To Marcia, on Consolation XX

O how little do men understand their own misery, that they do not praise and look forward to death as the best discovery of Nature, whether because it hedges in happiness, or because it drives away misery: because it puts an end to the sated weariness of old age, cuts down youth in its bloom while still full of hope of better things, or calls home childhood before the harsher stages of life are reached: it is the end of all men, a relief to many, a desire to some, and it treats none so well as those to whom it comes before they call for it.

Death frees the slave though his master wills it not, it lightens the captive’s chains: it leads out of prison those whom headstrong power has forbidden to quit it: it points out to exiles, whose minds and eyes are ever turned towards their own country, that it makes no difference under what people’s soil one lies.

When Fortune has unjustly divided the common stock, and has given over one man to another, though they were born with equal rights, Death makes them all equal.

After Death no one acts any more at another’s bidding: in death no man suffers any more from the sense of his low position. It is open to all: it was what your father, Marcia, longed for: it is this, I say, that renders it no misery to be born, which enables me to face the threatenings of misfortune without quailing, and to keep my mind unharmed and able to command itself.

I have a last appeal. I see before me crosses not all alike, but differently made by different peoples: some hang a man head downwards, some force a stick upwards through his groin, some stretch out his arms on a forked gibbet.

I see cords, scourges, and instruments of torture for each limb and each joint: but I see Death also.

There are bloodthirsty enemies, there are overbearing fellow-countrymen, but where they are there I see Death also.

Slavery is not grievous if a man can gain his freedom by one step as soon as he becomes tired of thralldom.

Life, it is thanks to Death that I hold thee so dear.

Think how great a blessing is a timely death, how many have been injured by living longer than they ought.

If sickness had carried off that glory and support of the empire Gnaeus Pompeius, at Naples, he would have died the undoubted head of the Roman people, but as it was, a short extension of time cast him down from his pinnacle of fame: he beheld his legions slaughtered before his eyes: and what a sad relic of that battle, in which the Senate formed the first line, was the survival of the general.

He saw his Egyptian butcher, and offered his body, hallowed by so many victories, to a guardsman’s sword, although even had he been unhurt, he would have regretted his safety: for what could have been more infamous than that a Pompeius should owe his life to the clemency of a king?

If Marcus Cicero had fallen at the time when he avoided those daggers which Catiline aimed equally at him and at his country, he might have died as the saviour of the commonwealth which he had set free: if his death had even followed upon that of his daughter, he might have died happy.

He would not then have seen swords drawn for the slaughter of Roman citizens, the goods of the murdered divided among the murderers, that men might pay from their own purse the price of their own blood, the public auction of the consul’s spoil in the civil war, the public letting out of murder to be done, brigandage, war, pillage, hosts of Catilines.

Would it not have been a good thing for Marcus Cato if the sea had swallowed him up when he was returning from Cyprus after sequestrating the king’s hereditary possessions, even if that very money which he was bringing to pay the soldiers in the civil war had been lost with him?

He certainly would have been able to boast that no one would dare to do wrong in the presence of Cato: as it was, the extension of his life for a very few more years forced one who was born for personal and political freedom to flee from Caesar and to become Pompeius’s follower.

Premature death therefore did him no evil: indeed, it put an end to the power of any evil to hurt him.