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Tacitus: Annals Book 14 [1]

1. In the year of the consulship of Caius Vipstanus and Caius Fonteius, Nero deferred no more a long meditated crime. Length of power had matured his daring, and his passion for Poppaea daily grew more ardent. As the woman had no hope of marriage for herself or of Octavia's divorce while Agrippina lived, she would reproach the emperor with incessant vituperation and sometimes call him in jest a mere ward who was under the rule of others, and was so far from having empire that he had not even his liberty. "Why," she asked, "was her marriage put off? Was it, forsooth, her beauty and her ancestors, with their triumphal honours, that failed to please, or her being a mother, and her sincere heart? No; the fear was that as a wife at least she would divulge the wrongs of the Senate, and the wrath of the people at the arrogance and rapacity of his mother. If the only daughter-in-law Agrippina could bear was one who wished evil to her son, let her be restored to her union with Otho. She would go anywhere in the world, where she might hear of the insults heaped on the emperor, rather than witness them, and be also involved in his perils." These and the like complaints, rendered impressive by tears and by the cunning of an adulteress, no one checked, as all longed to see the mother's power broken, while not a person believed that the son's hatred would steel his heart to her murder.

1. Gaio Vips[t]ano [C.] Fonteio consulibus diu meditatum scelus non ultra Nero distulit, vetustate imperii coalita audacia et flagrantior in dies amore Poppaeae, quae sibi matrimonium et discidium Octaviae incolumi Agrippina haud sperans crebris criminationibus, aliquando per facetias incusare principem et pupillum vocare, qui iussis alienis obnoxius non modo imperii, sed libertatis etiam indigeret. cur enim differri nuptias suas? formam scilicet displicere et triumphales avos, an fecunditatem et verum animum? timeri ne uxor saltem iniurias patrum, iram populi adversus superbiam avaritiamque matris aperiat. quod si nurum Agrippina non nisi filio infestam ferre posset, redde[re]tur ipsa Othonis coniugio: ituram quoque terrarum, ubi audiret potius contumelias imperatoris quam viseret periculis eius immixta. haec atque talia lacrimis et arte adulterae penetrantia nemo prohibebat, cupientibus cunctis infringi potentiam matris et credente nullo usque ad caedem eius duratura filii odia.

2. Cluvius relates that Agrippina in her eagerness to retain her influence went so far that more than once at midday, when Nero, even at that hour, was flushed with wine and feasting, she presented herself attractively attired to her half intoxicated son and offered him her person, and that when kinsfolk observed wanton kisses and caresses, portending infamy, it was Seneca who sought a female's aid against a woman's fascinations, and hurried in Acte, the freed-girl, who alarmed at her own peril and at Nero's disgrace, told him that the incest was notorious, as his mother boasted of it, and that the soldiers would never endure the rule of an impious sovereign. Fabius Rusticus tells us that it was not Agrippina, but Nero, who lusted for the crime, and that it was frustrated by the adroitness of that same freed-girl. Cluvius's account, however, is also that of all other authors, and popular belief inclines to it, whether it was that Agrippina really conceived such a monstrous wickedness in her heart, or perhaps because the thought of a strange passion seemed comparatively credible in a woman, who in her girlish years had allowed herself to be seduced by Lepidus in the hope of winning power, had stooped with a like ambition to the lust of Pallas, and had trained herself for every infamy by her marriage with her uncle.

2. Tradit Cluvius ardore retinendae Agrippinam potentiae eo usque provectam, ut medio diei, cum id temporis Nero per vinum et epulas incalesceret, offerret se saepius temulento comptam in incesto paratam; iamque lasciva oscula et praenuntias flagitii blanditias adnotantibus proximis, Senecam contra muliebris inlecebras subsidium a femina petivisse, immissamque Acten libertam, quae simul suo periculo et infamia Neronis anxia deferret pervulgatum esse incestum gloriante matre, nec toleraturos milites profani principis imperium. Fabius Rusticus non Agrippinae sed Neroni cupitum id memorat eiusdemque libertae astu disiectum. sed quae Cluvius, eadem ceteri quoque auctores prodidere, et fama huc inclinat, seu concepit animo tantum immanitatis Agrippina, seu credibilior novae libidinis meditatio in ea visa est, quae puellaribus annis stuprum cum [M.] Lepido spe dominationis admiserat, pari cupidine usque ad libita Pallantis provoluta et exercita ad omne flagitium patrui nuptiis.

3. Nero accordingly avoided secret interviews with her, and when she withdrew to her gardens or to her estates at Tusculum and Antium, he praised her for courting repose. At last, convinced that she would be too formidable, wherever she might dwell, he resolved to destroy her, merely deliberating whether it was to be accomplished by poison, or by the sword, or by any other violent means. Poison at first seemed best, but, were it to be administered at the imperial table, the result could not be referred to chance after the recent circumstances of the death of Britannicus. Again, to tamper with the servants of a woman who, from her familiarity with crime, was on her guard against treachery, appeared to be extremely difficult, and then, too, she had fortified her constitution by the use of antidotes. How again the dagger and its work were to be kept secret, no one could suggest, and it was feared too that whoever might be chosen to execute such a crime would spurn the order. An ingenious suggestion was offered by Anicetus, a freedman, commander of the fleet at Misenum, who had been tutor to Nero in boyhood and had a hatred of Agrippina which she reciprocated. He explained that a vessel could be constructed, from which a part might by a contrivance be detached, when out at sea, so as to plunge her unawares into the water. "Nothing," he said, "allowed of accidents so much as the sea, and should she be overtaken by shipwreck, who would be so unfair as to impute to crime an offence committed by the winds and waves? The emperor would add the honour of a temple and of shrines to the deceased lady, with every other display of filial affection."

3. Igitur Nero vitare secretos eius congressus, abscedentem in hortos aut Tusculanum vel Antiatem in agrum laudare, quod otium capesseret. postremo, ubicumque haberetur, praegravem ratus interficere constituit, hactenus consultans, veneno an ferro vel qua alia vi. placuitque primo venenum. sed inter epulas principis si daretur, referri ad casum non poterat tali iam Britannici exitio; et ministros temptare arduum videbatur mulieris usu scelerum adversus insidias intentae; atque ipsa praesumendo remedia munierat corpus. ferrum et caedes quonam modo occultaretur, nemo reperiebat; et ne quis illi tanto facinori delectus iussa sperneret metuebat. obtulit ingenium Anicetus libertus, classi apud Misenum praefectus et pueritiae Neronis educator ac mutuis odiis Agrippinae invisus. ergo navem posse componi docet, cuius pars ipso in mari per artem soluta effunderet ignaram: nihil tam capax fortuitorum quam mare; et si naufragio intercepta sit, quem adeo iniquum, ut sceleri adsignet, quod venti et fluctus deliquerint? additurum principem defunctae templum et aras et cetera ostentandae pietati.

4. Nero liked the device, favoured as it also was by the particular time, for he was celebrating Minerva's five days' festival at Baiae. Thither he enticed his mother by repeated assurances that children ought to bear with the irritability of parents and to soothe their tempers, wishing thus to spread a rumour of reconciliation and to secure Agrippina's acceptance through the feminine credulity, which easily believes what joy. As she approached, he went to the shore to meet her (she was coming from Antium), welcomed her with outstretched hand and embrace, and conducted her to Bauli. This was the name of a country house, washed by a bay of the sea, between the promontory of Misenum and the lake of Baiae. Here was a vessel distinguished from others by its equipment, seemingly meant, among other things, to do honour to his mother; for she had been accustomed to sail in a trireme, with a crew of marines. And now she was invited to a banquet, that night might serve to conceal the crime. It was well known that somebody had been found to betray it, that Agrippina had heard of the plot, and in doubt whether she was to believe it, was conveyed to Baiae in her litter. There some soothing words allayed her fear; she was graciously received, and seated at table above the emperor. Nero prolonged the banquet with various conversation, passing from a youth's playful familiarity to an air of constraint, which seemed to indicate serious thought, and then, after protracted festivity, escorted her on her departure, clinging with kisses to her eyes and bosom, either to crown his hypocrisy or because the last sight of a mother on the even of destruction caused a lingering even in that brutal heart.

4. Placuit sollertia, tempore etiam iuta, quando Quinquatruum festos dies apud Baias frequentabat. illuc matrem elicit, ferendas parentium iracundias et placandum animum dictitans, quo rumorem reconciliationis efficeret acciperetque Agrippina, facili feminarum credulitate ad gaudia. venientem dehinc obvius in litora (nam Antio adventabat) excepit manu et complexu ducitque Baulos. id villae nomen est, quae promunturium Misenum inter et Baianum lacum flexo mari adluitur. stabat inter alias navis ornatior, tamquam id quoque honori matris daretur: quippe sueverat triremi et classiariorum remigio vehi. ac tum invitata ad epulas erat, ut occultando facinori nox adhiberetur. satis constitit extitisse proditorem, et Agrippinam auditis insidiis, an crederet ambiguam, gestamine sellae Baias pervectam. ibi blandimentum sublevavit metum: comiter excepta superque ipsum collocata. iam pluribus sermonibus, modo familiaritate iuvenili Nero et rursus adductus, quasi seria consociaret, tracto in longum convictu, prosequitur abeuntem, artius oculis et pectori haerens, sive explenda simulatione, seu pe[ri]turae matris supremus adspectus quamvis ferum animum retinebat.

5. A night of brilliant starlight with the calm of a tranquil sea was granted by heaven, seemingly, to convict the crime. The vessel had not gone far, Agrippina having with her two of her intimate attendants, one of whom, Crepereius Gallus, stood near the helm, while Acerronia, reclining at Agrippina's feet as she reposed herself, spoke joyfully of her son's repentance and of the recovery of the mother's influence, when at a given signal the ceiling of the place, which was loaded with a quantity of lead, fell in, and Crepereius was crushed and instantly killed. Agrippina and Acerronia were protected by the projecting sides of the couch, which happened to be too strong to yield under the weight. But this was not followed by the breaking up of the vessel; for all were bewildered, and those too, who were in the plot, were hindered by the unconscious majority. The crew then thought it best to throw the vessel on one side and so sink it, but they could not themselves promptly unite to face the emergency, and others, by counteracting the attempt, gave an opportunity of a gentler fall into the sea. Acerronia, however, thoughtlessly exclaiming that she was Agrippina, and imploring help for the emperor's mother, was despatched with poles and oars, and such naval implements as chance offered. Agrippina was silent and was thus the less recognized; still, she received a wound in her shoulder. She swam, then met with some small boats which conveyed her to the Lucrine lake, and so entered her house.

5. Noctem sideribus inlustrem et placido mari quietam quasi convincendum ad scelus dii praebuere. nec multum erat progressa navis, duobus e numero familiarium Agrippinam comitantibus, ex quis Crepereius Gallus haud procul gubernaculis adstabat, Acerronia super pedes cubitantis reclinis paenitentiam filii et recuperatam matris gratiam per gaudium memorabat, cum dato signo ruere tectum loci multo plumbo grave, pressusque Crepereius et statim exanimatus est: Agrippina et Acerronia eminentibus lecti parietibus ac forte validioribus, quam ut oneri cederent, protectae sunt. nec dissolutio navigii sequebatur, turbatis omnibus et quod plerique ignari etiam conscios impediebant. visum dehinc remigibus unum in latus inclinare atque ita navem submergere; sed neque ipsis promptus in rem subitam consensus, et alii contra nitentes dedere facultatem lenioris in mare iactus. verum Acerronia, imprudentia dum se Agrippinam esse utque subveniretur matri principis clamitat, contis et remis et quae fors obtulerat navalibus telis conficitur. Agrippina silens eoque minus agnita (unum tamen vulnus umero excepit) nando, deinde occursu lenunculorum Lucrinum in lacum vecta villae suae infertur.

6. There she reflected how for this very purpose she had been invited by a lying letter and treated with conspicuous honour, how also it was near the shore, not from being driven by winds or dashed on rocks, that the vessel had in its upper part collapsed, like a mechanism anything but nautical. She pondered too the death of Acerronia; she looked at her own wound, and saw that her only safeguard against treachery was to ignore it. Then she sent her freedman Agerinus to tell her son how by heaven's favour and his good fortune she had escaped a terrible disaster; that she begged him, alarmed, as he might be, by his mother's peril, to put off the duty of a visit, as for the present she needed repose. Meanwhile, pretending that she felt secure, she applied remedies to her wound, and fomentations to her person. She then ordered search to be made for the will of Acerronia, and her property to be sealed, in this alone throwing off disguise.

6. Illic reputans ideo se fallacibus litteris accitam et honore praecipuo habitam, quodque litus iuxta, non ventis acta, non saxis impulsa navis summa sui parte veluti terrestre machinamentum concidisset, observans etiam Acerroniae necem, simul suum vulnus adspiciens, solum insidiarum remedium esse [sensit], si non intellegerentur; misitque libertum Agermum, qui nuntiaret filio benignitate deum et fortuna eius evasisse gravem casum; orare ut quamvis periculo matris exterritus visendi curam differret; sibi ad praesens quiete opus. atque interim securitate simulata medicamina vulneri et fomenta corpori adhibet; testamentum Acerroniae requiri bonaque obsignari iubet, id tantum non per simulationem.

7. Nero, meantime, as he waited for tidings of the consummation of the deed, received information that she had escaped with the injury of a slight wound, after having so far encountered the peril that there could be no question as to its author. Then, paralysed with terror and protesting that she would show herself the next moment eager for vengeance, either arming the slaves or stirring up the soldiery, or hastening to the Senate and the people, to charge him with the wreck, with her wound, and with the destruction of her friends, he asked what resource he had against all this, unless something could be at once devised by Burrus and Seneca. He had instantly summoned both of them, and possibly they were already in the secret. There was a long silence on their part; they feared they might remonstrate in vain, or believed the crisis to be such that Nero must perish, unless Agrippina were at once crushed. Thereupon Seneca was so far the more prompt as to glance back on Burrus, as if to ask him whether the bloody deed must be required of the soldiers. Burrus replied "that the praetorians were attached to the whole family of the Caesars, and remembering Germanicus would not dare a savage deed on his offspring. It was for Anicetus to accomplish his promise." Anicetus, without a pause, claimed for himself the consummation of the crime. At those words, Nero declared that that day gave him empire, and that a freedman was the author of this mighty boon. "Go," he said, "with all speed and take with you the men readiest to execute your orders." He himself, when he had heard of the arrival of Agrippina's messenger, Agerinus, contrived a theatrical mode of accusation, and, while the man was repeating his message, threw down a sword at his feet, then ordered him to be put in irons, as a detected criminal, so that he might invent a story how his mother had plotted the emperor's destruction and in the shame of discovered guilt had by her own choice sought death.

7. At Neroni nuntios patrati facinoris opperienti adfertur evasisse ictu levi sauciam et hactenus adito discrimine, [ne] auctor dubitaret[ur]. tum pavore exanimis et iam iamque adfore obtestans vindictae properam, sive servitia armaret vel militem accenderet, sive ad senatum et populum pervaderet, naufragium et vulnus et interfectos amicos obiciendo: quod contra subsidium sibi, nisi quid Burrus et Seneca? [expurgens] quos statim acciverat, incertum an et ante ignaros. igitur longum utriusque silentium, ne inriti dissuaderent, an eo descensum credebant, [ut], nisi praeveniretur Agrippina, pereundum Neroni esset. post Seneca hactenus promptius, [ut] respiceret Burrum ac s[c]iscitaretur, an militi imperanda caedes esset. ille praetorianos toti Caesarum domui obstrictos memoresque Germanici nihil adversus progeniem eius atrox ausuros respondit: perpetraret Anicetus promissa. qui nihil cunctatus poscit summam sceleris. ad eam vocem Nero illo sibi die dari imperium auctoremque tanti muneris libertum profitetur: iret propere duceretque promptissimos ad iussa. ipse audito venisse missu Agrippinae nuntium Agermum, scaenam ultro criminis parat, gladiumque, dum mandata perfert, abicit inter pedes eius, tum quasi deprehenso vincla inici iubet, ut exit[i]um principis molitam matrem et pudore deprehensi sceleris sponte mortem sumpsisse confingeret.

8. Meantime, Agrippina's peril being universally known and taken to be an accidental occurrence, everybody, the moment he heard of it, hurried down to the beach. Some climbed projecting piers; some the nearest vessels; others, as far as their stature allowed, went into the sea; some, again, stood with outstretched arms, while the whole shore rung with wailings, with prayers and cries, as different questions were asked and uncertain answers given. A vast multitude streamed to the spot with torches, and as soon as all knew that she was safe, they at once prepared to wish her joy, till the sight of an armed and threatening force scared them away. Anicetus then surrounded the house with a guard, and having burst open the gates, dragged off the slaves who met him, till he came to the door of her chamber, where a few still stood, after the rest had fled in terror at the attack. A small lamp was in the room, and one slave-girl with Agrippina, who grew more and more anxious, as no messenger came from her son, not even Agerinus, while the appearance of the shore was changed, a solitude one moment, then sudden bustle and tokens of the worst catastrophe. As the girl rose to depart, she exclaimed, "Do you too forsake me?" and looking round saw Anicetus, who had with him the captain of the trireme, Herculeius, and Obaritus, a centurion of marines. "If," said she, "you have come to see me, take back word that I have recovered, but if you are here to do a crime, I believe nothing about my son; he has not ordered his mother's murder." The assassins closed in round her couch, and the captain of the trireme first struck her head violently with a club. Then, as the centurion bared his sword for the fatal deed, presenting her person, she exclaimed, "Smite my womb," and with many wounds she was slain.

8. Interim vulgato Agrippinae periculo, quasi casu evenisset, ut quisque acceperat, decurrere ad litus. hi molium obiectus, hi proximas scaphas scandere; alii, quantum corpus sinebat, vadere in mare; quidam manus protendere. questibus votis clamore diversa rogitantium aut incerta respondentium omnis ora compleri; adfluere ingens multitudo cum luminibus, atque ubi incolumem esse pernotuit, ut ad gratandum sese expedire, donec adspectu armati et minitantis agminis deiecti sunt. Anicetus villam statione circumdat refractaque ianua obvios servorum abripit, donec ad fores cubiculi veniret; cui pauci adstabant, ceteris terrore inrumpentium exterritis. cubiculo modicum lumen inerat et ancillarum una, magis ac magis anxia Agrippina, quod nemo a filio ac ne Agermus quidem: aliam fore laetae rei faciem; nunc solitudinem ac repentinos strepitus et extremi mali indicia. abeunte dehinc ancilla, "tu quoque me deseris?" prolocuta respicit Anicetum, trierarcho Herculeio et Obarito centurione classiario comitatum: ac si ad visendum venisset, refotam nuntiaret, sin facinus patraturus, nihil se de filio credere; non imperatum parricidium. circumsistunt lectum percussores et prior trierarchus fusti caput eius adflixit. iam [in] morte[m] centurioni ferrum destringenti protendens uterum "ventrem feri" exclamavit multisque vulneribus confecta est.

9. So far our accounts agree. That Nero gazed on his mother after her death and praised her beauty, some have related, while others deny it. Her body was burnt that same night on a dining couch, with a mean funeral; nor, as long as Nero was in power, was the earth raised into a mound, or even decently closed. Subsequently, she received from the solicitude of her domestics, a humble sepulchre on the road to Misenum, near the country house of Caesar the Dictator, which from a great height commands a view of the bay beneath. As soon as the funeral pile was lighted, one of her freedmen, surnamed Mnester, ran himself through with a sword, either from love of his mistress or from the fear of destruction. Many years before Agrippina had anticipated this end for herself and had spurned the thought. For when she consulted the astrologers about Nero, they replied that he would be emperor and kill his mother. "Let him kill her," she said, "provided he is emperor."

9. Haec consensu produntur. aspexeritne matrem exanimem Nero et formam corporis eius laudaverit, sunt qui tradiderint, sunt qui abnuant. cremata est nocte eadem convivali lecto et exequiis vilibus; neque, dum Nero rerum potiebatur, congesta est aut clausa humus. mox domesticorum cura levem tumulum accepit, viam Miseni propter et villam Caesaris dictatoris, quae subiectos sinus editissima prospectat. accenso rogo libertus eius cognomento Mnester [se] ipse ferro transegit, incertum caritate in patronam an metu exitii. hunc sui finem multos ante annos crediderat Agrippina contempseratque. nam consulenti super Nerone responderunt Chaldaei fore ut imperaret matremque occideret; atque illa "occidat" inquit, "dum imperet."

Next: Book 14 [10]