Aemilia Hilaria (Aemilia the cheerful) was so nicknamed because she was such a happy baby. She was born and educated as a Roman citizen in Roman Gaul, in an area which is now Moselle, France.
We know about her thanks to a poem written by her nephew, Ausonius, who remembered his aunt with great affection in a poem:
VI Aemilia Hilaria, my mother’s sister, an avowed virgin
You too who, though in kinship’s degree an aunt, were to me a mother,
must now be recalled with a son’s affection.
Aemilia, who in the cradle gained the second name of Hilarius, because,
Bright and cheerful after the fashion of a boy,
You made without pretence the very picture of a lad.
…[text missing] busied in the art of healing like a man.
You ever hated your female sex
And so there grew up in you the love of consecrated maidenhood.
Through three and sixty years you maintained it, and your life’s end was also a maiden’s end.
The poem describes an affectionate relationship between aunt and nephew.
Ausonius describes how Hilaria chose a life as a ‘dedicated virgin’ – that is to say she would never marry – in order to pursue a career as a physician. Based on the information from her nephew, it seems that Hilaria was successful in her work and lived a long life.
Parentalia (VI) – Ausonius
Women in Roman Law and Society – Jane F. Gardner