To Polybius, on Consolation XVIII

You, however, need change none of your ordinary habits, since you have taught yourself to love those studies which, while they are preeminently fitted for perfecting our happiness, at the same time teach us how we may bear misfortune most lightly, and which are at the same time a man’s greatest honour and greatest comfort.

Now, therefore, immerse yourself even more deeply in your studies, now surround your mind with them like fortifications, so that grief may not find any place at which it can gain entrance.

At the same time, prolong the remembrance of your brother by inserting some memoir of him among your other writings: for that is the only sort of monument that can be erected by man which no storm can injure, no time destroy.

The others, which consist of piles of stone, masses of marble, or huge mounds of earth heaped on high, cannot preserve his memory for long, because they themselves perish; but the memorials which genius raises are everlasting.

Lavish these upon your brother, embalm him in these: you will do better to immortalise him by an everlasting work of genius than to mourn over him with useless grief.

As for Fortune herself, although I cannot just now plead her cause before you, because all that she has given us is now hateful to you, because she has taken something away from you, yet I will plead her cause as soon as time shall have rendered you a more impartial judge of her action: indeed she has bestowed much upon you to make amends for the injury which she has done you, and she will give more hereafter by way of atonement for it: and, after all, it was she herself who gave you this brother whom she has taken away.

Forbear, then, to display your abilities against your own self, or to take part with your grief against yourself: your eloquence, can, no doubt, make trifles appear great, and, conversely, can disparage and depreciate great things until they seem the merest trifles; but let it reserve those powers and use them on some other subject, and at the present time devote its entire strength to the task of consoling you.

Yet see whether even this task be not unnecessary.

Nature demands from us a certain amount of grief, our imagination adds some more to it; but I will never forbid you to mourn at all. I know, indeed, that there are some men, whose wisdom is of a harsh rather than a brave character, who say that the wise man never would mourn.

It seems to me that they never can have been in the position of mourners, for otherwise their misfortune would have shaken all their haughty philosophy out of them, and, however much against their will, would have forced them to confess their sorrow.

Reason will have done enough if she does but cut off from our grief all that is superfluous and useless: as for her not allowing us to grieve at all, that we ought neither to expect nor to wish for.

Let her rather restrain us within the bounds of a chastened grief, which partakes neither of indifference nor of madness, and let her keep our minds in that attitude which becomes affection without excitement: let your tears flow, but let them some day cease to flow: groan as deeply as you will, but let your groans cease some day: regulate your conduct so that both philosophers and brothers may approve of it.

Make yourself feel pleasure in often thinking about your brother, talk constantly about him, and keep him ever present in your memory; which you cannot succeed in doing unless you make the remembrance of him pleasant rather than sad: for it is but natural that the mind should shrink from a subject which it cannot contemplate without sadness.

Think of his retiring disposition, of his abilities for business, his diligence in carrying it out, his loyalty to his word.

Tell other men of all his sayings and doings, and remind your own self of them: think how good he was and how great you hoped he might become: for what success is there which you might not safely have wagered that such a brother would win?

I have thrown together these reflections in the best way that I could, for my mind is dimmed and stupefied with the tedium of my long exile: if, therefore, you should find them unworthy of the consideration of a person of your intelligence, or unable to console you in your grief, remember how impossible it is for one who is full of his own sorrows to find time to minister to those of others, and how hard it is to express oneself in the Latin language, when all around one hears nothing but a rude foreign jargon, which even barbarians of the more civilised sort regard with disgust.