Mortiferam

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Quam consuetudinem Massiliensium non in Gallia ortam, sed ex Graecia translatam inde existimo, quod illam etiam in insula Cea servari animadverti, quo tempore Asiam cum Sex. Pompeio petens Iulidem oppidum intravi: forte enim evenit ut tunc summae dignitatis ibi femina, sed ultimae iam senectutis, reddita ratione civibus cur excedere vita deberet, veneno consumere se destinarit mortemque suam Pompei praesentia clariorem fieri magni aestimaret. nec preces eius vir ille, ut omnibus virtutibus, ita humanitatis quoque laude instructissimus, aspernari sustinuit. venit itaque ad eam facundissimoque sermone, qui ore eius quasi e beato quodam eloquentiae fonte manabat, ab incepto consilio diu nequicquam revocare conatus ad ultimum propositum exequi passus est. quae nonagesimum annum transgressa cum summa et animi et corporis sinceritate lectulo, quantum dinoscere erat, cotidiana consuetudine cultius strato recubans et innixa cubito ‘tibi quidem’ inquit, ‘Sex. Pompei, dii magis quos relinquo quam quos peto gratias referant, quod nec hortator vitae meae nec mortis spectator esse fastidisti. ceterum ipsa hilarem fortunae vultum semper experta, ne aviditate lucis tristem intueri cogar, reliquias spiritus mei prospero fine, duas filias et septem nepotum gregem superstitem relictura permuto’. cohortata deinde ad concordiam suos distributo eis patrimonio et cultu suo sacrisque domesticis maiori filiae traditis poculum, in quo venenum temperatum erat, constanti dextera arripuit. tum defusis Mercurio delibamentis et invocato numine eius, ut se placido itinere in meliorem sedis infernae deduceret partem, cupido haustu mortiferam traxit potionem ac sermone significans quasnam subinde partes corporis sui rigor occuparet, cum iam visceribus eum et cordi imminere esset elocuta, filiarum manus ad supremum opprimendorum oculorum officium advocavit. nostros autem, tametsi novo spectaculo obstupefacti erant, suffusos tamen lacrimis dimisit.
(Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 2.6.8)

I believe this usage of the Massilians did not originate in Gaul but was borrowed from Greece because I saw it also observed in the island of Cea when I entered the town of Iulis on my way to Asia with Sex. Pompeius. For it so happened on that occasion that a lady of the highest rank there but in extreme old age, after explaining to her fellow citizens why she ought to depart from life, determined to put an end to herself by poison and set much store on having her death gain celebrity by the presence of Pompeius. Nor could that gentleman reject her plea, excellently endowed as he was with the virtue of good nature as with all other noble qualities. So he visited her and in fluent speech, which flowed from his lips as from some copious fountain of eloquence, tried at length but in vain to turn her back from her design. Finally he let her carry out her intention. Having passed her ninetieth year in the soundest health of mind and body, she lay on her bed, which was spread, as far as might be perceived, more elegantly than every day, and resting on her elbow she spoke: “Sex. Pompeius, may the gods whom I am leaving rather than those to whom I am going repay you because you have not disdained to urge me to live nor yet to be witness of my death. As for me, I have always seen Fortune’s smiling face. Rather than be forced through greed of living to see her frown, I am exchanging what remains of my breath for a happy end, leaving two daughters and a flock of seven grandchildren to survive me.” Then, having urged her family to live in harmony, she distributed her estate among them, and having consigned her own observance and the domestic rites to her elder daughter, she took the cup in which the poison had been mixed in a firm grasp. After pouring libations to Mercury and invoking his divine power, that he conduct her on a calm journey to the happier part of the underworld, she eagerly drained the fatal potion. She indicated in words the parts of her body which numbness seized one by one, and when she told us that it was about to reach her vitals and heart, she summoned her daughters’ hands to the last office, to close her eyes. As for us Romans, she dismissed us, stunned by so extraordinary a spectacle but bathed in tears. (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)

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