Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XLIX. To Annius Severus
A SMALL legacy was lately left me, yet one more acceptable than a far larger bequest would have been. How more acceptable than a far larger one? In this way: Pomponia Gratilla, having disinherited her son Assidius Curianus, appointed me one of her heirs, and Sertorius Severus, of prætorian rank, together with several eminent Roman knights, co-heirs along with me. The son applied to me to give him my share of the inheritance, in order to use my name as an example to the rest of the joint heirs, but offered at the same time to enter into a secret agreement to return me my proportion. I told him it was by no means agreeable to my character to seem to act one way while in reality I was acting another, besides it was not quite honourable making presents to a man of his fortune, who had no children; in a word, this would not at all answer the purpose at which he was aiming, whereas, if I were to withdraw my claim, it might be of some service to him, and this I was ready and willing to do, if he could clearly prove to me that he was unjustly disinherited.
“Do then,” he said, “be my arbitrator in this case.” After a short pause I answered him, “I will, for I don’t see why I should not have as good an opinion of my own impartial disinterestedness as you seem to have. But, mind, I am not to be prevailed upon to decide the point in question against your mother, if it should appear she had just reason for what she has done.” “As you please,” he replied, “which I am sure is always to act according to justice.” I called in, as my assistants, Corellius and Frontinus, two of the very best lawyers Rome at that time afforded. With these in attendance, I heard the case in my own chamber. Curianus said everything which he thought would favour his pretensions, to whom (there being nobody but myself to defend the character of the deceased) I made a short reply; after which I retired with my friends to deliberate, and, being agreed upon our verdict, I said to him, “Curianus, it is our opinion that your conduct has justly drawn upon you your mother’s displeasure.” Some time afterwards, Curianus commenced a suit in the Court of the Hundred against all the co-heirs except myself. The day appointed for the trial approaching, the rest of the co-heirs were anxious to compromise the affair and have done with it, not out of any diffidence of their cause, but from a distrust of the times. They were apprehensive of what had happened to many others, happening to them, and that from a civil suit it might end in a criminal one, as there were some among them to whom the friendship of Gratilla and Rusticus might be extremely prejudicial: they therefore desired me to go and talk with Curianus. We met in the temple of Concord; “Now supposing,” I said, “your mother had left you the fourth part of her estate, or even suppose she had made you sole heir, but had exhausted so much of the estate in legacies that there would not be more than a fourth part remaining to you, could you justly complain? You ought to be content, therefore, if, being absolutely disinherited as you are, the heirs are willing to relinquish to you a fourth part, which, however, I will increase by contributing my proportion. You know you did not commence any suit against me, and two years have now elapsed, which gives me legal and indisputable possession. But to induce you to agree to the proposals on the part of the other co-heirs, and that you may be no sufferer by the peculiar respect you shew me, I offer to advance my proportion with them.” The silent approval of my own conscience is not the only result out of this transaction; it has contributed also to the honour of my character. For it is this same Curianus who has left me the legacy I have mentioned in the beginning of my letter, and I received it as a very notable mark of his approbation of my conduct, if I do not flatter myself. I have written and told you all this, because in all my joys and sorrows I am wont to look upon you as myself, and I thought it would be unkind not to communicate to so tender a friend whatever occasions me a sensible gratification; for I am not philosopher enough to be indifferent, when I think I have acted like an honourable man, whether my actions meet with that approval which is in some sort their due. Farewell.