Are there any attested breakup letters, notes, or similar in classical Latin? A great number of relationships must have started and ended in classical antiquity, but I don't recall seeing any passages with the message "I'm breaking up with you". I would prefer something written, a letter perhaps, but attestations in plays or other oral forms are a good second choice. I don't really know whether such notes exist, but there must be some breakup announcements out there.

As duly noted in an answer, relationships are different in different cultures. Therefore this question is not strictly restricted to dating — although that would be preferred — but engaged and married couples are also possible. The key thing is the more or less unilateral ending of a romantic relationship.

This question was inspired by this SMBC comic, not by real life events.

4 Answers 4


In poems 24 and 25 of book 3 (which some editors see as together comprising one poem), Propertius breaks up with Cynthia. He states this most clearly in this excerpt:

quinque tibi potui servire fideliter annos:
  ungue meam morso saepe querere fidem.
nil moveor lacrimis: ista sum captus ab arte;
  semper ab insidiis, Cynthia, flere soles.
flebo ego discedens, sed fletum iniuria vincit:
  tu bene conveniens non sinis ire iugum.
limina iam nostris valeant lacrimantia verbis,
  nec tamen irata ianua fracta manu.

Propertius, Elegies, 3.25.3–10

Translation (courtesy of G. P. Goold):

For five years I managed to serve you faithfully: now you will oft bite your nails and mourn the loss of my loyalty.
Your tears move me not: it was that trick which ensnared me; always when you weep, Cynthia, you plan to deceive. I shall weep when I go, but wrongs outlast tears: it is you who do not allow a well-matched team to run.
Farewell the threshold still tearful at my grievances, and farewell the door, never, in spite of all, shattered by my angry fists!


There are plenty of books by various authorities (Balsdon, Nicolet, Cowell, Dupont . . . ) about life at Rome, covering circumstances of almost every kind imaginable, but I can't recall reading anything that deals with this. There are several attested expressions for rejection, putting aside, even divorcing, but I can find no dictionary reference to something like a "Dear John" letter.

Ovid first comes to mind with his Remedia amoris. He tells how to cool an affair in practical ways, but it's only advice, without sample letters or, indeed, anything in the way of a pro-forma document.

Catullus is the other obvious place in which to look, but it's an unlikely source. It was Lesbia who broke with the poet, not the other way round, and all we have are the poet's resultant expressions of anguish.

This is an interesting, but not an easy question, to which the proper answer may well be 'No'. I offer these observations in the hope that they will provoke a more useful answer.

  • Thank you! It is indeed possible that there is no such thing in extant classical literature. We will know more once others have voted, answered, and commented.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:08


  1. in societies where people marry young there is almost no courtship or status of "boyfriend and girlfriend", so I assume you also mean a breakup between married/engaged couples?

  2. NVG Mt 1,19 uses dimittere as a verb. Mt 5,31 in turn uses repudium to mean divorce as a noun, which I didn't know, seems to be Classic. (I thought it was a hebraism.)

  • Good point! The "level" of the relationship can be anything. The closest classical analogue may well be for married or engaged couples.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:21

Perhaps this would qualify as a breakup letter. By skipping a couple of lines of the second half of Ovid's Amores 3.9a we get a decent breakup note. The rest of the poem is not addressed to the soon-to-be-ex mistress, so it would not fit the format of a breakup note. Here's the text:

Quando ego non fixus lateri patienter adhaesi,
    ipse tuus custos, ipse vir, ipse comes?
scilicet et populo per me comitata placebas;
    causa fuit multis noster amoris amor.
turpia quid referam vanae mendacia linguae
    et periuratos in mea damna deos?
quid iuvenum tacitos inter convivia nutus
    verbaque conpositis dissimulata notis?

His et quae taceo duravi saepe ferendis;
    quaere alium pro me, qui queat ista pati.
iam mea votiva puppis redimita corona
    lenta tumescentes aequoris audit aquas.
desine blanditias et verba, potentia quondam,
    perdere — non ego nunc stultus, ut ante fui!

The corresponding translation by J. Lewis May:

Tell me when I have ever failed to be at your side, your escort, your lover, and your friend. You owe your popularity to going about with me. It's because I loved you that you got so many lovers. What's the use of my telling you about your lying tongue, and all the solemn oaths you've broken to deceive me? What's the good of referring to the ogling and winking that went on at dinner between you and your young admirers, and the code words employed to conceal the true sense of what you were saying.

There! there are plenty of other instances I could give, but that's the sort of thing I've had to put up with. Look and see if you can find another man who would stand what I have stood. Already I can hear the water rippling behind my vessel's stern, hung with the votive wreath. Farewell. No, I don't want any more kisses; and it's no good talking like that any more; it's waste of time; your words don't move me now. I'm not the madman I used to be.

To see the rest of the lament in both languages, see this page.

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