Plutarch on the Death of Sulla

A note on Sir Thomas Browne's Of the Oracle of Apollo. The translation of Mr. Davis (Plutarch's Lives, Vol. 3, 1684, pp. 287-289)

Some few Months after at a prize of Gladiators, when Men and Women sat promiscuously in the Theatre, no distinct places being as yet appointed, there sat down by Sylla a beautiful woman of high Birth, by name Valeria, Daughter of Messala, and sister to Hortensius the Orator. Now it hap'ned that she had bin lately divorced from her husband. The same came gently behind Sylla, and putting out her hand, plucked a lock of his Garment, and then passed on to her seat again. Sylla looking on, and wondering what it should mean, "No harm, mighty Sir," say'd she, "for that I also was desirous to partake a little of your Felicity." It appeared streight, that Sylla was well pleased, and even tickled with the fancy, for he sent to enquire her name, her quality and behaviour of life. From this time there passed between them many an amorous glances; both of them at once, oftentimes turning one on another, and interchanging smiles; in the end overtures were made, and a Match concluded on. All which was innocent perhaps on the Ladies side, but though the Lady was never so modest and vertuous, it was no such modest and seemly beginning of love in Sylla, to take fire, as became youth rather, at a face, and a buxom humour, those common incentives to the most disorderly and shameless passions.

Notwithstanding this Marriage he kept company with Actors, Actresses, and Minstrels, drinking with them night and day. His chief favourites were, Roscius the Comedian, Sorex the Arch-Mimick, and Metrobius the Woman-Actor, for whom thô past his prime, he ever retained a profest kindness. He fell by these courses into a disease, which grew so leasurely upon him, as of a long time he perceived not his bowels to fester, till at length the corrupted flesh broke all out into lice. Many being employed day and night in destroying them, the work so multiplyed under their hands, that not only his Cloaths, Baths, Basons, but his very meat was polluted with that Flux and Contagion, they came swarming out in such numbers. Wherefore he went often by Day into the Waters, to scowre and cleanse his Body, but all in vain; the coure returned so quick, and with such numerous supplies, as overcame all manner of riddance. There dyed of the lousie disease, amongst those of ancient note Acastus, the Son of Pelias; of later date, Alcman the Poet, Pherecides the Theologue, Callisthenes the Olynthian in the time of his imprisonment, as also Mutius the Lawyer; and if it be fit to bring in Men of infamous Memory, Eunus the fugitive, who stirred up the Slaves of Sicily to rebell against their Masters; after that, he was brought Captive to Rome, dyed of this creeping sickness.

This page is maintained at the University of Chicago by James Eason, who welcomes comments, criticism, and suggestions.