|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|Cowardice and Death of Nero|
|By Suetonius (c. 69c. 122 A.D.)|
From the Lives of the Twelve Cæsars: Translation of Thomson and Forester
|ON the arrival of the news that the rest of the armies had declared against him, he tore to pieces the letters which were delivered to him at dinner, overthrew the table, and dashed with violence against the ground two favorite cups, which he called Homers because some of that poets verses were cut upon them. Then taking from Locusta a dose of poison, which he put up in a golden box, he went into the Servilian gardens: and thence dispatching a trusty freedman to Ostia, with orders to make ready a fleet, he endeavored to prevail with some tribunes and centurions of the prætorian guards to attend him in his flight; but part of them showing no great inclination to comply, others absolutely refusing, and one of them crying out aloud,|
he was in great perplexity whether he should submit himself to Galba, or apply to the Parthians for protection, or else appear before the people dressed in mourning, and upon the rostra, in the most piteous manner, beg pardon for his past misdemeanors, and if he could not prevail, request of them to grant him at least the government of Egypt. A speech to this purpose was afterwards found in his writing-case. But it is conjectured that he durst not venture upon this project, for fear of being torn to pieces before he could get to the forum. Deferring therefore his resolution until the next day, he awoke about midnight, and finding the guards withdrawn, he leaped out of bed, and sent round for his friends. But none of them vouchsafing any message in reply, he went with a few attendants to their houses. The doors being everywhere shut, and no one giving him any answer, he returned to his bed-chamber, whence those who had the charge of it had all now eloped; some having gone one way and some another, carrying off with them his bedding and box of poison. He then endeavored to find Spicillus the gladiator, or some one, to kill him; but not being able to procure any one, What! said he, have I then neither friend nor foe? and immediately ran out, as if he would throw himself into the Tiber.
| ||Usque adeone mori miserum est?|
|[Say, is it then so sad a thing to die?]|| 1|
| But this furious impulse subsiding, he wished for some place of privacy, where he might collect his thoughts; and his freedman Phaon offering him his country-house, between the Salarian and Nomentan roads, about four miles from the city, he mounted a horse, barefoot as he was and in his tunic, only slipping over it an old soiled cloak; with his head muffled up, and a handkerchief before his face, and four persons only to attend him, of whom Sporus was one. He was suddenly struck with horror by an earthquake, and by a flash of lightning which darted full in his face; and heard from the neighboring camp the shouts of the soldiers, wishing his destruction, and prosperity to Galba. He also heard a traveler they met on the road say, They are in pursuit of Nero; and another ask, Is there any news in the city about Nero? Uncovering his face when his horse was started by the scent of a carcass which lay in the road, he was recognized and saluted by an old soldier who had been discharged from the guards. When they came to the lane which turned up to the house, they quitted their horses, and with much difficulty he wound among bushes and briers, and along a track through a bed of rushes, over which they spread their cloaks for him to walk on. Having reached a wall at the back of the villa, Phaon advised him to hide himself awhile in a sand-pit; when he replied, I will not go underground alive. Staying there some little time, while preparations were made for bringing him privately into the villa, he took up in his hand some water out of a neighboring tank, to drink, saying, This is Neros distilled water. Then, his cloak having been torn by the brambles, he pulled out the thorns which stuck in it. At last, being admitted, creeping upon his hands and knees through a hole made for him in the wall, he lay down in the first closet he came to, upon a miserable pallet, with an old coverlet thrown over it; and being both hungry and thirsty, though he refused some coarse bread that was brought him, he drank a little warm water.|| 2|
| All who surrounded him now pressing him to save himself from the indignities which were ready to befall him, he ordered a pit to be sunk before his eyes, of the size of his body, and the bottom to be covered with pieces of marble put together, if any could be found about the house; and water and wood to be got ready for immediate use about his corpse: weeping at everything that was done, and frequently saying, What an artist is now about to perish! Meanwhile, letters being brought in by a servant belonging to Phaon, he snatched them out of his hand and there read, That he had been declared an enemy by the Senate; and that search was making for him, that he might be punished according to the ancient custom of the Romans. He then inquired what kind of punishment that was; and being told that the practice was to strip the criminal naked and scourge him to death, while his neck was fastened within a forked stake, he was so terrified that he took up two daggers which he had brought with him, and after feeling the points of both, put them up again, saying, The fatal hour has not yet come. One while, he begged of Sporus to begin to wail and lament; another while, he entreated that one of them would set him an example by killing himself; and then again, he condemned his own want of resolution in these words: I yet live, to my shame and disgrace: this is not becoming for Nero; it is not becoming. Thou oughtest in such circumstances to have a good heart. Come then; courage, man! The horsemen who had received orders to bring him away alive, were now approaching the house. As soon as he heard them coming, he uttered with a trembling voice the following verse:|
he then drove a dagger into his throat, being assisted in the act by his secretary Epaphroditus. A centurion bursting in just as he was dying, and applying his cloak to the wound, pretending that he was come to his assistance, he made no other reply but this: Tis too late, and Is this your loyalty? Immediately after pronouncing these words he expired, with his eyes fixed and starting out of his head, to the terror of all who beheld him.
|(The noise of swift-heeled steeds assails my ears;)|| 3|