I claudius c 1, p.43

I, Claudius c-1, page 43

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series


I, Claudius c-1

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  I said: "Mother, have you no kindly word to give me even at a time like this? How did I ever intentionally wrong you or disobey you?"

  But she did not seem to hear. "I have been prettily punished,” she repeated.

  Then: "I wish you to come to my house in five hours' time. By that time I shall have completed my arrangements. I count on you to pay me the last rites. I don't want you to catch my dying breath. If I am not dead when you arrive wait in the ante-room until you get the word from my maid Briseis. Don't make a muddle of the valedictory: that would be just like you. You will find full instructions written out for the funeral. You are to be chief mourner. I want no funeral oration.

  Remember to cut off my hand for separate burial: because this will be a suicide. I want no perfumes on the pyre: it's often done but it's strictly against the law and I have always regarded it as a most wasteful practice. I am giving Pallas his freedom, so he'll wear the cap of liberty in the procession, don't forget. And just for once in your life try to carry one ceremony through without a mistake." That was all, except-a formal "Good-bye". No kiss, no tears, no blessing. As a dutiful son I carried out her last wishes, to the letter. It was odd her giving my own slave Pallas his freedom. She did the same with Briseis.

  Watching her pyre burning, from his dining-room window, a few days later, Caligula said to Macro: "You stood by me well against that old woman. I'm going to reward you. I'm going to give you the most honourable appointment in the whole Empire. It's an appointment which, as Augustus laid down as a principle of State, must never fall into the hands of an adventurer. I am going to make you Governor of Egypt." Macro was delighted: he did not quite know, these days, how he stood with Caligula and if he went to Egypt he would be safe. As Caligula had said, the appointment was an important one: the Governor of Egypt had the power of starving Rome by cutting off the corn-supply, and the garrison could be strengthened by local levies until it was big enough to hold the province against any invading army that could be brought against it.

  So Macro was relieved of his command of the Guards.

  Caligula appointed nobody in his place for a time, but let the nine colonels of battalions each command for a month in turn. He gave out that at the end of this time the most loyal and efficient of them would be given the appointment permanently. But the man to whom he secretly promised it was the colonel of the battalion which found the Palace Guard--none other than the same brave Cassius Chaerea whose name you cannot have forgotten if you have read this story with any attention--the man who killed the German in the amphitheatre, the man who led his company back from the massacre of Varus' army, and who afterwards saved the bridgehead; the man too who cut his way through the mutineers in the camp at Bonn and who carried Caligula on his back that early morning when Agrippina and her friends had to trudge on foot from the camp under his protection. Cassius was white-haired now, though not yet sixty years of age, and stooped a little, and his hands trembled because of a fever that had nearly killed him in Germany, but he was still a fine swordsman and reputedly the bravest man in Rome. One day an old soldier of the Guards went mad and ran amok with his spear in the courtyard of the Palace. He thought he was killing French rebels.

  Everyone fled but Cassius, who though unarmed stood his ground until the madman charged him, when he calmly gave the parade-ground order, "Company, halt! Ground arms!" and the crazy fellow, to whom obedience to orders had become second-nature, halted and laid his spear flat along the ground. "Company about turn," Cassius ordered again. "Quick march!" So he disarmed him. Cassius, then, was the first temporary commander of the Guards and kept them in order while Macro was being tried for his life.

  For Macro's appointment to the governorship of Egypt was only a trick of Caligula's, the same sort of trick that Tiberius had played on Sejanus. Macro was arrested as he went aboard his ship at Ostia and brought back to Rome in chains.

  He was accused of having brought about the deaths of Arruntius and several other innocent men and women.

  To this charge Caligula added another, namely that Macro had played the pander, trying to make him fall in love with his wife Ennia--a temptation to which in his youthful inexperience, he admitted, he had nearly succumbed, Macro and Ennia were both forced to kill themselves. I was surprised how easily he got rid of Macro.

  One day Caligula as High Pontiff went to solemnise a marriage between one of the Piso family and a woman called Orestilla. He took a fancy to Orestilla and when the ceremony was completed and most of the high nobility of Rome were gathered at the wedding feast, having great fun, as one does on these occasions, he suddenly called out to the bridegroom: "Hey, there. Sir, stop kissing that woman! She's my wife." He then rose and, in the hush of surprise that followed, ordered the guards to seize Orestilla and carry her off to the Palace.

  Nobody dared to protest. The next day he married Orestilla: her husband was forced to attend the ceremony and give her away. He sent a letter to the Senate to inform them that he had celebrated a marriage in the style of Romulus and Augustus--referring, I suppose, to Romulus' rape of the Sabine women and Augustus' marriage with my grandmother [when my grandfather was present].

  Within two months he had divorced Orestilla and banished her, and her former husband too, on the grounds that they had been committing adultery when his back was turned. She was sent to Spain and he to Rhodes. He was only allowed to take ten slaves with him: when he asked as a favour to be allowed double that number Caligula said: "As many as you like, but for every extra slave you take you’ll have to have an extra soldier to guard you."

  Drusilla died. I am certain in my own mind that Caligula killed her but I have no proof. Whenever he kissed a woman now, I am told, he used to say: "As white and lovely a neck as this is, I have only to give the word, and slash! It will be cut clean through." If the neck was particularly white and lovely he could sometimes not resist the temptation of giving the word and seeing his boast proved true. In the case of Drusilla I think that he struck the blow himself. At all events nobody was allowed to see her corpse. He gave out that she died of a consumption and gave her a most extraordinary rich funeral. She was deified under the name of Panthea and had temples built to her, and noblemen and noblewomen appointed her priests, and [373] a great annual festival instituted in her honour, more splendid than any other in the Calendar. A man earned ten thousand gold pieces for seeing her spirit being received into Heaven by Augustus. During the days of public mourning that Caligula ordered in her honour, it was a capital crime for any citizen to laugh, sing, shave, go to the baths, or even have dinner with his family.

  The law-courts were closed, no marriages were celebrated, no troops performed military exercises. Caligula had one man put to death for selling hot water in the streets, and another for exposing razors for sale. The resulting gloom was so profound and widespread that he could not himself bear it [or it may have been remorse], so one night he left the City and travelled down towards Syracuse, alone except for a guard of honour. He had no business there, but the journey was a distraction. He got no further then Messina, where Etna happened to be in slight eruption. The sight frightened him so much that he turned back at once. When he reached Rome again he soon set things going as usual, particularly sword-fighting, chariot-racing, and wild-beast hunting. He suddenly remembered that the men who had vowed their lives in exchange for his during his illness had not yet committed suicide; and made them do it, not only on general principles to keep them from the sin of perjury, but more particularly to prevent Death from going back on the bargain they had struck with him.

  A few days later at supper I happened to be laying down the law, rather drunkenly, about the inheritance of female beauty, and quoting examples of my contention that it usually missed a generation, going from the grandmother to the granddaughter. Unfortunately I wound up by saying, "The most beautiful woman in Rome when I was a boy has reappeared, feature for feature, and limb for limb, in the person of her granddaughter and namesake Lollia, the wife of the present Go
vernor of Greece. With the sole exception of a certain lady whom I will not name, because she is present in this room, Lollia is in my opinion the most beautiful woman alive to-day." I made this exception merely for tactfulness. Lollia was far and away more beautiful than my nieces, Agrippinilla or Lesbia, or than any other member of the company. I was not in love with her, I may say: I had merely noticed one day that she was perfect, and remembered having made exactly the same observation about her grandmother when I was a boy. Caligula grew interested and questioned me about Lollia; I did not realise that I had said too much, and said more.

  That evening Caligula wrote to Lollia's husband telling him to return to Rome and accept a signal honour. The signal honour turned out to be that of divorcing Lollia and marrying her to the Emperor.

  Another chance remark that I made at supper about this time had an unexpected effect on Caligula. Someone mentioned epilepsy and I said that Carthaginian records showed Hannibal to have been an epileptic, and that Alexander and Julius Casar were both subject to this mysterious disease, which seemed to be an almost inevitable accompaniment of superlative military genius.

  Caligula pricked up his ears at this, and a few days later he gave a very good imitation of an epileptic fit, falling on the floor in the Senate House and screaming at the top of his voice, his lips white with foam--soap-suds, probably.

  The people of Rome were still happy enough. Caligula continued giving them a good time with theatrical shows and sword-fights and wild-beasts hunts and chariot-races and largesse thrown from the Oration Platform or from the upper windows of the Palace. What marriages he contracted or dissolved, or what courtiers he murdered, they did not much care. He was never satisfied unless every seat in the theatre or Circus was occupied and all the gangways crowded; so whenever there was a performance he postponed all lawsuits and suspended all mourning to give nobody any excuse for not attending. He made several other innovations. He allowed people to bring cushions to sit on and in hot weather to wear straw hats, and to come barefooted--even senators, who were supposed to set an example of austerity.

  When I eventually managed to visit Capua for a few days, for the first time for nearly a year, almost the first thing Calpurnia asked me was: "How much is left in the Treasury, Claudius, of that twenty million?"

  "Less than five million, I believe. But he's been building pleasure-barges of cedar-wood and overlaying them with [37?] gold and studding them with jewels and putting baths and flower-gardens in them, and he's started work on sixty new temples and talks of cutting a canal across the isthmus of Corinth. He takes baths in spikenard and oil of violet. Two days ago he gave Eutychus, the Leek Green charioteer, a present of twenty thousand in gold for winning a close race."

  "Does Leek Green always win?"

  "Always. Or almost always. Scarlet happened to come in first the other day and the people gave it a big cheer. They were tiring of the monotony of Leek Green. The Emperor was furious. Next day the Scarlet charioteer and his winning team were all dead. Poisoned. The same sort of thing has happened before."

  "By this time next year things will be going badly with you, my poor Claudius. By the way, would you like to look at your accounts? It's been an unlucky year, as I wrote to you. Those valuable cattle dying, and the slaves stealing right and left, and the corn-ricks burned. You're the poorer by two thousand or more gold pieces. It's not the steward's fault, either. He does his best and at least he's honest. It's because you are not here to act as overseer that these things happen."

  "It can't be helped," I said. "To be frank, I am more anxious about my life than about my money these days."

  "Are you badly treated?"

  "Yes. They make a fool of me all the time. I don't like it. The Emperor is my chief tormentor."

  "What do they do to you?"

  "Oh, practical jokes. Booby traps with buckets of water suspended over doors. And frogs in my bed. Or nasty pathics smelling of myrrh: you know how I loathe frogs and pathics. If I happen to take a nap after my dinner they flip date-stones at me or tie shoes on my hands or ring the fire-bell in my ears. And I never get time to do any work.

  If I ever start they upset my inkpot all over it. And nothing that I say is ever treated seriously."

  "Are you the only butt they have?"

  "The favourite one. The official one."

  "Claudius, you're luckier than you realise. Guard your appointment jealously. Don't let anyone usurp it."

  "What do you mean, girl?"

  "I mean that people don't kill their butts. They are cruel to them, they frighten them, they rob them, but they don't kill them."

  I said: "Calpurnia, you are very clever. Listen to me now. I still have money. I shall buy you a beautiful silk dress and a gold cosmetic box and a marmoset and a parcel of cinnamon sticks."

  She smiled. "I should prefer the present in cash. How much were you going to spend?"

  "About seven hundred." "Good. It will come in handy one of these days.

  Thank you, kind Claudius."

  When I returned to Rome I heard that there had open trouble. Caligula had been disturbed one night by the distant noise of the people crowding to the amphitheatre just before dawn, and pushing and struggling to get near the gates, so that when these opened they could get into the front rows of the free seats.

  Caligula sent a company of Guards with truncheons to restore order. The Guards were ill-tempered at being pulled from their beds for this duty and struck out right and left, killing a number of people, including some quite substantial citizens. To show his displeasure at having had his sleep disturbed by the original commotion and by the far louder noise that the people made when they scattered screaming before the truncheon charge, Caligula did not appear in the amphitheatre until well on in the afternoon when everyone was worn out by waiting for him, and hungry too. When Leek Green won the first heat there was no applause and even a little hissing.

  Caligula leaped angrily from his seat: "I wish you had only a single neck.

  I'd hack it through!"

  The next day there was to be a sword-fight and a wildbeast hunt. Caligula cancelled all the arrangements that had been made and sent in the most wretched set of animals that he could buy up in the wholesale market--mangy lions and panthers and sick bears and old worn-out wild bulls, the sort that are sent to out-of-the-way garrison towns in the provinces where audiences are not particular and amateur huntsmen don't welcome animals of too good quality. The huntsmen whom Caligula substituted for the [377] performers advertised to appear were in keeping with the animals: fat, stiff-jointed, wheezy veterans. Some of them had perhaps been good men in their day--back in Augustus' golden age. The crowd jeered and booed them. This was what Caligula had been waiting for. He sent his officers to arrest the men who were making most noise and put them into the arena to see if they would do any better. The mangy lions and panthers and sick bears and worn-out bulls made short work of them.

  He was beginning to be unpopular. That the crowd always likes a holiday is a common saying, but when the whole year becomes one long holiday, and nobody has time for attending to his business, and pleasure becomes compulsory, then it is a different matter. Chariot races grew wearisome. It was all very well for Caligula, who had a personal interest in the teams and drivers and even used sometimes to drive a car himself. He was not a bad hand with the reins and whip and the competing charioteers took care not to win from him. Theatrical shows grew rather wearisome too. All theatre-pieces are much the same except to connoisseurs; or they are to me at all events. Caligula fancied himself a connoisseur and was also sentimentally attached to Apelles, the Philistine tragic actor, who wrote many of the pieces in which he played. One piece which Caligula admired particularly--because he had made suggestions which Apelles had incorporated in his part--was played over and over again until everyone hated the sight and sound of it. He had an even stronger liking for Mnester, the principal dancer of the mythological ballets then in fashion. He used to kiss Mnester in full view of the aud
ience whenever he had done anything particularly well. A knight began coughing once during a performance, couldn't stop, and at last had to leave.

  The noise he made by squeezing along past people's knees, and apologising and coughing and pushing his way through the crowded aisles to the exit disturbed Mnester, who stopped in the middle of one of his most exquisite dances to soft flute-music and waited for everyone to settle down again. Caligula was furious with the knight, had him brought before him and gave him a good beating with his own hands. Then he sent him off post-haste on a journey to Tangier, with a sealed message for the King of Morocco. [The King, a relative of mine--his mother was my Aunt Selene, Antony's daughter by Cleopatra--was greatly mystified by the message. It read: "Kindly send bearer back to Rome."] The other knights resented this incident very much: Mnester was only a freedman and gave himself airs like a triumphant general.

  Caligula took private lessons in elocution and dancing from Apelles and Mnester and after a time frequently appeared on the stage in their parts. After delivering a speech in some tragedy, he used sometimes to run and shout to Apelles in the wings: "That was perfect, wasn't it? You couldn't have done better yourself." And after a graceful hop, skip and jump or two in the ballet he would stop the orchestra, hold up his hand for absolute silence and then go through the movement again unaccompanied.

  As Tiberius had a pet dragon, so Caligula had a favourite stallion. This horse's original stable name was Porcellus [meaning "little pig"] but Caligula did not consider that grand enough and renamed him "Incitatus" which means "swift-speeding". Incitatus never lost a race and Caligula was so extravagantly fond of him that he made him first a citizen and then a senator and at last put him on the list of his nominees for the Consulship four years in advance.


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