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Corneliaís Advice to Her Son Gaius Gracchus

Translation and notes copyright 2000 Marilyn B. Skinner; all rights reserved.

These quotations are preserved in the works of the biographer Cornelius Nepos as frags. 1 and 2. While they are probably not genuine extracts from Corneliaís letters (which were preserved after her death), they give us an impression of what this model Roman mother might have been expected to say to her grown son. After the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius is planning to campaign for the tribunate to carry on his slain brotherís political program. Cornelia attempts to discourage him.

  1. You will say that itís fine to take vengeance upon enemies. That seems good and fine to no one more than me, provided that itís achieved without harm to the state. But since that cannot be, far better in every way that our enemies not perish and remain as they are, rather than that the state be destroyed and perish.

  2. I would swear a solemn oath that, apart from those who slew Tiberius Gracchus, no enemy has given me as much vexation and pain as you have in this affair-you who should have assumed the roles of all those children I once had and have seen to it that I had as little trouble as possible in my old age, and that, whatever things you were up to, you would chiefly want them to please me, and that you would consider it a crime to take any major step against my will, especially since I have but a brief time to live. So you canít be of service for even that short length of time without going against my will and destroying the state? Where will it finally end? Will our family ever cease being mad? Will there ever be a limit put on it? Will we ever stop taking and giving offense? Will we ever feel thoroughly ashamed of setting the state in an uproar and confounding it? Well, if that just canít be, seek the tribunate when Iím dead; feel free to do what you like when I wonít know about it. When I am dead, you will perform the last rites and call upon my parental spirit. Wonít you be ashamed at that time to invoke the spirits of those whom, while alive and present, you left abandoned and deserted? May Jupiter above not allow you to continue on this course or permit such insanity to visit your mind! But if you continue on, Iím afraid that, thanks to your own fault, you will experience such pain throughout your entire life that you yourself will not be able to be pleased with yourself at any time.

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