The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XIV. Becoming by these means universally feared and odious, he was at
last taken off by a conspiracy of his friends and favourite freedmen, in
concert with his wife [829]. He had long entertained a suspicion of the
year and day when he should die, and even of the very hour and manner of
his death; all which he had learned from the Chaldaeans, when he was a
very young man. His father once at supper laughed at him for refusing to
eat some mushrooms, saying, that if he knew his fate, he would rather be
afraid of the sword. Being, therefore, in perpetual apprehension and
anxiety, he was keenly alive to the slightest suspicions, insomuch that
he is thought to have withdrawn the edict ordering the destruction of the
vines, chiefly because the copies of it which were dispersed had the
following lines written upon them:

Kaen me phagaes epi rizanomos epi kartophoraeso,
Osson epispeisai Kaisari thuomeno. [830]

Gnaw thou my root, yet shall my juice suffice
To pour on Caesar’s head in sacrifice.

(492) It was from the same principle of fear, that he refused a new
honour, devised and offered him by the senate, though he was greedy of
all such compliments. It was this: “that as often as he held the
consulship, Roman knights, chosen by lot, should walk before him, clad in
the Trabea, with lances in their hands, amongst his lictors and
apparitors.” As the time of the danger which he apprehended drew near,
he became daily more and more disturbed in mind; insomuch that he lined
the walls of the porticos in which he used to walk, with the stone called
Phengites [831], by the reflection of which he could see every object
behind him. He seldom gave an audience to persons in custody, unless in
private, being alone, and he himself holding their chains in his hand.
To convince his domestics that the life of a master was not to be
attempted upon any pretext, however plausible, he condemned to death
Epaphroditus his secretary, because it was believed that he had assisted
Nero, in his extremity, to kill himself.

XV. His last victim was Flavius Clemens [832], his cousin-german, a man
below contempt for his want of energy, whose sons, then of very tender
age, he had avowedly destined for his successors, and, discarding their
former names, had ordered one to be called Vespasian, and the other
Domitian. Nevertheless, he suddenly put him to death upon some very
slight suspicion [833], almost before he was well out of his consulship.
By this violent act he very much hastened his own destruction. During
eight months together there was so much lightning at Rome, and such
accounts of the phaenomenon were brought from other parts, that at last
he cried out, “Let him now strike whom he will.” The Capitol was struck
by lightning, as well as the temple of the Flavian family, with the
Palatine-house, and his own bed-chamber. The tablet also, inscribed upon
the base of his triumphal statue was carried away by the violence of the
storm, and fell upon a neighbouring (493) monument. The tree which just
before the advancement of Vespasian had been prostrated, and rose again
[834], suddenly fell to the ground. The goddess Fortune of Praeneste, to
whom it was his custom on new year’s day to commend the empire for the
ensuing year, and who had always given him a favourable reply, at last
returned him a melancholy answer, not without mention of blood. He
dreamt that Minerva, whom he worshipped even to a superstitious excess,
was withdrawing from her sanctuary, declaring she could protect him no
longer, because she was disarmed by Jupiter. Nothing, however, so much
affected him as an answer given by Ascletario, the astrologer, and his
subsequent fate. This person had been informed against, and did not deny
his having predicted some future events, of which, from the principles of
his art, he confessed he had a foreknowledge. Domitian asked him, what
end he thought he should come to himself? To which replying, “I shall in
a short time be torn to pieces by dogs,” he ordered him immediately to be
slain, and, in order to demonstrate the vanity of his art, to be
carefully buried. But during the preparations for executing this order,
it happened that the funeral pile was blown down by a sudden storm, and
the body, half-burnt, was torn to pieces by dogs; which being observed by
Latinus, the comic actor, as he chanced to pass that way, he told it,
amongst the other news of the day, to the emperor at supper.

XVI. The day before his death, he ordered some dates [835], served up at
table, to be kept till the next day, adding, “If I have the luck to use
them.” And turning to those who were nearest him, he said, “To-morrow
the moon in Aquarius will be bloody instead of watery, and an event will
happen, which will be much talked of all the world over.” About
midnight, he was so terrified that he leaped out of bed. That morning he
tried and passed sentence on a soothsayer sent from Germany, who being
consulted about the lightning that had lately (494) happened, predicted
from it a change of government. The blood running down his face as he
scratched an ulcerous tumour on his forehead, he said, “Would this were
all that is to befall me!” Then, upon his asking the time of the day,
instead of five o’clock, which was the hour he dreaded, they purposely
told him it was six. Overjoyed at this information; as if all danger
were now passed, and hastening to the bath, Parthenius, his chamberlain,
stopped him, by saying that there was a person come to wait upon him
about a matter of great importance, which would admit of no delay. Upon
this, ordering all persons to withdraw, he retired into his chamber, and
was there slain.

XVII. Concerning the contrivance and mode of his death, the common
account is this. The conspirators being in some doubt when and where
they should attack him, whether while he was in the bath, or at supper,
Stephanus, a steward of Domitilla’s [836], then under prosecution for
defrauding his mistress, offered them his advice and assistance; and
wrapping up his left arm, as if it was hurt, in wool and bandages for
some days, to prevent suspicion, at the hour appointed, he secreted a
dagger in them. Pretending then to make a discovery of a conspiracy, and
being for that reason admitted, he presented to the emperor a memorial,
and while he was reading it in great astonishment, stabbed him in the
groin. But Domitian, though wounded, making resistance, Clodianus, one
of his guards, Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius’s, Saturius, his
principal chamberlain, with some gladiators, fell upon him, and stabbed
him in seven places. A boy who had the charge of the Lares in his bed-
chamber, and was then in attendance as usual, gave these further
particulars: that he was ordered by Domitian, upon receiving his first
wound, to reach him a dagger which lay under his pillow, and call in his
domestics; but that he found nothing at the head of the bed, excepting
the hilt of a (495) poniard, and that all the doors were fastened: that
the emperor in the mean time got hold of Stephanus, and throwing him upon
the ground, struggled a long time with him; one while endeavouring to
wrench the dagger from him, another while, though his fingers were
miserably mangled, to tear out his eyes. He was slain upon the
fourteenth of the calends of October [18th Sept.], in the forty-fifth
year of his age, and the fifteenth of his reign [837]. His corpse was
carried out upon a common bier by the public bearers, and buried by his
nurse Phyllis, at his suburban villa on the Latin Way. But she
afterwards privately conveyed his remains to the temple of the Flavian
family [838], and mingled them with the ashes of Julia, the daughter of
Titus, whom she had also nursed.

XVIII. He was tall in stature, his face modest, and very ruddy; he had
large eyes, but was dim-sighted; naturally graceful in his person,
particularly in his youth, excepting only that his toes were bent
somewhat inward, he was at last disfigured by baldness, corpulence, and
the slenderness of his legs, which were reduced by a long illness. He
was so sensible how much the modesty of his countenance recommended him,
that he once made this boast to the senate, “Thus far you have approved
both of my disposition and my countenance.” His baldness so much annoyed
him, that he considered it an affront to himself, if any other person was
reproached with it, either in jest or in earnest; though in a small tract
he published, addressed to a friend, “concerning the preservation of the
hair,” he uses for their mutual consolation the words following:

Ouch oraas oios kago kalos te megas te;
Seest thou my graceful mien, my stately form?

“and yet the fate of my hair awaits me; however, I bear with fortitude
this loss of my hair while I am still young. Remember that nothing is
more fascinating than beauty, but nothing of shorter duration.”

XIX. He so shrunk from undergoing fatigue, that he scarcely ever walked
through the city on foot. In his (496) expeditions and on a march, he
seldom rode on horse-back; but was generally carried in a litter. He had
no inclination for the exercise of arms, but was very expert in the use
of the bow. Many persons have seen him often kill a hundred wild
animals, of various kinds, at his Alban retreat, and fix his arrows in
their heads with such dexterity, that he could, in two shots, plant them,
like a pair of horns, in each. He would sometimes direct his arrows
against the hand of a boy standing at a distance, and expanded as a mark,
with such precision, that they all passed between the boy’s fingers,
without hurting him.

XX. In the beginning of his reign, he gave up the study of the liberal
sciences, though he took care to restore, at a vast expense, the
libraries which had been burnt down; collecting manuscripts from all
parts, and sending scribes to Alexandria [839], either to copy or correct
them. Yet he never gave himself the trouble of reading history or
poetry, or of employing his pen even for his private purposes. He
perused nothing but the Commentaries and Acts of Tiberius Caesar. His
letters, speeches, and edicts, were all drawn up for him by others;
though he could converse with elegance, and sometimes expressed himself
in memorable sentiments. “I could wish,” said he once, “that I was but
as handsome as Metius fancies himself to be.” And of the head of some
one whose hair was partly reddish, and partly grey, he said, “that it was
snow sprinkled with mead.”

XXI. “The lot of princes,” he remarked, “was very miserable, for no one
believed them when they discovered a conspiracy, until they were
murdered.” When he had leisure, he amused himself with dice, even on
days that were not festivals, and in the morning. He went to the bath
early, and made a plentiful dinner, insomuch that he seldom ate more at
supper than a Matian apple [840], to which he added a (497) draught of
wine, out of a small flask. He gave frequent and splendid
entertainments, but they were soon over, for he never prolonged them
after sun-set, and indulged in no revel after. For, till bed-time, he
did nothing else but walk by himself in private.

XXII. He was insatiable in his lusts, calling frequent commerce with
women, as if it was a sort of exercise, klinopalaen, bed-wrestling; and
it was reported that he plucked the hair from his concubines, and swam
about in company with the lowest prostitutes. His brother’s daughter
[841] was offered him in marriage when she was a virgin; but being at
that time enamoured of Domitia, he obstinately refused her. Yet not long
afterwards, when she was given to another, he was ready enough to debauch
her, and that even while Titus was living. But after she had lost both
her father and her husband, he loved her most passionately, and without
disguise; insomuch that he was the occasion of her death, by obliging her
to procure a miscarriage when she was with child by him.

XXIII. The people shewed little concern at his death, but the soldiers
were roused by it to great indignation, and immediately endeavoured to
have him ranked among the gods. They were also ready to revenge his
loss, if there had been any to take the lead. However, they soon after
effected it, by resolutely demanding the punishment of all those who had
been concerned in his assassination. On the other hand, the senate was
so overjoyed, that they met in all haste, and in a full assembly reviled
his memory in the most bitter terms; ordering ladders to be brought in,
and his shields and images to be pulled down before their eyes, and
dashed in pieces upon the floor of the senate-house passing at the same
time a decree to obliterate his titles every where, and abolish all
memory of him. A few months before he was slain, a raven on the Capitol
uttered these words: “All will be well.” Some person gave the following
interpretation of this prodigy:

(498) Nuper Tarpeio quae sedit culmine cornix.
“Est bene,” non potuit dicere; dixit, “Erit.”

Late croaked a raven from Tarpeia’s height,
“All is not yet, but shall be, right.”

They say likewise that Domitian dreamed that a golden hump grew out of
the back of his neck, which he considered as a certain sign of happy days
for the empire after him. Such an auspicious change indeed shortly
afterwards took place, through the justice and moderation of the
succeeding emperors.

* * * * * *

If we view Domitian in the different lights in which he is represented,
during his lifetime and after his decease, his character and conduct
discover a greater diversity than is commonly observed in the objects of
historical detail. But as posthumous character is always the most just,
its decisive verdict affords the surest criterion by which this
variegated emperor must be estimated by impartial posterity. According
to this rule, it is beyond a doubt that his vices were more predominant
than his virtues: and when we follow him into his closet, for some time
after his accession, when he was thirty years of age, the frivolity of
his daily employment, in the killing of flies, exhibits an instance of
dissipation, which surpasses all that has been recorded of his imperial
predecessors. The encouragement, however, which the first Vespasian had
shown to literature, continued to operate during the present reign; and
we behold the first fruits of its auspicious influence in the valuable
treatise of QUINTILIAN.

Of the life of this celebrated writer, little is known upon any authority
that has a title to much credit. We learn, however, that he was the son
of a lawyer in the service of some of the preceding emperors, and was
born in Rome, though in what consulship, or under what emperor, it is
impossible to determine. He married a woman of a noble family, by whom
he had two sons. The mother died in the flower of her age, and the sons,
at the distance of some time from each other, when their father was
advanced in years. The precise time of Quintilian’s own death is
equally inauthenticated with that of his birth; nor can we rely upon an
author of suspicious veracity, who says that he passed the latter part of
his life in a state of indigence which was alleviated by the liberality
of his pupil, Pliny the Younger. Quintilian opened a school of rhetoric
at Rome, where he not only discharged that labourious employment with
great applause, (499) during more than twenty years, but pleaded at the
bar, and was the first who obtained a salary from the state, for
executing the office of a public teacher. He was also appointed by
Domitian preceptor to the two young princes who were intended to succeed
him on the throne.

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