The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

LXVI. To the extreme anxiety of mind which he now experienced, he had
the mortification to find superadded the most poignant reproaches from
all quarters. Those who were condemned to die, heaped upon him the most
opprobrious language in his presence, or by hand-bills scattered in the
senators’ seats in the theatre. These produced different effects:
sometimes he wished, out of shame, to have all smothered and concealed;
at other times he would disregard what was said, and publish it himself.
To this accumulation of scandal and open sarcasm, there is to be
subjoined a letter from Artabanus, king of the Parthians, in which he
upbraids him with his parricides, murders, cowardice, and lewdness, and
advises him to satisfy the furious rage of his own people, which he had
so justly excited, by putting an end to his life without delay.

LXVII. At last, being quite weary of himself, he acknowledged his
extreme misery, in a letter to the senate, which begun thus: “What to
write to you, Conscript Fathers, or how to write, or what not to write at
this time, may all the gods and goddesses pour upon my head a more
terrible vengeance than that under which I feel myself daily sinking, if
I can tell.” Some are of opinion that he had a foreknowledge of those
things, from his skill in the science of divination, and perceived long
before what misery and infamy would at last come upon him; and that for
this reason, at the beginning of his reign, he had absolutely refused the
title of the “Father of his Country,” and the proposal of the senate to
swear to his acts; lest he should afterwards, to his greater shame, be
found unequal to such extraordinary honours. This, indeed, may be justly
inferred from the speeches which he made upon both those occasions; as
when he says, “I shall ever be the same, and shall never change my
conduct, so long as I retain my senses; but to avoid giving a bad
precedent to posterity, the senate ought to beware of binding themselves
to the acts of (234) any person whatever, who might by some accident or
other be induced to alter them.” And again: “If ye should at any time
entertain a jealousy of my conduct, and my entire affection for you,
which heaven prevent by putting a period to my days, rather than I should
live to see such an alteration in your opinion of me, the title of Father
will add no honour to me, but be a reproach to you, for your rashness in
conferring it upon me, or inconstancy in altering your opinion of me.”

LXVIII. In person he was large and robust; of a stature somewhat above
the common size; broad in the shoulders and chest, and proportionable in
the rest of his frame. He used his left hand more readily and with more
force than his right; and his joints were so strong, that he could bore a
fresh, sound apple through with his finger, and wound the head of a boy,
or even a young man, with a fillip. He was of a fair complexion, and
wore his hair so long behind, that it covered his neck, which was
observed to be a mark of distinction affected by the family. He had a
handsome face, but it was often full of pimples. His eyes, which were
large, had a wonderful faculty of seeing in the night-time, and in the
dark, for a short time only, and immediately after awaking from sleep;
but they soon grew dim again. He walked with his neck stiff and upright:
generally with a frowning countenance, being for the most part silent:
when he spoke to those about him, it was very slowly, and usually
accompanied with a slight gesticulation of his fingers. All which, being
repulsive habits and signs of arrogance, were remarked by Augustus, who
often endeavoured to excuse them to the senate and people, declaring that
“they were natural defects, which proceeded from no viciousness of mind.”
He enjoyed a good state of health, without interruption, almost during
the whole period of his rule; though, from the thirtieth year of his age,
he treated it himself according to his own discretion, without any
medical assistance.

LXIX. In regard to the gods, and matters of religion, he discovered much
indifference; being greatly addicted to astrology, and fully persuaded
that all things were governed by fate. Yet he was extremely afraid of
lightning, and when the sky was in a disturbed state, always wore a
laurel crown on his head; because it is supposed that the leaf of that
tree is never touched by the lightning.

(235) LXX. He applied himself with great diligence to the liberal arts,
both Greek and Latin. In his Latin style, he affected to imitate Messala
Corvinus [364], a venerable man, to whom he had paid much respect in his
own early years. But he rendered his style obscure by excessive
affectation and abstruseness, so that he was thought to speak better
extempore, than in a premeditated discourse. He composed likewise a
lyric ode, under the title of “A Lamentation upon the death of Lucius
Caesar;” and also some Greek poems, in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus,
and Parthenius [365]. These poets he greatly admired, and placed their
works and statues in the public libraries, amongst the eminent authors of
antiquity. On this account, most of the learned men of the time vied
with each other in publishing observations upon them, which they
addressed to him. His principal study, however, was the history of the
fabulous ages, inquiring even into its trifling details in a ridiculous
manner; for he used to try the grammarians, a class of men which, as I
have already observed, he much affected, with such questions as these:
“Who was Hecuba’s mother? What name did Achilles assume among the
virgins? What was it that the Sirens used to sing?” And the first day
that he entered the senate-house, after the death of Augustus, as if he
intended to pay respect at once to his father’s memory and to the gods,
he made an offering of frankincense and wine, but without any music, in
imitation of Minos, upon the death of his son.

LXXI. Though he was ready and conversant with the Greek tongue, yet he
did not use it everywhere; but chiefly he avoided it in the senate-house,
insomuch that having occasion to employ the word monopolium (monopoly),
he first begged pardon for being obliged to adopt a foreign word. And
when, in a decree of the senate, the word emblaema (emblem) was read, he
proposed to have it changed, and that a Latin word should be substituted
in its room; or, if no proper one could be found, to express the thing by
circumlocution. A soldier (236) who was examined as a witness upon a
trial, in Greek [366], he would not allow to reply, except in Latin.

LXXII. During the whole time of his seclusion at Capri, twice only he
made an effort to visit Rome. Once he came in a galley as far as the
gardens near the Naumachia, but placed guards along the banks of the
Tiber, to keep off all who should offer to come to meet him. The second
time he travelled on the Appian Way [367], as far as the seventh mile-
stone from the city, but he immediately returned, without entering it,
having only taken a view of the walls at a distance. For what reason he
did not disembark in his first excursion, is uncertain; but in the last,
he was deterred from entering the city by a prodigy. He was in the habit
of diverting himself with a snake, and upon going to feed it with his own
hand, according to custom, he found it devoured by ants: from which he
was advised to beware of the fury of the mob. On this account, returning
in all haste to Campania, he fell ill at Astura [368]; but recovering a
little, went on to Circeii [369]. And to obviate any suspicion of his
being in a bad state of health, he was not only present at the sports in
the camp, but encountered, with javelins, a wild boar, which was let
loose in the arena. Being immediately seized with a pain in the side,
and catching cold upon his over-heating himself in the exercise, he
relapsed into a worse condition than he was before. He held out,
however, for some time; and sailing as far as Misenum [370], omitted
nothing (237) in his usual mode of life, not even in his entertainments,
and other gratifications, partly from an ungovernable appetite, and
partly to conceal his condition. For Charicles, a physician, having
obtained leave of absence, on his rising from table, took his hand to
kiss it; upon which Tiberius, supposing he did it to feel his pulse,
desired him to stay and resume his place, and continued the entertainment
longer than usual. Nor did he omit his usual custom of taking his
station in the centre of the apartment, a lictor standing by him, while
he took leave of each of the party by name.

LXXIII. Meanwhile, finding, upon looking over the acts of the senate,
“that some person under prosecution had been discharged, without being
brought to a hearing,” for he had only written cursorily that they had
been denounced by an informer; he complained in a great rage that he was
treated with contempt, and resolved at all hazards to return to Capri;
not daring to attempt any thing until he found himself in a place of
security. But being detained by storms, and the increasing violence of
his disorder, he died shortly afterwards, at a villa formerly belonging
to Lucullus, in the seventy-eighth year of his age [371], and the twenty-
third of his reign, upon the seventeenth of the calends of April [16th
March], in the consulship of Cneius Acerronius Proculus and Caius Pontius
Niger. Some think that a slow-consuming poison was given him by Caius
[372]. Others say that during the interval of the intermittent fever
with which he happened to be seized, upon asking for food, it was denied
him. Others report, that he was stifled by a pillow thrown upon him
[373], when, on his recovering from a swoon, he called for his ring,
which had been taken from him in the fit. Seneca writes, “That finding
himself dying, he took his signet ring off his finger, and held it a
while, as if he would deliver it to somebody; but put it again upon his
finger, and lay for some time, with his left hand clenched, and without
stirring; when suddenly summoning his attendants, (238) and no one
answering the call, he rose; but his strength failing him, he fell down
at a short distance from his bed.”

LXXIV. Upon his last birth-day, he had brought a full-sized statue of
the Timenian Apollo from Syracuse, a work of exquisite art, intending to
place it in the library of the new temple [374]; but he dreamt that the
god appeared to him in the night, and assured him “that his statue could
not be erected by him.” A few days before he died, the Pharos at Capri
was thrown down by an earthquake. And at Misenum, some embers and live
coals, which were brought in to warm his apartment, went out, and after
being quite cold, burst out into a flame again towards evening, and
continued burning very brightly for several hours.

LXXV. The people were so much elated at his death, that when they first
heard the news, they ran up and down the city, some crying out, “Away
with Tiberius to the Tiber;” others exclaiming, “May the earth, the
common mother of mankind, and the infernal gods, allow him no abode in
death, but amongst the wicked.” Others threatened his body with the hook
and the Gemonian stairs, their indignation at his former cruelty being
increased by a recent atrocity. It had been provided by an act of the
senate, that the execution of condemned criminals should always be
deferred until the tenth day after the sentence. Now this fell on the
very day when the news of Tiberius’s death arrived, and in consequence of
which the unhappy men implored a reprieve, for mercy’s sake; but, as
Caius had not yet arrived, and there was no one else to whom application
could be made on their behalf, their guards, apprehensive of violating
the law, strangled them, and threw them down the Gemonian stairs. This
roused the people to a still greater abhorrence of the tyrant’s memory,
since his cruelty continued in use even after he was dead. As soon as
his corpse was begun to be moved from Misenum, many cried out for its
being carried to Atella [375], and being half burnt there (239) in the
amphitheatre. It was, however, brought to Rome, and burnt with the usual

LXXVI. He had made about two years before, duplicates of his will, one
written by his own hand, and the other by that of one of his freedmen;
and both were witnessed by some persons of very mean rank. He appointed
his two grandsons, Caius by Germanicus, and Tiberius by Drusus, joint
heirs to his estate; and upon the death of one of them, the other was to
inherit the whole. He gave likewise many legacies; amongst which were
bequests to the Vestal Virgins, to all the soldiers, and each one of the
people of Rome, and to the magistrates of the several quarters of the

* * * * * *

At the death of Augustus, there had elapsed so long a period from the
overthrow of the republic by Julius Caesar, that few were now living who
had been born under the ancient constitution of the Romans; and the mild
and prosperous administration of Augustus, during forty-four years, had
by this time reconciled the minds of the people to a despotic government.
Tiberius, the adopted son of the former sovereign, was of mature age; and
though he had hitherto lived, for the most part, abstracted from any
concern with public affairs, yet, having been brought up in the family of
Augustus, he was acquainted with his method of government, which, there
was reason to expect, he would render the model of his own. Livia, too,
his mother, and the relict of the late emperor, was still living, a woman
venerable by years, who had long been familiar with the councils of
Augustus, and from her high rank, as well as uncommon affability,
possessed an extensive influence amongst all classes of the people.

Such were the circumstances in favour of Tiberius’s succession at the
demise of Augustus; but there were others of a tendency disadvantageous
to his views. His temper was haughty and reserved: Augustus had often
apologised for the ungraciousness of his manners. He was disobedient to
his mother; and though he had not openly discovered any propensity to
vice, he enjoyed none of those qualities which usually conciliate
popularity. To these considerations it is to be added, that Postumus
Agrippa, the grandson of Augustus by Julia, was living; and if
consanguinity was to be the rule of succession, his right was
indisputably preferable to that of an adopted son. Augustus had sent
this youth into exile a few years before; but, towards the close (240) of
his life, had expressed a design of recalling him, with the view, as was
supposed, of appointing him his successor. The father of young Agrippa
had been greatly beloved by the Romans; and the fate of his mother,
Julia, though she was notorious for her profligacy, had ever been
regarded by them with peculiar sympathy and tenderness. Many, therefore,
attached to the son the partiality entertained for his parents; which was
increased not only by a strong suspicion, but a general surmise, that his
elder brothers, Caius and Lucius, had been violently taken off, to make
way for the succession of Tiberius. That an obstruction was apprehended
to Tiberius’s succession from this quarter, is put beyond all doubt, when
we find that the death of Augustus was industriously kept secret, until
young Agrippa should be removed; who, it is generally agreed, was
dispatched by an order from Livia and Tiberius conjointly, or at least
from the former. Though, by this act, there remained no rival to
Tiberius, yet the consciousness of his own want of pretensions to the
Roman throne, seems to have still rendered him distrustful of the
succession; and that he should have quietly obtained it, without the
voice of the people, the real inclination of the senate, or the support
of the army, can be imputed only to the influence of his mother, and his
own dissimulation. Ardently solicitous to attain the object, yet
affecting a total indifference; artfully prompting the senate to give him
the charge of the government, at the time that he intimated an invincible
reluctance to accept it; his absolutely declining it in perpetuity, but
fixing no time for an abdication; his deceitful insinuation of bodily
infirmities, with hints likewise of approaching old age, that he might
allay in the senate all apprehensions of any great duration of his power,
and repress in his adopted son, Germanicus, the emotions of ambition to
displace him; form altogether a scene of the most insidious policy,
inconsistency, and dissimulation.

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