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it would seem, remained wholly unmoved by a worship more vehement than Ovid's, and enhanced still more by the unquestioned reputation of its author. Whatever had been the motives of his sentence against Seneca, it was not by flattery that he could be swayed to reverse it. Surely, as far as we are competent to judge, we must think the better both of his firmness and his sense. Shortly afterwards Polybius was himself subverted by the caprice of Messallina; Messallina in her turn was overthrown by Agrippina; and it was not till the sister of Julia had gained the ascendant that Seneca obtained at her instance the grace he had vainly solicited through the good offices of the freedman. THE DEAD CLAUDIUS SATIRISED BY SENECA But however little Claudius may have relied on the sincerity of this brilliant phrase-monger, he could scarce have anticipated the revulsion of sentiment to which so ardent a worshipper would not blush to give utterance on his demise. It was natural of course that the returned exile should attach himself to his benefactress; from her hands he had received his honours, by her he was treated with a confidence which flattered him. No doubt he was among the foremost of the courtiers who deserted the setting to adore the rising luminary. Yet few, perhaps, could believe that no sooner should Claudius be dead, ere yet the accents of official flattery had died away which proclaimed him entered upon the divine career of his ancestors, than the worshipper of the living emperor should turn his deification into ridicule, and blast his name' with a slander of unparalleled ferocity. There is no more curious fragment of antiquity than the Vision of Judgment which Seneca has left us on the death and deification of Claudius. "seneca"
The traveller who has visited mod- (From abU8t ln ^ Nsples Maseum)ern Rome in the autumn season has remarked the numbers of unwieldy and bloated gourds which sun their speckled bellies before the doors, to form a favourite condiment to the food of the poorer classes. When Claudius expired in the month of October, his soul, according to the satirist, long lodged in the inflated emptiness of his own swollen carcass, migrated by an easy transition into a kindred pumpkin. The senate declared that he had become a god; but Seneca knew that he was only transformed into a gourd. The senate decreed his divinity, Seneca translated it into pumpkinity; and proceeded to give a burlesque account of what maybe supposed to have happened in heaven on the appearance of the new aspirant to celestial honours. A tall grayhaired figure has arrived halting at the gates of Olympus; he mops and
mows, and shakes his palsied head, and when asked whence he comes and what is his business, mutters an uncouth jargon in reply which none can understand. Jupiter sends Hercules to interrogate the creature, for Hercules is a travelled god, and knows many languages; but Hercules himself, bold and valiant as he is, shudders at the sight of a strange unearthly monster, with the hoarse inarticulate moanings of a seal or sea-calf. He fancied that he saw his thirteenth labour before him. Presently, on a nearer view, he discovers that it is a sort of man. Accordingly he takes courage to address him with a verse from Homer, the common interpreter of gods and men; and Claudius, rejoicing at the sound of Greek, and auguring that his own histories will be understood in heaven, replies with an apt quotation. To pass over various incidents which are next related, and the gibes of the satirist on the Gaulish origin of Claudius, and his zeal in lavishing the franchise on Gauls and other barbarians, we find the gods assembled in conclave to deliberate on the pretensions of their unexpected visitor. Certain of the deities rise in their places, and express themselves with divers exquisite reasons in his favour; and his admission is about to be carried with acclamation, when Augustus starts to his feet (for the first time, as he calls them all to witness, since he became a god himself — for Augustus in heaven is reserved and silent, and keeps strictly to his own affairs), and recounts the crimes and horrors of his grandchild's career, lie mentions the murder of his father-in-law Silanus, and his two sonsin-law Silanus and Pompeius, and the father-in-law of his daughter, and the mother-in-law of the same, of his wife Messallina, and of others morethan can be named. The gods are struck with amazement and indignation. Claudius is repelled from the threshold of Olympus, and led by Mercury to the shades below. As he passes along the Via Sacra he witnesses the pageant of his own obsequies, and then first apprehends the fact of his decease. He hears the funeral dirge in which his actions are celebrated in most grandiloquent sing-song, descending at last to the abruptest bathos. But the satirist can strike a higher note; the advent of the ghost to the infernal regions is described with a sublime irony. "Claudius is come !" shout the spirits of the dead, and at once a vast multitude assemble around him, exclaiming, with the chant of the priests of Apis, "We have found him, we have found him; rejoice and be glad I "1 Among them was Silius the consul and Junius the praetor and Traulus and Trogus and Cotta, Vectius, and Fabius, Roman knights, whom Narcissus had done to death. Then came the freedmen Polybius and Myron, Harpocras, Amphajus, and Pheronactes, whom Claudius had despatched to hell before him, that he might have his ministers below. Next advanced Catonius and Rufus, the prefects, and his friends Lusius and Pedo, and Lupus and Celer, consulars, and finally a number of his own kindred, his wife and cousins and son-in-law. "Friends everywhere!" simpered the fool; "pray how came you all here?" "How came we here?" thundered
1 Seneca, Apncol. 13. Claudius Caesar venit .... tvp^Ka/ur, avyxatpa^tr. Great has been the success of this remarkable passage, which may possibly have suggested the noble lines of Shakespeare (Rich. III. Act i. sc. 4):"Clarence is come, false, fleeting, perjured Clarence, That stabbed me in the field by Tewksbury." It is more probable that Voltaire had it in his mind when he pronounced on the fate of Constantine and Clovis; and more than one stanza of Byron's Vision of Judgment is evidently suggested by it
Pompeius Pedo: "who sent us here but thou, O murderer of all thy friends?" And thereupon the newcomer is hurried away before the judgment seat of Jiacus. An old boon companion offers to plead for hhu; ^Eacus, most just of men, forbids, and condemns the criminal, one side only heard. "As he hath done," he exclaims, "so shall he be done by." The shades are astounded at the novelty of the judgment; to Claudius it seems rather unjust than novel. Then the nature of his punishment is considered. Some would relieve Tantalus or Ixion from their torments and make the imperial culprit take their place; but no, that would still leave him the hope of being himself in the course of ages relieved. His pains must be never ending, still beginning ; eternal trifler and bungler that he was, he shall play for ever and ever with a bottomless dice-box.
Such was the scorn which might be flung upon the head of a national divinity, even though he were the adoptive father of the ruler of the state; nor perhaps was the new and upstart deity much more cavalierly treated than might sometimes be the lot of the established denizens of Olympus. It is true that Nero at a later period thought fit to degrade his parent from these excessive honours, and even demolished the unfinished works of his temple on the Caelian Hill; but there is no reason to suppose that Seneca reserved his spite until this catastrophe, or that the prince evinced any marks of displeasure at the unrestrained laughter with which doubtless his satire was greeted.
While the memory of the deceased emperor was thus ruthlessly torn in pieces, the writer had been careful to exalt in terms the most extravagant the anticipated glories of his successor; and the vain, thoughtless heir perceived not that the mockery of his sire was the deepest of insults to himself. Of the figure, accomplishments, and character of Nero we shall speak more particularly hereafter; enough that he was young, that he was not ungraceful in appearance, that he had some talents, and, above all, the talent of exhibiting them.
With such qualifications the new occupant of a throne could never want for flatterers. To sing them, the sage of the rugged countenance mounts gaily on the wings of poetry, and sports in lines of mellifluous mellowness, such as might grace the erotic lyre of the most callow votary of the Muses. At last, he says, in mercy to his wretchedness, the life-thread of the stolid Claudius had been severed by the fatal shears. But Lachesis, at that moment, had taken in her hands another skein of dazzling whiteness, and as it glided nimbly through her fingers, the common wool of life was changed into a precious tissue — a golden age untwined from the spindle. The sisters ply their work in gladness, and glory in their blessed task; and far, far away stretches the glittering thread, beyond the years of Nestor and Tithonus. Phoebus stands by their side, and sings to them as they spin— Phoebus the god of song and the god of prophecy. "Stay not, oh stay not, gentle sisters; he shall transcend the limits of human life; he shall be like me in face, like me in beauty; neither in song nor in eloquence behind me. He shall restore a blissful age to wearied men, and break again the long silence of the Laws. Yes, as when Lucifer drives the stars before him, and morning dissipates the clouds, the bright sun gazes on the world, and starts his chariot on its daily race,—so Caesar breaks upon the earth; such is the Nero whom Rome now beholds — beams his bright countenance with tempered rays, and glistens his fair neck beneath its floating curls."/
(neeo Claudius C^esae Drusus Gebmanicus: 54-68 A.D.)
Brought up in a corrupt court, in the midst of his mother's guilty intrigues, Nero soon saw himself surrounded by flatterers apt at eulogising all his follies and excusing all his crimes. He did not lack understanding and knew what was right, but no care was taken to check his vicious inclinations or his vanity with regard to his musical skill. Yet for a long time after his death the first five years of his reign were lauded (quinquennium Neronis) as the happiest of the empire. He did, in fact, reduce taxation in the provinces, contend against luxury, and assist poor senators with money, and bid fair to take Augustus as his model. "Oh, that I had never learned to write!" he said one day when a death-warrant was given him to sign. Another time when the senate was addressing thanks to him he said, "Wait till I deserve them." Seneca and Burrus tried, and for some time with success, to restrain the stormy passions of their pupil, but Agrippina's ambition made them break violently forth. This imperious woman thought she was going to reign in her son's name, and desired to be present at senatorial deliberations. She was much chagrined at having to content herself with listening behind a curtain. One day when Nero was giving audience to some Armenian ambassadors she advanced to take her place beside him and receive homage. But the prince went to meet her and prevented what the Romans even then would have regarded as an affront, the intervention of a woman in public affairs. Leagued with the freedman Pallas, she hoped that nothing would take place in the palace without her; but Seneca and Burrus, although her creatures, were resolved to hinder the domination which had degraded Claudius. Unfortunately, the two ministers, in spite of the austerity of their lives and teaching, found no other way to combat her influence than by fostering the prince's passions. They allowed a number of young women and dissolute men to gather round the prince. Among the former Agrippina soon found a rival in the freedwoman Acte. She then changed her tone and manner, but caresses were of no more avail than anger; and the two ministers, in order to show her that her power was gone, disgraced the freedman Pallas.
Then Agrippina broke out into open threats. She would reveal the whole truth, take Britannicus to the praetorians, and return to its rightful occupant the throne she had bestowed on an ungrateful son. Nero forestalled her. On the first day of his reign he had put to death a member of the imperial family, Silanus by name; the death of his adopted brother cost him no more. Britannicus, who was only fourteen years old, was poisoned at a banquet at Nero's own table. Agrippina, alarmed by this precocious cruelty, sought defenders for herself. She sounded the soldiers, and paid graceful attentions to their leaders. Nero, no longer keeping within bounds, assigned her a dwelling beyond the palace and scarcely ever saw her. He even listened to an accusation against her and forced her to answer questions from Seneca and Burrus. She did so, but haughtily, and spoke harshly to her son, which did not help her to regain the authority she had lost. Having got rid of Agrippina, the two ministers governed for some years with moderation and justice. Several condemnations taught the provincial governors that their conduct was observed; several taxes were abolished or reduced. Nero demanded that they should all be repealed. Unfortunately love of pleasure now possessed him. Dissolute friends, vulgar liaisons, a fatal taste for the theatre, corrupted him from day to day. Seneca practised his good maxims too little for them to influence the young emperor. Rome learned with astonishment that her prince ran about the streets at night disguised as a slave, entering taverns and beating belated folk at the risk of striking one stronger than himself. A senator once returned his blows, and had the imprudence next day to apologise. Nero, remembering the inviolability belonging to his office of tribune, had him put to death. In the day he went to the theatre, giving trouble to the custodians, encouraging applause and hissing, exciting tumult, and taking pleasure in seeing the sovereign people break the benches and engage in fights in which he himself joined, throwing missiles at a venture from his elevated seat. The virtuous sister of Britannicus could not be a fit wife for this royal debauche. He carried off Poppaja Sabina from her husband Otho. Poppsea's ambition found an obstacle in Octavia, and one even stronger in Agrippina, who was not distressed by her son's criminal conduct, but was much averse from seeing him under any influence but her own. Irritated by her reproaches, Nero at last went so far as to give orders for her death. Anicetus, commander of the fleet at Misenum, formed a plot to assassinate the empress. On the pretext of a reconciliation she was invited to go to Baise, and was put on a vessel so built as to part asunder when out at sea. Agrippina saved herself by swimming and reached the neighbouring coast, where she took refuge in her villa at the Lucrine Lake. Nero caused her to be stabbed, and proclaimed that she had killed herself after a freedman sent by her had been caught in an attempt to kill him (59 A.D.). Such was the fate of this woman, a granddaughter of Augustus, and sister, wife, and mother, to three emperors. But revengeful furies pursued the parricide in spite of the congratulations which Burrus was base enough to offer him in the name of the soldiers and the thanks rendered to the gods in all parts of the city at Seneca's suggestion. He sought to stifle his remorse by plunging into gross and insensate debauchery. His most unworthy follies date from this time. The Romans blushed to see him dri zing a chariot in the arena and mounting the stage to sing and play the lyre. We may imagine he stifled his conscience, but not that he found rest. In Greece, he dared not enter the Eleusinian temple of which the herald's voice bid the impious and parricides avaunt.i