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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 54, No. 4 (Oct.‑Dec. 1933), pp362‑367.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p362  On Suetonius, Nero, 33.1.

In the Classical Weekly, XXVI (1933), p151, H. C. Nutting says of my translation of "Denique bustum eius consaepiri nisi humili levique maceria neglexit," that it reads as if the active form of the infinitive had been used by Suetonius. That is quite true, but I trust it is not necessary to add that I did not mistake consaepiri for an active or for a deponent. Nutting's explanation of the meaning of the sentence is, that Nero gave slight heed to the scant honoring of the place of Claudius's burning; i.e. he did not intervene and arrange for the proper marking of the spot. Professor Knapp, in an editorial footnote, says: "I take it that Professor Nutting would translate thus: 'He disregarded the fact that the funeral-place was being fenced about (by nothing except) etc.' " This seems a fair interpretation, but both translations seem to indicate that the place was fenced about by someone other than Nero, and that he did not intervene and have a better job done; the question naturally arises, by whom was the fencing done, and when. To my mind "bustum consaepiri" simply means the enclosing of the bustum, and that idea is expressed by my translation. It might have been safer for one's reputation as a grammarian to follow Holland's version, "Finally, he neglected the place of his funerall fire, suffering it to be empaled, but with sleight stuffe and low railes of timber" (Holland follows the reading materia of all the manuscripts, instead of the conjecture maceria, which is accepted by Ihm and by most modern editors); or that of Stahr: "Endlich liess er aus Nichtachtung seine Brandstätte nur mit einer niedrigen und schlechten Mauer umgeben." Except for the slight risk involved (which I feel inclined to run) my rendering seems more concise and equally explicit; all three seem to me better than those suggested in the Classical Weekly.

Besides the mere translation the passage in Nero 33.1 suggests several interesting problems; otherwise it would hardly be worth discussing. First of all, what is the meaning of bustum? The word is defined by Paul. Fest. s.v. as follows: "Bustum proprie dicitur locus, in quo mortuus est combustus et sepultus, diciturque bustum, quasi bene ustum; ubi vero combustus quis tantummodo, alibi vero est sepultus, is locus ab urendo ustrina  p363 vocatur; sed modo busta sepulcra appellamus; cf. Servius ad Aen. XI.201. These statements, exclusive of the false etymology and sometimes of the use of ustrina, are so abundantly confirmed by the passages cited in the Thes. Ling. Lat., that further evidence seems unnecessary. Suetonius has bustum in three places. In Jul. 84.5, "bustum frequentarunt (Iudaei)," the reference is clearly to the place where his body was burned. Was it also the place where his bones (or ashes) lay, as is demanded by proper and original meaning of the word? According to Cassius Dio, XLIV.51.1, before the altar which now marks the spot had been set up, Caesar's freedmen had taken up his bones and deposited them in the family tomb. This is believed to be the tumulus Iuliae (Top. Dict. Anc. Rome, p542), which was perhaps also sometimes called C. Iulii tumulus (Livy, Perioch. 142; not 140, as in the Top. Dict.). This disposal of the dictator's bones seems probable enough according to Roman usage. It might be questioned because of the number of things which were burned with Caesar's body (Suet. Jul. 84.3, 4), which would seem to have made the collecting of his bones, if any were left unconsumed, or of any authentic ashes, a difficult matter; because of the troublous times which followed; and because of the belief that he had been transported to heaven (Jul. 88): perhaps also because the spot was marked by the altar and the column of Numidian marble, in lieu of the usual tumulus. If we accept Dio's testimony, Suetonius should, according to the definition of Festus, have used the word ustrina. That he did not do so is not surprising. The word is rare, except in inscriptions (Suetonius nowhere uses it), and seems commonly (if not always) to be used of crematories connected with great family tombs: ustrinum Antoninorum, ustrinum Domus Augustae (Top. Dict. p545); or with such common burial places as columbaria (Marquardt, Privatleben, p369, note 6). Moreover they were not loca religiosa (Ibid. p381) and they were forbidden within the city by the Twelve Tables (Cic. de Leg. II.58). It seems probable that Suetonius here used the word in its proper sense, and not in the later one of a tomb, which would certainly be out of place in this connection. In Nero 38.2, ad monumentorum bustorumque deversoria plebe compulsa, the word is contrasted with monumentorum and may perhaps be used in its proper sense; it is probably more naturally  p364 taken as a synonym for sepulcrorum, although taking refuge in busta would emphasize the wretched plight of the commons.

In Nero 33.1 there are several problems connected with the use of the word. In Claud. 45 we are told that Claudius was buried with the usual pomp of imperial funerals and enrolled among the gods, an honor neglected and finally annulled by Nero; cf. Nero 9. The splendor of his obsequies is confirmed by Tacitus (Ann. XII.69 and XIII.2, where he calls it censorium funus) and by Dio, LX.35.2. Tacitus in the former of his two references says: "funeris solemne perinde ac divo Augusto celebratur, aemulante Agrippina proaviae Liviae magnificentiam," and Dio uses substantially the same language, adding the name of Nero to that of Agrippina. Naturally, it seems to me, this would imply that his ashes were taken to the Mausoleum of Augustus, a supposition which is perhaps supported by his inclusion in the family of Augustus in the inscriptions from the arch at Pavia (Dessau, 107). Of this however we have no direct evidence (Top. Dict. p334); an additional argument in its favor is perhaps that the same thing is true of Tiberius, although it is generally assumed that his ashes were deposited in the Mausoleum on the ground that their exclusion would surely have been emphasized by our classical authorities (Top. Dict. l.c.). Why should not this also be assumed in the case of Claudius, particularly in view of the language used by Tacitus and Dio? But Suetonius may use the word bustum here in its proper sense, and there may have been somewhere a tumulus Claudi.

If the ashes of Claudius actually found rest in the Mausoleum, his body would naturally have been cremated in the ustrinum connected with that monument (Top. Dict. p545), and the reference to his bustum by Suetonius is meaningless; if it is authoritative, it is good evidence that Claudius did not have a place in the Mausoleum. If not, where were his ashes taken? Perhaps to the sepultura gentis Claudiae sub Capitolio, which is not to be identified with the so‑called Sepulcrum Claudiorum (Top. Dict. p487); perhaps they were buried on the spot where his body was cremated. We may compare the disposal of the ashes of Nero in the family tomb of the Domitii (Suet. Nero 50), where his tomb is called monimentum, but in Nero 57.1, tumulum. In Claud. 46, among the omens that foretold that emperor's death, is cited the striking by lightning of the  p365 tomb (monumentum) of his father Drusus. Since it is all but certain that Drusus was consigned to the Mausoleum of Augustus, "the tomb of his father Drusus" apparently refers to that edifice. It is natural enough for Suetonius so to designate the tomb in that connection; for the striking of the Mausoleum would not necessity be an omen of the death of Claudius (whether or not his ashes were there); but the striking of Drusus' tomb in the Mausoleum, or of the Mausoleum referred to as the container of his tomb, would be such an omen. Since in Livy, Perioch. 142, we are told that the ashes of Drusus were put in tumulo C. Iulii, it seems barely possible that tumulus C. Iulii is a loose, or erroneous designation of the Mausoleum, especially in view of the fact that the evidence for the collection and disposal of the ashes of the divine Julius is so scanty. The writer of the Periocha may have thought that the ashes were later deposited in the Mausoleum, or he may have disregarded chronology. It is usually supposed that he referred to the tumulus Iuliae (Top. Dict. p542); if so, he was doubtless wrong.

Who enclosed the bustum of Claudius with a low and mean wall? Obviously Nero, if Suetonius is to be trusted. When did he do it? Probably not at the time of the splendid public funeral, unless it was a temporary wall, to be replaced later by a better one; that would be out of keeping with the effort of Nero and Agrippina to emulate the magnificence of the obsequies of Augustus. When did Nero neglect to supply a better wall? Most naturally, I should say, when he annulled the deification of Claudius, which Smilda (Vita Claudi, p175) with probability assumes to have been the time when Nero almost destroyed the temple of Claudius which was begun by Agrippina and restored or rebuilt by Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 9.1). These questions and their answers have some bearing on the translation of our passage, of which, however, enough has been said.

Was it usual to surround busta by a wall? It seems probable enough, but the information about busta in our dictionaries of antiquities is provokingly scanty, and nothing is said on that point, I think, either by Marquardt, Privatleben, p380, or in the long article "Funus" in Daremberg and Saglio. Marquardt gives us the best account of a bustum; he says, among other things, that after the body had been cremated, the bones were  p366 collected and placed in an urn. The urn was set in the midst of the ashes of the funeral pyre and covered with earth; then a tumulus was erected over the spot. If the body was not burnt and buried in the same place, the former ceremony was performed in an ustrina. Thus we see that bustum and tumulus were frequently synonymous; in fact, they ought always to be so when the former word is used in its strict sense. Now it seems clear from such literary testimony as we have, as well as from the Etruscan tumuli surviving at Cervetri and elsewhere, that such structures had a foundation of stone about their base, and so might perhaps be said to be "surrounded by a wall"; the "wall" however was not something external, but κρηπίς of the tumulus (Casaubon on Nero 33). In the note referred to, Casaubon says: "semper autem monimenta suorum sepiebant veteres, tenuiores quidem maceria aut humili aliqua levique materia; honestiores vero lorica e silice vel saxo aut marmore." The reference to "humili aliqua levique materia" seems to have been inspired by the reading materia in Suet. Nero 33.1 (now generally abandoned); at least I can find no other reference to a wooden wall in such cases. The first example which Casaubon cites in support of his general statement is Suet. Nero 50, "in eo monimento solium porphyritici marmoris circumsaeptum est lapide Thasio"; in Nero 57 the same monument is referred to as a tumulus. In Virgil, Culex 395 ff. the construction of a tumulus, with a κρηπίς of marble is thus described:

Congestum cumulavit opus atque aggere multo

telluris tumulus formatum crevit in orbem.

Quem circum lapidem levi de marmore formans

conserit, assiduae curae memor.

Digest XI.7.37, "si amplum quid aedificari testator iusserit, veluti incircum porticationes, eos sumptus funeris causa non esse," which Casaubon also cites in this connection, is thing quite different.

All this seems to suggest that bustum in Nero 33.1 was not only the place where the body of Claudius was burned, but also the place where his ashes were deposited and surmounted by a tumulus; that this tumulus for some unknown reason was not surrounded at once with a foundation wall, but only after Nero had ceased to honor the memory of his predecessor, and probably  p367 after the death of Agrippina. But it is questionable just how much reliance can be placed on this sentence.

In the Thes. Ling. Lat., s.v. bustum, all the references to the word in Suetonius are put together under the caption "2. latiore sensu i. q. tumulus (rogus, sepulcrum)". This seems doubtful; at least, the matter seems to call for further consideration.

John C. Rolfe.

University of Pennsylvania.

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