To Marcia, on Consolation XXII

Do you complain, Marcia, that your son did not live as long as he might have done?

How do you know that it was to his advantage to live longer? whether his interest was not served by this death?

Whom can you find at the present time whose fortunes are grounded on such sure foundations that they have nothing to fear in the future?

All human affairs are evanescent and perishable, nor is any part of our life so frail and liable to accident as that which we especially enjoy.

We ought, therefore, to pray for death when our fortune is at its best, because so great is the uncertainty and turmoil in which we live, that we can be sure of nothing but what is past.

Think of your son’s handsome person, which you had guarded in perfect purity among all the temptations of a voluptuous capital.

Who could have undertaken to keep that clear of all diseases, so that it might preserve its beauty of form unimpaired even to old age?

Think of the many taints of the mind: for fine dispositions do not always continue to their life’s end to make good the promise of their youth, but have often broken down: either extravagance, all the more shameful for being indulged in late in life, takes possession of men and makes their well-begun lives end in disgrace, or they devote their entire thoughts to the eating-house and the belly, and they become interested in nothing save what they shall eat and what they shall drink.

Add to this conflagrations, falling houses, shipwrecks, the agonizing operations of surgeons, who cut pieces of bone out of men’s living bodies, plunge their whole hands into their entrails, and inflict more than one kind of pain to effect the cure of shameful diseases.

After these comes exile; your son was not more innocent than Rutilius: imprisonment; he was not wiser than Socrates: the piercing of one’s breast by a self-inflicted wound; he was not of holier life than Cato.

When you look at these examples, you will perceive that nature deals very kindly with those whom she puts speedily in a place of safety because there awaited them the payment of some such price as this for their lives.

Nothing is so deceptive, nothing is so treacherous as human life; by Hercules, were it not given to men before they could form an opinion, no one would take it.

Not to be born, therefore, is the happiest lot of all, and the nearest thing to this, I imagine, is that we should soon finish our strife here and be restored again to our former rest.

Recall to your mind that time, so painful to you, during which Sejanus handed over your father as a present to his client Satrius Secundus: he was angry with him about something or other which he had said with too great freedom, because he was not able to keep silence and see Sejanus climbing up to take his seat upon our necks, which would have been bad enough had he been placed there by his master.

He was decreed the honour of a statue, to be set up in the theatre of Pompeius, which had been burned down and was being restored by Caesar.

Cordus exclaimed that “Now the theatre was really destroyed.”

What then? should he not burst with spite at a Sejanus being set up over the ashes of Gnaeus Pompeius, at a faithless soldier being commemorated within the memorial of a consummate commander?

The inscription was put up: [12] and those keen-scented hounds whom Sejanus used to feed on human blood, to make them tame towards himself and fierce to all the world beside, began to bay around their victim and even to make premature snaps at him.

What was he to do?

If he chose to live, he must gain the consent of Sejanus; if to die, he must gain that of his daughter; and neither of them could have been persuaded to grant it: he therefore determined to deceive his daughter, and having taken a bath in order to weaken himself still further, he retired to his bedchamber on the pretence of taking a meal there.

After dismissing his slaves he threw some of the food out of the window, that he might appear to have eaten it: then he took no supper, making the excuse that he had already had enough food in his chamber.

This he continued to do on the second and the third day: the fourth betrayed his condition by his bodily weakness; so, embracing you, “My dearest daughter,” said he, “from whom I have never throughout your whole life concealed aught but this, I have begun my journey towards death, and have already travelled halfway thither.

You cannot and you ought not to call me back.” So saying he ordered all light to be excluded from the room and shut himself up in the darkness.

When his determination became known there was a general feeling of pleasure at the prey being snatched out of the jaws of those ravening wolves.

His prosecutors, at the instance of Sejanus, went to the judgment-seat of the consuls, complained that Cordus was dying, and begged the consuls to interpose to prevent his doing what they themselves had driven him to do; so true was it that Cordus appeared to them to be escaping: an important matter was at stake, namely, whether the accused should lose the right to die.

While this point was being debated, and the prosecutors were going to attend the court a second time, he had set himself free from them.

Do you see, Marcia, how suddenly evil days come upon a man? and do you weep because one of your family could not avoid dying? one of your family was within a very little of not being allowed to die.