lose a son whom you have reared to young manhood just when his mother, just when his father was finding him their stay and pride." Who will deny that it is hard? But it is the common lot. To this end were you born — to lose, to perish, to hope, to fear, to disquiet yourself and others, both to fear death and to long for it, and, worst of all, never to know the real terms of your existence. Suppose a man should be planning a visit to Syracuse and someone should say to him: "First inform yourself of all the disagreeable and all the pleasurable features of your future journey, and then set sail. The things that may fill you with wonder are these. First, you will see the island itself, cut off from Italy by a narrow strait, but once evidently joined to the mainland; there the sea suddenly broke through, and
Severed Sicily from Hesperia's side.
Next, you will see Charybdis — for it will be possible for you to skirt this greediest of whirlpools, so famous in story — resting quietly so long as there is no wind from the south, but whenever a gale blows from that quarter, sucking down ships into its huge and deep maw. You will see the fountain of Arethusa, oft famed in song, with its bright gleaming pool, transparent to the very bottom, and pouring forth its icy waters — whether it found them there where they first had birth, or yielded up a river that had plunged beneath the earth and, gliding intact beneath so many seas, had been kept from the contamination of less pure water. You will see a harbor, of all havens the most peaceful — whether those that Nature has set to give shelter to ships or that man's hand has improved — and so safe that not even the fury of the most violent storms can have access there.
You will see where the might of Athens was broken, where so many thousands of captives were confined in that natural prison, hewn out of solid rock to immeasurable depth — you will see the great city itself, occupying a broader extent of territory than many a metropolis can boast, where the winters are the balmiest, and not a single day passes without the appearance of the sun. But, having learned of all these things, you will discover that the blessings of its winter climate are ruined by oppressive and unwholesome summers. You will find there the tyrant Dionysius, that destroyer of freedom, justice, and law, greedy of power, even after knowing Plato, and of even after exile! Some he will burn, some he will flog, some for a slight offence he will order to be beheaded, he will call for males and females to satisfy his lust, and to enjoy two at one time of his shameful victims will suffice for his royal excesses. You have now heard what may attract, what repel you — now, then, either set sail or stay at home! If after such a warning anyone should declare that he desired to enter Syracuse, against whom but himself could he find just cause for complaint, since he would not have stumbled upon those conditions, but have come into them purposely and with full knowledge?
To all of us Nature says: "I deceive no one. If you bear sons, it may be that they will be handsome, it may be that they will be ugly; perchance they will be born dumb. Some one of them, it may be, will be the savior of his country, or as likely its betrayer. It is not beyond hope that they will win so much esteem that out of regard for them none will venture to speak evil of you; yet bear in mind, too, that they may sink to such great infamy that they themselves will become your curse.
"There is nothing to forbid that they should perform the last sad rites for you, and that those who deliver your panegyric should be your children, but, too, hold yourself ready to place your son upon the pyre, be he lad or man or graybeard; for years have nothing to do with the matter, since every funeral is untimely at which a parent follows the bier." If, after these conditions have been set forth, you bring forth children, you must free the gods from all blame; for they have made you no promises.
Come now, apply this picture to your entrance into life as a whole. I have set forth what could there delight you, what offend you, if you were debating whether you should visit Syracuse; consider that I am coming now to give you advice at your birth: "You are about to enter a city," I should say, "shared by gods and men — a city that embraces the universe, that is bound by fixed and eternal laws, that holds the celestial bodies as they whirl through their unwearied rounds. You will see there the gleaming of countless stars, you will see one star flooding everything with his light — the sun that marks off the spaces of day and night in his daily course, and in his annual course distributes even more equably the periods of summer and winter. You will see the moon taking his place by night, who as she meets her brother borrows from him a pale, reflected light, now quite hidden, now overhanging the earth with her whole face exposed, ever changing as she waxes and wanes, ever different from her last appearance. You will see the five planets a pursuing their different courses and striving to stem the headlong whirl of heaven; on even the slightest motions of these hang the fortunes of nations, and the greatest and smallest happenings are shaped to accord with the progress of a kindly or unkindly star. You will wonder at the piled-up clouds and the falling waters and the zig-zag lightning and the roar of heaven.
"When your eyes are sated with the spectacle of things above and you lower them to earth, another aspect of things, and otherwise wonderful, will meet your gaze. On this side you will see level plains stretching out their boundless expanse, on the other, mountains rising in great, snow-clad ridges and lifting their peaks to heaven; descending streams and rivers that rise from one source flowing both to the east and to the west, and waving trees on the topmost summits and vast forests with the creatures that people them, and birds blending into harmony the discord of their songs. You will see cities in diverse places, and the nations fenced off by natural barriers, some of them withdrawn to mountain heights, and others in their fear hugging the river-banks, lakes, and valleys; corn-fields assisted by cultivation and orchards that need none to tend their wildness; and brooks flowing gently through the meadows, lovely bays, and shores curving inwards to form a harbor; the countless islands that are scattered over the deep and, breaking up its expanse, stud the seas. And what of the gleaming of precious stones and jewels, and the gold that rolls down amid the sands of rushing streams, and the flaming torches that soar from the midst of the land and at times even from the midst of the sea, and the ocean that encircles the lands, severing the continuity of the nations by its three gulfs and boiling up in mighty rage?
"Here you will see its waters troubled and rising up in billows, stirred not by the wind but by swimming monsters that surpass in size all creatures of the land, some of them sluggish and moving under the guidance of another, others nimble and more swift than rowers at full speed, and still others that drink in the waters of the sea and blow them out to the great peril of those who are sailing by. You will see here ships searching for lands that they do not know; you will see man in his audacity leaving nothing untried, and you will yourself be both a spectator and a partner of mighty enterprises; you will learn and will teach the arts, of which some serve to maintain life, some to adorn it, and others to regulate it. But there, too, will be found a thousand plagues, banes of the body as well as of the mind, wars, robberies, poisons, shipwrecks, distempers of climate and of the body, untimely grief for those most dear, and death — whether an easy one or only after pain and torture no one can tell.
"Now take counsel of yourself and weigh carefully the choice you make; if you would reach these wonders, you must pass through these perils." Will your answer be that you choose to live? Of course it will — nay, perhaps, on second thought, you will not enter upon a state in which to suffer any loss causes you pain! Live, then, upon the terms you have accepted. "But," you say, "no one has consulted us." Yet our parents have been consulted about us, and they, knowing the terms of life, have reared us to accept them. But, to come back now to the subject of consolation, let us consider, first, what wound must be healed, and, second, in what way. One source of grief is the longing we have for one that we have lost. But it is evident that this in itself is bearable; for, so long as they are alive, we do not shed tears for those who are absent or will soon be absent, although along with the sight of them we are robbed of all enjoyment of them. What tortures us, therefore, is an opinion, and every evil is only as great as we have reckoned it to be. In our own hands we have the remedy. Let us consider that the dead are merely absent, and let us deceive ourselves; we have sent them on their way — nay, we have sent them ahead and shall soon follow.
Another source of grief is the thought: "I shall have no one to protect me, no one to keep me from being despised." If I may employ a consolation by no means creditable but true, in this city of ours childlessness bestows more influence than it takes away, and the loneliness that used to be a detriment to old age, now leads to so much power that some old men pretend to hate their sons and disown their children, and by their own act make themselves childless. Yet I know what you will say: "My own losses do not stir me; for no parent is worthy of consolation who sorrows over the loss of a son just as he would over the loss of a slave, who in the case of a son has room to consider anything except the son himself." What then, Marcia, is it that troubles you? — the fact that your son has died, or that he did not live long? If it is that he has died, then you had always reason to grieve; for you always knew that he would have to die.
Reflect that there are no ills to be suffered after death, that the reports that make the Lower World terrible to us are mere tales, that no darkness is in store for the dead, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, that no judgment-seats are there, nor culprits, nor in that freedom so unfettered are there a second time any tyrants. All these things are the fancies of the poets, who have harrowed us with groundless terrors. Death is a release from all suffering, a boundary beyond which our ills cannot pass — it restores us to that peaceful state in which we lay before we were born. If anyone pities the dead, he must also pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor an evil; for that only which is something is able to be a good or an evil. But that which is itself nothing and reduces all things to nothingness consigns us to neither sphere of fortune: for evils and goods must operate upon something material.
Fortune cannot maintain a hold upon that which Nature has let go, nor can he be wretched who is non-existent. Your son has passed beyond those boundaries within which there is servitude; a great and everlasting peace has welcomed him. No fear of want assails him, no anxiety from riches, no stings of lust that through the pleasure of the body rends the soul; envy of another's prosperity touches him not, envy of his own afflicts him not, no reproaches ever assail his unoffending ears; no disaster either to his country or to himself does he descry, nor does he, in suspense about the future, hang upon the distant outcome that ever repays with ever more uncertainty. At last he has an abiding-place from which nothing can drive him, where nothing can affright him.
O ignorant are they of their ills, who do not laud death and look forward to it as the most precious discovery of Nature! Whether it shuts off prosperity, or repels calamity, or terminates the satiety and weariness of the old man, or leads off the youth in the bloom of life while he still hopes for happier things, or calls back the boy before the harsher stages of life are reached, it is to all the end, to many a relief, to some an answer to prayer, and to none does it show more favor than to those to whom it comes before it is asked for! Death frees the slave though his master is unwilling; it lightens the captive's chains; from the dungeon it leads forth those whom unbridled power had forbidden to leave it; to exiles, whose eyes and minds are ever turning to their native land, death shows that it makes no difference beneath whose soil a man may lie.
If Fortune has apportioned unjustly the common goods, and has given over one man to another though they were born with equal rights, death levels all things; this it is, after whose coming no one any more does the will of another; this it is, under whose sway no one is aware of his lowly estate; this it is, that lies open to everyone; this it is, Marcia, that your father eagerly desired; this it is, I say, that keeps my birth from being a punishment, that keeps me from falling in the face of threatening misfortunes, that makes it possible to keep my soul unharmed and master of itself: I have a last appeal. Yonder I see instruments of torture, not indeed of a single kind, but differently contrived by different peoples; some hang their victims with head toward the ground, some impale their private parts, others stretch out their arms on a fork-shaped gibbet; I see cords, I see scourges, and for each separate limb and each joint there is a separate engine of torture! But I see also Death. There, too, are bloodthirsty enemies and proud fellow-countrymen; but yonder, too, I see Death. Slavery is no hardship when, if a man wearies of the yoke, by a single step he may pass to freedom.
O Life, by the favor of Death I hold thee dear!
Think how great a boon a timely death offers, how many have been harmed by living too long! If Gnaeus Pompeius, that glory and stay of the realm, had been carried off by his illness at Naples, he would have departed the unchallenged head of the Roman people. But as it was, a very brief extension of time cast him down from his pinnacle. He saw his legions slaughtered before his eyes, and from that battle where the first line was the senate, he saw — what a melancholy remnant — the commander himself left alive! He saw an Egyptian his executioner, and yielded to a slave a body that was sacrosanct to the victors, though even had he been unharmed, he would have repented of his escape; for what were harsher than that a Pompey should live by the bounty of a king!
If Marcus Cicero had fallen at the moment when he escaped the daggers of Catiline, which were aimed not less at him than at his country, if he had fallen as the savior of the commonwealth which he had freed, if his death had followed close upon that of his daughter, even then he might have died happy. He would not have seen swords drawn to take the lives of Roman citizens, nor assassins parcelling out the goods of their victims in order that these might even be murdered at their own cost, nor the spoils of a consul put up at public auction, nor murders contracted for officially, nor brigandage and war and pillage — so many new Catilines!
If the sea had swallowed up Marcus Cato as he was returning from Cyprus
and his stewardship of the royal legacy, and along with him even the
money which he was bringing to defray the expense of the Civil War,
would it not then — the conviction that no one would have the effrontery
to do wrong in the presence of Cato! As it was, having gained the
respite of a very few years, that hero, who was born no less for
personal than for political freedom, was forced to flee from Caesar and
to submit to Pompey.
In the first place, suppose he had survived — grant him the very longest life a man can have — how many years are there after all? Born as we are for the briefest space, and destined soon to yield place to another coming into his lease of time, we view our life as a sojourn at an inn. "Our" life do I say, when Time hurries it on with such incredible swiftness? Count the centuries of cities; you will see how even those that boast of their great age have not existed long. All things human are short-lived and perishable, and fill no part at all of infinite time. This earth with its cities and peoples, its rivers and the girdle of the sea, if measured by the universe, we may count a mere dot; our life, if compared with all time, is relatively even less than a dot; for the compass of eternity is greater than that of the world, since the world renews itself over and over within the bounds of time.
What, then, is to be gained by lengthening out that which, however much shall be added on to it, will still not be far from nothing? The time we live is much in only one way — if it is enough! You may name to me men who were long-lived and attained an age that has become proverbial, and you may count up a hundred and ten years for each, yet when you turn your thought upon eternal time, if you compare the space that you discover a man has lived with the space that he has not lived, not a whit of difference will you find between the shortest and the longest life. Again, your son himself was ripe for death; for he lived as long as he needed to live — nothing further was left for him to do. There is no uniform time for old age in the case of men, nor indeed of animals either. Some animals are exhausted within the space of fourteen years, and their longest life is no more than the first stage of a man's; to each has been given a different capacity for living. No man dies too soon, because he lives only as long as he was destined to live. For each the boundary-line is marked; where it has been once placed, it will always remain, and no endeavor or favor will move it farther on. Look at the matter thus — you lost your son in accordance with a fixed plan. He had his day
And reached the goal of his allotted years.
And so you must not burden yourself with the thought: "He might have lived longer." His life has not been cut short, nor does Chance ever thrust itself into the years. What has been promised to each man, is paid; the Fates go their way, and neither add any thing to what has once been promised, nor subtract from it. Prayers and struggles are all in vain; each one will get just the amount that was placed to his credit on the first day of his existence. That day on which he first saw the light, he entered upon the path to death and drew ever nearer to his doom, and the very years that were added to his youth were subtracted from his life.
We all fall into the error of thinking that only those who are old and already on the downward path are tending toward death, whereas earliest infancy, middle age, every period of life indeed leads in that direction. The Fates ply their work; they keep us from being conscious that we are dying, and, to have it steal upon us the more easily, death lurks beneath the very name of life; infancy changes into boyhood, boyhood into adolescence, and old age steals away the age of maturity. Our very gains, if you reckon them properly, are losses.
Do you complain, Marcia, that your son did not live as long as he might have lived? For how do you know whether it was advisable for him to live longer? whether his interest was served by such a death? Can you this day find anyone whose fortunes are so happily placed and so firmly grounded that he has nothing to fear from the advance of time? Human affairs are unstable and fleeting, and no part of our life is so frail and perishable as that which gives most pleasure, and therefore at the height of good fortune we ought to pray for death, since in all the inconstancy and turmoil of life we can feel sure of nothing except the past. And your son who was so handsome in body and under the eyes of a dissolute city had been kept pure by his strict regard for chastity — what assurance have you that he could have escaped the many diseases there are, and so have preserved the unimpaired beauty of his person down to old age? And think of the thousand taints of the soul!
For even noble natures do not support continuously into old age the expectations they had stirred in their youth, but are often turned aside; they either fall into dissipation, which coming late is for that reason the more disgraceful, and begins to tarnish the brilliance of their first years, or they sink wholly to the level of the eating-house and the belly, and what they shall eat and what they shall drink become their chief concern. To this add fires and falling houses, and shipwrecks and the agonies from surgeons as they pluck bones from the living body, and thrust their whole hands deep into the bowels, and treat the private parts at the cost of infinite pain. And besides all these there is exile — surely your son was not more blameless than Rutilius! — and the prison — surely he was not wiser than Socrates! — and the suicide's dagger, piercing the heart — surely he was not more holy than Cato!
If you will consider all these possibilities, you will learn that those who are treated most kindly by Nature are those whom she removes early to a place of safety, because life had in store some such penalty as this. Yes, nothing is so deceptive as human life, nothing is so treacherous. Heaven knows! not one of us would have accepted it as a gift, were it not given to us without our knowledge. If, therefore, the happiest lot is not to be born, the next best, I think, is to have a brief life and by death to be restored quickly to the original state.
Recall that time, so bitter for you, when Sejanus handed over your father to his client, Satrius Secundus, as a largess. He was angry because your father, not being able to endure in silence that a Sejanus should be set upon our necks, much less climb there, had spoken out once or twice rather boldly. Sejanus was being voted the honor of a statue, which was to be set up in the theatre of Pompey, just then being restored by Tiberius after a fire. Whereupon Cordus exclaimed: "Now the theatre is ruined indeed!" What! Was it not to burst with rage to think of a Sejanus planted upon the ashes of Gnaeus Pompeius, a disloyal soldier hallowed by a statue in a memorial to one of the greatest generals? Hallowed, too, was the signature of Sejanus! and those fiercest of dogs, which, savage toward all others, he kept friendly only to himself by feeding them on human blood, began to bark around that great man, who was already caught in a trap.
What was he to do? If he wished to live, he had to make his plea to Sejanus; if he wished to die, to his own daughter, and both were inexorable. So he determined to deceive his daughter. Therefore, having taken a bath and seeking to reduce his strength still further, he retired to his bedchamber, giving out that he would have luncheon there; then, having dismissed the slaves, he threw part of the food out of the window in order to have it appear that he had eaten it; later he refused dinner on the pretext that he had already eaten enough in his room. He did the same thing also on the second day and the third day; on the fourth, the very weakness of his body revealed the truth. And so, taking you into his arms, he said: "My dearest daughter, nothing in my whole life have I ever concealed from you but this, but I have entered upon the road to death, and am now almost half-way there; you cannot and you ought not to call me back." And so, having ordered all light to be shut out, he buried himself in deep darkness.
When his purpose was recognized, there was general rejoicing, because the jaws of the ravening wolves were being cheated of their prey. At the instigation of Sejanus, accusers of Cordus appeared before the tribunal of the consuls, complained that their victim was dying, and begged them to prevent the very thing they had forced upon him; so strongly did they feel that Cordus was escaping them! The great question in dispute was whether an accused man lost his right to die; while the matter was being debated, while his accusers were making their plea a second time, he had already gained his freedom. Do you not see, Marcia, what great vicissitudes of fortune assail us unexpectedly when the times are evil? Weep you because one of your dear ones was required to die? One was very nearly not allowed.
Besides the fact that all the future is uncertain, and more certain to be worse than otherwise, it is true that the souls that are quickly released from intercourse with men find the journey to the gods above most easy; for they carry less weight of earthly dross. Set free before they become hardened, before they are too deeply contaminated by the things of earth, they fly back more lightly to the source of their being, and more easily wash away all defilement and stain. And souls that are great find no joy in lingering in the body; they yearn to go forth and burst their bonds, and they chafe against these narrow bounds, accustomed as they are to range far aloft throughout the universe, and from on high to look down in scorn upon the affairs of men. Hence it is that Plato cries out that the wise man reaches out with all his mind toward death, longs for it, thinks upon it, and because of this passion moves through life striving ever for the things beyond.
Tell me, Marcia, when you saw in your son, youth that he was, the wisdom of an old man, a mind victorious over all sensual pleasures, unblemished, faultless, seeking riches without greed, honors without ostentation, pleasures without excess, did you think that you could long have the good fortune to keep him safe and unharmed? Whatever has reached perfection, is near its end. Ideal Virtue hurries away and is snatched from our eyes, and the fruits that ripen in their first days do not wait long for their last. The brighter a fire glows, the more quickly it dies; the fire that is kindled with tough and stubborn wood, and, shrouded in smoke, shines with a murky light, is longer lived; for the same condition keeps it alive that provides it grudging food. So with men — the brighter their spirits, the briefer their day; for when there is no room for increase, destruction is near. Fabianus relates — our parents also actually saw him — that there was at Rome a boy who was as tall as a very tall man; but he soon died, and every sensible person said beforehand that he would promptly die, for he could not be expected to reach an age that he had already forestalled. And so it is — ripe maturity is the sign of impending destruction; when growth stops, the end approaches.
Undertake to estimate him by his virtues, not by his years, and you will see he lived long enough. Left as a ward, he was under the care of guardians up to his fourteenth year, but his mother's guardianship lasted all his life. Although he had his own hearthstone, he did not wish to leave yours, and at an age when most children can scarcely endure the society of a father, he persisted in seeking that of his mother. As a young man, although by his stature, beauty, and sure bodily strength, born for the camp, he refused military service so as not to leave you. Consider, Marcia, how rarely it happens that mothers who live in separate houses see their children; think of all the years that are lost to those mothers who have sons in the army, and they are spent in constant anxiety; you will find that this period during which you suffered no loss has been very extended.
Your son was never removed from your sight; with an ability that was outstanding and would have made him the rival of his grandfather had he not been hampered by modesty, which in the case of many men checks their advancement by silence, he shaped all his studies beneath your eyes. Though he was a young man of the rarest beauty of person, and was surrounded by such a great horde of women, the corrupters of men, he lent himself to the hopes of none, and when some of them in their effrontery went so far as to make advances to him, he blushed with shame as if he had sinned even by pleasing them.
It was this purity of character that made him seem worthy of being appointed to the priesthood while he was still a lad; his mother's influence undoubtedly helped, but, unless the candidate himself had been good, even a mother's influence would have had no weight. In thinking of all these virtues hold again, as it were, your son in your arms! He has now more leisure to devote to you, there is nothing now to call him away from you; never again will he cause you anxiety, never again any grief. The only sorrow you could possibly have from a son so good is the sorrow you have had; all else is now exempt from the power of chance, and holds naught but pleasure if only you know how to enjoy your son, if only you come to understand what his truest value was.
Only the image of your son, and a very imperfect likeness it was — has perished; he himself is eternal and has reached now a far better state, stripped of all outward encumbrances and left simply himself. This vesture of the body which we see, bones and sinews and the skin that covers us, this face and the hands that serve us and the rest of our human wrapping — these are but chains and darkness to our souls. By these things the soul is crushed and strangled and stained and, imprisoned in error, is kept far from its true and natural sphere. It constantly struggles against this weight of the flesh in the effort to avoid being dragged back and sunk; it ever strives to rise to that place from which it once descended.
There eternal peace awaits it when it has passed from earth's dull motley to the vision of all that is pure and bright. There is no need, therefore, for you to hurry to the tomb of your son; what lies there is his basest part and a part that in life was the source of much trouble — bones and ashes are no more parts of him than were his clothes and the other protections of the body. He is complete — leaving nothing of himself behind, he has fled away and wholly departed from earth; for a little while he tarried above us while he was being purified and was ridding himself of all the blemishes and stain that still clung to him from his mortal existence, then soared aloft and sped away to join the souls of the blessed.
A saintly hand gave him welcome — the Scipios and the Catos and, joined with those who scorned life and through a draught of poison found freedom, your father, Marcia. Although there all are akin with all, he keeps his grandson near him, and, while your son rejoices in the newfound light, he instructs him in the movement of the neighboring stars, and gladly initiates him into Nature's secrets, not by guesswork, but by experience having true knowledge of them all; and just as a stranger is grateful for a guide, through an unknown city, so your son, as he searches into the causes of celestial things, is grateful for a kinsman as his instructor. He bids him also turn his gaze upon the things of earth far below; for it is a pleasure to look back upon all that has been left behind.
Do you therefore, Marcia, always act as if you knew that the eyes of your father and your son were set upon you — not such as you once knew them, but far loftier beings, dwelling in the highest heaven. Blush to have a low or common thought, and to weep for those dear ones who have changed for the better! Throughout the free and boundless spaces of eternity they wander; no intervening seas block their course, no lofty mountains or pathless valleys or shallows of the shifting Syrtes; there every way is level, and, being swift and unencumbered, they easily are pervious to the matter of the stars and, in turn, are mingled with it.
Consider, therefore, Marcia, that your father, whose influence upon you was not less great than was yours upon your son, using no longer that tone in which he bewailed the civil wars, in which he himself proscribed for all time the sponsors of proscription, but the loftier tone that befits his more exalted state, speaks to you from the citadel of high heaven and says: "Why, my daughter, are you held by such lengthy sorrow? Why do you live in such ignorance of the truth as to believe that our son was unfairly treated because, leaving his family fortunes whole, he himself returned to his forefathers, safe and whole? Do you not know how mighty are the storms of Fortune that demolish everything? How if she shows herself kindly and indulgent, it is only to those who have the fewest possible dealings with her?
"Need I name to you the kings who would have been the happiest of mortals if death had removed them sooner from the evils that were threatening? or even the Roman leaders who would lose not a tithe of greatness if you should subtract some years from their life? or those heroes of the highest birth and fame who calmly bowed their necks to receive the stroke of a soldier's sword? Look back upon your father and your grandfather. Your grandfather fell into the power of a foreign assassin; I myself suffered no man to have any power over me, and, having cut myself off from food, I proved that I was as courageous as I seemed to have been in my writings. Why should that member who has had the happiest death be longest mourned in our family?
"We are all together in one place, and, released from the deep night that envelops you, we discover among you nothing that is, as you think, desirable, nothing that is lofty, nothing glorious, but all is lowly, heavy laden, and troubled, and beholds how small a fraction of the light in which we dwell! Why need I say that here are no rival armies clashing in their rage, no fleets to shatter one another, no parricides are here either conceived or planned, no forums ring with strife the livelong day, that no secrecy is here, but minds are uncovered and hearts revealed and our lives are open and manifest to all, while every age and things to come are ranged before our sight?
"It was once my delight to compile the history of what took place in a single epoch in the most distant region of the universe and among the merest handful of people. Now l may have the view of countless centuries, the succession and train of countless ages, the whole array of years: I may behold the rise and fall of future kingdoms, the downfall of great cities, and new invasions of the sea. For, if the common fate can be a solace for your yearning, know that nothing will abide where it is now placed, that time will lay all things low and take all things with it. And not simply men will be its sport — for how small a part are they of Fortune's domain! — but places, countries, and the great parts of the universe. It will level whole mountains, and in another place will pile new rocks on high; it will drink up seas, turn rivers from their courses, and, sundering the communication of nations, break up the association and intercourse of the human race; in other places it will swallow up cities in yawning chasms, will shatter them with earthquakes, and from deep below send forth a pestilential vapor; it will cover with floods the face of the inhabited world, and, deluging the earth, will kill every living creature, and in huge conflagration it will scorch and burn all mortal things.
"And when the time shall come for the world to be blotted out in order that it may begin its life anew, these things will destroy themselves by their own power, and stars will clash with stars, and all the fiery matter of the world that now shines in orderly array will blaze up in a common conflagration. Then also the souls of the blest, who have partaken of immortality, when it shall seem best to God to create the universe anew — we, too, amid the falling universe, shall be added as a tiny fraction to this mighty destruction, and shall be changed again into our former elements." Happy, Marcia, is your son, who already knows these mysteries!