Rome, A.D. 107 (Pliny the Younger, Letters 7.19. L)

From Pliny to Priscus.

I am most concerned about Fannia’s health. She contracted this illness while she was taking care of Junia, a Vestal Virgin, first on her own initiative (as Junia was a relative) and subsequently by order of the priests. For virgins, while obliged by serious illness to leave the atrium of Vesta, are given into the care of some matron. Fannia was diligently performing this duty when she fell ill. She has constant fever and a cough that is getting worse; she is emaciated and generally in decline. Only her spirit is vigorous, worthy of her husband Helvidius and father Thrasea. but everything else is going down, and I am not merely afraid but deeply saddened. It pains me that so great a woman will be snatched from the eyes of her people, and who knows when her like will be seen again.

What chastity, what sanctity, what dignity, what constancy! Twice she followed her husband into exile, and the third time she herself was exiled on his account. for when Senecio, on trial for writing the life of Helvidius, said in his own defence that Fannia had asked him to write it, Mettius Carus asked threateningly whether she had. “I did ask him,” she replied; and to whether she had given him her husband’s diaries-“I did give them.” And to whether her mother knew about this, “She does not.” In other words, she did not utter a single word to reduce the danger to herself. she even took into her exile its very cause-those books which the senate had through the compulsion and fear of the times ordered suppressed-for she had managed to save them when her goods were confiscated.

How pleasant she is, how kind, how respectable and amiable at once-two qualities rarely found in the same person. Indeed, she will be a woman whom later we can show our wives, from whose fortitude men too can draw an example, whom now while we can still see and hear her we admire ad much as those women whom we read about. To me her very house seems to totter on the brink of collapse, shaken at its foundations, even though she leaves descendants. How great must be their virtues and their accomplishments for her not to die the last of her line.

My anguish is even greater because I feel I am reliving the death of her mother, that-I can find no higher praise-great mother of a great woman, who, as she is given back to us in her daughter, so will be taken fro us yet again, and I must suffer the old would reopened as well as the new one. I honoured and loved both-I do not know which the more, nor did they want me to decide. My services were theirs in good times and bad; I comforted them in exile and avenged them when they returned. But that was not enough to repay my debt to them, and I am all the more eager that she be saved, so that I will have time to do so. There are my worries as I write you; if some god turns them into, I won’t complain about my present fears.