[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
XV.48‑74

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals

of
Tacitus

published in Vol. V
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

[image ALT: a blank space]

(Vol. V) Tacitus
Annals

Book XVI

p339 1 1 Nero now became the sport of fortune as a result of his own credulity and the promises of Caesellius Bassus. Punic by origin and mentally deranged, Bassus treated the vision he had seen in a dream by night as a ground of confident expectation, took ship to Rome, and, buying an interview with the emperor, explained that he had found on his estate an immensely deep cavern, which contained a great quantity of gold, not transformed into coin but in unwrought and ancient bullion. For there were ponderous ingots on the floor; while, in another part, the metal was piled in columns — a treasure which had lain hidden through the centuries in order to increase the prosperity of the present era. The Phoenician Dido, so his argument ran, after her flight from Tyre and her foundation at Carthage, had concealed the hoard, for fear that too much wealth might tempt her young nation to excess, or that the Numidian princes, hostile on other grounds as well, might be fired to arms by the lust of gold.

2 1 Accordingly, Nero, without sufficiently weighing the credibility either of his informant or of the affair in itself, and without sending to ascertain the truth of the tale, deliberately magnified the report and despatched men to bring in the spoils lying, he thought, ready to his hand. The party were given p341triremes, and to better their speed, picked oarsmen; and, throughout those days, this one theme was canvassed, by the populace with credulity, by the prudent with very different comments. It happened, too, that this was the second period for the celebration of the Quinquennial Games,1 and the incident was taken by the orators as the principal text for their panegyrics of the sovereign:— "For not the customary crops alone, or gold alloyed with other metals, were now produced: the earth gave her increase with novel fecundity, and high heaven sent wealth unsought." And there were other servilities, which they developed with consummate eloquence and not inferior sycophancy, assured of the easy credence of their dupe!

3 1 Meanwhile, on the strength of this idle hope, his extravagance grew, and treasures long accumulated were dispersed on the assumption that others had been vouchsafed which would serve his prodigality for many years. In fact, he was already drawing on this fund for his largesses;2 and the expectation of wealth was among the causes of national poverty. For Bassus — who had dug up his own land along with a wide stretch of the adjacent plains, always insisting that this or that was the site of the promised cave, and followed not simply by the soldiers but by a whole people of rustics enlisted to carry out the work — at last threw off his delusion, and, with an astonished protest that never before had his dreams proved fallible and that this was a first deception, avoided disgrace and danger by a voluntary death. By some the statement is made that he was imprisoned, only to be released shortly afterwards, his property being confiscated to replace the queen's treasure.

p343 4 1 In the meantime, with the Quinquennial Contest hard at hand, the senate attempted to avert a scandal by offering the emperor the victory in song, adding a "crown of eloquence," to cover the stigma inseparable from the stage. Nero protested, however, that he needed neither private interest nor the authority of the senate — he was meeting his competitors on equal terms, and would acquire an honestly earned distinction by the conscientious award of the judges. He began by reciting a poem on the stage: then, as the crowd clamoured for him to "display all his accomplishments" (the exact phrase used), he entered the theatre, observing the full rules of the harp — not to sit down when weary, not to wipe away the sweat except with the robe he was wearing, to permit no discharge from the mouth or nostrils to be visible. Finally, on bended knee, a hand kissed in salutation to that motley gathering, he awaited the verdict of the judges in feigned trepidation. And the city rabble, at least, accustomed to encourage the posturing even of the ordinary actor, thundered approval in measured cadences and regulated plaudits. You might have supposed them to be rejoicing; and possibly rejoicing they were, without a care for the national dishonour!

5 1 But the spectators from remote country towns in the still austere Italy tenacious of its ancient ways — those novices in wantonness from far-off provinces, who had come on a public mission or upon private business — were neither able to tolerate the spectacle nor competent to their degrading task. They flagged with inexperienced hands; they deranged the experts; often they had to be castigated by the soldiers stationed among the blocks of seats p345to assure that not a moment of time should be wasted in unmodulated clamour or sluggish silence. It was known that numbers of knights were crushed to death while fighting their way up through the narrow gangway and the inrush of the descending crowd, and that others, through spending day and night on the benches, were attacked by incurable disease. For it was a graver ground of fear to be missing from the spectacle, since there was a host of spies openly present, and more in hiding, to note the names and faces, the gaiety and gloom, of the assembly. Hence, the lot of the humble was punishment, at once inflicted: in the case of the great, the debt of hatred, dissembled for a moment, was speedily repaid; and the story was told that Vespasian, reprimanded by the freedman Phoebus for closing his eyelids, and screened with difficulty by the prayers of the better party, was only saved later from the impending destruction by his predestined greatness.3

6 1 After the close of the festival, Poppaea met her end through a chance outburst of anger on the part of her husband, who felled her with a kick during pregnancy. That poison played its part I am unable to believe, though the assertion is made by some writers less from conviction than from hatred; for Nero was desirous of children, and love for his wife was a ruling passion. The body was not cremated in the Roman style, but, in conformity with the practice of foreign courts, was embalmed by stuffing with spices,4 then laid to rest in the mausoleum5 of the Julian race. Still, a public funeral was held; and the emperor at the Rostra eulogized her beauty, the fact that she had been the mother of an infant daughter now divine, and other favours of fortune which did duty for virtues.

p347 7 1 To the death of Poppaea, outwardly regretted, but welcome to all who remembered her profligacy and cruelty, Nero added a fresh measure of odium by prohibiting Gaius Cassius from attendance at the funeral. It was the first hint of mischief. Nor was the mischief long delayed. Silanus6 was associated with him; their only crime being that Cassius was eminent for a great hereditary fortune and an austere character, Silanus for a noble lineage and a temperate youth. Accordingly, the emperor sent a speech to the senate, arguing that both should be removed from public life, and objecting to the former that, among his other ancestral effigies, he had honoured a bust of Gaius Cassius,7 inscribed:— "To the leader of the cause." The seeds of civil war, and revolt from the house of the Caesars, — such were the objects he had pursued. And, not to rely merely on the memory of a hated name as an incentive to faction, he had taken to himself a partner in Lucius Silanus, a youth of noble family and headstrong temper, who was to be his figure-head for a revolution.

8 1 He then attacked Silanus himself in the same strain as his uncle Torquatus,8 alleging that he was already apportioning the responsibilities of empire, and appointing freedmen to the charge of "accounts, documents, and correspondence": an indictment at once frivolous and false; for the prevalent alarms had made Silanus vigilant, and his uncle's doom has terrified him into especial caution. Next, so‑called informers were introduced to forge against Lepida9 — wife of Cassius, aunt of Silanus — a tale of incest, committed with her brother's son, and of magical p349ceremonies. The senators Vulcacius Tullinus and Cornelius Marcellus were brought in as accomplices, with the Roman knight Calpurnius Fabatus.10 Their imminent condemnation they cheated by appealing to the emperor, and later, as being of minor importance, made good their escape from Nero, now fully occupied by crimes of the first magnitude.

9 1 Then, by decree of the senate, sentences of exile were registered against Cassius and Silanus: on the case of Lepida the Caesar was to pronounce. Cassius was deported to the island of Sardinia, and old age left to do its work.11 Silanus, ostensibly bound for Naxos, was removed to Ostia, and afterwards confined in an Apulian town by the name of Barium.12 There, while supporting with philosophy his most unworthy fate, he was seized by a centurion sent for the slaughter. To the suggestion that he should cut an artery, he replied that he had, in fact, made up his mind to die, but could not excuse the assassin his glorious duty. The centurion, however, noticing that, if unarmed, he was very strongly built and betrayed more anger than timidity, ordered his men to overpower him. Silanus did not fail to struggle, and to strike with what vigour his bare fists permitted, until he dropped under the sword of the centurion, as upon a field of battle, his wounds in front.

10 1 With not less courage Lucius Vetus,13 his mother-in‑law Sextia, and his daughter Pollitta,14 met their doom: they were loathed by the emperor, who took their life to be a standing protest against the slaying p351of Rubellius Plautus,15 the son-in‑law of Vetus. But the opportunity for laying bare his ferocity was supplied by the freedman Fortunatus; who, after embezzling his patron's property, now deserted him to turn accuser, and called to his aid Claudius Demianus, imprisoned for heinous offences by Vetus in his proconsulate of Asia, but now freed by Nero as the recompense of delation. Apprized of this, and gathering that he and his freedman were to meet in the struggle as equals, the accused left for his estate at Formiae. There heº was placed under a tacit surveillance by the military. He had with him his daughter, who apart from the impending danger, was embittered by a grief which had lasted since the day when she watched the assassins of her husband Plautus — she had clasped the bleeding neck,16 and still treasured her blood-flecked robe, widowed, unkempt, unconsoled, and fasting except for a little sustenance to keep death at bay. Now, at the prompting of her father, she went to Naples; and, debarred from access to Nero, besieged his doors, crying to him to give ear to the guiltless and not surrender to a freedman the one-time partner of his consulate; sometimes with female lamentations, and again in threatening accents which went beyond her sex, until the sovereign showed himself inflexible alike to prayer and to reproach.

11 1 Accordingly, she carried word to her father to abandon hope and accept the inevitable. At the same time, news came that arrangements were being made for a trial in the senate and a merciless verdict. Nor were there wanting those who advised him to name the Caesar as a principal heir,17 and thus safeguard the residue for his grandchildren. Rejecting p353the proposal, however, so as not to sully a life, passed in a near approach to freedom, by an act of servility at the close, he distributed among his slaves what money was available: all portable articles he ordered them to remove for their own uses, reserving only three couches for the final scene. Then, in the same chamber, with the same piece of steel, they severed their veins; and hurriedly, wrapped in the single garment which decency prescribed, they were carried to the baths, the father gazing on his daughter, the grandmother on her grandchild and she on both; all praying with rival earnestness for a quick end to the failing breath, so that they might leave their kith and kin still surviving, and assured of death. Fate observed the proper order; and the two eldest passed away the first, then Pollitta in her early youth. They were indicted after burial; the verdict was that they should be punished in the fashion of our ancestors; and Nero, interposing, allowed them to die unsupervised. Such were the comedies that followed, when the deed of blood was done.

12 1 Publius Gallus, a Roman knight, for being intimate with Faenius Rufus and not unacquainted with Vetus, was interdicted from fire and water: the freedman, and accuser, was rewarded for his service by a seat in the theatre among the tribunician runners. The months following April — otherwise known as "Neroneus"18 — were renamed, May taking the style of "Claudius," June that of "Germanicus."19 According to the testimony of Cornelius Orfitus, the author of the proposal, the alteration20 in the case p355of June was due to the fact that already the execution of two Torquati for their crimes had made "Junius"21 a sinister name.

13 1 Upon this year, disgraced by so many deeds of shame, Heaven also set its mark by tempest and disease. Campania was wasted by a whirlwind, which far and wide wrecked the farms, the fruit trees, and the crops, and carried its fury to the neighbourhood of the capital, where all classes of men were being decimated by a deadly epidemic. No outward sign of a distempered air was visible. Yet the houses were filled with lifeless bodies, the streets with funerals. Neither sex nor age gave immunity from danger; slaves and the free-born populace alike were summarily cut down, amid the laments of their wives and children, who, themselves infected while tending or mourning the victims, were often burnt upon the same pyre. Knights and senators, though they perished on all hands, were less deplored — as if, by undergoing the common lot, they were cheating the ferocity of the emperor.

In the same year, levies were held in Narbonese Gaul, Africa, and Asia, to recruit the legions of Illyricum, in which all men incapacitated by age or sickness were being discharged fromº the service. The emperor alleviated the disaster at Lugdunum22 by a grant of four million sesterces to repair the town's losses: the same amount which Lugdunum had previously offered in aid of the misfortunes of the capital.

p357 14 1 In the consulate of Gaius Suetonius23 and Luccius Telesinus,24 Antistius Sosianus, who had, as I have said,25 been sentenced to exile for composing scurrilous verses upon Nero, heard of the honour paid to informers and of the emperor's alacrity for bloodshed. Reckless by temperament, with a quick eye for opportunities, he used the similarity of their fortunes in order to ingratiate himself with Pammenes, who was an exile in the same place and, as a noted astrologer, had wide connections of friendship. He believed it was not for nothing that messengers were for ever coming to consult Pammenes, to whom, as he discovered at the same time, a yearly pension was allowed by Publius Anteius.26 He was further aware that Pammenes' affection for Agrippina had earned him the hatred of Nero; that his riches were admirably calculated to excite cupidity; and that this was a circumstance which proved fatal to many. He therefore intercepted a letter from Anteius, stole in addition the papers, concealed in Pammenes' archives, which contained his horoscope and career, and, lighting at the same time on the astrologer's calculations with regard to the birth and life of Ostorius Scapula,27 wrote to the emperor that, could he be granted a short respite from his banishment, he would bring him grave news conducive to his safety; for Anteius and Ostorius had designs upon the empire, and were peering into their destinies and that of the prince. Fast galleys were at once sent out, and Sosianus arrived in haste. The moment his information was divulged, Anteius and Ostorius were regarded, not as incriminated, but as condemned: so much so, that not a man would become signatory to the will of Anteius until Tigellinus came p359forward with his sanction, first warning the testator not to defer his final dispositions. Anteius swallowed poison; but, disgusted by its slowness, found a speedier death by cutting his arteries.

15 1 Ostorius, at the moment, was on a remote estate on the Ligurian frontier; and thither a centurion was despatched to do the murder quickly. A motive for speed was given by the fact that Ostorius, the owner of a considerable military reputation and a civic crown earned in Britain, had, by his great bodily powers and skill in arms, inspired Nero with a fear that he might possibly attack his sovereign, always cowardly and more than ever terrified by the lately discovered plot. The centurion, then, after guarding the exits from the villa, disclosed the imperial orders to Ostorius. The victim turned against himself the courage which he had often evinced in face of the enemy. Finding that, although he had opened his veins, the blood ran slowly, he had recourse to a slave for one service alone, to hold up a dagger steadily; then he drew his hand nearer, and met the steel with his throat.

16 1 Even had I been narrating campaigns abroad and lives laid down for the commonwealth, and narrating them with the same uniformity of incident, I should myself have lost appetite for the task, and I should expect the tedium of others, repelled by the tale of Roman deaths, honourable perhaps, but tragic and continuous. As it is, this slave-like patience and the profusion of blood wasted at home weary the mind and oppress it with melancholy. The one concession I would ask from those who shall study these records is that they would permit me not to hate the men who died with so little p361spirit!28 It was the anger of Heaven against the Roman realm — an anger which you cannot, as in the case of beaten armies or captured towns, mention once and for all and proceed upon your way. Let us make this concession to the memory29 of the nobly born: that, as in the last rites they are distinguished from the vulgar dead, so, when history records their end, each shall receive and keep his special mention.

17 1 For, in the course of a few days, there fell, in a single band, Annaeus Mela, Anicius Cerialis, Rufrius Crispinus, and Titus Petronius. Mela and Crispinus were Roman knights of senatorial rank.30 The latter, once commander of the praetorian guards and decorated with the consular insignia,31 but latterly banished to Sardinia on a charge of conspiracy, committed suicide on reception of the news that his death had been ordered. Mela, son of the same parents as Gallio and Seneca, had refrained from seeking office, as he nursed the paradoxical ambition of equalling the influence of a consular while remaining a simple knight: at the same time, he held that the shorter road to the acquiry of wealth lay in the pro-curatorships handling private business of the sovereign. He was also the father of Lucan — a considerable enhancement of his fame. After his son's death, he called in the debts owing to the estate with a vigour which raised up an accuser p363in Fabius Romanus, one of Lucan's intimate friends. A fictitious charge, that knowledge of the plot had been shared between father and son, was backed by a forged letter from Lucan. Nero, after inspecting it, gave orders that it was to be carried to Mela. Mela took what was then the favoured way of death, and opened an artery, first penning a codicil by which he bequeathed a large sum to Tigellinus and his son-in‑law Cossutianus Capito,32 in hopes of saving the rest of the will. A postscript to the codicil, written in appearance as a protest against the iniquity of his doom, stated that, while he himself was dying without a cause for his execution, Rufrius Crispinus and Anicius Cerialis33 remained in the enjoyment of life, though bitterly hostile to the emperor. The statement was considered to be a fiction, invented in the case of Crispinus, because death had been inflicted; in that of Cerialis, to make certain its infliction.34 For not long afterwards he took his own life, exciting less pity than the others, as memories remained of his betrayal of the conspiracy35 to Gaius Caesar.

18 1 Petronius36 calls for a brief retrospect. He was a man whose day was passed in sleep, his nights in the social duties and amenities of life: others industry may raise to greatness — Petronius had idled into fame. Nor was he regarded, like the common crowd of spendthrifts, as a debauchee and wastrel, but as the finished artist of extravagance. His words and actions had a freedom and a stamp of p365self-abandonment which rendered them doubly acceptable by an air of native simplicity. Yet as proconsul of Bithynia, and later as consul, he showed himself a man of energy and competent to affairs. Then, lapsing into the habit, or copying the features, of vice, he was adopted into the narrow circle of Nero's intimates as his Arbiter of Elegance;37 the jaded emperor finding charm and delicacy in nothing save what Petronius had commended. His success awoke the jealousy of Tigellinus against an apparent rival, more expert in the science of pleasure than himself. He addressed himself, therefore, to the sovereign's cruelty, to which all other passions gave pride of place; arraigning Petronius for friendship with Scaevinus,38 while suborning one of his slaves to turn informer, withholding all opportunity of defence, and placing the greater part of his household under arrest.

19 1 In those days, as it chanced, the Caesar had migrated to Campania; and Petronius, after proceeding as far as Cumae, was being there detained in custody. He declined to tolerate further the delays of fear or hope; yet still did not hurry to take his life, but caused his already severed arteries to be bound up to meet his whim, then opened them once more, and began to converse with his friends, in no grave strain and with no view to the fame of a stout-hearted ending. He listened to them as they rehearsed, not discourses upon the immortality of the soul39 or the doctrines of philosophy, p367but light songs and frivolous verses. Some of his slaves tasted of his bounty, a few of the lash. He took his place at dinner, and drowsed a little, so that death, if compulsory, should at least resemble nature. Not even in his will did he follow the routine of suicide by flattering Nero or Tigellinus or another of the mighty, but — prefixing the names of the various catamites and women — detailed the imperial debauches and the novel features of each act of lust, and sent the document under seal to Nero. His signet-ring he broke, lest it should render dangerous service later.40

20 1 While Nero doubted how the character of his nights was gaining publicity, there suggested itself the name of Silia — the wife of a senator, and therefore a woman of some note, requisitioned by himself for every form of lubricity, and on terms of the closest intimacy with Petronius. She was now driven into exile for failing to observe silence upon what she had seen and undergone. Here the motive was a hatred of his own. But Minucius Thermus, an ex-praetor, he sacrificed to the animosities of Tigellinus. For a freedman of Thermus had brought certain damaging charges against the favourite, which he himself expiated by the pains of torture, his patron by an unmerited death.

21 1 After the slaughter of so many of the noble, Nero in the end conceived the ambition to extirpate virtue herself by killing Thrasea Paetus and Barea Soranus.41 To both he was hostile from of old, and against Thrasea there were additional motives; for he had walked out of the senate, as I have mentioned,42 during the discussion on Agrippina, and at the festival of the Juvenalia his services had not been p369conspicuous — a grievance which went the deeper that in Patavium,43 his native place, the same Thrasea had sung in tragic costume at the . . . Games instituted by the Trojan Antenor.44 Again, on the day when sentence of death was all but passed on the praetor Antistius for his lampoons on Nero, he proposed, and carried, a milder penalty;45 and, after deliberately absenting himself from the vote of divine honours to Poppaea, he had not assisted at her funeral. These memories were kept from fading by Cossutianus Capito. For, apart from his character with its sharp trend to crime, he was embittered against Thrasea, whose influence, exerted in support of the Cilician envoys prosecuting Capito46 for extortion, had cost him the verdict.

22 1 He preferred other charges as well:— "At the beginning of the year, Thrasea evaded the customary oath;47 though the holder of a quindecimviral priesthood, he took no part in the national vows;48 he had never offered a sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor or for his celestial voice. Once a constant and indefatigable member, who showed himself the advocate or the adversary of the most commonplace resolutions of the Fathers,49 for three years he had not set foot within the curia; and but yesterday, when his colleagues were gathering with emulous haste to crush Silanus and Vetus,50 he had preferred to devote his leisure to the private cases of his clients. Matters were come already to a schism and to factions: if many made the same venture, it was war! 'As once,' he said, 'this discord-loving state prated of Caesar and Cato, so p371now, Nero, it prates of yourself and Thrasea. And he has his followers — his satellites, rather — who affect, not as yet the contumacity of his opinions, but his bearing and his looks, and whose stiffness and austerity are designed for an impeachment of your wantonness.51 To him alone your safety is a thing uncared for, your talents a thing unhonoured. The imperial happiness he cannot brook: can he not even be satisfied with the imperial bereavements and sorrows? Not to believe Poppaea deity bespeaks the same temper that will not swear to the acts of the deified Augustus and the deified Julius. He contemns religion, he abrogates law. The journal of the Roman people52 is scanned throughout the provinces and armies with double care for news of what Thrasea has not done! Either let us pass over to his creed, if it is the better, or let these seekers after a new world lose their chief and their instigator. It is the sect that produced the Tuberones and the Favonii53 — names unloved even in the old republic. In order to subvert the empire, they make a parade of liberty: the empire overthrown, they will lay hands on liberty itself. You have removed Cassius to little purpose, if you intend to allow these rivals of the Bruti to multiply and flourish! A word in conclusion: write nothing yourself about Thrasea — leave the senate to decide between us!' " Nero p373fanned still more the eager fury of Cossutianus, and reinforced him with the mordant eloquence of Eprius Marcellus.54

23 1 As to Barea Soranus, the Roman knight, Ostorius Sabinus, had already claimed him for his own, in a case arising from Soranus' proconsulate of Asia; during which he increased the emperor's malignity by his fairness and his energy, by the care he had spent upon clearing the harbour of Ephesus, and by his failure to punish the city of Pergamum for employing force to prevent the loot of its statues and paintings by the Caesarian freedman, Acratus.55 But the charges preferred were friendship with Plautus and popularity-hunting in his province with a view of the winning it for the cause of revolution. The time chosen for the condemnation was the moment when Tiridates was on the point of arriving to be invested with the crown of Armenia;56 the object being that, with public curiosity diverted to foreign affairs, domestic crime might be thrown into shadow, or, possibly, that the imperial greatness might be advertised by the royal feat of slaughtering illustrious men.

24 1 The whole city, then, streamed out to welcome the emperor57 and inspect the king, but Thrasea was ordered to avoid the reception. He showed no dejection, but drew up a note to Nero, asking for the allegations against him and stating that he would rebut them, if he was allowed cognizance of the charges and faculties for reply. Nero took the note eagerly, in hopes that Thrasea, in a moment of panic, had written something which might enhance the glory of the emperor and sully his own reputation. As this proved not to be the case, and he himself p375took alarm at the looks and spirit and frankness of an innocent man, he ordered the senate to be convened.

25 1 Thrasea now consulted with his closest friends whether to attempt or to scorn defence. The advice offered was conflicting. Those who favoured his entering the senate-house argued that they were certain of his firmness:— "He would say nothing but what increased his glory. It was for the spiritless and the timid to draw a veil over their latter end: let the nation see a man who could face his death; let the senate listen to words inspired, it might be thought, by some deity, and superior to human utterance. Even Nero might be moved by the sheer miracle; but, if he persisted in his cruelty, the after-world at least must discriminate between the record of an honourable death and the cowardice of those who perished in silence."

26 1 Those, on the other hand, who held that he ought to wait at home, expressed the same opinion of Thrasea himself, but urged that he was threatened with mockery and humiliation: it would be better not to lend his ear to invectives and to insults. "Cossutianus and Eprius were not the only men ready and eager for villainy: there were others besides who, in their brutality, might perhaps venture upon physical violence; and even the respectable might follow through fear. Let him rather spare the senate, of which he had been so great an ornament, the ignominy of such a crime, and leave it uncertain what would have been the decision of the Fathers when they saw Thrasea upon his trial! To touch Nero with shame for his infamies was an idle dream, and it was much more to be feared that he would p377exercise his cruelty on Thrasea's wife, his daughter, and the other objects of his affection. Therefore, let him seek, unstained and unpolluted, an end as glorious as theirs by whose walk and pursuits he had guided his life!" Arulenus Rusticus,58 young and ardent, was present at the conclave, and, in his thirst for fame, offered to veto the resolution of the senate; for he was a plebeian tribune. Thrasea checked his enthusiasm, dissuading him from an attempt, futile in itself and profitless to the accused, but fatal to its maker. "His own time," he said, "was over, and he must not abandon the method of life which he had observed without a break for so many years. But Rusticus was at the beginning of his official career, and his future was uncompromised he must weigh well beforehand in his own mind what course of public life he would embark upon in such an age." The question, whether it was proper for him to enter the senate, he reserved for his private consideration.

27 1 On the following morning, however, two praetorian cohorts in full equipment59 occupied the temple of Venus Genetrix;60 a body of men wearing the toga, but with swords unconcealed,61 had beset the approach to the senate; and companies of soldiers were scattered through the fora and basilicae. Under their eyes and their menaces the senators entered their meeting-place, and listened to the emperor's speech, as read by his quaestor. Without mentioning any person by name, he taxed the Fathers p379with deserting the public service and setting the example of indolence to Roman knights. For what wonder that members failed to appear from distant provinces, when many who had attained the consulate and priesthoods preferred to spend their energies upon the embellishment of their pleasure-grounds? — It was a weapon for the accusers, and they grasped it.

28 1 The attack was opened by Cossutianus; then Marcellus declaimed with greater violence:— "Supreme interests of state were at issue: the contumacity of his inferiors was wearing down the lenience of the sovereign. Hitherto the Fathers had been over-indulgent, permitting themselves, as they did, to be mocked with impunity by Thrasea, who was meditating revolt; by his son-in‑law, Helvidius Priscus,62 who affected the same insanity; by Paconius Agrippinus,63 again, heir of his father's hatred for emperors; and by that scribbler of abominable verses, Curtius Montanus. In the senate he missed an ex-consul; in the national vows, a priest; at the oath of allegiance, a citizen — unless, defiant of the institutions and rites of their ancestors, Thrasea had openly assumed the part of traitor and public enemy. To be brief, let him come — this person who was accustomed to enact the complete senator and to protect the slanderers of the prince — let him come and state in a motion what he would have amended or altered: they would bear more easily with his censures of this or that than they now bore with his all-condemning silence! Was it the world-wide peace, or victories gained without loss of the armies, that met with his displeasure? A man who mourned over the nation's happiness, who p381treated forum and theatre and temple as a desert, who held out his own exile as a threat, must not have his perverse ambition gratified! In Thrasea's eyes, these were no senatorial resolutions; there were no magistracies, no Rome. Let him break with life, and with a country which he had long ceased to love and now to look upon!"

29 1 While Marcellus spoke to this and the like effect, grim and menacing as always, there reigned in the senate, not that familiar sadness, grown habitual now through the rapid succession of perils, but a new and deeper terror, as they saw the hands of the soldiers on their weapons. At the same time, the venerable form of Thrasea himself rose before the mind; and there were those who pitied Helvidius also, soon to pay the penalty of an innocent connection. What had been alleged against Agrippinus, except the tragic fate of his father; since he, too, though equally guiltless, had fallen by the cruelty of Tiberius? As to Montanus, a youth without vice, a poet without venom, he was being driven from the country, purely because he had given evidence of his talent.

30 1 In the meantime, Ostorius Sabinus,64 the accuser of Soranus, entered and began his speech, dwelling upon the friendship of the defendant with Rubellius Plautus, and upon his governorship of Asia, "which he had treated rather as a position conveniently adapted to his own distinction than with a view to the public interest; as he had shown by fostering the seditious tendencies of the cities." This was an old story: what was new, and used for implicating the daughter of Soranus in her father's p383danger, was a charge that she had distributed money to magicians. That had, in fact, happened, owing to the filial piety of Servilia (for so the girl was called), who, influenced by love for her father and at the same time by the imprudence of her years, had consulted them, though on no other point than the safety of her family and the chances that Nero would prove placable and the trial by the senate produce no tragic result. She was, therefore, summoned before the senate and at opposite ends of the consular tribunal stood an aged parent and, facing him, his daughter, who had not yet reached her twentieth year; condemned to widowhood and loneliness by the recent exile of her husband Annius Pollio,65 and not even lifting her eyes to her father, whose dangers she seemed to have aggravated.

31 1 When the accuser then demanded if she had sold her bridal ornaments, if she had stripped the necklace from her neck, in order to gather money for the performance of magic rites, she at first threw herself to the ground, in a long and silent fit of weeping; then, embracing the altar steps, and the altar, exclaimed: "I have resorted to no impious gods, to no spells; nor in my unblest prayers have I asked for anything but that you, Caesar, and that you, sirs, should preserve in safety this best of fathers. My jewels and robes and the emblems of my rank I gave as I should have given my blood and life, had they demanded them. It is for those men, strangers to me before, to see to it what repute they bear, what arts they practise: the emperor I never mentioned except as deity. But my most unhappy father knows nothing; and, if there is crime, I have sinned alone."

p385 32 1 She was still speaking, when Soranus caught up her words and cried that "she had not gone with him to his province; from her age, she could not have been known to Plautus; and she was not implicated in the charges against her husband. They should take her case separately (she was guilty only of an overstrained sense of duty); and, as for himself, let him undergo any and every fate!" At the same moment, he rushed to the arms of his daughter, who ran to meet him; but the lictors threw themselves between, and prevented both. Next, the evidence was called; and the pity awakened by the barbarity of the prosecution found its equal in the anger caused by Publius Egnatius66 in the part of witness. A client of Soranus, now bought to procure the destruction of his friend, he affected the grave pose of the Stoic school, trained as he was to catch by manner and by look the very features of integrity, while at heart treacherous, wily, a dissembler of cupidity and lust. Those qualities gold laid bare, and he became an example pointing men to caution, not more against the villain clothed in dishonesty or stained by crime, than against those who seek in honourable attainments a cloak for falsehood and for treason in friendship.

33 1 The same day, however, produced also an example of honour. It was furnished by Cassius Asclepiodotus, by his great wealth the first citizen of Bithynia; who, with the same devotion as he had accorded to Soranus in his heyday, refused to desert him when near his fall, was stripped of his entire fortune, and was driven into exile, as a proof of heaven's impartiality towards good and evil. Thrasea, Soranus, and Servilia were accorded free p387choice of death; Helvidius and Paconius were expelled from Italy; Montanus was spared out of consideration for his father,67 with the proviso that his official career should not be continued. Of the accusers, Eprius and Cossutianus received a grant of five million sesterces each; Ostorius, one of twelve hundred thousand with the quaestorian decorations.

34 1 The consul's quaestor was then sent to Thrasea: he was spending the time in his gardens, and the day was already closing in for evening. He had brought together a large party of distinguished men and women, his chief attention been given to Demetrius,68 a master of the Cynic creed; with whom — to judge from his serious looks and the few words which caught the ear, when they chanced to raise their voices — he was debating the nature of the soul and the divorce of spirit and body. At last, Domitius Caecilianus, an intimate friend, arrived, and informed him of the decision reached by the senate. Accordingly, among the tears and expostulations of the company, Thrasea urged them to leave quickly, without linking their own hazardous lot to the fate of a condemned man. Arria,69 who aspired to follow her husband's ending and the precedent p389set by her mother and namesake, he advised to keep her life and not deprive the child of their union of her one support.70

35 1 He now walked on to the colonnade; where the quaestor found him nearer to joy than to sorrow, because he had ascertained that Helvidius, his son-in‑law, was merely debarred from Italy. Then, taking the decree of the senate, he led Helvidius and Demetrius into his bedroom, offered the arteries of both arms to the knife, and, when the blood had begun to flow, sprinkled it upon the ground, and called the quaestor nearer: "We are making a libation," he said, "to Jove the Liberator. Look, young man, and — may Heaven, indeed, avert the omen, but you have been born into times now it is expedient to steel the mind with instances of firmness." Soon, as the slowness of his end brought excruciating pain, turning his gaze upon Demetrius . . .71


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The Neronia (XIV.20 n.).

2 For the insane extravagance of his last phase, see Hist. I.20; Suet. Ner. 30; Plut. Galb. 16.

3 By Suetonius and Dio the scene is laid in Greece during the imperial tour (Suet. Vesp. 4; D. Cass. LXVI.11 — with which compare Suet. Vesp. 14).

4 Merely an extravagance of remorse. Poppaea's leaning to Judaism — she is called θεοσεβής, a technical term for "proselyte," in Jos. A. J. XX.8.11 can have had nothing to do with the case.

5 I.8 n.

6 XV.52 n.

7 The tyrannicide, of whom the jurist was a lineal descendant (XII.12 n.). — The gravamen of the charge was doubtless the inscription. That there was no absolute prohibition no such effigies is shown by the words of Cremutius Cordus at IV.35, but the hero-worship of Cassius and the Bruti had its dangers: see, for instance, III.76; IV.34; XVI.22.

8 See XII.58 n.º and XV.35.

9 Junia Lepida, sister of Junia Calvina (XII.48).

10 Grandfather of the wife of the younger Pliny, nine of whose letters are addressed to him.

11 In spite, however, of his advanced age and blindness, he returned under Vespasian.

12 Bari, on the Adriatic, about 70 miles N.W. of Brindisi; in the time of Horace, and probably of Nero, little more than a fishing-village, now a considerable city.

13 L. Antistius Vetus (XIII.1153; XIV.58).

14 The Antistia of XIV.22.

15 XIII.19 n.

16 XIV.59.

17 The precaution was usual: a couple of instances are the will of Prasutagus (XIV.31) and that of Agricola (Agr. 43).

18 XV.74.

19 The names were his own — he was "Claudius Nero Caesar Germanicus" — not those of his adoptive father and grandfather. So Commodus, by drawing upon his farrago of titles, was able to construct a year comprising the months:— Amazonius, Invictus, Pius, Felix, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exuperatorius (D. Cass. LXXII.15; Lampr. Comm. 11 sq.)

20 The sense given to transmissum in the version in unparalleled and totally incredible; but Lipsius' and Madvig's Iulium mensem seems hardly possible, unless perhaps, nomen Iunium is cancelled below.

21 The gentile name of the two Torquati (XV.35 and XVI.8.).

22 The disaster, it stands to reason, must have happened after the burning of Rome. If, then, it is to be identified with the fire known, about this period, to have laid Lyons in ashes, Seneca must be wrong in his date (58 A.D.). Alternatively, he may have been right in his presentiment:— Nunquam tam infestum exarsit incendium ut nihil alteri superesset incendio (Ep. 91).

23 Suetonius Paulinus (XIV.29 sqq.).

24 He leaned to philosophy, and makes a few creditable appearances in Philostratus' vie romancée of Apollonius (VA IV.4043; VII.11; VIII.712). In Martial he is found declining to make unsecured loans to his "old companion": who, like Philostratus, refers to his exile under Domitian (XII.25).

25 XIV.48.

26 XIII.22.

27 See XIV.48.

28 The sentence has been variously interpreted, and to very little effect. The simplest and not impossibly best course is to acquiesce in the old conjecture oderint, with Walther's paraphrase:— A lectore non exigimus ut illorum plus quam servilem patientiam defendat aut excuset, sed hoc tantum, ne istos odio prosequatur; nam res fuit plane fatalis.

29 For this use of posteritas, compare, for instance, Plin. Ep. II.1, legit scripta de se carmina, legit historias, et posteritati suae interfuit. If the word bears its common meaning, then "the posterity of the famous" are the segniter pereuntes, and the sentiment becomes, in essence, that of Sen. De benef. IV.30, hic egregiis maioribus ortus est: qualiscumque est, sub umbra suorum lateat.

30 They were laticlavii — knights possessed of the senatorial property qualification, and wearing the broad purple stripe by permission of the emperor.

31 His praetorian — not consular — decorations are mentioned at XI.4: for his exile, see XV.71.

32 XI.6 n.

33 XV.74.

34 It was apparently suspected that the addition to the codicil had been forged on behalf of Nero, to vindicate one execution and supply the pretext for another.

35 Little is known of it beyond the date (40 A.D.).

36 He is now universally allowed to be the author of the justly famous Satirae — a sort of picaresque novel interspersed with verse-pieces, two sadly lacerated books of which survive from a total of sixteen or over. The objection that some mention of his literary powers might, in that case, have been expected here, is idle: for few works can in the eyes of Tacitus have borne less resemblance to "literature" than the scandalous Odyssey of Encolpios, Ascyltos, Giton, and their peers.

37 The manuscripts of the Satirae, and the grammarians, give Arbiter as a cognomen. Whether his court title suggested or was suggested by the surname, it is evidently impossible to say.

38 XV.49 sqq.

39 The other way of thinking perhaps deserves an example:— Prosequebatur eum philosophus suus (a Stoic or Cynic chaplain). Nec iam procul erat tumulus in quo Caesari (Caligula), deo nostro, fiebat quotidianum sacrum. "Quid," inquit, "Cane, nunc cogitas? Aut quae tibi mens est? — "Observare," inquit Canus, "proposui, illo velocissimo momento, an sensurus sit animus exire se." Promisitque, si quid explorasset, circumiturum amicos et indicaturum quis esset animarum status (Sen. De tranquill. animi, 14).

40 The precaution was evidently suggested by the forgery after Lucan's death: see above, chap. 17.

41 XII.53.

42 XIV.12.

43 Padua.

44 Virg. Aen. I.242 sqq.; Liv. I.1.

45 XIV.48.

46 XIII.33.

47 I.72 n.

48 IV.17 n.

49 See XIII.49.

50 Chaps. 7 and 10 sq. above.

51 One of the passages of Tacitus which, used as ammunition against the Loi des Suspects, cost Camille Desmoulins his life: — "Était-il vertueux et austère dans les moeurs ? Bon ! nouveau Brutus qui prétendait par sa pâleur et sa perruque de jacobin faire la censure d'une cour aimable et bien frisée. Gliscere aemulos Brutorum vultus rigidi et tristis qui tibi lasciviam exprobrent. Suspect !" (Le Vieux Cordelier no IV, 30 frimaire an II).

52 III.3 n.

53 Q. Aelius Tubero, pupil of Panaetius, jurist, and interlocutor in Cicero's De Republica, was an opponent of the two Gracchi: M. Favonius, "ape of Cato," figures fairly prominently, though not too creditably, in the score of years preceding the battle of Philippi, where he was captured and executed by Octavian.

54 XII.4 n.

55 XV.45.

56 In pursuance of the agreement with Corbulo (XV.29 sqq.).

57 He was returning from Campania with Tiridates, whom he had met at Naples.

58 L. Junius Arulenus Rusticus, also a Stoic; praetor in 69 A.D. (Hist. III.80), and executed under Domitian for composing a life of Thrasea (Agr. 2). Plutarch, who had him among his audience at a lecture in Rome, gives an anecdote to illustrate his βάρος (Mor. 522E).

59 III.4 n.

60 The temple to the divine mother of the Julian race, vowed, it was said, by Caesar on the eve of Pharsalia and erected in the centre of his new Forum. That the senate was meeting in it seems hardly to be doubted, though the usual place — the curia Iulia — lay close at hand.

61 So that the wearers were easily recognised as guards in the undress uniform normal in the capital.

62 After Seneca and Thrasea, the chief figure in the Stoic martyrology. For his antecedents and character, see Hist. IV.5 sq.; for his execution by Vespasian, Suet. Vesp. 15; D. Cass. LXVI.12.

63 Less famous than Thrasea or Helvidius, but admired by Epictetus (Diss. I.1.28; 2.12; Fr. 21, 22 Schenkl). His father — see III.67 — was executed by Tiberius, probably for complicity in the plot of Sejanus Suet. Tib. 61). Of Montanus little is known (Hist. IV.4042).

64 See above, chap. 23.

65 XV.5671.

66 P. Egnatius Celer, a native of Berytus (D. Cass. LXII.26) and educated at Tarsus (Juv. III.116 sqq.); indicted in 70 A.D. by Musonius for his part in this affair; defended, on unknown grounds, by the Cynic Demetrius, but sentenced to exile (Hist. IV.1040).

67 Evidently a persona grata with the emperor. He has been naturally identified with the veteran epicure of Domitian's court (Juv. IV.107; cf. 136 sqq. noverat ille Luxuriam imperii veterem noctisque Neronis Iam medias e.q.s.).

68 A sort of Cynic friar — ille seminudus is the description of Seneca, who knew him well and admired him without measure (see, for instance, De ben. 7). He was in Rome as early as the principate of Gaius and seems to have courted the storms without which life became in his view a mare mortuum (Sen. Ep. 67). He drew from Vespasian, who ultimately banished him, the characteristic remark:— Σὺ μὲν πάντα ποιεῖς ἴνα σε ἀποκτείνω, ἐγὼ δὲ κύνα ὑλακτοῦντα οὐ φονεύω (D. Cass. LXVI.13). The allusions in Philostratus, who makes him a friend of Apollonius, are negligible.

69 The three generations mentioned in the sentence are as follows:— 1. The elder Arria, wife of Caecina Paetus who was involved in the conspiracy of Camillus Scribonianus under Claudius (XII.52 n.); encouraged her husband to die by stabbing herself and handing him the dagger with the words:— Paete, non dolet (Mart. I.14, etc.). 2. Caecinia Arria, daughter of Caecina and the elder Arria; wife of Thrasea, whom she long survived. 3. Fannia, daughter of Thrasea and the younger Arria, and wife of Helvidius Priscus; relegated, with confiscation of her estate, under Domitian, but returned (with her mother) under Nerva.

70 Thrasea's mind must have run back four and twenty years to the day when, dissuading the elder Arria from death, he asked:— Vis ergo filiam tuam, si mihi pereundum fuerit, Mori mecum? and received the answer:— Si tam diu tantaque concordia vixerit tecum quam ego cum Paeto, volo (Plin. Ep. III.16).

71 Here the Mediceus breaks short. There are lost some thirty chapters of this book and the whole of XVII and XVIII. For their contents, see vol. III.2342º and the Chronological Table.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 6 Dec 12