I claudius c 1, p.11

I, Claudius c-1, page 11

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series

 

I, Claudius c-1
 



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  Augustus gave the Noble Order of Knights permission to marry commoners, even freedwomen, but this did not improve things very much.

  Knights, if they married at all, married for rich dowries, not for children or for love, and a freedwoman was not much of a catch; and besides knights, especially those recently raised to the order, had strong feelings against marrying beneath them. In families of the ancient nobility the difficulty was still greater. Not only were there fewer women to choose from in the correct degree of kinship, but the marriage ceremony was stricter.

  The wife was more absolutely in the power of the master of the household into which she married. Every sensible woman thought twice before committing herself to this contract, from which there was no escape but divorce; and after divorce it was difficult to recover the property that she had brought him as dowry.

  In other than ancient noble families, however, a woman could many a man legally and yet remain independent, with control of her own property--if she cared to stipulate that she should sleep three nights of the year outside her husband's house; for this condition would interrupt his right over her as a permanent chattel.

  Women liked this form of marriage for obvious reasons, the very reasons for which their husbands disliked it. The practice started among the lowest families of the City but worked upwards, and soon became the rule in all except the anciently noble families. Here there was a religious reason against it. From these families the State priests were chosen, and by religious law a priest had to be a married man, marriedin the strict form, and the child of a strict-form marriage too. As time went on suitable candidates for priesthood were increasingly difficult * to find.

  Finally there were vacancies in the Colleges of Priests that could not be filled and something had to be done about it, so the lawyers found a way out. Women of rank were allowed, on contracting strict-form maniages, to stipulate that the complete sunender of themselves and property, XCLAUDIUS [9° “was "as touching sacred matters" and that otherwise they enjoyed all the benefits of free marriageBut that came later. Meanwhile the best that Augustus could do, apart from his legal penalization of bachelors and childless married men, was to put pressure on masters of households to marry off their young people [with instructions to increase and multiply] while they were still too young to realise to what they were being committed or to do anything but obey implicitly. To show a good example therefore, all we younger members of the families of Augustus and Livia were betrothed and married at the earliest possible age. It may sound strange, but Augustus was a great-grandfather at the age of fifty-four and a great-greatgrandfather before he died at the age of seventy-six; while Julia, as a result of her second marriage too, had a marriageable granddaughter before she was herself beyond child-bearing age. The generations somewhat overlapped in this way and the genealogical tree of the Imperial family became a rival in complexity to that of Olympus. This was not only because of the frequent adoptions and the marrying of members in closer degree of kinship than religious custom really permitted--for the Imperial family was by this time getting above the law; but because as soon as a man died his widow was made to marry again and always in the same small circle of relationship. I shall do my best now to straighten the matter out at this point, without being too long-winded.

  I have mentioned Julia's children, Augustus' chief heirs since Julia herself had been banished and cut out of his will, namely, her three boys, Gaius, Lucius and Postumus, and her two daughters, Julilla and Agrippina, The younger members of Livia's family were Tiberius' son, Castor, and his three first-cousins, namely, my brother Germanicus, my sister Livilla and myself. But I must not forget Julia's grandchild--for Julilla had in the absence of any possible husband from Livia's family married a wealthy senator called /Emilius [her first-cousin through a previous marriage of Scribonia's] and. had bome him a daughter called

  /Emilia. Julilla's marriage was unfortunate, for Livia grudged that any granddaughter of Augustus should marry any but a grandson of her own; but as you will soon see it [9^] did not trouble her for long, and meanwhile Germanicus married Agrippina, a handsome serious girl to whom he had as a matter of fact been long devoted. Gaius married my sister Livilla but died soon afterwards, leaving no children. Lucius, who had been betrothed to ^Emilia but not yet married, was already dead.

  On Lucius' death the question arose of a suitable match for /Emilia.

  Augustus had a shrewd notion that Livia intended /Emilia's husband to be no other than myself, but he had tender feelings for the child and could not bear the idea of her marrying a sickly creature like me. He resolved to oppose the match: for once, he promised himself, Livia should not have her way. It happened shortly after the death of Lucius that Augustus was dining with Medullinus, one of his old generals, who traced his descent from the dictator Camillus. Medullinus told him, smiling, when the wine cups had been filled several times, that he had a young granddaughter of whom he was very fond. She had suddenly shown a surprising advance in her literary studies and he understood that he had a young relative of his most honoured guest's to thank for this improvement.

  Augustus was puzzled. "Who on earth can that be? I have heard nothing of it. What is happening? Is it a secret love affair with a literary sauce?"

  "Yes, something of the sort," said Medullinus grinning.

  "I have spoken to the young fellow, and for all his physical misfortunes and capabilities I can't help liking him. He has a frank and noble nature, and as a young scholar he impresses me considerably."

  Augustus asked incredulously; "What, you don't mean young Tiberius Claudius?"

  "Yes, that's the one," said Medullinus.

  Augustus' face lit up with a sudden resolution and he asked rather more hastily than was decent: "Listen, Medullinus, old friend, would you have any objection to him as your granddaughter's husband? If you agree to the match I shall be only too glad to arrange it. Young Germanicus is now nominally master of the household, but in matters Iflce this he takes the advice of his elders. Well, it certainly isn't every girl who could overcome her physical repugnance to such a poor deaf, stammering cripple, and Livia and myself have had a natural delicacy in betrothing him to anyone. But if your granddaughter of her own free will----"

  Medullinus said: "The child has spoken to me about this marriage herself and weighed matters very carefully.

  She tells me that young Tiberius Claudius is modest and truthful and kind-hearted; and that his lameness will never allow him to go to the wars and be filled-

  ---"

  "Or to run after other women," laughed Augustus.

  "And that his deafness is only on the one side, and as for his general health-

  ---"

  "I suppose the little minx has it worked out that he is not crippled in that part of the body for which honest wives show the most solicitude? Yes, why shouldn't he be capable of begetting perfectly healthy children on her? My old lame, whistling stud-stallion Bucephalus has sired more chariot-race winners than any horse in Rome. But, joking apart, Medullinus, yours is a very honourable house and my wife's family will be proud to be connected with it by marriage. Do you seriously mean that you approve the match?"

  Medullinus said that the girl could do very much worse, quite apart from the unlooked-for honour to the family of being allied in marriage with the Father of the Country.

  Now Medullina, the granddaughter, was my first love; and never, I swear, was there such a beautiful child seen in all the world. I met her one summer afternoon in the Gardens of Sallust, where I was taken by Sulpicius in the absence of Athenodorus, who was unwell. Sulpicius' daughter was married to Medullina's uncle, Furius Camillus, a distinguished soldier who was Consul six years later.

  When I first saw her it was with a shock of surprise, not only at her beauty, but at her sudden appearance, for she came up on my deaf side while I was reading a book, and when I raised my eyes, there she was standing over me laughing at my preoccupation. She was slender, with rich black hair, white skin and very
dark blue eyes, and all her movements were quick and birdhke.

  "What's your name?" she asked, in a friendly voice.

  "Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus."

  "Ye gods, all thati Mine's Medullina Camilla. How old are you?"

  "Thirteen," I said, mastering my stammer well.

  "I'm only eleven, but I bet I can race you to that cedaf tree and back."

  "Are you a champion runner, then?"

  "I can beat any girl in Rome, 'and my elder brother, too."

  "Well, I'm afraid you win by default. I can't run at all, I'm lame."

  "Oh, you poor fellow. How did you come here then?

  Hobble-hobbling all the way?"

  "No, Camilla, in a sedan-chair, like a lazy old man."

  "Why do you call nie by my last name?"

  "Because it's the more appropriate one."

  "How do you make that out, clever?"

  "Because among the Etruscans 'Camilla' is what they call the young hunting priestesses dedicated to Diana.

  With a name like Camilla one is bound to be a champion runner."

  "That's nice. I never heard that. I shall make all my friends call me Camilla now."

  "And call me Claudius, will youf That's my appropriate name. It means a cripple. My family usually call me Tiberius, and that's inappropriate because the Tiber runs very fast."

  She laughed. "Well then, Claudius, tell me what do you do all d<*y if you can't run about with the other boys?"

  "I read, mostly, and write. I have read scores of books this year already and it's only June. This one's Greek."

  "I can't read Greek yetI only just know the alphabet.

  My grandfather is cross with me--I have no father, you know--he calls me lazy Of course, I understand Greek when I hear it talked: ve always have to talk Greek at meals and whenever visitors come. What's the book about?"

  "It's part of Thucydides' history. This passage is about how a politician, a tanner called Cleon, began criticising the generals who were blockading the Spartans in an island.

  He said that they were not doing their best and that if he were general he would bring back the whole Spartan force as captives within twenty days. The Athenians were so sick of his talk that they appointed him to command the forces himself."

  'That was a funny idea. What happened?"

  "He kept his promise. He chose a good staff-officer and told him to fight in any way he liked so long as he won the battle, and the man knew his job; so within twenty days Cleon brought back to Athens a hundred and twenty Spartans of the highest rank."

  Camilla said: "I've heard my uncle Furius say that the cleverest leader is one who chooses clever people to think for him." Then she said: "You must be very wise by now, Claudius."

  "I am supposed to be an utter fool and the more I read the more of a fool they think me."

  "I think you're very sensible. You tell things so nicely."

  "But I stammer. My tongue's a Claudian too."

  "Perhaps that's just nervousness. You don't know many girls, do you?"

  "No," I said, "and you're the first one I have met who hasn't laughed at me.

  Couldn't we see each other now and then, Camilla? You couldn't teach me to run, but I could teach you to read Greek. Would you like that?"

  "Oh, I'd love it. But will you teach me from interesting books?"

  "From any book you like. Do you like history?"

  "I think I like poetry best; there are so many names and dates to remember in history. My eldest sister raves about the love-poetry of Parthenius. Have you read any of it?"

  "Some of it, but I don't Hke it. It's so artificial. I like real books.

  "So do I. But is there any Greek love-poetry that isn't artificial?"

  "There's Theocritus. I like him very much. Get your aunt to bring you here to-morrow at the same time and I'll bring Theocritus and we'll begin at once."

  "You promise he's not boring?"

  "No, he's very good."

  After this we used to meet in the garden nearly every day and sit in the shade together and read Theocritus and talk. I made Sulpicius promise not to tell anybody about [95] it, for fear Livia should hear of it and stop my going. Camilla said one day that I was the kindest boy she had ever met and that she liked me better than all her brothers' friends. Then I told her how much I liked her and she was very pleased and we kissed shyly. She asked whether there was any possible chance of our getting married. She said that her grandfather would do anything for her and that she would bring him along one day to the gardens and introduce us; but would my father approve? When I told her that I had no father and that it all rested with Augustus and Livia she became depressed. We had not talked much about families until then. She had never heard any good of Livia, but I said that it was possible she might consent, because she disliked me so much that I didn't think she cared very much what I did, so long as I didn't disgrace her.

  Medullinus was a straight dignified old man and something of a historian, which made conversation between us easy. He had been my father's superior officer in his first campaign and was full of anecdotes of him, many of which I noted down gratefully for my biography. One day we began talking about Camilla's ancestor Camillus, and when he asked me what action of Camillus' I most admired I said; "When the treacherous schoolmaster of Falerii decoyed the children under his charge to the walls of Rome, saying that the Falerians would offer any terms to get them back, Camillus disdained the offer. He had him stripped naked and tied his hands behind his back and gave the boys rods and scourges to whip the traitor back home. Wasn't that magnificent?" In reading this story I had pictured the schoolmaster as Cato, the boys as Postumus and myself, and so my enthusiasm for Camillus was a little mixed. But Medullinus was pleased.

  When Germanicus was asked for his approval of our marriage he gave it gladly, for I had told him of my love for Camilla; and my uncle Tiberius raised no objection; and my grandmother Livia hid her anger as usual and congratulated Augustus on having been so quick to take Medullinua at his word--he must have been drunk, she said, to havf approved the match, though indeed the dowry was small «nd the honour of the alliance great for a man of his family. The house of Camillas had bred no men of outstanding capacity or reputation for many generations.

  Germanicus told me that everything had been arranged and that the betrothal ceremony was to take place on the next lucky day--we Romans are very superstitious [A.D. 3] about days; nobody would dream, for instance, of fighting a battle or marrying or buying' a house on July i6th, the day of the Allia disaster in Camillus' time. I could hardly believe my good fortune.

  I too had feared that I would be made to marry ^Emilia, an ill-tempered affected little girl who copied my sister Livilla in teasing and making a fool of me whenever she came to us on a visit, which was often. The betrothal ceremony, Livia insisted, was to be as private as possible, because she could not trust me not to make a fool of myself if there was a crowd. I preferred it that way; I hated ceremonies. Only the necessary witnesses would attend, and there would be no feast, merely the usual ritual sacrifice of a ram whose entrails would then be examined to see whether the auspices were favourable. Of course they would be; Augustus, officiating as priest, in compliment to Livia, would see to that. Then a contract would be signed for the second ceremony to take place as soon as 1 came of age, with stipulations about the dowry. Camilla and I would join hands and kiss and then I would give her a gold ring and she would return to her grandfather's house--quietly, as she had come, without any train of singing attendants.

  It hurts me even now to write about that day. I stood, very nervously, in my chaplet and clean robe waiting with Germanicus by the family altar for Camilla to appear. She was late. She was very late. The witnesses began to grow impatient and criticise the bad manners of old Medullinus in keeping them waiting on a ceremonial occasion like this. At last the porter announced Camilla's uncle Furius and he came in, ashy-white and wearing mourning garments. After a short speech of greeting
and apology to Aueustus and the rest of the company for his tardiness and ill-omened appearance he said: "A great calamity has happened. My niece is dead."

  "Dead!" cried Augustus. "What joke is this? We had W] a message only half an hour ago that she was already on her way here."

  "She died by poison. A crowd gathered at the door, as crowds will, when they heard that the daughter of the house was about to go to her betrothal. When my niece came out, the women all pressed admiringly around her.

  She gave a little cry as if someone had trod on her foot, but nobody thought anything of it, and she stepped into the sedan. We had not gone the length of the street before my wife, Sulpicia, who was with her, saw her lose colour and asked whether she felt frightened. 'Oh, aunt,' she said, 'that woman stuck a needle into my arm and I feel taint.'

 

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