The subject of this painting is the confrontation between a Roman general, Paetus, and his wife Arria. Paetus had been part of an attempted revolt against the Emperor, but it had failed and he is now a prisoner. Arria visits him in prison, and tells him that honor demands that he commit suicide rather than suffer this humiliation. When her husband hesitates, she demonstrates courage by killing herself. The first name in the work’s title, and the more central character in the painting, is Arria.