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Chapter 3

MY mother and I were unaware of Herod’s return to Italy until one day a hurried note came from him, saying that he was coming to see us and adding darkly that he counted on our help to tide him over a great crisis of his fortunes. ‘If it’s money that he wants,’ I said to my mother, ‘the answer is that we have none.’ And indeed we did not have any money to throw away at this time, as I have explained in my previous book. But my mother said: ‘It is very base to talk in that strain, Claudius. You were always a boor. If Herod needs money because he is in difficulties we must certainly raise money in some way or other: I owe it to the memory of his dead mother Berenice. In spite of her outlandish religious habits Berenice was one of my best friends. And such a splendid household manager, too!’

My mother had not seen Herod for some seven years and had missed him greatly. But he had been a most dutiful correspondent, writing to her about each of his troubles in turn and in such an amusing way that they seemed the most delightful adventures that you would find anywhere in Greek story-books, instead of genuine troubles. Perhaps the gayest letter of all was the one that he wrote from Edom shortly after leaving Rome, telling how his sweet, dear, silly wife Cypros had discouraged him from his leap from the fortress battlements. ‘She was quite right,’ he concluded. ‘It was an excessively high tower.’ A recent letter, also written from Edom, was in the same strain; it was while he was waiting for the money from Acre. He told of his shame at having sunk so low morally as to steal a Persian merchant’s riding-camel. However, he wrote, shame had soon turned to a feeling of virtue for having done the owner so signal a service: the beast being apparently the permanent home of seven evil spirits, each worse than the last. The merchant must have been incomparably relieved to have awakened one morning and found his treasured possession really gone, saddle, bridle, and all. It had been a most terrifying journey through the Syrian desert, the camel doing its best to kill him at every dry water-course or narrow pass that they came to and even sneaking up at night to trample on his sleeping body. He wrote again from Alexandria to tell us that he had turned the beast loose in Edom, but that it had stalked him with a wicked look in its eye all the way down to the coast. ‘I swear to you, most noble and learned Lady Antonia, my earliest friend and my most generous benefactress, that it was terror of that horrible camel rather than fear of my creditors that made me give the Governor the slip at Anthedon. It would certainly have insisted on sharing my prison cell with me if I had yielded to arrest.’ There was a postscript: ‘My cousins of Edom were extraordinarily hospitable, but I must not allow you to carry away the impression that they were extravagant. They carry economy so far that they only put on clean linen on three occasions – when they marry, when they die, and when they raid a caravan which supplies them with clean linen free of charge. There is not a single fuller in the whole of Edom.’ Herod naturally put the most favourable construction possible on his quarrel, or misunderstanding as he called it, with Flaccus. He blamed himself for his thoughtlessness and praised Flaccus as a man with almost too high a sense of honour, if that were possible – certainly it was much too high for the people whom he governed to appreciate: they regarded him as an eccentric.

Herod now told us the parts of his story that he had omitted from his letters, concealing nothing, or practically nothing, for he knew that this was the best way to behave with my mother; and he especially delighted her – though of course she pretended to be dreadfully shocked – with his story of the kidnapping of the soldiers and his attempt to bluff the Alabarch. He also described his voyage from Alexandria in a dangerous storm when everyone but himself and the captain had, so he said, been prostrated by seasickness for five days and nights. The captain had spent all his time weeping and praying, leaving Herod to navigate the vessel single-handed.

Then he went on: ‘When at last, standing in the forecastle of our gallant ship, which had now stopped its rolling and pitching, and heedless of the thanks and praises of the now convalescent crew, I saw the Bay of Naples stretched shining before me, its shores gleaming with beautiful temples and villas, and mighty Vesuvius towering above, and reeking with wisps of cloud, like a domestic hearth – I confess I wept. I realized that I was coming home to my first and dearest homeland. I thought of all my beloved Roman friends from whom I had been so long parted, and especially of you, most learned and beautiful and noble Antonia – of you too, Claudius, naturally – how happy we would be to greet one another again. But first, it was clear, I had to establish myself decently. It would have been most unsuitable for me to have presented myself at your door like a beggar or poor client, asking for relief. As soon as we had landed and I had cashed the Alabarch’s draft, which was on a Naples bank, I wrote at once to the Emperor, at Capri, begging to be allowed the privilege of an audience. He granted it most graciously, saying that he was pleased to hear of my safe return, and we had a most encouraging talk together the next day. I am sorry to say that I felt bound to divert him – for he was in a rather morose humour at first – with some Asiatic stories that I certainly would not injure your modesty by repeating here. But you know how it is with the Emperor: he has an ingenious mind and is very catholic in his tastes. Well, when I had told him a particularly characteristic story in that style he said, “Herod, you’re a man after my own heart. I wish you to undertake an appointment of great responsibility – the tutoring of my only grandchild, Tiberius Gemellus, whom I have here with me. As an intimate friend of his dead father you will surely not refuse it, and I trust that the lad will take to you. He is, I am sorry to say, a sullen, melancholy little fellow and needs an open-hearted lively elder companion on whom to model himself.”

‘I stopped the night at Capri, and by morning the Emperor and I were better friends than ever – he had disregarded his doctors’ advice and drunk with me all night. I thought that my fortunes were restored at last, when suddenly the single horse-hair, by which the sword of Damocles had so long been suspended over my unlucky head, contrived to snap. A letter arrived for the Emperor from that idiot of a Governor at Anthedon reporting that he had served a warrant on me for non-payment of a twelve-thousand debt to the Privy Purse and that I had “eluded arrest by an artifice” and had escaped, kidnapping two of his garrison, who had not yet returned and had probably been murdered. I assured the Emperor that the soldiers were alive and that they had stowed away in my vessel without my knowledge and that no warrant had been served on me. Perhaps they had been sent to serve it, I said, but had decided to go for a holiday to Egypt. At all events we found them hiding in the cargo when we were half-way to Alexandria. I assured the Emperor that at Alexandria I had returned them at once to Anthedon for punishment.’

‘Herod Agrippa,’ said my mother severely, ‘that was a deliberate lie and I am most ashamed of you.’

‘Not so ashamed as I have been of myself since, dear Lady Antonia,’ said Herod. ‘How often have you told me that honesty is the best policy? But in the East everyone tells lies and one naturally discounts nine-tenths of what one hears, and expects one’s hearers to do the same. For the moment I had forgotten that I was back in a country where it is considered dishonourable to deviate a hair’s breadth from the strict truth.’

‘Did the Emperor believe you?’ I asked.

‘I hope so, with all my heart,’ said Herod. ‘He asked me, “But what about the debt?” I told him that it was a loan granted me in proper form and on good security by the Privy Purse, and that if a warrant had been issued for my arrest on that account it must have been that traitor Sejanus’s doing: I would speak to the Treasurer at once and settle the matter with him. But the Emperor said: “Herod, unless that debt is paid in full within a week you shall not be tutor to my grandson.” You know how strict he is about debts to the Privy Purse. I said in as casual a tone as I could command, that I would certainly pay it within three days. But my heart was like lead. And so I immediately wrote to you, my dear benefactress, thinking that perhaps …’

My mother said again, ‘It was very, very wrong of you, Herod, to tell the Emperor such lies.’

‘I know it, I know it,’ said Herod, feigning deep repentance. ‘If you had been in my position you would undoubtedly have told the truth: but I lacked the courage. And, as I say, these seven years in the East away from you have greatly blunted my moral sensibilities.’

‘Claudius,’ said my mother with sudden resolution, ‘how can we raise twelve thousand in a hurry? What about the letter you had from Aristobulus this morning?’

By a pretty coincidence I had had a letter from Aristobulus only that morning asking me to invest some money for him in landed property, which was going cheap at that time, because of the scarcity of coin. He had enclosed a banker’s draft for 10,000. My mother told Herod about it.

‘Aristobulus!’ cried Herod. ‘How in the world did he rake ten thousand together? The unprincipled fellow must have been making use of his influence with Flaccus to take bribes from the natives.’

‘I consider, in that case,’ said my mother, ‘that he behaved very shabbily towards you in reporting to my old friend Flaccus that the Damascenes were sending you a present for having pleaded their cause so well. I should have thought better of Aristobulus than that. And now perhaps it would only be justice if that ten thousand were used as a temporary – temporary, mind you, Herod – loan to help you on your feet again. There will be no difficulty about the remaining two thousand – will there, Claudius?’

‘You forget that Herod still has eight thousand from the Alabarch, Mother. Unless he has already spent it. He’ll be better off than we are if we entrust Aristobulus’s money to him.’

Herod was warned that he must repay the debt within three months without fail or I would be guilty of a breach of fiduciary trust. I did not like the business in the least, but I preferred it to mortgaging our house on the Palatine Hill to raise the money, which would have been the only other course. However, everything turned out unexpectedly well. Not only was Herod’s appointment as tutor to Gemellus confirmed, as soon as he had paid the Privy Purse the 12,000, but he also repaid me the whole amount of the Aristobulus loan two days before it was due and, besides that, a former debt of 5,000 which we had never expected to see again. For Herod, as Gemellus’s tutor, was thrown a great deal into the company of Caligula, whom Tiberius, now seventy-five years old, had adopted as his son and who was his heir-presumptive. Tiberius kept Caligula very short of money, and Herod, after gaining Caligula’s confidence by some fine banquets, handsome presents and the like, became his accredited agent for borrowing large sums, in the greatest secrecy, from rich men who wanted to stand in well with the new Emperor. For Tiberius was not expected to live much longer. When Caligula’s confidence in Herod was thus proved and a matter of common knowledge in financial circles, he found it easy to borrow money in his own name as well as in Caligula’s. His unpaid debts of seven years before had mostly settled themselves by the death of the creditors: for the ranks of the rich had been greatly thinned by Tiberius’s treason trials under Sejanus, and under Macro, Sejanus’s successor, the same destructive process continued. About the rest of his debts Herod was easy enough in his mind: nobody would dare to sue a man who stood so high in Court favour as himself. He paid me back with part of a loan of 40,000 gold pieces which he had negotiated with a freedman of Tiberius’s, a fellow who, as a slave, had been one of the warders of Caligula’s elder brother Drusus, when he was starved to death in the Palace cellars. Since his liberation he had become immensely rich by traffic in high-class slaves – he would buy sick slaves cheap and doctor them back to health in a hospital which he managed himself – and was afraid that Caligula when he became Emperor would take vengeance on him for his ill-treatment of Drusus; but Herod undertook to soften Caligula’s heart towards him.

So Herod’s star grew daily brighter, and he settled several matters in the East to his entire satisfaction. For instance, he wrote to friends in Edom and Judaea – and anyone to whom he now wrote as a friend was greatly flattered – and asked them whether they could provide him with any detailed evidence of maladministration against the Governor who had tried to arrest him at Anthedon. He collected quite an imposing amount of evidence in this way and had it embodied in a letter purporting to come from leading citizens of Anthedon; which he then sent to Capri. The Governor lost his appointment. Herod paid back his debt in Attic drachmae to the corn-factor at Acre, less twice the amount which had been unwarrantably deducted from the money sent to him in Edom; explaining that these 5,000 drachmae which he was retaining represented a sum which the corn-factor had borrowed from the Princess Cypros some years back and had never returned. As for Flaccus, Herod made no attempt to be revenged on him, for my mother’s sake; and Flaccus died shortly afterwards. Aristobulus he decided to forgive magnanimously, knowing that he must be feeling not only ashamed of himself but most vexed at his lack of foresight in antagonizing a brother now grown so powerful. Aristobulus could be made very useful, once he was properly chastened in spirit. Herod also revenged himself on Pontius Pilate, from whom the order for his arrest at Anthedon had originated, by encouraging some friends of his in Samaria to protest to the new Governor of Syria, my friend Vitellius, about Pilate’s rough handling of civil disturbances there and to charge him with bribe-taking. Pilate was ordered to Rome to answer these charges before Tiberius.

One fine spring day as Caligula and Herod were out riding together in an open coach in the country near Rome, Herod remarked gaily, ‘It is high time, surely, for the old warrior to be given his wooden foil.’ By the old warrior he meant Tiberius, and by the wooden foil he meant the honourable token of discharge that worn-out sword-fighters are given in the arena. He added, ‘And if you will pardon what may sound suspiciously like flattery, my dear fellow, but is my honest opinion, you will make a far finer showing at the game of games than he ever made.’

Caligula was delighted, but unfortunately Herod’s coachman overheard the remark, understood it, and stored it in his memory. The knowledge that he had power to ruin his master encouraged this turnip-witted fellow to attempt a number of impertinences towards him, which for a time, as it happened, passed unnoticed. But at last he took it into his head to steal some very fine embroidered carriage-rugs and sell them to another coachman whose master lived at some distance from Rome. He reported that they had been accidentally ruined by the leakings of a tar-barrel through the planks of the stable-loft, and Herod was content to believe him; but one day, happening to go for a pleasure-drive with the knight to whose coachman they had been sold, he found them tucked about his knees. And so the theft came out. But the knight’s coachman gave the thief timely warning and he ran away at once to avoid punishment. His original intention had been to face Herod, if he were found out, with the threat to reveal to the Emperor what he had overheard. But he lost courage when the appropriate moment came, suddenly realizing that Herod was quite capable of killing him if he tried blackmail and of producing witnesses that the blow had been struck in self-defence. The coachman was one of those people whose muddled minds get everyone into trouble, themselves most of all.

Herod knew the fellow’s probable haunts in Rome and, not realizing what was at stake, asked the City officers to arrest him. He was found and brought up in court on a charge of theft, but claimed the privilege as a freedman of appealing to the Emperor instead of being summarily sentenced. He added: ‘I have something to tell the Emperor which concerns his personal security. It is what I once heard when driving a coach on the road to Capua.’ The magistrate had no alternative but to send him under armed escort to Capri.

From what I have already told you about the character of my uncle Tiberius you will perhaps be able to guess what course he took when he read the magistrate’s report. Though he realized that the coachman must have overheard some treasonable remark of Herod’s, he did not yet wish to know precisely what it was: Herod obviously was not the sort of man to make any very dangerous statement in a coachman’s hearing. So he kept the coachman in prison, unexamined, and instructed young Gemellus, now about ten years old, to keep a sharp watch on his tutor and to report any word or action of his that seemed to have any treasonable significance. Herod meanwhile grew anxious at Tiberius’s delay in examining the coachman and talked the matter over with Caligula. They decided that nothing had been said by Herod, on the occasion to which the coachman was apparently referring, that could not be explained away. If Herod himself pressed for an investigation Tiberius would be the more likely to take his word that the ‘wooden foil’ was intended literally. For Herod would say that they had been discussing Yellow Legs, a famous sword-fighter who had since retired, and that he had merely been congratulating Caligula on his fencing abilities.

Herod then noticed that Gemellus was behaving in a most suspicious manner – eavesdropping and turning up at his apartments at curious times. It was clear that Tiberius had set him to work. So he went once more to my mother and explained the whole case, begging her to press for a trial of the coachman, on his behalf. The excuse was to be that he wished to see the man well punished for his theft and for his ingratitude, Herod having voluntarily given him his freedom from slavery only the year before. Nothing was to be said about the man’s intended revelations. My mother did as Herod asked. She wrote to Tiberius and, after the usual long delay, back came a letter. It is now in my possession, so that I can quote the very words. For once Tiberius went straight to the point.

‘If this coachman means to accuse Herod Agrippa falsely of some treasonable utterance or other in order to cover his own misdoings, he has suffered enough for that folly by his long confinement in my not very hospitable cells at Misenum. I was thinking of letting him go with a caution against appealing to me in future, when about to be sentenced in the lower courts for a trivial offence like theft. I am too old and too busy to be bothered with such frivolous appeals. But if you force me to investigate the case and it turns out that a treasonable utterance was in fact made, Herod will regret having brought the matter up; for his desire to see his coachman severely punished will have brought a very severe punishment upon himself.’

This letter made Herod all the more anxious to have the man tried, and in his own presence. Silas, who had come to Rome, dissuaded him from this, quoting the proverb: ‘Don’t tamper with Camarina’. (Near Camarina, in Sicily, was a pestilent marsh which the inhabitants drained for hygienic reasons. This exposed the city to attack: it was captured and destroyed.) But Herod would not listen to Silas; the old fellow had been growing very tiresome after five years of unbroken prosperity. Soon he heard that Tiberius, who was at Capri, had given orders for the big villa at Misenum, the one where he afterwards died, to be made ready to receive him. He immediately arranged to go down to that neighbourhood himself, with Gemellus, as a guest of Caligula, who had a villa close by at Bauli; and in the company of my mother, who was, you will recall, grandmother both to Caligula and to Gemellus. Bauli is quite close to Misenum on the north coast of the Bay of Naples, so nothing was more natural than for the whole party to go together to pay their respects to Tiberius on his arrival. Tiberius invited them all to dine on the following day. The prison where the coachman was languishing lay close by, so Herod persuaded my mother to ask Tiberius in everyone’s presence to settle the case that very afternoon. I had been invited to Bauli myself, but had declined, for neither my uncle Tiberius nor my mother was very patient of my company. But I have heard the whole story from several people who were present. It was a fine dinner and only spoilt by the great scarcity of wine. Tiberius was now following his doctors’ advice and abstaining altogether from drink, so as a matter of fact and caution nobody asked for his cup to be refilled after he had emptied it; and the waiters did not offer to do so, either. Going without wine always put Tiberius in a bad humour, but, nevertheless, my mother boldly brought up the subject of the coachman again. Tiberius interrupted her, as if unintentionally, by starting a new topic of conversation, and she made no further attempt until after dinner, when the whole party went out for a stroll under the trees surrounding the local racecourse. Tiberius did not walk: he was carried in a sedan, and my mother, who had become quite brisk in her old age, walked alongside. She said: ‘Tiberius, may I speak to you about that coachman? It is high time, surely, that his case was settled, and we should all feel much easier, I think, if you were good enough to settle it to-day, once and for all. The prison is just over there and it could be all got over in a very few minutes.’

‘Antonia,’ Tiberius said, ‘I have already given you the hint to leave well alone, but if you insist I shall do as you ask.’ Then he called up Herod, who was walking behind with Caligula and Gemellus, and said: ‘I am now about to examine your coachman, Herod Agrippa, at the insistence of my sister-in-law, the Lady Antonia, but I call the Gods to witness that what I am doing is not done by my own inclination but because I am forced to it.’

Herod thanked him profusely for his condescension. Then Tiberius called for Macro, who was also present, and ordered him to bring the coachman up for trial before him immediately.

It seems that Tiberius had enjoyed a few words in private with Gemellus on the previous evening. (Caligula, a year or two afterwards, forced Gemellus to give him an account of this interview.) Tiberius had asked Gemellus whether he had anything to report against his tutor, and Gemellus answered that he had overheard no disloyal words and witnessed no disloyal action; but that he saw very little of Herod these days – he was now always about with Caligula and left Gemellus to study books by himself instead of coaching him personally. Tiberius then questioned the boy about loans, whether Herod and Caligula had ever discussed loans in his presence. Gemellus considered for awhile and then answered that on one occasion Caligula had asked Herod about a P.O.T. loan and Herod had answered, ‘I’ll tell you about it afterwards: for little pitchers have long ears.’ Tiberius immediately guessed what P.O.T. meant. It surely meant a loan negotiated by Herod on Caligula’s behalf which would be repayable post obitum Tiberii – that is, after the death of Tiberius. So Tiberius dismissed Gemellus and told him that a P.O.T. loan was a matter of no significance and that he now had the fullest confidence in Herod. But he immediately sent a confidential freedman to the prison, who ordered the coachman, in the Emperor’s name, to disclose what remark of Herod’s he had overheard. The coachman repeated Herod’s exact words and the freedman took them back to Tiberius. Tiberius considered awhile and then sent the freedman back to the prison with instructions as to what the coachman must say when brought up for trial. The freedman made him memorize the exact words and repeat them after him, and then gave him to understand that if he spoke them properly he would be set at liberty and given a money reward.

So there on the race-track itself the trial took place. The coachman was asked by Tiberius whether he pleaded guilty to stealing the carriage rugs. He answered that he was not guilty, since Herod had given them to him as a present but afterwards repented of his generosity. At this point Herod tried to interrupt the evidence by exclamations of disgust at his ingratitude and mendacity, but Tiberius begged him to be silent and asked the coachman: ‘What else have you to say in your defence?’

The coachman replied: ‘And even if I had stolen those rugs, as I did not, it would have been an excusable act. For my master is a traitor. One afternoon shortly before my arrest I was driving a coach in the direction of Capua with your grandson, the Prince, and my master, Herod Agrippa, seated behind me. My master said: “If only the day would come when the old warrior finally dies and you find yourself named as his successor in the monarchy! For then young Gemellus won’t be any hindrance to you. It will be easy enough to get rid of him, and soon everyone will be happy, myself most of all.” ’

Herod was so taken aback by this evidence that for the moment he could not think what to say, except that it was perfectly untrue. Tiberius questioned Caligula, and Caligula, who was a great coward, looked anxiously at Herod for guidance, but got none, so said in a great hurry that if Herod had made any such remark he had not heard it. He remembered the ride in the coach and it had been a very windy day. If he had heard any such treasonable words he certainly would not have let them pass but would have reported them immediately to his Emperor. Caligula was most treacherous towards his friends, if his own life was in danger, and always hung on the lightest word of Tiberius: so much so that it was said of him that never was a better slave to a worse master. But Herod spoke up boldly: ‘If your son, who was sitting next to me, didn’t hear the treasons that I am alleged to have uttered – and nobody has quicker ears than he for hearing treasons against you – then surely the coachman could not have heard them, sitting as he was with his back to me.’

But Tiberius had already made up his mind. He said shortly to Macro, ‘Put that man in handcuffs,’ and then to his sedan-men, ‘Proceed.’ They stepped off, leaving Herod, Antonia, Macro, Caligula, Gemellus, and the rest staring at each other in doubt and astonishment. Macro could not make out who it was whom he was supposed to handcuff, so when Tiberius, having been carried all the way round the race-track, returned to the scene of the trial, where the whole company was still standing just as he had left them, Macro asked him, ‘Pardon me, Caesar, but which of these men am I to arrest?’ Tiberius pointed to Herod and said, ‘That’s the man I mean.’ But Macro, who had great respect for Herod and hoped perhaps to break down Tiberius’s resolution by pretending to misunderstand him, once more asked, ‘You surely cannot mean Herod Agrippa, Caesar?’ ‘I mean no one else,’ growled Tiberius. Herod ran forward and all but prostrated himself before Tiberius. He did not dare to do it quite, because he knew Tiberius’s dislike of being treated like an Oriental monarch. But he stretched out his arms in a pitiful way and protested himself Tiberius’s most loyal servant and absolutely incapable of so much as admitting the least treasonable thought to cross his mind, let alone uttering it. He began to talk eloquently of his friendship with Tiberius’s dead son (a victim, like himself, of unfounded charges of treason), whose irreparable loss he had never ceased to mourn, and of the extraordinary honour that Tiberius had done him in appointing him tutor to his grandchild. But Tiberius looked at him in that cold, crooked way of his and sneered, ‘You can make that speech in your defence, my noble Socrates, when I fix the date of your trial.’ Then he told Macro, ‘Take him away to the prison yonder. He can use the chain discarded by this honest coachman-fellow.’

Herod did not utter another word except to thank my mother for her generous but unavailing efforts on his behalf. He was marched off to the prison, with his wrists handcuffed behind him. It was a place where misguided Roman citizens who had appealed to Tiberius from sentences in lower courts were confined – in cramped and unhealthy quarters, with poor food and no bedding – until Tiberius should have time to settle their cases. Some of them had been there many years.

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