The Letters of the Younger Pliny Part 10


I am writing to you in great distress. The younger daughter of your friend Funda.n.u.s is dead, and I never saw a girl of a brighter and more lovable disposition, nor one who better deserved length of days or even to live for ever. She had hardly completed her fourteenth year, yet she possessed the prudence of old age and the sedateness of a matron, with the sweetness of a child and the modesty of a maiden. How she used to cling round her father's neck! How tenderly and modestly she embraced us who were her father's friends! Her nurses, her teachers and tutors, how well she loved them, each according to his station! With what application and quickness she used to read, while her amus.e.m.e.nts were never carried to excess and never overstepped the mark. What resignation, patience and fort.i.tude she showed during her last illness!

She obeyed her doctor's orders, she cheered her sister and father, and when her body had lost all its strength, she kept herself alive by the vigour of her mind. This never failed her right up to the end, nor was it broken down by her long illness or by the fear of death, and this has made us miss her all the more severely and made our sorrow all the heavier to bear. What a sad, heart-rending funeral it was! The moment of her death seemed even more cruel than death itself, for she had just been betrothed to a youth of splendid character; the day of the wedding had been decided upon, and we had already been summoned to attend it.

Think into what terrible grief our joy was changed! I really cannot tell you in words how acutely I felt it when I heard Funda.n.u.s himself, for one sorrow always leads on to other bitter sorrows--giving the order that the money he had intended to lay out upon wedding raiment, pearls and gems, should be spent upon incense, unguents and scents.

He is, it is true, a man of learning and wisdom, who from early years has devoted himself to the deeper studies and the n.o.bler arts, but, at a moment like this, all the philosophy he has ever heard from others or uttered himself is put on one side. All virtues but one are disregarded for the time being--he can only think of parental love. You will forgive and even praise him for this, if you consider the loss he has suffered. For he has lost a daughter who reflected in herself, not only his face and feature, but his character, and one who was the living image of her father in every particular. If you send him a letter in the midst of this rightful grief of his, be careful to use words of solace which will not flay the heart or deal roughly with his sorrow, but which will soothe and ease his pain. The time which has elapsed will make him the more likely to admit your words of consolation, for, just as a raw wound first shrinks from the touch of the doctor's hand, then bears it without flinching and actually welcomes it, so with mental anguish we reject and fly from consolation when the pain is fresh, then after a time we look for it and find relief in its soothing application.



I know what an interest you take in the liberal arts, and how delighted you are when young men of rank do anything worthy of their ancestry.

That is why I am losing no time to tell you that to-day I made one of the audience of Calpurnius Piso. He was reading his poem on the Legends of the Stars, and it was a learned and very excellent composition. It was written in fluent, graceful, and smooth elegiacs, and rose even to lofty heights as occasion demanded. The style was cleverly varied, in some places it soared, in others it was subdued; pa.s.sing from the grand to the commonplace, from thinness to richness, and from lively to severe, and in each case with consummate skill. The sweetness of his voice lent it an additional charm, and his modesty made even his voice the sweeter, while his blushes and his nervousness, which were very plain to see, still further set off the reading. I don't know why, but diffidence becomes a man of letters much more than over-confidence.

However, to cut the story short,--though I would gladly say more, because such performances are all the more charming when given by a young man, and all the rarer when he is of n.o.ble birth,--as soon as the reading was concluded, I embraced the youth with great cordiality, and by showering praises upon him--which are always the best incentive when giving advice--I urged him to go on as he had begun, and hold out to his descendants the light which his own ancestors had held out to him. I congratulated his excellent mother and also his brother, who made one of the audience, and indeed achieved as much reputation for brotherly feeling as his brother Calpurnius did for his eloquence, for while the latter was reading everybody noticed first the nervous look on the brother's face, and then the expression of joy. I pray Heaven that I may often have such news for you, for I am very partial to the age I live in, and I hope that it may not prove barren and worthless. I am really most anxious that our young men of rank should have some other beautiful objects in their houses besides the busts of their ancestors, and it seems to me that the latter tacitly approve and encourage these two young men, and even recognise them as their true descendants, which is in itself a sufficiently high compliment to both. Farewell.


As all is well with you, all is well with me. You have your wife with you, and your son; you enjoy your sea-view, your fountains, greenery, estate, and your charming villa. I cannot doubt that the latter is most charming, inasmuch as it was the home of the man who was even happier there than when he became the happiest man on earth. I am staying at my Tuscan house; I hunt and I study, sometimes in turns, sometimes both together, and I cannot as yet tell you whether I find it more difficult to catch anything or to compose anything. Farewell.


I notice how kindly you treat your servants, so I will be quite frank with you, and tell you with what indulgence I treat mine. I always bear in mind that phrase in Homer, "like a father mild," and our own Latin phrase, "father of his family." Even if I had naturally been of a harsher and less genial disposition, the weakness of my freedman Zosimus would melt my harshness, for one has to show him greater kindness just in proportion as he needs it more at his time of life. He is an honest fellow, devoted to his duties and well-educated, but his chief accomplishment and, so to speak, his particular recommendation is his skill in playing comedy, in which he is really admirable. For his delivery is sharp, intelligent, to the point, and even graceful, and he plays the harp much better than is usually expected from a comedian. He is also so clever in reading speeches, history and poetry, that you would fancy he had never studied anything else. I have gone into all this detail to show you how many services this one man can render me, and how pleasant they are. Moreover, I have long entertained a great regard for him, which has been increased by his serious ill-health, for Nature has so arranged it that nothing fires and stimulates our affection so much as the fear of losing the object of it, and I have on more than one occasion been afraid of losing Zosimus.

Some years since, while he was reciting with great earnestness and fire, he spat blood, and I sent him on that account to Egypt, from which country he recently returned with his health restored. Then, after severely taxing his voice for days together, he was warned of his old malady by a slight cough, and once more brought up some blood. So I have decided to send him to the farm which you own at Forum Julii, for I have often heard you say that the air there is healthy, and the milk peculiarly beneficial to complaints of this kind. I should be glad, therefore, if you will write to your people to take him in at the house and give him lodging, and accommodate him with anything he may require at his expense. His needs will be very small, for he is so sparing and abstemious that his frugality leads him to deny himself, not only dainties, but even that which is necessary for his weak health. When he sets out, I will give him sufficient travelling money for one who is going to your part of the country. Farewell.


Within a short time of their impeaching Julius Ba.s.sus the Bithynians brought a second action, this time against Rufus Varenus, their proconsul, the very man whom, in their action against Ba.s.sus, they had received permission, at their own request, to retain as their advocate.

On being brought into the Senate they applied for a commission to be appointed to investigate their charges, and Varenus sought leave to be allowed to bring witnesses from the province in his defence. To this the Bithynians objected, and the matter came to a debate. I acted on behalf of Varenus, and my pleading was not without good results. I am justified in saying this, as my written speech will show whether I spoke well or badly. For in delivering a speech chance has a controlling influence on success or failure. A speech either gains or loses a good deal according to the memory, voice, and gesture of the speaker, and even the time taken in delivery, to say nothing of the popularity or unpopularity of the accused; whereas a written speech profits nothing from these advantages, loses nothing by these disadvantages, and is subject neither to lucky nor unlucky accidents.

Fonteius Magnus, one of the Bithynians, replied to me at great length, but he made very few points. Like most of the Greeks, he mistakes volubility for fulness of treatment, and they pour forth in a single breath a perfect torrent of long-winded and frigid periods. Julius Candidus rather wittily says apropos of this that eloquence is one thing and loquacity another. For there have been only one or two people who can be described as eloquent--not one indeed if Marcus Antonius is to be believed,--but scores of persons possess what Candidus calls loquacity, and loquacity and impudence usually go together. On the following day, Homullus spoke on behalf of Varenus, and delivered a skilful, powerful, and polished speech, while Nigrinus replied with terseness, dignity, and elegance. Acilius Rufus, the consul-designate, proposed that the Commission of Enquiry asked for by the Bithynians should be allowed, and said not a word about the request of Varenus, which was tantamount to proposing that it should be negatived. Cornelius Priscus, the consular, moved that the requests of both the accusers and the accused should be granted, and he carried a majority with him. The point we asked for was not within the four corners of the law and was not quite covered by precedent, but none the less it was entirely reasonable, though why it was reasonable I shall not tell you in this letter, in order to make you ask for a copy of my pleading. For if it be true, as Homer says, that "men always prize the song the most which rings newest in their ears," I must beware lest by allowing myself to go chattering on in this letter I destroy all the charm of novelty in that little speech of mine, which is the main thing it has to commend itself to you. Farewell.


Your letter has aroused in me conflicting emotions, for part of the news it contained made me glad, and part made me sorrowful. I was glad to hear that you were detained in town, for though you say it was much against your will, it was not against mine, especially as you promise that you will give a reading as soon as I arrive. So I thank you for waiting my coming. The bad news was that Julius Valens is lying seriously ill, although even this should not sadden us, if we only think of what is best for him, for it will be much better for him to obtain as speedy a release as possible from a disease which is past all cure. No, the real sad news, or rather heartrending news is that Julius Avitus died on ship-board while returning from his quaestorship, miles away from the brother who was devoted to him, and from his mother and sisters. Those are circ.u.mstances which do not affect him now that he is dead, but they did affect him on his death-bed, and they are a great trouble to his surviving relatives, especially as he was a young man of such promise and would have reached the highest offices in the State if only his qualities had had time to ripen. And now he has been cut down in the very flower of manhood! What a keen and enthusiastic student he was, how well read, and what a number of essays he had made in writing!

Yet all have perished with him and left no fruit for posterity to reap.

But it is useless for me to indulge my sorrow, for if once one gives it free play, even the slightest occasions for grief are magnified into crushing blows. I will write no more, and so check the tears which this letter has made to flow. Farewell.


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