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Consolatory Letter To His Wife
by [?]

Sec. I. Plutarch to his wife sends greeting. The messenger that you sent to me to announce the death of our little girl seems to have missed his way en route for Athens; but when I got to Tanagra I heard the news from my niece. I suppose the funeral has already taken place, and I hope everything went off so as to give you least sorrow both now and hereafter. But if you left undone anything you wished to do, waiting for my opinion, and thinking your grief would then be lighter, be it without ceremoniousness or superstition, both which things are indeed foreign to your character.

Sec. II. Only, my dear wife, let us both be patient at this calamity. I know and can see very clearly how great it is, but should I find your grief too excessive, it would trouble me even more than the event itself. And yet I have not a heart hard as heart of oak or flintstone, as you yourself know very well, who have shared with me in the bringing up of so many children, as they have all been educated at home by ourselves. And this one I know was more especially beloved by you, as she was the first daughter after four sons, when you longed for a daughter, and so I gave her your name.[191] And as you are very fond of children your grief must have a peculiar bitterness when you call to mind her pure and simple gaiety, which was without a tincture of passion or querulousness. For she had from nature a wonderful contentedness of mind and meekness, and her affectionateness and winning ways not only pleased one but also afforded a means of observing her kindliness of heart, for she used to bid her nurse[192] give the teat not only to other children but even to her favourite playthings, and so invited them as it were to her table in kindliness of heart, and gave them a share of her good things, and provided the best entertainment for those that pleased her.

Sec. III. But I see no reason, my dear wife, why these and similar traits in her character, that gave us delight in her lifetime, should now, when recalled to the memory, grieve and trouble us. Though, on the other hand, I fear that if we cease to grieve we may also cease to remember her, like Clymene, who says in the Play[193]–

“I hate the supple bow of cornel-wood,
And would put down athletics,”

because she ever avoided and trembled at anything that reminded her of her son, for it brought grief with it, and it is natural to avoid everything that gives us pain. But as she gave us the greatest pleasure in embracing her and even in seeing and hearing her, so ought her memory living and dwelling with us to give us more, aye, many times more, joy than grief, since those arguments that we have often used to others ought to be profitable to us in the present conjuncture, nor should we sit down and rail against fortune, opposing to those joys many more griefs.

Sec. IV. Those who were present at the funeral tell me with evident surprise that you put on no mourning, and that you bedizened up neither yourself nor your maids with the trappings of woe, and that there was no ostentatious expenditure of money at the funeral, but that everything was done orderly and silently in the presence of our relations. I am not myself surprised that you, who never made a display either at the theatre or on any other public occasion, and thought extravagance useless even in the case of pleasure, should have been frugal in your grief. For not only ought the chaste woman to remain uncorrupt in Bacchanalian revels,[194] but she ought to consider her self-control not a whit less necessary in the surges of sorrow and emotion of grief, contending not (as most people think) against natural affection, but against the extravagant wishes of the soul. For we are indulgent to natural affection in the regret, and honour, and memory that it pays to the dead: but the insatiable desire for a passionate display of funeral grief, coming to the climax in coronachs and beatings of the breast, is not less unseemly than intemperance in pleasure and is unreasonably[195] forgiven only because pain and grief instead of delight are elements in the unseemly exhibition. For what is more unreasonable than to curtail excessive laughter or any other demonstration of joy, and to allow a free vent to copious lamentation and wailing that come from the same source? And how unreasonable is it, as some husbands do, to quarrel with their wives about perfume and purple robes, while they allow them to shear their heads in mourning, and to dress in black, and to sit in idle grief, and to lie down in weariness! And what is worst of all, how unreasonable is it for husbands to interfere if their wives chastise the domestics and maids immoderately or without sufficient cause, yet allow them to ill-treat themselves cruelly in cases and conjunctures that require repose and kindness!