The Tormented Life And Sad Death Of Corellius Rufus

Corellius Rufus was a 1st-century Roman whose tragic life was documented in the letters of his friend, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113). As the story goes, Corellius was about thirty-two years of age when he began to develop a horrible condition in his feet. Although it was bothersome and distracting, Corellius could manage the pain of his illness through a regimen of exercise and general healthy living. Yet, as advancing age made it more difficult for Corellius to stay in good health, his condition began to exponentially worsen. As told by Pliny the Younger, Corellius was “cruelly tortured by unbelievable agony; for the disease was now no longer confined to his feet as before, but was now spreading through all his limbs” (Letters, 1.12). Pliny was not the only person that Corellius confided in—other pen pals, as well as Corellius’ wife, daughter, and grandchildren, all knew about the excruciating pain that the ill man was experiencing. The above group of people all worried over Corellius Rufus, and their worries especially grew during the reign of Emperor Domitian, who began his reign in the year 81. It was at that time, according to Pliny, that Corellius unfortunately began to consider self-harm.

While Corellius’ condition deteriorated during the reign of Domitian, the ill man evidently set up for himself a goal to outlive the emperor. Domitian, born in the year 51, was still a young man when he became emperor and, therefore, Corellius would hopefully need to live for many more years in order to outlive the youthful ruler. Yet, Rome was a dangerous place for unpopular leaders. Domitian ultimately was assassinated in the year 96, when he was only forty-five years old. With the death of the emperor, so too died Corellius Rufus’ motivation to keep living. The man’s family noticed his change, and they urgently began writing letters to Corellius’ respected friends, including Pliny the Younger, asking for these people to come and convince the pained man to keep on living. Pliny and several others reportedly set off immediately when they received the family’s plea for help, but travel proved too slow and Corellius, in his newfound determination to die, acted too quickly and adamantly to be stopped. Corellius Rufus starved himself to death after refusing to eat for over four days. He was sixty-seven years old.


Counselors, professional help, and other suicide prevention resources can be found at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


Written by C. Keith Hansley.



  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.

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