Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Tacitus: Agricola Book 1 [40]

40. For Agricola was still the governor of Britain. Accordingly the Emperor ordered that the usual triumphal decorations, the honour of a laurelled statue, and all that is commonly given in place of the triumphal procession, with the addition of many laudatory expressions, should be decreed in the senate, together with a hint to the effect that Agricola was to have the province of Syria, then vacant by the death of Atilius Rufus, a man of consular rank, and generally reserved for men of distinction. It was believed by many persons that one of the freedmen employed on confidential services was sent to Agricola, bearing a despatch in which Syria was offered him, and with instructions to deliver it should he be in Britain; that this freedman in crossing the straits met Agricola, and without even saluting him made his way back to Domitian; though I cannot say whether the story is true, or is only a fiction invented to suit the Emperor's character.

Meanwhile Agricola had handed over his province in peace and safety to his successor. And not to make his entrance into Rome conspicuous by the concourse of welcoming throngs, he avoided the attentions of his friends by entering the city at night, and at night too, according to orders, proceeded to the palace, where, having been received with a hurried embrace and without a word being spoken, he mingled in the crowd of courtiers. Anxious henceforth to temper the military renown, which annoys men of peace, with other merits, he studiously cultivated retirement and leisure, simple in dress, courteous in conversation, and never accompanied but by one or two friends, so that the many who commonly judge of great men by their external grandeur, after having seen and attentively surveyed him, asked the secret of a greatness which but few could explain.

40. Igitur triumphalia ornamenta et inlustris statuae honorem et quidquid pro triumpho datur, multo verborum honore cumulata, decerni in senatu iubet addique insuper opinionem, Syriam provinciam Agricolae destinari, vacuam tum morte Atili Rufi consularis et maioribus reservatam. Credidere plerique libertum ex secretioribus ministeriis missum ad Agricolam codicillos, quibus ei Syria dabatur, tulisse, cum eo praecepto ut, si in Britannia foret, traderentur; eumque libertum in ipso freto Oceani obvium Agricolae, ne appellato quidem eo ad Domitianum remeasse, sive verum istud, sive ex ingenio principis fictum ac compositum est. Tradiderat interim Agricola successori suo provinciam quietam tutamque. Ac ne notabilis celebritate et frequentia occurrentium introitus esset, vitato amicorum officio noctu in urbem, noctu in Palatium, ita ut praeceptum erat, venit; exceptusque brevi osculo et nullo sermone turbae servientium inmixtus est. Ceterum uti militare nomen, grave inter otiosos, aliis virtutibus temperaret, tranquillitatem atque otium penitus hausit, cultu modicus, sermone facilis, uno aut altero amicorum comitatus, adeo ut plerique, quibus magnos viros per ambitionem aestimare mos est, viso aspectoque Agricola quaererent famam, pauci interpretarentur.

41. During this time he was frequently accused before Domitian in his absence, and in his absence acquitted. The cause of his danger lay not in any crime, nor in any complaint of injury, but in a ruler who was the foe of virtue, in his own renown, and in that worst class of enemies--the men who praise. And then followed such days for the commonwealth as would not suffer Agricola to be forgotten; days when so many of our armies were lost in Moesia, Dacia, Germany, and Pannonia, through the rashness or cowardice of our generals, when so many of our officers were besieged and captured with so many of our auxiliaries, when it was no longer the boundaries of empire and the banks of rivers which were imperilled, but the winter-quarters of our legions and the possession of our territories. And so when disaster followed upon disaster, and the entire year was marked by destruction and slaughter, the voice of the people called Agricola to the command; for they all contrasted his vigour, firmness, and experience in war, with the inertness and timidity of other generals. This talk, it is quite certain, assailed the ears of the Emperor himself, while affection and loyalty in the best of his freedmen, malice and envy in the worst, kindled the anger of a prince ever inclined to evil. And so at once, by his own excellences and by the faults of others, Agricola was hurried headlong to a perilous elevation.

41. Crebro per eos dies apud Domitianum absens accusatus, absens absolutus est. Causa periculi non crimen ullum aut querela laesi cuiusquam, sed infensus virtutibus princeps et gloria viri ac pessimum inimicorum genus, laudantes. Et ea insecuta sunt rei publicae tempora, quae sileri Agricolam non sinerent: tot exercitus in Moesia Daciaque et Germania et Pannonia temeritate aut per ignaviam ducum amissi, tot militares viri cum tot cohortibus expugnati et capti; nec iam de limite imperii et ripa, sed de hibernis legionum et possessione dubitatum. Ita cum damna damnis continuarentur atque omnis annus funeribus et cladibus insigniretur, poscebatur ore vulgi dux Agricola, comparantibus cunctis vigorem, constantiam et expertum bellis animum cum inertia et formidine aliorum. Quibus sermonibus satis constat Domitiani quoque auris verberatas, dum optimus quisque libertorum amore et fide, pessimi malignitate et livore pronum deterioribus principem extimulabant. Sic Agricola simul suis virtutibus, simul vitiis aliorum in ipsam gloriam praeceps agebatur.

42. The year had now arrived in which the proconsulate of Asia or Africa was to fall to him by lot, and, as Civica had been lately murdered, Agricola did not want a warning, or Domitian a precedent. Persons well acquainted with the Emperor's feelings came to ask Agricola, as if on their own account, whether he would go. First they hinted their purpose by praises of tranquillity and leisure; then offered their services in procuring acceptance for his excuses; and at last, throwing off all disguise, brought him by entreaties and threats to Domitian. The Emperor, armed beforehand with hypocrisy, and assuming a haughty demeanour, listened to his prayer that he might be excused, and having granted his request allowed himself to be formally thanked, nor blushed to grant so sinister a favour. But the salary usually granted to a proconsul, and which he had himself given to some governors, he did not bestow on Agricola, either because he was offended at its not having been asked, or was warned by his conscience that he might be thought to have purchased the refusal which he had commanded. It is, indeed, human nature to hate the man whom you have injured; yet the Emperor, notwithstanding his irascible temper and an implacability proportioned to his reserve, was softened by the moderation and prudence of Agricola, who neither by a perverse obstinacy nor an idle parade of freedom challenged fame or provoked his fate. Let it be known to those whose habit it is to admire the disregard of authority, that there may be great men even under bad emperors, and that obedience and submission, when joined to activity and vigour, may attain a glory which most men reach only by a perilous career, utterly useless to the state, and closed by an ostentatious death.

42. Aderat iam annus, quo proconsulatum Africae et Asiae sortiretur, et occiso Civica nuper nec Agricolae consilium deerat nec Domitiano exemplum. Accessere quidam cogitationum principis periti, qui iturusne esset in provinciam ultro Agricolam interrogarent. Ac primo occultius quietem et otium laudare, mox operam suam in adprobanda excusatione offerre, postremo non iam obscuri suadentes simul terrentesque pertraxere ad Domitianum. Qui paratus simulatione, in adrogantiam compositus, et audiit preces excusantis, et, cum adnuisset, agi sibi gratias passus est, nec erubuit beneficii invidia. Salarium tamen proconsulare solitum offerri et quibusdam a se ipso concessum Agricolae non dedit, sive offensus non petitum, sive ex conscientia, ne quod vetuerat videretur emisse. Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris: Domitiani vero natura praeceps in iram, et quo obscurior, eo inrevocabilior, moderatione tamen prudentiaque Agricolae leniebatur, quia non contumacia neque inani iactatione libertatis famam fatumque provocabat. Sciant, quibus moris est inlicita mirari, posse etiam sub malis principibus magnos viros esse, obsequiumque ac modestiam, si industria ac vigor adsint, eo laudis excedere, quo plerique per abrupta, sed in nullum rei publicae usum <nisi> ambitiosa morte inclaruerunt.

43. The end of his life, a deplorable calamity to us and a grief to his friends, was regarded with concern even by strangers and those who knew him not. The common people and this busy population continually inquired at his house, and talked of him in public places and in private gatherings. No man when he heard of Agricola's death could either be glad or at once forget it. Men's sympathy was increased by a prevalent rumour that he was destroyed by poison. For myself, I have nothing which I should venture to state for fact. Certainly during the whole of his illness the Emperor's chief freedmen and confidential physicians came more frequently than is usual with a court which pays its visits by means of messengers. This was, perhaps, solicitude, perhaps espionage. Certain it is, that on the last day the very agonies of his dying moments were reported by a succession of couriers, and no one believed that there would be such haste about tidings which would be heard with regret. Yet in his manner and countenance the Emperor displayed some signs of sorrow, for he could now forget his enmity, and it was easier to conceal his joy than his fear. It was well known that on reading the will, in which he was named co-heir with Agricola's excellent wife and most dutiful daughter, he expressed delight, as if it had been a complimentary choice. So blinded and perverted was his mind by incessant flattery, that he did not know that it was only a bad Emperor whom a good father would make his heir.

43. Finis vitae eius nobis luctuosus, amicis tristis, extraneis etiam ignotisque non sine cura fuit. vulgus quoque et hic aliud agens populus et ventitavere ad domum et per fora et circulos locuti sunt; nec quisquam audita morte Agricolae aut laetatus est aut statim oblitus. Augebat miserationem constans rumor veneno interceptum: nobis nihil comperti, [ut] adfirmare ausim. Ceterum per omnem valetudinem eius crebrius quam ex more principatus per nuntios visentis et libertorum primi et medicorum intimi venere, sive cura illud sive inquisitio erat. Supremo quidem die momenta ipsa deficientis per dispositos cursores nuntiata constabat, nullo credente sic adcelerari quae tristis audiret. Speciem tamen doloris animi vultu prae se tulit, securus iam odii et qui facilius dissimularet gaudium quam metum. Satis constabat lecto testamento Agricolae, quo coheredem optimae uxori et piissimae filiae Domitianum scripsit, laetatum eum velut honore iudicioque. Tam caeca et corrupta mens adsiduis adulationibus erat, ut nesciret a bono patre non scribi heredem nisi malum principem.

44. Agricola was born on the 13th of June, in the third consulate of Caius Cæsar; he died on the 23rd of August, during the consulate of Collega and Priscus, being in the fifty-sixth year of his age. Should posterity wish to know something of his appearance, it was graceful rather than commanding. There was nothing formidable in his appearance; a gracious look predominated. One would easily believe him a good man, and willingly believe him to be great. As for himself, though taken from us in the prime of a vigorous manhood, yet, as far as glory is concerned, his life was of the longest. Those true blessings, indeed, which consist in virtue, he had fully attained; and on one who had reached the honours of a consulate and a triumph, what more had fortune to bestow? Immense wealth had no attractions for him, and wealth he had, even to splendour. As his daughter and his wife survived him, it may be thought that he was even fortunate--fortunate, in that while his honours had suffered no eclipse, while his fame was at its height, while his kindred and his friends still prospered, he escaped from the evil to come. For, though to survive until the dawn of this most happy age and to see a Trajan on the throne was what he would speculate upon in previsions and wishes confided to my ears, yet he had this mighty compensation for his premature death, that he was spared those later years during which Domitian, leaving now no interval or breathing space of time, but, as it were, with one continuous blow, drained the life-blood of the Commonwealth.

44. Natus erat Agricola Gaio Caesare tertium consule idibus Iuniis: excessit quarto et quinquagesimo anno, decimum kalendas Septembris Collega Prisc<in>oque consulibus. Quod si habitum quoque eius posteri noscere velint, decentior quam sublimior fuit; nihil impetus in vultu: gratia oris supererat. Bonum virum facile crederes, magnum libenter. Et ipse quidem, quamquam medio in spatio integrae aetatis ereptus, quantum ad gloriam, longissimum aevum peregit. Quippe et vera bona, quae in virtutibus sita sunt, impleverat, et consulari ac triumphalibus ornamentis praedito quid aliud adstruere fortuna poterat? Opibus nimiis non gaudebat, speciosae [non] contigerant. Filia atque uxore superstitibus potest videri etiam beatus incolumi dignitate, florente fama, salvis adfinitatibus et amicitiis futura effugisse. Nam sicut ei [non licuit] durare in hanc beatissimi saeculi lucem ac principem Traianum videre, quod augurio votisque apud nostras auris ominabatur, ita festinatae mortis grande solacium tulit evasisse postremum illud tempus, quo Domitianus non iam per intervalla ac spiramenta temporum, sed continuo et velut uno ictu rem publicam exhausit.

45. Agricola did not see the senate-house besieged, or the senate hemmed in by armed men, or so many of our consulars falling at one single massacre, or so many of Rome's noblest ladies exiles and fugitives. Carus Metius had as yet the distinction of but one victory, and the noisy counsels of Messalinus were not heard beyond the walls of Alba, and Massa Bæbius was then answering for his life. It was not long before our hands dragged Helvidius to prison, before we gazed on the dying looks of Manricus and Rusticus, before we were steeped in Senecio's innocent blood. Even Nero turned his eyes away, and did not gaze upon the atrocities which he ordered; with Domitian it was the chief part of our miseries to see and to be seen, to know that our sighs were being recorded, to have, ever ready to note the pallid looks of so many faces, that savage countenance reddened with the hue with which he defied shame.

Thou wast indeed fortunate, Agricola, not only in the splendour of thy life, but in the opportune moment of thy death. Thou submittedst to thy fate, so they tell us who were present to hear thy last words, with courage and cheerfulness, seeming to be doing all thou couldst to give thine Emperor full acquittal. As for me and thy daughter, besides all the bitterness of a father's loss, it increases our sorrow that it was not permitted us to watch over thy failing health, to comfort thy weakness, to satisfy ourselves with those looks, those embraces. Assuredly we should have received some precepts, some utterances to fix in our inmost hearts. This is the bitterness of our sorrow, this the smart of our wound, that from the circumstance of so long an absence thou wast lost to us four years before. Doubtless, best of fathers, with that most loving wife at thy side, all the dues of affection were abundantly paid thee, yet with too few tears thou wast laid to thy rest, and in the light of thy last day there was something for which thine eyes longed in vain.

45. Non vidit Agricola obsessam curiam et clausum armis senatum et eadem strage tot consularium caedes, tot nobilissimarum feminarum exilia et fugas. Una adhuc victoria Carus Mettius censebatur, et intra Albanam arcem sententia Messalini strepebat, et Massa Baebius iam tum reus erat: mox nostrae duxere Helvidium in carcerem manus; nos Maurici Rusticique visus [foedavit]; nos innocenti sanguine Senecio perfudit. Nero tamen subtraxit oculos suos iussitque scelera, non spectavit: praecipua sub Domitiano miseriarum pars erat videre et aspici, cum suspiria nostra subscriberentur, cum denotandis tot hominum palloribus sufficeret saevus ille vultus et rubor, quo se contra pudorem muniebat. Tu vero felix, Agricola, non vitae tantum claritate, sed etiam opportunitate mortis. Ut perhibent qui interfuere novissimis sermonibus tuis, constans et libens fatum excepisti, tamquam pro virili portione innocentiam principi donares. Sed mihi filiaeque eius praeter acerbitatem parentis erepti auget maestitiam, quod adsidere valetudini, fovere deficientem, satiari vultu complexuque non contigit. Excepissemus certe mandata vocesque, quas penitus animo figeremus. Noster hic dolor, nostrum vulnus, nobis tam longae absentiae condicione ante quadriennium amissus est. Omnia sine dubio, optime parentum, adsidente amantissima uxore superfuere honori tuo: paucioribus tamen lacrimis comploratus es, et novissima in luce desideravere aliquid oculi tui.

46. If there is any dwelling-place for the spirits of the just; if, as the wise believe, noble souls do not perish with the body, rest thou in peace; and call us, thy family, from weak regrets and womanish laments to the contemplation of thy virtues, for which we must not weep nor beat the breast. Let us honour thee not so much with transitory praises as with our reverence, and, if our powers permit us, with our emulation. That will be true respect, that the true affection of thy nearest kin. This, too, is what I would enjoin on daughter and wife, to honour the memory of that father, that husband, by pondering in their hearts all his words and acts, by cherishing the features and lineaments of his character rather than those of his person. It is not that I would forbid the likenesses which are wrought in marble or in bronze; but as the faces of men, so all similitudes of the face are weak and perishable things, while the fashion of the soul is everlasting, such as may be expressed not in some foreign substance, or by the help of art, but in our own lives. Whatever we loved, whatever we admired in Agricola, survives, and will survive in the hearts of men, in the succession of the ages, in the fame that waits on noble deeds. Over many indeed, of those who have gone before, as over the inglorious and ignoble, the waves of oblivion will roll; Agricola, made known to posterity by history and tradition, will live for ever. 46. Si quis piorum manibus locus, si, ut sapientibus placet, non cum corpore extinguuntur magnae animae, placide quiescas, nosque domum tuam ab infirmo desiderio et muliebribus lamentis ad contemplationem virtutum tuarum voces, quas neque lugeri neque plangi fas est. Admiratione te potius et immortalibus laudibus et, si natura suppeditet, similitudine colamus: is verus honos, ea coniunctissimi cuiusque pietas. Id filiae quoque uxorique praeceperim, sic patris, sic mariti memoriam venerari, ut omnia facta dictaque eius secum revolvant, formamque ac figuram animi magis quam corporis complectantur, non quia intercedendum putem imaginibus quae marmore aut aere finguntur, sed ut vultus hominum, ita simulacra vultus imbecilla ac mortalia sunt, forma mentis aeterna, quam tenere et exprimere non per alienam materiam et artem, sed tuis ipse moribus possis. Quidquid ex Agricola amavimus, quidquid mirati sumus, manet mansurumque est in animis hominum in aeternitae temporum, fama rerum; nam multos veterum velut inglorios et ignobilis oblivio obruit: Agricola posteritati narratus et traditus superstes erit.

Next: Book 1 [1]