I claudius c 1, p.38

I, Claudius c-1, page 38

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series


I, Claudius c-1

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode

  When you're the Queen of Heaven and he's being slowly broken on an eternal wheel by Minos' men in Hell..."

  "And to think that I ever called you a fool," she said.

  "I'm going now, Claudius. Close my eyes and put the coin in my mouth that you'll find under the pillow. The Ferryman will recognise it. He'll pay proper respect...."

  Then she died and I closed her eyes and put the coin in her mouth. It was a gold coin of a type I had never seen before, with Augustus' head and her own facing each other, on the obverse, and a triumphant chariot on the reverse.

  Nothing had been said between us about Tiberius. I soon heard that he had been warned about her condition in plenty of time to pay her the last offices. He now wrote to the Senate excusing himself for not having visited her but saying he had been exceedingly busy and would at all events come to Rome for the funeral.

  Meanwhile the Senate had decreed various extraordinary honours in her memory, including the title Mother of the Country, and had even proposed to make her a demi-goddess. But Tiberius reversed nearly all of these decrees, explaining in a letter that Livia was a singularly modest woman, averse to all public recognition of her services, and with a peculiar sentiment against having any religious worship paid to her after death. The letter ended with reflections on the unsuitability of women's meddling in politics "for which they are not fitted, and which rouse in them all those worst feelings of arrogance and petulance to which the female sex is naturally prone".

  He did not of course come to the City for the funeral though, solely with the object of limiting its magnificence, he made all arrangements for it. And he took so long over them that the corpse, old and withered as it was, had reached an advanced stage of putrefaction before it was put on the pyre. To the general surprise, Caligula spoke the funeral oration, which Tiberius himself should have done, and if not Tiberius, then Nero, as his heir. The Senate had decreed an arch in Livia's memory--the first time in the history of Rome that a woman had been so honoured. Tiberius [^7] allowed this decree to stand but promised to build the arch at his own expense: and then neglected to build it. As for Livia's will, he inherited the greater part of her fortune as her natural heir, but she had left as much of it as she was legally permitted to members of her own household and other trusted dependents. He did not pay anybody a single one of her bequests. I was to have benefited to the extent of twenty thousand gold pieces.


  I COULD NEVER HAVE THOUGHT IT POSSIBLE THAT I WOULD miss Livia when she died. When I was a child I used secretly, night after night, to pray to the Infernal Gods to carry her off. And now I would have offered the richest sacrifices I could find--unblemished white bulls and desert antelopes and ibises and flamingoes by the dozen--to have had her back again. For it was clear that it had long been only the fear of his mother that had kept Tiberius within bounds. A few days after her death he struck at Agrippina and Nero. Agrippina had by now recovered from her illness. He did not charge them with treason. He wrote to the Senate complaining of Nero's gross sexual depravity and of Agrippina's "haughty bearing and mischief-making tongue", and suggested that severe steps should be taken for keeping both of them in order.

  When the letter was read in the Senate nobody said a word for a long time.

  Everyone was wondering on just how much popular support Germanicus' family could count now that Tiberius was preparing to victimise them; and whether it would not be safer to go against Tiberius than against the populace. At last a friend of Sejanus' rose to suggest that the Emperor's wishes should be respected and that some decree or other should be passed against the two persons mentioned. There was a senator who acted as official recorder of the Senate's transactions, and what he said carried great weight. He had hitherto voted without question whatever had been suggested in any letter of Tiberius', and Sejanus had reported that he could always be counted upon to do what he was told. Yet it was this Recorder who rose to oppose the motion. He said that the question of Nero's morals and Agrippina's bearing should not be raised at present. It was his opinion that the Emperor had been misinformed and had written hastily, and that in his own interest therefore, as well as that of Nero and Agrippina, no decree should be passed until he had been allowed time to reconsider such grave charges against his near relatives. The news of the letter had meanwhile spread all over the City, though all transactions in the Senate were supposed to be secret until officially published by the Emperor's orders, and huge crowds gathered around the Senate House making demonstrations in favour of Agrippina and Nero, and crying out, "Long Live Tiberius. The letter is forged! Long Live Tiberius! It's Sejanus' doing."

  Sejanus sent a messenger at great speed to Tiberius, who had moved for the occasion to a villa only a few miles outside the City, in case of trouble. He reported that the Senate had, on the motion of the Recorder, refused to pay any attention to the letter; that the people were on the point of revolt, calling Agrippina the true Mother of the Country and Nero their Saviour; and that unless Tiberius acted firmly and decisively there would be bloodshed before the day was out.

  Tiberius was frightened but he took Sejanus' advice and wrote a menacing letter to the Senate, putting the blame on the Recorder for his unparalleled insult to the Imperial dignity, and demanding that the whole affair should be left entirely to him to settle since they were so half-hearted in his interests. The Senate gave way.

  Tiberius, after having the Guards marched through the City with swords drawn and trumpets blowing, threatened to halve the free ration of corn if any further seditious demonstrations were made.

  He then banished Agrippina to Pandataria, the very island where her mother Julia had been first confined, and Nero to Fonza, another tiny rocky island, halfway between Capri [329] and Rome but far out of sight of the coast. He told the Senate that the two prisoners had been on the point of escaping from the City in the hope of seducing the loyalty of the regiments on the Rhine.

  Before Agrippina went to her island he had her before him and asked her mocking questions about how she proposed to govern the mighty kingdom which she had just inherited from her mother [his virtuous late wife], and whether she would send ambassadors to her son, Nero, in his new kingdom, and enter into a grand military alliance with him. She did not answer a word. He grew angry and roared at her to answer, and when she still kept silent he told a captain of the guard to strike her over the shoulders.

  Then at last she spoke. "Blood-soaked Mud is your name. That's what Theodoras the Gadarene called you, I'm told, when you attended his rhetoric classes at Rhodes." Tiberius seized the vine branch from the captain and thrashed her about the body and head until she was insensible. She lost the sight of an eye as a result of this dreadful beating.

  Soon Drusus too was accused of intriguing with the Rhine regiments.

  Sejanus produced letters in proof, which he said that he had intercepted, but which were really forged, and also the written testimony of Lepida, Drusus' wife [with whom he had a secret affair], that Drusus had asked her to get in touch with the sailors of Ostia, who, he hoped, would remember that Nero and he were Agrippa's grandsons. Drusus was handed over by the Senate to Tiberius to deal with and Tiberius had him confined to a remote attic of the Palace under Sejanus'


  Gallus was the next victim. Tiberius wrote to the Senate that Gallus was jealous of Sejanus and had done all that he could to bring him into disfavour with his Emperor by ironical praises and other malicious methods. The Senate were so upset by the news of the suicide of the Recorder, which reached them the same day, that they immediately sent a magistrate to arrest Gallus. When the magistrate went to Gallus' house he was told that Gallus was out of the City, at Baiaa. At Baiaa he was directed to Tiberius' villa and, sure enough, he came on him there at dinner with Tiberius. Tiberius was pledging Gallus in a cup of wine and Gallus was responding loyally, and there seemed such an air of good humour and jollity in the dining-hall that the magistrate was embarrassed and did not know what to say. Tiber
ius asked him why he had come. "To arrest one of your guests, Caesar, by order of the Senate."

  "Which guest?" asked Tiberius. "Asinius Gallus," replied the magistrate,

  "but it seems to be a mistake." Tiberius pretended to look grave; "If the Senate have anything against you, Gallus, and have sent this officer to arrest you, I'm afraid our pleasant evening must come to an end. I can't go against the Senate, you know. But I'll tell you what I'll do, now that you and I have come to such a friendly understanding: I'll write to ask the Senate, as a personal favour, not to take any action in your case until they hear from me. That will nwan that you will be under simple arrest, in the charge of the Consuls--no fetters or anything degrading.

  I'll arrange to secure your acquittal as soon as I can."

  Gallus felt bound to thank Tiberius for his magnanimity, but was sure that there was a catch somewhere, that Tiberius was paying back irony with irony; and he was right.

  He was taken to Rome and put in an underground room in the Senate House. He was not allowed to see anyone, not even a servant, or send any messages to his friends or family. Food was given him every day through a grille.

  The room was dark except for the poor light coming through the grille and unfurnished except for a mattress. He was told that these quarters were only temporary ones and that Tiberius would soon come to settle his case. But the days drew on into months, and months into years, and still he stayed there. The food was very poor--carefully calculated by Tiberius to keep him always hungry but never actually starving. He was allowed no knife to cut it up with, for fear he might use it to kill himself, or any other sharp weapon, or anything to distract himself with, such as writing materials or books or dice. He was given very little water to drink, none to wash in. If ever there was talk about him in Tiberius'

  presence the old man would say, grinning: "I have not yet made my peace with Gallus."

  When I heard of Gallus' arrest I was sorry that I had just quarrelled with him. It was only a literary quarrel. He had written a silly book called: A Comparison between my Father, Asinius Pollio and his Friend Marcus TvUius

  [331] Cicero, as Orators. If the ground of the comparison had been moral character or political ability or even learning, Pollio would have easily come off the best.

  But Gallus was trying to make out that his father was the more polished orator.

  That was absurd, and I wrote a little book to say so; which, coming shortly after my criticism of Pollio's own remarks about Cicero, greatly annoyed Gallus. I would willingly have recalled my book from publication if by doing so I could have lightened Gallus' miserable prison life in the least degree. It was foolish of me, I suppose, to think in this way.

  Sejanus was at last able to report to Tiberius that the power of the Leek Green Party was broken and that he need have no further anxieties. Tiberius rewarded him by saying that he had decided to marry him to his granddaughter Helen [whose marriage with Nero he had dissolved] and hinting at even greater favours. It was at this point that my mother who, you must remember, was Livilla's mother too, interposed. Since Castor's death Livilla had been living with her, and was now careless enough to let her find out about a secret correspondence which she was carrying on with Sejanus. My mother had always been very economical, and in her old age her chief delight was saving candle-ends and melting them down into candles again, and selling the kitchen refuse to pig-keepers, and mixing charcoal-dust with some liquid or other and kneading it into cake which, when dried, burned almost as well as charcoal, Livilla, on the other hand, was very extravagant and my mother was always scolding her for it.

  One day my mother happened to pass Livilla's room and saw a slave coming out of it with a basket of wastepaper.

  "Where are you going, boy?" she asked.

  "To the furnace. Mistress; the Lady Livilla's orders."

  My mother said: "It's most wasteful to stoke the furnace with perfectly good pieces of paper; do you know what paper costs? Why, three times as much as parchment, even.

  Some of these pieces seem hardly written on at all."



  Livilla ordered most particularly..."

  "The Lady Livilla must have been very preoccupied when she ordered you to destroy valuable paper. Give me the basket. The clean parts will be useful for household lists, and all sorts of things. Waste not, want not."

  So she took the papers to her room and was 'about to clip the good pieces off one of them when it struck her that she might as well try to remove the ink from the whole thing. Until now she had honourably refrained from reading the writing; but when she began rubbing away at it, it was impossible to avoid doing so. She suddenly realised that these were rough draughts, or unsatisfactory beginnings, of a letter to Sejanus; and once she began reading she could not stop, and before she had done she knew the whole story.

  Livilla was clearly angry and jealous that Sejanus had consented to marry someone else--her own daughter too! But she was trying to conceal her feelings--each draught of the letter was toned down a little more. She wrote that he must act quickly before Tiberius suspected that he really had no intention of marrying Helen: and if he was not yet ready to assassinate Tiberius and usurp the monarchy had she not better poison Helen herself?

  My mother sent for Pallas, who was working for me at the Library, looking up some historical point about the Etruscans, and told him to go to Sejanus and, in my name and as if sent by me, ask his permission to see Tiberius at Capri, in order to present him with my "History of Carthage". [I had just finished this work and sent a fair copy to my mother before having it published.] At Capri he was to beg the Emperor, in my name again, to accept the dedication of the work. Sejanus gave permission readily; he knew Pallas as one of our family slaves and suspected nothing. But in the twelfth volume of the history my mother had pasted Livilla's letters and a letter of her own in explanation, and told Pallas not to let anybody handle the volumes [which were all sealed up] but to give them to Tiberius with his own hands. He was to add to my supposed greetings and my request for permission to dedicate the book the following message: "The Lady Antonia, too, sends her devoted greetings, but is of opinion that these books by her son are of no interest at all to the Emperor, except the twelfth volume which contains a very curious digression which will, she trusts, immediately interest him."

  Pallas stopped at Capua to tell me where he was going.

  He said that it was strictly against my mother's orders that he was telling me about his errand, but that after all I was his real master, not my mother, though she pretended to own him; and that he would do nothing willingly to get me into trouble; and that he was sure that I had no intention myself of offering the Emperor the dedication.

  I was mystified, at first, especially when he mentioned the twelfth volume, so while he was washing and changing his clothes I broke the seal. When I saw what had been inserted I was so frightened that for the moment I thought of burning the whole thing. But that was as dangerous as letting it go, so eventually I sealed it up again. My mother had used a duplicate seal of my own, which I had given her for business uses, so nobody would know that I had opened the book, not even Pallas. Pallas then hurried on to Capri and on his way told me that Tiberius had picked up the twelfth volume and taken it out into the woods to look at. I might dedicate the book to him if I wished, he had said, but I must abstain from extravagant phrases in doing so.

  This reassured me somewhat, but one could never trust Tiberius when he seemed friendly. Naturally I was in the deepest anxiety as to what would happen and felt very bitter against my mother for having put my life into such terrible danger by mixing me up in a quarrel between Tiberius and Sejanus. I thought of running away, but there was nowhere to run to.

  The first thing that happened was that Helen became an invalid--we know now that there was nothing wrong with her, but Livilla had given her the choice of taking to her bed as if she were ill or of taking to her bed because she was ill. She was moved from Rome to Naples
, where the climate was supposed to be healthier.

  Tiberius gave leave for the marriage to be postponed indefinitely, but addressed Sejanus as his son-in-law as if it had already taken place. He elevated him to senatorial [A.D. 31] rank and made him his colleague in the Consulship and a pontiff. But he then did something else which quite cancelled these favours: he invited Caligula to Capri for a few days and then sent him back armed with a most important letter to the Senate. In the letter he said I, CLAUDXUS [334] that he had examined the young man, who was now his heir, and found him of a very different temper and character from his brothers and would, indeed, refuse to believe any accusations that might be brought against his morals or loyalty. He now entrusted Caligula to the care of Alius Sejanus, his fellow-Consul, begging him to guard the young man from all harm. He appointed him a pontiff too, and a priest to Augustus.

  When the City heard about this letter there was great rejoicing. By making Sejanus responsible for Caligula's safety Tiberius was understood to be warning him that his feud with Germanicus' family had now been carried far enough.

  Sejanus' Consulship was regarded as a bad omen for him: this was Tiberius' fifth time in office and every one of his previous colleagues had died in unlucky circumstances: Varus, Gnaeus Piso, Germanicus, Castor. So new hope arose that the nation's troubles would soon be over: a son of Germanicus would rule over them. Tiberius might perhaps kill Nero and Drusus but he had clearly decided to save Caligula: Sejanus would not be the next Emperor.



  Tiberius now sounded on the subject seemed so genuinely relieved at his choice of a successor--for somehow they had persuaded themselves that Caligula had inherited all his father's virtues--that Tiberius, who recognised real evil whenever he saw it and had told Caligula frankly that he knew he was a poisonous snake and had spared him for that very reason, was much amused, and thoroughly pleased. He could use Caligula's rising popularity as a check to Sejanus and Livilla.


Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up