Sunday, February 7, 2021

Two Letters of Pliny About Childbirth, Epist. 4.21 and 8.10

 Trigger Warning: death, miscarriage, victim blaming

The letters of Pliny the Younger provide insight into the dangers of childbirth, as well as the age of these mothers. 



1 Tristem et acerbum casum Helvidiarum sororum! Utraque a partu, utraque filiam enixa decessit. 2 Afficior dolore, nec tamen supra modum doleo: ita mihi luctuosum videtur, quod puellas honestissimas in flore primo fecunditas abstulit. Angor infantium sorte, quae sunt parentibus statim et dum nascuntur orbatae, angor optimorum maritorum, angor etiam meo nomine. 3 Nam patrem illarum defunctum quoque perseverantissime diligo, ut actione mea librisque testatum est; cui nunc unus ex tribus liberis superest, domumque pluribus adminiculis paulo ante fundatam desolatus fulcit ac sustinet. 4 Magno tamen fomento dolor meus acquiescit, si hunc saltem fortem et incolumem, paremque illi patri illi avo fortuna servaverit. Cuius ego pro salute pro moribus, hoc sum magis anxius quod unicus factus est. 5 Nosti in amore mollitiam animi mei, nosti metus; quo minus te mirari oportebit, quod plurimum timeam, de quo plurimum spero. Vale.

From: Pliny

To: Velius Cerialis

(1) What a terrible thing happened to the Helvidian sisters! Both died giving birth to daughters. (2) I am overcome with grief, but I try to be brave. But I grieve because childbirth has taken away two supremely honorable girls in the flower of their youth. I’m upset for their babies, who lost their mothers as soon as they were born. I’m upset for the women’s noble spouses.

I’m also upset for personal reasons. (3) For even though he has passed, I deeply cherish (perseverantissime diligo) their father, as you can see in my works and in my deeds. Now only one of his three children is left alive—one son alone continues the family tree that only a short while ago had many branches.

(4) It will be a great balm for my grief, if fate keeps this one remaining child—a son—strong and healthy, and if he becomes equal to his father and grandfather [in character].  Now that he is an only child, I am even more worried about his health and character. (5) You know what a softy I am to those I care about, and you know how much I worry for them. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, how much I worry about the one I have the most hope for. Goodbye.




1 Quo magis cupis ex nobis pronepotes videre, hoc tristior audies neptem tuam abortum fecisse, dum se praegnantem esse puellariter nescit, ac per hoc quaedam custodienda praegnantibus omittit, facit omittenda. Quem errorem magnis documentis expiavit, in summum periculum adducta. 2 Igitur, ut necesse est graviter accipias senectutem tuam quasi paratis posteris destitutam, sic debes agere dis gratias, quod ita tibi in praesentia pronepotes negaverunt, ut servarent neptem, illos reddituri, quorum nobis spem certiorem haec ipsa quamquam parum prospere explorata fecunditas facit. 3 Isdem nunc ego te quibus ipsum me hortor moneo confirmo. Neque enim ardentius tu pronepotes quam ego liberos cupio, quibus videor a meo tuoque latere pronum ad honores iter et audita latius nomina et non subitas imagines relicturus. Nascantur modo et hunc nostrum dolorem gaudio mutent. Vale.


From: Pliny

To: Fabatus, my grandfather-in-law

(1) The heights of your desire to see us give you great-grandchildren will make you even more devastated to hear that your granddaughter has had a miscarriage. She girlishly (puellariter) did not know that she was pregnant, and failed to do things that would protect pregnancy, as well as did some things she shouldn’t have. But she has paid for her sin in spades; she put herself in grave danger.

(2) Although you are upset that in your old age you have been bereft of potential great-grandchildren, you ought to still thank the gods that they spared the life of your granddaughter, and they will soon give us another chance. For although this one didn’t work out, her pregnancy gives us hope for another.

(3) And so now I’ll tell you the same thing I’m telling myself—things I’m reminding myself, things I’m saying in encouragement. For your desire for great-grandchildren is no less ardent than my desire for children, and these children, I reckon, will have a clear path to political office, thanks to you and me. Their names will be proclaimed far and wide, they will walk in their ancestor’s footsteps. If only they would be born soon and change our grief into joy. Farewell.

--Pliny the Younger Epist. 4.21 and 8.10



Name: Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus  

Date:  61 BCE – 113 CE

Works:  Letters



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Pliny the Younger was an Italian born noble and nephew of the famous natural historian Pliny the Elder. He is best known for publishing his private correspondence, in which he flouts his connections with other illustrious Romans (including the Emperor Trajan and the author Tacitus). Two of the most famous examples of these are his “eyewitness” account of the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE and his letter to the emperor Trajan regarding the treatment of Christians.


Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.