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Tacitus: Annals Book 16 [10]

10. With equal courage Lucius Vetus, his mother-in-law Sextia, and his daughter Pollutia submitted to death. They were hated by the emperor because they seemed a living reproach to him for the murder of Rubellius Plautus, son-in-law of Lucius Vetus. But the first opportunity of unmasking his savage wrath was furnished by Fortunatus, a freedman, who having embezzled his patron's property, deserted him to become his accuser. He had as his accomplice Claudius Demianus, whom Vetus, when proconsul of Asia, had imprisoned for his gross misdeeds, and whom Nero now released as a recompense for the accusation. When the accused knew this and saw that he and his freedman were pitted against each other on an equal footing, he retired to his estate at Formiae. There he was put under the secret surveillance of soldiers. With him was his daughter, who, to say nothing of the now imminent peril, had all the fury of a long grief ever since she had seen the murderers of her husband Plautus. She had clasped his bleeding neck, and still kept by her the blood-stained apparel, clinging in her widowhood to perpetual sorrow, and using only such nourishment as might suffice to avert starvation. Then at her father's bidding she went to Neapolis. And as she was forbidden to approach Nero, she would haunt his doors; and implore him to hear an innocent man, and not surrender to a freedman one who had once been his colleague in the consulship, now pleading with the cries of a woman, now again forgetting her sex and lifting up her voice in a tone of menace, till the emperor showed himself unmoved alike by entreaty and reproach.

10. Haud minus prompte L. Vetus socrusque eius Sextia et Pollitta filia necem subiere, invisi principi tamquam vivendo exprobrarent interfectum esse Rubellium Plautum, generum Luci Veteris. sed initium detegendae saevitiae praebuit interversis patroni rebus ad accusandum transgrediens Fortunatus libertus, adscito Claudio Demiano, quem ob flagitia vinctum a Vetere Asiae pro consule exolvit Nero in praemium accusationis. quod ubi cognitum reo seque et libertum pari sorte componi, Formianos in agros digreditur: illic eum milites occulta custodia circumdant. aderat filia, super ingruens periculum longo dolore atrox, ex quo percussores Plauti mariti sui viderat; cruentamque cervicem eius amplexa servabat sanguinem et vestis respersas, vidua inpexa luctu continuo nec ullis alimentis nisi quae mortem arcerent. tum hortante patre Neapolim pergit; et quia aditu Neronis prohibebatur, egressus obsidens, audiret insontem neve consulatus sui quondam collegam dederet liberto, modo muliebri eiulatu, aliquando sexum egressa voce infensa clamitabat, donec princeps immobilem se precibus et invidiae iuxta ostendit.

11. She therefore told her father by message that she cast hope aside and yielded to necessity. He was at the same time informed that judicial proceedings in the Senate and a dreadful sentence were hanging over him. Some there were who advised him to name the emperor as his chief heir, and so secure the remainder for his grandchildren. But he spurned the notion, and unwilling to disgrace a life which had clung to freedom by a final act of servility, he bestowed on his slaves all his ready money, and ordered each to convey away for himself whatever he could carry, leaving only three couches for the last scene. Then in the same chamber, with the same weapon, they sundered their veins, and speedily hurried into a bath, covered each, as delicacy required, with a single garment, the father gazing intently on his daughter, the grandmother on her grandchild, she again on both, while with rival earnestness they prayed that the ebbing life might have a quick departure, each wishing to leave a relative still surviving, but just on the verge of death. Fortune preserved the due order; the oldest died first, then the others according to priority of age. They were prosecuted after their burial, and the sentence was that "they should be punished in ancient fashion." Nero interposed his veto, allowing them to die without his interference. Such were the mockeries added to murders already perpetrated.

11. Ergo nuntiat patri abicere spem et uti necessitate: simul adfertur parari cognitionem senatus et trucem sententiam. nec defuere qui monerent magna ex parte heredem Caesarem nuncupare atque ita nepotibus de reliquo consulere. quod aspernatus, ne vitam proxime libertatem actam novissimo servitio foedaret, largitur in servos quantum aderat pecuniae; et si qua asportari possent, sibi quemque deducere, tres modo lectulos ad suprema retineri iubet. tunc eodem in cubiculo, eodem ferro abscindunt venas, properique et singulis vestibus ad verecundiam velati balineis inferuntur, pater filiam, avia neptem, illa utrosque intuens, et certatim precantes labenti animae celerem exitum, ut relinquerent suos superstites et morituros. servavitque ordinem fortuna, ac seniores prius, tum cui prima aetas extinguuntur. accusati post sepulturam decretumque ut more maiorum punirentur, et Nero intercessit, mortem sine arbitro permittens: ea cacdibus peractis ludibria adiciebantur.

12. Publius Gallus, a Roman knight, was outlawed for having been intimate with Faenius Rufus and somewhat acquainted with Vetus. To the freedman who was the accuser, was given, as a reward for his service, a seat in the theatre among the tribune's officers. The month too following April, or Neroneus, was changed from Maius into the name of Claudius, and Junius into that of Germanicus, Cornelius Orfitus, the proposer of the motion, publicly declaring that the month Junius had been passed over because the execution of the two Torquati for their crimes had now rendered its name inauspicious.

12. Publius Gallus eques Romanus, quod Faenio Rufo intimus et Veteri non alienus fuerat, aqua atque igni prohibitus est. liberto et accusatori praemium operae locus in theatro inter viatores tribunicios datur. et menses, qui Aprilem eundemque Neroneum sequebantur, Maius Claudii, Iunius Germanici vocabulis mutantur, testificante Cornelio Orfito, qui id censuerat, ideo Iunium mensem transmissum, quia duo iam Torquati ob scelera interfecti infaustum nomen Iunium fecissent.

13. A year of shame and of so many evil deeds heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. Campania was devastated by a hurricane, which destroyed everywhere countryhouses, plantations and crops, and carried its fury to the neighbourhood of Rome, where a terrible plague was sweeping away all classes of human beings without any such derangement of the atmosphere as to be visibly apparent. Yet the houses were filled with lifeless forms and the streets with funerals. Neither age nor sex was exempt from peril. Slaves and the free-born populace alike were suddenly cut off, amid the wailings of wives and children, who were often consumed on the very funeral pile of their friends by whom they had been sitting and shedding tears. Knights and senators perished indiscriminately, and yet their deaths were less deplored because they seemed to forestal the emperor's cruelty by an ordinary death. That same year levies of troops were held in Narbon Gaul, Africa and Asia, to fill up the legions of Illyricum, all soldiers in which, worn out by age or ill-health, were receiving their discharge. Lugdunum was consoled by the prince for a ruinous disaster by a gift of four million sesterces, so that what was lost to the city might be replaced. Its people had previously offered this same amount for the distresses of Rome.

13. Tot facinoribus foedum annum etiam dii tempestatibus et morbis insignivere. vastata Campania turbine ventorum, qui villas arbusta fruges passim disiecit pertulitque violentiam ad vicina urbi; in qua omne mortalium genus vis pestilentiae depopulabatur, nulla caeli intemperie quae occurreret oculis. sed domus corporibus exanimis, itinera funeribus complebantur; non sexus, non aetas periculo vacua; servitia perinde et ingenua plebes raptim extingui, inter coniugum et liberorum lamenta, qui dum adsident, dum deflent, saepe eodem rogo cremabantur. equitum senatorumque interitus quamvis promisci minus flebiles erant, tamquam communi mortalitate saevitiam principis praevenirent.     Eodem anno dilectus per Galliam Narbonensem Africamque et Asiam habiti sunt supplendis Illyrici legionibus, ex quibus aetate aut valetudine fessi sacramento solvebantur. cladem Lugdunensem quadragies sestertio solatus est princeps, ut amissa urbi reponerent; quam pecuniam Lugdunenses ante obtulerant urbis casibus.

14. In the consulship of Caius Suetonius and Lucius Telesinus, Antistius Sosianus, who, as I have stated, had been punished with exile for repeated satires on Nero, having heard that there was such honour for informers and that the emperor was so partial to bloodshed, being himself too of a restless temper and quick to seize opportunities, made a friend of a man in like condition with himself, one Pammenes, an exile in the same place, noted for his skill as an astrologer, and consequently bound to many in close intimacy. He thought there must be a meaning in the frequent messages and the consultations, and he learnt at the same time that an annual payment was furnished him by Publius Anteius. He knew too that Anteius was hated by Nero for his love of Agrippina, and that his wealth was sufficiently conspicuous to provoke cupidity, and that this was the cause of the destruction of many. Accordingly he intercepted a letter from Anteius, and having also stolen some notes about the day of his nativity and his future career, which were hidden away among Pammenes' secret papers, and having further discovered some remarks on the birth and life of Ostorius Scapula, he wrote to the emperor that he would communicate important news which would contribute to his safety, if he could but obtain a brief reprieve of his exile. Anteius and Ostorius were, he hinted, grasping at empire and prying into the destinies of themselves and of the prince. Some swift galleys were then despatched and Sosianus speedily arrived. On the disclosure of his information, Anteius and Ostorius were classed with condemned criminals rather than with men on their trial, so completely, indeed, that no one would attest the will of Anteius, till Tigellinus interposed to sanction it. Anteius had been previously advised by him not to delay this final document. Then he drank poison, but disgusted at its slowness, he hastened death by severing his veins.

14. C. Suetonio Luccio Telesino consulibus Antistius Sosianus, factitatis in Neronem carminibus probrosis exilio, ut dixi, multatus, postquam id honoris indicibus tamque promptum ad caedes principem accepit, inquies animo et occasionum haud segnis Pammenem, eiusdem loci exulem et Chaldaeorum arte famosum eoque multorum amicitiis innexum, similitudine fortunae sibi conciliat, ventitare ad eum nuntios et consultationes non frustra ratus; simul annuam pecuniam a P. Anteio ministrari cognoscit. neque nescium habebat Anteium caritate Agrippinae invisum Neroni opesque eius praecipuas ad eliciendam cupidinem eamque causam multis exitio esse. igitur interceptis Antei litteris, furatus etiam libellos, quibus dies genitalis eius et eventura secretis Pammenis occultabantur, simul repertis quae de ortu vitaque Ostorii Scapulae composita erant, scribit ad principem magna se et quae incolumitati eius conducerent adlaturum, si brevem exilii veniam impetravisset: quippe Anteium et Ostorium imminere rebus et sua Caesarisque fata scrutari. exim missae liburnicae advehiturque propere Sosianus. ac vulgato eius indicio inter damnatos magis quam inter reos Anteius Ostoriusque habebantur, adeo ut testamentum Antei nemo obsignaret, nisi Tigellinus auctor extitisset monito prius Anteio ne supremas tabulas moraretur. atque ille hausto veneno, tarditatem eius perosus intercisis venis mortem adproperavit.

15. Ostorius was living at the time on a remote estate on the Ligurian frontier. Thither a centurion was despatched to hurry on his destruction. There was a motive for promptitude arising out of the fact that Ostorius, with his great military fame and the civic crown he had won in Britain, possessed, too, as he was of huge bodily strength and skill in arms, had made Nero, who was always timid and now more frightened than ever by the lately discovered conspiracy, fearful of a sudden attack. So the centurion, having barred every exit from the house, disclosed the emperor's orders to Ostorius. That fortitude which he had often shown in fighting the enemy Ostorius now turned against himself. And as his veins, though severed, allowed but a scanty flow of blood, he used the help of a slave, simply to hold up a dagger firmly, and then pressing the man's hand towards him, he met the point with his throat.

15. Ostorius longinquis in agris apud finem Ligurum id temporis erat: eo missus centurio qui caedem eius maturaret. causa festinandi ex eo oriebatur quod Ostorius multa militari fama et civicam coronam apud Britanniam meritus, ingenti corpore armorumque scientia metum Neroni fecerat ne invaderet pavidum semper et reperta nuper coniuratione magis exterritum. igitur centurio, ubi effugia villae clausit, iussa imperatoris Ostorio aperit. is fortitudinem saepe adversum hostis spectatam in se vertit; et quia venae quamquam interruptae parum sanguinis effundebant, hactenus manu servi usus ut immotum pugionem extolleret, adpressit dextram eius iuguloque occurrit.

16. Even if I had to relate foreign wars and deaths encountered in the service of the State with such a monotony of disaster, I should myself have been overcome by disgust, while I should look for weariness in my readers, sickened as they would be by the melancholy and continuous destruction of our citizens, however glorious to themselves. But now a servile submissiveness and so much wanton bloodshed at home fatigue the mind and paralyze it with grief. The only indulgence I would ask from those who will acquaint themselves with these horrors is that I be not thought to hate men who perished so tamely. Such was the wrath of heaven against the Roman State that one may not pass over it with a single mention, as one might the defeat of armies and the capture of cities. Let us grant this privilege to the posterity of illustrious men, that just as in their funeral obsequies such men are not confounded in a common burial, so in the record of their end they may receive and retain a special memorial.

16. Etiam si bella externa et obitas pro re publica mortis tanta casuum similitudine memorarem, meque ipsum satias cepisset aliorumque taedium expectarem, quamvis honestos civium exitus, tristis tamen et continuos aspernantium: at nunc patientia servilis tantumque sanguinis domi perditum fatigant animum et maestitia restringunt. neque aliam defensionem ab iis quibus ista noscentur exegerim, quam ne oderim tam segniter pereuntis. ira illa numinum in res Romanas fuit, quam non, ut in cladibus exercituum aut captivitate urbium, semel edito transire licet. detur hoc inlustrium virorum posteritati , ut quo modo exequiis a promisca sepultura separantur, ita in traditione supremorum accipiant habeantque propriam memoriam.

17. Within a few days, in quick succession, Annaeus Mela, Cerialis Anicius, Rufius Crispinus, and Petronius fell, Mela and Crispinus being Roman knights with senatorian rank. The latter had once commanded the praetorians and had been rewarded with the decorations of the consulate. He had lately been banished to Sardinia on a charge of conspiracy, and on receiving a message that he was doomed to die had destroyed himself. Mela, son of the same parents as Gallio and Seneca, had refrained from seeking promotion out of a perverse vanity which wished to raise a Roman knight to an equality with ex-consuls. He also thought that there was a shorter road to the acquisition of wealth through offices connected with the administration of the emperor's private business. He had too in his son Annaeus Lucanus a powerful aid in rising to distinction. After the death of Lucanus, he rigorously called in the debts due to his estate, and thereby provoked an accuser in the person of Fabius Romanus, one of the intimate friends of Lucanus. A story was invented that the father and son shared between them a knowledge of the conspiracy, and a letter was forged in Lucanus's name. This Nero examined, and ordered it to be conveyed to Mela, whose wealth he ravenously desired. Mela meanwhile, adopting the easiest mode of death then in fashion, opened his veins, after adding a codicil to his will bequeathing an immense amount to Tigellinus and his son-in-law, Cossutianus Capito, in order to save the remainder. In this codicil he is also said to have written, by way of remonstrance against the injustice of his death, that he died without any cause for punishment, while Rufius Crispinus and Anicius Cerialis still enjoyed life, though bitter foes to the prince. It was thought that he had invented this about Crispinus, because the man had been already murdered; about Cerialis, with the object of procuring his murder. Soon afterwards Cerialis laid violent hands on himself, and received less pity than the others, because men remembered that he had betrayed a conspiracy to Caius Caesar.

17. Paucos quippe intra dies eodem agmine Annaeus Mela, Cerialis Anicius, Rufrius Crispinus, C. Petronius cecidere, Mela etCrispinus equites Romani dignitate senatoria. nam hic quondam praefectus praetorii et consularibus insignibus donatus ac nuper crimine coniurationis in Sardiniam exactus accepto iussae mortis nuntio semet interfecit. Mela, quibus Gallio et Seneca parentibus natus, petitione honorum abstinuerat per ambitionem praeposteram ut eques Romanus consularibus potentia aequaretur; simul adquirendae pecuniae brevius iter credebat per procurationes administrandis principis negotiis. idem Annaeum Lucanum genuerat, grande adiumentum claritudinis. quo interfecto dum rem familiarem eius acriter requirit, accusatorem concivit Fabium Romanum, ex intimis Lucani amicis. mixta inter patrem filiumque coniurationis scientia fingitur, adsimilatis Lucani litteris: quas inspectas Nero ferri adeum iussit, opibus eius inhians. at Mela, quae tum promptissima mortis via, exolvit venas, scriptis codicillis quibus grandem pecuniam in Tigellinum generumque eius Cossutianum Capitonem erogabat quo cetera manerent. additur codicillis, tamquam de iniquitate exitii querens ita scripsisset, se quidem mori nullis supplicii causis, Rufrium autem Crispinum et Anicium Cerialem vita frui infensos principi. quae composita credebantur de Crispino, quia interfectus erat, de Ceriale, ut interficeretur. neque enim multo post vim sibi attulit, minore quam ceteri miseratione, quia proditam G. Caesari coniurationem ab eo meminerant.

18. With regard to Caius Petronius, I ought to dwell a little on his antecedents. His days he passed in sleep, his nights in the business and pleasures of life. Indolence had raised him to fame, as energy raises others, and he was reckoned not a debauchee and spendthrift, like most of those who squander their substance, but a man of refined luxury. And indeed his talk and his doings, the freer they were and the more show of carelessness they exhibited, were the better liked, for their look of natural simplicity. Yet as proconsul of Bithynia and soon afterwards as consul, he showed himself a man of vigour and equal to business. Then falling back into vice or affecting vice, he was chosen by Nero to be one of his few intimate associates, as a critic in matters of taste, while the emperor thought nothing charming or elegant in luxury unless Petronius had expressed to him his approval of it. Hence jealousy on the part of Tigellinus, who looked on him as a rival and even his superior in the science of pleasure. And so he worked on the prince's cruelty, which dominated every other passion, charging Petronius with having been the friend of Scaevinus, bribing a slave to become informer, robbing him of the means of defence, and hurrying into prison the greater part of his domestics.

18. De C. Petronio pauca supra repetenda sunt. nam illi dies per somnum, nox officiis et oblectamentis vitae transigebatur; utque alios industria, ita hunc ignavia ad famam protulerat, habebaturque non ganeo et profligator, ut plerique sua haurientium, sed erudito luxu. ac dicta factaque eius quanto solutiora et quandam sui neglegentiam praeferentia, tanto gratius in speciem simplicitatis accipiebantur. proconsul tamen Bithyniae et mox consul vigentem se ac parem negotiis ostendit. dein revolutus ad vitia seu vitiorum imitatione inter paucos familiarium Neroni adsumptus est, elegantiae arbiter, dum nihil amoenum et molle adfluentia putat, nisi quod ei Petronius adprobavisset. unde invidia Tigellini quasi adversus aemulum et scientia voluptatum potiorem. ergo crudelitatem principis, cui ceterae libidines cedebant, adgreditur, amicitiam Scaevini Petronio obiectans, corrupto ad indicium servo ademptaque defensione et maiore parte familiae in vincla rapta.

19. It happened at the time that the emperor was on his way Campania and that Petronius, after going as far as Cumae, was there detained. He bore no longer the suspense of fear or of hope. Yet he did not fling away life with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his veins and then, according to his humour, bound them up, he again opened them, while he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain or on topics that might win for him the glory of courage. And he listened to them as they repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul or on the theories of philosophers, but light poetry and playful verses. To some of his slaves he gave liberal presents, a flogging to others. He dined, indulged himself in sleep, that death, though forced on him, might have a natural appearance. Even in his will he did not, as did many in their last moments, flatter Nero or Tigellinus or any other of the men in power. On the contrary, he described fully the prince's shameful excesses, with the names of his male and female companions and their novelties in debauchery, and sent the account under seal to Nero. Then he broke his signet-ring, that it might not be subsequently available for imperilling others.

19. Forte illis diebus Campaniam petiverat Caesar, et Cumas usque progressus Petronius illic attinebatur; nec tulit ultra timoris aut spei moras. neque tamen praeceps vitam expulit, sed incisas venas, ut libitum, obligatas aperire rursum et adloqui amicos, non per seria aut quibus gloriam constantiae peteret. audiebatque referentis nihil de immortalitate animae et sapientium placitis, sed levia carmina et facilis versus. servorum alios largitione, quosdam verberibus adfecit. iniit epulas, somno indulsit, ut quamquam coacta mors fortuitae similis esset. ne codicillis quidem, quod plerique pereuntium, Neronem aut Tigellinum aut quem alium potentium adulatus est, sed flagitia principis sub nominibus exoletorum feminarumque et novitatem cuiusque stupri perscripsit atque obsignata misit Neroni. fregitque anulum ne mox usui esset ad facienda pericula.

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