A SATIRE IN PROSE AND VERSE
BY LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA
I MUST here put on record what took place in Heaven on the thirteenth day of October of this very year, the year that has ushered in so glorious a new age. No malice or favour whatsoever. That’s right, isn’t it? If anyone asks me how I get my information, well, in the first place if I don’t want to answer, I won’t answer. Who is going to compel me to do so? I am a free man, aren’t I? I was freed on the day that a well-known personage died, the man who made the proverb true, ‘Either be born an Emperor or an idiot’. If I do, however, choose to answer, I shall say the first thing that springs to my lips. Are historians ever compelled to produce witnesses in court to swear that they have told the truth? Still, if it were absolutely necessary for me to call on someone, I would call on the man who saw Drusilla’s soul on its way to Heaven; he will swear that he saw Claudius taking the same road, ‘with halting gait’ (as the poet says). That man simply cannot help observing everything that goes on in Heaven: he’s the custodian of the Appian Way, which of course is the road that both Augustus and Tiberius took on their way to join the Gods. If you ask him privately he will tell you the whole story, but he will say nothing when a lot of people are about. You see, ever since he swore before the Senate that he saw Drusilla going up to Heaven, and nobody believed the news, which was certainly a little too good to be true, he has solemnly engaged himself never again to bear witness to anything he has seen – not even if he sees a man murdered in the middle of the Market Place. But what he told me I now report, and all good luck to him.
Great Phoebus had drawn in his daily course,
And longer stretched the darksome hours of sleep.
The conquering Moon enlarged had her domain
And squalid Winter from rich Autumn now
Usurped the throne. To Bacchus the command
Was ‘Grow thou old!’ and the late vintager
Gathered the few last clusters of the grape.
You will probably understand me better if I say plainly that the month was October and the day the thirteenth. I cannot, however, be so precise about the hour – one can expect an agreement between philosophers sooner than between clocks – but it was between twelve noon and one o’clock in the afternoon. ‘You’re not much of a poet, Seneca,’ I can hear my readers say. ‘Your fellow-bards, not content with describing dawn and sunset, work themselves up about the middle of the day too. Why do you neglect so poetical an hour?’ Very well, then:
Phoebus had parted the wide heavens in twain
And somewhat wearily ’gan shake the reins,
Urging his chariot nightwards: down the slope
Of day the grand effulgence, waning, slid.
It was then that Claudius began to give up the ghost, but couldn’t bring the matter to a conclusion. So Mercury, who had always derived great pleasure from Claudius’s wit, took one of the three Fates aside and said: ‘I consider, Madam, that you are extremely cruel to allow the poor fellow to suffer so. Is he never to have any relief from torture? It’s sixty-four years now since he first started gasping to keep alive. Have you some grudge against him and against Rome? Please let the astrologers be right for once: ever since he became Emperor they have laid him out for burial regularly once a month. However, they can’t really be blamed for getting the hour of his death wrong, because nobody was ever quite sure whether he had really been born or not. Get on with the business, Clotho:
Slay him, and in’s stead let a worthier rule.’
Clotho replied: ‘I did so wish to give him just a little longer, just enough time to make Roman citizens of the few outsiders who still remain: he had set his heart, you know, on seeing the whole world dressed in the white gown – Greece, France, Spain, even Britain. Still, if you think that a few foreigners ought to be kept for breeding purposes, and you really order me to put an end to him, it shall be done.’ She opened her box and produced three spindles: one was for Augurinus, one for Baba, and the third for Claudius. ‘These are to die in the same year quite close to each other, because I don’t want him to go off unattended: it would be very wrong for him to be suddenly left alone, after always having had so many thousands marching before him and trailing behind him, and crowding up against him from either side. He will be grateful for these two friends of his as travelling companions.’
She spoke, and round the ugly spindle twined
The thread of that fool’s life, then snapped it close.
But Lachesis, her tresses neatly prinked
And on her brow Pierian laurel set,
Plucks from a fleece new threads as white as snow
Which, as she draws them through her happy hand,
Change hue. Her sisters at the marvel gaze.
Not common wool, this, but rich thread of gold,
That runs on, century by century,
Termless. They pluck the fleeces with good will,
Rejoicing in their task, so dear the wool:
Nay, the thread spins itself, no task for them,
And as the spindle turns, drops silken down,
Passing Tithonus’ lengthy count of years
(Aurora’s husband) and old Nestor’s count.
Phoebus attends, and from a hopeful breast
Chants as they work, and plucks upon his lyre
And otherwhiles himself assists the task.
Thus the Three Sisters hardly know they spin:
Too close intent on the sweet strains they hear,
And rapt with praise of their great brother’s song,
They spin more than the fated human span.
Yet Phoebus cries: ‘My Sisters, be it thus:
Cut no years short from this illustrious life,
For he whose life you spin, my counterpart,
Yields not to me either in face or grace
For beauty, nor for sweetness in his song.
He is it, who’ll restore the age of gold
And break the ban has silenced all the laws.
He is sweet Lucifer who puts to flight
The lesser stars; or Hesperus is he
Who swims up clear when back the stars return;
Nay, rather he’s the Sun himself, what time
The blushing Goddess of the Dawn leads in
The earliest light of day, dispersed the shades –
The Sun himself with shining countenance
Who pores upon the world, and from the gates
Of his dark prison whirls his chariot out.
A very Sun is NERO and all Rome
Shall look on NERO with bedazzled eyes,
His face a-shine with regal majesty
And lovelocks rippling on his shapely neck.’
Apollo had spoken. But Lachesis, who had an eye for a handsome man herself, went on spinning and spinning and bestowed a great many years more on NERO as her own personal gift.
As for Claudius, they tell everyone to
Be of good cheer, and from these halls
Speed him with not impious lips.
And he really did bubble up the ghost at last, and that was the end even of the old pretence that he was alive. (He passed away while listening to a performance given by some comedians, so now you know that I have good cause to be wary of the profession.) The last words that he was heard to utter in this world followed immediately upon a tremendous noise from the part of his body with which he always talked most readily. They were: ‘O good Heavens, I believe I’ve made a mess of myself!’ Whether this was actually so or not, I cannot say: but everyone agrees that he always made a mess of things.
It would be waste of time to relate what afterwards happened on earth. You all know very well what happened. Nobody forgets his own good luck, so there’s no fear of your ever forgetting the popular outburst of joy that followed the news of Claudius’s death. But let me tell you what happened in Heaven; and if you don’t believe me, there’s my informant to confirm it all. First, a message came to Jove that someone was at the gate, a tallish man, with white hair; he seemed to be uttering some threat or other because he kept on shaking his head; and when he walked he dragged his right foot. He had been asked his nationality and had answered in a confused nervous manner, and his language could not be identified. It was not Greek or Latin or any other known speech. Jove told Hercules, who had once travelled over the whole earth and so might be expected to know all nations in it, to go and find out where the stranger came from. Hercules went, and though he had never been daunted by all the monsters in the world, he really got quite a shock at the sight of this new sort of creature, with its curious mode of progression and its raucous inarticulate voice, which was like that of no known terrestrial animal but suggested some strange beast of the sea. Hercules thought that his Thirteenth Labour was upon him. However, he looked more closely and decided that it was some kind of a man. He went up to it and said what a Greek naturally would say:
Most honoured stranger, let me now demand
Thy name, thy lineage, thy paternal land.
Claudius was pleased to find himself among literary men. He hoped to find some niche in Heaven for his historical works. So he replied with another quotation, also from Homer, which conveyed the fact that he was Claudius Caesar:
The winds my vessel bore
From ravaged Troy to the Ciconian shore.
But the next verse was much truer and just as Homeric:
And boldly disembarking there and then,
I sacked a city, murdering all its men.
And he would have made Hercules, who is not particularly bright-witted, take this literally, if there had not been someone in attendance on Claudius – the Goddess Fever. She alone of the Gods and Goddesses of Rome had left her temple and come along with him. And what she said was: ‘The man’s lying. I can tell you everything about him, because I have lived with him for very many years now. He was born at Lyons, a fellow citizen of Marcus’s. Yes, a native Celt, born at the sixteenth milestone from Vienne: so of course he conquered Rome, as any good Celt would. I give you my honest word that he was born at Lyons – you know Lyons, surely? It’s the place where Licinus* was king for so long. Surely you know Lyons, you who have covered more miles in the course of your travels than any country carrier? And you must know, too, that it’s a long way from the Lycian Xanthus to the Rhône.’
This stung Claudius, and he registered his anger in the loudest roar he could command. Nobody could make out exactly what he was saying, but as a matter of fact he was ordering the Goddess Fever to be removed from his presence and making the customary sign with his trembling hand (always steady enough for that, though for practically nothing else) for her head to be cut off. But for all the attention that was paid to this order you might have thought that the people present were his own freedmen.
Hercules said: ‘Now listen to me, you, and stop making a fool of yourself. Do you know what sort of place this is? It’s where mice nibble holes in iron, that’s the sort of place it is. So let’s have your story straight, or I’ll spill some of that nonsense from a hole in the top of your head.’ To impress his personality on Claudius still more strongly, he struck a melodramatic attitude and began rolling out the following lines:
Quick, the whole truth! Where were you born and why?
Tell me at once, or with this club you die,
That’s cracked the skull of many a dusky king.
(What’s that? Speak up! I can’t make out a thing.)
Where did you get that wiggly-waggly head?
Is there a town where freaks like you are bred?
But stay, once in the course of my tenth quest
(I had to travel out to the far West
And bring back with me to a town of Greece
The oxen of three-bodied Geryones),
I noticed a large hill, which when he rises
The very first thing that the Sun God spies is.
I mean the place where headlong-tumbling Rhône
Is met by shallow, wandering Saône,
Most vague of streams – the town between these two,
Tell me, was it responsible for you?
His delivery was most bold and animated, but all the same he had little confidence in himself and feared the ‘fool’s blow’, as the saying is. However, Claudius, finding himself face to face with a big hero like Hercules, changed his tone, and began to realize that what he said here did not have anything like the same force as at Rome; that a cock, in fact, is worth most on its own dung-hill. So this is what he said, or at least what he was understood to say: ‘O Hercules, bravest of all the Gods, I had hoped you would stand by me; and when your fellow Gods called for someone to vouch for me, you were the person I was going to name. And you know me very well really, don’t you? Think for a moment. I’m the man who used to sit judging cases in front of your temple, day after day, even in July and August, the hottest months of the year. You know what a miserable time I had there, listening to the barristers talking on and on, all day and night. If you had fallen among that lot though you’re the strongest of the strong, I’m sure you’d have much preferred to clean out the Augean stables again. I reckon that I drained away far more sewage than you did. But since I want …’
[Some pages are missing here. A group of Gods all talking together are now addressing Hercules: he has forcibly introduced Claudius, whom he has consented to champion, into the Heavenly Senate.]
‘… You even burgled Hell once and went off with Cerberus on your back: so it’s not surprising that you managed to burst your way into this House. No lock could ever keep you out.’
‘– But just tell us, what sort of a God do you want this fellow to be made? He can’t be a God in the Epicurean style: for Diogenes Laertius says: “God is blessed and incorruptible and neither takes trouble nor causes trouble to anyone.” As for a Stoic God, that sort, according to Varro, is a perfectly rounded whole – in fact completely globular without either a head or sexual organs. He can’t be that sort.’
‘– Or can he? If you ask me, there is something of the Stoic God about him: he has no head, and no heart either.’
‘– Well, I swear that even if he had addressed this petition to Saturn instead of Jove he would never have been granted it – though when he was alive he kept Saturn’s All Fools’ Festival going all the year round, a truly Saturnalian Emperor.’
‘– And what sort of a chance do you think he has with Jove, whom he as good as condemned for incest? I mean, he killed his son-in-law Silanus just because Silanus had a sister, the most delightful girl in the world, whom everyone called Queen Venus, but he preferred to call Juno.’
Claudius said: ‘Yes, why did he do it? I want to know why. Really, now, his own sister!’
‘– Look it up in the book, stupid! Don’t you know that you may sleep with your half-sister at Athens, and that at Alexandria it can be a whole one?’
‘Well, at Rome,’ said Claudius, ‘mice are just mice. They lick meal. …’
‘– Is this drawing-master teaching us to improve our curves? Why, he doesn’t even know what goes on in his own bedroom.’
‘– And now he’s “conning the secret realms of sky” and wanting to be a God.’
‘– A God, eh? I suppose he isn’t satisfied with his temple in Britain where the savages worship him and humbly pray “Almighty Fool, have mercy upon us!”’
It occurred to Jove that senators were not allowed to debate while strangers were present in the House. ‘My Lords,’ he said, ‘I gave you permission to cross-examine this person, but by the noise you are making anyone would mistake this for the cheapest sort of knocking-shop. Please observe the rules of the House. I don’t know who this person is, but whatever will he think of us?’
So Claudius was taken out again and Father Janus was called upon to open the debate. He had been made Consul for the afternoon of July 1st next, and was a brilliant fellow, with a pair of eyes in the back of his head. He had a temple in the Market Place, so naturally he made a splendid speech: but it was too fast for the official recorder to take down, so I will not attempt to report it in full, not wishing to distort anything he said. At any rate, his theme was the Majesty of the Gods and that one ought not to cheapen Godhead by random distribution of the honour. ‘It was a great thing once to be a God,’ he said, ‘but now you’ve brought it down to the level of jumping-beans. I don’t want you to think that I am speaking against the deification of any one particular man; I am speaking quite generally; and to make this clear I move that, from now on, Godhead be conferred on none of those who, in Homer’s phrase,
eat the harvest of the field,
nor yet of those whom, again in a phrase of Homer’s,
nourishes the fruitful soil.
After my motion has been voted on and pronounced law, it should be made a criminal offence for any man to be made, displayed, or portrayed as a God, and any offender against the law should, I suggest, be handed over to the Hobgoblins and at the next Public Show be flogged with a birch among the new sword-fighters.’
The next to be called upon was Diespiter, the Underground God, son of Vica Pota, the God of Victory. He had been chosen for the Consulship and was a professional moneylender: he also used to sell citizenships in a quiet way. Hercules went up to him with a friendly smirk and whispered something in his ear, so he came out with the following speech: ‘The God Claudius is related to the God Augustus. The Goddess Augusta, whom he deified himself, is his grandmother; so, as he is by far the most learned man who has ever lived, and since as a matter of public policy someone ought to join the God Romulus in
eating boiled turnips with a will,
I propose that the God Claudius be regularly enrolled among the Olympians and enjoy the privileges and perquisites of Godhead in its fullest traditional sense, and that a note to that effect be inserted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’
The House was divided, and it looked as though Claudius would carry a majority of votes; because Hercules saw that he had a good chance now and went rushing about from one bench to another saying: ‘Now, please don’t oppose me. I am personally interested in this measure. If you vote my way now, I’ll do as much for you some other day. You know the proverb, “Hand washes hand.”’
Then the God Augustus arose, for it was now his turn, and spoke with the greatest eloquence. ‘I call on you, my Lords, to witness that ever since the day of my official deification I have not uttered a single word. I always mind my own business. But now I cannot keep up the pretence of impartiality any longer, or conceal the sorrow which shame makes deeper still. Was it for this that I made peace over land and sea, and put a truce to Civil War, and endowed Rome with a new constitution, and embellished her with stately public buildings, that … that … that … Words fail me, my Lords. Nothing that I might utter could possibly match the depth of my feelings in this matter. In my indignation I must borrow a phrase from the eloquent Messala Corvinus: he was elected City Warden and resigned after a few days, saying “I am ashamed of my authority”. I feel the same: when I see how the authority that I established has been abused I am ashamed of ever having exercised it. This fellow, my Lords, who looks as though he hadn’t guts, enough to worry a fly, sat in my place and called himself by my name and ordered men off to execution just as easily as a dog squats. But I won’t speak of all his victims, fine men though they were: I am so preoccupied with family disasters that really I have no time to waste over public ones. I’ll only speak about family disasters, then, because “a radish* may know no Greek, but I do”: I at least know one Greek proverb, “The knee is nearer than the shin.” This impostor, this pseudo-Augustus, has done me the kindness of killing two great-granddaughters of mine, Lesbia with the sword and Helen by starvation. And one great grandson, Lucius Silanus. (Here I expect you, my Lord Jove, to be fair in a bad cause, which after all is your own.) Now answer me, you God Claudius, why did you condemn so many men and women to death without first calling on them to defend themselves? What sort of justice is that? Is it the sort that is done in Heaven? Why, here’s Jove has been Emperor all these centuries and never did more than once break Vulcan’s leg:
Whom seizing by the foot, his anger high,
He flung over the threshold of the sky,
and once lose his temper with his wife and string her up. Did he ever actually kill a single member of his family? But you, you killed Messalina, your wife, whose grand-uncle I was as much as yours. (“Did I really?” you ask. A thousand plagues on you, of course you did! That makes it all the more disgraceful: you go about killing people and don’t even know it.) Yes, my Lords, and he went on persecuting my great-grandson Gaius Caligula even when he was dead. It’s true that Caligula killed his father-in-law, but Claudius, not content with following his example in that, killed a son-in-law too. And whereas Caligula would not allow young Pompey, Crassus Frugi’s son, to take the title ‘The Great’, Claudius gave him his name back, but took off his head. In that one noble family he killed Crassus Frugi, young Pompey, Scribonia, the Tristionias, and Assario: Crassus, I own, was such a fool that he might almost have been made Emperor instead of Claudius. Do you really want this creature made a real God? Look at his body, born under the wrath of Heaven; and when it comes to that, listen to his talk! Why, if he can say as many as three words on end without stuttering over them, he can have me for a slave! Who is going to worship a God of this sort? Will anyone believe in him? If you turn people like him into Gods, you can’t expect anyone to believe in you. In brief, my Lords, if I have earned your respect, if I have never given any mortal too definite an answer to his prayer, I count on you to avenge my wrongs. So my motion is’ – he read it out from his notes – ‘that insomuch as a certain God Claudius has killed his father-in-law Appius Silanus; his two sons-in-law, Pompey the Great and Lucius Silanus; his daughter’s father-in-law Crassus Frugi (a man who resembled him as closely as one egg resembles another); Scribonia, his daughter’s mother-in-law; his wife Messalina; with others too numerous to mention – I hereby move that he should be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law, that he should be refused bail, that he should be sentenced to immediate banishment, being allowed no more than thirty days to leave Heaven, and thirty hours to leave Olympus.’
A division was hurriedly taken and the motion carried. As soon as the result was known Mercury seized Claudius by the throat and dragged him off to Hell,
Whence none, ’tis said, returns to tell the tale.
As they came down along the Sacred Way, Mercury asked what all those crowds of people meant. Surely it wasn’t Claudius’s funeral? It was certainly a most marvellous procession and no expense had been spared to show that it was a God who was being buried. Flute music, blaring of horns, a great brass band made up of all sorts of instruments, such a terrific noise, in fact, that even Claudius was able to hear it. Every face was wreathed in smiles: the whole Roman populace was walking about like free men again. Only Agatho and a few amateur barristers were in tears, and for once really meant it. The professional lawyers were slowly crawling out of dark corners, pale and gaunt, hardly alive, but reviving with every breath they drew. One of them, when he saw Agatho’s group condoling with one another, came up to them and said, ‘I told you so. This All Fools’ Festival had to come to an end some day or other.’
When Claudius saw his funeral go by, he understood at last that he was dead. A great choir was chanting his dirge in antiphonal chorus:
Weep, O Roman, beat thy breast,
Mournful be thy Market Place,
We bear a wise man to his rest,
The bravest, too, of all thy race.
With swift foot he could outrun
Any courser in the land:
He could the rebel Parthian stun,
No Persian might his darts withstand.
With steady grasp he bent his bow:
Away they streamed in headlong packs.
Slight was the wound, yet the Medes show
In rout their ornamental backs.
He sailed across an unknown sea
And into Britain’s island strode:
He battered down the shields, did he,
Of the Brigantians, blue with woad.
He chained them with a Roman chain,
Then with the Roman rods and axe
He disciplined the Ocean main
And took its terror for a tax.
Mourn for the judge who could provide
Quick sentences to marvel at:
Who only listened to one side,
Who could dispense with even that.
Where shall another such be found,
To sit and judge the whole year through?
Minos the Cretan, underground,
Must now resign his bench to you.
You barristers, who have your price,
Weep, and all small poets, weep,
And weep, you rattlers of the dice
Whom cogging does in plenty keep.
Caudius was charmed by this panegyric and wanted to stay to see the show through to the end. But Mercury, the trusted messenger of the Gods, pulled him away, first muffling his head so that nobody should recognize him, and took him across Mars Field and finally down to Hell between the Tiber and the Subway. His freedman Narcissus had gone down ahead by a short cut, ready to receive him on his arrival, and now came smiling forward, fresh from a bath and exclaiming: ‘Gods! Gods come to visit us mortals! What may I have the honour …?’
‘Go and tell them that we’re here. And hurry up about it.’
At this order of Mercury’s Narcissus darted off. The road to Hell’s gate is all downhill and, as Virgil remarks somewhere, very easy going; so though Narcissus was suffering from gout it only took him a moment to arrive. Before the gate lay Cerberus or, as I think Horace calls him, ‘the five-score-pated beast’. Narcissus was no hero: he was used to a little white lapdog bitch, and when he saw this enormous shaggy black cur, not at all the sort of animal you would like to meet in a dark place like Hell, he was thoroughly scared. He gave his message, ‘Claudius is here,’ in a loud yell.
For answer there came a burst of cheering and out marched a troop of ghosts. They were chanting the well-known song:
He’s found, he’s found!
Let joy resound!
O clap your hands,
The lost is found!
The choir included Gaius Silius, Consul-Elect, Juncus the ex-magistrate, Sextus Traulus, Marcus Helvius, Trogus, Cotta, Vettius Valens, Fabius – Roman knights whom Narcissus had ordered for execution. Mnester the comedian was there, whose appearance Claudius had improved by the removal of his head. Hell was buzzing now with the news of Claudius’s arrival and everyone ran for Messalina. His freedmen, Polybius, Myron, Harpocras, Amphaeus, and Pheronactus were the first. Claudius had sent them all on ahead here, not wanting to be unescorted anywhere. Then came two Guards Commanders, Catonius Justus and Rufrius Pollio. Then his friends Saturninus Lusius, Pedo Pompey and the two Asinius brothers, Lupus and Celer. Finally came Lesbia, his brother’s daughter, and Helen, his sister’s daughter, and sons-in-law and fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law – the entire family in fact. They formed up and marched off in a body to meet Claudius. Claudius stared at them and exclaimed in surprise, ‘Why, what a lot of friends! How in the world did you all get here?’ Pedo answered: ‘How did we get here indeed, you bloodthirsty villain! How dare you ask us that? Who sent us here but you yourself, the man who kills all his friends? We’re going to prosecute you now, so come along. I’ll show you the way to the Criminal Courts.’
Pedo brought him into Aeacus’s court; Aeacus was the judge who tried murder cases under the Cornelian Law. Pedo requested him to take the prisoner’s name and then filled in the charge-sheet:
Senators murdered: 35.
Knights, Roman, murdered: 221.
Other persons: impossible to keep accurate records.
Claudius applied for counsel, but nobody volunteered to act for him. At last out stepped Publius Petronius, an old drinking friend who could talk the Claudian language quite well, and claimed a remand. Aeacus refused to grant it, so Pedo Pompey began his speech for the prosecution, shouting at the top of his voice. Counsel for the defence attempted to reply, but Aeacus, who is a most conscientious judge, ruled him out of order, and summed up on the case as presented by the prosecution. Then he pronounced:
As the rascal did, he must
Himself be done by. And that’s just.
An extraordinary silence followed. Everyone was amazed at the decision, which was considered to be entirely without precedent. Claudius himself, of course, could have quoted precedents, but thought it monstrously unjust nevertheless. Then there was a long argument about the sort of punishment he ought to be awarded. Some said that Sisyphus had been rolling his stone up that hill quite long enough now, and some said that Tantalus ought to be relieved before he died of thirst, and some again said that it was time for a drag to be put on the wheel on which Ixion was perpetually being broken. But Aeacus decided not to let off any of these old hands for fear Claudius might count on getting a similar respite himself some day. Instead, some new sort of punishment had to be instituted: they must think of some utterly senseless task conveying the general idea of a greedy ambition perpetually disappointed. Aeacus finally delivered the sentence, which was that Claudius should rattle dice for ever in a dice-cup with no bottom to it.
So the prisoner began working out his sentence at once, fumbling for the dice as they fell and never getting any further with the game.
Ay, for so often as he shook the cup
And ready sat to cast them on the board,
The dice would vanish through the hole beneath.
Then would he gather them again, and seek
To rattle them and cast them as before.
But still they cheated him, and cheated him,
Retiring through the bottom of the cup.
And when once more he stooped to pick them up
They slipped between his fingers and escaped,
And endlessly continued to escape –
As when his rock with labour infinite
Sisyphus rolls unto Hell’s mountain-peak
But down it comes, rebounding on his neck.
Suddenly who should come in but Gaius Caligula. ‘Why, that’s a slave of mine,’ said Caligula. ‘I claim him!’ He produced witnesses who testified that they had often seen him flogging Claudius with whips and birch-rods, and knocking him about with his fists. So the claim was allowed, and Claudius was handed over to his master. However, Caligula made a present of him to Aeacus, and Aeacus handed him over to his freedman Menander, who set him the task of keeping the court records.
[Trans. by R.G.]
Seneca was forced to commit suicide in A.D. 65 at Nero’s orders. He survived most of the other characters in this story. Britannicus was poisoned in A.D. 55. Pallas, Burrhus, Domitia, the surviving Silanuses, Octavia, Antonia, Faustus Sulla – all met violent deaths. Agrippinilla lost her hold on Nero after the first two years of his reign, but regained it for a while by allowing him to commit incest with her. He then tried to murder her by sending her to sea in a collapsible ship which broke in two at a considerable distance from the coast. She swam safely ashore. Finally he sent soldiers to kill her. She died courageously, ordering them to stab her in the belly which had once housed so monstrous a son. When in A.D. 68 Nero was declared a public enemy by the Senate and killed by a servant at his own request, no member of the Imperial family was left to succeed him. In A.D. 69, a year of anarchy and civil war, there were four successive Emperors: namely, Galba, Otho, Aulus Vitellius, and Vespasian. Vespasian ruled benevolently and founded the Flavian dynasty. The Republic was never restored.
THE ROYAL FAMILY OF THE HERODS