Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
LXXX. To Priscus
THE ILLNESS of my friend Fannia gives me great concern. She contracted it during her attendance on Junia, one of the Vestal Virgins, engaging in this good office at first voluntarily, Junia being her relation, and afterwards being appointed to it by an order from the college of priests: for these virgins, when excessive ill-health renders it necessary to remove them from the temple of Vesta, are always delivered over to the care and custody of some venerable matron. It was owing to her assiduity in the execution of this charge that she contracted her present dangerous disorder, which is a continual fever, attended with a cough that increases daily. She is extremely emaciated, and every part of her seems in a total decay except her spirits: those, indeed, she fully keeps up; and in a way altogether worthy the wife of Helvidius, and the daughter of Thrasea. In all other respects there is such a falling away that I am more than apprehensive upon her account; I am deeply afflicted. I grieve, my friend, that so excellent a woman is going to be removed from the eyes of the world, which will never, perhaps, again behold her equal. So pure she is, so pious, so wise and prudent, so brave and steadfast! Twice she followed her husband into exile, and the third time she was banished herself upon his account. For Senecio, when arraigned for writing the life of Helvidius, having said in his defence that he composed that work at the request of Fannia, Metius Carus, with a stern and threatening air, asked her whether she had made that request, and she replied, “I made it.” Did she supply him likewise with materials for the purpose? “I did.” Was her mother privy to this transaction? “She was not.” In short, throughout her whole examination, not a word escaped her which betrayed the smallest fear. On the contrary, she had preserved a copy of those very books which the senate, overawed by the tyranny of the times, had ordered to be suppressed, and at the same time the effects of the author to be confiscated, and carried with her into exile the very cause of her exile. How pleasing she is, how courteous, and (what is granted to few) no less lovable than worthy of all esteem and admiration! Will she hereafter be pointed out as a model to all wives; and perhaps be esteemed worthy of being set forth as an example of fortitude even to our sex; since, while we still have the pleasure of seeing and conversing with her, we contemplate her with the same admiration, as those heroines who are celebrated in ancient story? For myself, I confess, I cannot but tremble for this illustrious house, which seems shaken to its very foundations, and ready to fall; for though she will leave descendants behind her, yet what a height of virtue must they attain, what glorious deeds must they perform, ere the world will be persuaded that she was not the last of her family! It is an additional affliction and anguish to me that by her death I seem to lose her mother a second time; that worthy mother (and what can I say higher in her praise?) of so noble a woman! who, as she was restored to me in her daughter, so she will now again be taken from me, and the loss of Fannia will thus pierce my heart at once with a fresh, and at the same time reopened, wound. I so truly loved and honoured them both, that I know not which I loved the best; a point they desired might ever remain undetermined. In their prosperity and their adversity I did them every kindness in my power, and was their comforter in exile, as well as their avenger at their return. But I have not yet paid them what I owe, and am so much the more solicitous for the recovery of this lady, that I may have time to discharge my debt to her. Such is the anxiety and sorrow under which I write this letter! But if some divine power should happily turn it into joy, I shall not complain of the alarms I now suffer. Farewell.