Of Consolation: To Polybius

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Of Consolation to Polybius (1900)
by Seneca, translated by Aubrey Stewart
Seneca1162021Of Consolation to Polybius1900Aubrey Stewart







. . . . compared with ours is firm and lasting; but if you transfer it to the domain of Nature, which destroys everything and calls everything back to the place from whence it came, it is transitory. What, indeed, have mortal hands made that is not mortal? The seven wonders of the world, and any even greater wonders which the ambition of later ages has constructed, will be seen some day leveled with the ground. So it is: nothing lasts forever, few things even last for long: all are susceptible of decay in one way or another. The ways in which things come to an end are manifold, but yet everything that has a beginning has an end also. Some threaten the world with death, and, though you may think the thought to be impious, this entire universe, containing gods and men and all their works will someday be swept away and plunged a second time into its original darkness and chaos. Weep, if you can, after this, over the loss of any individual life! Can we mourn the ashes of Carthage, Numantia, Corinth, or any city that has fallen from a high estate, when we know that the world must perish, albeit it has no place into which it can fall. Weep, if you can, because Fate has not spared you, she who someday will dare to work so great a wickedness! Who can be so haughtily and peevishly arrogant as to expect that this law of nature by which every thing is brought to an end will be set aside in his own case, and that his own house will be exempted from the ruin which menaces the whole world itself? It is, therefore, a great consolation to reflect that what has happened to us has happened to everyone before us and will happen to everyone after us. In my opinion, nature has made her cruellest acts affect all men alike, in order that the universality of their lot might console them for its hardship.


It will also be no small assistance to you to reflect that grief can do no good either to him whom you have lost or to yourself, and you would not wish to protract what is useless: for if we could gain anything by sorrow, I should not refuse to bestow upon your misfortunes whatever tears my own have left at my disposal: I would force some drops to flow from these eyes, exhausted as they are with weeping over my own domestic afflictions, were it likely to be of any service to you. Why do you hesitate? let us lament together, and I will even make this quarrel my own:—"Fortune, whom everyone thinks most unjust, you seemed hitherto to have restrained yourself from attacking one who by your favour had become the object of such universal respect that—rare distinction for anyone—his prosperity had excited no jealousy: but now, behold! you have dealt him the cruelest wound which, while Caesar lives, he could receive, and after reconnoitering him from all sides you have discovered that on this point alone he was exposed to your strokes. What else indeed could you have done to him? should you take away his wealth? he never was its slave: now he has even as far as possible put it away from him, and the chief thing that he has gained by his unrivalled facilities for amassing money has been to despise it. Should you take away his friends? you knew that he was of so loveable a disposition that he could easily gain others to replace those whom he might lose: for of all the powerful officers of the Imperial household he seems to me to be the only one whom all men wish to have for their friend without considering how advantageous his friendship would be. Should you take away his reputation? it is so firmly established, that even you could not shake it. Should you take away his health? you knew that his mind was so grounded on philosophical studies, in whose schools he was born as well as bred, that it would rise superior to any sufferings of the body. Should you take away his breath? how small an injury would that be to him? fame promised his genius one of the longest of lives: he himself has taken care that his better part should remain alive, and has guarded himself against death by the composition of his admirable works of eloquence: as long as literature shall be held in any honour, as long as the vigour of the Latin or the grace of the Greek language shall endure, he will flourish together with their greatest writers, with whose genius he has measured, or, if his modesty will not let me say this, has connected his own. This, then, was the only means you could devise of doing him a great injury. The better a man is, the more frequently he is wont to suffer from your indiscriminate rage, you who are to be feared even when you are bestowing benefits upon one. How little it would have cost you to avert this blow from one upon whom your favours seemed to be conferred according to some regular plan, and not to be flung at random in your wonted fashion!"


Let us add, if you please, to these grounds of complaint the disposition of the youth himself, cut off in the midst of its first growth. He was worthy to be your brother: you most certainly did not deserve to be given any pain through your brother, even though he had been unworthy. All men alike bear witness to his merits: he is regretted for your sake, and is praised for his own. He had no qualities which you would not be glad to recognize. You would indeed have been good to a worse brother, but to him your fraternal love was given all the more freely because in him it found so fitting a field for its exercise. No one ever was made to feel his influence by receiving wrongs at his hands, he never used the fact of your being his brother to threaten any one: he had moulded his character after the pattern of your modesty, and reflected how great a glory and how great a burden you were to your family: the burden he was able to sustain; but, O pitiless Fate, always unjust to virtue—before your brother could taste the happiness of his position, he was called away. I am well aware that I express my feelings inadequately; for nothing is harder than to find words which adequately represent great grief: still, let us again lament for him, if it be of any use to do so:—"What did you mean, Fortune, by being so unjust and so savage? did you so soon repent you of your favour? What cruelty it was to fall upon brothers, to break up so loving a circle by so deadly an attack; why did you bring mourning into a house so plenteously stocked with admirable youths, in which no brother came short of the high standard of the rest, and without any cause pluck one of them away? So, then, scrupulous innocency of life, old-fashioned frugality, the power of amassing vast wealth wielded with the greatest self-denial, a true and imperishable love of literature, a mind free from the least spot of sin, all avail nothing: Polybius is in mourning, and, warned by the fate of one brother what he may have to dread for the rest, he fears for the very persons who soothe his grief. O shame! Polybius is in mourning, and mourns even though he still enjoys the favour of Caesar. No doubt, Fortune, what you aimed at in your impotent rage was to prove that no one could be protected from your attacks, not even by Caesar himself."


We might go on blaming fate much longer, but we cannot alter it: it stands harsh and inexorable: no one can move it by reproaches, by tears, or by justice. Fate never spares anyone, never makes allowances to anyone. Let us, then, refrain from unprofitable tears: for our grief will carry us away to join him sooner than it will bring him back to us: and if it tortures us without helping us, we ought to lay it aside as soon as possible, and restore the tone of our minds after their indulgence in that vain solace and the bitter luxury of woe: for unless reason puts an end to our tears, fortune will not do so. Look around, I pray you, upon all mortals: everywhere there is ample and constant reason for weeping: one man is driven to daily labour by toilsome poverty, another is tormented by never-resting ambition, another fears the very riches that he once wished for, and suffers from the granting of his own prayer: one man is made wretched by loneliness, another by labour, another by the crowds which always besiege his antechamber. This man mourns because he has children, that one because he has lost them. Tears will fail us sooner than causes for shedding them. Do you not see what sort of a life it must be that Nature has promised to us men when she makes us weep as soon as we are born? We begin life in this fashion, and all the chain of years that follow it is in harmony with it. Thus we pass our lives, and consequently we ought to be sparing in doing what we have to do so often, and when we look back upon the mass of sorrows that hangs over us, we ought, if not to end our tears, at any rate to reserve them. There is nothing that we ought to husband more carefully than this, which we are so often obliged to expend.


It will also be no small assistance to you to consider that there is no one to whom your grief is more offensive than he upon whom it is nominally bestowed: he either does not wish you to suffer or does not understand why you suffer. There is, therefore, no reason for a service which is useless if it is not felt by him who is the object of it, and which is displeasing to him if it is. I can boldly affirm that there is no one in the whole world who derives any pleasure from your tears. What then? do you suppose that your brother has a feeling against you which no one else has, that he wishes you to be injured by your self-torture, that he desires to separate you from the business of your life, that is, from philosophy and from Caesar? that is not likely: for he always gave way to you as a brother, respected you as a parent, courted you as a superior. He wishes to be fondly remembered by you, but not to be a source of agony to you. Why, then, should you insist upon pining away with a grief which, if the dead have any feelings, your brother wishes to bring to an end? If it were any other brother about whose affection there could be any question, I should put all this vaguely, and say, "If your brother wishes you to be tortured with endless mourning, he does not deserve such affection: if he does not wish it, dismiss the grief which affects you both: an unnatural brother ought not, a good brother would not wish to be so mourned for," but with one whose brotherly love has been so clearly proved, we may be quite sure that nothing could hurt him more than that you should be hurt by his loss, that it should agonize you, that your eyes, most undeserving as they are of such a fate, should be by the same cause continually filled and drained of never-ceasing tears.

Nothing however will restrain your loving nature from these useless tears so effectually as the reflexion that you ought to show your brothers an example by bearing this outrage of fortune bravely. You ought to imitate great generals in times of disaster, when they are careful to affect a cheerful demeanour, and conceal misfortunes by a counterfeited joyousness, lest, if the soldiers saw their leader cast down, they should themselves become dispirited. This must now be done by you also. Put on a countenance that does not reflect your feelings, and if you possibly can, cast out conceal it within you and hide it away so that it may not be seen, and take care that your brothers, who will think everything honourable that they see you doing, imitate you in this and take courage from the sight of your looks. It is your duty to be both their comfort and their consoler; but you will have no power to check their grief if you humour your own.


It may also keep you from excessive grief if you remind yourself that nothing which you do can be done in secret: all men agree in regarding you as an important personage, and you must keep up this character: you are encompassed by all that mass of offerers of consolation who all are peering into your mind to learn how much strength it has to resist grief, and whether you merely know how to avail yourself cunningly of prosperity, or whether you can also bear adversity with a manly spirit: the expression of your very eyes is watched. Those who are able to conceal their feelings may indulge them more freely; but you are not free to have any secrecy: your fortune has set you in so brilliant a position, that nothing which you do can be hid: all men will know how you have borne this wound of yours, whether you laid down your arms at the first shock or whether you stood your ground. Long ago the love of Caesar raised you, and your own literary pursuits brought you, to the highest rank in the state: nothing vulgar, nothing mean befits you: yet what can be meaner or more womanish than to make oneself a victim to grief? Although your sorrow is as great as that of your brothers, yet you may not indulge it as much as they: the ideas which the public have formed about your philosophic learning and your character make many things impossible for you. Men demand much, and expect much from you: you ought not to have drawn all eyes upon yourself, if you wished to be allowed to act as you pleased: as it is, you must make good that of which you have given promise. All those, who praise the works of your genius, who make copies of them, who need your genius if they do not need your fortune, are as guards set over your mind: you cannot, therefore, ever do anything unworthy of the character of a thorough philosopher and sage, without many men feeling sorry that they ever admired you. You may not weep beyond reason: nor is this the only thing that you may not do: you may not so much as remain asleep after daybreak, or retreat from the noisy troubles of public business to the peaceful repose of the country, or refresh yourself with a pleasure tour when wearied by constant attendance to the duties of your toilsome post, or amuse yourself with beholding various shows, or even arrange your day according to your own wish. Many things are forbidden to you which are permitted to the poorest beggars that lie about in holes and corners. A great fortune is a great slavery; you may not do anything according to your wish: you must give audiences to all those thousands of people, you must take charge of all those petitions: you must cheer yourself up, in order that all this mass of business which flows hither from every part of the world may be offered in due order for the consideration of our excellent emperor. I repeat, you yourself are forbidden to weep, that you may be able to listen to so many weeping petitioners: your own tears must be dried, in order that the tears of those who are in peril and who desire to obtain the gracious pardon of the kindest-hearted of Caesars may be dried.


These reflexions will serve you as partial remedies for your grief, but if you wish to forget it altogether, remember Caesar: think with what loyalty, with what industry you are bound to requite the favours which he has shown you: you will then see that you can no more sink beneath your burden than could he of whom the myths tells us, he whose shoulders upheld the world. Even Caesar, who may do all things, may not do many things for this very reason: his watchfulness protects all men's sleep, his labour guarantees their leisure, his toil ensures their pleasures, his work preserves their holidays. On the day on which Caesar devoted his services to the universe, he lost them for himself, and like the planets which ever unrestingly pursue their course, he can never halt or attend to any affair of his own. After a certain fashion this prohibition is imposed upon you also; you may not consider your own interests, or devote yourself to your own studies: while Caesar owns the world, you cannot allow either joy or grief, or anything else to occupy any part of you: you owe your entire self to Caesar. Add to this that, since you have always declared that Caesar was dearer to you than your own life, you have no right to complain of misfortune as long as Caesar is alive: while he is safe all your friends are alive, you have lost nothing, your eyes ought not only to be dry, but glad. In him is your all, he stands in the place of all else to you: you are not grateful enough for your present happy state (which God forbid that one of your most wise and loyal disposition should be) if you permit yourself to weep at all while Caesar is safe.


I will now point out to you yet another remedy, of a more domestic, though not of a more efficacious character. Your sorrow is most to be feared when you have retired to your own home: for as long as your divinity is before your eyes, it can find no means of access to you, but Caesar will possess your entire being; when you have left his presence, grief, as though it then had an opportunity of attack, will lie in ambush for you in your loneliness, and creep by degrees over your mind as it rests from its labours. You ought not, therefore, to allow any moment to be unoccupied by literary pursuits: at such times let literature repay to you the debt which your long and faithful love has laid upon it, let it claim you for its high priest and worshipper: at such times let Homer[1] and Virgil be much in your company, those poets to whom the human race owes as much as everyone owes to you, and they especially, because you have made them known to a wider circle than that for which they wrote. All time which you entrust to their keeping will be safe. At such times, as far as you are able, compile an account of your Caesar's acts, that they may be read by all future ages in a panegyric written by one of his own household: for he himself will afford you both the noblest subject and the noblest example for putting together and composing a history. I dare not go so far as to advise you to write in your usual elegant style a version of Æsop's fables, a work which no Roman intellect has hitherto attempted. It is hard, no doubt, for a mind which has received so rude a shock to betake itself so quickly to these livelier pursuits: but if it is able to pass from more serious studies to these lighter ones, you must regard it as a proof that it has recovered its strength, and is itself again. In the former case, although it may suffer and hang back, still it will be led on by the serious nature of the subject under consideration to take an interest in it: but, unless it has thoroughly recovered, it will not endure to treat of subjects which must be written of in a cheerful spirit. You ought, therefore, first to exercise your mind upon grave studies, and then to enliven it with gayer ones.


It will also be a great solace to you if you often ask yourself: "Am I grieving on my own account or on that of him who is gone? if on my own, I have no right to boast of my affectionate sensibility; grief is only excusable as long as it is honourable; but when it is only caused by personal interests, it no longer springs from tenderness: nothing can be less becoming to a good man than to make a calculation about his grief for his brother. If I grieve on his account, I must necessarily take one of the two following views: if the dead retain no feeling whatever, my brother has escaped from all the troubles of life, has been restored to the place which he occupied before his birth, and, being free from every kind of ill, can neither fear, nor desire, nor suffer: what madness then for me never to cease grieving for one who will never grieve again? If the dead have any feeling, then my brother is now like one who has been let out of a prison in which he has long been confined, who at last is free and his own master, and who enjoys himself, amuses himself with viewing the works of Nature, and looks down from above the earth upon all human things, while he looks at things divine, whose meaning he has long sought in vain, from a much nearer standpoint. Why then am I wasting away with grief for one who is either in bliss or non-existent? it would be envy to weep for one who is in bliss, it would be madness to weep for one who has no existence whatever." Are you affected by the thought that he appears to have been deprived of great blessings just at the moment when they came crowding upon him? after thinking how much he has lost, call to mind how much more he has ceased to fear: anger will never more wring his heart, disease will not crush him, suspicion will not disquiet him, the gnawing pain of envy which we feel at the successes of others will not attend him, terror will not make him wretched, the fickleness of fortune who quickly transfers her favours from one man to another will not alarm him. If you reckon it up properly, he has been spared more than he has lost. He will not enjoy wealth, or your influence at Court, or his own: he will not receive benefits, and will not confer them: do you imagine him to be unhappy, because he has lost these things, or happy because he does not miss them? Believe me, he who does not need good fortune is happier than he on whom it attends: all those good things which charm us by the attractive but unreal pleasures which they afford, such as money, high office, influence, and many other things which dazzle the stupid greed of mankind, require hard labour to keep, are regarded by others with bitter jealousy, and are more of a menace than an advantage to those who are bedecked and encumbered by them. They are slippery and uncertain; one never can enjoy them in comfort; for, even setting aside anxiety about the future, the present management of great prosperity is an uneasy task. If we are to believe some profound seekers after truth, life is all torment: we are flung, as it were, into this deep and rough sea, whose tides ebb and flow, at one time raising us aloft by sudden accessions of fortune, at another bringing down low by still greater losses, and for ever tossing us about, never letting us rest on firm ground. We roll and plunge upon the waves, and sometimes strike against one another, sometimes are ship-wrecked, always are in terror. For those who sail upon this stormy sea, exposed as it is to every gale, there is no harbour save death. Do not, then, grudge your brother his rest: he has at last become free, safe, and immortal: he leaves surviving him Caesar and all his family, yourself, and his and your brothers. He left Fortune before she had ceased to regard him with favour, while she stood still by him, offering him gifts with a full hand. He now ranges free and joyous through the boundless heavens; he has left this poor and low-lying region, and has soared upwards to that place, whatever it may he, which receives in its happy bosom the souls which have been set free from the chains of matter: he now roams there at liberty, and enjoys with the keenest delight all the blessings of Nature. You are mistaken! your brother has not lost the light of day, but has obtained a more enduring light: whither he has gone, we all alike must go: why then do we weep for his fate? He has not left us, but has gone on before us. Believe me, there is great happiness in a happy death. We cannot be sure of anything even for one whole day: since the truth is so dark and hard to come at, who can tell whether death came to your brother out of malice or out of kindness?


One who is as just in all things as you are, must find comfort in the thought that no wrong has been done you by the loss of so noble a brother, but that you have received a benefit by having been permitted for so long a time to enjoy his affection. He who will not allow his benefactor to choose his own way of bestowing a gift upon him, is unjust: he who does not reckon what he receives as gain, and yet reckons what he gives back again as loss, is greedy: he who says that he has been wronged, because his pleasure has come to an end, is ungrateful: he who thinks that we gain nothing from good things beyond the present enjoyment of them, is a fool, because he finds no pleasure in past joys, and does not regard those which are gone as his most certain possessions, since he need not fear that they will come to an end. A man limits his pleasures too narrowly if he believes that he enjoys those things only which he touches and sees, if he counts the having enjoyed them for nothing: for all pleasure quickly leaves us, seeing that it flows away, flits across our lives, and is gone almost before it has come. We ought, therefore, to make our mind travel back over past time, to bring back whatever we once took pleasure in, and frequently to ruminate over it in our thoughts: the remembrance of pleasures is truer and more trustworthy than their reality. Regard it, then, among your greatest blessings that you have had an excellent brother: you need not think for how much longer you might have had him, but for how long you did have him. Nature gave him to you, as she gives others to other brothers, not as an absolute property, but as a loan: afterwards when she thought proper she took him back again, and followed her own rules of action, instead of waiting until you had indulged your love to satiety. If any one were to be indignant at having to repay a loan of money, especially if he had been allowed to use it without having to pay any interest, would he not be thought an unreasonable man? Nature gave your brother his life, just as she gave you yours: exercising her lawful rights, she has chosen to ask one of you to repay her loan before the other: she cannot be blamed for this, for you knew the conditions on which you received it: you must blame the greedy hopes of mortal men's minds, which every now and then forget what Nature is, and never remember their own lot unless reminded of it. Rejoice, then, that you have had so good a brother, and be grateful for having had the use and enjoyment of him, though it was for a shorter time than you wished. Reflect that what you have had of him was most delightful, that your having lost him is an accident common to mankind. There is nothing more inconsistent than that a man should grieve that so good a brother was not long enough with him, and should not rejoice that he nevertheless has been with him.


"But," you say, "he was taken away unexpectedly." Every man is deceived by his own willingness to believe what he wishes, and he chooses to forget that those whom he loves are mortal: yet Nature gives us clear proofs that she will not suspend her laws in favour of any one: the funeral processions of our friends and of strangers alike pass daily before our eyes, yet we take no notice of them, and when an event happens which our whole life warns us will someday happen, we call it sudden. This is not, therefore, the injustice of fate, but the perversity and insatiable universal greediness of the human mind, which is indignant at having to leave a place to which it was only admitted on sufferance. How far more righteous was he who, on hearing of the death of his son, made a speech worthy of a great man, saying: "When I begat him, I knew that he would die some day." Indeed, you need not be surprised at the son of such a man being able to die bravely. He did not receive the tidings of his son's death as news: for what is there new in a man's dying, when his whole life is merely a journey towards death? "When I begat him, I knew that he would die some day," said he: and then he added, what showed even more wisdom and courage, "It was for this that I brought him up." It is for this that we have all been brought up: everyone who is brought into life is intended to die. Let us enjoy what is given to us, and give it back when it is asked for: the Fates lay their hands on some men at some times, and on other men at other times, but they will never pass any one by altogether. Our mind ought always to be on the alert, and while it ought never to fear what is certain to happen, it ought always to be ready for what may happen at any time. Why need I tell you of generals and the children of generals, of men ennobled by many consulships and triumphs, who have succumbed to pitiless fate? Whole kingdoms together with their kings, whole nations with all their component tribes, have all submitted to their doom. All men, nay, all things look forward to an end of their days: yet all do not come to the same end: one man loses his life in the midst of his career, another at the very beginning of it, another seems hardly able to free himself from it when worn out with extreme old age, and eager to be released: we are all going to the same place, but we all go thither at different times. I know not whether it is more foolish not to know the law of mortality, or more presumptuous to refuse to obey it. Come, take into your hands the poems[2] of whichever you please of those two authors upon whom your genius has expended so much labour, whom you have so well paraphrased, that although the structure of the verse be removed, its charm nevertheless is preserved; for you have transferred them from one language to another so well as to effect the most difficult matter of all, that of making all the beauties of the original reappear in a foreign speech: among their works you will find no volume which will not offer you numberless instances of the vicissitudes of human life, of the uncertainty of events, and of tears shed for various reasons. Read with what fire you have thundered out their swelling phrases: you will feel ashamed of suddenly failing and falling short of the elevation of their magnificent language. Do not commit the fault of making every one, who according to his ability admires your writings, ask how so frail a mind can have formed such stable and well-connected ideas.


Turn yourself away from these thoughts which torment you, and look rather at those numerous and powerful sources of consolation which you possess: look at your excellent brothers, look at your wife and your son. It is to guarantee the safety of all these that Fortune[3] has struck you in this this quarter: you have many left in whom you can take comfort. Guard yourself from the shame of letting all men think that a single grief has more power with you than these many consolations. You see all of them cast down into the same despondency as yourself, and you know that they cannot help you, nay, that on the other hand they look to you to encourage them: wherefore, the less learning and the less intellect they possess, the more vigorously you ought to withstand the evil which has fallen upon you all. The very fact of one's grief being shared by many persons acts as a consolation, because if it be distributed among such a number the share of it which falls upon you must be small. I shall never cease to recall your thoughts to Caesar. While he governs the earth, and shows how far better the empire may be maintained by kindnesses than by arms, while he presides over the affairs of mankind, there is no danger of your feeling that you have lost anything: in this fact alone you will find ample help and ample consolation; raise yourself up, and fix your eyes upon Caesar whenever tears rise to them; they will become dry on beholding that greatest and most brilliant light; his splendour will attract them and firmly attach them to himself, so that they are able to see nothing else. He whom you behold both by day and by night, from whom your mind never deviates to meaner matters, must occupy your thoughts and be your defence against Fortune; indeed, so kind and gracious as he is towards all his followers that he has already, I doubt not, laid many healing balms upon this wound of yours, and furnished you with many antidotes for your sorrow. Why, even had he done nothing of the kind, is not the mere sight and thought of Caesar in itself your greatest consolation? May the gods and goddesses long spare him to the earth: may he rival the deeds of the Emperor Augustus, and surpass him in length of days! As long as he remains among mortals, may he never be reminded that any of his house are mortal: may he train up his son by long and faithful service to be the ruler of the Roman people, and see him share his father's power before he succeeds to it: may the day on which his kindred shall claim him for heaven be far distant, and may our grandchildren alone be alive to see it.


Fortune, refrain your hands from him, and show your power over him only in doing him good: allow him to heal the long sickness from which mankind has suffered; to replace and restore whatever has been shattered by the frenzy of our late sovereign: may this star, which has shed its rays upon a world overthrown and cast into darkness, ever shine brightly: may he give peace to Germany, open Britain to us, and lead through the city triumphs, both over the nations whom his fathers conquered, and over new ones. Of these his clemency, the first of his many virtues, gives me hopes of being a spectator: for he has not so utterly cast me down that he will never raise me up again; nay, he has not cast me down at all; rather he has supported me when I was struck by evil fortune and was tottering, and has gently used his godlike hand to break my headlong fall: he pleaded with the Senate on my behalf, and not only gave me my life but even begged it for me. He will see to my cause: let him judge my cause to be such as he would desire; let his justice pronounce it good or his clemency so regard it: his kindness to me will be equal in either case, whether he knows me to be innocent or chooses that I should be thought so. Meanwhile it is a great comfort to me for my own miseries to behold his pardons travelling throughout the world: even from the corner in which I am confined his mercy has unearthed and restored to light many exiles who had been buried and forgotten here for long years, and I have no fear that I alone shall be passed over by it. He best knows the time at which he ought to show favour to each man: I will use my utmost efforts to prevent his having to blush when he comes to me. O how blessed is your clemency, Caesar, which makes exiles live more peacefully during your reign than princes did in that of Gaius! We do not tremble or expect the fatal stroke every hour, nor are we terrified whenever a ship comes in sight: you have set bounds to the cruelty of Fortune towards us, and have given us present peace and hopes of a happier future. You may indeed be sure that those thunderbolts alone are just which are worshipped even by those who are struck by them.


Thus this prince, who is the universal consoler of all men, has, unless I am altogether mistaken, already revived your spirit and applied more powerful remedies to so severe a wound than I can: he has already strengthened you in every way: his singularly retentive memory has already furnished you with all the examples which will produce tranquility: his practised eloquence has already displayed before you all the precepts of sages. No one therefore could console you as well as he: when he speaks his words have greater weight, as though they were the utterances of an oracle: his divine authority will crush all the strength of your grief. Think, then, that he speaks to you as follows:—"Fortune has not chosen you as the only man in the world to receive so severe a blow: there is no house in all the earth, and never has been one, that has not something to mourn for: I will pass over examples taken from the common herd, which, while they are of less importance, are also endless in number, and I will direct your attention to the Calendar and the State Chronicles. Do you see all these images which fill the hall of the Caesars? there is not one of these men who was not especially afflicted by domestic sorrows: no one of those men who shine there as the ornament of the ages was not either tortured by grief for some of his family or most bitterly mourned for by those whom he left behind. Why need I remind you of Scipio Africanus, who heard the news of his brother's death when he was himself in exile? he who saved his brother from prison could not save him from his fate. Yet all men saw how impatient Africanus's brotherly affection was even of equal law: on the same day on which Scipio Africanus rescued his brother from the hands of the apparitor, he, although not holding any office, protested against the action of the tribune of the people. He mourned for his brother as magnanimously as he had defended him. Why need I remind you of Scipio Æmilianus,[4] who almost at one and the same time beheld his father's triumph and the funeral of his two brothers? yet, although a stripling and hardly more than a boy, he bore the sudden bereavement which befell his family at the very time of Paulus's triumph with all the courage which beseemed one who was born that Rome might not be without a Scipio and that she might be without a Carthage.


Why should I speak of the intimacy of the two Luculli, which was broken only by their death? or of the Pompeii? whom the cruelty of Fortune did not even allow to perish by the same catastrophe; for Sextus Pompeius in the first place survived his sister,[5] by whose death the firmly knit bond of peace in the Roman empire was broken, and he also survived his noble brother, whom Fortune had raised so high in order that she might cast him down from as great a height as she had already cast down his father; yet after this great misfortune Sextus Pompeius was able not only to endure his grief but even to make war. Innumerable instances occur to me of brothers who were separated by death: indeed on the other hand we see very few pairs of brothers growing old together: however, I shall content myself with examples from my own family. No one can be so devoid of feeling or of reason as to complain of Fortune's having thrown him into mourning when he learns that she has coveted the tears of the Caesars themselves. The Emperor Augustus lost his darling sister Octavia, and though Nature destined him for heaven, yet she did not relax her laws to spare him from mourning while on earth: nay, he suffered every kind of bereavement, losing his sister's son,[6] who was intended to be his heir. In fine, not to mention his sorrows in detail, he lost his son-in-law, his children, and his grandchildren, and, while he remained among men, no mortal was more often reminded that he was a man. Yet his mind, which was able to bear all things, bore all these heavy sorrows, and the blessed Augustus was the conqueror, not only of foreign nations, but also of his own sorrows. Gaius Caesar,[7] the grandson of the blessed Augustus, my maternal great uncle, in the first years of manhood, when Prince of the Roman Youth, as he was preparing for the Parthian war, lost his darling brother Lucius[8] who was also 'Prince of the Roman Youth,' and suffered more thereby in his mind than he did afterwards in his body, though he bore both afflictions with the greatest piety and fortitude. Tiberius Caesar, my paternal uncle, lost his younger brother Drusus Germanicus,[9] my father, when he was opening out the innermost fastnesses of Germany, and bringing the fiercest tribes under the dominion of the Roman empire; he embraced him and received his last kiss, but he nevertheless restrained not only his own grief but that of others, and when the whole army, not merely sorrowful but heart-broken, claimed the corpse of their Drusus for themselves, he made them grieve only as it became Romans to grieve, and taught them that they must observe military discipline not only in fighting but also in mourning. He could not have checked the tears of others had he not first repressed his own.


"Marcus Antonius, my grandfather, who was second to none save his conqueror, received the news of his brother's execution at the very time when the state was at his disposal, and when, as a member of the triumvirate, he saw no one in the world superior to himself in power, nay, when, with the exception of his two colleagues, every man was subordinate to himself. O wanton Fortune, what sport you make for yourself out of human sorrows! At the very time when Marcus Antonius was enthroned with power of life and death over his countrymen, Marcus Antonius's brother was being led to his death: yet Antonius bore this cruel wound with the same greatness of mind with which he had endured all his other crosses; and he mourned for his brother by offering the blood of twenty legions to his manes. However, to pass by all other instances, not to speak of the other deaths which have occurred in my own house, Fortune has twice assailed me through the death of a brother; she has twice learned that she could wound me but could not overthrow me. I lost my brother Germanicus, whom I loved in a manner which any one will understand if he thinks how affectionate brothers love one another; yet I so restrained my passion of grief as neither to leave undone anything which a good brother could be called upon to do, nor yet to do anything which a sovereign could be blamed for doing." Think, then, that our common parent quotes these instances to you, and that he points out to you how nothing is respected or held inviolable by Fortune, who actually dares to send out funeral processions from the very house in which she will have to look for gods: so let no one be surprised at her committing any act of cruelty or injustice; for how could she show any humanity or moderation in her dealings with private families, when her pitiless fury has so often hung the very throne[10] itself with black? She will not change her habits even though reproached, not by my voice alone, but by that of the entire nation: she will hold on her course in spite of all prayers and complaints. Such has Fortune always been, and such she ever will be in connexion with human affairs: she has never shrunk from attacking anything, and she will never let anything alone: she will rage everywhere terribly, as she has always been wont to do: she will dare to enter for evil purposes into those houses whose entrance lies through the temples of the gods, and will hang signs of mourning upon laurelled door-posts. However, if she has not yet determined to destroy the human race: if she still looks with favour upon the Roman nation, may our public and private prayers prevail upon her to regard as sacred from her violence this prince, whom all men think to be sacred, who has been granted them by heaven to give them rest after their misfortunes: let her learn clemency from him, and let the mildest of all sovereigns teach her mildness.


You ought, therefore, to fix your eyes upon all the persons whom I have just mentioned, who have either been deified or were nearly related to those who have been deified, and when Fortune lays her hands upon you to bear it calmly, seeing that she does not even respect those by whose names we swear. It is your duty to imitate their constancy in enduring and triumphing over suffering, as far as it is permitted to a mere man to follow in the footsteps of the immortals. Albeit in all other matters rank and birth make great distinctions between men, yet virtue is open to all; she despises no one provided he thinks himself worthy to possess her. Surely you cannot do better than follow the example of those who, though they might have been angry at not being exempt from this evil, nevertheless have decided to regard this, the only thing which brings them down to the level of other men, not as a wrong done to themselves, but as the law of our mortal nature, and to bear what befalls them without undue bitterness and wrath, and yet in no base or cowardly spirit: for it is not human not to feel our sorrows, while it is unmanly not to bear them. When I glance through the roll of all the Caesars whom fate has bereaved of sisters or brothers, I cannot pass over that one who is unworthy to figure on the list of Caesars, whom Nature produced to be the ruin and the shame of the human race, who utterly wrecked and destroyed the state which is now recovering under the gentle rule of the most benign of princes. On losing his sister Drusilla, Gaius Caesar, a man who could neither mourn nor rejoice as becomes a prince, shrank from seeing and speaking to his countrymen, was not present at his sister's funeral, did not pay her the conventional tribute of respect, but tried to forget the sorrows caused by this most distressing death by playing at dice in his Alban villa, and by sitting on the judgment-seat, and the like customary engagements. What a disgrace to the Empire! a Roman emperor solaced himself by gambling for his grief at the loss of his sister! This same Gaius, with frantic levity, at one time let his beard and hair grow long, at another wandered aimlessly along the coast of Italy and Sicily. He never clearly made up his mind whether he wished his sister to be mourned for or to be worshipped, and during all the time that he was raising temples and shrines[11] in her honour he punished those who did not manifest sufficient sorrow with the most cruel tortures:[12] for his mind was so ill-balanced, that he was as much cast down by adversity as he was unbecomingly elated and puffed up by success. Far be it from every Roman to follow such an example, either to divert his mind from his grief by unreasonable amusements, to stimulate it by unseemly squalor and neglect, or to be so inhuman as to console himself by taking pleasure in the sufferings of others.


You, however, need change none of your ordinary habits, since you have taught yourself to love those studies which, while they are pre-eminently fitted for perfecting our happiness, at the same time teach us how we may bear misfortune most lightly, and which are at the same time a man's greatest honour and greatest comfort. Now, therefore, immerse yourself even more deeply in your studies, now surround your mind with them like fortifications, so that grief may not find any place at which it can gain entrance. At the same time, prolong the remembrance of your brother by inserting some memoir of him among your other writings: for that is the only sort of monument that can be erected by man which no storm can injure, no time destroy. The others, which consist of piles of stone, masses of marble, or huge mounds of earth heaped on high, cannot preserve his memory for long, because they themselves perish; but the memorials which genius raises are everlasting. Lavish these upon your brother, embalm him in these: you will do better to immortalise him by an everlasting work of genius than to mourn over him with useless grief. As for Fortune herself, although I cannot just now plead her cause before you, because all that she has given us is now hateful to you, because she has taken something away from you, yet I will plead her cause as soon as time shall have rendered you a more impartial judge of her action: indeed she has bestowed much upon you to make amends for the injury which she has done you, and she will give more hereafter by way of atonement for it: and, after all, it was she herself who gave you this brother whom she has taken away. Forbear, then, to display your abilities against your own self, or to take part with your grief against yourself: your eloquence, can, no doubt, make trifles appear great, and, conversely, can disparage and depreciate great things until they seem the merest trifles; but let it reserve those powers and use them on some other subject, and at the present time devote its entire strength to the task of consoling you. Yet see whether even this task be not unnecessary. Nature demands from us a certain amount of grief, our imagination adds some more to it; but I will never forbid you to mourn at all. I know, indeed, that there are some men, whose wisdom is of a harsh rather than a brave character, who say that the wise man never would mourn. It seems to me that they never can have been in the position of mourners, for otherwise their misfortune would have shaken all their haughty philosophy out of them, and, however much against their will, would have forced them to confess their sorrow. Reason will have done enough if she does but cut off from our grief all that is superfluous and useless: as for her not allowing us to grieve at all, that we ought neither to expect nor to wish for. Let her rather restrain us within the bounds of a chastened grief, which partakes neither of indifference nor of madness, and let her keep our minds in that attitude which becomes affection without excitement: let your tears flow, but let them some day cease to flow: groan as deeply as you will, but let your groans cease some day: regulate your conduct so that both philosophers and brothers may approve of it. Make yourself feel pleasure in often thinking about your brother, talk constantly about him, and keep him ever present in your memory; which you cannot succeed in doing unless you make the remembrance of him pleasant rather than sad: for it is but natural that the mind should shrink from a subject which it cannot contemplate without sadness. Think of his retiring disposition, of his abilities for business, his diligence in carrying it out, his loyalty to his word. Tell other men of all his sayings and doings, and remind your own self of them: think how good he was and how great you hoped he might become: for what success is there which you might not safely have wagered that such a brother would win?

I have thrown together these reflexions in the best way that I could, for my mind is dimmed and stupefied with the tedium of my long exile: if, therefore, you should find them unworthy of the consideration of a person of your intelligence, or unable to console you in your grief, remember how impossible it is for one who is full of his own sorrows to find time to minister to those of others, and how hard it is to express oneself in the Latin language, when all around one hears nothing but a rude foreign jargon, which even barbarians of the more civilised sort regard with disgust.


  1. "The Latins had four versions of Homer (Fabric, tom. i. 1. ii. ch. 3, p. 297), yet, in spite of the phraises of Seneca, Consol. ch. 26 (viii.), they appear to have been more successful in imitating than in translating the Greek poets."—Gibbon's "Decline and Fall," ch. 41, ad init., note. Polybius had made a prose translation of Homer, and a prose paraphrase of Virgil
  2. See note ante, ch. viii.
  3. "Fortune hath parted stakes with thee, in taking away thy brother, and leaving thee all the rest in securtie and safetie."—Lodge.
  4. See "On Benefits," v. 16.
  5. Scipio Africanus Minor, the son of Paulus Æmilius.
  6. Marcellus. See Virgil's well-known lines, Æn. VI., 869, sqq., and Consolatio ad Marciam, 2.
  7. G. Caesar, d. at Limyra, A.D. 4.
  8. Lucius Caesar, d. at Marseilles, A.D. 2.
  9. Drusus died by a fall from his horse, B.C. 9. "A monument was erected in his honour at Moguntiacum (Mayence), and games and military spectacles were exhibited there on the anniversary of his death. An altar had already been raised in his honour on the banks of the Lippe." Tac. Ann. ii. 7. "The soldiers began now to regard themselves as a distinct people, with rites and heroes of their own. Augustus required them to surrender the body of their beloved chief as a matter of discipline." Merivale, ch. 36.
  10. Pulvinaria. See note, ch. xvii
  11. Pulvinaria. This word properly means "a couch made of cushions, and spread over with a splendid covering, for the gods or persons who received divine honours."
  12. Merivale, following Suetonius and Dion Cassius, says: "He declared that if any man dared to mourn for his sister's death, he should be punished, for she had become a goddess: if any one ventured to rejoice at her deification, he should be punished also, for she was dead." The passage in the text, he remarks, gives a less extravagant turn to the story.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse