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Tacitus: Annals Book 11 [20]

20. Corbulo was actually preparing to encamp on hostile soil when the despatch reached him. Surprised, as he was, and many as were the thoughts which crowded on him, thoughts of peril from the emperor, of scorn from the barbarians, of ridicule from the allies, he said nothing but this, "Happy the Roman generals of old," and gave the signal for retreat. To keep his soldiers free from sloth, he dug a canal of twenty-three miles in length between the Rhine and the Meuse, as a means of avoiding the uncertain perils of the ocean. The emperor, though he had forbidden war, yet granted him triumphal distinctions. Soon afterwards Curtius Rufus obtained the same honour. He had opened mines in the territory of the Mattiaci for working certain veins of silver. The produce was small and soon exhausted. The toil meanwhile of the legions was only to a loss, while they dug channels for water and constructed below the surface works which are difficult enough in the open air. Worn out by the labour, and knowing that similar hardships were endured in several provinces, the soldiers wrote a secret despatch in the name of the armies, begging the emperor to give in advance triumphal distinctions to one to whom he was about to entrust his forces.

20. Iam castra in hostili solo molienti Corbuloni eae litterae redduntur. ille re subita, quamquam multa simul offunderentur, metus ex imperatore, contemptio ex barbaris, ludibrium apud socios, nihil aliud prolocutus quam 'beatos quondam duces Romanos,' signum receptui dedit. ut tamen miles otium exueret, inter Mosam Rhenumque trium et viginti milium spatio fossam perduxit, qua incerta Oceani vitarentur. insignia tamen triumphi indulsit Caesar, quamvis bellum negavisset.     Nec multo post Curtius Rufus eundem honorem adipiscitur, qui in agro Mattiaco recluserat specus quaerendis venis argenti; unde tenuis fructus nec in longum fuit: at legionibus cum damno labor, effodere rivos, quaeque in aperto gravia, humum infra moliri. quis subactus miles, et quia pluris per provincias similia tolerabantur, componit occultas litteras nomine exercituum, precantium imperatorem, ut, quibus permissurus esset exercitus, triumphalia ante tribueret.

21. Of the birth of Curtius Rufus, whom some affirm to have been the son of a gladiator, I would not publish a falsehood, while I shrink from telling the truth. On reaching manhood he attached himself to a quaestor to whom Africa had been allotted, and was walking alone at midday in some unfrequented arcade in the town of Adrumetum, when he saw a female figure of more than human stature, and heard a voice, "Thou, Rufus, art the man who will one day come into this province as proconsul." Raised high in hope by such a presage, he returned to Rome, where, through the lavish expenditure of his friends and his own vigorous ability, he obtained the quaestorship, and, subsequently, in competition with well-born candidates, the praetorship, by the vote of the emperor Tiberius, who threw a veil over the discredit of his origin, saying, "Curtius Rufus seems to me to be his own ancestor." Afterwards, throughout a long old age of surly sycophancy to those above him, of arrogance to those beneath him, and of moroseness among his equals, he gained the high office of the consulship, triumphal distinctions, and, at last, the province of Africa. There he died, and so fulfilled the presage of his destiny.

21. De origine Curtii Rufi, quem gladiatore genitum quidam prodidere, neque falsa prompserim et vera exequi pudet. postquam adolevit, sectator quaestoris, cui Africa obtigerat, dum in oppido Adrumeto vacuis per medium diei porticibus secretus agitat, oblata ei species muliebris ultra modum humanum et audita est vox 'tu es, Rufe, qui in hanc provinciam pro consule venies.' tali omine in spem sublatus degressusque in urbem largitione amicorum, simul acri ingenio quaesturam et mox nobilis inter candidatos praeturam principis suffragio adsequitur, cum hisce verbis Tiberius dedecus natalium eius velavisset: 'Curtius Rufus videtur mihi ex se natus.' longa post haec senecta, et adversus superiores tristi adulatione, adrogans minoribus, inter pares difficilis, consulare imperium, triumphi insignia ac postremo Africam obtinuit; atque ibi defunctus fatale praesagium implevit.

22. At Rome meanwhile, without any motive then known or subsequently ascertained, Cneius Nonius, a Roman knight, was found wearing a sword amid a crowd who were paying their respects to the emperor. The man confessed his own guilt when he was being torn in pieces by torture, but gave up no accomplices, perhaps having none to hide. During the same consulship, Publius Dolabella proposed that a spectacle of gladiators should be annually exhibited at the cost of those who obtained the quaestorship. In our ancestors' days this honour had been a reward of virtue, and every citizen, with good qualities to support him, was allowed to compete for office. At first there were no distinctions even of age, which prevented a man in his early youth from becoming a consul or a dictator. The quaestors indeed were appointed while the kings still ruled, and this the revival by Brutus of the lex curiata plainly shows. The consuls retained the power of selecting them, till the people bestowed this office as well as others. The first so created were Valerius Potitus and Aemilius Mamercus sixty-three years after the expulsion of the Tarquins, and they were to be attached to the war-department. As the public business increased, two more were appointed to attend to affairs at Rome. This number was again doubled, when to the contributions of Italy was added the tribute of the provinces. Subsequently Sulla, by one of his laws, provided that twenty should be elected to fill up the Senate, to which he had intrusted judicial functions. These functions the knights afterwards recovered, but the quaestorship was obtained, without expense, by merit in the candidates or by the good nature of the electors, till at Dolabella's suggestion it was, so to speak, put up to sale.

22. Interea Romae, nullis palam neque cognitis mox causis, Cn. Nonius eques Romanus ferro accinctus reperitur in coetu salutantum principem. nam postquam tormentis dilaniabatur, de se non infitiatus conscios non edidit, in certum an occultans.     Isdem consulibus P. Dolabella censuit spectaculum gladiatorum per omnis annos celebrandum pecunia eorum qui quaesturam adipiscerentur. apud maiores virtutis id praemium fuerat, cunctisque civium, si bonis artibus fiderent, licitum petere magistratus; ac ne aetas quidem distinguebatur quin prima iuventa consulatum et dictaturas inirent. sed quaestores regibus etiam tum imperantibus instituti sunt, quod lex curiata ostendit ab L. Bruto repetita. mansitque consulibus potestas deligendi, donec cum quoque honorem populus mandaret. creatique primum Valerius Potitus et Aemilius Mamercus sexagesimo tertio anno post Tarquinios exactos, ut rem militarem comitarentur. dein gliscentibus negotiis duo additi qui Romae curarent: mox duplicatus numerus, stipendiaria iam Italia et accedentibus provinciarum vectigalibus: post lege Sullae viginti creati supplendo senatui, cui indicia tradiderat. et quamquam equites iudicia reciperavissent, quaestura tamen ex dignitate candidatorum aut facilitate tribuentium gratuito concedebatur, donec sententia Dolabellae velut venundaretur.

23. In the consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipstanus the question of filling up the Senate was discussed, and the chief men of Gallia Comata, as it was called, who had long possessed the rights of allies and of Roman citizens, sought the privilege of obtaining public offices at Rome. There was much talk of every kind on the subject, and it was argued before the emperor with vehement opposition. "Italy," it was asserted, "is not so feeble as to be unable to furnish its own capital with a senate. Once our native-born citizens sufficed for peoples of our own kin, and we are by no means dissatisfied with the Rome of the past. To this day we cite examples, which under our old customs the Roman character exhibited as to valour and renown. Is it a small thing that Veneti and Insubres have already burst into the Senate-house, unless a mob of foreigners, a troop of captives, so to say, is now forced upon us? What distinctions will be left for the remnants of our noble houses, or for any impoverished senators from Latium? Every place will be crowded with these millionaires, whose ancestors of the second and third generations at the head of hostile tribes destroyed our armies with fire and sword, and actually besieged the divine Julius at Alesia. These are recent memories. What if there were to rise up the remembrance of those who fell in Rome's citadel and at her altar by the hands of these same barbarians! Let them enjoy indeed the title of citizens, but let them not vulgarise the distinctions of the Senate and the honours of office."

23. A. Vitellio L. Vipstano consulibus cum de supplendo senatu agitaretur primoresque Galliae, quae Comata appellatur, foedera et civitatem R??? omanam pridem adsecuti, ius adipiscendorum in urbe honorum expeterent, multus ea super re variusque rumor. et studiis diversis apud principem certabatur adseverantium non adeo aegram Italiam ut senatum suppeditare urbi suae nequiret. suffecisse olim indigenas consanguineis populis nec paenitere veteris rei publicae. quin adhuc memorari exempla quae priscis moribus ad virtutem et gloriam Romana indoles prodiderit. an parum quod Veneti et Insubres curiam inruperint, nisi coetus alienigenarum velut captivitas inferatur? quem ultra honorem residuis nobilium, aut si quis pauper e Latio senator foret? oppleturos omnia divites illos, quorum avi proavique hostilium nationum duces exercitus nostros ferro vique ceciderint, divum Iulium apud Alesiam obsederint. recentia haec: quid si memoria eorum moreretur qui sub Capitolio et arce Romana manibus eorundem perissent satis: fruerentur sane vocabulo civitatis: insignia patrum, decora magistratuum ne vulgarent.

24. These and like arguments failed to impress the emperor. He at once addressed himself to answer them, and thus harangued the assembled Senate. "My ancestors, the most ancient of whom was made at once a citizen and a noble of Rome, encourage me to govern by the same policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. And indeed I know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy, that Italy itself was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire countries and tribes might be united under our name. We had unshaken peace at home; we prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted to share our citizenship, and when, enrolling in our ranks the most vigorous of the provincials, under colour of settling our legions throughout the world, we recruited our exhausted empire. Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not less illustrious from Narbon Gaul? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield to us in patriotism. "What was the ruin of Sparta and Athens, but this, that mighty as they were in war, they spurned from them as aliens those whom they had conquered? Our founder Romulus, on the other hand, was so wise that he fought as enemies and then hailed as fellow-citizens several nations on the very same day. Strangers have reigned over us. That freedmen's sons should be intrusted with public offices is not, as many wrongly think, a sudden innovation, but was a common practice in the old commonwealth. But, it will be said, we have fought with the Senones. I suppose then that the Volsci and Aequi never stood in array against us. Our city was taken by the Gauls. Well, we also gave hostages to the Etruscans, and passed under the yoke of the Samnites. On the whole, if you review all our wars, never has one been finished in a shorter time than that with the Gauls. Thenceforth they have preserved an unbroken and loyal peace. United as they now are with us by manners, education, and intermarriage, let them bring us their gold and their wealth rather than enjoy it in isolation. Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the highest antiquity, was once new. Plebeian magistrates came after patrician; Latin magistrates after plebeian; magistrates of other Italian peoples after Latin. This practice too will establish itself, and what we are this day justifying by precedents, will be itself a precedent."

24. His atque talibus haud permotus princeps et statim contra disseruit et vocato senatu ita exorsus est: 'maiores mei, quorum antiquissimus Clausus origine Sabina simul in civitatem Romanam et in familias patriciorum adscitus est, hortantur uti paribus consiliis in re publica capessenda, transferendo huc quod usquam egregium fuerit. neque enim ignoro Iulios Alba, Coruncanios Camerio, Porcios Tusculo, et ne vetera scrutemur, Etruria Lucaniaque et omni Italia in senatum accitos, postremo ipsam ad Alpis promotam ut non modo singuli viritim, sed terrae, gentes in nomen nostrum coalescerent. tunc solida domi quies et adversos externa floruimus, cum Transpadani in civitatem recepti, cum specie deductarum per orbem terrae legionum additis provincialium validissimis fesso imperio subventum est. num paenitet Balbos ex Hispania nec rninus insignis viros e Gallia Narbonensi transivisse? manent posteri eorum nec amore in hanc patriam nobis concedunt. quid aliud exitio Lacedaemoniis et Atheniensibus fuit, quamquam armis pollerent, nisi quod victos pro alienigenis arcebant? at conditor nostri Romulus tantum sapientia valuit ut plerosque populos eodem die hostis, dein civis habuerit. advenae in nos regnaverunt: libertinorum filiis magistratus mandare non, ut plerique falluntur, repens, sed priori populo factitatum est. at cum Senonibus pugnavimus: scilicet Vulcsi et Aequi numquam adversam nobis aciem instruxere. capti a Gallis sumus: sed et Tuscis obsides dedimus et Samnitium iugum subiimus. ac tamen, si cuncta bella recenseas nullum breviore spatio quam adversus Gallos confectum: continua inde ac fida pax. iam moribus artibus adfinitatibus nostris mixti aurum et opes suas inferant potius quam separati habeant. omnia, patres conscripti, quae nunc vetustissima creduntur, nova fuere: plebeii magistratus post patricios, Latini post plebeios, ceterarum Italiae gentium post Latinos. inveterascet hoc quoque, et quod hodie exemplis tuemur, inter exempla erit.'

25. The emperor's speech was followed by a decree of the Senate, and the Aedui were the first to obtain the right of becoming senators at Rome. This compliment was paid to their ancient alliance, and to the fact that they alone of the Gauls cling to the name of brothers of the Roman people. About the same time the emperor enrolled in the ranks of the patricians such senators as were of the oldest families, and such as had had distinguished ancestors. There were now but scanty relics of the Greater Houses of Romulus and of the Lesser Houses of Lucius Brutus, as they had been called, and those too were exhausted which the Dictator Caesar by the Cassian and the emperor Augustus by the Saenian law had chosen into their place. These acts, as being welcome to the State, were undertaken with hearty gladness by the imperial censor. Anxiously considering how he was to rid the Senate of men of notorious infamy, he preferred a gentle method, recently devised, to one which accorded with the sternness of antiquity, and advised each to examine his own case and seek the privilege of laying aside his rank. Permission, he said, would be readily obtained. He would publish in the same list those who had been expelled and those who had been allowed to retire, that by this confounding together of the decision of the censors and the modesty of voluntary resignation the disgrace might be softened. For this, the consul Vipstanus moved that Claudius should be called "Father of the Senate." The title of "Father of the Country" had, he argued, been indiscriminately bestowed; new services ought to be recognized by unusual titles. The emperor, however, himself stopped the consul's flattery, as extravagant. He closed the lustrum, the census for which gave a total of 5,984,072 citizens. Then too ended his blindness as to his domestic affairs. He was soon compelled to notice and punish his wife's infamies, till he afterwards craved passionately for an unhallowed union.

25. Orationem principis secuto patrum consulto primi Aedui senatorum in urbe ius adepti sunt. datum id foederi antiquo et quia soli Gallorum fraternitatis nomen cum populo Romano usurpant.     Isdem diebus in numerum patriciorum adscivit Caesar vetustissimum quemque e senatu aut quibus clari parentes fuerant, paucis iam reliquis familiarum, quas Romulus maiorum et L. Brutus minorum gentium appellaverant, exhaustis etiam quas dictator Caesar lege Cassia et princeps Augustus lege Saenia sublegere; laetaque haec in rem publicam munia multo gaudio censoris inibantur. famosos probris quonam modo senatu depelleret anxius, mitem et recens repertam quam ex severitate prisca rationem adhibuit, monendo secum quisque de se consultaret peteretque ius exuendi ordinis: facilem eius rei veniam; et motos senatu excusatosque simul propositurum ut iudicium censorum ac pudor sponte cedentium permixta ignominiam mollirent. ob ea Vipstanus consul rettulit patrem senatus appellandum esse Claudium: quippe promiscum patris patriae cognomentum; nova in rem publicam merita non usitatis vocabulis honoranda: sed ipse cohibuit consulem ut nimium adsentantem. condiditque lustrum quo censa sunt civium quinquagies novies centena octoginta quattuor milia septuaginta duo. isque illi finis inscitiae erga domum suam fuit: haud multo post flagitia uxoris noscere ac punire adactus est ut deinde ardesceret in nuptias incestas.

26. Messalina, now grown weary of the very facility of her adulteries, was rushing into strange excesses, when even Silius, either through some fatal infatuation or because he imagined that, amid the dangers which hung over him, danger itself was the best safety, urged the breaking off of all concealment. "They were not," he said, "in such an extremity as to have to wait for the emperor's old age. Harmless measures were for the innocent. Crime once exposed had no refuge but in audacity. They had accomplices in all who feared the same fate. For himself, as he had neither wife nor child, he was ready to marry and to adopt Britannicus. Messalina would have the same power as before, with the additional advantage of a quiet mind, if only they took Claudius by surprise, who, though unsuspicious of treachery, was hasty in his wrath." The suggestion was coldly received, not because the lady loved her husband, but from a fear that Silius, after attaining his highest hopes, would spurn an adulteress, and soon estimate at its true value the crime which in the midst of peril he had approved. But she craved the name of wife, for the sake of the monstrous infamy, that last source of delight to the reckless. She waited only till Claudius set out for Ostia to perform a sacrifice, and then celebrated all the solemnities of marriage.

26. Iam Messalina facilitate adulteriorum in fastidium versa ad incognitas libidines profluebat, cum abrumpi dissimulationem etiam Silius, sive fatali vaecordia an imminentium periculorum remedium ipsa pericula ratus, urgebat: quippe non eo ventum ut senectam principis opperirentur. insontibus innoxia consilia, flagitiis manifestis subsidium ab audacia petendum. adesse conscios paria metuentis. se caelibem, orbum, nuptiis et adoptando Britannico paratum. mansuram eandem Messalinae potentiam, addita securitate, si praevenirent Claudium, ut insidiis incautum, ita irae properum. segniter eae voces acceptae, non amore in maritum, sed ne Silius summa adeptus sperneret adulteram scelusque inter ancipitia probatum veris mox pretiis aestimaret. nomen tamen matrimonii concupivit ob magnitudinem infamiae cuius apud prodigos novissima voluptas est. nec ultra expectato quam dum sacrificii gratia Claudius Ostiam proficisceretur, cuncta nuptiarum sollemnia celebrat.

27. I am well aware that it will seem a fable that any persons in the world could have been so obtuse in a city which knows everything and hides nothing, much more, that these persons should have been a consul-elect and the emperor's wife; that, on an appointed day, before witnesses duly summoned, they should have come together as if for the purpose of legitimate marriage; that she should have listened to the words of the bridegroom's friends, should have sacrificed to the gods, have taken her place among a company of guests, have lavished her kisses and caresses, and passed the night in the freedom which marriage permits. But this is no story to excite wonder; I do but relate what I have heard and what our fathers have recorded.

27. Haud sum ignarus fabulosum visum iri tantum ullis mortalium securitatis fuisse in civitate omnium gnara et nihil reticente, nedum consulem designatum cum uxore principis, praedicta die, adhibitis qui obsignarent, velut suscipiendorum liberorum causa convenisse, atque illam audisse auspicum verba, subisse, sacrificasse apud deos; discubitum inter convivas, oscula complexus, noctem denique actam licentia coniugali. sed nihil compositum miraculi causa, verum audita scriptaque senioribus tradam.

28. The emperor's court indeed shuddered, its powerful personages especially, the men who had much to fear from a revolution. From secret whisperings they passed to loud complaints. "When an actor," they said, "impudently thrust himself into the imperial chamber, it certainly brought scandal on the State, but we were a long way from ruin. Now, a young noble of stately beauty, of vigorous intellect, with the near prospect of the consulship, is preparing himself for a loftier ambition. There can be no secret about what is to follow such a marriage." Doubtless there was thrill of alarm when they thought of the apathy of Claudius, of his devotion to his wife and of the many murders perpetrated at Messalina's bidding. On the other hand, the very good nature of the emperor inspired confident hope that if they could overpower him by the enormity of the charge, she might be condemned and crushed before she was accused. The critical point was this, that he should not hear her defence, and that his ears should be shut even against her confession.

28. Igitur domus principis inhorruerat, maximeque quos penes potentia et, si res verterentur, formido, non iam secretis conloquiis, sed aperte fremere, dum histrio cubiculum principis insultaverit, dedecus quidem inlatum, sed excidium procul afuisse: nunc iuvenem nobilem dignitate formae, vi mentis ac propinquo consulatu maiorem ad spem accingi; nec enim occultum quid post tale matrimonium superesset. subibat sine dubit, metus reputantis hebetem Claudium et uxori devinctum multasque mortes iussu Messalinae patratas: rursus ipsa facilitas imperatoris fiduciam dabat, si atrocitate criminis praevaluissent, posse opprimi damnatam ante quam ream; sed in eo discrimen verti, si defensio audiretur, utque clausae aures etiam confitenti forent.

29. At first Callistus, of whom I have already spoken in connection with the assassination of Caius Caesar, Narcissus, who had contrived the death of Appius, and Pallas, who was then in the height of favour, debated whether they might not by secret threats turn Messalina from her passion for Silius, while they concealed all else. Then fearing that they would be themselves involved in ruin, they abandoned the idea, Pallas out of cowardice, and Callistus, from his experience of a former court, remembering that prudent rather than vigorous counsels insure the maintenance of power. Narcissus persevered, only so far changing his plan as not to make her aware beforehand by a single word what was the charge or who was the accuser. Then he eagerly watched his opportunity, and, as the emperor lingered long at Ostia, he sought two of the mistresses to whose society Claudius was especially partial, and, by gifts, by promises, by dwelling on power increased by the wife's fall, he induced them to undertake the work of the informer.

29. Ac primo Callistus, iam mihi circa necem G. Caesaris narratus, et Appianae cacdis molitor Narcissus fagrantissimaque eo in tempore gratia Pallas agitavere, num Messalinam secretis minis depellerent amore Silii, cuncta alia dissimulantes. dein metu ne ad perniciem ultro traherentur, desistunt, Pallas per ignaviam, Callistus prioris quoque regiae peritus et potentiam cautis quam acribus consiliis tutius haberi: perstitit Narcissus, solum id immutans ne quo sermone praesciam criminis et accusatoris faceret. ipse ad occasiones intentus, longa apud Ostiam Caesaris mora, duas paelices, quarum is corpori maxime insueverat, largitione ac promissis et uxore deiecta plus potentiae ostentando perpulit delationem subire.

Next: Book 11 [30]