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Private Life

263. The death of Minicia Marcella. Rome, A.D. 105/6 (Pliny the Younger, Letters 5.16. L)

To Aefulanus Marcellinus.

I could not be more sad as I write you that our friend Fundanus has lost his younger daughter. I've never seen anyone more cheerful or agreeable or worthy of a long life-even immortality-than that girl. She was just under fourteen but was as wise as an old woman and as sedate as a matron without losing her girlish sweet and virginal modesty. How she would throw her arms around her father's neck! How she loved her nurses and pedagogues and teachers for the services they provided her! How studiously and intelligently she read, and how sparingly she played! She suffered her last illness with such sobriety, patience, and constancy. She did as she was told by the doctors, and she cheered up her sister and her father. When her body could no longer support her, her spirit went on till the last, broken neither by the illness itself nor fear of death-all the more reason why her loss is so great.

Her death is all the more bitter for its timing. She was engaged to marry an excellent young man. The date was set and we were all invited. But our joy was changed to sorrow. I cannot find the words to describe my grief when I heard Fundanus himself (so grief multiplies itself) ordering that the money that had been delegated to clothes, pearls and gems for the wedding be spent on incense, ointments, and spices for the funeral. He is indeed a wise and scholarly man, having dedicated himself since he was young to the nobler subjects and arts; but now he rejects all he used to hear and often said, and his devotion has supplanted every other virtue. But if you consider what he has lost, you will forgive, or even praise, him. He has lost a daughter who was as like him in manner as in physical appearance and who copied her father in everything with a marvellous similarity.

Then, if you write him during his justifiable grief, remember not to use conventional expressions of consolation that he might construe as reproof but to be soft and sympathetic. He will accept consolation more easily with time. Just as a fresh wound recoils from the healing hand but later receives, even seeks, it, so a mind when its grief is fresh rejects consolation, soon desires it and calmly accepts what is offered. Farewell.