To Helvia, on Consolation II

See how far I have presumed upon your indulgence: I have no doubts about my having more power over you than your grief, than which nothing has more power over the unhappy.

In order, therefore, to avoid encountering it straightaway, I will at first take its part and offer it every encouragement: I will rip up and bring to light again wounds already scarred. Someone may say, “What sort of consolation is this, for a man to rake up buried evils, and to bring all its sorrows before a mind which scarcely can bear the sight of one?” but let him reflect that diseases which are so malignant that they do but gather strength from ordinary remedies, may often be cured by the opposite treatment: I will, therefore, display before your grief all its woes and miseries: this will be to effect a cure, not by soothing measures, but by cautery and the knife.

What shall I gain by this? I shall make the mind that could overcome so many sorrows, ashamed to bewail one wound more in a body so full of scars.

Let those whose feeble minds have been enervated by a long period of happiness, weep and lament for many days, and faint away on receiving the slightest blow: but those whose years have all been passed amid catastrophes should bear the severest losses with brave and unyielding patience.

Continual misfortune has this one advantage, that it ends by rendering callous those whom it is always scourging.

Ill fortune has given you no respite, and has not left even your birthday free from the bitterest grief: you lost your mother as soon as you were born, nay, while you were being born, and you came into life, as it were, an outcast: you grew up under a stepmother, whom you made into a mother by all the obedience and respect which even a real daughter could have bestowed upon her: and even a good stepmother costs everyone dear.

You lost your most affectionate uncle, a brave and excellent man, just when you were awaiting his return: and, lest fortune should weaken its blows by dividing them, within a month you lost your beloved husband, by whom you had become the mother of three children.

This sorrowful news was brought you while you were already in mourning, while all your children were absent, so that all your misfortunes seemed to have been purposely brought upon you at a time when your grief could nowhere find any repose.

I pass over all the dangers and alarms which you have endured without any respite: it was but the other day that you received the bones of three of your grandchildren in the bosom from which you had sent them forth: less than twenty days after you had buried my child, who perished in your arms and amid your kisses, you heard that I had been exiled: you wanted only this drop in your cup, to have to weep for those who still lived.