Consolation to His



sympatbetic tendencies. The consolation utcs a well-establisbed literary genre in antiquity (Seneca urote seoeral), btt Plutarch's is often considered the most attractiue example of tbe forrn, because of its genuineness of feeling

and toucbing directness.

Consolation to His \Wife

Plutarcb (.q.p. 46?-c. 120) was born in Boetia, not far from Delpbi, studied at Atbens, becarue a ualued diplomat (like Montaigne), and at the heigbt of



DEAR 'isrFE:

bis toorldly success retired to bis natiue toun to become a priest of tbe temple of Detphi and teacb philosopby to tbe young. He is best known as tbe first gredt biograpber: his Parallel Lives paired biographies of noble Greeks and Romans, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. But it is bis numerous Moralia, essays and dialogues on ethical, literary, and bistorical subjects, tbat influenced tbe deuelopment of tbe personal

As tbe classicist and translator Moses Hadas has noted, "Almost alone in tbe canon of Greek writers wbom Europe bas accepted, Plutarcb can be called charming and bis charm, combined witb bis broad and direct knowledge, rnakes bim tbe most effectiue intermediary betueen tbe Graeco-Roman world and our oun. Unlike the austere classics, again, Plutarch is a personal writer, and in tbe course of his copious works be tells us of his farnily and friends and reueals bis tastes and interests so fully tbat ue knou him more intimately than we do any otber Greek uriter." Plutarcb put great stock on fanily ties and friendsbip and, atypically for bis age, saw matriage as tbe closest of buman bonds. "Tbere is an unexampled teueleftce for uomanhood," wrote Hadas, "a toucbing tenderness for little cbildren, a deep sympatby for animal creation, and, so far as sucb a tbing uas possible for an aristocratic Platonist, a respect for all tbc disinberitc'd ol thc carth. lt is his htrtrtttttitari,trrisnz, in hrgt'l>urt, trl.tir'h tttttk'Plrrltrrclt v) tl,ltutlittl! t() M o t l i,gr t t' tt t l l ),l l:c s ltt'tt tt"'
t t r

tressed than by the misfortune itself. Neither am I "fashioned of oak or stone," as is well known to you, who have shared with me in the nurture of our several children, all of whom we have ourselves brought up at home.

The messenger you sent with tidings of the death of our little daughter apparently missed me on his road to Athens, and consequently I learned about the child only when I arrived lnTanagra.I suppose that the funeral has already taken place. I could wish that the arrangements were such as to cause you the minimum of pain, both for the present and the future. If you have omitted any ceremony which you think might lighten your grief because you wished to await my approval, do carry it out. But excesses and superstitions should be avoided; I know it is not in your character to indulge in them. Above ull, -y dear wife, help us both preserve our customary composure in this affliction, I am of course very sensible of it and feel its force; but if I find your grief exceeds due measure I shall be more gready dis-




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Aflter the birth ofour four sons you yearned for a daughter, and I seized thc opportunity of giving her your dear name: I know that she was precious to you. Peculiar poignancy attaches to tenderness for children when Ihcir' 1'rrcscnce is altogether welcome and completely untainted by ill will rrrrtl lcProzrch. The child herself possessed a marvelous cheeriness of temItt'r unrl gcntlcness, and her responsiveness to love and eagerness to please t'vol<t'r'| rrot only plcasurc but an appreciation of human goodness. She rvorrkl invitt'lrt'r'nurs('t() ol'lcr hcr l)rcrrst l'lot only t<l othcr infants but ('v('tr l() lrtltrishirrgs rttttl toys irr wlriclr sllc l()ok rlcliglrt. tt wrts rrs il', orrl ol'

then it can no longer easily re- . to dye their garments black. rvlrt'rr others have bathed them and prinked them out. but the insatiable yearning for lamentation which leads to wailing and beating of the breast is no less shameful than unbridled voluptuousness-though men find it venial. that there was no preparation for extravagant solemnities at the grave. a troubled soul should itself receive support Irorn a robust body.'nrpanion and housemate it will no longer depart when the inmates wish rt t(). away with all exercises!" She avoided and shuddered at every reminder of her son. like that Clymene who said. Nor is there any .1 llrt'ttt lo ltr't . we must not then sink into lethargy nor conjure up the sorrows which are the price of those numerous delights. but the incontinence of her soul. "I hate that well-turned corl'lel bow. what is hardest of all. for it is a bitter smart rather than an agreeable sensation which is associated with the impropriety. I was told by those who were present and found your conduct remarkable that you did not put on mourning nor induce any uncomeliness or unseemliness in yourself or in your seryants. rvill tlr. For my part I was not This phenomenon Aesop understood very rvt'll. to sit in unnatural attitudes and recline in uncomfortable postures? Or.s. as some husbands do.rrtl pressed by grief.rvc under a clear sky.'rt'tl a contusion. And yet you r'.rt'r'lt'ct orderliness and quiet in the house they thought. to quarrel with their wives over the use of perfumery and purple and then suffer them to shear their hair in mourning.rsoplrt'r's rvlro lrirvc cvcr visitcrl or associated with us.1. for affection is rational and dignified. and other attention to the l. Upon love we bestow sorrow and respect and an abiding memory of the departed. nature avoids everything that causes distress. render our spirit 1rt'tty and narrow and confined and unsmiling and timorous.' share in jollity or brightness or the kindly board..and lighted us when she was alive should now distress ancl cotrlirtrnrl tts rvhctr we bring them to mind. being so besieged and lr. In general. slrc invit.t ltcr slrt'rvislr. and they rrr11t'r hcr with others accompanied me to the house. It must therefore be resisted at the threshold and not be allowed rvithin the citadel by way of mourning dress or shorn locks or other such rokcns. in the degree that she proved to us a thing most lovable to fondle and look at and hear. and underwent surgery when your breast sufl.rrr irr tht'past you demonstrated your singular steadfastness when you ( . and then to overlook it when they chastise themselves unfeelingly and cruelly in trying circumstances which call for gentleness and kindliness? I llrrl lrclrvct'n us. and it will bring us a greater quantity and variety of joy than of sorrow.'rit'l. Rather do I fear lest we lose those nremot'ics along rvith our'liglrtlrrl t. if the children die.rl lrrlrlt'. why tlrcsc arrtl sinrilal qtrrrlitics rvlriclt. and treat them like .rvcrsion to anointing. So discreetly had you arranged your houselroltl rrt a juncture which offered occasion for great disorder.tkctl tlrc astonishment ol all the 1'lril. I tlrirrk. 'l 'hc majority of mothers. like acrid and annoying exhalations. for you would never prink for the theater or processions. they dissolve into empty and ungrateful . Upon this evil there follows neglect of the body and . that nothing amiss had happened and that it was an ('nrl)ty rumor that reached me. cannot see.. Grief r(x) put in a request. not out of affection.1)l)osite should be the case.1 rtll rvlro plcasc.'rt't'vt'r Lt'. Upon a similar occa. as they afterwards . llrr't<'rvirs n('v('t ilny ott:rsion lol su('lr . A great part of sorrow is blunted and relaxed. as the many think. take their children into their arms. it is not her love. so that it has r'. which. I remember that friends were escorting me on my way Ir'rrr thc scashore when the news of my son's death was brought. In the beginning everyone welcomes Grief into his Ir.. confronting and glowering upon us daily.'nli. It is not only in bacchic celebrations that a virtuous woman must remain uncorrupted. bathing.l hcl to crrjoy. rvlrirt rv:rs rrrost .rlrgcable transports of grief. my dear wilc'. But in the case of our child.. and it was the same when charming lcft us. \{hat could be more illogical than to check excess of laughter and gaiety and then give free flow to rivers of tears and lamentations which stream from the same source? Or. he tells us. When Zeus distributed their honors to the gods.h:rtl.rlt.r. lo slrrrtt'itr llr<' goorl tlrirrgs slrt.ttt. Surely some portion of the discourses I have uttered to others should prove helpful to ourselves in time of need. to oppose their wives and prevent them if they chastise their servants or maids immoderately or unfairly. when the body enjoys tranquil sailing. n()r'.'rror.l tlrc lrrrgrrlity ol yorrr tlit't Irrrs t'v. \(hen they observed . so the memory of her must abide with us and become part of us.'.ul t()wnsnlcn who has n()t remarkcd upon your admirable simplicity at lcstrv:rls rrrrtl sacrificcs and theatrical performances.'l'lrt'sirrrlrlit'ity ol vorrl gr()()nlrr'1'.'rrlsclf suckled that son. This is ('\irctly what happens. but that everything was done decently and quietly with only the family in attendance.rrsilriliti<. and then when it has had time to take root and has become a . nry. but in sorrow too she must remember that excess is to be avoided and that transports of emotion require to be controlled. That is the conduct of a noble woman and a loving rrroIltcr.lrllcrctrt('s. that she must fight against. but even for pleasurable outings thought that extravagance was useless and maintained your sensible moderation even among people who looked askance at it.rst tlrc cklcst of your children.'r'y mixed with a modicum of natural feeling produces wild and unas.'.'lls. but only from those who elected and desired to bestow it. like a rr'.lcd in others.k'rtt rvilr'. The (.rrrse. we observe. and Zeus ordained that Grief should indeed receive Ir.rrr. But where a l':rrl regimen begets meagerness and roughness and the body transmits rrothing that is beneficial or salutary to the soul but only pain and discoml.lnuniul(.but vain1il.

Always respectfulness to the divine and a cheerful and uncomplaining attitude towards fortune produces fruit that is good and sweet. and that changcs o[ ftrrttrnc clo not 1'rr'o<lrrcc slgnificant clcviations antl corrtribttl('ll() lll('rll wcight to tIc tlilcr'liorr orrr livt's lrrl<r'.icrl with thc things of this world. lltt'ttttltr ward strokes of fortune. Similarly. and in little things she took her pleasure.r shot't span arrr'l is tlrcn libcratctl quickly tc('ovct's its ttrrtrrt'rrl lirlrrr. The soul is incorruptible. It is not fair to set a high value upon these matters for those who lack them and a low for those who have them. In case of misfortune there is no surer means of either quenching grief entirely or diminishing its size and intensity by an admixture of opposite emotions than by calling to mind good things in the past and transposing and reshaping our reflections upon life from the gloomy and troubled to the bright and shining. tVhen a man's eyes are sore his friends do not let him finger them. and by reason of the fingering and consequent irritation it hardens into a serious and intractable evil. She has arrived where there is no distress.'rrtlcls thc soul lorgetful of the memories of yonder world and preoccul. l]rrt t'vt'tr il rvt'itll<tw. \When people see a friend's house aflame they extinguish it with all possible speed and strength. Nay. If it has been maintained in rlrc body for a long time and has become habituated to this life by numer()us concerns and long custom. as a bird in its cage.Izo] Plutarcb Consolatiotr to His WiJe lz r) covef even if it wish to do so. lry r.'lv. l)o rrot think that old age is vilified and abused because of wrinkles and lrr':rly hair and bodily failure. and then consider that our present state is a continuation of that former period. and yet we had no cause to reproach fortune. I know the good fight you lately fought when you supported Theon's sister and resisted the women who were charging in with wails and shrieks. there is then no need for us to be distressed. and you must imagine tlrrrt its experience is like that of a caged bird. I know. It becomes us ill. Shall we imitate those who collect Homeric lines which are defective at beginning or end and overlook large and excellent stretches of his poetry? Shall we meticulously search out faulty passages in our lives for condemnation and cavalierly neglect the mass of our blessings? tVe should then be imitating mean and greedy misers who make no use of their accumulations but wail in anguish if they are lost.ovt't'ttctl. simply to pile fire upon fire. But the soul rvlrit'lt tcttrrritrs itr tlrt'lrotly lrrrt. your household. still I must caution you to take no account of the tears and lamentations of visitors who follow the tiresome custom of paying condolence calls. Rather reflect how much these people envy you for your children. and it is so far bent and distorted that it rt'trrirrs tht'lrosturc irrt<l wlrich it was forccd by the body.'. as in a book. inculpating our own lives. Endeavor often to transpose yourself in imagination to the period when our child was not yet born. How can we say that she was deprived of things of which she had no knowledge. Perfumes not only delight our sense of smell but are an antidote to bad odors.'s lo lrt'p'. to find fault with a single blot. for all she knew was little things.. likc flrt. It would be a perversity for you ro find fault with your estate and chafe at it when others would cheerfully choose your lot even with the affliction which now distresses us. the most grievous defect of old age is that it r. recollection of good things in the midst of evil functions as a necessary remedy for such as do not avoid the memory of past blessings and do not always and everywhere upbraid fortune. then when it is lifted out it snuggles into tlrt' body again.l litl<t'itllo (tttt tltltotrilt. no rlcsire? You have often heard the assertion made-and the majority find it convirrcing-that the departed suffer no evil or distress whatever. Such are the afflictions which visit a soul that has been thus abused. nor be ungrateful for what fortune has given us because it has not filled the measure as full as we expected. and if we gauge our happiness by the judgment of ordinary folk. You have oftentimes heard that happiness depends upon a correct rationale which renders a temperament steadfast. this present sting should make you sensible of our numerous blessings which remain untouched. If you pity the babe because she departed this life unmarried and childless.xlt. like a running sore.rrrrriorilV. lirr llrc trlnstt'rritrl wlrich wts l)ul rrllon il wrrs brrt .. when all the rest is clean and unstained. because of our ancestral doctrines and the rrrystic symbols of the Dionysiac initiations with which we have our intinrrrtc and shared bond. The two years of her life that intervened must by no means be effaced from our memory but rather r$7e reckoned as a pleasure. no experience. Against such a contingency I know that you will be on guard. But the dreadful thing which does so much mischief in these cases I need have no fear of-i mean the visits of silly women and their cries and the continuing lamentations by which they fan and whet grief and prevent it from abatng either through other causes or of itself. You will not t'rcdit such assertions. again you have the consolation of knowing that you yourself enjoyed a full share of such experiences. If we look upon our situation in the past as freer of reproach than our present state we shall seem to be resentful that our child was ever born. however much he wishes to. but when souls are ablaze they only add kindling. and by repeated births does not lolcgo or cease being involved in the passions and chances of this wodd. for they afforded us delight and happiness' must never consider a small good as a Iatge evil. \X/hy should we be afflicted with grief on her account when she herself can experience no grief? The loss of treasures loses its sting when they reach a state to which the sting is no longer appropriate. for our condition is now as it was then.r'rrrrl ('v('nts rrtr. It was only of little things that your Timoxena was deprived. nor do they themselves touch the inflammation: But a man sunk in grief suffers every chance comer to stir and augment his affliction. your way of life.ttt's.

a terrible snob. partly . Sbe liued in tbe Heian era. or "I canflot stand a u)oman wbo utears rlt'cttt's of unequal length.r t hrnk-lcngtb ncditalion on /natters personal. before it conceives too great a love for the things of this world and is rendered effeminate by the body and fused with it as by some drug. "Her attitude trt ult'tt uas competitiue to the point of ouert bostility. truly indeper.tu cuerytbingought to be." "Hateful Things. ber translator.'t\(tt). sbe can be outra. Sbe scrutinizes tbe pettiest . "Oxen should haue t'. ltrotes.. and let our inward conduct be even more untainted and pure and sensible. and tbe ('ucnts around ber. But \l.tlto produced her riual.'/. a period of bigh culture wbicb ." "Elegant Tbings" . partly because the ttull)ol was such an unapologetic mauerick-an outspoken.\'u Sbonagon (exact dates unknown) uas a court lady in tenth-century lepan tt. And.nlittll ttf lltt f ttlun' . Nor do we visit their tombs and monuments or keep solemn wakes at their bodies.lto kept an inimitable journal recording ber likes.tut'rtr and secret trysts.t' t'plrrulra of tlaily liIc. by our standards. and. The truth concerning these matters is emphasized in our ancient and traditional laws and usages.'ry small forebeads." " l)cpressing Tbings. and in its t(tf. comically spiteful. rl i. .ttrt. -Translated by Moses Hadas SEI SHONAGON .trt'tuk to thi.tgon also has an eartby side.l ll." Witb ber Japanese pencbant for arrangement.. sbe is amusingly frank about bedroon 1. she t\ tttt(ntiue to all infractions of seasonal ritual.t. And now inasmuch as it is harder to reject our traditions than to trust them. she is an inueterate list-keeper: "Ernbarrassing Tbings.'tome tbe matrix for Sbonagon's judgrnents: sbe bas a perfectionist sense of l. her writing is free of any wbining querulous tru(' 'l'lunglt it uoultl hc stretching things to call tbe Pillow Book a per\t'nttl . Iuan Morris. In her work.lz z) Plutarcb been just quenched can be rekindled by strength: and so it is with the soul which the body. let us comport ourselves outwardly as the laws prescribe.ti. Tbese lists 1.('ittt:ons of tbe empress for signs of sbiftingfauoritism. the nouelist Lady Murasaki (TaJe of Genji). For those who die in infancy we do not offer the libations or other funeral rites which are customary in the case of other dead because children have no share in earth or earthly concerns.uurtt!()n . Our laws do not permit such practices because it is an impious thing to mourn for those who are so quickly translated to a better region and a divine lot. It is made to pass the gates of death as quickly as possible. it laid thc gntuntlwork for Japatt( t(' ('r\ttlt u.r cornbaliue'nl uomcn." she declares.\'ltonagon's Pillow Book renains fresh and deligbtful.'()utly.. ber dislikes. doun to the smallest detail.

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