The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Albi, nostrorum sermonum candide judex,
Quid nunc te dicam facere in regione Pedana?
Scribere quod Cassi Parmensis opuscula vincat;
An tacitum silvas inter reptare salubres,
Curantem quicquid dignam sapiente bonoque est?–Epist. i. 4.

Albius, in whom my satires find
A critic, candid, just, and kind,
Do you, while at your country seat,
Some rhyming labours meditate,
That shall in volumed bulk arise,
And e’en from Cassius bear the prize;
Or saunter through the silent wood,
Musing on what befits the good.–Francis.

This supposition is in no degree inconsistent with the authority of Ovid,
where he mentions him as a young man; for the Romans extended the period
of youth to the fiftieth year.—-

PROPERTIUS was born at Mevania, a town of Umbria, seated at the
confluence of the Tina and Clitumnus. This place was famous for its
herds of white cattle, brought up there for sacrifice, and supposed to be
impregnated with that colour by the waters of the river last mentioned.

Hinc albi, Clitumne, greges, et maxima taurus
Victima, saepe tuo perfusi fluorine sacro,
Romanos ad templa Deum duxere triumphos.–Georg. ii.

And where thy sacred streams, Clitumnus! flow,
White herds, and stateliest bulls that oft have led
Triumphant Rome, and on her altars bled.–Sotheby.

(188) His father is said by some to have been a Roman knight, and they
add, that he was one of those who, when L. Antony was starved out of
Perasia, were, by the order of Octavius, led to the altar of Julius
Caesar, and there slain. Nothing more is known with certainty, than that
Propertius lost his father at an early age, and being deprived of a great
part of his patrimony, betook himself to Rome, where his genius soon
recommended him to public notice, and he obtained the patronage of
Mecaenas. From his frequent introduction of historical and mythological
subjects into his poems, he received the appellation of “the learned.”

Of all the Latin elegiac poets, Propertius has the justest claim to
purity of thought and expression. He often draws his imagery from
reading, more than from the imagination, and abounds less in description
than sentiment. For warmth of passion he is not conspicuous, and his
tenderness is seldom marked with a great degree of sensibility; but,
without rapture, he is animated, and, like Horace, in the midst of
gaiety, he is moral. The stores with which learning supplies him
diversify as well as illustrate his subject, while delicacy every where
discovers a taste refined by the habit of reflection. His versification,
in general, is elegant, but not uniformly harmonious.

Tibullus and Propertius have each written four books of Elegies; and it
has been disputed which of them is superior in this department of poetry.
Quintilian has given his suffrage in favour of Tibullus, who, so far as
poetical merit alone is the object of consideration, seems entitled to
the preference.—-

GALLUS was a Roman knight, distinguished not only for poetical, but
military talents. Of his poetry we have only six elegies, written, in
the person of an old man, on the subject of old age, but which, there is
reason to think, were composed at an earlier part of the author’s life.
Except the fifth elegy, which is tainted with immodesty, the others,
particularly the first, are highly beautiful, and may be placed in
competition with any other productions of the elegiac kind. Gallus was,
for some time, in great favour with Augustus, who appointed him governor
of Egypt. It is said, however, that he not only oppressed the province
by extortion, but entered into a conspiracy against his benefactor, for
which he was banished. Unable to sustain such a reverse of fortune, he
fell into despair, and laid violent hands on himself. This is the Gallus
in honour of whom Virgil composed his tenth eclogue.

Such are the celebrated productions of the Augustan age, which have been
happily preserved, for the delight and admiration of mankind, and will
survive to the latest posterity. Many (189) more once existed, of
various merit, and of different authors, which have left few or no
memorials behind them, but have perished promiscuously amidst the
indiscriminate ravages of time, of accidents, and of barbarians. Amongst
the principal authors whose works are lost, are Varius and Valgius; the
former of whom, besides a panegyric upon Augustus, composed some
tragedies. According to Quintilian, his Thyestes was equal to any
composition of the Greek tragic poets.

The great number of eminent writers, poets in particular, who adorned
this age, has excited general admiration, and the phenomenon is usually
ascribed to a fortuitous occurrence, which baffles all inquiry: but we
shall endeavour to develop the various causes which seem to have produced
this effect; and should the explanation appear satisfactory, it may
favour an opinion, that under similar circumstances, if ever they should
again be combined, a period of equal glory might arise in other ages and

The Romans, whether from the influence of climate, or their mode of
living, which in general was temperate, were endowed with a lively
imagination, and, as we before observed, a spirit of enterprise. Upon
the final termination of the Punic war, and the conquest of Greece, their
ardour, which had hitherto been exercised in military achievements, was
diverted into the channel of literature; and the civil commotions which
followed, having now ceased, a fresh impulse was given to activity in the
ambitious pursuit of the laurel, which was now only to be obtained by
glorious exertions of intellect. The beautiful productions of Greece,
operating strongly upon their minds, excited them to imitation;
imitation, when roused amongst a number, produced emulation; and
emulation cherished an extraordinary thirst of fame, which, in every
exertion of the human mind, is the parent of excellence. This liberal
contention was not a little promoted by the fashion introduced at Rome,
for poets to recite their compositions in public; a practice which seems
to have been carried even to a ridiculous excess.–Such was now the rage
for poetical composition in the Roman capital, that Horace describes it
in the following terms:

Mutavit mentem populus levis, et calet uno
Scribendi studio: pueri patresque severi
Fronde comas vincti coenant, et carmina dictant.–Epist. ii. 1.
* * * * * *

Now the light people bend to other aims;
A lust of scribbling every breast inflames;
Our youth, our senators, with bays are crowned,
And rhymes eternal as our feasts go round.

(190) Scribimus indocti doctique poemata passim.–Hor. Epeat. ii. 1.

But every desperate blockhead dares to write,
Verse is the trade of every living wight.–Francis.

The thirst of fame above mentioned, was a powerful incentive, and is
avowed both by Virgil and Horace. The former, in the third book of his
Georgics, announces a resolution of rendering himself celebrated, if

——–tentanda via est qua me quoque possim
Tollere humo, victorque virum volitare per ora.

I, too, will strive o’er earth my flight to raise,
And wing’d by victory, catch the gale of praise.–Sotheby.

And Horace, in the conclusion of his first Ode, expresses himself in
terms which indicate a similar purpose.

Quad si me lyricis vatibis inseres,
Sublimi feriam sidera vertice.

But if you rank me with the choir,
Who tuned with art the Grecian lyre;
Swift to the noblest heights of fame,
Shall rise thy poet’s deathless name.–Francis.

Even Sallust, a historian, in his introduction to Catiline’s Conspiracy,
scruples not to insinuate the same kind of ambition. Quo mihi rectius
videtur ingenii quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere; et quoniam vita
ipsa, qua fruimur, brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam
efficere. [283]

Another circumstance of great importance, towards the production of such
poetry as might live through every age, was the extreme attention which
the great poets of this period displayed, both in the composition, and
the polishing of their works. Virgil, when employed upon the Georgics,
usually wrote in the morning, and applied much of the subsequent part of
the day to correction and improvement. He compared himself to a bear,
that licks her cub into form. If this was his regular practice in the
Georgics, we may justly suppose that it was the same in the Aeneid. Yet,
after all this labour, he intended to devote three years entirely to its
farther amendment. Horace has gone so far in recommending careful
correction, that he figuratively mentions nine years as an adequate
period for that purpose. But whatever may be the time, there is no
precept which he urges either oftener or more forcibly, than a due
attention to this important subject.

(191) Saepe stylum vertas, iterum quae digna legi sint
Scripturus.–Sat. i. x.

Would you a reader’s just esteem engage?
Correct with frequent care the blotted page.–Francis.

——–Vos, O
Pompilius sanguis, carmen reprehendite, quod non
Multa dies et multa litura coercuit, atque
Perfectum decies non castigavit ad uuguem.
De. Art. Poet.

Sons of Pompilius, with contempt receive,
Nor let the hardy poem hope to live,
Where time and full correction don’t refine
The finished work, and polish every line.–Francis.

To the several causes above enumerated, as concurring to form the great
superiority of the Augustan age, as respects the productions of
literature, one more is to be subjoined, of a nature the most essential:
the liberal and unparalleled encouragement given to distinguished talents
by the emperor and his minister. This was a principle of the most
powerful energy: it fanned the flame of genius, invigorated every
exertion; and the poets who basked in the rays of imperial favour, and
the animating patronage of Mecaenas, experienced a poetic enthusiasm
which approached to real inspiration.

Having now finished the proposed explanation, relative to the celebrity
of the Augustan age, we shall conclude with recapitulating in a few words
the causes of this extraordinary occurrence.

The models, then, which the Romans derived from Grecian poetry, were the
finest productions of human genius; their incentives to emulation were
the strongest that could actuate the heart. With ardour, therefore, and
industry in composing, and with unwearied patience in polishing their
compositions, they attained to that glorious distinction in literature,
which no succeeding age has ever rivalled.


I. The patrician family of the Claudii (for there was a plebeian family
of the same name, no way inferior to the other either in power or
dignity) came originally from Regilli, a town of the Sabines. They
removed thence to Rome soon after the building of the city, with a great
body of their dependants, under Titus Tatius, who reigned jointly with
Romulus in the kingdom; or, perhaps, what is related upon better
authority, under Atta Claudius, the head of the family, who was admitted
by the senate into the patrician order six years after the expulsion of
the Tarquins. They likewise received from the state, lands beyond the
Anio for their followers, and a burying-place for themselves near the
capitol [284]. After this period, in process of time, the family had the
honour of twenty-eight consulships, five dictatorships, seven
censorships, seven triumphs, and two ovations. Their descendants were
distinguished by various praenomina and cognomina [285], but rejected by
common consent the praenomen of (193) Lucius, when, of the two races who
bore it, one individual had been convicted of robbery, and another of
murder. Amongst other cognomina, they assumed that of Nero, which in the
Sabine language signifies strong and valiant.

II. It appears from record, that many of the Claudii have performed
signal services to the state, as well as committed acts of delinquency.
To mention the most remarkable only, Appius Caecus dissuaded the senate
from agreeing to an alliance with Pyrrhus, as prejudicial to the republic
[286]. Claudius Candex first passed the straits of Sicily with a fleet,
and drove the Carthaginians out of the island [287]. Claudius Nero cut
off Hasdrubal with a vast army upon his arrival in Italy from Spain,
before he could form a junction with his brother Hannibal [288]. On the
other hand, Claudius Appius Regillanus, one of the Decemvirs, made a
violent attempt to have a free virgin, of whom he was enamoured, adjudged
a slave; which caused the people to secede a second time from the senate
[289]. Claudius Drusus erected a statue of himself wearing a crown at
Appii Forum [290], and endeavoured, by means of his dependants, to make
himself master of Italy. Claudius Pulcher, when, off the coast of Sicily
[291], the pullets used for taking augury would not eat, in contempt of
the omen threw them overboard, as if they should drink at least, if they
would not eat; and then engaging the enemy, was routed. After his
defeat, when he (194) was ordered by the senate to name a dictator,
making a sort of jest of the public disaster, he named Glycias, his

The women of this family, likewise, exhibited characters equally opposed
to each other. For both the Claudias belonged to it; she, who, when the
ship freighted with things sacred to the Idaean Mother of the Gods [292],
stuck fast in the shallows of the Tiber, got it off, by praying to the
Goddess with a loud voice, “Follow me, if I am chaste;” and she also,
who, contrary to the usual practice in the case of women, was brought to
trial by the people for treason; because, when her litter was stopped by
a great crowd in the streets, she openly exclaimed, “I wish my brother
Pulcher was alive now, to lose another fleet, that Rome might be less
thronged.” Besides, it is well known, that all the Claudii, except
Publius Claudius, who, to effect the banishment of Cicero, procured
himself to be adopted by a plebeian [293], and one younger than himself,
were always of the patrician party, as well as great sticklers for the
honour and power of that order; and so violent and obstinate in their
opposition to the plebeians, that not one of them, even in the case of a
trial for life by the people, would ever condescend to put on mourning,
according to custom, or make any supplication to them for favour; and
some of them in their contests, have even proceeded to lay hands on the
tribunes of the people. A Vestal Virgin likewise of the family, when her
brother was resolved to have the honour of a triumph contrary to the will
of the people, mounted the chariot with him, and attended him into the
Capitol, that it might not be lawful for any of the tribunes to interfere
and forbid it. [294]

III. From this family Tiberius Caesar is descended; indeed both by the
father and mother’s side; by the former from Tiberius Nero, and by the
latter from Appius Pulcher, who were both sons of Appius Caecus. He
likewise belonged to the family of the Livii, by the adoption of his
mother’s grandfather into it; which family, although plebeian, made a
(195) distinguished figure, having had the honour of eight consulships,
two censorships, three triumphs, one dictatorship, and the office of
master of the horse; and was famous for eminent men, particularly,
Salinator and the Drusi. Salinator, in his censorship [295], branded all
the tribes, for their inconstancy in having made him consul a second
time, as well as censor, although they had condemned him to a heavy fine
after his first consulship. Drusus procured for himself and his
posterity a new surname, by killing in single combat Drausus, the enemy’s
chief. He is likewise said to have recovered, when pro-praetor in the
province of Gaul, the gold which was formerly given to the Senones, at
the siege of the Capitol, and had not, as is reported, been forced from
them by Camillus. His great-great-grandson, who, for his extraordinary
services against the Gracchi, was styled the “Patron of the Senate,” left
a son, who, while plotting in a sedition of the same description, was
treacherously murdered by the opposite party. [296]

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