Monday, November 2, 2009

A Husband's Praise to His Deceased Wife

My readers might find this interesting. It is a grieving husband's eulogy for his wife. The entire item is lengthy, so I give you selected excerpts:

Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event.

Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

We have preserved all the property you inherited from your parents under common custody, for you were not concerned to make you own what you had given to me without any restriction. We divided our duties in such a way that I had the guardianship of your property and you had the care of mine. Concerning this side of our relationship I pass over much, in case I should take a share myself in what is properly yours. May it be enough for me to have said this much to indicate how you felt and thought.

Your generosity you have manifested to many friends and particularly to your beloved relatives. On this point someone might mention with praise other women, but the only equal you have had has been your sister. For you brought up your female relations who deserved such kindness in your own houses with us. You also prepared marriage-portions for them so that they could obtain marriages worthy of your family.

You begged for my life when I was abroad - it was your courage that urged you to this step - and because of your entreaties I was shielded by the clemency of those against whom you marshaled your words. But whatever you said was always said with undaunted courage.

When peace had been restored throughout the world and the lawful political order reestablished, we began to enjoy quiet and happy times. It is true that we did wish to have children, who had for a long time been denied to us by an envious fate. If it had pleased Fortune to continue to be favorable to us as she was wont to be, what would have been lacking for either of us? But Fortune took a different course, and our hopes were sinking. The courses you considered and the steps you attempted to take because of this would perhaps be remarkable and praiseworthy in some other women, but in you they are nothing to wonder at when compared to your other great qualities and I will not go into them.

When you despaired of your ability to bear children and grieved over my childlessness, you became anxious lest by retaining you in marriage I might lose all hope of having children and be distressed for that reason. So you proposed a divorce outright and offered to yield our house free to another woman's fertility. Your intention was in fact that you yourself, relying on our well-known conformity of sentiment, would search out and provide for me a wife who was worthy and suitable for me, and you declared that you would regard future children as joint and as though your own, and that you would not effect a separation of our property which had hitherto been held in common, but that it would still be under my control and, if I wished so, under your administration: nothing would be kept apart by you, nothing separate, and you would thereafter take upon yourself the duties and the loyalty of a sister and a mother-in-law.

I must admit that I flared up so that I almost lost control of myself; so horrified was I by what you tried to do that I found it difficult to retrieve my composure. To think that separation should be considered between us before fate had so ordained, to think that you had been able to conceive in your mind the idea that you might cease to be my wife while I was still alive, although you had been utterly faithful to me when I was exiled and practically dead!

What desire, what need to have children could I have had that was so great that I should have broken faith for that reason and changed certainty for uncertainty? But no more about this! You remained with me as my wife, for I could not have given in to you without disgrace for me and unhappiness for both of us.

But on your part, what could have been more worthy of commemoration and praise than your efforts in devotion to my interests: when I could not have children from yourself, you wanted me to have them through your good offices, and since you despaired of bearing children, to provide me with offspring by my marriage to another woman.

Would that the life-span of each of us had allowed our marriage to continue until I, as the older partner, had been borne to the grave - that would have been more just - and you had performed for me the last rites, and that I had died leaving you still alive and that I had had you as a daughter to myself in place of my childlessness.

Fate decreed that you should precede me. You bequeathed me sorrow though my longing for you and left me a miserable man without children to comfort me. I on my part will, however, bend my way of thinking and feeling to your judgements and be guided by your admonitions.

But all your opinions and instructions should give precedence to the praise you have won so that this praise will be a consolation for me and I will not feel too much the loss of what I have consecrated to immortality to be remembered for ever.

Natural sorrow wrests away my power of self-control and I am overwhelmed by sorrow. I am tormented by two emotions: grief and fear - and I do not stand firm against either. When I go back in time through to my previous misfortunes and when I envisage what the future may have in store for me, fixing my eyes on your glory does not give me strength to bear my sorrow with patience. Rather I seem to be destined to long mourning.

The conclusions of my speech will be that you deserved everything but that it did not fall to my lot to give you everything as I ought; Your last wishes I have regarded as law; whatever it will be in my power to do in addition, I shall do.

These are words from the Laudatio Turiae, one of the lengthiest Roman inscriptions surviving from the ancient world. I think that the palpable grief and reverential love of this husband for his wife are beautiful. This inscription was produced in Rome during the approximate time of the authorship of the New Testament. I was pleased to discover that this famous Latin funerary speech is well-attested on the Internet. You can peruse the entire document here.

Someday you might find yourself preaching from one of the several passages in the New Testament that deal with family relationships. People are often tempted in the course of such preaching to deliver pronouncements about what family life was like back in those days (e.g., "Women were mere property" and the like). Before you are led astray by such exegetical skulduggery, you would do well to dedicate some time to reading actual primary sources from the period. Those people weren't exactly like us, but neither were they all that different from us in the ways that matter. There were good marriages and bad marriages in that day. People obviously faced terrible struggles in life, some overcoming together and some failing. Rather than being foreign and ancient literature, the New Testament was written to and for people just like us, and it means simply what it says.

Hey; if nothing else, you'll have read something romantic today.

1 comment:

kws said...


I sat at the dining room table of a dear church member this morning. His wife of fifty years went to heaven in the night. The things he said about her were incredibly similar to what was written in your post. May our Lord make us to be kind and sensative to the sorrowful.