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date: 09 December 2022



  • J. H. D. Scourfield


The practice of offering words of consolation to those afflicted by grief is reflected in the earliest Greek poetry (e.g. Hom. Il. 24. 507–51). Later, under the twin influences of rhetoric and philosophy, a specialized consolatory literature began to develop, initiating a tradition which persisted through Graeco-Roman antiquity and into the Middle Ages and beyond. In broad terms, this ‘genre’ can be taken to comprise both situation-specific texts, addressed to individuals who have suffered recent bereavement or some other kind of loss-experience, such as exile or illness, and texts of a more abstract or theoretical (‘metaconsolatory’) kind. The first category includes, centrally, prose letters of consolation, which might be brief or extensive, essentially private or possessing an evident public dimension; poems, often hardly distinguishable from epicedia (see epicedion); and funeral speeches, which in late antiquity in particular might contain a substantial consolatory element. Outside the literary tradition narrowly understood also survive personal letters on papyrus and inscribed decrees from Greek cities consoling the relatives of deceased honorands. To the second category belong philosophical treatises and other writings on death and the alleviation of grief; *Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations 1 and 3 is a good example.


  • Greek Literature
  • Latin Literature

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