crayeres

Roman Charity by Gaspar de Crayer

Roman Charity is the exemplary story of a woman, Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her father, Cimon, after he is incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. She is found out by a jailer, but her act of selflessness impresses officials and wins her father’s release.

The story is recorded in Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium (Nine Books of Memorable Acts and Sayings of the Ancient Romans) by the ancient Roman historian Valerius Maximus, and was presented as a great act of pietas (i.e., filial piety) and Roman honour. A painting in the Temple of Pietas depicted the scene. 

For a 20th-century fictional account of Roman Charity, see John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939). At the end of the novel, Rosasharn (Rose of Sharon) nurses a sick and starving man in the corner of a barn.