Caius Caesar Caligula (From The Lives of the Twelve Caesars)

LVI. In this frantic and savage career, numbers had formed designs for
cutting him off; but one or two conspiracies being discovered, and others
postponed for want of opportunity, at last two men concerted a plan
together, and accomplished their purpose; not without the privity of some
of the greatest favourites amongst his freedmen, and the prefects of the
pretorian guards; because, having been named, though falsely, as
concerned in one conspiracy against him, they perceived that they were
suspected and become objects of his hatred. For he had immediately
endeavoured to render them obnoxious to the soldiery, drawing his sword,
and declaring, “That he would kill himself if they thought him worthy of
death;” and ever after he was continually accusing them to one another,
and setting them all mutually at variance. The conspirators having
resolved to fall upon him as he returned at noon from the Palatine games,
Cassius Chaerea, tribune of the pretorian guards, claimed the part of
making the onset. This Chaerea was now an elderly man, and had been
often reproached by Caius for effeminacy. When he came for the
watchword, the latter would give “Priapus,” or “Venus;” and if on any
occasion he returned thanks, would offer him his hand to kiss, making
with his fingers an obscene gesture.

LVII. His approaching fate was indicated by many prodigies. The statue
of Jupiter at Olympia, which he had ordered to be taken down and brought
to Rome, suddenly burst out into such a violent fit of laughter, that,
the machines employed in the work giving way, the workmen took to their
heels. When this accident happened, there came up a man named Cassius,
who said that he was commanded in a dream to sacrifice a bull to Jupiter.
The Capitol at Capua was (290) struck with lightning upon the ides of
March [15th March] as was also, at Rome, the apartment of the chief
porter of the Palatium. Some construed the latter into a presage that
the master of the place was in danger from his own guards; and the other
they regarded as a sign, that an illustrious person would be cut off, as
had happened before on that day. Sylla, the astrologer, being, consulted
by him respecting his nativity, assured him, “That death would
unavoidably and speedily befall him.” The oracle of Fortune at Antium
likewise forewarned him of Cassius; on which account he had given orders
for putting to death Cassius Longinus, at that time proconsul of Asia,
not considering that Chaerea bore also that name. The day preceding his
death he dreamt that he was standing in heaven near the throne of
Jupiter, who giving him a push with the great toe of his right foot, he
fell headlong upon the earth. Some things which happened the very day of
his death, and only a little before it, were likewise considered as
ominous presages of that event. Whilst he was at sacrifice, he was
bespattered with the blood of a flamingo. And Mnester, the pantomimic
actor, performed in a play, which the tragedian Neoptolemus had formerly
acted at the games in which Philip, the king of Macedon, was slain. And
in the piece called Laureolus, in which the principal actor, running out
in a hurry, and falling, vomited blood, several of the inferior actors
vying with each other to give the best specimen of their art, made the
whole stage flow with blood. A spectacle had been purposed to be
performed that night, in which the fables of the infernal regions were to
be represented by Egyptians and Ethiopians.

LVIII. On the ninth of the calends of February [24th January], and about
the seventh hour of the day, after hesitating whether he should rise to
dinner, as his stomach was disordered by what he had eaten the day
before, at last, by the advice of his friends, he came forth. In the
vaulted passage through which he had to pass, were some boys of noble
extraction, who had been brought from Asia to act upon the stage, waiting
for him in a private corridor, and he stopped to see and speak to them;
and had not the leader of the party said that he was suffering from cold,
he would have gone back, and made them act immediately. Respecting what
followed, (291) two different accounts are given. Some say, that, whilst
he was speaking to the boys, Chaerea came behind him, and gave him a
heavy blow on the neck with his sword, first crying out, “Take this:”
that then a tribune, by name Cornelius Sabinus, another of the
conspirators, ran him through the breast. Others say, that the crowd
being kept at a distance by some centurions who were in the plot, Sabinus
came, according to custom, for the word, and that Caius gave him
“Jupiter,” upon which Chaerea cried out, “Be it so!” and then, on his
looking round, clove one of his jaws with a blow. As he lay on the
ground, crying out that he was still alive [463], the rest dispatched him
with thirty wounds. For the word agreed upon among them all was, “Strike
again.” Some likewise ran their swords through his privy parts. Upon
the first bustle, the litter bearers came running in with their poles to
his assistance, and, immediately afterwards, his German body guards, who
killed some of the assassins, and also some senators who had no concern
in the affair.

LIX. He lived twenty-nine years, and reigned three years, ten months,
and eight days. His body was carried privately into the Lamian Gardens
[464], where it was half burnt upon a pile hastily raised, and then had
some earth carelessly thrown over it. It was afterwards disinterred by
his sisters, on their return from banishment, burnt to ashes, and buried.
Before this was done, it is well known that the keepers of the gardens
were greatly disturbed by apparitions; and that not a night passed
without some terrible alarm or other in the house where he was slain,
until it was destroyed by fire. His wife Caesonia was killed with him,
being stabbed by a centurion; and his daughter had her brains knocked out
against a wall.

LX. Of the miserable condition of those times, any person (292) may
easily form an estimate from the following circumstances. When his death
was made public, it was not immediately credited. People entertained a
suspicion that a report of his being killed had been contrived and spread
by himself, with the view of discovering how they stood affected towards
him. Nor had the conspirators fixed upon any one to succeed him. The
senators were so unanimous in their resolution to assert the liberty of
their country, that the consuls assembled them at first not in the usual
place of meeting, because it was named after Julius Caesar, but in the
Capitol. Some proposed to abolish the memory of the Caesars, and level
their temples with the ground. It was particularly remarked on this
occasion, that all the Caesars, who had the praenomen of Caius, died by
the sword, from the Caius Caesar who was slain in the times of Cinna.

* * * * * *

Unfortunately, a great chasm in the Annals of Tacitus, at this period,
precludes all information from that historian respecting the reign of
Caligula; but from what he mentions towards the close of the preceding
chapter, it is evident that Caligula was forward to seize the reins of
government, upon the death of Tiberius, whom, though he rivalled him in
his vices, he was far from imitating in his dissimulation. Amongst the
people, the remembrance of Germanicus’ virtues cherished for his family
an attachment which was probably, increased by its misfortunes; and they
were anxious to see revived in the son the popularity of the father.
Considering, however, that Caligula’s vicious disposition was already
known, and that it had even been an inducement with Tiberius to procure
his succession, in order that it might prove a foil to his own memory; it
is surprising that no effort was made at this juncture to shake off the
despotism which had been so intolerable in the last reign, and restore
the ancient liberty of the republic. Since the commencement of the
imperial dominion, there never had been any period so favourable for a
counter-revolution as the present crisis. There existed now no Livia, to
influence the minds of the senate and people in respect of the
government; nor was there any other person allied to the family of
Germanicus, whose countenance or intrigues could promote the views of
Caligula. He himself was now only in the twenty-fifth year of his age,
was totally inexperienced in the administration of public affairs, had
never performed even the smallest service to his country, and was
generally known to be of a character which (293) disgraced his
illustrious descent. Yet, in spite of all these circumstances, such was
the destiny of Rome, that his accession afforded joy to the soldiers, who
had known him in his childhood, and to the populace in the capital, as
well as the people in the provinces, who were flattered with the delusive
expectation of receiving a prince who should adorn the throne with the
amiable virtues of Germanicus.

It is difficult to say, whether weakness of understanding, or corruption
of morals, were more conspicuous in the character of Caligula. He seems
to have discovered from his earliest years an innate depravity of mind,
which was undoubtedly much increased by defect of education. He had lost
both his parents at an early period of life; and from Tiberius’ own
character, as well as his views in training the person who should succeed
him on the throne, there is reason to think, that if any attention
whatever was paid to the education of Caligula, it was directed to
vitiate all his faculties and passions, rather than to correct and
improve them. If such was really the object, it was indeed prosecuted
with success.

The commencement, however, of his reign was such as by no means
prognosticated its subsequent transition. The sudden change of his
conduct, the astonishing mixture of imbecility and presumption, of moral
turpitude and frantic extravagance, which he afterwards evinced; such as
rolling himself over heaps of gold, his treatment of his horse Incitatus,
and his design of making him consul, seem to justify a suspicion that his
brain had actually been affected, either by the potion, said to have been
given him by his wife Caesonia, or otherwise. Philtres, or love-potions,
as they were called, were frequent in those times; and the people
believed that they operated upon the mind by a mysterious and sympathetic
power. It is, however, beyond a doubt, that their effects were produced
entirely by the action of their physical qualities upon the organs of the
body. They were usually made of the satyrion, which, according to Pliny,
was a provocative. They were generally given by women to their husbands
at bed-time; and it was necessary towards their successful operation,
that the parties should sleep together. This circumstance explains the
whole mystery. The philtres were nothing more than medicines of a
stimulating quality, which, after exciting violent, but temporary
effects, enfeebled the constitution, and occasioned nervous disorders, by
which the mental faculties, as well as the corporeal, might be injured.
That this was really the case with Caligula, seems probable, not only
from the falling sickness, to which he was subject, but from the habitual
wakefulness of which he complained.

(294) The profusion of this emperor, during his short reign of three
years and ten months, is unexampled in history. In the midst of profound
peace, without any extraordinary charges either civil or military, he
expended, in less than one year, besides the current revenue of the
empire, the sum of 21,796,875 pounds sterling, which had been left by
Tiberius at his death. To supply the extravagance of future years, new
and exorbitant taxes were imposed upon the people, and those too on the
necessaries of life. There existed now amongst the Romans every motive
that could excite a general indignation against the government; yet such
was still the dread of imperial power, though vested in the hands of so
weak and despicable a sovereign, that no insurrection was attempted, nor
any extensive conspiracy formed; but the obnoxious emperor fell at last a
sacrifice to a few centurions of his own guard.

This reign was of too short duration to afford any new productions in
literature; but, had it been extended to a much longer period, the
effects would probably have been the same. Polite learning never could
flourish under an emperor who entertained a design of destroying the
writings of Virgil and Livy. It is fortunate that these, and other
valuable productions of antiquity, were too widely diffused over the
world, and too carefully preserved, to be in danger of perishing through
the frenzy of this capricious barbarian.
(295)

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