I claudius c 1, p.32

I, Claudius c-1, page 32

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series

 

I, Claudius c-1
 



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  Tiberius asked the Senate to decree Castor Protector of the People, which was as much as pointing him out as heir to the monarchy. This request caused general relief. It was taken as a sign that Tiberius was aware of Sejanus' ambitions and intended to check them. When the decree was passed someone proposed that it should be printed on the walls of the House in letters of gold. Nobody realised that it was at Sejanus' own suggestion that Castor was so honoured; he had hinted to Tiberius that Castor, Agrippina, Livia and Gallus were in league together and proposed this as the best way to see who else belonged to their party. It was a friend of his own who had made the proposal about the gold inscription, and the names of senators who supported this extravagant motion were carefully noted.

  Castor was more popular now among the better citizens than he had been. He had given up his drunken habits--the death of Germanicus seemed to have sobered him--and though he still had an inordinate love of bloodshed at sword-fights and dressed extravagantly and betted enormous sums on the chariot races, he was a conscientious magistrate and a loyal friend. I had little to do with him, but when we met he treated me with far greater consideration than before Germanicus'

  death.

  The bitter hatred between him and Sejanus always threatened to blaze up into a quarrel, but Sejanus was careful not to provoke Castor until the quarrel could be turned to account. The time had now come. Sejanus went to the Palace to congratulate Castor on his protectorship and found him in his study with Livilla.

  There were no slaves or freedmen present, so Sejanus could say what he pleased.

  By this time Livilla was so much in love with him that he could count on her to betray Castor as she had once betrayed Postumus--somehow he knew that story--and there had even been talk between them in which they had regretted that they were not Emperor and Empress, to do as they pleased. Sejanus said, "Well, Castor, I've worked it for you all right! Congratulations!"

  Castor scowled. He was only "Castor" to a few intimates. He had won the name, as I think I have explained, because of his resemblance to a well-known gladiator, but it had stuck because one day he had lost his temper in an argument with a knight. The knight had told him bluntly at a banquet that he was drunk and incapable, and Castor, shouting "Drunk and incapable, am I? I'll show you if I'm drunk and incapable," staggered from his couch and hit the knight such a terrific blow in the belly that he vomited up the whole meal. Castor now said to Sejanus:

  "I don't allow anyone to address me by a nickname except a friend or an equal, and you're neither. To you I'm Tiberius Drusus Caesar. And I don't know what you claim to have 'worked' for me. And I don't want your congratulations on it, whatever it is. So get out."

  Livilla said: "If you ask me, I call it pretty cowardly of you to insult Sejanus like this, not to mention the ingratitude of kicking him out like a dog when he comes to congratulate you on your protectorship. You know that your father would never have given it to you except on Sejanus' recommendation."

  Castor said: "You're talking nonsense, Livilla. This filthy spy has had no more to do with the appointment than my eunuch Lygdus. He's just pretending to be important. And tell me, Sejanus, what’s this about cowardice?"

  Sejanus said: "Your wife is quite right. You're a coward.

  You wouldn't have dared to talk to me like this before I got you appointed Protector and so made your person sacrosanct. You know perfectly well that I'd have thrashed you."

  "And serve you right," said Livilla.

  Castor looked from one face to the other and said slowly: "So there's something between you two, is there?"

  Livilla smiled scornfully: "And suppose there is? Who's the better man?"

  Castor shouted: "All right, my girl, we'll see. Just forget for a moment that I'm Protector of the People, Sejanus, and put your fists up."

  Sejanus folded his arms.

  "Put them up, I say, you coward."

  Sejanus said nothing, so Castor struck him hard across the face with his open palm. "Now get out!"

  Sejanus went out with an ironical obeisance and Livilla followed him.

  This blow settled Castor's fate. The account that Tiberius heard from Sejanus, who came to him with the mark of Castor's slap still red on his cheek, was that Castor had been drunk when Sejanus had congratulated him on his protectorship and had struck him across the face saying: "Yes, it's good to feel that I can do this now without fear of being hit back. And you can tell my father that I'll do the same to every other dirty spy of his." Livilla confirmed this the next day when she came to complain that Castor had beaten her; she said that he had beaten her because she told him how disgusted she was with him for striking a man who could not strike back and for insulting his father. Tiberius believed them. He said nothing to Castor but put up a bronze statue of Sejanus in Pompey's theatre, an extraordinary honour to be paid to any man in his lifetime. This was understood to mean that Castor was out of favour with Tiberius in spite of his protectorship [for Sejanus and Livilla had circulated their version of the quarrel] and that Sejanus was now the one person whose favour was worth courting. Many replicas of the statue were therefore made, which his partisans put in a place of honour in their halls on the right hand of Tiberius' statue: but the statues of Castor were rarely seen. Castor's face showed his resentment so clearly now whenever he met his father that Sejanus' task was made easy. He told Tiberius that Castor was sounding various senators as to their willingness to support him if he usurped the monarchy and that some of them had already promised their help. The ones who seemed most dangerous to Tiberius were therefore arrested on the familiar charge of blaspheming against Augustus. One man was condemned to death for having gone into a privy with a gold coin of Augustus' in his hand. Another was accused of having included a statue of Augustus in a list of furniture for sale in a country villa. He would have been condemned to death if the Consul who was judging the case had not asked Tiberius to give his vote first. Tiberius was ashamed to vote for the death-penalty, so the man was acquitted, but condemned soon after on another charge.

  Castor became alarmed and asked Livia for her help against Sejanus. Livia told him not to be afraid: she would soon bring Tiberius to his senses. But she had no confidence in Castor as an ally. She went to Tiberius and told him that Castor had accused Sejanus of debauching Livilla, of abusing his position of confidence by levying blackmail on rich men in Tiberius' name, and of aiming at the monarchy; that he had said that unless Tiberius dismissed the rascal soon he would take the matter into his own hands; and that he had then asked for her co-operation. By putting the case like this to Tiberius she hoped to make him as mistrustful of Sejanus as he was of Castor and thus to cause him to fall back into his old habit of dependence on her.

  For a time at least she succeeded. But then an accident suddenly convinced Tiberius that Sejanus was as loyally devoted as he pretended to be and as all his actions had hitherto shown him. They were picnicking together one day with three or four friends in a natural cave by the seashore, when there was a sudden rattle and roar and part of the roof fell in, killing some of the attendants and burying others, and blocking up the entrance. Sejanus crouched with arched back over Tiberius--they were both unhurt--to shield him from a further fall. When the soldiers dug them out an hour later he was found still in the same position.

  Thrasyllus, too, by the way, increased his reputation on this occasion: he had told Tiberius that there would be an hour of darkness about noon that day. Tiberius had Thrasyllus' assurance that he would outlive Sejanus by a great many years, and that Sejanus was not dangerous to him. I think that Sejanus had arranged this with Thrasyllus, but I have no proof: Thrasyllus was not altogether incorruptible but when he made prophecies to suit his clients' wishes they seemed to come off just as well as his ordinary ones. Tiberius did outlive Sejanus as it happens, by a number of years.

  Tiberius gave a further public sign that Castor was out of favour by censuring him in the Senate for a letter he had written. Castor had excused himself from attendi
ng the [277] sacrifice when the House opened after the summer recess, explaining that he was prevented by other public business from returning to the city in time. Tiberius said scornfully that anyone would think that the young fellow was on campaign in Germany or on a diplomatic visit to Armenia: when all the "public business" that kept him was boating and bathing at Terracina. He said that he himself, now in the decline of life, might be excused for an occasional absence from the City: he might plead that his energies had been exhausted by prolonged public service with the sword and the pen. But what except insolence could detain his son? This was most unjust: Castor had been commissioned to make a report on coastal defence during the recess and had not been able to collect all the evidence in time: rather than waste time by a journey to Rome and then back again to Terracina he was finishing his task.

  When Castor returned he almost immediately fell ill.

  The symptoms were those of rapid consumption. He lost colour and weight and began coughing blood. He wrote to his father and asked him to come and visit him in his room--he lived at the other end of the Palace--because he believed that he was dying, and to forgive him if he had in any way offended. Sejanus advised Tiberius against the visit: the illness might be real, but on the other hand it might easily be a trick for assassinating him. So Tiberius did not visit him and a few days later Castor died.

  There was not much sorrow at the death of Castor. The violence of his temper and his reputation for cruelty had made the City apprehensive of what would happen if he succeeded his father. Few believed in his recent reformation.

  Most people thought it had merely [A.D. 25] been a trick to win popular affection, and that he would have been just as bad as his father as soon as he found himself in his father's place. And now Germanicus' three sons were growing up--Drusus, too, had just come of age--and were unquestionably Tiberius' heirs. But the Senate, out of respect for Tiberius, mourned for Castor as noisily as it could and voted the same honours in his memory as it had voted Germanicus. Tiberius made no pretence of sorrow on this occasion but pronounced the panegyric he had prepared for Castor in a firm resonant voice. When he saw tears rolling down the faces of several senators he remarked in an audible aside to Sejanus at his elbow:

  "Faugh! The place smells of onions!" Gallus afterwards rose to compliment Tiberius on his mastery over his grief.

  He recalled that even the God Augustus, during his presence among them in mortal shape, had so far given way to his feelings at the death of Marcellus, his adopted son [not even his real son], that when he was thanking the House for its sympathy he had to break off in the middle, unable to go on for emotion. Whereas the speech they had just heard was a masterpiece of restraint. [I may mention here that when four or five months later depuities arrived from Troy to condole with Tiberius on the death of his only son, Tiberius thanked them: "And I condole with you, gentlemen, on the death of Hector."] Tiberius then sent for Nero and Drusus, and when they arrived at the House he took them by the hand and introduced them: "My Lords, three years ago I committed these fatherless children to their uncle, my dear son whom to-day we are all so bitterly mourning, desiring him to adopt them as his sons, though he already had sons of his own, and bring them up as worthy inheritors of the family tradition. [Hear, hearl from Gallus, and general applause.] But now that he has been snatched from us by cruel fate [groans and lamentations]

  I make the same request of you. In the presence of the Gods, in the face of your beloved Country, I beseech you, receive into your protection, take under your tuition, these noble great-grandchildren of Augustus, descended from ancestors whose names resound in Roman history: see that your duty and mine is honourably fulfilled towards them.

  Grandsons, these senators are now in the place of fathers to you, and your birth is such that whatever good or evil may befall you will spell the good or evil of the entire State." [Resounding applause, tears, benedictions, shouts of loyalty.]

  But instead of leaving off there he spoilt the whole effect by ending on a familiar note with his old stale phrases about presently retiring and restoring the Republic--when "the Consuls or someone else" would "take the burden of government off" his "aged shoulders". If he did not intend Nero and Drusus [or one or other of them] as his Imperial [279] successors, what did he mean by identifying their fortune so closely with that of the State?

  Castor's funeral was less impressive than Germanicus', being marked by very few genuine expressions of grief, but on the other hand far more magnificent.

  Every one of the family masks of the Caesars and Claudians was worn in the procession, beginning with those of ^Eneas, the founder of the Julian family, and Romulus, the founder of Rome, and ending with those of Gaius, Lucius and Germanicus. Julius Caesar's mask appeared because, like Romulus, he was only a demi-god, but Augustus' did not appear, because he was a major Deity.

  Sejanus and Livilla had now to consider how to achieve their ambition of becoming Emperor and Empress, Nero, Drusus and Caligula stood in the way and would have to be removed. Three seemed rather many to get rid of safely, but, as Livilla pointed out, her grandmother had apparently managed to get rid of Gaius, Lucius and Postumus when she wanted to put Tiberius into power. And Sejanus was clearly in a much better position than Livia had been for carrying their plans through. To show Livilla that he really intended to marry her, as he had promised, Sejanus divorced his wife Apicata, by whom he had three children.

  He charged her with adultery and said that she was about to become the mother of a child which was not his own.

  He did not publicly name her lover but told Tiberius in private that he suspected Nero. Nero, he said, was getting a bad reputation for his affairs with the wives of prominent men and seemed to think that, as heir-presumptive to the monarchy, he could behave how he liked. Livilla meanwhile did her best to detach Agrippina from Livia's protection, by warning Agrippina that Livia was only using her as a weapon in her conflict with Tiberius--which happened to be true--and by warning Livia, through one of her ladies-in-waiting, that Agrippina was only using her as a weapon in her conflict with Tiberius--which was also true. She made each believe that the other had sworn to kill her as soon as her usefulness ended.

  The twelve pontiffs now began to include Nero and Drusus in the customary prayers they offered for the health and prosperity of the Emperor, and the other priests followed their example. Tiberius as High Pontiff sent a letter of complaint to them, saying that they had made no difference between these boys and himself, a man who had honourably held most of the highest offices of State twenty years before they were bom, and all the rest since: it was not decent. He called them into his presence and there asked them whether Agrippina had merely coaxed them to make this addition to the prayer or whether she had frightened them into making it by using threats. They denied, of course, that she had done either, but he was not convinced; four of the twelve, including Gallus, were in some way connected with her by marriage and five others were on very friendly terms with her and her sons. He reprimanded them severely. In his next speech he warned the Senate to "award no further premature distinctions that might encourage the giddy minds of young men to indulge in presumptuous aspirations."

  Agrippina found an unexpected ally in Calpurnius Piso.

  He told her that he had defended his uncle Gnasus Piso merely out of regard for family honour and that he must not be thought of as her enemy; he would do all that he could to protect her and her children. But Calpurnius did not live long after this. He was charged in the Senate with "treasonable words spoken in private", and of keeping poison in his house, and of coming into the Senate armed with a dagger. These two last articles were so absurd that they were dropped, but a day was fixed for his trial on the "treasonable words" charge. He killed himself before the trial came off.

  Tiberius believed Sejanus' story that there was a secret party, called the Leek Green party, now being formed by Agrippina, the sign of which was an extravagant partisanship of the Leek Green faction in the chariot-races i
n the Circus. In these races there were four colours--scarlet, white, sea-blue and leek-green. The Leek Green faction happened to be most in favour at this time and the Scarlet the most unpopular. So now when Tiberius went to watch the races on public holidays, as he was bound to do in his official position--though he had not hitherto been at all interested in them and discouraged idle racing-talk at the Palace or at banquets to which he was invited--and began [281] for the first time to notice what sort of support the different colours were being given he was greatly disturbed to hear the Leek Green so cried up. He had been also told by Sejanus that Scarlet was the secret symbol used by Leek Greens when they wished to refer to his own supporters, and he noticed that whenever a Scarlet chariot won, which was seldom, it came in for loud groans and hisses. Sejanus was clever; he knew that Germanicus had always backed the Leek Green and that Agrippina, Nero and Drusus, for sentimental reasons, continued to favour the colour.

  There was a nobleman called Silius who had been for many years a corps-commander on the Rhine. I think I have mentioned him as the General of the four regiments in the Upper Province of Germany which did not take part in the great mutiny. He had been my brother's most capable lieutenant and had been granted triumphal ornaments for his successes against Hermann. Recently, at the head of the combined forces of the Upper and Lower Provinces he had put down a dangerous revolt of the French tribes in the neighbourhood of my birthplace, Lyons. He was not a modest man but not particularly boastful and if he had really said in public, as was reported, that but for his tactful handling of those four regiments in the mutiny they would have joined the other mutineers, and that therefore, but for him, Tiberius would not have had any Empire at all to rule over--well, that was not far from the truth. But naturally Tiberius did not like it, if only because the mutinous regiments were, as I explained, the ones with which he had himself had most to do. Silius' wife Sosia was Agrippina's best woman friend. It so happened that Silius at the great Roman Games, which were held early in September, was betting very heavily on the Leek Green. Sefanus shouted across to him: "I'll take you up to any amount. My money's on Scarlet." Silius shouted back:

 

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