Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Tacitus: Annals Book 14 [60]

60. Nero, on receiving this decree of the Senate and seeing that every piece of his wickedness was regarded as a conspicuous merit, drove Octavia from him, alleging that she was barren, and then married Poppaea. The woman who had long been Nero's mistress and ruled him first as a paramour, then as her husband, instigated one of Octavia's servants to accuse her an intrigue with a slave. The man fixed on as the guilty lover was one by name Eucaerus, an Alexandrine by birth, skilled in singing to the flute. As a consequence, her slave-girls were examined under torture, and though some were forced by the intensity of agony into admitting falsehoods, most of them persisted in upholding the virtue of their mistress. One of them said, in answer to the furious menaces of Tigellinus, that Octavia's person was purer than his mouth. Octavia, however, was dismissed under the form of an ordinary divorce, and received possession of the house of Burrus and of the estates of Plautus, an ill-starred gift. She was soon afterwards banished to Campania under military surveillance. This led to incessant and outspoken remonstrances among the common people, who have less discretion and are exposed to fewer dangers than others from the insignificance of their position. Upon this Nero, though he did not repent of his outrage, restored to Octavia her position as wife.

60. Igitur accepto patrum consulto, postquam cuncta scelerum suorum pro egregiis accipi videt, exturbat Octaviam, sterilem dictitans; exim Poppaeae coniungitur. ea diu paelex et adulteri Neronis, mox mariti potens, quendam ex ministris Octaviae impulit servilem ei amorem obicere. destinaturque reus cognomento Eucaerus, natione Alexandrinus, canere per tibias doctus. actae ob id de ancillis quaestiones, et vi tormentorum victis quibusdam, ut falsa adnuerent, plures perstitere sanctitatem dominae tueri; ex quibus una instanti Tigellino castiora esse muliebria Octaviae respondit quam os eius. movetur tamen primo civilis discidii specie domumque Burri, praedia Plauti infausta dona accipit; mox in Campania[m] pulsa est addita militari custodia. inde crebri questus nec occulti per vulgum, cui minor sapientia [et] ex mediocritate fortunae pauciora pericula sunt. his *** tamquam Nero paenitentia flagitii coniugem revocarit Octaviam.

61. Then people in their joy went up to the Capitol and, at last, gave thanks to the gods. They threw down the statues of Poppaea; they bore on their shoulders the images of Octavia, covering them with flowers, and setting them up in the forum and in the temples. There was even a burst of applause for the emperor, men hailing the recalled Octavia. And now they were pouring into the Palace in crowds, with loud shoutings, when some companies of soldiers rushed out and dispersed the tumultuous throng with blows, and at the point of the sword. Whatever changes had been made in the riot, were reversed, and Poppaea's honours restored. Ever relentless in her hatred, she was now enraged by the fear that either the violence of the mob would burst on her with yet fiercer fury, or that Nero would be swayed by the popular bias, and so, flinging herself at his knees, she exclaimed that she was not in the position of a rival fighting for marriage, though that was dearer to her than life, but that her very life was brought into jeopardy by the dependants and slaves of Octavia, who had assumed the name of the people, and dared in peace what could hardly happen in war. "Those arms," she said, "have been taken up against the emperor; a leader only is wanting, and he will easily be found in a commotion. Only let her whose mere beck, though she is far away, stirs up tumult, quit Campania, and make her way in person to Rome. And, again, what is my sin? What offense have I caused any one? Is it that I am about to give to the house of the Caesars a lawful heir? Do the people of Rome prefer that the offspring of an Egyptian fluteplayer should be raised to the imperial throne? In a word, if it be expedient, Nero should of his own choice rather than on compulsion send for her who ruled him, or else secure his safety by a righteous vengeance. The beginning of a commotion has often been quieted by slight precautions; but if people once despair of Octavia being Nero's wife, they will soon find her a husband."

61. Exim laeti Capitolium scandunt deosque tandem venerantur. effigies Poppaeae proruunt, Octaviae imagines gestant umeris, spargunt floribus foroque ac templis statuunt. itur etiam in principis laudes, repetitum [certamen] venerantium. iamque et Palatium multitudine et clamoribus complebant, cum emissi militum globi verberibus et intento ferro turbatos disiecere. mutataque quae per seditionem verterant, et Poppaeae honos repositus est. quae semper odio, tum et metu atrox, ne aut vulgi acrior vis ingrueret aut Nero inclinatione populi mutaretur, provoluta genibus eius: non eo loci res suas agi, ut de matrimonio certet, quamquam id sibi vita potius, sed vitam ipsam in extremum adductam a clientelis et servitiis Octaviae, quae plebis sibi nomen indiderint, ea in pace ausi, quae vix bello evenirent. arma illa adversus principem sumpta; ducem tantum defuisse, qui motis rebus facile reperiretur: omitteret modo Campaniam et in urbem ipsa pergeret, ad cuius nutum absentis tumultus cierentur. quod alioquin suum delictum? quam cuiusquam offensionem? an quia veram progeniem penatibus Caesarum datura sit? malle populum Romanum tibicinis Aegyptii subolem imperatorio fastigio induci? denique, si id rebus conducat, libens quam coactus acciret dominam, vel consuleret securitati. iusta ultione et modicis remediis primos motus consedisse: at si desperent uxorem Neronis fore Octaviam, illi maritum daturos.

62. Her various arguments, tending both to frighten and to enrage, at once alarmed and incensed her listener. But the suspicion about the slave was of little weight, and the torture of the slave-girls exposed its absurdity. Consequently it was decided to procure a confession from some one on whom could also be fastened a charge of revolutionary designs. Fittest for this seemed the perpetrator of the mother's murder, Anicetus, commander, as I have already mentioned, of the fleet at Misenum, who got but scant gratitude after that atrocious deed, and subsequently all the more vehement hatred, inasmuch as men look on their instruments in crime as a sort of standing reproach to them. The emperor accordingly sent for Anicetus, and reminded him of his former service. "He alone," he said, "had come to the rescue of the prince's life against a plotting mother. Close at hand was a chance of winning no less gratitude by ridding him of a malignant wife. No violence or weapons were needed; only let him confess to an intrigue with Octavia." Nero then promised him a secret but ample immediate recompense, and some delightful retreat, while he threatened him with death in case of refusal. Anicetus, with the moral insensibility of his nature and a promptness inspired by previous atrocities, invented even more than was required of him, and confessed before friends whom the prince had called in, as a sort of judicial council. He was then banished to Sardinia, where he endured exile without poverty, and died a natural death.

62. Varius sermo et ad metum atque iram adcommodatus terruit simul audientem at accendit. sed parum valebat suspicio in servo, et quaestionibus ancillarum elusa erat. ergo confessionem alicuius quaeri placet, cui rerum quoque novarum crimen adfingeretur. et visus idoneus maternae necis patrator Anicetus, classi apud Misenum, ut memoravi, praefectus, levi post admissum scelus gratia, dein graviore odio, quia malorum facinorum ministri quasi exprobrantes adspiciuntur. igitur accitum eum Caesar operae prioris admonet: solum incolumitati principis adversus insidiantem matrem subvenisse; locum haud minoris gratiae instare, si coniugem infensam depelleret. nec manu aut telo opus: fateretur Octaviae adulterium. occulta quidem ad praesens, sed magna ei praemia et secessus amoenos promittit, vel, si negavisset, necem intentat. ille, insita vaecordia et facilitate priorum flagitiorum, plura etiam quam iussum erat fingit fateturque apud amicos, quos velut consilio adhibuerat princeps. tum in Sardiniam pellitur, ubi non inops exilium toleravit et fato obiit.

63. Nero meanwhile declared by edict that the prefect had been corrupted into a design of gaining over the fleet, and added, in forgetfulness of his late charge of barrenness against Octavia, that, conscious of her profligacies, she had procured abortion, a fact he had himself ascertained. Then he confined her in the island of Pandataria. No exile ever filled the eyes of beholders with tears of greater compassion. Some still remembered Agrippina, banished by Tiberius, and the yet fresher memory of Julia, whom Claudius exiled, was present to men's thoughts. But they had life's prime for their stay; they had seen some happiness, and the horror of the moment was alleviated by recollections of a better lot in the past. For Octavia, from the first, her marriage-day was a kind of funeral, brought, as she was, into a house where she had nothing but scenes of mourning, her father and, an instant afterwards, her brother, having been snatched from her by poison; then, a slave-girl raised above the mistress; Poppaea married only to insure a wife's ruin, and, to end all, an accusation more horrible than any death.

63. At Nero praefectum in spem sociandae classis corruptum, et incusatae paulo ante sterilitatis oblitus, abactos partus conscientia libidinum, eaque sibi comperta edicto memorat insulaque Pandateria Octaviam claudit. non alia exul visentium oculos maiore misericordia adfecit. meminerant adhuc quidam Agrippinae a Tiberio, recentior Iuliae memoria obversabatur a Claudio pulsae; sed illis robur aetatis adfuerat; laeta aliqua viderant et praesentem saevitiam melioris olim fortunae recordatione adlevabant: huic primum nuptiarum dies loco funeris fuit, deductae in domum, in qua nihil nisi luctuosum haberet, erepto per venenum patre et statim fratre; tum ancilla domina validior et Poppaea non nisi in perniciem uxoris nupta; postremo crimen omni exitio gravius.

64. And now the girl, in her twentieth year, with centurions and soldiers around her, already removed from among the living by the forecast of doom, still could not reconcile herself to death. After an interval of a few days, she received an order that she was to die, although she protested that she was now a widow and only a sister, and appealed to their common ancestors, the Germanici, and finally to the name of Agrippina, during whose life she had endured a marriage, which was miserable enough indeed, but not fatal. She was then tightly bound with cords, and the veins of every limb were opened; but as her blood was congealed by terror and flowed too slowly, she was killed outright by the steam of an intensely hot bath. To this was added the yet more appalling horror of Poppaea beholding the severed head which was conveyed to Rome. And for all this offerings were voted to the temples. I record the fact with a special object. Whoever would study the calamities of that period in my pages or those of other authors, is to take it for granted that as often as the emperor directed banishments or executions, so often was there a thanksgiving to the gods, and what formerly commemorated some prosperous event, was then a token of public disaster. Still, if any decree of the Senate was marked by some new flattery, or by the lowest servility, I shall not pass it over in silence.

64. Ac puella vicesimo aetatis anno inter centuriones et milites, praesagio malorum iam vita[e] exempta, nondum tamen morte adquiescebat. paucis dehinc interiectis diebus mori iubetur, cum iam viduam se et tantum sororem testaretur communesque Germanicos et postremo Agrippinae nomen cieret, qua incolumi infelix quidem matrimonium, sed sine exitio pertulisset. restringitur vinclis venaeque eius per omnes artus exsolvuntur; et quia pressus pavore sanguis tardius labebatur, praefervidi balnei vapore enecatur. additurque atrocior saevitia, quod caput amputatum latumque in urbem Poppaea vidit. dona ob haec templis decreta que[m] ad finem memorabimus? quicumque casus temporum illorum nobis vel aliis auctoribus noscent, praesumptum habeant, quotiens fugas et caedes iussit princeps, totiens grates deis actas, quaeque rerum secundarum olim, tum publicae cladis insignia fuisse. neque tamen silebimus, si quod senatus consultum adulatione novum aut paenitentia postremum fuit.

65. That same year Nero was believed to have destroyed by poison two of his most powerful freedmen, Doryphorus, on the pretext of his having opposed the marriage with Poppaea, Pallas for still keeping his boundless wealth by a prolonged old age. Romanus had accused Seneca in stealthy calumnies, of having been an accomplice of Caius Piso, but he was himself crushed more effectually by Seneca on the same charge. This alarmed Piso, and gave rise to a huge fabric of unsuccessful conspiracies against Nero. 65. Eodem anno libertorum potissimos veneno interfecisse creditus, Doryphorum quasi adversatum nuptiis Poppaeae, Pallantem, quod immensam pecuniam longa senecta detineret. Romanus secretis criminationibus incusaverat Senecam ut C. Pisonis socium, sed validius a Seneca eodem crimine perculsus est. unde Pisoni timor, et orta insidiarum in Neronem magna moles et improspera.

Next: Book 15 [1]