TRIGGER WARNING: suicide, self harm
***If you are in crisis and need help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 ***
Roman men often had deep, loving and affectionate friendships with their peers; there was no shame or stigma in expressing love and support to one another. In the following poem, Ovid expresses his love and appreciation for his deceased friend Celsus as he faces a terrifying personal crisis (his exile in 8 CE).
IX. COTTAE MAXIMO
protinus est lacrimis umida facta meis,
quodqve nefas dictu fieri nec posse putavi,
invitis oculis littera lecta tua est.
Nec quicquam ad nostras pervenit acerbius aures, 5
ut sumus in Ponto, perveniatque precor.
Ante meos oculos tamquam praesentis imago
haeret et extinctum vivere fingit amor.
Saepe refert animus lusus grauitate carentes,
seria cum liquida saepe peracta fide. 10
Nulla tamen subeunt mihi tempora densius illis
quae vellem vitae summa fuisse meae,
cum domus ingenti subito mea lapsa ruina
concidit in domini procubuitque caput.
Adfuit ille mihi, cum me pars magna reliquit, 15
Maxime, Fortunae nec fuit ipse comes.
Illum ego non aliter flentem mea funera vidi
ponendus quam si frater in igne foret.
Haesit in amplexu consolatusque iacentem est
cumque meis lacrimis miscuit usque suas. 20
O quotiens vitae custos invisus amarae
continuit promptas in mea fata manus!
O quotiens dixit: 'Placabilis ira deorum est:
vive nec ignosci tu tibi posse nega!'
Vox tamen illa fuit celeberrima: 'Respice quantum 25
debeat auxilium Maximus esse tibi.
Maximus incumbet, quaque est pietate, rogabit
ne sit ad extremum Caesaris ira tenax,
cumque suis fratris vires adhibebit et omnem,
quo levius doleas, experietur opem.' 30
Haec mihi verba malae minuerunt taedia vitae:
quae tu ne fuerint, Maxime, vana cave.
Huc quoque venturum mihi se iurare solebat
non nisi te longae ius sibi dante viae.
Nam tua non alio coluit penetralia ritu 35
terrarum dominos quam colis ipse deos.
Crede mihi, multos habeas cum dignus amicos,
non fuit e multis quolibet ille minor,
si modo non census nec clarum nomen avorum,
sed probitas magnos ingeniumque facit. 40
Iure igitur lacrimas Celso libamus adempto,
cum fugerem, vivo quas dedit ille mihi;
carmina iure damus raros testantia mores,
ut tua venturi nomina, Celse, legant.
Hoc est quod possum Geticis tibi mittere ab arvis; 45
hoc solum est istic quod licet esse meum.
Funera non potui comitare nec ungere corpus
atque tuis toto diuidor orbe rogis.
Qui potuit, quem tu pro numine vivus habebas,
praestitit officium Maximus omne tibi. 50
Ille tibi exequias et magni funus honoris
fecit et in gelidos vertit amoma sinus
diluit et lacrimis maerens unguenta profusis
ossaque vicina condita texit humo.
Qui quoniam extinctis quae debet praestat amicis, 55
et nos extinctis adnumerare potest.
--Ovid, Ex Ponto I.9
--Ovid, Ex Ponto I.9
To Maximus Cotta:
Your letter that came to me about Celsus’ death
was immediately drenched in my tears.
I thought it wouldn’t be possible to do so,
But as much as it shames me to say this,
I didn’t want to read your letter.
Nor did any news come to my ears more bitterly than this
Since I’ve been in Pontus,
And hopefully nothing worse will come.
Celsus’ image appears before my eyes
And my love for him deludes me into thinking the dead man still lives.
Often I think about his playful nature;
He lived his life in utter transparency.
Nothing eases my pain more than the time
when, as I wished to end my life,
when my whole world collapsed around me suddenly
and fell down upon my head,
*He* was there by my side,
when all my other friends had abandoned me;
he chose to share my pain.
I saw him mourning my death
As if he mourned the loss of his own brother.
He held me, and comforted me as I lay fallen,
And his tears mixed with mine.
Time and again he protected me from ending my bitter life
Holding my hands from ending it all.
Time and again he told me,
“The gods’ anger does not last forever:
Live and don’t deny yourself an opportunity for redemption!”
His voice rings in my ears so clearly:
“Look at how much Maximus can help you,
Maximus will use the love he holds for you
To check Caesar’s anger, and keep him from executing you,
Performing a brother’s duty, he will use his resources
and do whatever he can to lessen your grief.”
His words alleviated my hatred for life.
See to it, Maximus, that his promises are not in vain.
He used to promise that he would come visit me here,
But only if you would allow such a long journey,
For he worshiped your day-to-day schedule
The way that you revere the gods’ management of the earth.
If what mattered wasn’t social class or ancestry
But rather if it were kindness and talent that make men great,
then he would be greatest of all your friends, --trust me!--
despite the fact that you are worthy of many other friends.
So it’s appropriate for me to shed tears over the death of Celsus,
to return the tears that he gave to me as I was exiled.
It’s appropriate for me to write poetry praising his character,
So that future readers can read your name, Celsus.
This is all I can send from Getan territory,
This alone is what I can do.
I’m not permitted to attend your funeral,
Or anoint your body,
An entire globe keeps me from your funeral pyre.
Maximus, whom you worshipped as a god,
Has completed every funeral rite for you as best he could.
He provided you with a funeral and a wake
And sprinkled the flowers over your cold body.
Grieving, he anointed you with unguents mixed with his tears,
And covered your bones in a land close to home.
Since he performed the rite due to dead friends,
He can now add me to that number as well.
Name: Publius Ovidius Naso
Date: 43 BCE – 18 CE
Works: Ars Amatoria
Ovid was one of the most famous love poets of Rome’s Golden Age. His most famous work, the Metamorphoses, provides a history of the world through a series of interwoven myths. Most of his poetry is erotic in nature; for this reason, he fell into trouble during the conservative social reforms under the reign of the emperor Augustus. In 8 CE he was banished to Bithynia, where he spent the remainder of his life pining for his native homeland.
GOLDEN AGE ROME