I claudius c 1, p.10

I, Claudius c-1, page 10

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series

 

I, Claudius c-1
 



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  But the early genealogical tree of the Gods is so confused with incestuous alliances--son with mother, brother with sister--that it may be that Caligula could have proved his case.

  As a Protector of the People Tiberius was held in great awe by the Rhodians; and provincial officials sailing out to take up their posts in the East, or returning from there, always made a point of turning aside in their course and paying him their respects. But he insisted that he was merely a private citizen and deprecated any public honours paid to him. He usually dispensed with his official escort of yeomen. Only once did he exercise the judicial powers that his Protectorship carried with it: he arrested and summarily condemned to a month in gaol a young Greek who, in a grammatical debate where he was acting as chairman, tried to defy his authority as such. He kept himself in good condition by riding and taking part in the sports at the gymnasium, and was in close touch with affairs at Rome--he had monthly news-letters from Livia. Besides his house in the island capital he owned a small villa some distance from it, built on a lofty promontory overlooking the seaThere was a secret path to it up the cliff, by which a trusted freedman of his, a man of great physical strength, used to conduct the disreputable characters--prostitutes, pathics, fortune-tellers and magicians--with whom he customarily passed his evenings. It is said that very often there creatures, if they had displeased Tiberius, somehow missed their footing on the return journey and fell into the sea far below. I have already mentioned that Augustus refused to renew Tiberius' Protectorship when the five years expired.

  It can be imagined that this put him in a very awkward position at Rhodes, where he was personally unpopular: the Rhodians seeing him deprived of his yeoman escort, his magisterial powers, and the inviolateness of his person, began to treat him first with familiarity and then with contumely. For example, one famous Greek professor of philosophy to whom he applied for leave to join his classes told him that there was no vacancy but that he could come back in seven days' time and see whether one had occurred.

  Then news came from Livia that Gaius had been sent to the East as Governor of Asia Minor. But though not far away, at Chios, Gaius did not come and pay Tiberius the expected visit. Tiberius heard from a friend that Gaius believed the false reports circulating at Rome that he and Livia were plotting a military rebellion and that a member of Gaius' suite had even offered, at a public banquet at which everyone was somewhat drunk, to sail across to Rhodes and bring back the head of "The Exile". Gaius had told the fellow that he had no fear of "The Exile": [81] let him keep his useless head on his useless shoulders.

  Tiberius swallowed his pride and sailed at once to Chios to make his peace with his stepson, whom he treated with a humility that was much commented upon.

  Tiberius, the most distinguished living Roman, after Augustus, paying court to a boy not yet out of his teens, and the son of his own disgraced wife! Gaius received him coldly but was much flattered. Tiberius begged him to have no fears, for the rumours that had reached him were as groundless as they were malicious. He said that he did not intend to resume the political career which he had interrupted out of regard for Gaius himself and his brother Lucius: all that he wanted now was to be allowed to spend the rest of his life in the peace and privacy which he had learned to prize before all public honours.

  Gaius, flattered at the chance of being magnanimous, undertook to forward a letter to Rome asking Augustus' permission for Tiberius to return there, and to endorse it with his own personal recommendation. In this letter Tiberius said that he had left Rome only in order not to embarrass the young princes, his stepsons, but that, now they were grown up and firmly established, the obstacles to his living quietly at Rome were no longer present; he added that he was weary of Rhodes and longed to see his friends and relations again, Gaius forwarded the letter with the promised endorsement. Augustus replied, to Gaius not to Tiberius, that Tiberius had gone away, in spite of the strong pleas of his friends and relations, when the State had most need of him; he could not now make his own terms about coming back. The contents of this letter became generally known and Tiberius' anxiety increased. He heard that the people of Nunes in France had overthrown the statues erected there in memory of his victories, and that Lucius too had now been given false information against him which he was inclined to believe. He removed from the city and lived in a small house in a remote part of the island, only occasionally visiting his villa on the promontory. He no longer took any care of his physical condition or even of his personal appearance, rarely shaving and going about in dressing-gown and slippers. He finally wrote a private letter to Livia, explaining his dangerous situation. He pledged himself, if she managed to secure permission for him to return, to be solely guided by her in everything so long as they both lived. He said that he addressed her not so much as his devoted mother but as the true, though so far unacknowledged, helmsman of the Ship of State.

  This was just what Livia wanted; she had purposely refrained hitherto from persuading Augustus to recall Tiberius. She wanted him to become as weary of inaction and public contumely as he had previously been of action and public honour. She sent back a brief message A.D. 2] to say that she had his letter safe, and that it was a bargain. A few months later Lucius died mysteriously at Marseilles, on his way to Spain, and while Augustus was still stunned by the shock Livia began working on his feelings by saying how much she had missed the support of her dear son Tiberius all these years; for whose return she had not until now ventured to plead. He had certainly done wrong, but had also certainly learned his lesson by now and his private letters to her breathed the greatest devotion and loyalty to Augustus. Gaius, who had endorsed that petition for his return, would, she urged, need a trustworthy colleague now that his brother was dead.

  One evening a fortune-teller called Thrasyllus, by birth an Arab, came to Tiberius at his house on the promontory.

  He had been two or three times before and had made a number of very encouraging predictions, but none of these had yet been fulfilled. Tiberius, growing sceptical, told his freedman that if Thrasyllus did not entirely satisfy him this time he was to lose his footing on his way down the cliff. When Thrasyllus arrived, the first thing that Tiberius said was, "What is the aspect of my stars today?" Thrasyllus sat down and made very complicated astrological calculations with a piece of charcoal on the top of a stone table.

  At last he pronounced, "They are in a most unusually favourable conjunction. The evil crisis of your life is now finally passing. Henceforth you are to enjoy nothing but good fortune."

  "Excellent," said Tiberius, drily, "and now what about your own?"

  Thrasyllu.'i made another set of calculations, and then looked up in real or pretended terror. "Great Heavens!" he exclaimed, "an appalling danger threatens me from air and water."

  "Any chance of circumventing it?" asked Tiberius.

  "I cannot say. If I could survive the next twelve hours, my fortune would be, in its degree, as happy even as yours; but nearly all the malevolent planets are in conjunction against me and the danger seems all but unavoidable. Only Venus can save me."

  "What was that you said just now about her? I forget."

  "That she is moving into Scorpio, which is your sign, portending a marvellously happy change in your fortunes.

  Let me venture a further deduction from this all-important movement: you are soon to be engrafted into the Julian house, which, I need hardly remind you, traces direct descent from Venus, the mother of ^Eneas. Tiberius, my humble fate is curiously bound up with your illustrious one. If good news comes to you before dawn tomorrow, it is a sign that I have almost as many fortunate years before me as yourself."

  They were sitting out on the porch and suddenly a wren or some such small bird hopped on Thrasyllus' knee and, cocking its head on one side, began to chirp at him.

  Thrasyllus said to the bird, "Thank you, sisteri It came only just in time."

  Then he turned to Tiberius: "Heaven be praised! That ship has good news for you, the bird says, a
nd I am saved. The danger is averted."

  Tiberius sprang up and embraced Thrasyllus, confessing what his intentions had been. And, sure enough, the ship carried Imperial dispatches from Augustus informing Tiberius of Lucius' death and saying that in the circumstances he was graciously permitted to return to Rome, though for the present only as a private citizen.

  As for Gaius, Augustus had been anxious that he should have no task assigned to him for which he was not fitted, and that the East should remain quiet during his governorship. Unfortunately the King of Armenia revolted and the King of Parthia threatened to join forces with him; which put Augustus in a quandary.

  Though Gaius had shown himself an able peace-time governor, Augustus did not believe him capable of conducting so important a war as this; and he himself was too old to go campaigning and had too many affairs to attend to at Rome, besides.

  Yet he could not send out anybody else to take over the Eastern regiments from Gaius because Gaius was Consul and should never have been allowed to enter upon the office if he was incapable of high military command. There was nothing to be done but to let Gaius be and hope for the best.

  Gaius was lucky at first. The danger from the Armenians was removed by an invasion of their Eastern border by a wandering tribe of barbarians. The King of Armenia was killed while chasing them away. The King of Parthia, hearing of this and also of the large army that Gaius was getting together, then came to terms with him: to the great relief of Augustus. But Augustus' new nominee to the throne of Armenia, a Mede, was not acceptable to the Armenian nobles, and when Gaius had sent home his extra forces as no longer necessary thsy declared war after all.

  Gaius reassembled his army, and marched to Armenia, where a few months 6ter he was treacherously wounded by one of the enemy generals who had invited him to a parley. It was not a serious wound. He thought little of it at the time and concluded the campaign successfully. But somehow he was given the wrong medical treatment, and his health, which from no apparent cause had been failing him for the last two years, became seriously affected: he lost all power of mental concentration. Finally he wrote to Augustus for permission to retire into private life. Augustus A.D. 4] was grieved, but granted his plea. Gaius died on his way home. Thus of Julia's sons only fifteenyear old Postumus now remained and Augustus was so far reconciled to Tiberius that, as Thrasyllus foretold, he engrafted him into the Julian house by adopting him, jointly with Postumus, as his son and heir.

  The East was quiet now for a time, but when the war that had broken out in Germany again--I mentioned it in connection with my schoolboy composition for Athenodorus--took a serious turn, Augustus made Tiberius armycommander and showed his renewed confidence in him by awarding him a ten years' Protectorship.

  The campaign was a severe one and Tiberius handled it with his old force and [8?]

  skill. Livia, however, insisted on his making frequent visits to Rome so as not to lose touch with political events there.

  Tiberius was keeping his part of the bargain with her and allowed himself to be led by her in everything.

  VII

  I WENT BACK IN TIME A FEW YEARS TO TELL OF MY UNCLE Tiberius, but by following that history through until his adoption by Augustus, I have come out ahead of my own story. I shall try to devote these next chapters strictly to events that happened between my ninth and sixteenth years. Mostly it is a record of the betrothals and marriages of us young nobles. First Germanicus [B. C. i came of age--September the ^oth was his fourteenth birthday, but the coming-of-age celebrations always took place in March. As the custom was, he went out garlanded from our house on the Palatine, in the early morning, wearing his purple-bordered boy's dress for the last time. Crowds of children ran ahead, singing and scattering flowers, an escort of his noble friends walked with him, and an immense throng of citizens followed behind, in their degrees. The procession went slowly down the slope of the Hill, through the Market Place, where Germanicus was greeted uproariously. He returned the greeting in a short speech.

  Finally the procession moved on up the slope of the Capitoline Hill. At the Capitol, Augustus and Livia were waiting to greet him, and he sacrificed a white bull in the temple there to Capitoline Jove, the Thunderer, and put on his white manly-gown for the first time. Much to my disappointment I was not allowed to come too. The walk would have been too much for me and it would have created a bad impression if I had been carried in a sedan.

  All I witnessed of the ceremonies was his dedication, when he returned, of his boy's dress and ornaments to the household [86] gods; and the scattering ot cakes and pence to the crowd from the steps of the house.

  A year later he married. Augustus did all he could by legislation to encourage marriage among men of family.

  The Empire was very big and needed more officials and senior army officers than the nobility and gentry were able to supply, in spite of constant recruiting to their ranks from' the populace. When there were complaints from men of family about the vulgarity of these newcomers, Augustus used to answer testily that he chose the least vulgar he could End. The remedy was in their own hands, he said: every man and woman of rank should marry young and breed as large a family as possible. The steady decrease in the number of births and marriages in the governing classes became an obsession with Augustus.

  On one occasion when the Noble Order of Knights, from whom the senators were chosen, complained of the severity of his laws against bachelors, he summoned the entire order into the Market Place for a lecture. When he had them assembled there he divided them up into two groups, the married and the unmarried. The unmarried were a very much larger group than the married and he addressed separate speeches to each group. He worked himself up into a great passion with the unmarried, calling them beasts and brigands and, by a queer figure of speech, murderers of their posterity. By this time Augustus was an old man with all the petulance and crankiness of an old man who has been at the head of affairs all his life. He asked them, had they an hallucination that they were Vestal Virgins? At least a Vestal Virgin slept alone, which was more than they did. Would they, pray, explain why instead of sharing their beds with decent women of their own class and begetting healthy children on them, they squandered all their virile energy on greasy slave-girls and nasty Asiatic-Greek prostitutes?

  And if he were to believe what he heard, the partner of their nightly bed-play was more often one of those creatures of a loathsome profession whom he would not even name, lest the admission of their existence in the City should be construed as a condonation of it. If he had his way, a man who shirked his social obligations and at the same time lived a life of sexual debauch should be subject [87] to the same dreadful penalties as a Vestal who forgot her vows--to be buried ahve.

  As for us married men, for I was among them by this time, he gave us a most splendid eulogy, spreading out his arms as if to embrace us. "There are only a very few of you, in comparison with the huge population of the City.

  You are far less numerous than your fellows over there, who are unwilling to perform any of their natural social duties. Yet for this very reason I praise you the more, and am doubly grateful to you for having shown yourselves obedient to my wishes and for having done your best to man the State. It is by lives so lived that the Romans of the future will become a great nation. At first we were a mere handful, you know, but when we took to marriage and begot children we came to vie with neighbouring states not only in the manliness of our citizens but in the size of our population too. We must always remember this. We must console the mortal part of our nature with an endless succession of generations, like torch-bearers in a race, so that through one another we may immortalise the one side of our nature in which we fall short of divine happiness. It was for this reason chiefly that the, first and greatest God who created us divided the human race in two: he made one half of it male and the other half female and implanted in these halves mutual desire for each other, making their intercourse fruitful so that by continual procreation he might, in a sense,
make even mortality immortal.

  Indeed, tradition says that some of the Gods themselves are male and others female, and that they are all interrelated by sexual ties of kinship and parentage.

  So you see that even among those beings who have really no need of such a device, marriage and the procreation of children have been approved as a noble custom."

  I wanted to laugh, not only because I was being praised for what had been forced on me greatly against my will--I will soon tell you about Urgulanilla, to whom I was married at this time--but because the whole business was such an utter farce. What was the use of Augustus addressing us in this way, when he was perfectly well aware that it was not the men who were shirking, as he called it, but the women?

  If he had summoned the women it is just possible that he might have accomplished something by talking to them in the right way.

  I remember once hearing two of my mother's freedwomen discussing modern marriage from the point of view of a woman of family. What did she gain by it? they asked.

  Morals were so loose now that nobody took marriage seriously any longer.

  Granted, a few old-fashioned men re--spected it sufficiently to have a prejudice against children being fathered on them by their friends or household servants, and a few old-fashioned women respected their husbands' feelings sufficiently to be very careful not to become pregnant to any but them. But as a rule any goodlooking woman nowadays could have any man to sleep with whom she chose. If she did many and then tired of her husband, as usually happened, and wanted someone else to amuse herself with, there might easily be her husband's pride or jealousy to contend with. Nor in general was she better off financially after marriage. Her dowry passed into the hands of her husband, or her father-inlaw as master of the household, if he happened to be alive; and a husband, or father-in-law, was usually a more difficult person to manage than a father, or elder brother, whose foibles she had long come to understand. Being married just meant vexatious household responsibility. As for children, who wanted them? They interfered with the lady's health and amusement for several months before birth and, though she had a foster-mother for them immediately afterwards, it took time to recover from the wretched business of childbirth, and it often happened that her figure was ruined after having more than a couple. Look how the beautiful Julia had changed by obediently gratifying Augustus' desire for descendants. And a lady's husband, if she was fond of him, could not be expected to keep off other women throughout the time of her pregnancy, and anyway he paid very little attention to the child when it was born. And then, as if all this were not enough, fostermothers were shockingly careless nowadays and the child often died. What a blessing it was that those Greek doctors were so clever, if the thing had not gone too far--they could rid any lady of an unwanted child in two or three days and nobody be anv the worse or wiser. Of course [89] some ladies, even very modern ladies, had an old-fashioned hankering for children, but they could always buy a child for adoption into their husband's family, from some man of decent birth who was hard pressed by his creditors....

 
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