The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XXIX. He prostituted his own chastity to such a degree, that (358) after
he had defiled every part of his person with some unnatural pollution, he
at last invented an extraordinary kind of diversion; which was, to be let
out of a den in the arena, covered with the skin of a wild beast, and
then assail with violence the private parts both of men and women, while
they were bound to stakes. After he had vented his furious passion upon
them, he finished the play in the embraces of his freedman Doryphorus
[595], to whom he was married in the same way that Sporus had been
married to himself; imitating the cries and shrieks of young virgins,
when they are ravished. I have been informed from numerous sources, that
he firmly believed, no man in the world to be chaste, or any part of his
person undefiled; but that most men concealed that vice, and were cunning
enough to keep it secret. To those, therefore, who frankly owned their
unnatural lewdness, he forgave all other crimes.

XXX. He thought there was no other use of riches and money than to
squander them away profusely; regarding all those as sordid wretches who
kept their expenses within due bounds; and extolling those as truly noble
and generous souls, who lavished away and wasted all they possessed. He
praised and admired his uncle Caius [596], upon no account more, than for
squandering in a short time the vast treasure left him by Tiberius.
Accordingly, he was himself extravagant and profuse, beyond all bounds.
He spent upon Tiridates eight hundred thousand sesterces a day, a sum
almost incredible; and at his departure, presented him with upwards of a
million [597]. He likewise bestowed upon Menecrates the harper, and
Spicillus a gladiator, the estates and houses of men who had received the
honour of a triumph. He enriched the usurer Cercopithecus Panerotes with
estates both in town and country; and gave him a funeral, in pomp and
magnificence little inferior to that of princes. He never wore the same
garment twice. He (359) has been known to stake four hundred thousand
sesterces on a throw of the dice. It was his custom to fish with a
golden net, drawn by silken cords of purple and scarlet. It is said,
that he never travelled with less than a thousand baggage-carts; the
mules being all shod with silver, and the drivers dressed in scarlet
jackets of the finest Canusian cloth [598], with a numerous train of
footmen, and troops of Mazacans [599], with bracelets on their arms, and
mounted upon horses in splendid trappings.

XXXI. In nothing was he more prodigal than in his buildings. He
completed his palace by continuing it from the Palatine to the Esquiline
hill, calling the building at first only “The Passage,” but, after it was
burnt down and rebuilt, “The Golden House.” [600] Of its dimensions and
furniture, it may be sufficient to say thus much: the porch was so high
that there stood in it a colossal statue of himself a hundred and twenty
feet in height; and the space included in it was so ample, that it had
triple porticos a mile in length, and a lake like a sea, surrounded with
buildings which had the appearance of a city. Within its area were corn
fields, vineyards, pastures, and woods, containing a vast number of
animals of various kinds, both wild and tame. In other parts it was
entirely over-laid with gold, and adorned with jewels and mother of
pearl. The supper rooms were vaulted, and compartments of the ceilings,
inlaid with ivory, were made to revolve, and scatter flowers; while they
contained pipes which (360) shed unguents upon the guests. The chief
banqueting room was circular, and revolved perpetually, night and day, in
imitation of the motion of the celestial bodies. The baths were supplied
with water from the sea and the Albula. Upon the dedication of this
magnificent house after it was finished, all he said in approval of it
was, “that he had now a dwelling fit for a man.” He commenced making a
pond for the reception of all the hot streams from Baiae, which he
designed to have continued from Misenum to the Avernian lake, in a
conduit, enclosed in galleries; and also a canal from Avernum to Ostia,
that ships might pass from one to the other, without a sea voyage. The
length of the proposed canal was one hundred and sixty miles; and it was
intended to be of breadth sufficient to permit ships with five banks of
oars to pass each other. For the execution of these designs, he ordered
all prisoners, in every part of the empire, to be brought to Italy; and
that even those who were convicted of the most heinous crimes, in lieu of
any other sentence, should be condemned to work at them. He was
encouraged to all this wild and enormous profusion, not only by the great
revenue of the empire, but by the sudden hopes given him of an immense
hidden treasure, which queen Dido, upon her flight from Tyre, had brought
with her to Africa. This, a Roman knight pretended to assure him, upon
good grounds, was still hid there in some deep caverns, and might with a
little labour be recovered.

XXXII. But being disappointed in his expectations of this resource, and
reduced to such difficulties, for want of money, that he was obliged to
defer paying his troops, and the rewards due to the veterans; he resolved
upon supplying his necessities by means of false accusations and plunder.
In the first place, he ordered, that if any freedman, without sufficient
reason, bore the name of the family to which he belonged; the half,
instead of three fourths, of his estate should be brought into the
exchequer at his decease: also that the estates of all such persons as
had not in their wills been mindful of their prince, should be
confiscated; and that the lawyers who had drawn or dictated such wills,
should be liable to a fine. He ordained likewise, that all words and
actions, upon which any informer could ground a prosecution, should be
deemed treason. He demanded an equivalent for the crowns which the
cities of (361) Greece had at any time offered him in the solemn games.
Having forbad any one to use the colours of amethyst and Tyrian purple,
he privately sent a person to sell a few ounces of them upon the day of
the Nundinae, and then shut up all the merchants’ shops, on the pretext
that his edict had been violated. It is said, that, as he was playing
and singing in the theatre, observing a married lady dressed in the
purple which he had prohibited, he pointed her out to his procurators;
upon which she was immediately dragged out of her seat, and not only
stripped of her clothes, but her property. He never nominated a person
to any office without saying to him, “You know what I want; and let us
take care that nobody has any thing he can call his own.” At last he
rifled many temples of the rich offerings with which they were stored,
and melted down all the gold and silver statues, and amongst them those
of the penates [601], which Galba afterwards restored.

XXXIII. He began the practice of parricide and murder with Claudius
himself; for although he was not the contriver of his death, he was privy
to the plot. Nor did he make any secret of it; but used afterwards to
commend, in a Greek proverb, mushrooms as food fit for the gods, because
Claudius had been poisoned with them. He traduced his memory both by
word and deed in the grossest manner; one while charging him with folly,
another while with cruelty. For he used to say by way of jest, that he
had ceased morari [602] amongst men, pronouncing the first syllable long;
and treated as null many of his decrees and ordinances, as made by a
doting old blockhead. He enclosed the place where his body was burnt
with only a low wall of rough masonry. He attempted to poison (362)
Britannicus, as much out of envy because he had a sweeter voice, as from
apprehension of what might ensue from the respect which the people
entertained for his father’s memory. He employed for this purpose a
woman named Locusta, who had been a witness against some persons guilty
of like practices. But the poison she gave him, working more slowly than
he expected, and only causing a purge, he sent for the woman, and beat
her with his own hand, charging her with administering an antidote
instead of poison; and upon her alleging in excuse, that she had given
Britannicus but a gentle mixture in order to prevent suspicion, “Think
you,” said he, “that I am afraid of the Julian law;” and obliged her to
prepare, in his own chamber and before his eyes, as quick and strong a
dose as possible. This he tried upon a kid: but the animal lingering for
five hours before it expired, he ordered her to go to work again; and
when she had done, he gave the poison to a pig, which dying immediately,
he commanded the potion to be brought into the eating-room and given to
Britannicus, while he was at supper with him. The prince had no sooner
tasted it than he sunk on the floor, Nero meanwhile, pretending to the
guests, that it was only a fit of the falling sickness, to which, he
said, he was subject. He buried him the following day, in a mean and
hurried way, during violent storms of rain. He gave Locusta a pardon,
and rewarded her with a great estate in land, placing some disciples with
her, to be instructed in her trade.

XXXIV. His mother being used to make strict inquiry into what he said or
did, and to reprimand him with the freedom of a parent, he was so much
offended, that he endeavoured to expose her to public resentment, by
frequently pretending a resolution to quit the government, and retire to
Rhodes. Soon afterwards, he deprived her of all honour and power, took
from her the guard of Roman and German soldiers, banished her from the
palace and from his society, and persecuted her in every way he could
contrive; employing persons to harass her when at Rome with law-suits,
and to disturb her in her retirement from town with the most scurrilous
and abusive language, following her about by land and sea. But being
terrified with her menaces and violent spirit, he resolved upon her
destruction, and thrice attempted it by poison. Finding, however, (363)
that she had previously secured herself by antidotes, he contrived
machinery, by which the floor over her bed-chamber might be made to fall
upon her while she was asleep in the night. This design miscarrying
likewise, through the little caution used by those who were in the
secret, his next stratagem was to construct a ship which could be easily
shivered, in hopes of destroying her either by drowning, or by the deck
above her cabin crushing her in its fall. Accordingly, under colour of a
pretended reconciliation, he wrote her an extremely affectionate letter,
inviting her to Baiae, to celebrate with him the festival of Minerva. He
had given private orders to the captains of the galleys which were to
attend her, to shatter to pieces the ship in which she had come, by
falling foul of it, but in such manner that it might appear to be done
accidentally. He prolonged the entertainment, for the more convenient
opportunity of executing the plot in the night; and at her return for
Bauli [603], instead of the old ship which had conveyed her to Baiae, he
offered that which he had contrived for her destruction. He attended her
to the vessel in a very cheerful mood, and, at parting with her, kissed
her breasts; after which he sat up very late in the night, waiting with
great anxiety to learn the issue of his project. But receiving
information that every thing had fallen out contrary to his wish, and
that she had saved herself by swimming,–not knowing what course to take,
upon her freedman, Lucius Agerinus bringing word, with great joy, that
she was safe and well, he privately dropped a poniard by him. He then
commanded the freedman to be seized and put in chains, under pretence of
his having been employed by his mother to assassinate him; at the same
time ordering her to be put to death, and giving out, that, to avoid
punishment for her intended crime, she had laid violent hands upon
herself. Other circumstances, still more horrible, are related on good
authority; as that he went to view her corpse, and handling her limbs,
pointed out some blemishes, and commended other points; and that, growing
thirsty during the survey, he called for drink. Yet he was never
afterwards able to bear the stings of his own conscience for this
atrocious act, although encouraged by the congratulatory addresses of the
army, the senate, and people. He frequently affirmed that he was haunted
by his mother’s ghost, and persecuted with the whips (364) and burning
torches of the Furies. Nay, he attempted by magical rites to bring up
her ghost from below, and soften her rage against him. When he was in
Greece, he durst not attend the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries,
at the initiation of which, impious and wicked persons are warned by the
voice of the herald from approaching the rites [604]. Besides the murder
of his mother, he had been guilty of that of his aunt; for, being obliged
to keep her bed in consequence of a complaint in her bowels, he paid her
a visit, and she, being then advanced in years, stroking his downy chin,
in the tenderness of affection, said to him: “May I but live to see the
day when this is shaved for the first time [605], and I shall then die
contented.” He turned, however, to those about him, made a jest of it,
saying, that he would have his beard immediately taken off, and ordered
the physicians to give her more violent purgatives. He seized upon her
estate before she had expired; suppressing her will, that he might enjoy
the whole himself.

XXXV. He had, besides Octavia, two other wives: Poppaea Sabina, whose
father had borne the office of quaestor, and who had been married before
to a Roman knight: and, after her, Statilia Messalina, great-grand-
daughter of Taurus [606] who was twice consul, and received the honour of
a triumph. To obtain possession of her, he put to death her husband,
Atticus Vestinus, who was then consul. He soon became disgusted with
Octavia, and ceased from having any intercourse with her; and being
censured by his friends for it, he replied, “She ought to be satisfied
with having the rank and appendages of his wife.” Soon afterwards, he
made several attempts, but in vain, to strangle her, and then divorced
her for barrenness. But the people, disapproving of the divorce, and
making severe comments upon it, he also banished her [607]. At last he
(365) put her to death, upon a charge of adultery, so impudent and false,
that, when all those who were put to the torture positively denied their
knowledge of it, he suborned his pedagogue, Anicetus, to affirm, that he
had secretly intrigued with and debauched her. He married Poppaea twelve
days after the divorce of Octavia [608], and entertained a great
affection for her; but, nevertheless, killed her with a kick which he
gave her when she was big with child, and in bad health, only because she
found fault with him for returning late from driving his chariot. He had
by her a daughter, Claudia Augusta, who died an infant. There was no
person at all connected with him who escaped his deadly and unjust
cruelty. Under pretence of her being engaged in a plot against him, he
put to death Antonia, Claudius’s daughter, who refused to marry him after
the death of Poppaea. In the same way, he destroyed all who were allied
to him either by blood or marriage; amongst whom was young Aulus
Plautinus. He first compelled him to submit to his unnatural lust, and
then ordered him to be executed, crying out, “Let my mother bestow her
kisses on my successor thus defiled;” pretending that he had been his
mothers paramour, and by her encouraged to aspire to the empire. His
step-son, Rufinus Crispinus, Poppaea’s son, though a minor, he ordered to
be drowned in the sea, while he was fishing, by his own slaves, because
he was reported to act frequently amongst his play-fellows the part of a
general or an emperor. He banished Tuscus, his nurse’s son, for
presuming, when he was procurator of Egypt, to wash in the baths which
had been constructed in expectation of his own coming. Seneca, his
preceptor, he forced to kill himself [609], though, upon his desiring
leave to retire, and offering to surrender his estate, he solemnly swore,
“that there was no foundation for his suspicions, and that he would
perish himself sooner than hurt him.” Having promised Burrhus, the
pretorian prefect, a remedy for a swelling in his throat, he sent him
poison. Some old rich freedmen of Claudius, who had formerly not only
promoted (366) his adoption, but were also instrumental to his
advancement to the empire, and had been his governors, he took off by
poison given them in their meat or drink.

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