Sunday, 12 October 2014

Pliny longs for his wife.

Marriage amongst Romans was often not a matter of love, but of convenience or strategy. No wonder that Roman literature is full of adultery. Girls were often given into marriage at the age of 14 or even younger, a fact often forgotten by admirers of Roman culture. My dear daughter is 15 now and had I lived at Rome 2000 years ago, she was likely to be married. Mortality was high amongst women, both because of dying in labour and to failed abortions. Abortion was widely practised as families were often unable to sustain another child. So Romans had a different attitude to love and women than we have and more compatible to traditional societies nowadays.
But not all is that grim: Pliny the Younger for instance was deeply attached to his third wife Calpurnia. He became a widower of his first wife at the age of 37, married another of whose fate we know nothing and finally married Calpurnia, There must have been a great difference in age as he was very sad about the miscarriage of their child.
The following letter is written when she was away for some time.

Plinius, Epistilae 7.5


1 Incredibile est quanto desiderio tui tenear. In causa amor primum, deinde quod non consuevimus
abesse. Inde est quod magnam noctium partem in imagine tua vigil exigo; inde quod interdiu, quibus horis te visere solebam, ad diaetam tuam ipsi me, ut verissime dicitur, pedes ducunt; quod denique aeger et maestus ac similis excluso a vacuo limine recedo. Unum tempus his tormentis caret, quo in foro et amicorum litibus conteror. 2 Aestima tu, quae vita mea sit, cui requies in labore, in miseria curisque solacium. Vale.

S. : salutat
desiderium (+ gen.): longing for what is absent
In causa amor primum:  (litt.) the first place in reason is love = the first reason is love
consuesco consuevi: to become used to
exigo exegi exactum: to spend (time)
in imagine tua: `with your picture before my eyes’
vigil vigilis: awake
interdiu: at daytime
diaeta: dwelling-room
similis excluso (amatori): like an excluded lover
a vacuo limine: from your empty room (limen `treshhold’ as pars pro toto for `room’.)
careo carui (+ abl.): to be free from
forum: court
amicorum litibus conteror: I am weared out by the lawsuits (lis litis, f.) of my friends
solacium: comfort, solace

Translation by William Melmoth

Revised by F. C. T. Bosanquet (1909–14)

You will not believe what a longing for you possesses me. The chief
cause of this is my love; and then we have not grown used to be apart.
So it comes to pass that I lie awake a great part of the night, thinking
of you; and that by day, when the hours return at which I was wont to
visit you, my feet take me, as it is so truly said, to your chamber, but
not finding you there, I return, sick and sad at heart, like an excluded
lover. The only time that is free from these torments is when I am being
worn out at the bar, and in the suits of my friends. Judge you what must
be my life when I find my repose in toil, my solace in wretchedness and
anxiety. Farewell.

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