On Consolation to Helvia (His Mother)


Chapter I

Often, my best of mothers, I have felt the impulse to send you consolation, and as often I have cheeked it. The motives that urged me to be so bold were many. In the first place, I thought that I should lay aside all my troubles when, even though I could not stop your weeping, I had meanwhile at least wiped away your tears; again, I felt sure that I should have more power to raise you up, if I had first arisen from my own grief; besides, I was afraid that Fortune, though vanquished by me, might still vanquish someone dear to me. And so, placing my hand over my own gash, I was trying as best I could to creep forward to bind up your wounds. On the other hand, there were reasons which made me delay as regards my purpose. I knew that I ought not to intrude upon your grief while its violence was fresh, lest my very condolences should irritate and inflame it; for in bodily ills also nothing is more harmful than an untimely use of medicine. I was waiting, therefore, until your grief should of itself subdue its violence, and its soreness, soothed by time to tolerate remedies, should submit to being touched and handled. Moreover, although I unrolled all the works “that the most famous writers had composed for the purpose of repressing and controlling sorrow, not one instance did I find of a man who had offered consolation to his dear ones when he himself was bewailed by them; thus, in a novel situation I faltered, and I feared that my words might supply, not consolation, but an aggravation. And besides, a man who was lifting his head from the very bier to comfort his dear ones — what need he would have of words that were new and not drawn from the common and everyday forms of condolence! But the very greatness of every grief that passes bounds must necessarily snatch away the power of choosing words, since often it chokes even the voice itself. Yet I shall try as best I can, not because I have confidence in my eloquence, but because the mere fact that I myself am able to act as comforter may amount to most effective comfort. You who could refuse me nothing, will surely not, I hope, refuse me — although all sorrow is stubborn — your consent to my setting bounds to your grieving.

Chapter II

See how great a thing I have promised to myself from your indulgence. I do not doubt that I shall have more power over you than your grief, though there is nothing that has more power over the wretched. And so, that I may not join battle with it immediately, I shall first uphold it, and be lavish with what will encourage it; I shall expose and tear open all the wounds that have already closed over. But someone will say: “What sort of consolation is this, to recall ills that are blotted out and to set the mind, when it is scarcely able to bear one sorrow, in full view of all its sorrows?” But let him reflect that whenever diseases become so malignant that they grow strong in spite of treatment they are then commonly treated by opposite methods. And so to the stricken mind I shall exhibit all its distresses, all its garbs of woe; my purpose will be not to heal by gentle measures, but to cauterize and cut. And what shall I gain? I shall cause a heart that has been victorious over so many afflictions to be ashamed to bewail one wound the more upon a body so marked with scars. Let those, therefore, whose pampered minds have been weakened by long happiness, weep and moan continuously, and faint away at the threat of the slightest injury; but let those whose years have all been passed in a succession of calamities endure even the heaviest blows with strong and unwavering resolution. Constant misfortune brings this one blessing, that those whom it always assails, it at last fortifies.

To you Fortune has never given any respite from the heaviest woes; she did not except even the day of your birth. You lost your mother as soon as you had been born, nay, while you were being born, and entering life you became, as it were, an outcast. You grew up under a stepmother, but by your complete obedience and devotion as great as can be seen even in a daughter you forced her to become a true mother; nevertheless every child has paid a great price even for a good stepmother. My most loving uncle, an excellent and very brave man, you lost just when you were awaiting his arrival, and, lest Fortune by dividing her cruelty should make it lighter, within thirty days you buried your dearest husband, who had made you the proud mother of three children. This blow was announced when you were already mourning, when, too, all of your children were absent, just as if your misfortunes had been concentrated into that period purposely in order that your grief might find nothing to rest upon. I pass over the countless dangers, the countless fears which you have endured, though they assailed you without cessation. But lately into the self-same lap from which you had let three grandchildren go, you took back the bones of three grandchildren. Less than twenty days after you had buried my son, who died in your arms and amid your kisses, you heard that I had been snatched from you. This misfortune you had still lacked — to mourn the living.

Chapter III

Of all the wounds that have ever gone deep into your body, this latest one, I admit, is the most serious; it has not merely torn the outer skin, but pierced your very breast and vitals. But just as raw recruits cry out even when they are slightly wounded, and shudder more at the hands of surgeon’s than they do at the sword, while veterans, though deeply wounded, submit patiently and without a groan to the cleansing of their festered bodies just as if these were not their own, so now you ought to offer yourself bravely to be healed. But away with lamentations and outcries and the other demonstrations by means of which women usually vent their noisy grief; for you have missed the lesson of so many ills if you have not yet learned how to be wretched. Do I seem to have dealt with you now without fear? Not a single one of your misfortunes have I hidden away; I have placed them all before you in a heap.

Chapter IV

In a heroic spirit have I done this; for I have determined to conquer your grief, not to dupe it. And too I shall conquer it, I think, if, in the first place, I show that there is nothing in my condition that could cause anyone to call me wretched, still less cause those also to whom I am related to be wretched on my account; and, secondly, if I turn next to you, and prove that your fortune also, which depends wholly upon mine, is not a painful one.

First of all, I shall proceed to prove what your love is eager to hear — that I am suffering no ill. If I can, I shall make it clear that those very circumstances, which your love fancies weigh me down, are not intolerable;, but if it will be impossible for you to believe this, I, at any rate, shall be better pleased with myself if I show that I am happy under circumstances that usually make others wretched. You are not asked to believe the report of others about me; that you may not be at all disturbed by ungrounded suppositions, I myself inform you that I am not unhappy. That you may be the more assured, I will add, too, that I cannot even be made unhappy.

Chapter V

We are born under conditions that would be favorable if only we did not abandon them. Nature intended that we should need no great equipment for living happily; each one of us is able to make his own happiness. External things are of slight importance, and can have no great influence in either direction. Prosperity does not exalt the wise man, nor does adversity cast him down; for he has always endeavored to rely entirely upon himself, to derive all of his joy from himself. What, then? Do I say that I am a wise man? By no means; for if I could make that claim, I should thereby not only deny that I am unhappy, but should also declare that I am the most fortunate of all men and had been brought into nearness with God. As it is, fleeing to that which is able to lighten all sorrows, I have surrendered myself to wise men and, not yet being strong enough to give aid to myself, I have taken refuge in the camp of others — of those, clearly, who can easily defend themselves and their followers. They have ordered me to stand ever watching, like a soldier placed on guard, and to anticipate all the attempts and all the assaults of Fortune long before she strikes. Her attack falls heavy only when it is sudden; he easily withstands her who always expects her. For the arrival too of the enemy lays low only those whom it catches off guard; but those who have made ready for the coming war before it arrives, fully formed and ready armed, easily sustain the first impact, which is always the most violent. Never have I trusted Fortune, even when she seemed to be offering peace; the blessings she most fondly bestowed upon me — money, office, and influence — I stored all of them in a place from which she could take them back without disturbing me. Between them and me I have kept a wide space; and so she has merely taken them, not torn them, from me. No man is crushed by hostile Fortune who is not first deceived by her smiles. Those who love her gifts is if they were their very own and lasting, who desire to be esteemed on account of them, grovel and mourn when the false and fickle delights forsake their empty, childish minds, that are ignorant of every stable pleasure; but he who is not puffed up by happy fortune does not collapse when it is reversed. The man of long-tested constancy, when faced with either condition, keeps his mind unconquered; for in the very midst of prosperity he proves his strength to meet adversity. Consequently, I have always believed that there was no real good in the things that most men pray for; besides, I have always found that they were empty and, though painted over with showy and deceptive colors, have nothing within to match their outward show. Even now in the midst of these so-called evils I find nothing so fearful and harsh as the fancy of everyone foreboded. The very name of exile, by reason of a sort of persuasion and general consent, falls by now upon the ears very harshly, and strikes the hearer as something gloomy and accursed. For so the people have decreed, but decrees of the people wise men in large measure annul.

Chapter VI

Therefore, putting aside the verdict of the majority who are swept away by the first appearance of things, no matter what ground they have to trust it, let us see what exile is. It is a change of place. That I may not seem to narrow its force and to subtract the worst it holds, I will admit that this changing of place is attended by disadvantages — by poverty, disgrace, and scorn. These matters I shall cope with later meanwhile, the first question that I wish to consider is what unpleasantness the mere changing of place brings with it.

“To be deprived of one’s country is intolerable,” you say. But come now, behold this concourse of men, for whom the houses of huge Rome scarcely suffice; most of this throng are now deprived of their country. From their towns and colonies, from the whole world, in fact, hither have they flocked. Some have been brought by ambition, some by the obligation of a public trust, some by an envoy’s duty having been laid upon them, some, seeking a convenient and rich field for vice, by luxury, some by a desire for the higher studies, some by the public spectacles; some have been drawn by friendship, some, seeing the ample opportunity for displaying energy, by the chance to work; some have presented their beauty for sale, some their eloquence for sale — every class of person has swarmed into the city that offers high prizes for both virtues and vices. Have all of them summoned by name and ask of each — “Whence do you hail?”? You will find that there are more than half who have left their homes and come to this city, which is truly a very great and a very beautiful one, but not their own. Then leave this city, which in a sense may be said to belong to all, and travel from one city to another; everyone will have a large proportion of foreign population. Pass from the cities that entice very many by their delightful situation and an advantageous position; survey the desert places and the, rockiest islands — Sciathus and Seriphus, Gyarus and Cossura; you will find no place of exile where someone does not linger of his own desire. What can be found so barren, what so precipitous on every side as this rock? If its resources are viewed, what is more starved? if its people, what is more uncivilized? if the very topography of the place, what is more rugged? if the character of its climate, what is more intemperate? Yet here reside more foreigners than natives. So far, therefore, is the mere changing of places from being a hardship that even this place has tempted some from their native land. I find some who say that nature has planted in the hurnan breast a certain restlessness that makes man seek to change his abode and find a new home; for to him has been given a mind that is fickle and restless, it lingers nowhere; it ranges to and fro, and sends forth its thoughts to all places, known and unknown — a rover, impatient of repose and happiest in the midst of new scenes. And this will not make you wonder if you consider its earliest origin. It was not formed from heavy and terrestrial matter, it came down from yonder spirit in the sky; but celestial things by their very nature are always in motion, they ever flee and are driven on in swiftest course. Behold the planets that light the world; no one of them stands still. The sun glides onward ceaselessly and changes from place to place, and although it revolves with the universe, it moves none the less in a direction contrary to that of the world itself, it runs through all the signs of the zodiac and never halts; its movement is incessant and it shifts from one position to another. All the planets are ever whirling on and passing by; as the inviolable law of Nature has decreed, they are swept from one position to another; when in the course of fixed periods of years they have rounded out their circuits, they will enter again upon the paths by which they came. What folly, then, to think that the human mind, which has been formed from the self-same elements as these divine beings, is troubled by journeying and changing its home, while God’s nature finds delight or, if you will, its preservation in continuous and most speedy movement!

Chapter VII

Come now, turn your attention from things divine to the affairs of men; you will see that whole tribes and nations have changed their abodes. Why do we find Greek cities in the very heart of barbarian countries? why the Macedonian tongue among the Indians and the Persians? Scythia and all that great stretch which is peopled with fierce and unconquered tribes show Achaean towns planted on the shores of the Pontic Sea; not by the fierceness of eternal winter, not by the temper of the inhabitants, as savage as their climate, were men deterred from seeking there new homes. A host of Athenians dwell in Asia; Miletus has poured forth in divers directions enough people to fill seventy-five cities; the whole coast of Italy which is washed by the Lower Sea became a greater Greece; Asia claims the Tuscans as her own; Tyrians live in Africa, Carthaginians in Spain; the Greeks thrust themselves into Gaul, the Gauls into Greece; the Pyreness did not stay the passage of the Germans — through pathless, through unknown regions restless man has made his way. Wives and children and elders burdened with age trailed along. Some have not settled upon a place from choice, but, tossed about in long wandering, from very weariness have seized upon the nearest; others have established their right in a foreign land by the sword; some tribes, seeking unknown regions, were swallowed up by the sea; some settled in the spot in which a lack of supplies had stranded them.

And not all have had the same reason for leaving their country and seeking a new one. Some, having escaped the destruction of their cities by the forces of the enemy, have been thrust into strange lands when stripped of their own; some have been cast out by civil discord; some have gone forth in order to relieve the pressure from over-crowding caused by an excess of population; some have been driven out by pestilence or repeated earthquakes or certain unbearable defects of an unproductive soil; some have been beguiled by the fame of a fertile shore that was too highly praised. Different peoples have been impelled by different reasons to leave their homes. But at least this is clear — none has stayed in the place where it was born. The human race is constantly rushing to and fro; in this vast world some change takes place every day. The foundations of new cities are laid, the names of new nations arise, while former ones are blotted out or lost by annexation with a stronger. But all these transmigrations of peoples — what are they but wholesale banishments? Why should I drag you through the whole long circle? What need to cite Antenor, founder of Patavium, and Evander, who planted the authority of the Arcadians on the banks of the Tiber? Why mention Diomedes and the others, victors and vanquished alike, who were scattered throughout strange lands by the Trojan War? The Roman Empire itself, in fact, looks back to an exile as its founder — a refugee from his captured city, who, taking along a small remnant of his people and driven by fear of the victor to seek a distant land, was brought by destiny into Italy. This people, in turn — how many colonies has it sent to every province! Wherever the Roman conquers, there he dwells. With a view to this change of country, volunteers would gladly give in their names, and the old man, leaving his altars, would follow the colonists overseas. The matter does not require a listing of more instances; yet I shall add one which thrusts itself before the eyes. This very island has ofttimes changed its dwellers. To say nothing of older matters, which antiquity has veiled, the Greeks who now inhabit Marseilles, after leaving Phocis, first settled on this island, and it is doubtful what drove them from it — whether the harshness of the climate, or the near sight of all-powerful Italy, or the harborless character of the sea; for that the fierceness of the natives was not the cause is clear from the fact that they established themselves in the midst of what were then the most savage and uncivilized peoples of Gaul. Later the Ligurians crossed into the island, and the Spaniards also came, as the similarity of customs shows; for the islanders wear the same head-coverings and the same kind of foot-gear as the Cantabrians, and certain of their words are the same; but only a few, for from intercourse with the Greeks and Ligurians their language as a whole has lost its native character. Still later two colonies of Roman citizens were transported to the island, one by Marius, the other by Sulla; so many times has the population of this barren and thorny rock been changed! In short, you will scarcely find any land in which there dwells to this day a native population; everywhere the inhabitants are of mongrel and ingrafted stock. One people has followed upon another; what one scorned, the other coveted; one that drove another from its land, has been in turn expelled. Thus Fate has decreed that nothing should stand always upon the same plane of fortune.

Chapter VIII

Varro, the most learned of the Romans, holds that, barring all the other ills of exile, the mere changing of place is offset by this ample compensation — the fact that wherever we come, we must still find there the same order of Nature. Marcus Brutus thinks that this is enough — the fact that those who go into exile may take along with them their virtues. Even though one may decide that these considerations taken singly do not suffice to give full consolation to the exile, yet he will admit that they are all-powerful when they are combined. For how little it is that we have lost! Wherever we betake ourselves, two things that are most admirable will go with us — cosmic Nature and our own virtue. Believe me, this was the intention of the great creator of the cosmos, whoever he may be, whether an all-powerful God, or incorporeal Reason contriving vast works, or divine Spirit pervading all things from the smallest to the greatest with uniform energy, or Fate and an unalterable sequence of causes clinging one to the other — this, I say, was his intention, that only the most worthless of our possessions should fall under the control of another. All that is best for a man lies beyond the power of other men, who can neither give it nor take it away. This firmament, than which Nature has created naught greater and more beautiful, and the most glorious part of it, the human mind that surveys and wonders at the firmament, are our own everlasting possessions, destined to remain with us so long as we ourselves shall remain. Eager, therefore, and erect, let us hasten with dauntless step wherever circumstance directs, let us traverse any lands whatsoever. Inside the world there can be found no place of exile; for nothing that is inside the world is foreign to mankind. No matter where you lift your gaze from earth to heaven, the realms of God and man are separated by an unalterable distance. Accordingly, so long as my eves are not deprived of that spectacle with which they are never sated, so long as I may behold the sun and the moon, so long as I may fix my gaze upon the other planets, so long as I may trace out their risings and settings, their periods, and the reasons for the swiftness or the slowness of their wandering, behold the countless stars that gleam throughout the night — some at rest, while others do not enter upon a great course, but circle around within their own field, some suddenly shooting forth, some blinding the eyes with scattered fire as if they were falling, or flying by with a long trail of lingering light — so long as I may be with these, and, in so far as it is permitted to a man, commune with celestial beings, so long as I may keep my mind directed ever to the sight of kindred things on high, what difference does it make to me what soil I tread upon?

Chapter IX

“But,” you say, “this land yields no fruitful or pleasing trees; it is watered by the channels of no great or navigable rivers; it produces nothing that other nations desire, it scarcely bears enough to support its own inhabitants; no costly marble is quarried here, no veins of gold and silver are unearthed.” But it is a narrow mind that finds its pleasure in earthly things; it should turn from these to those above, which everywhere appear just the same, everywhere are just as bright. This, too, we must bear in mind, that earthly things because of false and wrongly accepted values cut off the sight of these true goods. The longer the rich man extends his colonnades, the higher he lifts his towers, the wider he stretches out his mansions, the deeper he digs his caverns for summer, the huger loom the roofs of the banquet-halls he rears, so much the more there will be to hide heaven from his sight. Has misfortune cast you into a country where the most sumptuous shelter is a hut? Truly you show a paltry spirit and take to yourself mean comfort if you bear this bravely only because you know the hut of Romulus. Say, rather, this: “This lowly hovel, I suppose, gives entrance to the virtues? When justice, when temperance, when wisdom and righteousness and understanding of the proper apportionment of all duties and the knowledge of God and man are seen therein, it will straightway become more stately than any temple. No place that can hold this concourse of such great virtues is narrow; no exile can be irksome to which one may go in such company as this.”

Brutus, in the book he wrote on virtue, says that he saw Marcellus in exile at Mytilene, living as happily as the limitations of human nature permit, and that he had never been more interested in liberal studies than he was at that time. And so he adds that, when he was about to return to Rome without him, he felt that he himself was going into exile instead of leaving him behind in exile. How much more favored was Marcellus at that time when as an exile he won the approval of Brutus than when as consul he won the approval of the state! What a man he must have been to have made any one feel that he himself was an exile because he was parting from an exile! What a man he must have been to have drawn to himself the admiration of one whom Cato, his kinsman, had to admire! Brutus says, too, that Gaius Caesar had sailed past Mytilene because he could not bear to see a hero in disgrace. The senate did indeed by public petitions secure his recall, being meanwhile so anxious and sad that all its members on that day seemed to feel as Brutus did and to be pleading, not for Marcellus, but for themselves, lest they should be exiles if they should be left without him; but he attained far more on that day when Brutus could not bear to leave him, and Caesar to see him as an exile! For he was so fortunate as to have testimony from both — Brutus grieved to return without Marcellus, but Caesar blushed! Can you doubt that Marcellus, great hero that he was, often encouraged himself by such thoughts as these to bear his exile with patience? “The mere loss of your country is not unhappiness. You have so steeped yourself in studies as to know that to the wise man every place is his country. And, besides, the very man who drove you forth — was be not absent from his country through ten successive years? His reason was, it is true, the extension of the empire, but for all that he was away from his country. See! now he is drawn toward Africa, which is rife with menace as war again lifts up its head; he is drawn toward Spain, which is nursing back the strength of crushed and shattered forces; he is drawn toward faithless Egypt — in short, toward the whole world, waiting for a chance to strike the stricken empire. Which matter shall he cope with first? Toward what quarter set his face? Throughout all lands shall he be driven, a victim of his own victory. Him let the nations reverence and worship, but do you live content to have Brutus an admirer!”

Chapter X

Nobly, then, did Marcellus endure his exile, and his change of place made no change at all in his mind, although poverty went with him. But everyone who has not yet attained to insanity of greed and luxury, which upset everything, knows that there is no calamity in that. For how small a sum is needed to support a man! And who can fail to have this little if he possesses any merit whatsoever? So far as concerns myself, I know that I have lost, not wealth, but my “engrossments.” The wants of the body are trifling. It requires protection from the cold and the quenching of hunger and thirst by food and drink; if we covet anything beyond, we toil to serve, not our needs, but our vices. We have no need to scour the depths of every sea, to load the belly with the carnage of dumb creatures, to wrest shell-fish from the distant shore of farthest sea — curses of gods and goddesses upon the wretches whose luxury overleaps the bounds of an empire that already stirs too much envy! They want game that is caught beyond the Phasis to supply their pretentious kitchens, and from the Parthians, from whom Rome has not yet got vengeance, they do not blush to get — birds! From every quarter they gather together every known and unknown thing to tickle a fastidious palate; the food which their stomachs, weakened by indulgence, can scarcely retain is fetched from farthest ocean; they vomit that they may eat, they eat that they may vomit, and they do not deign even to digest the feasts for which they ransack the whole world. If a man despises such things, what harm can poverty do him? If a man covets them, poverty becomes even a benefit to him, for he is made whole in spite of himself, and, if even under compulsion he will not take his medicine, for a time at least, while he cannot get them, he is as though he did not want them. Gaius Caesar, whom, as it seems to me, Nature produced merely to show how far supreme vice, when combined with supreme power, could go, dined one day at a cost of ten million sesterces; and though everybody used their ingenuity to help him, yet he could hardly discover how to spend the tribute-money from three provinces on one dinner! How unhappy those whose appetite is stirred at the sight of none but costly foods! And it is not their choice flavor or some delight to the palate that makes them costly, but their rarity and the difficulty of getting them. Otherwise, if men should be willing to return to sanity of mind, what is the need of so many arts that minister to the belly? What need of commerce? What need of ravaging the forests? What need of ransacking the deep? The foods that Nature has placed in every region lie all about us, but men, just as if blind, pass these by and roam through every region, they cross the seas and at great cost excite their hunger when at little cost they might allay it. One would like to say: “Why do you launch your ships? Why do you arm your bands both against man and against wild beasts? Why do you rush to and fro in such wild confusion? Why do you pile riches on riches? You really should remember how small your bodies are! Is it not madness and the wildest lunacy to desire so much when you can hold so little? And so you may swell your incomes, and extend your boundaries; yet you will never enlarge the capacity of your bellies. Though your business may prosper, though warfare may profit you much, though you may bring together foods hunted from every quarter, yet you will have no place in which to store your hoards. Why do you search for so many things? Our ancestors, of course, were unhappy — they whose virtue even to this day props up our vices, who by their own hands provided themselves with food, whose couch was the earth, whose ceilings did not yet glitter with gold, whose temples were not yet shining with precious stones. And so in those days they would solemnly take oath by gods of clay, and those who had invoked them would go back to the enemy, preferring to die rather than break faith. And our dictator, he who, while he gave audience to the envoys of the Samnites, was busy at his hearth, cooking with his own hand the cheapest sort of food, with that hand that had often smitten the enemy before and had placed a laurel wreath upon the lap of Capitoline Jove — this man, of course, was living less happily than did Apicius within our own memory, who in this very city, which at one time the philosophers were ordered to leave, as being ‘corruptors of youth,’ as a professor of the science (if the cook-shop defiled the age with his teaching.” It is worth our while to learn his end. After he had squandered a hundred million sesterces upon his kitchen, after he had drunk up at every one of his revels the equivalent of the many largesses of the emperors and the huge revenue of the Capitol, then for the first time, when overwhelmed with debt and actually forced, he began to examine his accounts. He calculated that he would have ten million sesterces left, and considering that he would be living in extreme starvation if he lived on ten million sesterces, he ended his life by poison. But how great was his luxury if ten million counted as poverty! What folly then to think that it is the amount of money and not the state of mind that matters! Ten million sesterces made one man shudder, and a sum that others seek by prayer he escaped from by poison! For a man so perverted in desire, his last draught was really the most wholesome. When he not only enjoyed, but boasted of his enormous banquets, when he flaunted his vices, when he attracted the attention of the community to his wantonness, when he enticed the young to imitate his own course, Who even without bad examples are quick enough to learn of themselves, it was then that be was eating and drinking poisons. Such are the pitfalls of those who measure riches, not by the standard of reason, which has its bounds fixed, but by the standard of a mode of living that is vicious, and yet has boundless and illimitable desire. Nothing will satisfy greed, but even scant measure is enough for Nature’s need. Therefore the poverty of an exile holds no hardship; for no place of exile is so barren as not to yield ample support for a man.

Chapter XI

“But,” you say, “the exile is likely to miss his raiment and his house.” Will he desire these also merely to the extent of his need? Then he will lack neither shelter nor covering; for it takes just as little to shield as to feed the body. Nature has made nothing difficult which at the same time she made necessary for man. But if he desires cloth of purple steeped in rich dye, threaded with gold, and damasked with various colors and patterns, it is not Nature’s fault but his own if he is poor. Even if you restore to him whatever he has lost, it will do no good; for he who will need to be restored will still lack more of all that he covets than as an exile he lacked of all that he once had. But if he desires tables that gleam with vessels of gold, and silver plate that boasts the names of ancient artists, bronze made costly by the crazy fad of a few, and a throng of slaves that would hamper a house however large, beasts of burden with bodies over-stuffed and forced to grow fat, and the marbles of every nation — though he should amass all these, they will no more be able to satisfy his insatiable soul than any amount of drink will ever suffice to quench the thirst of a man whose desire arises, not from need, but from the fire that burns in his vitals; for this is not thirst, but disease. Nor is this true only in respect to money or food. Every want that springs, not from any need, but from vice is of a like character; however much you gather for it will serve, not to end, but to advance desire. He, therefore, who keeps himself within the bounds of nature will not feel poverty; but he who exceeds the bounds of nature will be pursued by poverty even though he has unbounded wealth. Even places of exile will provide necessaries, but not even kingdoms superfluities. It is the mind that makes us rich; this goes with us into exile, and in the wildest wilderness, having found there all that the body needs for its sustenance, it itself overflows in the enjoyment of its own goods. The mind has no concern with money — no whit more than have the immortal gods. Those things that men’s untutored hearts revere, sunk in the bondage of their bodies — jewels, gold, silver, and polished tables, huge and round — all these are earthly dross, for which the untainted spirit, conscious of its own nature, can have no love, since it is itself light and uncumbered, waiting only to be released from the body before it soars to highest heaven. Meanwhile, hampered by mortal limbs and encompassed by the heavy burden of the flesh, it surveys, as best it can, the things of heaven in swift and winged thought. And so the mind can never suffer exile, since it is free, kindred to the gods, and at home in every world and every age; for its thought ranges over all heaven and projects itself into all past and future time. This poor body, the prison and fetter of the soul, is tossed hither and thither upon it punishments, upon it robberies, upon it diseases work their will. But the soul itself is sacred and eternal, and upon it no hand can be laid.

Chapter XII

But, that you may not think that I am using merely the precepts of philosophers for the purpose of belittling the ills of poverty, which no man feels to be burdensome unless he thinks it so, consider, in the first place, how much larger is the proportion of poor men, and yet you will observe that they are not a whit sadder or more anxious than the rich; nay, I am inclined to think that they are happier because they have fewer things to harass their minds. Let us pass over the wealth that is almost poverty, let us come to the really rich. How many are the occasions on which they are just like the poor! If they go abroad, they must cut down their baggage, and whenever the pressure of the journey requires haste, they dismiss their train of attendants. And those who are in the army — how small a part of their possessions do they have with them since camp discipline prohihits every luxury! And not only does the necessity of certain times and places put them on a level with the poor in actual want, but, when a weariness of riches happens to seize them, they even choose certain days on which to dine on the ground and use earthen vessels, refraining from gold and silver plate. Madmen! — this state which they always dread, they sometimes even covet. O what darkness of mind, what ignorance of truth blinds those who, harassed by the fear of poverty, for pleasure’s sake simulate poverty! As for myself, whenever I look back upon the great examples of antiquity, I am ashamed to seek any consolations for poverty, since in these times luxury has reached such a pitch that the allowance of exiles is larger than the inheritance of the chief men of old. It is well known that Homer had one slave, Plato three, that Zeno, the founder of the strict and virile school of Stoic philosophy, had none. Will anyone say, therefore, that these men lived poorly without seeming from his very words to be the poorest wretch alive? Menenius Agrippa, who acting as mediator between the patricians and plebeians brought harmony to the state, was buried by public subscription. Atilius Regulus, when he was engaged in routing the Carthaginians in Africa, wrote to the senate that his hired-hand had absconded and left the farm abandoned; whereupon the senate decreed that, as long as Regulus was away, his farm was to be managed by the state. Was it not worth his while to have no slave in order that the Roman people might become his laborer? Scipio’s daughters received their dowry from the public treasury because their father had left them nothing. Heaven knows! it was only fair for the Roman people to bestow tribute on Scipio just once since he was always exacting it from Carthage. O happy the maidens’ husbands in having the Roman people as their father-in-law! Think you that those whose daughters dance upon the stage and wed with a dowry of a million sesterces are happier than Scipio, whose children had the senate as their guardian and received from it a weight of copper for their dowry? Can anyone scorn Poverty when she has a pedigree so illustrious? Can an exile chafe at suffering any need when Scipio had need of a dowry, Regulus of a hireling, Menenius of a funeral? when in the case of all of these what they needed was supplied to their greater honor for the very reason that they had had the need? With such defenders, therefore, as these the cause of poverty becomes not only safe, but greatly favored.

Chapter XIII

To this one may reply: “Why do you artfully divide things which, if taken separately, can be endured; if combined, cannot? Change of place is tolerable if you change merely your place; poverty is tolerable if it be without disgrace, which even alone is wont to crush the spirit.” In reply to this man, the one who tries to frighten me with an aggregation of ills, I shall have to use such words as these: “If you have enough strength to cope with any one phase of fortune, you will have enough to cope with all. When virtue has once steeled your mind, it guarantees to make it invulnerable from every quarter. If greed, the mightiest curse of the human race, has relaxed its hold, ambition will not detain you; if you regard the end of your days, not as a punishment, but as an ordinance of nature, when once you have cast from your breast the fear of death, the fear of no other thing will dare to enter in; if you consider sexual desire to have been given to man, not for the gratification of pleasure, but for the continuance of the human race, when once you have escaped the violence of this secret destruction implanted in your very vitals, every other desire will pass you by unharmed. Reason lays low the vices not one by one, but all together; the victory is gained once for all.” Think you that any wise man can be moved by disgrace — a man who relies wholly upon himself, who draws aloof from the opinions of the common herd? Worse even than disgrace is a disgraceful death. And yet Socrates, wearing the same aspect wherewith he had once all alone put the Thirty Tyrants in their place, entered prison, and so was to rob even prison of all disgrace; for no place that held Socrates could possibly seem a prison. Who has become so blind to the perception of truth as to think that the twofold defeat of Marcus Cato in his candidacy for the praetorship and the consulship was to him a disgrace. It was the praetorship and the consulship, on which Cato was conferring honor, that suffered the disgrace. No one is despised by another unless he is first despised by himself. An abject and groveling mind may be liable to such insult; but a man who rises up to face the most cruel of misfortunes and overthrows the evils by which others are crushed this man’s very sorrows crown him, as it were, with a halo, since we are so constituted that nothing stirs our admiration so much as a man who is brave in adversity.

At Athens, when Aristides was being led to death, everyone who met him would cast down his eyes and groan, feeling that it was not merely a just man, but Justice herself who was being doomed to die; yet one man was found who spat into his face. He might have resented this for the simple reason that he knew well that no clean-mouthed man would have dared to do it. But he wiped his face and smiled, saying to the officer that attended him: “Remind that fellow not to open his mouth so offensively another time.” This was to put insult upon insult itself. I know that there are some who say that nothing is harder to bear than scorn, that death itself seems more desirable to them. To these I will reply that even exile is often free from any mark of scorn. If a great man falls, though prostrate, he is still great — men no more scorn him, I say, than they tread upon the fallen walls of a temple, which the devout still revere as deeply as when they were standing.

Chapter XIV

Since you have no reason, my dearest mother, to be forced to endless tears on my own account, it follows that you are goaded to them by reasons of your own. Now there are two possibilities. For what moves you is either the thought that you have lost some protection, or the mere longing for me is more than you can endure.

The first consideration I must touch upon very lightly; for I well know that your heart values nothing in your dear ones except themselves. Let other mothers look to that — the mothers who make use of a son’s power with a woman’s lack of self-control, who, because they cannot hold office, seek power through their sons, who both spend their sons’ inheritances and hope to be their heirs, who wear out their eloquence in lending it to others. But you have always had the greatest joy in the blessings of your children, yet you have used them not at all; you have always set bounds to our generosity, though you set none to your own; you, though a daughter in your father’s household, actually made presents to your wealthy sons; you managed our inheritances with such care that they might have been your own, with such scrupulousness that they might have been a stranger’s; you were as sparing in the use of our influence as if you were using a stranger’s property, and from our elections to office nothing accrued to you except your pleasure and the expense. Never did your fondness look to self-interest. You cannot, therefore, in the loss of a son miss what you never considered your own concern while he was still safe.

Chapter XV

So I must direct all my effort at consolation upon the second point — the true source of the power of a mother’s grief. “I am deprived,” you say, “of the embraces of my dearest son; I may no longer enjoy the pleasure of seeing him, the pleasure of his conversation! Where is he the very sight of whom would smooth my troubled brow, upon whom I unloaded all my anxieties? Where are the talks, of which I could never have enough? Where are the studies, which I shared with more than a woman’s pleasure, with more than a mother’s intimacy? Where the fond meeting? Where the boyish glee that was always stirred by the sight of his mother?” You add to all this the actual scenes of our rejoicings and intercourse and the reminders of our recent association, which are, necessarily, the most potent causes of mental distress. For Fortune cruelly contrived to deal you even this blow — she willed that you should part from me only two days before I was struck down, and you had no reason for concern nor any fear of such a disaster. It is well that we had been separated before by a great distance, it is well that an absence of several years had prepared you for this misfortune. By returning to Rome, you failed to gain the pleasure of seeing your son, and lost the habit of doing without him. Had you been absent long before, you could have borne my misfortune more bravely, since separation itself lessens our longing; had you not gone away, you would have at least gained the final pleasure of seeing your son two days longer. As it was, cruel Fate contrived that you should neither be with me in the midst of disaster, nor have grown accustomed to my absence. But the harder these circumstances are, the more courage must you summon, and you must engage with Fortune the more fiercely, as with an enemy well known and often conquered before. It is not from an unscathed body that your blood has now flowed; you have been struck in the very scars of old wounds.

Chapter XVI

It is not for you to avail yourself of the excuse of being a woman, who, in a way, has been granted the right to inordinate, yet not unlimited, tears. And so our ancestors, seeking to compromise with the stubbornness of a woman’s grief by a public ordinance, granted the space of ten months as the limit of mourning for a husband. They did not forbid their mourning, but limited it; for when you lose one who is most dear, to be filled with endless sorrow is foolish fondness, and to feel none is inhuman hardness. The best course is the mean between affection and reason — both to have a sense of loss and to crush it. There is no need for you to regard certain women, whose sorrow once assumed ended only with their death — some you know, who, having put on mourning for sons they had lost, never laid the garb aside. From you life, that was sterner from the start, requires more; the excuse of being a woman can be of no avail to one who has always lacked all the weaknesses of a woman.

Unchastity, the greatest evil of our time, has never classed you with the great majority of women; jewels have not moved you, nor pearls; to your eyes the glitter of riches has not seemed the greatest boon of the human race; you, who were soundly trained in an old-fashioned and strict household, have not been perverted by the imitation of worse women that leads even the virtuous into pitfalls; you have never blushed for the number of your children, as if it taunted you with your years, never have you, in the manner of other women whose only recommendation lies in their beauty, tried to conceal your pregnancy as if an unseemly burden, nor have you ever crushed the hope of children that were being nurtured in your body; you have not defiled your face with paints and cosmetics; never have you fancied the kind of dress that exposed no greater nakedness by being removed. In you has been seen that peerless ornament, that fairest beauty on which time lays no hand, that chiefest glory which is modesty. You cannot, therefore, allege your womanhood as an excuse for persistent grief, for your very virtues set you apart; you must be as far removed from woman’s tears as from her vices. But even women will not allow you to pine away from your wound, but will bid you finish quickly with necessary sorrow, and then rise with lighter heart — I mean, if you are willing to turn your gaze upon the women whose conspicuous bravery has placed them in the rank of mighty heroes.

Cornelia bore twelve children, but Fortune had reduced their number to two; if you wished to count Cornelia’s losses, she had lost ten, if to appraise them, she had lost the two Gracchi. Nevertheless, when her friends were weeping around her and cursing her fate, she forbade them to make any indictment against Fortune, since it was Fortune who had allowed the Gracchi to be her sons. Such a woman had right to be the mother of him who exclaimed in the public assembly: “Do you dare to revile the mother who gave birth to me?” But to me his mother’s utterances seems more spirited by far; the son set great value on the birthdays of the Gracchi, but the mother on their funerals as well.

Rutilia followed her son Cotta into exile, and was so wrapped up in her love for him that she preferred exile to losing him; and only her son’s return brought her back to her native land. But when, after he had been restored and now had risen to honor in the state, he died, she let him go just as bravely as she had clung to him; and after her son was buried no one saw her shed any tears. When he was exiled, she showed courage, when she lost him, wisdom; for in the one case she did not desist from her devotion, and in the other did not persist in useless and foolish sorrow. In the number of such women as these I wish you to be counted. In your effort to restrain and suppress your sorrow your best course will be to follow the example of those women whose life you have always copied.

Chapter XVII

I know well that this is a matter that is not in our own power, and that no emotion is submissive, least of all that which is born from sorrow; for it is wild and stubbornly resists every remedy. Sometimes we will to crush it and to swallow down our cries, yet tears pour down our faces even when we have framed the countenance to deceive. Sometimes we occupy the mind with public games or the bouts of gladiators, but amid the very spectacles that divert the mind it is crushed by some slight reminder of its loss. Therefore it is better to subdue our sorrow than to cheat it; for when it has withdrawn and has been beguiled by pleasures or engrossments, it rises up again, and from its very rest gathers new strength for its fury. But the grief that has submitted to reason is allayed forever. And so I am not going to point you to the expedients that I know many have used, suggesting that you distract or cheer your mind by travel, whether to distant or pleasant places, that you employ much time in diligent examination of your accounts and in the management of your estate, that you should always be involved in some new tasks. All such things avail for a brief space only, and are not the remedies but the hindrances of sorrow; but I would rather end it than beguile it. And so I guide you to that in which all who fly from Fortune must take refuge to philosophic studies. They will heal your wound, they will uproot all your sadness. Even if you had not been acquainted with them before, you would need to use them now; but, so far as the old-fashioned strictness of my father permitted you, though you have not indeed fully grasped the liberal arts, still you have had some dealings with them. Would that my father, truly the best of men, had surrendered less to the practice of his forefathers, and had been willing to have you acquire a thorough knowledge of the teachings of philosophy instead of a mere smattering! In that case you would now have, not to devise, but merely to display, your protection against Fortune. But he did not suffer you to pursue your studies because of those women who do not employ learning as a means to wisdom, but equip themselves with it for the purpose of display. Yet, thanks to your acquiring mind, you imbibed more than might have been expected in the time you had; the foundations of all systematic knowledge have been laid. Do you return now to these studies; they will render you safe. They will comfort you, they will cheer you; if in earnest they gain entrance to your mind, nevermore will sorrow enter there, nevermore anxiety, nevermore the useless distress of futile suffering. To none of these will your heart be open; for to all other weaknesses it has long been closed. Philosophy is your most unfailing safeguard, and she alone can rescue you from the power of Fortune.

Chapter XVIII

But because you have need of something to lean upon until you can reach that haven which philosophy promises to you, I wish meanwhile to point out the consolations you still have. Turn your eyes upon my brothers; while they live, you have no right to complain of Fortune. Different as their merits are, you have reason to rejoice in both. The one by his energy has attained public honors; the other with wisdom has scorned them. Find comfort in the prestige of one son, in the retirement of the other — in the devotion of both! The secret motives of my brothers I well know. The one fosters his prestige for the real purpose of shedding luster upon you; the other retired to a life of tranquility and repose for the real purpose of using his leisure for you. It was kind of Fortune so to arrange the lives of your children that they would bring help and pleasure to you; you can both be protected by the position of the one, and enjoy the leisure of the other. They will vie in their services to you, and the blank that one has caused will be filled by the devotion of two. I can make a confident promise — you will lack nothing except the full number.

From these turn your eyes, too, upon your grandchildren — to Marcus, a most winsome lad, the sight of whom no sorrow can possibly withstand; no one’s heart can hold a sorrow so great or so fresh that his embrace will not soothe it. Whose tears would his merriment not stay? Whose heart contracted by pain will his lively prattle not release? Whom will his playfulness not provoke to mirth? Whom intent upon his own thoughts will he not attract to himself and divert by the chatter that no one will weary of? I pray the gods that we may have the good fortune to die before he does! May all the cruelty of Fate be exhausted and stop at me; whatever grief you are doomed to suffer as a mother, whatever as a grandmother — may it all be shifted to me! May all the rest of my band be blest with no change in their lot. I make no complaint of my childlessness, none of my present fortune; only let me be a scapegoat for the family, and know that it will have no more sorrow.

Hold to your bosom Novatilla, who so soon will present you with great-grandchildren, whom I had so transferred to myself, had so adopted as my own, that in losing me she may well seem to be an orphan although her father is still living; do you cherish her for me also! Fortune recently snatched from her her mother, but you by your affection can see to it that she shall but mourn, and not really know, her mother’s loss. Now is the time to order her character, now is the time to shape it; instruction that is stamped upon the plastic years leaves a deeper mark. Let her become accustomed to your conversation, let her be moulded to your pleasure; you will give her much even if you give her nothing but your example. Such a sacred duty as this will bring to you relief; for only philosophy or an honorable occupation can turn from its distress the heart that sorrows from affection.

Among your great comforts I would count your father also, were he not now absent. As it is, nevertheless, let your love for him make you think of what his is for you, and you will understand how much more just it is that you should be preserved for him than sacrificed for me. Whenever excessive grief assails you with its power and bids you submit, do you think of your father! It is true that, by giving to him so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you have saved yourself from being his sole treasure; nevertheless the crowning pleasure of his happy life depends on yon. While he lives, it is wrong to complain because you have lived.

Chapter XIX

Of your greatest source of comfort I have thus far said nothing — your sister, that heart most loyal to you, upon which without reserve you unload all your cares, who for all of us has the feeling of a mother. With her tears you have mingled yours, and in her arms you first learned to breathe again. While she closely shares all your feelings, yet in my case it is not for your sake only that she grieves. It was in her arms that I was carried to Rome, it was by her devoted and motherly nursing that I recovered from a lengthened illness; she it was who, when I was standing for the quaestorship, gave me generous support — she, who lacked the courage even for conversation or a loud greeting, in order to help me, conquered her shyness by her love. Neither her retired mode of life, nor her modesty, so old-fashioned amid the great boldness of present women, nor her quietness, nor her habits of seclusion and devotion to leisure prevented her at all from becoming even ambitious in order to help me. She, my dearest mother, is the source of comfort from which you will gain new strength. To her attach yourself as closely as you can, in her embraces enfold yourself most closely. Those who are in grief are prone to avoid the ones they love most dearly, and to seek liberty for the indulgence of their sorrow. Do you, however, share with her your every thought; whether you wish to retain or to lay aside your mood, you will find in her either the end of your sorrow or a comrade in it. But if I know rightly the wisdom of this most perfect woman, she wilt not suffer you to be consumed by a grief that will profit you nothing, and she will recount to you an experience of her own, which I myself also witnessed.

In the very midst of a voyage she lost her dearly beloved husband, my uncle, whom she had married when a maiden; nevertheless, she bore up bravely, enduring at the same time both grief and fear, and, overmastering the storm, bore his body safe to land amid the shipwreck. O how many noble deeds of women are unknown to fame! If she had had the good fortune to live in the days of old when men were frank in admiration of heroic deeds, with what rivalry of genius would her praise be sung — a wife who forgetful of her own weakness, forgetful of the sea, which even the stoutest hearts must dread, exposed her own life to peril to give another burial, and, while she planned her husband’s funeral, had no fear at all about her own! She who gave herself to death in place of her husband has fame from the songs of all poets. But for a wife to seek burial for her husband at the risk of her own life is far more; for she who, enduring equal danger, has smaller recompense shows greater love.

After this no one can be surprised that throughout the sixteen years during which her husband was governor of Egypt she was never seen in public, never admitted a native to her house, sought no favor from her husband, nor suffered any to be sought from herself. And so a province that was gossipy and ingenious in devising insults for its rulers, one in which even those who shunned wrongdoing did not escape ill fame, respected her as a singular example of blamelessness, restrained altogether the license of their tongues — a most difficult thing for a people who take pleasure in even dangerous witticisms — and today ever hopes, although it never expects, to see one like her, It would be much to her credit if she had won the approval of the province for sixteen years; that she escaped its notice is still more. I do not cite these things for the purpose of recounting her praises — for to list them so scantily is to do them injustice — but in order that you may understand the highmindedness of a woman who has submitted neither to the love of power nor to the love of money — those attendants and curses of all authority — who, with ship disabled and now viewing her own shipwreck, was not deterred by the fear of death from clinging to her lifeless husband and seeking, not how she might escape from the ship, but how she might take him with her. You must show a courage to match hers, must recall your mind from grief, and strive that no one may think that you regret your motherhood.

Chapter XX

But because, though you have done everything, your thoughts must necessarily revert at times to me, and it must be that under the circumstances no one of your children engages your mind so often — not that the others are less dear, but that it is natural to lay the hand more often on the part that hurts — hear now how you must think of me. I am as happy and cheerful as when circumstances were best. Indeed, they are now best, since my mind, free from all other engrossment, has leisure for its own tasks, and now finds joy in lighter studies, now, being eager for the truth, mounts to the consideration of its own nature and the nature of the cosmos. It seeks knowledge, first, of the lands and where they be, then of the laws that govern the encompassing sea with its alternations of ebb and flow. Then it takes ken of all the expanse, charged with terrors, that lies between heaven and earth — this nearer space, disturbed by thunder, lightning, blasts of winds, and the downfall of rain and snow and hail. Finally, having traversed the lower spaces, it bursts through to the heights above, and there enjoys the noblest spectacle of things divine, and, mindful of its own immortality, it proceeds to all that has been and will ever be throughout the ages of all time.


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