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Men's Opinions



52. Tiberius chooses to die in place of Cornelia. Rome, 2nd cent. B.C.
(Plutarch, Life of Tiberius Gracchus, 1.2-2. G)

[Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus] were the sons of Tiberius Gracchus, who had been censor and twice consul in Rome and had celebrated two triumphs, but derived the greatest honour from his virtue. Because of this, Scipio, the general who fought against Hannibal, offered Tiberius his daughter Cornelia in marriage, even though he had not been Tiberius' friend, but rather the opposite.

A story is told that Tiberius once caught a pair of snakes on his bed; the soothsayers considered the omen and did not let him kill or free both of them, but instead offered him a choice, that if the male were killed it would cause Tiberius' death, and if the female, Cornelia's. So Tiberius, both because he loved his wife, and because he thought that it was more fitting for him to die since he was older, and she was still young, killed the male snake, and let the female go. And not long after that he died, leaving twelve children that had been born to him and Cornelia.

Cornelia took over the children and the household, and proved herself so sensible and motherly and generous that it seemed that Tiberius had made a good decision when he chose to die on behalf of such a woman. When Ptolemy [1] offered to share his kingdom with her and proposed marriage, Cornelia refused. She remained a widow, and of her children, only a daughter survived, who married Scipio the younger, and the two sons, the subjects of these biographies, Tiberius and Gaius. After they were born she raised them in such a laudable manner that, although they were generally agreed to be the most naturally gifted of all Romans their virtue was regarded as having come from their education rather than their birth.


Notes:

1. Ptolemy VI Philometor, king of Egypt 181-146 B.C.