In spite of the obstacles of lower literacy, a do-it-yourself postal service, and a shocking lack of Internet matchmaking sites, long-ago folks of all ages, social status, and genders did find true love. They did manage to meet their “second half,” as the philosopher Plato called it. Or, alternatively, they found deep happiness in the love of siblings, of children, of grandparents, of lifelong friends.
Here’s the epitaph of an eighteen-year-old, written by her husband, a humble construction worker in Roman France; they lived near the Seine River. “To the eternal memory of Blandinia Martiola, a most faultless girl, who lived 18 years, 9 months, 5 days. Pompeius Catussa, a citizen, a plasterer, dedicates [this] to his wife, who was incomparable and very kind to him, who lived with him 5 years, 6 months, 18 days without any shadow of a fault. You who read this, go bathe in the baths of Apollo, as I used to do with my wife. I wish I still could.”
Here is an excerpt from a longer letter to a male friend, written by Pliny the Younger, a wealthy Roman aristocrat. He (aged about forty) is describing Calpurnia, his third wife, who would have been eighteen to twenty years old. “And she loves me, surely an indication of her virtue. She has even, because of her affection for me, taken an interest in literature. She has copies of my books, she reads them over and over again, and even learns them by heart … She even sets my poems to music and sings them, to the accompaniment of a lyre. No musician has taught her, but love itself, the best of instructors.”
This is a graffito found on the exterior walls of what most probably was an inn, located in the Roman city of Pompeii: “Vibius Restitutus slept here, alone, and longed for his Urbana.”
This letter is written from one brother to another; the writer lived in Greco-Roman Egypt in the second century A.D., and his brother was a tribune in the Roman army. Their mother was recently widowed. “Sempronius to his brother Maximus very many greetings. Before everything I pray that you are well. I have been informed that you serve our mother and lady grudgingly. I beg you, sweetest brother, do not grieve her in anything. And if any of our brothers gainsay her, you ought to cuff them; for you now ought to take the name of father. I know that without my writing you are able to humor her, but do not be offended by my letter of admonition; for we ought to revere our mother as a goddess, especially one as good as ours. This I have written to you, brother, because I know how sweet a possession our revered parents are. Goodbye, brother.”
Long-ago men and women often put their loving feelings onto paper, sometimes with the help of scribes. Many touching examples are extant.
From the same period, an excerpt from a letter written by a man of humble station, a Greek living in Egypt, to his wife or possibly his lover— but not necessarily his sister. “Serenus to Isadora, his sister and lady, very many greetings. Before all else I pray for your health, and every day and evening I make supplication on your behalf before Thoeris [a hippo goddess] who loves you. I would have you know that ever since you left me I have been in mourning, weeping by night and lamenting by day. Since I bathed with you Phaophi 12 I have not bathed or anointed myself until Hathur 12. You have sent me letters that could move a stone, so much have your words stirred me.”