Tacitus, Eulogy for Agricola


Agricola did not live to see the senate-house under siege, the senators surrounded by a cordon of troops, and that one fell stroke which sent so many consulars to their death, so many noble ladies into banishment or exile. Only a single victory was credited as yet to Carus Mettius; teh four walls of the Alban fortress still kept Messalinus's bellow from reaching our ears; and Massa Baebius was still a prisoner in the dock. But before long we senators led Helvidius to prison, watched in shame the sufferings of Mauricus and Rusticus. and staind ourselves with Senecio's innocent blood. Even Nero used to avert his eyes and, though he ordered abominations, forbore to witness them. The worst of our torments under Domitian was to see him with his eyes fixed upon us. Every sigh was registered against us; and when we all turned pale, he did not scruple to make us marked men by a glance of his savage countenance - that blood red countenance which saved him from ever being seen to blush with shame.

Happy indeed were you, Agricola, not only in your glorious life, but in your timely death. We have the testimony of those who heard your last words that you met your fate with a cheerful courage. You seemed glad to do your best to acquit the emperor of blood-guiltiness. But your daughter and I have suffered more than the pang of a father's loss: we grieve that we could not sit by your sick bed, sustain your failing strength, and satisfy our yearning for your fond looks and embraces. We should surely have received some last commands, some words to be engraved for ever on our hearts. It was our own special sorrow and pain that through the accident of our long absence we lost him four years before his death. All, more than all, dear Father, was assuredly done to honour you by the devoted wife at your side. Yet some tears that should have been shed over you were not shed; and, at the last, there was something for which dying eyes looked in vain.


If there is any mansion for the spirits of the just, is, as philosophers hold, great souls do not perish with the body, you may rest in peace! May you call us, your family, from feeble regrets and unmanly mourning to contemplate your virtues,for which it were a sin to mourn and lament! May we honour you in better ways - By our admiration and our praise, and if our powers permit by following your example! That is the true honour, the true affection of souls knit close to yours. To your daughter and widow I would suggest that they revere the memory of a father and a husband by continually pondering his deeds and sayings, and by treasuring in their hearts the form and features of his mind, rather than those of his body. Not that I would forbid likenesses of marble or of bronze. But representations of the human face, like that face itself, are subject to decay and dissolution, whereas the essence of man's mind is something everlasting, which you cannot preserve or express in material wrought by another's skill, but only in your own character. All that we loved and admired in Agricola abides and shall abide in the hearts of men through the endless procession of the ages; for his achievements are of great renown. With many it will be as with men who had no name or fame; they will be buried in oblivion. But Agricola's story is set on record for posterity, and he will live.

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