From an intimate and moving letter to his grieving wife on the death of their daughter, to elegant writings on morality, happiness and the avoidance of anger, Plutarch’s powerful words of consolation and inspiration still offer timeless wisdom and guidance today.
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In consolation to his wife
From Plutarch to his wife. I hope this finds you well. The man you sent to give me the news of our child’s death seems to have missed me during his overland journey to Athens, but I heard about it from my grand-daughter when I got to Tanagra. I imagine that the burial rites are over by now, and I hope they were conducted in a way that makes the chance of your feeling distress at the burial both now and in the future as remote as possible. But if there is something you haven’t yet done, even though you want to, because you are waiting to hear what I intend to do, and it is something which you think would make thing easier to bear, then it will happen too, with no fuss and superstitious nonsense – not that you are at all liable to these faults.
All I ask, my dear, is that while reacting emotionally you make sure that both of us – me as well as you – remain in a stable state. I mean, the actual event is a known quantity and I can keep it within limits, but if I find your distress excessive, this will discompose me more than what has happened. Nevertheless, I was not born ‘from oak or rock’, as you yourself know, given that you have been my partner in bringing up so many children – all brought up with no one else’s help in our own home – and I know how overjoyed you were with the birth, after four sons, of the daughter you longed for, and with the fact that it gave me the opportunity to name her after you. In addition, one’s love for children of that age is peculiarly acute, since the pleasure it affords is absolutely unsullied and untainted by any element of anger and criticism. Also, she was inherently wonderfully easy to please and undemanding, and the way she repaid affection with affection was so charming was not only delightful, but also made one realize how unselfish she was. She used to encourage her wet-nurse to offer and present her breast not only to other babies, but also to her favourite playthings and toys: she was unselfishly trying to share the good things she had and the things she most enjoyed with her favourites, as if they were guests at her very own table.