Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XXIX. To Caninius Rufus
I HAVE just been informed that Silius Italicus has starved himself to death, at his villa near Naples. Ill-health was the cause. Being troubled with an incurable cancerous humour, he grew weary of life and therefore put an end to it with a determination not to be moved. He had been extremely fortunate all through his life with the exception of the death of the younger of his two sons; however, he has left behind him the elder and the worthier man of the two in a position of distinction, having even attained consular rank. His reputation had suffered a little in Nero’s time, as he was suspected of having officiously joined in some of the informations in that reign; but he used his interest with Vitellius, with great discretion and humanity. He acquired considerable honour by his administration of the government of Asia, and, by his good conduct after his retirement from business, cleared his character from that stain which his former public exertions had thrown upon it. He lived as a private nobleman, without power, and consequently without envy. Though he was frequently confined to his bed, and always to his room, yet he was highly respected, and much visited; not with an interested view, but on his own account. He employed his time between conversing with literary men and composing verses; which he sometimes read out, by way of testing the public opinion: but they evidence more industry than genius. In the decline of his years he entirely quitted Rome, and lived altogether in Campania, from whence even the accession of the new emperor could not draw him. A circumstance which I mention as much to the honour of Cæsar, who was not displeased with that liberty, as of Italicus, who was not afraid to make use of it. He was reproached with indulging his taste for the fine arts at an immoderate expense. He had several villas in the same province, and the last purchase was always the especial favourite, to the neglect of all the rest. These residences overflowed with books, statues, and pictures, which he more than enjoyed, he even adored; particularly that of Virgil, of whom he was so passionate an admirer that he celebrated the anniversary of that poet’s birthday with more solemnity than his own, at Naples especially, where he used to approach his tomb as if it had been a temple. In this tranquillity he passed his seventy-fifth year, with a delicate rather than an infirm constitution. As he was the last person upon whom Nero conferred the consular office, so he was the last survivor of all those who had been raised by him to that dignity. It is also remarkable that, as he was the last to die of Nero’s consuls, so Nero died when he was consul. Recollecting this, a feeling of pity for the transitory condition of mankind comes over me. Is there anything in nature so short and limited as human life, even at its longest? Does it not seem to you but yesterday that Nero was alive? And yet not one of all those who were consuls in his reign now remains! Though why should I wonder at this? Lucius Piso (the father of that Piso who was so infamously assassinated by Valerius Festus in Africa) used to say, he did not see one person in the senate whose opinion he had consulted when he was consul: in so short a space is the very term of life of such a multitude of beings comprised! so that to me those royal tears seem not only worthy of pardon but of praise. For it is said that Xerxes, on surveying his immense army, wept at the reflection that so many thousand lives would in such a short space of time be extinct. The more ardent therefore should be our zeal to lengthen out this frail and transient portion of existence, if not by our deeds (for the opportunities of this are not in our power), yet certainly by our literary accomplishments; and since long life is denied us, let us transmit to posterity some memorial that we have at least LIVED. I well know you need to incitements, but the warmth of my affection for you inclines me to urge you on in the course you are already pursuing, just as you have so often urged me. “Happy rivalry” when two friends strive in this way which of them shall animate the other most in their mutual pursuit of immortal fame. Farewell.