The practice of offering words of comfort to those afflicted by grief is reflected in the earliest Greek poetry. Later, under the twin influences of rhetoric and philosophy, a specialized consolatory literature began to develop, initiating a tradition which persisted throughout Graeco‐Roman antiquity. This literature took a number of forms. Philosophers wrote treatises on death and the alleviation of grief. Letters of consolation were written to comfort those who had suffered bereavement or some other loss‐experience, such as exile or illness; they might be highly personal, or possess the more detached character of an essay. Funeral speeches (see laudatio funebris) often contained a substantial consolatory element. Poets sometimes wrote verse consolations. Greek cities voted prose‐decrees of consolation for the kin of deceased worthies.
Consolation proper is regularly associated with the expression of sympathy (in itself a form of consolation), and with exhortation; eulogy of the deceased is also a frequent ingredient. Arguments typically employed include the following: all are born mortal; death brings release from the miseries of life; time heals all griefs; future ills should be prepared for; the deceased was only ‘lent’—be grateful for having possessed him. Normally grief is regarded as natural and legitimate, though not to be indulged in.
The best surviving examples of pagan material are probably Servius Sulpicius Rufus' letter to Cicero on the occasion of the death of his daughter Tullia, and Seneca the Younger's To Marcia. In Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy, Philosophy herself consoles the author for his misfortunes. Christian writers make full use of pagan topoi (see topos), but firm belief in a blissful afterlife and the wealth of relevant material available in Scripture ensured that consolation acquired a different character in Christian hands.
See also Crantor.
See also Crantor.