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Tacitus: Annals Book 4 [60]

60. Nero, while he listened to this and like talk, was not indeed inspired with any guilty ambition, but still occasionally there would break from him wilful and thoughtless expressions which spies about his person caught up and reported with exaggeration, and this he had no opportunity of rebutting. Then again alarms under various forms were continually arising. One man would avoid meeting him; another after returning his salutation would instantly turn away; many after beginning a conversation would instantly break it off, while Sejanus's friends would stand their ground and laugh at him. Tiberius indeed wore an angry frown or a treacherous smile. Whether the young prince spoke or held his tongue, silence and speech were alike criminal. Every night had its anxieties, for his sleepless hours, his dreams and sighs were all made known by his wife to her mother Livia and by Livia to Sejanus. Nero's brother Drusus Sejanus actually drew into his scheme by holding out to him the prospect of becoming emperor through the removal of an elder brother, already all but fallen. The savage temper of Drusus, to say nothing of lust of power and the usual feuds between brothers, was inflamed with envy by the partiality of the mother Agrippina towards Nero. And yet Sejanus, while he favoured Drusus, was not without thoughts of sowing the seeds of his future ruin, well knowing how very impetuous he was and therefore the more exposed to treachery.

60. Haec atque talia audienti nihil quidempravae cogitationis, sed interdum voces procedebant contumaces et inconsultae, quas adpositi custodes exceptas auctasque cum deferrent neque Neroni defendere daretur, diversae insuper sollicitudinum formae oriebantur. nam alius occursum eius vitare, quidam salutatione reddita statim averti, plerique inceptum sermonem abrumpere, insistentibus contra inridentibusque qui Seiano fautores aderant. enimvero Tiberius torvus aut falsum renidens vultu: seu loqueretur seu taceret iuvenis, crimen ex silentio, ex voce. ne nox quidem secura, cum uxor vigilias somnos suspiria matri Liviae atque illa Seiano patefaceret; qui fratrem quoque Neronis Drusum traxit in partis, spe obiecta principis loci si priorem aetate et iam labefactum demovisset. atrox Drusi ingenium super cupidinem potentiae et solita fratribus odia accendebatur invidia quod mater Agrippina promptior Neroni erat. neque tamen Seianus ita Drusum fovabat ut non in eum quoque semina futuri exitii meditaretur, gnarus praeferocem et insidiis magis opportunum.

61. Towards the close of the year died two distinguished men, Asinius Agrippa and Quintus Haterius. Agrippa was of illustrious rather than ancient ancestry, which his career did not disgrace; Haterius was of a senatorian family and famous for his eloquence while he lived, though the monuments which remain of his genius are not admired as of old. The truth is he succeeded more by vehemence than by finish of style. While the research and labours of other authors are valued by an after age, the harmonious fluency of Haterius died with him.

61. Fine anni excessere insignes viri Asinius Agrippa, claris maioribus quam vetustis vitaque non degener, et Q. Haterius, familia senatoria, eloquentiae quoad vixit celebratae: monimenta ingeni eius haud perinde retinentur. scilicet impetu magis quam cura vigebat; utque aliorum meditatio et labor in posterum valescit, sic Haterii canorum illud et profluens cum ipso simul extinctum est.

62. In the year of the consulship of Marcus Licinius and Lucius Calpurnius, the losses of a great war were matched by an unexpected disaster, no sooner begun than ended. One Atilius, of the freedman class, having undertaken to build an amphitheatre at Fidena for the exhibition of a show of gladiators, failed to lay a solid foundation to frame the wooden superstructure with beams of sufficient strength; for he had neither an abundance of wealth, nor zeal for public popularity, but he had simply sought the work for sordid gain. Thither flocked all who loved such sights and who during the reign of Tiberius had been wholly debarred from such amusements; men and women of every age crowding to the place because it was near Rome. And so the calamity was all the more fatal. The building was densely crowded; then came a violent shock, as it fell inwards or spread outwards, precipitating and burying an immense multitude which was intently gazing on the show or standing round. Those who were crushed to death in the first moment of the accident had at least under such dreadful circumstances the advantage of escaping torture. More to be pitied were they who with limbs torn from them still retained life, while they recognised their wives and children by seeing them during the day and by hearing in the night their screams and groans. Soon all the neighbours in their excitement at the report were bewailing brothers, kinsmen or parents. Even those whose friends or relatives were away from home for quite a different reason, still trembled for them, and as it was not yet known who had been destroyed by the crash, suspense made the alarm more widespread.

62. M. Licinio L. Calpurnio consulibus ingentium bellorum cladem aequavit malum improvisum: eius initium simul et finis extitit. nam coepto apud Fidenam amphitheatro Atilius quidam libertini generis, quo spectaculum gladiatorum celebraret, neque fundamenta per solidum subdidit neque firmis nexibus ligneam compagem superstruxit, ut qui non abundantia pecuniae nec municipali ambitione sed in sordidam mercedem id negotium quaesivisset. adfluxere avidi talium, imperitante Tiberio procul voluptatibus habiti, virile ac muliebre secus, omnis aetas, ob propinquitatem loci effusius; unde gravior pestis fuit, conferta mole, dein convulsa, dum ruit intus aut in exteriora effunditur immensamque vim mortalium, spectaculo intentos aut qui circum adstabant, praeceps trahit atque operit. et illi quidem quos principium stragis in mortem adflixerat, ut tali sorte, cruciatum effugere: miserandi magis quos abrupta parte corporis nondum vita deseruerat; qui per diem visu, per noctem ululatibus et gemitu coniuges aut liberos noscebant. iam ceteri fama exciti, hic fratrem, propinquum ille, alius parentes lamentari. etiam quorum diversa de causa amici aut necessarii aberant, pavere tamen; nequedum comperto quos illa vis perculisset, latior ex incerto metus.

63. As soon as they began to remove the debris, there was a rush to see the lifeless forms and much embracing and kissing. Often a dispute would arise, when some distorted face, bearing however a general resemblance of form and age, had baffled their efforts at recognition. Fifty thousand persons were maimed or destroyed in this disaster. For the future it was provided by a decree of the Senate that no one was to exhibit a show of gladiators, whose fortune fell short of four hundred thousand sesterces, and that no amphitheatre was to be erected except on a foundation, the solidity of which had been examined. Atilius was banished. At the moment of the calamity the nobles threw open houses and supplied indiscriminately medicines and physicians, so that Rome then, notwithstanding her sorrowful aspect, wore a likeness to the manners of our forefathers who after a great battle always relieved the wounded with their bounty and attentions.

63. Vt coepere dimoveri obruta, concursus ad exanimos complectentium, osculantium; et saepe certamen si con fusior facies sed par forma aut aetas errorem adgnoscentibus fecerat. quinquaginta hominum milia eo casu debilitata vel obtrita sunt; cautumque in posterum senatus consulto ne quis gladiatorium munus ederet cui minor quadringentorum milium res neve amphitheatrum imponeretur nisi solo firmitatis spectatae. Atilius in exilium actus est. Ceterum sub recentem cladem patuere procerum domus, fomenta et medici passim praebiti, fuitque urbs per illos dies quamquam maesta facie veterum institutis similis, qui magna post proelia saucios largitione et cura sustentabant.

64. This disaster was not forgotten when a furious conflagration damaged the capital to an unusual extent, reducing Mount Caelius to ashes. "It was an ill-starred year," people began to say, "and the emperor's purpose of leaving Rome must have been formed under evil omens." They began in vulgar fashion to trace ill-luck to guilt, when Tiberius checked them by distributing money in proportion to losses sustained. He received a vote of thanks in the Senate from its distinguished members, and was applauded by the populace for having assisted with his liberality, without partiality or the solicitations of friends, strangers whom he had himself sought out. And proposals were also made that Mount Caelius should for the future be called Mount Augustus, inasmuch as when all around was in flames only a single statue of Tiberius in the house of one Junius, a senator, had remained uninjured. This, it was said, had formerly happened to Claudia Quinta; her statue, which had twice escaped the violence of fire, had been dedicated by our ancestors in the temple of the Mother of Gods; hence the Claudii had been accounted sacred and numbered among deities, and so additional sanctity ought to be given to a spot where heaven showed such honour to the emperor.

64. Nondum ea clades exoleverat cum ignis violentia urbem ultra solitum adfecit, deusto monte Caelio; feralemque annum ferebant et ominibus adversis susceptum principi consilium absentiae, qui mos vulgo, fortuita ad culpam trahentes, ni Caesar obviam isset tribuendo pecunias ex modo detrimenti. actaeque ei grates apud senatum ab inlustribus famaque apud populum, quia sine ambitione aut proximorum precibus ignotos etiam et ultro accitos munificentia iuverat. adduntur sententiae ut mons Caelius in posterum Augustus appellaretur, quando cunctis circum flagrantibus sola Tiberii effigies sita in domo Iunii senatoris inviolata mansisset. evenisse id olim Claudiae Quintae eiusque statuam vim ignium bis elapsam maiores apud aedem matris deum consecravisse. sanctos acceptosque numinibus Claudios et augendam caerimoniam loco in quo tantum in principem honorem di ostenderint.

65. It will not be uninteresting to mention that Mount Caelius was anciently known by the name of Querquetulanus, because it grew oak timber in abundance and was afterwards called Caelius by Caeles Vibenna, who led the Etruscan people to the aid of Rome and had the place given him as a possession by Tarquinius Priscus or by some other of the kings. As to that point historians differ; as to the rest, it is beyond a question that Vibenna's numerous forces established themselves in the plain beneath and in the neighbourhood of the forum, and that the Tuscan street was named after these strangers.

65. Haud fuerit absurdum tradere montem eum antiquitus Querquetulanum cognomento fuisse, quod talis silvae frequens fecundusque erat, mox Caelium appellitatum a Caele Vibenna, qui dux gentis Etruscae cum auxilium tulisset sedem eam acceperat a Tarquinio Prisco, seu quis alius regum dedit: nam scriptores in eo dissentiunt. cetera non ambigua sunt, magnas eas copias per plana etiam ac foro propinqua habitavisse, unde Tuscum vicum e vocabulo advenarum dictum.

66. But though the zeal of the nobles and the bounty of the prince brought relief to suffering, yet every day a stronger and fiercer host of informers pursued its victims, without one alleviating circumstance. Quintilius Varus, a rich man and related to the emperor, was suddenly attacked by Domitius Afer, the successful prosecutor of Claudia Pulchra, his mother, and no one wondered that the needy adventurer of many years who had squandered his lately gotten recompense was now preparing himself for fresh iniquities. That Publius Dolabella should have associated himself in the prosecution was a marvel, for he was of illustrious ancestry, was allied to Varus, and was now himself seeking to destroy his own noble race, his own kindred. The Senate however stopped the proceeding, and decided to wait for the emperor, this being the only means of escaping for a time impending horrors.

66. Sed ut studia procerum et largitio principis adversum casus solacium tulerant, ita accusatorum maior in dies et infestior vis sine levamento grassabatur; corripueratque Varum Quintilium, divitem et Caesari propinquum, Domitius Afer, Claudiae Pulchrae matris eius condemnator, nullo mirante quad diu egens et parto nuper praemio male usus plura ad flagitia accingeretur. Publium Dolabellam socium delationis extitisse miraculo erat, quia claris maioribus et Varo conexus suam ipse nobilitatem, suum sanguinem perditum ibat. restitit tamen senatus et opperiendum imperatorem censuit, quod unum urgentium malorum suffugium in tempus erat.

67. Caesar, meanwhile, after dedicating the temples in Campania, warned the public by an edict not to disturb his retirement and posted soldiers here and there to keep off the throngs of townsfolk. But he so loathed the towns and colonies and, in short, every place on the mainland, that he buried himself in the island of Capreae which is separated by three miles of strait from the extreme point of the promontory of Sorrentum. The solitude of the place was, I believe, its chief attraction, for a harbourless sea surrounds it and even for a small vessel it has but few safe retreats, nor can any one land unknown to the sentries. Its air in winter is soft, as it is screened by a mountain which is a protection against cutting winds. In summer it catches the western breezes, and the open sea round it renders it most delightful. It commanded too a prospect of the most lovely bay, till Vesuvius, bursting into flames, changed the face of the country. Greeks, so tradition says, occupied those parts and Capreae was inhabited by the Teleboi. Tiberius had by this time filled the island with twelve country houses, each with a grand name and a vast structure of its own. Intent as he had once been on the cares of state, he was now for thoroughly unbending himself in secret profligacy and a leisure of malignant schemes. For he still retained that rash proneness to suspect and to believe, which even at Rome Sejanus used to foster, and which he here excited more keenly, no longer concealing his machinations against Agrippina and Nero. Soldiers hung about them, and every message, every visit, their public and their private life were I may say regularly chronicled. And persons were actually suborned to advise them to flee to the armies of Germany, or when the Forum was most crowded, to clasp the statue of statue of the Divine Augustus and appeal to the protection of the people and Senate. These counsels they disdained, but they were charged with having had thoughts of acting on them.

67. At Caesar dedicatis per Campaniam templis, quamquam edicto monuisset ne quis quietem eius inrumperet, concursusque oppidanorum disposito milite prohiberentur, perosus tamen municipia et colonias omniaque in continenti sita Capreas se in insulam abdidit trium milium freto ab extremis Surrentini promunturii diiunctam. solitudinem eius placuisse maxime crediderim, quoniam importuosum circa mare et vix modicis navigiis pauca subsidia; neque adpulerit quisquam nisi gnaro custode. caeli temperies hieme mitis obiectu montis quo saeva ventorum arcentur; aestas in favonium obversa et aperto circum pelago peramoena; prospectabatque pulcherrimum sinum, antequam Vesuvius mons ardescens faciem loci verteret. Graecos ea tenuisse Capreasque Telebois habitatas fama tradit. sed tum Tiberius duodecim villarum nominibus et molibus insederat, quanto intentus olim publicas ad curas tanto occultiores in luxus et malum otium resolutus. manebat quippe suspicionum et credendi temeritas quam Seianus augere etiam in urbe suetus acrius turbabat non iam occultis adversum Agrippinam et Neronem insidiis. quis additus miles nuntios, introitus, aperta secreta velut in annalis referebat, ultroque struebantur qui monerent perfugere ad Germaniae exercitus vel celeberrimo fori effigiem divi Augusti amplecti populumque ac senatum auxilio vocare. eaque spreta ab illis, velut pararent, obiciebantur.

68. The year of the consulship of Silanus and Silius Nerva opened with a foul beginning. A Roman knight of the highest rank, Titius Sabinus, was dragged to prison because he had been a friend of Germanicus. He had indeed persisted in showing marked respect towards his wife and children, as their visitor at home, their companion in public, the solitary survivor of so many clients, and he was consequently esteemed by the good, as he was a terror to the evil-minded. Latinius Latiaris, Porcius Cato, Petitius Rufus, and Marcus Opsius, ex-praetors, conspired to attack him, with an eye to the consulship, to which there was access only through Sejanus, and the good will of Sejanus was to be gained only by a crime. They arranged amongst themselves that Latiaris, who had some slight acquaintance with Sabinus, should devise the plot, that the rest should be present as witnesses, and that then they should begin the prosecution. Accordingly Latiaris, after first dropping some casual remarks, went on to praise the fidelity of Sabinus in not having, like others, forsaken after its fall the house of which he had been the friend in its prosperity. He also spoke highly of Germanicus and compassionately of Agrippina. Sabinus, with the natural softness of the human heart under calamity, burst into tears, which he followed up with complaints, and soon with yet more daring invective against Sejanus, against his cruelty, pride and ambition. He did not spare even Tiberius in his reproaches. That conversation, having united them, as it were, in an unlawful secret, led to a semblance of close intimacy. Henceforward Sabinus himself sought Latiaris, went continually to his house, and imparted to him his griefs, as to a most faithful friend.

68. Iunio Silano et Silio Nerva consulibus foedum anni principium incessit tracto in carcerem inlustri equite Romano Titio Sabino ob amicitiam Germanici: neque enim omiserat coniugem liberosque eius percolere, sectator domi, comes in publico, post tot clientes unus eoque apud bonos laudatus et gravis iniquis. hunc Latinius Latiaris, Porcius Cato, Petilius Rufus, M. Opsius praetura functi adgrediuntur, cupidine consulatus ad quem non nisi per Seianum aditus; neque Seiani voluntas nisi scelere quaerebatur. compositum inter ipsos ut Latiaris, qui modico usu Sabinum contingebat, strueret dolum, ceteri testes adessent, deinde accusationem inciperent. igitur Latiaris iacere fortuitos primum sermones, mox laudare constantiam quod non, ut ceteri, florentis domus amicus adflictam deseruisset; simul honora de Germanico, Agrippinam miserans, disserebat. et postquam Sabinus, ut sunt molles in calamitate mortalium animi, effudit lacrimas, iunxit questus, audentius iam onerat Seianum, saevitiam, superbiam, spes eius; ne in Tiberium quidem convicio abstinet; iique sermones tamquam vetita miscuissent speciem artae amicitiae fecere. ac iam ultro Sabinus quaerere Latiarem, ventitare domum, dolores suos quasi ad fidissimum deferre.

69. The men whom I have named now consulted how these conversations might fall within the hearing of more persons. It was necessary that the place of meeting should preserve the appearance of secrecy, and, if witnesses were to stand behind the doors, there was a fear of their being seen or heard, or of suspicion casually arising. Three senators thrust themselves into the space between the roof and ceiling, a hiding-place as shameful as the treachery was execrable. They applied their ears to apertures and crevices. Latiaris meanwhile having met Sabinus in the streets, drew him to his house and to the room, as if he was going to communicate some fresh discoveries. There he talked much about past and impending troubles, a copious topic indeed, and about fresh horrors. Sabinus spoke as before and at greater length, as sorrow, when once it has broken into utterance, is the harder to restrain. Instantly they hastened to accuse him, and having despatched a letter to the emperor, they informed him of the order of the plot and of their own infamy. Never was Rome more distracted and terror-stricken. Meetings, conversations, the ear of friend and stranger were alike shunned; even things mute and lifeless, the very roofs and walls, were eyed with suspicion.

69. Consultant quos memoravi quonam modo ea plurium auditu acciperentur. nam loco in quem coibatur servanda solitudinis facies; et si pone foris adsisterent, metus visus, sonitus aut forte ortae suspicionis erat. tectum inter et laquearia tres senatores haud minus turpi latebra quam detestanda fraude sese abstrudunt, foraminibus et rimis aurem admovent. interea Latiaris repertum in publico Sabinum, velut recens cognita narraturus, domum et in cubiculum trahit praeteritaque et instantia, quorum adfatim copia, ac novos terrores cumulat. eadem ille et s diutius, quanto maesta, ubi semel prorupere, difficilius reticentur. properata inde accusatio missisque ad Caesarem litteris ordinem fraudis suumque ipsi dedecus narravere. non alias magis anxia et pavens civitas, tegens adversum proximos; congressus, conloquia, notae ignotaeque aures vitari; etiam muta atque inanima, tectum et parietes circumspectabantur.

Next: Book 4 [70]