To Marcia, on Consolation XVI

I know what you will say: “You quote men as examples: you forget that it is a woman that you are trying to console.”

Yet who would say that nature has dealt grudgingly with the minds of women, and stunted their virtues?

Believe me, they have the same intellectual power as men, and the same capacity for honourable and generous action. If trained to do so, they are just as able to endure sorrow or labour.

Ye good gods, do I say this in that very city in which Lucretia and Brutus removed the yoke of kings from the necks of the Romans?

We owe liberty to Brutus, but we owe Brutus to Lucretia⁠—in which Cloelia, for the sublime courage with which she scorned both the enemy and the river, has been almost reckoned as a man.

The statue of Cloelia, mounted on horseback, in that busiest of thoroughfares, the Sacred Way, continually reproaches the youth of the present day, who never mount anything but a cushioned seat in a carriage, with journeying in such a fashion through that very city in which we have enrolled even women among our knights.

If you wish me to point out to you examples of women who have bravely endured the loss of their children, I shall not go far afield to search for them: in one family I can quote two Cornelias, one the daughter of Scipio, and the mother of the Gracchi, who made acknowledgment of the birth of her twelve children by burying them all: nor was it so hard to do this in the case of the others, whose birth and death were alike unknown to the public, but she beheld the murdered and unburied corpses of both Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus, whom even those who will not call them good must admit were great men.

Yet to those who tried to console her and called her unfortunate, she answered, “I shall never cease to call myself happy, because I am the mother of the Gracchi.”

Cornelia, the wife of Livius Drusus, lost by the hands of an unknown assassin a young son of great distinction, who was treading in the footsteps of the Gracchi, and was murdered in his own house just when he had so many bills half way through the process of becoming law: nevertheless she bore the untimely and unavenged death of her son with as lofty a spirit as he had shown in carrying his laws.

Will you not, Marcia, forgive Fortune because she has not refrained from striking you with the darts with which she launched at the Scipios, and the mothers and daughters of the Scipios, and with which she has attacked the Caesars themselves?

Life is full of misfortunes; our path is beset with them: no one can make a long peace, nay, scarcely an armistice with Fortune.

You, Marcia, have borne four children: now they say that no dart which is hurled into a close column of soldiers can fail to hit one⁠—ought you then to wonder at not having been able to lead along such a company without exciting the ill-will of Fortune, or suffering loss at her hands? “But,” say you, “Fortune has treated me unfairly, for she not only has bereaved me of my son, but chose my best beloved to deprive me of.”

Yet you never can say that you have been wronged, if you divide the stakes equally with an antagonist who is stronger than yourself: Fortune has left you two daughters, and their children: she has not even taken away altogether him who you now mourn for, forgetful of his elder brother: you have two daughters by him, who if you support them ill will prove great burdens, but if well, great comforts to you.

You ought to prevail upon yourself, when you see them, to let them remind you of your son, and not of your grief.

When a husbandman’s trees have either been torn up, roots and all, by the wind, or broken off short by the force of a hurricane, he takes care of what is left of their stock, straightaway plants seeds or cuttings in the place of those which he has lost, and in a moment⁠—for time is as swift in repairing losses as in causing them⁠—more nourishing trees are growing than were there before.

Take, then, in the place of your Metilius these his two daughters, and by their twofold consolation lighten your single sorrow.

True, human nature is so constituted as to love nothing so much as what it has lost, and our yearning after those who have been taken from us makes us judge unfairly of those who are left to us: nevertheless, if you choose to reckon up how merciful Fortune has been to you even in her anger, you will feel that you have more than enough to console you.

Look at all your grandchildren, and your two daughters: and say also, Marcia:⁠—“I should indeed be cast down, if everyone’s fortune followed his deserts, and if no evil ever befell good men: but as it is I perceive that no distinction is made, and that the bad and the good are both harassed alike.”