The Most Famous Widow in Rome

The most famous widow in Rome, in Marius’ younger years, was Cornelia.  She was the mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, the famous Roman populist reformers.

At one point she seemed like one of the most fortunate mothers in Rome.  Her sons had brilliant futures ahead of them.

Then their father died. Tiberius was 10, Gaius was 1.

Well, they still had great family connections.  Cornelia’s late father had been Publius Cornelius Scipio “Africanus.”  He defeated Hannibal! 

(Sure, he quit politics and left town in his 40s after being nearly driven to exile by his enemies…)

Then Cornelia’s sons were both lynched by senate-ordered mobs as young men.  They messed with the establishment, and paid the price.

Her daughter’s husband (another marginally related Scipio – “Africanus the Younger”) was murdered under suspicious circumstances.  By friends of Cornelia’s sons!

You might think Cornelia would have been destroyed by all that pain and loss and family conflict.

But she ended her long life in honorable retirement.  She would take visitors at her family estate at Cape Misenum (near Naples) and, as Plutarch recounts:

“She was indeed very agreeable to her visitors and associates when she discoursed to them about the life and habits of her father Africanus, but most admirable when she spoke of her sons without grief or tears, and narrated their achievements and their fate to all enquirers as if she were speaking of men of the early days of Rome.”

What greater honor can we the living do for the people we have loved and lost, than to tell of their character and their (hopefully) good achievements?

Cornelia found energy and meaning in being a conduit of good stories about her relatives and her children.

But even if the people we loved weren’t always shining examples, don’t we do more good for ourselves and others by highlighting what was examplary?  If we err on the side of praise rather than blame?

The Gracchi weren’t without their faults.  Our ancestors certainly weren’t either.

Who can you remember to someone today?