The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

LXXI. With respect to the charge or imputation of loathsome impurity
before-mentioned, he very easily refuted it by the chastity of his life,
at the very time when it was made, as well as ever afterwards. His
conduct likewise gave the lie to that of luxurious extravagance in his
furniture, when, upon the taking of Alexandria, he reserved for himself
nothing of the royal treasures but a porcelain cup, and soon afterwards
melted down all the vessels of gold, even such as were intended for
common use. But his amorous propensities never left him, and, as he grew
older, as is reported, he was in the habit of debauching young girls, who
were procured for him, from all quarters, even by his own wife. To the
observations on his gaming, he paid not the smallest regard; but played
in public, but purely for his diversion, even when he was advanced in
years; and not only in the month of December [214], but at other times,
and upon all days, whether festivals or not. This evidently appears from
a letter under his own hand, in which he says, “I supped, my dear
Tiberius, with the same company. We had, besides, Vinicius, and Silvius
the father. We gamed at supper like old fellows, both yesterday and
today. And as any one threw upon the tali [215] aces or sixes, he put
down for every talus a denarius; all which was gained by him who threw a
Venus.” [216] In another letter, he says: “We had, my dear Tiberius, a
pleasant time of it during the festival of Minerva: for we played every
day, and kept the gaming-board warm. Your brother uttered many
exclamations at a desperate run of ill-fortune; but recovering by
degrees, and unexpectedly, he in the end lost not much. I lost twenty
thousand sesterces for my part; but then I was profusely (125) generous
in my play, as I commonly am; for had I insisted upon the stakes which I
declined, or kept what I gave away, I should have won about fifty
thousand. But this I like better for it will raise my character for
generosity to the skies.” In a letter to his daughter, he writes thus:
“I have sent you two hundred and fifty denarii, which I gave to every one
of my guests; in case they were inclined at supper to divert themselves
with the Tali, or at the game of Even-or-Odd.”

LXXII. In other matters, it appears that he was moderate in his habits,
and free from suspicion of any kind of vice. He lived at first near the
Roman Forum, above the Ring-maker’s Stairs, in a house which had once
been occupied by Calvus the orator. He afterwards moved to the Palatine
Hill, where he resided in a small house [217] belonging to Hortensius, no
way remarkable either for size or ornament; the piazzas being but small,
the pillars of Alban stone [218], and the rooms without any thing of
marble, or fine paving. He continued to use the same bed-chamber, both
winter and summer, during forty years [219]: for though he was sensible
that the city did not agree with his health in the winter, he
nevertheless resided constantly in it during that season. If at any time
he wished to be perfectly retired, and secure from interruption, he shut
himself up in an apartment at the top of his house, which he called his
Syracuse or Technophuon [220], or he went to some villa belonging to his
freedmen near the city. But when he was indisposed, he commonly took up
his residence in the house of Mecaenas [221]. Of all the places of
retirement from the city, he (126) chiefly frequented those upon the sea-
coast, and the islands of Campania [222], or the towns nearest the city,
such as Lanuvium, Praeneste, and Tibur [223], where he often used to sit
for the administration of justice, in the porticos of the temple of
Hercules. He had a particular aversion to large and sumptuous palaces;
and some which had been raised at a vast expense by his grand-daughter,
Julia, he levelled to the ground. Those of his own, which were far from
being spacious, he adorned, not so much with statues and pictures, as
with walks and groves, and things which were curious either for their
antiquity or rarity; such as, at Capri, the huge limbs of sea-monsters
and wild beasts, which some affect to call the bones of giants; and also
the arms of ancient heroes.

LXXIII. His frugality in the furniture of his house appears even at this
day, from some beds and tables still remaining, most of which are
scarcely elegant enough for a private family. It is reported that he
never lay upon a bed, but such as was low, and meanly furnished. He
seldom wore any garment but what was made by the hands of his wife,
sister, daughter, and grand-daughters. His togas [224] were neither
scanty nor full; (127) and the clavus was neither remarkably broad or
narrow. His shoes were a little higher than common, to make him appear
taller than he was. He had always clothes and shoes, fit to appear in
public, ready in his bed-chamber for any sudden occasion.

LXXIV. At his table, which was always plentiful and elegant, he
constantly entertained company; but was very scrupulous in the choice of
them, both as to rank and character. Valerius Messala informs us, that
he never admitted any freedman to his table, except Menas, when rewarded
with the privilege of citizenship, for betraying Pompey’s fleet. He
writes, himself, that he invited to his table a person in whose villa he
lodged, and who had formerly been employed by him as a spy. He often
came late to table, and withdrew early; so that the company began supper
before his arrival, and continued at table after his departure. His
entertainments consisted of three entries, or at most of only six. But
if his fare was moderate, his courtesy was extreme. For those who were
silent, or talked in whispers, he encouraged to join in the general
conversation; and introduced buffoons and stage players, or even low
performers from the circus, and very often itinerant humourists, to
enliven the company.

LXXV. Festivals and holidays he usually celebrated very expensively, but
sometimes only with merriment. In the Saturnalia, or at any other time
when the fancy took him, he distributed to his company clothes, gold, and
silver; sometimes coins of all sorts, even of the ancient kings of Rome
and of foreign nations; sometimes nothing but towels, sponges, rakes, and
tweezers, and other things of that kind, with tickets on them, which were
enigmatical, and had a double meaning [225]. He used likewise to sell by
lot among his guests articles of very unequal value, and pictures with
their fronts reversed; and so, by the unknown quality of the lot,
disappoint or gratify the expectation of the purchasers. This sort of
traffic (128) went round the whole company, every one being obliged to
buy something, and to run the chance of loss or gain wits the rest.

LXXVI. He ate sparingly (for I must not omit even this), and commonly
used a plain diet. He was particularly fond of coarse bread, small
fishes, new cheese made of cow’s milk [226], and green figs of the sort
which bear fruit twice a year [227]. He did not wait for supper, but
took food at any time, and in any place, when he had an appetite. The
following passages relative to this subject, I have transcribed from his
letters. “I ate a little bread and some small dates, in my carriage.”
Again. “In returning home from the palace in my litter, I ate an ounce
of bread, and a few raisins.” Again. “No Jew, my dear Tiberius, ever
keeps such strict fast upon the Sabbath [228], as I have to-day; for
while in the bath, and after the first hour of the night, I only ate two
biscuits, before I began to be rubbed with oil.” From this great
indifference about his diet, he sometimes supped by himself, before his
company began, or after they had finished, and would not touch a morsel
at table with his guests.

LXXVII. He was by nature extremely sparing in the use of wine.
Cornelius Nepos says, that he used to drink only three times at supper in
the camp at Modena; and when he indulged himself the most, he never
exceeded a pint; or if he did, his stomach rejected it. Of all wines, he
gave the (129) preference to the Rhaetian [229], but scarcely ever drank
any in the day-time. Instead of drinking, he used to take a piece of
bread dipped in cold water, or a slice of cucumber, or some leaves of
lettuce, or a green, sharp, juicy apple.

LXXVIII. After a slight repast at noon, he used to seek repose [230],
dressed as he was, and with his shoes on, his feet covered, and his hand
held before his eyes. After supper he commonly withdrew to his study, a
small closet, where he sat late, until he had put down in his diary all
or most of the remaining transactions of the day, which he had not before
registered. He would then go to bed, but never slept above seven hours
at most, and that not without interruption; for he would wake three or
four times during that time. If he could not again fall asleep, as
sometimes happened, he called for some one to read or tell stories to
him, until he became drowsy, and then his sleep was usually protracted
till after day-break. He never liked to lie awake in the dark, without
somebody to sit by him. Very early rising was apt to disagree with him.
On which account, if he was obliged to rise betimes, for any civil or
religious functions, in order to guard as much as possible against the
inconvenience resulting from it, he used to lodge in some apartment near
the spot, belonging to any of his attendants. If at any time a fit of
drowsiness seized him in passing along the streets, his litter was set
down while he snatched a few moments’ sleep.

LXXIX. In person he was handsome and graceful, through every period of
his life. But he was negligent in his dress; and so careless about
dressing his hair, that he usually had it done in great haste, by several
barbers at a time. His beard he sometimes clipped, and sometimes shaved;
and either read or wrote during the operation. His countenance, either
when discoursing or silent, was so calm and serene, that a (130) Gaul of
the first rank declared amongst his friends, that he was so softened by
it, as to be restrained from throwing him down a precipice, in his
passage over the Alps, when he had been admitted to approach him, under
pretence of conferring with him. His eyes were bright and piercing; and
he was willing it should be thought that there was something of a divine
vigour in them. He was likewise not a little pleased to see people, upon
his looking steadfastly at them, lower their countenances, as if the sun
shone in their eyes. But in his old age, he saw very imperfectly with
his left eye. His teeth were thin set, small and scaly, his hair a
little curled, and inclining to a yellow colour. His eye-brows met; his
ears were small, and he had an aquiline nose. His complexion was betwixt
brown and fair; his stature but low; though Julius Marathus, his
freedman, says he was five feet and nine inches in height. This,
however, was so much concealed by the just proportion of his limbs, that
it was only perceivable upon comparison with some taller person standing
by him.

LXXX. He is said to have been born with many spots upon his breast and
belly, answering to the figure, order, and number of the stars in the
constellation of the Bear. He had besides several callosities resembling
scars, occasioned by an itching in his body, and the constant and violent
use of the strigil [231] in being rubbed. He had a weakness in his left
hip, thigh, and leg, insomuch that he often halted on that side; but he
received much benefit from the use of sand and reeds. He likewise
sometimes found the fore-finger of his right hand so weak, that when it
was benumbed and contracted with cold, to use it in writing, he was
obliged to have recourse to a circular piece of horn. He had
occasionally a complaint in the bladder; but upon voiding some stones in
his urine, he was relieved from that pain.

LXXXI. During the whole course of his life, he suffered, at times,
dangerous fits of sickness, especially after the conquest of Cantabria;
when his liver being injured by a defluxion (131) upon it, he was reduced
to such a condition, that he was obliged to undergo a desperate and
doubtful method of cure: for warm applications having no effect, Antonius
Musa [232] directed the use of those which were cold. He was likewise
subject to fits of sickness at stated times every year; for about his
birth-day [233] he was commonly a little indisposed. In the beginning of
spring, he was attacked with an inflation of the midriff; and when the
wind was southerly, with a cold in his head. By all these complaints,
his constitution was so shattered, that he could not easily bear either
heat or cold.

LXXXII. In winter, he was protected against the inclemency of the
weather by a thick toga, four tunics, a shirt, a flannel stomacher, and
swathings upon his legs and thighs [234]. In summer, he lay with the
doors of his bedchamber open, and frequently in a piazza, refreshed by a
bubbling fountain, and a person standing by to fan him. He could not
bear even the winter’s sun; and at home, never walked in the open air
without a broad-brimmed hat on his head. He usually travelled in a
litter, and by night: and so slow, that he was two days in going to
Praeneste or Tibur. And if he could go to any place by sea, he preferred
that mode of travelling. He carefully nourished his health against his
many infirmities, avoiding chiefly the free use of the bath; but he was
often rubbed with oil, and sweated in a stove; after which he was washed
with tepid water, warmed either by a fire, or by being exposed to the
heat of the sun. When, upon account of his nerves, he was obliged to
have recourse to sea-water, or the waters of Albula [235], he was
contented with sitting over a wooden tub, which he called by a Spanish
name (132) Dureta, and plunging his hands and feet in the water by turns.

LXXXIII. As soon as the civil wars were ended, he gave up riding and
other military exercises in the Campus Martius, and took to playing at
ball, or foot-ball; but soon afterwards used no other exercise than that
of going abroad in his litter, or walking. Towards the end of his walk,
he would run leaping, wrapped up in a short cloak or cape. For amusement
he would sometimes angle, or play with dice, pebbles, or nuts, with
little boys, collected from various countries, and particularly Moors and
Syrians, for their beauty or amusing talk. But dwarfs, and such as were
in any way deformed, he held in abhorrence, as lusus naturae (nature’s
abortions), and of evil omen.

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