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Tacitus: Annals Book 15 [30]

30. To military glory Corbulo added courtesy and hospitality. When the king continually asked the reason of whatever he noticed which was new to him, the announcements, for example, by a centurion of the beginnings of each watch, the dismissal of the guests by the sound of a trumpet, and the lighting by a torch from beneath of an altar in front of the headquarters, Corbulo, by exaggerating everything, filled him with admiration of our ancient system. Next day Tiridates begged for time which, as he was about to enter on so long a journey, might suffice for a previous visit to his brothers and his mother. Meanwhile he gave up his daughter as a hostage, and prepared a suppliant letter to Nero.

30. Addidit gloriae Corbulo comitatem epulasque; et rogitante rege causas, quotiens novum aliquid adverterat, ut initia vigiliarum per centurionem nuntiari, convivium bucina dimitti et structam ante augurale aram subdita face accendi, cuncta in maius attolens admiratione prisci moris adfecit. postero die spatium oravit, quo tantum itineris aditurus fratres ante matremque viseret; obsidem interea filiam tradit litterasque supplices ad Neronem.

31. He then departed, and found Pacorus in Media, and Vologeses at Ecbatana, who was by no means unconcerned for his brother. In fact, Vologeses had entreated Corbulo by special messengers, that Tiridates might not have to endure any badge of slavery, or have to deliver up his sword, or be debarred the honour of embracing the governors of the provinces, or have to present himself at their doors, and that he might be treated at Rome with as much respect as the consuls. Accustomed, forsooth, to foreign arrogance, he had no knowledge of us, who value the reality of empire and disregard its empty show.

31. Et digressus Pacorum apud Medos, Vologaesen Ecbatanis repperit, non incuriosum fratris: quippe et propriis nuntiis a Corbulone petierat, ne quam imaginem servitii Tiridates perferret neu ferrum traderet aut complexu provincias obtinentium arceretur foribusve eorum adsisteret, tantusque ei Romae quantus consulibus honor esset. scilicet externae superbiae sueto non inerat notitia nostri, apud quos vis imperii valet, inania tramittuntur.

32. That same year the emperor put into possession of the Latin franchise the tribes of the maritime Alps. To the Roman knights he assigned places in the circus in front of the seats of the people, for up to that time they used to enter in a promiscuous throng, as the Roscian law extended only to fourteen rows in the theatre. The same year witnessed shows of gladiators as magnificent as those of the past. Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced themselves by appearing in the amphitheatre.

32. Eodem anno Caesar nationes Alpium maritimarum in ius Latii transtulit. equitum Romanorum locos sedilibus plebis anteposuit apud circum; namque ad eam diem indiscreti inibant, quia lex Roscia nihil nisi de quattuordecim ordinibus sanxit. spectacula gladiatorum idem annus habuit pari magnificentia ac priora; sed feminarum inlustrium senatorumque plures per arenam foedati sunt.

33. In the year of the consulship of Caius Laecanius and Marcus Licinius a yet keener impulse urged Nero to show himself frequently on the public stage. Hitherto he had sung in private houses or gardens, during the juvenile games, but these he now despised, as being but little frequented, and on too small a scale for so fine a voice. As, however, he did not venture to make a beginning at Rome, he chose Neapolis, because it was a Greek city. From this as his starting-point he might cross into Achaia, and there, winning the well-known and sacred garlands of antiquity, evoke, with increased fame, the enthusiasm of the citizens. Accordingly, a rabble of the townsfolk was brought together, with those whom the excitement of such an event had attracted from the neighbouring towns and colonies, and such as followed in the emperor's train to pay him honour or for various objects. All these, with some companies of soldiers, filled the theatre at Neapolis.

33. C. Laecanio M. Licinio consulibus acriore in dies cupidine adigebatur Nero promiscas scaenas frequentandi. nam adhuc per domum aut hortos cecinerat Iuvenalibus ludis, quos ut parum celebres et tantae voci angustos spernebat. non tamen Romae incipere ausus Neapolim quasi Graecam urbem delegit; inde initium fore, ut transgressus in Achaiam insignesque et antiquitus sacras coronas adeptus maiore fama studia civium eliceret. ergo contractum oppidanorum vulgus, et quos e proximis coloniis et municipiis eius rei fama civerat, quique Caesarem per honorem aut varios usus sectantur, etiam militum manipuli, theatrum Neapolitanorum complent.

34. There an incident occurred, which many thought unlucky, though to the emperor it seemed due to the providence of auspicious deities. The people who had been present, had quitted the theatre, and the empty building then fell in without harm to anyone. Thereupon Nero in an elaborate ode thanked the gods, celebrating the good luck which attended the late downfall, and as he was on his way to cross the sea of Hadria, he rested awhile at Beneventum, where a crowded gladiatorial show was being exhibited by Vatinius. The man was one of the most conspicuously infamous sights in the imperial court, bred, as he had been, in a shoemaker's shop, of a deformed person and vulgar wit, originally introduced as a butt. After a time he grew so powerful by accusing all the best men, that in influence, wealth, and ability to injure, he was pre-eminent even in that bad company.

34. Illic, plerique ut arbitra[ba]ntur, triste, ut ipse, providum potius et secundis numinibus evenit: nam egresso qui adfuerat populo vacuum et sine ullius noxa theatrum collapsum est. ergo per compositos cantus grates dis atque ipsam recentis casus fortunam celebrans petiturusque maris Hadriae traiectus apud Beneventum interim consedit, ubi gladiatorium munus a Vatinio celebre edebatur. Vatinius inter foedissima eius aulae ostenta fuit, sutrinae tabernae alumnus, corpore detorto, facetiis scurrilibus; primo in contumelias adsumptus, dehinc optimi cuiusque criminatione eo usque valuit, ut gratia pecunia vi nocendi etiam malos praemineret.

35. While Nero was frequently visiting the show, even amid his pleasures there was no cessation to his crimes. For during the very same period Torquatus Silanus was forced to die, because over and above his illustrious rank as one of the Junian family he claimed to be the great-grandson of Augustus. Accusers were ordered to charge him with prodigality in lavishing gifts, and with having no hope but in revolution. They said further that he had nobles about him for his letters, books, and accounts, titles all and rehearsals of supreme power. Then the most intimate of his freedmen were put in chains and torn from him, till, knowing the doom which impended, Torquatus divided the arteries in his arms. A speech from Nero followed, as usual, which stated that though he was guilty and with good reason distrusted his defence, he would yet have lived, had he awaited the clemency of the judge.

35. Eius minus frequentanti Neroni ne inter voluptates quidem a sceleribus cessabatur. isdem quippe illis diebus Torquatus Silanus mori adigitur, quia super Iuniae familiae claritudinem divum Augustum abavum ferebat. iussi accusatores obicere prodigum largitionibus, neque aliam spem quam in rebus novis esse; quin [innobiles] habere, quos ab epistulis et libellis et rationibus appellet, nomina summae curae et meditamenta. tum intimus quisque libertorum vincti abreptique; et cum damnatio instaret, brachiorum venas Torquatus interscidit. secutaque Neronis oratio ex more, quamvis sontem et defensioni merito diffisum victurum tamen fuisse, si clementiam iudicis exspectasset.

36. Soon afterwards, giving up Achaia for the present (his reasons were not certainly known), he returned to Rome, there dwelling in his secret imaginations on the provinces of the east, especially Egypt. Then having declared in a public proclamation that his absence would not be long and that all things in the State would remain unchanged and prosperous, he visited the temple of the Capitol for advice about his departure. There he adored the gods; then he entered also the temple of Vesta, and there feeling a sudden trembling throughout his limbs, either from terror inspired by the deity or because, from the remembrance of his crimes, he was never free from fear, he relinquished his purpose, repeatedly saying that all his plans were of less account than his love of his country. "He had seen the sad countenances of the citizens, he heard their secret complainings at the prospect of his entering on so long a journey, when they could not bear so much as his brief excursions, accustomed as they were to cheer themselves under mischances by the sight of the emperor. Hence, as in private relationships the closest ties were the strongest, so the people of Rome had the most powerful claims and must be obeyed in their wish to retain him." These and the like sentiments suited the people, who craved amusement, and feared, always their chief anxiety, scarcity of corn, should he be absent. The Senate and leading citizens were in doubt whether to regard him as more terrible at a distance or among them. After a while, as is the way with great terrors, they thought what happened the worst alternative.

36. Nec multo post omissa in praesens Achaia (causae in incerto fuere) urbem revisit, provincias Orientis, maxime Aegyptum, secretis imaginationibus agitans. dehinc [e]dicto testificatus non longam sui absentiam et cuncta in re publica perinde immota ac prospera fore, super ea profectione adiit Capitolium. illic veneratus deos, cum Vestae quoque templum inisset, repente cunctos per artus tremens, seu numine exterrente, seu facinorum recordatione numquam timore vacuus, deseruit inceptum, cunctas sibi curas amore patriae leviores dictitans. vidisse maestos civium vultus, audire secretas querimonias, quod tantum [itineris] aditurus esset, cuius ne modicos quidem egressus tolerarent, sueti adversum fortuita adspectu principis refoveri. ergo ut in privatis necessitudinibus proxima pignora praevalerent, ita [in re publica] populum Romanum vim plurimam habere parendumque retinenti. haec atque talia plebi volentia fuere, voluptatum cupidine et, quae praecipua cura est, rei frumentariae angustias, si abesset, metuenti. senatus et primores in incerto erant, procul an coram atrocior haberetur; dehinc, quae natura magnis timoribus, deterius credebant quod evenerat.

37. Nero, to win credit for himself of enjoying nothing so much as the capital, prepared banquets in the public places, and used the whole city, so to say, as his private house. Of these entertainments the most famous for their notorious profligacy were those furnished by Tigellinus, which I will describe as an illustration, that I may not have again and again to narrate similar extravagance. He had a raft constructed on Agrippa's lake, put the guests on board and set it in motion by other vessels towing it. These vessels glittered with gold and ivory; the crews were arranged according to age and experience in vice. Birds and beasts had been procured from remote countries, and sea monsters from the ocean. On the margin of the lake were set up brothels crowded with noble ladies, and on the opposite bank were seen naked prostitutes with obscene gestures and movements. As darkness approached, all the adjacent grove and surrounding buildings resounded with song, and shone brilliantly with lights. Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides.

37. Ipse quo fidem adquireret nihil usquam perinde laetum sibi, publicis locis struere convivia totaque urbe quasi domo uti. et celeberrimae luxu famaque epulae fuere, quas a Tigellino paratas ut exemplum referam, ne saepius eadem prodigentia narranda sit. igitur in stagno Agrippae fabricatus est ratem, cui superpositum convivium navium aliarum tractu moveretur. naves auro et ebore distinctae; remigesqe exoleti per aetates et scientiam libidinum componebantur. volucres et feras diversis et terris at animalia maris Oceano abusque petiverat. crepidinibus stagni lupanaria adstabant inlustribus feminis completa, et contra scorta visebantur nudis corporibus. iam gestus motusque obsceni; et postquam tenebrae incedebant, quantum iuxta nemoris et circiumiecta tecta consonare cantu et luminibus clarescere. ipse per licita atque inlicita foedatus nihil flagitii reliquerat, quo corruptior ageret, nisi paucos post dies uni ex illo contaminatorum grege (nomen Pythagorae fuit) in modum solemnium coniugiorum denupsisset. inditum imperatori flammeum, missi auspices; dos et genialis torus et faces nuptiales, cuncta denique spectata, quae etiam in femina nox operit.

38. A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire. It had its beginning in that part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where, amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay. The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and so completely at its mercy the city, with those narrow winding passages and irregular streets, which characterised old Rome. Added to this were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age, the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them, and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that, even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them. And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames, because again others openly hurled brands, and kept shouting that there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more freely, or obeying orders.

38. Sequitur clades, forte an dolo principis incertum (nam utrumque auctores prodidere), sed omnibus, quae huic urbi per violentiam ignium acciderunt, gravior atque atrocior. initium in ea parte circi ortum, quae Palatino Caelioque montibus contigua est, ubi per tabernas, quibus id mercimonium inerat, quo flamma alitur, simul coeptus ignis et statim validus ac vento citus longitudinem circi conripuit.     neque enim domus munimentis saeptae vel templa muris cincta aut quid aliud morae interiacebat. impetus pervagatum incendium plana primum, deinde in edita adsurgens et rursus inferiora populando anteiit remedia velocitate mali et obnoxia urbe artis itineribus hucque et illuc flexis atque enoribus vicis, qualis vetus Roman fuit. ad hoc lamenta paventium feminarum, fessa aetate aut rudis pueritiae [aetas], quique sibi quique aliis consulebat, dum trahunt invalidos aut opperiuntur, pars mora, pars festinans, cuncta impediebant. et saepe, dum in tergum respectant, lateribus aut fronte circumveniebantur, vel si in proxima evaserant, illis quoque igni correptis, etiam quae longinqua crediderant in eodem casu reperiebant. postremo, quid vitarent quid peterent ambigui, complere vias, sterni per agros; quidam amissis omnibus fortunis, diurni quoque victus, alii caritate suorum, quos eripere nequiverant, quamvis patente effugio interiere. nec quisquam defendere audebat, crebris multorum minis restinguere prohibentium, et quia alii palam facies iaciebant atque esse sibi auctorem vociferabantur, sive ut raptus licentius exercerent seu iussu.

39. Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However, to relieve the people, driven out homeless as they were, he threw open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia and the neighbouring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect, since a rumour had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity.

39. Eo in tempore Nero Anti agens non ante in urbem regressus est, quam domui eius, qua Palantium et Maecenatis hortos continuaverat, ignis propinquaret. neque tamen sisti potuit, quin et Palatium et domus et cuncta circum haurirentur. sed solacium populo exturbato ac profugo campum Martis ac monumenta Agrippae, hortos quin etiam suos patefacit et subitaria aedificia exstruxit, quae multitudinem inopem acciperent; subvectaque utensilia ab Ostia et propinquis municipiis, pretiumque frumenti minutum usque ad ternos nummos. quae quamquam popularia in inritum cadebant, quia pervaserat rumor ipso tempore flagrantis urbis inisse eum domesticam scaenam et cecinisse Troianum excidium, praesentia mala vetustis cladibus adsimulantem.

Next: Book 15 [40]