FORTUNE soon afterwards made a dupe of Nero through his own credulity and the promises of Caesellius Bassus, a Carthaginian by birth and a man of a crazed imagination, who wrested a vision seen in the slumber of night into a confident expectation. He sailed to Rome, and having purchased admission to the emperor, he explained how he had discovered on his land a cave of immense depth, which contained a vast quantity of gold, not in the form of coin, but in the shapeless and ponderous masses of ancient days. In fact, he said, ingots of great weight lay there, with bars standing near them in another part of the cave, a treasure hidden for so many ages to increase the wealth of the present. Phoenician Dido, as he sought to show by inference, after fleeing from Tyre and founding Carthage, had concealed these riches in the fear that a new people might be demoralised by a superabundance of money, or that the Numidian kings, already for other reasons hostile, might by lust of gold be provoked to war.
Nero upon this, without sufficiently examining the credibility of the author of the story, or of the matter itself, or sending persons through whom he might ascertain whether the intelligence was true, himself actually encouraged the report and despatched men to bring the spoil, as if it were already acquired. They had triremes assigned them and crews specially selected to promote speed. Nothing else at the time was the subject of the credulous gossip of the people, and of the very different conversation of thinking persons. It happened, too, that the quinquennial games were being celebrated for the second time, and the orators took from this same incident their chief materials for eulogies on the emperor. “Not only,” they said, “were there the usual harvests, and the gold of the mine with its alloy, but the earth now teemed with a new abundance, and wealth was thrust on them by the bounty of the gods.” These and other servile flatteries they invented, with consummate eloquence and equal sycophancy, confidently counting on the facility of his belief.
Extravagance meanwhile increased, on the strength of a chimerical hope, and ancient wealth was wasted, as apparently the emperor had lighted on treasures he might squander for many a year. He even gave away profusely from this source, and the expectation of riches was one of the causes of the poverty of the State. Bassus indeed dug up his land and extensive plains in the neighbourhood, while he persisted that this or that was the place of the promised cave, and was followed not only by our soldiers but by the rustic population who were engaged to execute the work, till at last he threw off his infatuation, and expressing wonder that his dreams had never before been false, and that now for the first time he had been deluded, he escaped disgrace and danger by a voluntary death. Some have said that he was imprisoned and soon released, his property having been taken from him as a substitute for the royal treasure.
Meanwhile the Senate, as they were now on the eve of the quinquennial contest, wishing to avert scandal, offered the emperor the “victory in song,” and added the “crown of eloquence,” that thus a veil might be thrown over a shameful exposure on the stage. Nero, however, repeatedly declared that he wanted neither favour nor the Senate’s influence, as he was a match for his rivals, and was certain, in the conscientious opinion of the judges, to win the honour by merit. First, he recited a poem on the stage; then, at the importunate request of the rabble that he would make public property of all his accomplishments (these were their words), he entered the theatre, and conformed to all the laws of harp-playing, not sitting down when tired, nor wiping off the perspiration with anything but the garment he wore, or letting himself be seen to spit or clear his nostrils. Last of all, on bended knee he saluted the assembly with a motion of the hand, and awaited the verdict of the judges with pretended anxiety. And then the city-populace, who were wont to encourage every gesture even of actors, made the place ring with measured strains of elaborate applause. One would have thought they were rejoicing, and perhaps they did rejoice, in their indifference to the public disgrace.
All, however, who were present from remote towns, and still retained the Italy of strict morals and primitive ways; all too who had come on embassies or on private business from distant provinces, where they had been unused to such wantonness, were unable to endure the spectacle or sustain the degrading fatigue, which wearied their unpractised hands, while they disturbed those who knew their part, and were often struck by soldiers, stationed in the seats, to see that not a moment of time passed with less vigorous applause or in the silence of indifference. It was a known fact that several knights, in struggling through the narrow approaches and the pressure of the crowd, were trampled to death, and that others while keeping their seats day and night were seized with some fatal malady. For it was a still worse danger to be absent from the show, as many openly and many more secretly made it their business to scrutinize names and faces, and to note the delight or the disgust of the company. Hence came cruel severities, immediately exercised on the humble, and resentments, concealed for the moment, but subsequently paid off, towards men of distinction. There was a story that Vespasian was insulted by Phoebus, a freedman, for closing his eyes in a doze, and that having with difficulty been screened by the intercessions of the well disposed, he escaped imminent destruction through his grander destiny.
After the conclusion of the games Poppaea died from a casual outburst of rage in her husband, who felled her with a kick when she was pregnant. That there was poison I cannot believe, though some writers so relate, from hatred rather than from belief, for the emperor was desirous of children, and wholly swayed by love of his wife. Her body was not consumed by fire according to Roman usage, but after the custom of foreign princes was filled with fragrant spices and embalmed, and then consigned to the sepulchre of the Julii. She had, however, a public funeral, and Nero himself from the rostra eulogized her beauty, her lot in having been the mother of a deified child, and fortune’s other gifts, as though they were virtues.
To the death of Poppaea, which, though a public grief, was a delight to those who recalling the past thought of her shamelessness and cruelty, Nero added fresh and greater odium by forbidding Caius Cassius to attend the funeral. This was the first token of mischief. Nor was it long delayed. Silanus was coupled with Cassius, no crime being alleged, but that Cassius was eminent for his ancestral wealth and dignity of character, Silanus for the nobility of his birth and the quiet demeanour of his youth. The emperor accordingly sent the Senate a speech in which he argued that both ought to be removed from the State, and made it a reproach against Cassius that among his ancestors’ busts he had specially revered that of Caius Cassius, which bore the inscription “to the Party-Leader.” In fact, he had thereby sought to sow the seeds of civil war and revolt from the House of the Caesars. And that he might not merely avail himself of the memory of a hated name to stir up strife, he had associated with him Lucius Silanus, a youth of noble birth and reckless spirit, to whom he might point as an instrument of revolution.
Nero next denounced Silanus himself in the same terms as he had his uncle Torquatus, implying that he was already arranging the details of imperial business, and setting freedmen to manage his accounts, papers, and correspondence, imputations utterly groundless and false. Silanus, in truth, was intensely apprehensive, and had been frightened into caution by his uncle’s destruction. Nero then procured persons, under the name of informers, to invent against Lepida, the wife of Cassius and aunt of Silanus, a charge of incest with her brother’s son, and of some ghastly religious ceremonial. Volcatius Tullinus, and Marcellus Cornelius, senators, and Fabatus, a Roman knight, were drawn in as accomplices. By an appeal to the emperor these men eluded an impending doom and subsequently, as being too insignificant, escaped from Nero, who was busy with crimes on a far greater scale.
The Senate was then consulted and sentences of exile were passed on Cassius and Silanus. As to Lepida, the emperor was to decide. Cassius was transported to the island of Sardinia, and he was quietly left to old age. Silanus was removed to Ostia, whence, it was pretended, he was to be conveyed to Naxos. He was afterwards confined in a town of Apulia named Barium. There, as he was wisely enduring a most undeserved calamity, he was suddenly seized by a centurion sent to slay him. When the man advised him to sever his veins, he replied that, though he had resolved in his heart to die, he would not let a cutthroat have the glory of the service. The centurion seeing that, unarmed as he was, he was very powerful, and more an enraged than a frightened man, ordered his soldiers to overpower him. And Silanus failed not to resist and to strike blows, as well as he could with his bare hands, till he was cut down by the centurion, as though in battle, with wounds in his breast.
With equal courage Lucius Vetus, his mother-in-law Sextia, and his daughter Pollutia submitted to death. They were hated by the emperor because they seemed a living reproach to him for the murder of Rubellius Plautus, son-in-law of Lucius Vetus. But the first opportunity of unmasking his savage wrath was furnished by Fortunatus, a freedman, who having embezzled his patron’s property, deserted him to become his accuser. He had as his accomplice Claudius Demianus, whom Vetus, when proconsul of Asia, had imprisoned for his gross misdeeds, and whom Nero now released as a recompense for the accusation.
When the accused knew this and saw that he and his freedman were pitted against each other on an equal footing, he retired to his estate at Formiae. There he was put under the secret surveillance of soldiers. With him was his daughter, who, to say nothing of the now imminent peril, had all the fury of a long grief ever since she had seen the murderers of her husband Plautus. She had clasped his bleeding neck, and still kept by her the blood-stained apparel, clinging in her widowhood to perpetual sorrow, and using only such nourishment as might suffice to avert starvation. Then at her father’s bidding she went to Neapolis. And as she was forbidden to approach Nero, she would haunt his doors; and implore him to hear an innocent man, and not surrender to a freedman one who had once been his colleague in the consulship, now pleading with the cries of a woman, now again forgetting her sex and lifting up her voice in a tone of menace, till the emperor showed himself unmoved alike by entreaty and reproach.
She therefore told her father by message that she cast hope aside and yielded to necessity. He was at the same time informed that judicial proceedings in the Senate and a dreadful sentence were hanging over him. Some there were who advised him to name the emperor as his chief heir, and so secure the remainder for his grandchildren. But he spurned the notion, and unwilling to disgrace a life which had clung to freedom by a final act of servility, he bestowed on his slaves all his ready money, and ordered each to convey away for himself whatever he could carry, leaving only three couches for the last scene. Then in the same chamber, with the same weapon, they sundered their veins, and speedily hurried into a bath, covered each, as delicacy required, with a single garment, the father gazing intently on his daughter, the grandmother on her grandchild, she again on both, while with rival earnestness they prayed that the ebbing life might have a quick departure, each wishing to leave a relative still surviving, but just on the verge of death. Fortune preserved the due order; the oldest died first, then the others according to priority of age. They were prosecuted after their burial, and the sentence was that “they should be punished in ancient fashion.” Nero interposed his veto, allowing them to die without his interference. Such were the mockeries added to murders already perpetrated.
Publius Gallus, a Roman knight, was outlawed for having been intimate with Faenius Rufus and somewhat acquainted with Vetus. To the freedman who was the accuser, was given, as a reward for his service, a seat in the theatre among the tribune’s officers. The month too following April, or Neroneus, was changed from Maius into the name of Claudius, and Junius into that of Germanicus, Cornelius Orfitus, the proposer of the motion, publicly declaring that the month Junius had been passed over because the execution of the two Torquati for their crimes had now rendered its name inauspicious.
A year of shame and of so many evil deeds heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. Campania was devastated by a hurricane, which destroyed everywhere countryhouses, plantations and crops, and carried its fury to the neighbourhood of Rome, where a terrible plague was sweeping away all classes of human beings without any such derangement of the atmosphere as to be visibly apparent. Yet the houses were filled with lifeless forms and the streets with funerals. Neither age nor sex was exempt from peril. Slaves and the free-born populace alike were suddenly cut off, amid the wailings of wives and children, who were often consumed on the very funeral pile of their friends by whom they had been sitting and shedding tears. Knights and senators perished indiscriminately, and yet their deaths were less deplored because they seemed to forestal the emperor’s cruelty by an ordinary death. That same year levies of troops were held in Narbon Gaul, Africa and Asia, to fill up the legions of Illyricum, all soldiers in which, worn out by age or ill-health, were receiving their discharge. Lugdunum was consoled by the prince for a ruinous disaster by a gift of four million sesterces, so that what was lost to the city might be replaced. Its people had previously offered this same amount for the distresses of Rome.
In the consulship of Caius Suetonius and Lucius Telesinus, Antistius Sosianus, who, as I have stated, had been punished with exile for repeated satires on Nero, having heard that there was such honour for informers and that the emperor was so partial to bloodshed, being himself too of a restless temper and quick to seize opportunities, made a friend of a man in like condition with himself, one Pammenes, an exile in the same place, noted for his skill as an astrologer, and consequently bound to many in close intimacy. He thought there must be a meaning in the frequent messages and the consultations, and he learnt at the same time that an annual payment was furnished him by Publius Anteius. He knew too that Anteius was hated by Nero for his love of Agrippina, and that his wealth was sufficiently conspicuous to provoke cupidity, and that this was the cause of the destruction of many. Accordingly he intercepted a letter from Anteius, and having also stolen some notes about the day of his nativity and his future career, which were hidden away among Pammenes’ secret papers, and having further discovered some remarks on the birth and life of Ostorius Scapula, he wrote to the emperor that he would communicate important news which would contribute to his safety, if he could but obtain a brief reprieve of his exile. Anteius and Ostorius were, he hinted, grasping at empire and prying into the destinies of themselves and of the prince. Some swift galleys were then despatched and Sosianus speedily arrived. On the disclosure of his information, Anteius and Ostorius were classed with condemned criminals rather than with men on their trial, so completely, indeed, that no one would attest the will of Anteius, till Tigellinus interposed to sanction it. Anteius had been previously advised by him not to delay this final document. Then he drank poison, but disgusted at its slowness, he hastened death by severing his veins.
Ostorius was living at the time on a remote estate on the Ligurian frontier. Thither a centurion was despatched to hurry on his destruction. There was a motive for promptitude arising out of the fact that Ostorius, with his great military fame and the civic crown he had won in Britain, possessed, too, as he was of huge bodily strength and skill in arms, had made Nero, who was always timid and now more frightened than ever by the lately discovered conspiracy, fearful of a sudden attack. So the centurion, having barred every exit from the house, disclosed the emperor’s orders to Ostorius. That fortitude which he had often shown in fighting the enemy Ostorius now turned against himself. And as his veins, though severed, allowed but a scanty flow of blood, he used the help of a slave, simply to hold up a dagger firmly, and then pressing the man’s hand towards him, he met the point with his throat.
Even if I had to relate foreign wars and deaths encountered in the service of the State with such a monotony of disaster, I should myself have been overcome by disgust, while I should look for weariness in my readers, sickened as they would be by the melancholy and continuous destruction of our citizens, however glorious to themselves. But now a servile submissiveness and so much wanton bloodshed at home fatigue the mind and paralyze it with grief. The only indulgence I would ask from those who will acquaint themselves with these horrors is that I be not thought to hate men who perished so tamely. Such was the wrath of heaven against the Roman State that one may not pass over it with a single mention, as one might the defeat of armies and the capture of cities. Let us grant this privilege to the posterity of illustrious men, that just as in their funeral obsequies such men are not confounded in a common burial, so in the record of their end they may receive and retain a special memorial.
Within a few days, in quick succession, Annaeus Mela, Cerialis Anicius, Rufius Crispinus, and Petronius fell, Mela and Crispinus being Roman knights with senatorian rank. The latter had once commanded the praetorians and had been rewarded with the decorations of the consulate. He had lately been banished to Sardinia on a charge of conspiracy, and on receiving a message that he was doomed to die had destroyed himself. Mela, son of the same parents as Gallio and Seneca, had refrained from seeking promotion out of a perverse vanity which wished to raise a Roman knight to an equality with ex-consuls. He also thought that there was a shorter road to the acquisition of wealth through offices connected with the administration of the emperor’s private business. He had too in his son Annaeus Lucanus a powerful aid in rising to distinction. After the death of Lucanus, he rigorously called in the debts due to his estate, and thereby provoked an accuser in the person of Fabius Romanus, one of the intimate friends of Lucanus. A story was invented that the father and son shared between them a knowledge of the conspiracy, and a letter was forged in Lucanus’s name. This Nero examined, and ordered it to be conveyed to Mela, whose wealth he ravenously desired. Mela meanwhile, adopting the easiest mode of death then in fashion, opened his veins, after adding a codicil to his will bequeathing an immense amount to Tigellinus and his son-in-law, Cossutianus Capito, in order to save the remainder. In this codicil he is also said to have written, by way of remonstrance against the injustice of his death, that he died without any cause for punishment, while Rufius Crispinus and Anicius Cerialis still enjoyed life, though bitter foes to the prince. It was thought that he had invented this about Crispinus, because the man had been already murdered; about Cerialis, with the object of procuring his murder. Soon afterwards Cerialis laid violent hands on himself, and received less pity than the others, because men remembered that he had betrayed a conspiracy to Caius Caesar.
With regard to Caius Petronius, I ought to dwell a little on his antecedents. His days he passed in sleep, his nights in the business and pleasures of life. Indolence had raised him to fame, as energy raises others, and he was reckoned not a debauchee and spendthrift, like most of those who squander their substance, but a man of refined luxury. And indeed his talk and his doings, the freer they were and the more show of carelessness they exhibited, were the better liked, for their look of natural simplicity. Yet as proconsul of Bithynia and soon afterwards as consul, he showed himself a man of vigour and equal to business. Then falling back into vice or affecting vice, he was chosen by Nero to be one of his few intimate associates, as a critic in matters of taste, while the emperor thought nothing charming or elegant in luxury unless Petronius had expressed to him his approval of it. Hence jealousy on the part of Tigellinus, who looked on him as a rival and even his superior in the science of pleasure. And so he worked on the prince’s cruelty, which dominated every other passion, charging Petronius with having been the friend of Scaevinus, bribing a slave to become informer, robbing him of the means of defence, and hurrying into prison the greater part of his domestics.
It happened at the time that the emperor was on his way Campania and that Petronius, after going as far as Cumae, was there detained. He bore no longer the suspense of fear or of hope. Yet he did not fling away life with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his veins and then, according to his humour, bound them up, he again opened them, while he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain or on topics that might win for him the glory of courage. And he listened to them as they repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul or on the theories of philosophers, but light poetry and playful verses. To some of his slaves he gave liberal presents, a flogging to others. He dined, indulged himself in sleep, that death, though forced on him, might have a natural appearance. Even in his will he did not, as did many in their last moments, flatter Nero or Tigellinus or any other of the men in power. On the contrary, he described fully the prince’s shameful excesses, with the names of his male and female companions and their novelties in debauchery, and sent the account under seal to Nero. Then he broke his signet-ring, that it might not be subsequently available for imperilling others.
When Nero was in doubt how the ingenious varieties of his nightly revels became notorious, Silia came into his mind, who, as a senator’s wife, was a conspicuous person, and who had been his chosen associate in all his profligacy and was very intimate with Petronius. She was banished for not having, as was suspected, kept secret what she had seen and endured, a sacrifice to his personal resentment. Minucius Thermus, an ex-praetor, he surrendered to the hate of Tigellinus, because a freedman of Thermus had brought criminal charges against Tigellinus, such that the man had to atone for them himself by the torture of the rack, his patron by an undeserved death.
Nero after having butchered so many illustrious men, at last aspired to extirpate virtue itself by murdering Thrasea Paetus and Barea Soranus. Both men he had hated of old, Thrasea on additional grounds, because he had walked out of the Senate when Agrippina’s case was under discussion, as I have already related, and had not given the Juvenile games any conspicuous encouragement. Nero’s displeasure at this was the deeper, since this same Thrasea had sung in a tragedian’s dress at Patavium, his birth-place, in some games instituted by the Trojan Antenor. On the day, too, on which the praetor Antistius was being sentenced to death for libels on Nero, Thrasea proposed and carried a more merciful decision. Again, when divine honours were decreed to Poppaea, he was purposely absent and did not attend her funeral. All this Capito Cossutianus would not allow to be forgotten. He had a heart eager for the worst wickedness, and he also bore ill-will to Thrasea, the weight of whose influence had crushed him, while envoys from Cilicia, supported by Thrasea’s advocacy, were accusing him of extortion.
He alleged, too, against him the following charges:—“Thrasea,” he said, “at the beginning of the year always avoided the usual oath of allegiance; he was not present at the recital of the public prayers, though he had been promoted to the priesthood of the Fifteen; he had never offered a sacrifice for the safety of the prince or for his heavenly voice. Though formerly he had been assiduous and unwearied in showing himself a supporter or an opponent even of the most ordinary motions of senators, he had not entered the Senate-house for three years, and very lately, when all were rushing thither with rival eagerness to put down Silanus and Vetus, he had attended by preference to the private business of his clients. This was political schism, and, should many dare to do the like, it was actual war.”
Capito further added, “The country in its eagerness for discord is now talking of you, Nero, and of Thrasea, as it talked once of Caius Caesar and Marcus Cato. Thrasea has his followers or rather his satellites, who copy, not indeed as yet the audacious tone of his sentiments, but only his manners and his looks, a sour and gloomy set, bent on making your mirthfulness a reproach to you. He is the only man who cares not for your safety, honours not your accomplishments. The prince’s prosperity he despises. Can it be that he is not satisfied with your sorrows and griefs? It shows the same spirit not to believe in Poppaea’s divinity as to refuse to swear obedience to the acts of the Divine Augustus and the Divine Julius. He contemns religious rites; he annuls laws. The daily records of the Roman people are read attentively in the provinces and the armies that they may know what Thrasea has not done.
“Either let us go over to his system, if it is better than ours, or let those who desire change have their leader and adviser taken from them. That sect of his gave birth to the Tuberones and Favonii, names hateful even to the old republic. They make a show of freedom, to overturn the empire; should they destroy it, they will attack freedom itself. In vain have you banished Cassius, if you are going to allow rivals of the Bruti to multiply and flourish. Finally, write nothing yourself about Thrasea; leave the Senate to decide for us.” Nero further stimulated the eager wrath of Cossutianus, and associated with him the pungent eloquence of Marcellus Eprius.
As for the impeachment of Barea Soranus, Ostorius Sabinus, a Roman knight, had already claimed it for himself. It arose out of his proconsulate of Asia, where he increased the prince’s animosity by his uprightness and diligence, as well as by having bestowed pains on opening the port of Ephesus and passed over without punishment the violence of the citizens of Pergamos in their efforts to hinder Acratus, one of the emperor’s freedmen, from carrying off statues and pictures. But the crime imputed to him was friendship with Plautus and intrigues to lure the province into thoughts of revolt. The time chosen for the fatal sentence was that at which Tiridates was on his way to receive the sovereignty of Armenia, so that crime at home might be partially veiled amid rumours on foreign affairs, or that Nero might display his imperial grandeur by the murder of illustrious men, as though it were a kingly exploit.
Accordingly when all Rome rushed out to welcome the emperor and see the king, Thrasea, though forbidden to appear, did not let his spirit be cast down, but wrote a note to Nero, in which he demanded to know the charges against him, and asserted that he would clear himself, if he were informed of the crimes alleged and had an opportunity of refuting them. This note Nero received with eagerness, in the hope that Thrasea in dismay had written something to enhance the emperor’s glory and to tarnish his own honour. When it turned out otherwise, and he himself, on the contrary, dreaded the glance and the defiant independence of the guiltless man, he ordered the Senate to be summoned.
Thrasea then consulted his most intimate friends whether he should attempt or spurn defence. Conflicting advice was offered. Those who thought it best for him to enter the Senate house said that they counted confidently on his courage, and were sure that he would say nothing but what would heighten his renown. “It was for the feeble and timid to invest their last moments with secrecy. Let the people behold a man who could meet death. Let the Senate hear words, almost of divine inspiration, more than human. It was possible that the very miracle might impress even a Nero. But should he persist in his cruelty, posterity would at least distinguish between the memory of an honourable death and the cowardice of those who perished in silence.”
Those, on the other hand, who thought that he ought to wait at home, though their opinion of him was the same, hinted that mockeries and insults were in store for him. “Spare your ears” they said, “taunts and revilings. Not only are Cossutianus and Eprius eagerly bent on crime; there are numbers more, daring enough, perchance, to raise the hand of violence in their brutality. Even good men through fear do the like. Better save the Senate which you have adorned to the last the infamy of such an outrage, and leave it a matter of doubt what the senators would have decided, had they seen Thrasea on his trial. It is with a vain hope we are aiming to touch Nero with shame for his abominations, and we have far more cause to fear that he will vent his fury on your wife, your household, on all others dear to you. And therefore, while you are yet stainless and undisgraced, seek to close life with the glory of those in whose track and pursuits you have passed it.”
Present at this deliberation was Rusticus Arulenus, an enthusiastic youth, who, in his ardour for renown, offered, as he was tribune of the people, to protest against the sentence of the Senate. Thrasea checked his impetuous temper, not wishing him to attempt what would be as futile, and useless to the accused, as it would be fatal to the protester. “My days,” he said, “are ended, and I must not now abandon a scheme of life in which for so many years I have persevered. You are at the beginning of a career of office, and your future is yet clear. Weigh thoroughly with yourself beforehand, at such a crisis as this, the path of political life on which you enter.” He then reserved for his own consideration the question whether it became him to enter the Senate.
Next day, however, two praetorian cohorts under arms occupied the temple of Venus Genetrix. A group of ordinary citizens with swords which they did not conceal, had blocked the approach to the Senate. Through the squares and colonnades were scattered bodies of soldiers, amid whose looks of menace the senators entered their house. A speech from the emperor was read by his quaestor. Without addressing any one by name, he censured the senators for neglecting their public duties, and drawing by their example the Roman knights into idleness. “For what wonder is it,” he asked, “that men do not come from remote provinces when many, after obtaining the consulate or some sacred office, give all their thoughts by choice to the beauty of their gardens?” Here was, so to say, a weapon for the accusers, on which they fastened.
Cossutianus made a beginning, and then Marcellus in more violent tones exclaimed that the whole commonwealth was at stake. “It is,” he said, “the stubbornness of inferiors which lessens the clemency of our ruler. We senators have hitherto been too lenient in allowing him to be mocked with impunity by Thrasea throwing off allegiance, by his son-in-law Helvidius Priscus indulging similar frenzies, by Paconius Agrippinus, the inheritor of his father’s hatred towards emperors, and by Curtius Montanus, the habitual composer of abominable verses. I miss the presence of an ex-consul in the Senate, of a priest when we offer our vows, of a citizen when we swear obedience, unless indeed, in defiance of the manners and rites of our ancestors, Thrasea has openly assumed the part of a traitor and an enemy. In a word, let the man, wont to act the senator and to screen those who disparage the prince, come among us; let him propose any reform or change he may desire. We shall more readily endure his censure of details than we can now bear the silence by which he condemns everything. Is it the peace throughout the world or victories won without loss to our armies which vex him? A man who grieves at the country’s prosperity, who treats our public places, theatres and temples as if they were a desert, and who is ever threatening us with exile, let us not enable such an one to gratify his perverse vanity. To him the decrees of this house, the offices of State, the city of Rome seem as nothing. Let him sever his life from a country all love for which he has long lost and the very sight of which he has now put from him.”
While Marcellus, with the savage and menacing look he usually wore, spoke these and like words with rising fury in his voice, countenance, and eye, that familiar grief to which a thick succession of perils had habituated the Senate gave way to a new and profounder panic, as they saw the soldiers’ hands on their weapons. At the same moment the venerable form of Thrasea rose before their imagination, and some there were who pitied Helvidius too, doomed as he was to suffer for an innocent alliance. “What again,” they asked, “was the charge against Agrippinus except his father’s sad fate, since he too, though guiltless as his son, fell beneath the cruelty of Tiberius? As for Montanus, a youth without a blemish, author of no libellous poem, he was positively driven out an exile because he had exhibited genius.”
And meanwhile Ostorius Sabinus, the accuser of Soranus, entered, and began by speaking of his friendship with Rubellius Plautus and of his proconsulate in Asia which he had, he said, adapted to his own glory rather than to the public welfare, by fostering seditious movements in the various states. These were bygones, but there was a fresh charge involving the daughter in the peril of the father, to the effect that she had lavished money on astrologers. This indeed had really occurred through the filial affection of Servilia (that was the girl’s name), who, out of love for her father and the thoughtlessness of youth, had consulted them, only however about the safety of her family, whether Nero could be appeased, and the trial before the Senate have no dreadful result.
She was accordingly summoned before the Senate, and there they stood facing one another before the consuls’ tribunal, the aged parent, and opposite to him the daughter, in the twentieth year of her age, widowed and forlorn, her husband Annius Pollio having lately been driven into banishment, without so much as a glance at her father, whose peril she seemed to have aggravated.
Then on the accuser asking her whether she had sold her bridal presents or stript her neck of its ornaments to raise money for the performance of magical rites, she at first flung herself on the ground and wept long in silence. After awhile, clasping the altar steps and altar, she exclaimed, “I have invoked no impious deities, no enchantments, nor aught else in my unhappy prayers, but only that thou, Caesar, and you, senators, might preserve unharmed this best of fathers. My jewels, my apparel, and the signs of my rank I gave up, as I would have given up my life-blood had they demanded it. They must have seen this, those men before unknown to me, both as to the name they bear and the arts they practise. No mention was made by me of the emperor, except as one of the divinities. But my most unhappy father knows nothing, and, if it is a crime, I alone am guilty.”
While she was yet speaking, Soranus caught up her words, and exclaimed that she had not gone with him into the province; that, from her youth, she could not have been known to Plautus, and that she was not involved in the charges against her husband. “Treat separately,” he said, “the case of one who is guilty only of an exaggerated filial piety, and as for myself, let me undergo any fate.” He was rushing, as he spoke, into the embraces of his daughter who hurried towards him, but the lictors interposed and stopped them both. Place was then given to the witnesses, and the appearance among them of Publius Egnatius provoked as much indignation as the cruelty of the prosecution had excited pity. A client of Soranus, and now hired to ruin his friend, he professed the dignified character of a Stoic, and had trained himself in demeanour and language to exhibit an ideal of virtue. In his heart, however, treacherous and cunning, he concealed greed and sensuality. As soon as money had brought these vices to light, he became an example, warning us to beware just as much of those who under the guise of virtuous tastes are false and deceitful in friendship, as of men wholly entangled in falsehoods and stained with every infamy.
That same day brought with it a noble pattern in Cassius Asclepiodotus, whose vast wealth made him a foremost man in Bithynia. He had honoured Soranus in his prosperity with a respect which he did not cast off in his fall, and he was now stript of all his property and driven into exile; so impartially indifferent is heaven to examples of virtue and vice. Thrasea, Soranus, and Servilia were allowed the choice of death. Helvidius and Paconius were banished from Italy. Montanus was spared to his father’s intercessions on the understanding that he was not to be admitted to political life. The prosecutors, Eprius and Cossutianus, received each five million sesterces, Ostorius twelve hundred thousand, with the decorations of the quaestorship.
Then, as evening approached, the consul’s quaestor was sent to Thrasea, who was passing his time in his garden. He had had a crowded gathering of distinguished men and women, giving special attention to Demetrius, a professor of the Cynic philosophy. With him, as might be inferred from his earnest expression of face and from words heard when they raised their voices, he was speculating on the nature of the soul and on the separation of the spirit from the body, till Domitius Caecilianus, one of his intimate friends, came to him and told him in detail what the Senate had decided. When all who were present, wept and bitterly complained, Thrasea urged them to hasten their departure and not mingle their own perils with the fate of a doomed man. Arria, too, who aspired to follow her husband’s end and the example of Arria, her mother, he counselled to preserve her life, and not rob the daughter of their love of her only stay.
Then he went out into a colonnade, where he was found by the quaestor, joyful rather than otherwise, as he had learnt that Helvidius, his son-in-law, was merely excluded from Italy.
When he heard the Senate’s decision, he led Helvidius and Demetrius into a chamber, and having laid bare the arteries of each arm, he let the blood flow freely, and, as he sprinkled it on the ground, he called the quaestor to his side and said, “We pour out a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer. Behold, young man, and may the gods avert the omen, but you have been born into times in which it is well to fortify the spirit with examples of courage.” Then as the slowness of his end brought with it grievous anguish, turning his eyes on Demetrius
[At this point the Annals are broken off. Much remained to be told about the last two years of Nero’s reign.]
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