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Tacitus: Annals Book 14 [10]

10. But the emperor, when the crime was at last accomplished, realised its portentous guilt. The rest of the night, now silent and stupified, now and still oftener starting up in terror, bereft of reason, he awaited the dawn as if it would bring with it his doom. He was first encouraged to hope by the flattery addressed to him, at the prompting of Burrus, by the centurions and tribunes, who again and again pressed his hand and congratulated him on his having escaped an unforeseen danger and his mother's daring crime. Then his friends went to the temples, and, an example having once been set, the neighbouring towns of Campania testified their joy with sacrifices and deputations. He himself, with an opposite phase of hypocrisy, seemed sad, and almost angry at his own deliverance, and shed tears over his mother's death. But as the aspects of places change not, as do the looks of men, and as he had ever before his eyes the dreadful sight of that sea with its shores (some too believed that the notes of a funereal trumpet were heard from the surrounding heights, and wailings from the mother's grave), he retired to Neapolis and sent a letter to the Senate, the drift of which was that Agerinus, one of Agrippina's confidential freedmen, had been detected with the dagger of an assassin, and that in the consciousness of having planned the crime she had paid its penalty.

10. Sed a Caesare perfecto demum scelere magnitudo eius intellecta est. reliquo noctis modo per silentium defixus, saepius pavore exsurgens et mentis inops lucem opperiebatur tamquam exitium adlaturam. atque eum auctore Burro prima centurionum tribunorumque adulatio ad spem firmavit, prensantium manum gratantiumque, quod discrimen improvisum et matris facinus evasisset. amici dehinc adire templa, et coepto exemplo proxima Campaniae municipia victimis et legationibus laetitiam testari: ipse diversa simulatione maestus et quasi incolumitati suae infensus ac morti parentis inlacrimans. quia tamen non, ut hominum vultus, ita locorum facies mutantur, obversabaturque maris illius et litorum gravis adspectus (et erant qui crederent sonitum tubae collibus circum editis planctusque tumulo matris audiri), Neapolim concessit litterasque ad senatum misit, quarum summa erat repertum cum ferro percussorem Agermum, ex intimis Agrippinae libertis, et luisse eam poenam conscientia, qua[si] scelus paravisset.

11. He even revived the charges of a period long past, how she had aimed at a share of empire, and at inducing the praetorian cohorts to swear obedience to a woman, to the disgrace of the Senate and people; how, when she was disappointed, in her fury with the soldiers, the Senate, and the populace, she opposed the usual donative and largess, and organised perilous prosecutions against distinguished citizens. What efforts had it cost him to hinder her from bursting into the Senate-house and giving answers to foreign nations! He glanced too with indirect censure at the days of Claudius, and ascribed all the abominations of that reign to his mother, thus seeking to show that it was the State's good fortune which had destroyed her. For he actually told the story of the shipwreck; but who could be so stupid as to believe that it was accidental, or that a shipwrecked woman had sent one man with a weapon to break through an emperor's guards and fleets? So now it was not Nero, whose brutality was far beyond any remonstrance, but Seneca who was in ill repute, for having written a confession in such a style.

11. Adiciebat crimina longius repetita, quod consortium imperii iuraturasque in feminae verba praetorias cohortes idemque dedecus senatus et populi speravisset, ac postquam frustra [h]abita sit, infensa militi patribusque et plebi dissuasisset donativum et congiarium periculaque viris inlustribus struxisset. quanto suo labore perpetratum, ne inrumperet curiam, ne gentibus externis responsa daret! temporum quoque Claudianorum obliqua insectatione cuncta eius dominationis flagitia in matrem transtulit, publica fortuna exstinctam referens. namque et naufragium narrabat: quod fortuitum fuisse, quis adeo hebes inveniretur, ut crederet? aut a muliere naufraga missum cum telo unum, qui cohortes et classes imperatoris perfringeret? ergo non iam Nero, cuius immanitas omnium questus anteibat, sed Seneca adverso rumore erat, quod oratione tali confessionem scripsisset.

12. Still there was a marvellous rivalry among the nobles in decreeing thanksgivings at all the shrines, and the celebration with annual games of Minerva's festival, as the day on which the plot had been discovered; also, that a golden image of Minerva with a statue of the emperor by its side should be set up in the Senate-house, and that Agrippina's birthday should be classed among the inauspicious days. Thrasea Paetus, who had been used to pass over previous flatteries in silence or with brief assent, then walked out of the Senate, thereby imperilling himself, without communicating to the other senators any impulse towards freedom. There occurred too a thick succession of portents, which meant nothing. A woman gave birth to a snake, and another was killed by a thunderbolt in her husband's embrace. Then the sun was suddenly darkened and the fourteen districts of the city were struck by lightning. All this happened quite without any providential design; so much so, that for many subsequent years Nero prolonged his reign and his crimes. Still, to deepen the popular hatred towards his mother, and prove that since her removal, his clemency had increased, he restored to their ancestral homes two distinguished ladies, Junia and Calpurnia, with two ex-praetors, Valerius Capito and Licinius Gabolus, whom Agrippina had formerly banished. He also allowed the ashes of Lollia Paulina to be brought back and a tomb to be built over them. Iturius and Calvisius, whom he had himself temporarily exiled, he now released from their penalty. Silana indeed had died a natural death at Tarentum, whither she had returned from her distant exile, when the power of Agrippina, to whose enmity she owed her fall, began to totter, or her wrath was at last appeased.

12. Miro tamen certamine procerum decernuntur supplicationes apud omnia pulvinaria, utque Quinquatrus, quibus apertae insidiae essent, ludis annuis celebrarentur, aureum Minervae simulacrum in curia et iuxta principis imago statuerentur, dies natalis Agrippinae inter nefastos esset. Thrasea Paetus silentio vel brevi adsensu priores adulationes transmittere solitus exi[i] tum senatu, ac sibi causam periculi fecit, ceteris libertatis initium non praebuit. prodigia quoque crebra et inrita intercessere: anguem enixa mulier, et alia in concubitu mariti fulmine exanimata; iam sol repente obscuratus et tactae de caelo quattuordecim urbis regiones. quae adeo sine cura deum eveniebant, ut multos post[ea] annos Nero imperium et scelera continuaverit. ceterum quo gravaret invidiam matris eaque demota auctam lenitatem suam testificaretur, feminas inlustres Iuniam et Calpurniam, praetura functos Valerium Capitonem et Licinium Gabolum sedibus patriis reddidit, ab Agrippina olim pulsos. etiam Lolliae Paulinae cineres reportari sepulcrumque exstrui permisit; quosque ipse nuper relegaverat Iturium et Calvisium poena exsolvit. nam Silana fato functa erat, longinquo ab exilio Tarentum regressa labante iam Agrippina, cuius inimicitiis conciderat, vel [tamen] mitigata.

13. While Nero was lingering in the towns of Campania, doubting how he should enter Rome, whether he would find the Senate submissive and the populace enthusiastic, all the vilest courtiers, and of these never had a court a more abundant crop, argued against his hesitation by assuring him that Agrippina's name was hated and that her death had heightened his popularity. "He might go without a fear," they said, "and experience in his person men's veneration for him." They insisted at the same time on preceding him. They found greater enthusiasm than they had promised, the tribes coming forth to meet him, the Senate in holiday attire, troops of their children and wives arranged according to sex and age, tiers of seats raised for the spectacle, where he was to pass, as a triumph is witnessed. Thus elated and exulting over his people's slavery, he proceeded to the Capitol, performed the thanksgiving, and then plunged into all the excesses, which, though ill-restrained, some sort of respect for his mother had for a while delayed.

13. Cunctari tamen in oppidis Campaniae, quonam modo urbem ingrederetur, an obsequium senatus, an studia plebis reperiret anxius. contra deterrimus quisque, quorum non alia regia fecundior extitit, invisum Agrippinae nomen et morte eius accensum populi favorem disserunt: iret intrepidus et venerationem sui coram experiretur; simul praegredi exposcunt. et promptiora quam promiserant inveniunt, obvias tribus, festo cultu senatum, coniugum ac liberorum agmina per sexum et aetatem disposita, exstructos, qua incederet, spectaculorum gradus, quo modo triumphi visuntur. hinc superbus ac publici servitii victor Capitolium adiit, grates exsolvit, seque in omnes libidines effudit, quas male coercitas qualiscumque matris reverentia tardaverat.

14. He had long had a fancy for driving a four-horse chariot, and a no less degrading taste for singing to the harp, in a theatrical fashion, when he was at dinner. This he would remind people was a royal custom, and had been the practice of ancient chiefs; it was celebrated too in the praises of poets and was meant to show honour to the gods. Songs indeed, he said, were sacred to Apollo, and it was in the dress of a singer that that great and prophetic deity was seen in Roman temples as well as in Greek cities. He could no longer be restrained, when Seneca and Burrus thought it best to concede one point that he might not persist in both. A space was enclosed in the Vatican valley where he might manage his horses, without the spectacle being public. Soon he actually invited all the people of Rome, who extolled him in their praises, like a mob which craves for amusements and rejoices when a prince draws them the same way. However, the public exposure of his shame acted on him as an incentive instead of sickening him, as men expected. Imagining that he mitigated the scandal by disgracing many others, he brought on the stage descendants of noble families, who sold themselves because they were paupers. As they have ended their days, I think it due to their ancestors not to hand down their names. And indeed the infamy is his who gave them wealth to reward their degradation rather than to deter them from degrading themselves. He prevailed too on some well-known Roman knights, by immense presents, to offer their services in the amphitheatre; only pay from one who is able to command, carries with it the force of compulsion.

14. Vetus illi cupido erat curriculo quadrigarum insistere, nec minus foedum studium cithara ludicrum in modum canere. concertare [e]quis regium et antiquis ducibus factitatum memora[ba]t, idque vatum laudibus celebre et deorum honori datum. enimvero cantus Apollini sacros, talique ornatu adstare non modo Graecis in urbibus, sed Romana apud templa numen praecipuum et praescium. nec iam sisti poterat, cum Senecae ac Burro visum, ne utraque pervinceret, alterum concedere. clausumque valle Vaticana spatium, in quo equos regeret, haud promisco spectaculo. mox ultro vocari populus Romanus laudibusque extollere, ut est vulgus cupiens voluptatum et, se eodem princeps trahat, laetum. ceterum evulgatus pudor non satietatum, ut rebantur, sed incitamentum attulit. ratusque dedecus moliri, si plures foedasset, nobilium familiarum posteros egestate venales in scaenam deduxit; quos fato perfunctos ne nominatim tradam, maioribus eorum tribuendum puto. [nam et eius flagitium est, qui pecuniam ob delicta potius dedit, quam ne delinquerent.] notos quoque equites Romanos operas arenae promittere subegit donis ingentibus, nisi quod merces ab eo, qui iubere potest, vim necessitatis adfert.

15. Still, not yet wishing to disgrace himself on a public stage, he instituted some games under the title of "juvenile sports," for which people of every class gave in their names. Neither rank nor age nor previous high promotion hindered any one from practising the art of a Greek or Latin actor and even stooping to gestures and songs unfit for a man. Noble ladies too actually played disgusting parts, and in the grove, with which Augustus had surrounded the lake for the naval fight, there were erected places for meeting and refreshment, and every incentive to excess was offered for sale. Money too was distributed, which the respectable had to spend under sheer compulsion and which the profligate gloried in squandering. Hence a rank growth of abominations and of all infamy. Never did a more filthy rabble add a worse licentiousness to our long corrupted morals. Even, with virtuous training, purity is not easily upheld; far less amid rivalries in vice could modesty or propriety or any trace of good manners be preserved. Last of all, the emperor himself came on the stage, tuning his lute with elaborate care and trying his voice with his attendants. There were also present, to complete the show, a guard of soldiers with centurions and tribunes, and Burrus, who grieved and yet applauded. Then it was that Roman knights were first enrolled under the title of Augustani, men in their prime and remarkable for their strength, some, from a natural frivolity, others from the hope of promotion. Day and night they kept up a thunder of applause, and applied to the emperor's person and voice the epithets of deities. Thus they lived in fame and honour, as if on the strength of their merits.

15. Ne tamen adhuc publico theatro dehonestaretur, instituit ludos Iuvenalium vocabulo, in quos passim nomina data. non nobilitas cuiquam, non aetas aut acti honores impedimento, quo minus Graeci Latinive histrionis artem exercerent usque ad gestus modosque haud viriles. quin et feminae inlustres deformia meditari; exstructaque apud nemus, quod navali stagno circumposuit Augustus, conventicula et cauponae et posita veno inritamenta luxui. dabantur stipes, quas boni necessitate, intemperantes gloria consumerent. inde gliscere flagitia et infamia, nec ulla moribus olim corruptis plus libidinum circumdedit quam illa conluvies. vix artibus honestis pudor retinetur, nedum inter certamina vitiorum pudicitia aut modestia aut quicquam probi moris reservaretur. postremus ipse scaenam incedit, multa cura temptans citharam et praemeditans adsistentibus ph[on]ascis. accesserat cohors militum, centuriones tribunique et maerens Burrus ac laudans. tuncque primum conscripti sunt equites Romani cognomento Augustianorum, aetate ac robore conspicui, et pars ingenio procaces, alii in spe[m] potentiae. ii dies ac noctes plausibus personare, formam principis vocemque deum vocabulis appellantes; quasi per virtutem clari honoratique agere.

16. Nero however, that he might not be known only for his accomplishments as an actor, also affected a taste for poetry, and drew round him persons who had some skill in such compositions, but not yet generally recognised. They used to sit with him, stringing together verses prepared at home, or extemporised on the spot, and fill up his own expressions, such as they were, just as he threw them off. This is plainly shown by the very character of the poems, which have no vigour or inspiration, or unity in their flow. He would also bestow some leisure after his banquets on the teachers of philosophy, for he enjoyed the wrangles of opposing dogmatists. And some there were who liked to exhibit their gloomy faces and looks, as one of the amusements of the court.

16. Ne tamen ludicrae tantum imperatoris artes notescerent, carminum quoque studium adfectavit, contractis quibus aliqua pangendi facultas necdum insignis aestimatio. hi considere simul, et adlatos vel ibidem repertos versus conectere atque ipsius verba quoquo modo prolata supplere. quod species ipsa carminum docet, non impetu et instinctu nec ore uno fluens. etiam sapientiae doctoribus tempus impertiebat post epulas, utque contraria adseverantium discordia frueretur. nec deerant qui ore vultuque tristi inter oblectamenta regia spectari cuperent.

17. About the same time a trifling beginning led to frightful bloodshed between the inhabitants of Nuceria and Pompeii, at a gladiatorial show exhibited by Livineius Regulus, who had been, as I have related, expelled from the Senate. With the unruly spirit of townsfolk, they began with abusive language of each other; then they took up stones and at last weapons, the advantage resting with the populace of Pompeii, where the show was being exhibited. And so there were brought to Rome a number of the people of Nuceria, with their bodies mutilated by wounds, and many lamented the deaths of children or of parents. The emperor entrusted the trial of the case to the Senate, and the Senate to the consuls, and then again the matter being referred back to the Senators, the inhabitants of Pompeii were forbidden to have any such public gathering for ten years, and all associations they had formed in defiance of the laws were dissolved. Livineius and the others who had excited the disturbance, were punished with exile.

17. Sub idem tempus levi initio atrox caedes orta inter colonos Nucerinos Pompeianosque gladiatorio spectaculo, quod Livineius Regulus, quem motum senatu rettuli, edebat. quippe oppidana lascivia in vicem incessente[s] probra, dein saxa, postremo ferrum sumpsere, validiore Pompeianorum plebe, apud quos spectaculum edebatur. ergo deportati sunt in urbem multi e Nucerinis trunco per vulnera corpore, ac plerique liberorum aut parentum mortes deflebant. cuius rei iudicium princeps senatui, senatus consulibus permisit. et rursus re ad patres relata, prohibiti publice in decem annos eius modi coetu Pompeiani collegiaque, quae contra leges instituerant, dissoluta; Livineius et qui alii seditionem conciverant exilio multati sunt.

18. Pedius Blaesus was also expelled from the Senate on the accusation of the people of Cyrene, that he had violated the treasury of Aesculapius and had tampered with a military levy by bribery and corruption. This same people prosecuted Acilius Strabo who had held the office of praetor, and had been sent by Claudius to adjudicate on some lands which were bequeathed by king Apion, their former possessor, together with his kingdom to the Roman people, and which had since been seized by the neighbouring proprietors, who trusted to a long continued licence in wrong, as if it constituted right and justice. Consequently, when the adjudication was against them, there arose a bitter feeling towards the judge, but the Senate replied that they knew nothing of the instructions given by Claudius, and that the emperor must be consulted. Nero, though he approved Strabo's decision, wrote word that nevertheless he was for relieving the allies, and that he waived all claim to what had been taken into possession.

18. Motus senatu et Pedius Blaesus, accusantibus Cyrenensibus violatum ab eo thesaurum Aesculapii dilectumque militarem pretio et ambitione corruptum. idem Cyrenenses reum agebant Acilium Strabonem, praetoria potestate usum et missum disceptatorem a Claudio agrorum, quos regis Apionis quondam avitos et populo Romano cum regno relictos proximus quisque possessor invaserat, diutinaque licentia et iniuria quasi iure et aequo nitebantur. igitur abiudicatis agris orta adversus iudicem invidia; et senatus ignota sibi esse mandata Claudii et consulendum principem respondit. Ne[ro], probata Strabonis sententia, se nihilo minus subvenire sociis et usurpata concedere [re]scripsit.

19. Then followed the deaths of two illustrious men, Domitius Afer and Marcus Servilius, who had flourished through a career of the highest honours and great eloquence. The first was a pleader; Servilius, after long practice in the courts, distinguished himself by his history of Rome and by the refinement of his life, which the contrast of his character to that of Afer, whom he equalled in genius, rendered the more conspicuous.

19. Sequuntur virorum inlustrium mortes, Domitii Afri et M. Servilii, qui summis honoribus et multa eloquentia viguerant, ille orando causas, Servilius diu foro, mox tradendis rebus Romanis celebris et elegantia vitae, quod clariorem effecit, ut par ingenio, ita morum diversus.

Next: Book 14 [20]