Posted by: CeCe | January 14, 2012

Non dolet, Paete!

I know it’s kind of a weird post to put up on a Friday the 13th, but I was thinking about a story I happened to come across about a woman who lived in 1st century Rome.  Her name was Arria.  Her husband, Caecina Paetus, was involved in a rebellion against emperor Claudius.   After one of the ringleaders of the conspiracy was killed, Caecina was arrested and sent to Rome to be tried for treason.  Arria begged the captain of the ship on which her husband was to sail to allow her to go with him, saying that it would save the government money, since they would have to send slaves to cater to her husband, and she could do what they were hired to do for free.  The captain refused, so Arria followed the ship in a fishing boat.

Can you imagine?  Arria was old enough at the time that her daughter (also named Arria) was married, so she had to be at least in her 30s, if not her 4os, which at the time was pretty old.  Picturing her following a huge merchant ship in a fishing boat always makes me smile.

But Arria’s amazing story doesn’t end there.

While her husband was being tried, the wife of one of the conspirators (the one who was killed) actually gave testimony for the prosecution, against her deceased husband.  Arria actually attacked her, saying, “Am I to listen to you who could go on living after Scribonianus [the conspirator who was killed] died in your arms?”

It soon became clear that Arria intended to meet her end at her husband’s side, even though her son-in-law, Thrasea, tried to talk her out of it by asking her how she would feel if her daughter intended to commit suicide in a similar situation.  Arria responded that she would approve, had her daughter been happily married as long as she had.

When the sentence was handed down, it was determined that Caecina Paetus would be allowed to commit ritual suicide.  However, when the time came, Paetus discovered that he just couldn’t find the strength within himself to drive the dagger into his chest.  Finally, Arria grabbed the knife from him, stabbed herself, and as she handed the bloody knife back to him, she said, “Non dolet, Paete!”  which means, “It doesn’t hurt, Paete!”

This is amazing in the fact that this woman’s final act was to give her husband the strength to do what he needed to do.   How brave and strong Arria must have been!  Arria and Caecina Paetus must have really loved each other.  How fortunate they were to have found one another.  It’s no wonder their granddaughter Fannia chose to pass this story to Pliny the Younger, who then recorded it in his letters.  Arria must have been an extraordinary woman, not just for the time, but for any time.

I wonder how many of us would be able to do the same that Arria did for someone we loved.  Could we bring ourselves to drive the dagger in, and assure them “non dolet“?

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