The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XLIV. In preparing for this expedition, his first care was to provide
carriages for his musical instruments and machinery to be used upon the
stage; to have the hair of the concubines he carried with him dressed in
the fashion of men; and to supply them with battle-axes, and Amazonian
bucklers. He summoned the city-tribes to enlist; but no qualified
persons appearing, he ordered all masters to send a certain number of
slaves, the best they had, not excepting their stewards and secretaries.
He commanded the several orders of the people to bring in a fixed
proportion of their estates, as they stood in the censor’s books; all
tenants of houses and mansions to pay one year’s rent forthwith into the
exchequer; and, with unheard-of strictness, would receive only new coin
of the purest silver and the finest gold; insomuch that most people
refused to pay, crying out unanimously that he ought to squeeze the
informers, and oblige them to surrender their gains.

XLV. The general odium in which he was held received an increase by the
great scarcity of corn, and an occurrence connected with it. For, as it
happened just at that time, there arrived from Alexandria a ship, which
was said to be freighted (374) with dust for the wrestlers belonging to
the emperor [621]. This so much inflamed the public rage, that he was
treated with the utmost abuse and scurrility. Upon the top of one of his
statues was placed the figure of a chariot with a Greek inscription, that
“Now indeed he had a race to run; let him be gone.” A little bag was
tied about another, with a ticket containing these words; “What could I
do?”–“Truly thou hast merited the sack.” [622] Some person likewise
wrote on the pillars in the forum, “that he had even woke the cocks [623] with his singing.” And many, in the night-time, pretending to find fault
with their servants, frequently called for a Vindex. [624]

XLVI. He was also terrified with manifest warnings, both old and new,
arising from dreams, auspices, and omens. He had never been used to
dream before the murder of his mother. After that event, he fancied in
his sleep that he was steering a ship, and that the rudder was forced
from him: that he was dragged by his wife Octavia into a prodigiously
dark place; and was at one time covered over with a vast swarm of winged
ants, and at another, surrounded by the national images which were set up
near Pompey’s theatre, and hindered from advancing farther; that a
Spanish jennet he was fond of, had his hinder parts so changed, as to
resemble those of an ape; and having his head only left unaltered,
neighed very harmoniously. The doors of the mausoleum of Augustus flying
open of themselves, there issued from it a voice, calling on him by name.
The Lares being adorned with fresh garlands on the calends (the first) of
January, fell down during the preparations for sacrificing to them.
While he was taking (375) the omens, Sporus presented him with a ring,
the stone of which had carved upon it the Rape of Proserpine. When a
great multitude of the several orders was assembled, to attend at the
solemnity of making vows to the gods, it was a long time before the keys
of the Capitol could be found. And when, in a speech of his to the
senate against Vindex, these words were read, “that the miscreants should
be punished and soon make the end they merited,” they all cried out, “You
will do it, Augustus.” It was likewise remarked, that the last tragic
piece which he sung, was Oedipus in Exile, and that he fell as he was
repeating this verse:

Thanein m’ anoge syngamos, maetaer, pataer.
Wife, mother, father, force me to my end.

XLVII. Meanwhile, on the arrival of the news, that the rest of the
armies had declared against him, he tore to pieces the letters which were
delivered to him at dinner, overthrew the table, and dashed with violence
against the ground two favourite cups, which he called Homer’s, because
some of that poet’s verses were cut upon them. Then taking from Locusta
a dose of poison, which he put up in a golden box, he went into the
Servilian gardens, and thence dispatching a trusty freedman to Ostia,
with orders to make ready a fleet, he endeavoured to prevail with some
tribunes and centurions of the pretorian guards to attend him in his
flight; but part of them showing no great inclination to comply, others
absolutely refusing, and one of them crying out aloud,

Usque adeone mori miserum est?
Say, is it then so sad a thing to die? [625]

he was in great perplexity whether he should submit himself to Galba, or
apply to the Parthians for protection, or else appear before the people
dressed in mourning, and, upon the rostra, in the most piteous manner,
beg pardon for his past misdemeanors, and, if he could not prevail,
request of them to grant him at least the government of Egypt. A speech
to this purpose was afterwards found in his writing-case. But it is
conjectured that he durst not venture upon this project, for fear of
being torn to pieces, before he could get to the Forum. Deferring,
therefore, his resolution until the next (376) day, he awoke about
midnight, and finding the guards withdrawn, he leaped out of bed, and
sent round for his friends. But none of them vouchsafing any message in
reply, he went with a few attendants to their houses. The doors being
every where shut, and no one giving him any answer, he returned to his
bed-chamber; whence those who had the charge of it had all now eloped;
some having gone one way, and some another, carrying off with them his
bedding and box of poison. He then endeavoured to find Spicillus, the
gladiator, or some one to kill him; but not being able to procure any
one, “What!” said he, “have I then neither friend nor foe?” and
immediately ran out, as if he would throw himself into the Tiber.

XLVIII. But this furious impulse subsiding, he wished for some place of
privacy, where he might collect his thoughts; and his freedman Phaon
offering him his country-house, between the Salarian [626] and Nomentan
[627] roads, about four miles from the city, he mounted a horse, barefoot
as he was, and in his tunic, only slipping over it an old soiled cloak;
with his head muffled up, and an handkerchief before his face, and four
persons only to attend him, of whom Sporus was one. He was suddenly
struck with horror by an earthquake, and by a flash of lightning which
darted full in his face, and heard from the neighbouring camp [628] the
shouts of the soldiers, wishing his destruction, and prosperity to Galba.
He also heard a traveller they met on the road, say, “They are (377) in
pursuit of Nero:” and another ask, “Is there any news in the city about
Nero?” Uncovering his face when his horse was started by the scent of a
carcase which lay in the road, he was recognized and saluted by an old
soldier who had been discharged from the guards. When they came to the
lane which turned up to the house, they quitted their horses, and with
much difficulty he wound among bushes, and briars, and along a track
through a bed of rushes, over which they spread their cloaks for him to
walk on. Having reached a wall at the back of the villa, Phaon advised
him to hide himself awhile in a sand-pit; when he replied, “I will not go
under-ground alive.” Staying there some little time, while preparations
were made for bringing him privately into the villa, he took up some
water out of a neighbouring tank in his hand, to drink, saying, “This is
Nero’s distilled water.” [629] Then his cloak having been torn by the
brambles, he pulled out the thorns which stuck in it. At last, being
admitted, creeping upon his hands and knees, through a hole made for him
in the wall, he lay down in the first closet he came to, upon a miserable
pallet, with an old coverlet thrown over it; and being both hungry and
thirsty, though he refused some coarse bread that was brought him, he
drank a little warm water.

XLIX. All who surrounded him now pressing him to save himself from the
indignities which were ready to befall him, he ordered a pit to be sunk
before his eyes, of the size of his body, and the bottom to be covered
with pieces of marble put together, if any could be found about the
house; and water and wood [630], to be got ready for immediate use about
his corpse; weeping at every thing that was done, and frequently saying,
“What an artist is now about to perish!” Meanwhile, letters being
brought in by a servant belonging to Phaon, he snatched them out of his
hand, and there read, “That he had been declared an enemy by the senate,
and that search was making for him, that he might be punished according
to the ancient custom of the Romans.” He then inquired what kind of
punishment that was; and being told, that the (378) practice was to strip
the criminal naked, and scourge him to death, while his neck was fastened
within a forked stake, he was so terrified that he took up two daggers
which he had brought with him, and after feeling the points of both, put
them up again, saying, “The fatal hour is not yet come.” One while, he
begged of Sporus to begin to wail and lament; another while, he entreated
that one of them would set him an example by killing himself; and then
again, he condemned his own want of resolution in these words: “I yet
live to my shame and disgrace: this is not becoming for Nero: it is not
becoming. Thou oughtest in such circumstances to have a good heart:
Come, then: courage, man!” [631] The horsemen who had received orders to
bring him away alive, were now approaching the house. As soon as he
heard them coming, he uttered with a trembling voice the following verse,

Hippon m’ okupodon amphi ktupos ouata ballei; [632] The noise of swift-heel’d steeds assails my ears;

he drove a dagger into his throat, being assisted in the act by
Epaphroditus, his secretary. A centurion bursting in just as he was
half-dead, and applying his cloak to the wound, pretending that he was
come to his assistance, he made no other reply but this, “‘Tis too late;”
and “Is this your loyalty?” Immediately after pronouncing these words,
he expired, with his eyes fixed and starting out of his head, to the
terror of all who beheld him. He had requested of his attendants, as the
most essential favour, that they would let no one have his head, but that
by all means his body might be burnt entire. And this, Icelus, Galba’s
freedman, granted. He had but a little before been discharged from the
prison into which he had been thrown, when the disturbances first broke

L. The expenses of his funeral amounted to two hundred thousand
sesterces; the bed upon which his body was carried to the pile and burnt,
being covered with the white robes, interwoven with gold, which he had
worn upon the calends of January preceding. His nurses, Ecloge and
Alexandra, with his concubine Acte, deposited his remains in the tomb
belonging (379) to the family of the Domitii, which stands upon the top
of the Hill of the Gardens [633], and is to be seen from the Campus
Martius. In that monument, a coffin of porphyry, with an altar of marble
of Luna over it, is enclosed by a wall built of stone brought from
Thasos. [634]

LI. In stature he was a little below the common height; his skin was
foul and spotted; his hair inclined to yellow; his features were
agreeable, rather than handsome; his eyes grey and dull, his neck was
thick, his belly prominent, his legs very slender, his constitution
sound. For, though excessively luxurious in his mode of living, he had,
in the course of fourteen years, only three fits of sickness; which were
so slight, that he neither forbore the use of wine, nor made any
alteration in his usual diet. In his dress, and the care of his person,
he was so careless, that he had his hair cut in rings, one above another;
and when in Achaia, he let it grow long behind; and he generally appeared
in public in the loose dress which he used at table, with a handkerchief
about his neck, and without either a girdle or shoes.

LII. He was instructed, when a boy, in the rudiments of almost all the
liberal sciences; but his mother diverted him from the study of
philosophy, as unsuited to one destined to be an emperor; and his
preceptor, Seneca, discouraged him from reading the ancient orators, that
he might longer secure his devotion to himself. Therefore, having a turn
for poetry, (380) he composed verses both with pleasure and ease; nor did
he, as some think, publish those of other writers as his own. Several
little pocket-books and loose sheets have cone into my possession, which
contain some well-known verses in his own hand, and written in such a
manner, that it was very evident, from the blotting and interlining, that
they had not been transcribed from a copy, nor dictated by another, but
were written by the composer of them.

LIII. He had likewise great taste for drawing and painting, as well as
for moulding statues in plaster. But, above all things, he most eagerly
coveted popularity, being the rival of every man who obtained the
applause of the people for any thing he did. It was the general belief,
that, after the crowns he won by his performances on the stage, he would
the next lustrum have taken his place among the wrestlers at the Olympic
games. For he was continually practising that art; nor did he witness
the gymnastic games in any part of Greece otherwise than sitting upon the
ground in the stadium, as the umpires do. And if a pair of wrestlers
happened to break the bounds, he would with his own hands drag them back
into the centre of the circle. Because he was thought to equal Apollo in
music, and the sun in chariot-driving, he resolved also to imitate the
achievements of Hercules. And they say that a lion was got ready for him
to kill, either with a club, or with a close hug, in view of the people
in the amphitheatre; which he was to perform naked.

LIV. Towards the end of his life, he publicly vowed, that if his power
in the state was securely re-established, he would, in the spectacles
which he intended to exhibit in honour of his success, include a
performance upon organs [635], as well as upon flutes and bagpipes, and,
on the last day of the games, would act in the play, and take the part of
Turnus, as we find it in Virgil. And there are some who say, that he put
to death the player Paris as a dangerous rival.

LV. He had an insatiable desire to immortalize his name, and acquire a
reputation which should last through all succeeding ages; but it was
capriciously directed. He therefore (381) took from several things and
places their former appellations, and gave them new names derived from
his own. He called the month of April, Neroneus, and designed changing
the name of Rome into that of Neropolis.

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