Pliny the Younger and his Suicide Ethos
Pliny’s letters contain reliable historical records of his period. While efforts have been made to study the ethics of suicide in some of these letters, especially the Stoics’ attitude towards suicide, little, if any, have been made to study a selection of those suicide letters drawing out reasons behind the suicide, beyond the apparent ethical and moral grounds. This paper, therefore, selected and discussed four of the letters, specifically on suicide of prominent ancient Roman citizens of Pliny’s time, to ascertain the motivating factors behind the suicides. Thomas Joiner Interpersonal-Psychological theory of suicide behaviour, which emphasises, among others, hopelessness as one of the major reasons for suicide formed the theoretical basis. The four letters, purposively selected, based on the theme of suicide, were content-analysed to study the reasons and circumstances of the suicide and the attitude of Pliny to the victims. These were supported with corroborative evidence from relevant literature. Findings revealed that the victims were passing through excruciating physical pain, mental anguish, emotional stress, and socio-political frustrations; and that while the Greeks would not accord a proper burial to the fellow who died of suicide without the permission of the State, the Romans recognised suicide as courageous, almost in all cases. The paper concluded by recommending that concrete efforts should be made to reduce, to the barest minimal, all those factors which make suicide attractive.
Keywords: Suicide, Pliny the Younger, Ancient Romans, Pliny’s Letters, Interpersonal-Psychological Theory.