The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

LXXXIV. From early youth he devoted himself with great diligence and
application to the study of eloquence, and the other liberal arts. In
the war of Modena, notwithstanding the weighty affairs in which he was
engaged, he is said to have read, written, and declaimed every day. He
never addressed the senate, the people, or the army, but in a
premeditated speech, though he did not want the talent of speaking
extempore on the spur of the occasion. And lest his memory should fail
him, as well as to prevent the loss of time in getting up his speeches,
it was his general practice to recite them. In his intercourse with
individuals, and even with his wife Livia, upon subjects of importance he
wrote on his tablets all he wished to express, lest, if he spoke
extempore, he should say more or less than was proper. He delivered
himself in a sweet and peculiar tone, in which he was diligently
instructed by a master of elocution. But when he had a cold, he
sometimes employed a herald to deliver his speeches to the people.

LXXXV. He composed many tracts in prose on various subjects, some of
which he read occasionally in the circle of his friends, as to an
auditory. Among these was his “Rescript to Brutus respecting Cato.”
Most of the pages he read himself, although he was advanced in years, but
becoming fatigued, he gave the rest to Tiberius to finish. He likewise
read over to (133) his friends his “Exhortations to Philosophy,” and the
“History of his own Life,” which he continued in thirteen books, as far
as the Cantabrian war, but no farther. He likewise made some attempts at
poetry. There is extant one book written by him in hexameter verse, of
which both the subject and title is “Sicily.” There is also a book of
Epigrams, no larger than the last, which he composed almost entirely
while he was in the bath. These are all his poetical compositions for
though he begun a tragedy with great zest, becoming dissatisfied with the
style, he obliterated the whole; and his friends saying to him, “What is
your Ajax doing?” he answered, “My Ajax has met with a sponge.” [236]

LXXXVI. He cultivated a style which was neat and chaste, avoiding
frivolous or harsh language, as well as obsolete words, which he calls
disgusting. His chief object was to deliver his thoughts with all
possible perspicuity. To attain this end, and that he might nowhere
perplex, or retard the reader or hearer, he made no scruple to add
prepositions to his verbs, or to repeat the same conjunction several
times; which, when omitted, occasion some little obscurity, but give a
grace to the style. Those who used affected language, or adopted
obsolete words, he despised, as equally faulty, though in different ways.
He sometimes indulged himself in jesting, particularly with his friend
Mecaenas, whom he rallied upon all occasions for his fine phrases [237],
and bantered by imitating his way of talking. Nor did he spare Tiberius,
who was fond of obsolete and far-fetched expressions. He charges Mark
Antony with insanity, writing rather to make men stare, than to be
understood; and by way of sarcasm upon his depraved and fickle taste in
the choice of words, he writes to him thus: “And are you yet in doubt,
whether Cimber Annius or Veranius Flaccus be more proper for your
imitation? Whether you will adopt words which Sallustius Crispus has
borrowed from the ‘Origines’ of Cato? Or do you think that the verbose
empty bombast of Asiatic orators is fit to be transfused into (134) our
language?” And in a letter where he commends the talent of his grand-
daughter, Agrippina, he says, “But you must be particularly careful, both
in writing and speaking, to avoid affectation.”

LXXXVII. In ordinary conversation, he made use of several peculiar
expressions, as appears from letters in his own hand-writing; in which,
now and then, when he means to intimate that some persons would never pay
their debts, he says, “They will pay at the Greek Calends.” And when he
advised patience in the present posture of affairs, he would say, “Let us
be content with our Cato.” To describe anything in haste, he said, “It
was sooner done than asparagus is cooked.” He constantly puts baceolus
for stultus, pullejaceus for pullus, vacerrosus for cerritus, vapide se
habere for male, and betizare for languere, which is commonly called
lachanizare. Likewise simus for sumus, domos for domus in the genitive
singular [238]. With respect to the last two peculiarities, lest any
person should imagine that they were only slips of his pen, and not
customary with him, he never varies. I have likewise remarked this
singularity in his hand-writing; he never divides his words, so as to
carry the letters which cannot be inserted at the end of a line to the
next, but puts them below the other, enclosed by a bracket.

LXXXVIII. He did not adhere strictly to orthography as laid down by the
grammarians, but seems to have been of the opinion of those who think,
that we ought to write as we speak; for as to his changing and omitting
not only letters but whole syllables, it is a vulgar mistake. Nor should
I have taken notice of it, but that it appears strange to me, that any
person should have told us, that he sent a successor to a consular
lieutenant of a province, as an ignorant, illiterate fellow, upon his
observing that he had written ixi for ipsi. When he had occasion to
write in cypher, he put b for a, c for b, and so forth; and instead
of z, aa.

LXXXIX. He was no less fond of the Greek literature, in which he made
considerable proficiency; having had Apollodorus (135) of Pergamus, for
his master in rhetoric; whom, though much advanced in years, he took with
him from The City, when he was himself very young, to Apollonia.
Afterwards, being instructed in philology by Sephaerus, he received into
his family Areus the philosopher, and his sons Dionysius and Nicanor; but
he never could speak the Greek tongue readily, nor ever ventured to
compose in it. For if there was occasion for him to deliver his
sentiments in that language, he always expressed what he had to say in
Latin, and gave it another to translate. He was evidently not
unacquainted with the poetry of the Greeks, and had a great taste for the
ancient comedy, which he often brought upon the stage, in his public
spectacles. In reading the Greek and Latin authors, he paid particular
attention to precepts and examples which might be useful in public or
private life. Those he used to extract verbatim, and gave to his
domestics, or send to the commanders of the armies, the governors of the
provinces, or the magistrates of the city, when any of them seemed to
stand in need of admonition. He likewise read whole books to the senate,
and frequently made them known to the people by his edicts; such as the
orations of Quintus Metellus “for the Encouragement of Marriage,” and
those of Rutilius “On the Style of Building;” [239] to shew the people
that he was not the first who had promoted those objects, but that the
ancients likewise had thought them worthy their attention. He patronised
the men of genius of that age in every possible way. He would hear them
read their works with a great deal of patience and good nature; and not
only poetry [240] and history, but orations and dialogues. He was
displeased, however, that anything should be written upon himself, except
in a grave manner, and by men of the most eminent abilities: and he
enjoined the praetors not to suffer his name to be made too common in the
contests amongst orators and poets in the theatres.

XC. We have the following account of him respecting his (136) belief in
omens and such like. He had so great a dread of thunder and lightning
that he always carried about him a seal’s skin, by way of preservation.
And upon any apprehension of a violent storm, he would retire to some
place of concealment in a vault under ground; having formerly been
terrified by a flash of lightning, while travelling in the night, as we
have already mentioned. [241]

XCI. He neither slighted his own dreams nor those of other people
relating to himself. At the battle of Philippi, although he had resolved
not to stir out of his tent, on account of his being indisposed, yet,
being warned by a dream of one of his friends, he changed his mind; and
well it was that he did so, for in the enemy’s attack, his couch was
pierced and cut to pieces, on the supposition of his being in it. He had
many frivolous and frightful dreams during the spring; but in the other
parts of the year, they were less frequent and more significative. Upon
his frequently visiting a temple near the Capitol, which he had dedicated
to Jupiter Tonans, he dreamt that Jupiter Capitolinus complained that his
worshippers were taken from him, and that upon this he replied, he had
only given him The Thunderer for his porter [242]. He therefore
immediately suspended little bells round the summit of the temple;
because such commonly hung at the gates of great houses. In consequence
of a dream, too, he always, on a certain day of the year, begged alms of
the people, reaching out his hand to receive the dole which they offered

XCII. Some signs and omens he regarded as infallible. If in the morning
his shoe was put on wrong, the left instead of the right, that boded some
disaster. If when he commenced a long journey, by sea or land, there
happened to fall a mizzling rain, he held it to be a good sign of a
speedy and happy return. He was much affected likewise with any thing
out of the common course of nature. A palm-tree [243] which (137)
chanced to grow up between some stone’s in the court of his house, he
transplanted into a court where the images of the Household Gods were
placed, and took all possible care to make it thrive. in the island of
Capri, some decayed branches of an old ilex, which hung drooping to the
ground, recovered themselves upon his arrival; at which he was so
delighted, that he made an exchange with the Republic [244] of Naples, of
the island of Oenaria [Ischia], for that of Capri. He likewise observed
certain days; as never to go from home the day after the Nundiae [245],
nor to begin any serious business upon the nones [246]; avoiding nothing
else in it, as he writes to Tiberius, than its unlucky name.

XCIII. With regard to the religious ceremonies of foreign nations, he
was a strict observer of those which had been established by ancient
custom; but others he held in no esteem. For, having been initiated at
Athens, and coming afterwards to hear a cause at Rome, relative to the
privileges of the priests of the Attic Ceres, when some of the mysteries
of their sacred rites were to be introduced in the pleadings, he
dismissed those who sat upon the bench as judges with him, as well as the
by-standers, and beard the argument upon those points himself. But, on
the other hand, he not only declined, in his progress through Egypt, to
go out of his way to pay a visit to Apis, but he likewise commended his
grandson Caius (138) for not paying his devotions at Jerusalem in his
passage through Judaea. [247]

XCIV. Since we are upon this subject, it may not be improper to give an
account of the omens, before and at his birth, as well as afterwards,
which gave hopes of his future greatness, and the good fortune that
constantly attended him. A part of the wall of Velletri having in former
times been struck with thunder, the response of the soothsayers was, that
a native of that town would some time or other arrive at supreme power;
relying on which prediction, the Velletrians both then, and several times
afterwards, made war upon the Roman people, to their own ruin. At last
it appeared by the event, that the omen had portended the elevation of

Julius Marathus informs us, that a few months before his birth, there
happened at Rome a prodigy, by which was signified that Nature was in
travail with a king for the Roman people; and that the senate, in alarm,
came to the resolution that no child born that year should be brought up;
but that those amongst them, whose wives were pregnant, to secure to
themselves a chance of that dignity, took care that the decree of the
senate should not be registered in the treasury.

I find in the theological books of Asclepiades the Mendesian [248], that
Atia, upon attending at midnight a religious solemnity in honour of
Apollo, when the rest of the matrons retired home, fell asleep on her
couch in the temple, and that a serpent immediately crept to her, and
soon after withdrew. She awaking upon it, purified herself, as usual
after the embraces of her husband; and instantly there appeared upon her
body a mark in the form of a serpent, which she never after could efface,
and which obliged her, during the subsequent part of her life, to decline
the use of the public baths. Augustus, it was added, was born in the
tenth month after, and for that reason was thought to be the son of
Apollo. The (139) same Atia, before her delivery, dreamed that her
bowels stretched to the stars, and expanded through the whole circuit of
heaven and earth. His father Octavius, likewise, dreamt that a sun-beam
issued from his wife’s womb.

Upon the day he was born, the senate being engaged in a debate on
Catiline’s conspiracy, and Octavius, in consequence of his wife’s being
in childbirth, coming late into the house, it is a well-known fact, that
Publius Nigidius, upon hearing the occasion of his coming so late, and
the hour of his wife’s delivery, declared that the world had got a
master. Afterwards, when Octavius, upon marching with his army through
the deserts of Thrace, consulted the oracle in the grove of father
Bacchus, with barbarous rites, concerning his son, he received from the
priests an answer to the same purpose; because, when they poured wine
upon the altar, there burst out so prodigious a flame, that it ascended
above the roof of the temple, and reached up to the heavens; a
circumstance which had never happened to any one but Alexander the Great,
upon his sacrificing at the same altars. And next night he dreamt that
he saw his son under a more than human appearance, with thunder and a
sceptre, and the other insignia of Jupiter, Optimus, Maximus, having on
his head a radiant crown, mounted upon a chariot decked with laurel, and
drawn by six pair of milk-white horses.

Whilst he was yet an infant, as Caius Drusus relates, being laid in his
cradle by his nurse, and in a low place, the next day he was not to be
found, and after he had been sought for a long time, he was at last
discovered upon a lofty tower, lying with his face towards the rising sun
[249]. When he first began to speak, he ordered the frogs that happened
to make a troublesome noise, upon an estate belonging to the family near
the town, to be silent; and there goes a report that frogs never croaked
there since that time. As he was dining in a grove at the fourth mile-
stone on the Campanian road, an eagle suddenly snatched a piece of bread
out of his hand, and, soaring to a prodigious height, after hovering,
came down most unexpectedly, and returned it to him.

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