Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XVII. To Voconius Romanus
ROME has not for many years beheld a more magnificent and memorable spectacle than was lately exhibited in the public funeral of that great, illustrious, and no less fortunate man, Verginius Rufus. He lived thirty years after he had reached the zenith of his fame. He read poems composed in his honour, he read histories of his achievements, and was himself witness of his fame among posterity. He was thrice raised to the dignity of consul, that he might at least be the highest of subjects, who had refused to be the first of princes, this friend of mankind was in quiet possession of the empire, it seems as if Providence had purposely preserved him to these times, that he might receive the honour of a public funeral. He reached his eighty-fourth year, in full tranquillity and universally revered, having enjoyed strong health during his lifetime, with the exception of a trembling in his hands, which, however, gave him no pain. His last illness, indeed, was severe and tedious, but even that circumstance added to his reputation. As he was practising his voice with a view of returning his public acknowledgements to the emperor, who had promoted him to the consulship, a large volume he had taken into his hand, and which happened to be too heavy for so old a man to hold standing up, slid from his grasp. In hastily endeavouring to recover it, his foot slipped on the smooth pavement, and he fell down and broke his thigh-bone, which being clumsily set, his age as well being against him, did not properly unite again. The funeral obsequies paid to the memory of this great man have done honour to the emperor, to the age, and to the bar. The consul Cornelius Tacitus pronounced his funeral oration and thus his good fortune was crowned by the public applause of so eloquent an orator. He has departed from our midst, full of years, indeed, and of glory; as illustrious by the honours he refused as by those he accepted. Yet still we shall miss him and lament him, as the shining model of a past age; I, especially, shall feel his loss, for I not only admired him as a patriot, but loved him as a friend. We were of the same province, and of neighbouring towns, and our estates were also contiguous. Besides these accidental connections, he was left my guardian, and always treated me with a parent’s affection. Whenever I offered myself as a candidate for any office in the state, he constantly supported me with his interest; and although he had long since given up all such services to friends, he would kindly leave his retirement and come to give me his vote in person. On the day on which the priests nominate those they consider most worthy of the sacred office he constantly proposed me. Even in his last illness, apprehending the possibility of the senate’s appointing him one of the five commissioners for reducing the public expenses, he fixed upon me, young as I am, to bear his excuses, in preference to so many other friends, elderly men too, and of consular rank and said to me, “Had I a son of my own, I would entrust you with this matter.” And so I cannot but lament his death, as though it were premature, and pour out my grief into your bosom; if indeed one has any right to grieve, or to call it death at all, which to such a man terminates his mortality, rather than ends his life. He lives, and will live on for ever; and his fame will extend and be more celebrated by posterity, now that he is gone from our sight. I had much else to write to you but my mind is full of this. I keep thinking of Verginius: I see him before me: I am for ever fondly yet vividly imagining that I hear him, am speaking to him, embrace him. There are men amongst us, his fellow-citizens, perhaps, who may rival him in virtue; but not one that will ever approach him in glory. Farewell.