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Tacitus: History Book 4 [80]

80. About the same time Mucianus ordered the son of Vitellius to be put to death, alleging that dissension would never cease, if he did not destroy all seeds of civil war. Nor would he suffer Antonius Primus to be taken into the number of Domitian's attendants, for he felt uneasy at his popularity with the troops, and feared the proud spirit of the man, who could not endure an equal, much less a superior. Antonius then went to Vespasian, who received him, not indeed as he expected, but in a not unfriendly spirit. Two opposite influences acted on the Emperor; on the one hand were the merits of Antonius, under whose conduct the war had beyond all doubt been terminated; on the other, were the letters of Mucianus. And everyone else inveighed against him, as an ill-affected and conceited man, nor did they forget the scandals of his early life. Antonius himself failed not to provoke offence by his arrogance and his excessive propensity to dwell on his own services. He reproached other men with being cowards; Caecina he stigmatized as a captive and a prisoner of war. Thus by degrees he came to be thought of less weight and worth, though his friendship with the Emperor to all appearance remained the same.

80. Isdem diebus Mucianus Vitellii filium interfici iubet, mansuram discordiam obtendens, ni semina belli restinxisset. neque Antonium Primum adsciri inter comites a Domitiano passus est, favore militum anxius et superbia viri aequalium quoque, adeo superiorum intolerantis. profectus ad Vespasianum Antonius ut non pro spe sua excipitur, ita neque averso imperatoris animo. trahebatur in diversa, hinc meritis Antonii, cuius ductu confectum haud dubie bellum erat, inde Muciani epistulis: simul ceteri ut infestum tumidumque insectabantur, adiunctis prioris vitae criminibus. neque ipse deerat adrogantia vocare offensas, nimius commemorandis quae meruisset: alios ut imbellis, Caecinam ut captivum ac dediticium increpat. unde paulatim levior viliorque haberi, manente tamen in speciem amicitia.

81. In the months during which Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the periodical return of the summer gales and settled weather at sea, many wonders occurred which seemed to point him out as the object of the favour of heaven and of the partiality of the Gods. One of the common people of Alexandria, well known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor's knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. This he did by the advice of the God Serapis, whom this nation, devoted as it is to many superstitions, worships more than any other divinity. He begged Vespasian that he would deign to moisten his cheeks and eye-balls with his spittle. Another with a diseased hand, at the counsel of the same God, prayed that the limb might feet the print of a Caesar's foot. At first Vespasian ridiculed and repulsed them. They persisted; and he, though on the one hand he feared the scandal of a fruitless attempt, yet, on the other, was induced by the entreaties of the men and by the language of his flatterers to hope for success. At last he ordered that the opinion of physicians should be taken, as to whether such blindness and infirmity were within the reach of human skill. They discussed the matter from different points of view. "In the one case," they said, "the faculty of sight was not wholly destroyed, and might return, if the obstacies were removed; in the other case, the limb, which had fallen into a diseased condition, might be restored, if a healing influence were applied; such, perhaps, might be the pleasure of the Gods, and the Emperor might be chosen to be the minister of the divine will; at any rate, all the glory of a successful remedy would be Caesar's, while the ridicule of failure would fall on the sufferers." And so Vespasian, supposing that all things were possible to his good fortune, and that nothing was any longer past belief, with a joyful countenance, amid the intense expectation of the multitude of bystanders, accomplished what was required. The hand was instantly restored to its use, and the light of day again shone upon the blind. Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.

81. Per eos mensis quibus Vespasianus Alexandriae statos aestivis flatibus dies et certa maris opperiebatur, multa miracula evenere, quis caelestis favor et quaedam in Vespasianum inclinatio numinum ostenderetur. e plebe Alexandrina quidam oculorum tabe notus genua eius advolvitur, remedium caecitatis exposcens gemitu, monitu Serapidis dei, quem dedita superstitionibus gens ante alios colit; precabaturque principem ut genas et oculorum orbis dignaretur respergere oris excremento. alius manum aeger eodem deo auctore ut pede ac vestigio Caesaris calcaretur orabat. Vespasianus primo inridere, aspernari; atque illis instantibus modo famam vanitatis metuere, modo obsecratione ipsorum et vocibus adulantium in spem induci: postremo aestimari a medicis iubet an talis caecitas ac debilitas ope humana superabiles forent. medici varie disserere: huic non exesam vim luminis et redituram si pellerentur obstantia; illi elapsos in pravum artus, si salubris vis adhibeatur, posse integrari. id fortasse cordi deis et divino ministerio principem electum; denique patrati remedii gloriam penes Caesarem, inriti ludibrium penes miseros fore. igitur Vespasianus cuncta fortunae suae patere ratus nec quicquam ultra incredibile, laeto ipse vultu, erecta quae adstabat multitudine, iussa exequitur. statim conversa ad usum manus, ac caeco reluxit dies. utrumque qui interfuere nunc quoque memorant, postquam nullum mendacio pretium.

82. Vespasian thus came to conceive a deeper desire to visit the sanctuary of Serapis, that he might consult the God about the interests of his throne. He gave orders that all persons should be excluded from the temple. He had entered, and was absorbed in worship, when he saw behind him one of the chief men of Egypt, named Basilides, whom he knew at the time to be detained by sickness at a considerable distance, as much as several days journey from Alexandria. He enquired of the priests, whether Basilides had on this day entered the temple. He enquired of others whom he met, whether he had been seen in the city. At length, sending some horsemen, he ascertained that at that very instant the man had been eighty miles distant. He then concluded that it was a divine apparition, and discovered an oracular force in the name of Basilides.

82. Altior inde Vespasiano cupido adeundi sacram sedem ut super rebus imperii consuleret: arceri templo cunctos iubet. atque ingressus intentusque numini respexit pone tergum e primoribus Aegyptiorum nomine Basiliden, quem procul Alexandria plurium dierum itinere et aegro corpore detineri haud ignorabat. percontatur sacerdotes num illo die Basilides templum inisset, percontatur obvios num in urbe visus sit; denique missis equitibus explorat illo temporis momento octoginta milibus passuum afuisse: tunc divinam speciem et vim responsi ex nomine Basilidis interpretatus est.

83. The origin of this God Serapis has not hitherto been made generally known by our writers. The Egyptian priests give this account. While Ptolemy, the first Macedonian king who consolidated the power of Egypt, was setting up in the newly-built city of Alexandria fortifications, temples, and rites of worship, there appeared to him in his sleep a youth of singular beauty and more than human stature, who counselled the monarch to send his most trusty friends to Pontus, and fetch his effigy from that country. This, he said, would bring prosperity to the realm, and great and illustrious would be the city which gave it a reception. At the same moment he saw the youth ascend to heaven in a blaze of fire. Roused by so significant and strange an appearance, Ptolemy disclosed the vision of the night to the Egyptian priests, whose business it is to understand such matters. As they knew but little of Pontus or of foreign countries, he enquired of Timotheus, an Athenian, one of the family of the Eumolpids, whom he had invited from Eleusis to preside over the sacred rites, what this worship was, and who was the deity. Timotheus, questioning persons who had found their way to Pontus, learnt that there was there a city Sinope, and near it a temple, which, according to an old tradition of the neighbourhood, was sacred to the infernal Jupiter, for there also stood close at hand a female figure, to which many gave the name of Proserpine. Ptolemy, however, with the true disposition of a despot, though prone to alarm, was, when the feeling of security returned, more intent on pleasures than on religious matters; and he began by degrees to neglect the affair, and to turn his thoughts to other concerns, till at length the same apparition, but now more terrible and peremptory, denounced ruin against the king and his realm, unless his bidding were performed. Ptolemy then gave directions that an embassy should be despatched with presents to king Scydrothemis, who at that time ruled the people of Sinope, and instructed them, when they were on the point of sailing, to consult the Pythian Apollo. Their voyage was prosperous, and the response of the oracle was clear. The God bade them go and carry back with them the image of his father, but leave that of his sister behind.

83. Origo dei nondum nostris auctoribus celebrata: Aegyptiorum antistites sic memorant, Ptolemaeo regi, qui Macedonum primus Aegypti opes firmavit, cum Alexandriae recens conditae moenia templaque et religiones adderet, oblatum per quietem decore eximio et maiore quam humana specie iuvenem, qui moneret ut fidissimis amicorum in Pontum missis effigiem suam acciret; laetum id regno magnamque et inclutam sedem fore quae excepisset: simul visum eundem iuvenem in caelum igne plurimo attolli. Ptolemaeus omine et miraculo excitus sacerdotibus Aegyptiorum, quibus mos talia intellegere, nocturnos visus aperit. atque illis Ponti et externorum parum gnaris, Timotheum Atheniensem e gente Eumolpidarum, quem ut antistitem caerimoniarum Eleusine exciverat, quaenam illa superstitio, quod numen, interrogat. Timotheus quaesitis qui in Pontum meassent, cognoscit urbem illic Sinopen, nec procul templum vetere inter accolas fama Iovis Ditis: namque et muliebrem effigiem adsistere quam plerique Proserpinam vocent. sed Ptolemaeus, ut sunt ingenia regum, pronus ad formidinem, ubi securitas rediit, voluptatum quam religionum adpetens neglegere paulatim aliasque ad curas animum vertere, donec eadem species terribilior iam et instantior exitium ipsi regnoque denuntiaret ni iussa patrarentur. tum legatos et dona Scydrothemidi regi (is tunc Sinopensibus imperitabat) expediri iubet praecepitque navigaturis ut Pythicum Apollinem adeant. illis mare secundum, sors oraculi haud ambigua: irent simulacrumque patris sui reveherent, sororis relinquerent.

84. On their arrival at Sinope, they delivered to Scydrothemis the presents from their king, with his request and message. He wavered in purpose, dreading at one moment the anger of the God, terrified at another by the threats and opposition of the people. Often he was wrought upon by the gifts and promises of the ambassadors. And so three years passed away, while Ptolemy did not cease to urge his zealous solicitations. He continued to increase the dignity of his embassies, the number of his ships, and the weight of his gold. A terrible vision then appeared to Scydrothemis, warning him to thwart no longer the purposes of the God. As he yet hesitated, various disasters, pestilence, and the unmistakable anger of heaven, which grew heavier from day to day, continued to harass him. He summoned an assembly, and explained to them the bidding of the God, the visions of Ptolemy and himself, and the miseries that were gathering about them. The people turned away angrily from their king, were jealous of Egypt, and, fearing for themselves, thronged around the temple. The story becomes at this point more marvellous, and relates that the God of his own will conveyed himself on board the fleet, which had been brought close to shore, and, wonderful to say, vast as was the extent of sea that they traversed, they arrived at Alexandria on the third day. A temple, proportioned to the grandeur of the city, was erected in a place called Rhacotis, where there had stood a chapel consecrated in old times to Serapis and Isis. Such is the most popular account of the origin and introduction of the God Serapis. I am aware indeed that there are some who say that he was brought from Seleucia, a city of Syria, in the reign of Ptolemy III., while others assert that it was the act of the same king, but that the place from which he was brought was Memphis, once a famous city and the strength of ancient Egypt. The God himself, because he heals the sick, many identified with Aesculapius; others with Osiris, the deity of the highest antiquity among these nations; not a few with Jupiter, as being supreme ruler of all things; but most people with Pluto, arguing from the emblems which may be seen on his statues, or from conjectures of their own.

84. Vt Sinopen venere, munera preces mandata regis sui Scydrothemidi adlegant. qui <di>versus animi modo numen pavescere, modo minis adversantis populi terreri; saepe donis promissisque legatorum flectebatur. atque interim triennio exacto Ptolemaeus non studium, non preces omittere: dignitatem legatorum, numerum navium, auri pondus augebat. tum minax facies Scydrothemidi offertur ne destinata deo ultra moraretur: cunctantem varia pernicies morbique et manifesta caelestium ira graviorque in dies fatigabat. advocata contione iussa numinis, suos Ptolemaeique visus, ingruentia mala exponit: vulgus aversari regem, invidere Aegypto, sibi metuere templumque circumsedere. maior hinc fama tradidit deum ipsum adpulsas litori navis sponte conscendisse: mirum inde dictu, tertio die tantum maris emensi Alexandriam adpelluntur. templum pro magnitudine urbis extructum loco cui nomen Rhacotis; fuerat illic sacellum Serapidi atque Isidi antiquitus sacratum. haec de origine et advectu dei celeberrima. nec sum ignarus esse quosdam qui Seleucia urbe Syriae accitum regnante Ptolemaeo, quem tertia aetas tulit; alii auctorem eundem Ptolemaeum, sedem, ex qua transierit, Memphim perhibent, inclutam olim et veteris Aegypti columen. deum ipsum multi Aesculapium, quod medeatur aegris corporibus, quidam Osirin, antiquissimum illis gentibus numen, plerique Iovem ut rerum omnium potentem, plurimi Ditem patrem insignibus, quae in ipso manifesta, aut per ambages coniectant.

85. Domitian and Mucianus received, before they reached the Alps, favourable news of the operations among the Treveri. The best proof of the victory was seen in the enemy's general Valentinus, who with undaunted courage shewed in his look his habitual high spirit. He was heard, but only that they might judge of his character; and he was condemned. During his execution he replied to one who taunted him with the subjection of his country, "That I take as my consolation in death." Mucianus now brought forward as a new thought a plan he had long concealed. "Since," he said, "by the blessing of the Gods the strength of the enemy has been broken, it would little become Domitian, now that the war is all but finished, to interfere with the glory of others. If the stability of the Empire or the safety of Gaul were in danger, it would have been right for Caesar to take his place in the field; but the Canninefates and Batavi should be handed over to inferior generals. Let the Emperor display from the near neighbourhood of Lugdunum the might and prestige of imperial power, not meddling with trifling risks, though he would not be wanting on greater occasions."

85. At Domitianus Mucianusque antequam Alpibus propinquarent, prosperos rerum in Treviris gestarum nuntios accepere. praecipua victoriae fides dux hostium Valentinus nequaquam abiecto animo, quos spiritus gessisset, vultu ferebat. auditus ideo tantum ut nosceretur ingenium eius, damnatusque inter ipsum supplicium exprobranti cuidam patriam eius captam accipere se solacium mortis respondit. sed Mucianus quod diu occultaverat, ut recens exprompsit: quoniam benignitate deum fractae hostium vires forent, parum decore Domitianum confecto prope bello alienae gloriae interventurum. si status imperii aut salus Galliarum in discrimine verteretur, debuisse Caesarem in acie stare, Canninefatis Batavosque minoribus ducibus delegandos: ipse Luguduni vim fortunamque principatus e proximo ostentaret, nec parvis periculis immixtus et maioribus non defutururus par.

86. His artifices were understood, but it was a part of their respect not to expose them. Thus they arrived at Lugdunum. It is believed that from this place Domitian despatched secret emissaries to Cerialis, and tempted his loyalty with the question whether, on his shewing himself, he would hand over to him the command of the army. Whether in this scheme Domitian was thinking of war with his father, or of collecting money, and men to be used against his brother, was uncertain; for Cerialis, by a judicious temporising, eluded the request as prompted by an idle and childish ambition. Domitian, seeing that his youth was despised by the older officers, gave up even the less important functions of government which he had before exercised. Under a semblance of simple and modest tastes, he wrapped himself in a profound reserve, and affected a devotion to literature and a love of poetry, thus seeking to throw a veil over his character, and to withdraw himself from the jealousy of his brother, of whose milder temper, so unlike his own, he judged most falsely. 86. Intellegebantur artes, sed pars obsequii in eo ne deprehenderentur: ita Lugudunum ventum. unde creditur Domitianus occultis ad Cerialem nuntiis fidem eius temptavisse an praesenti sibi exercitum imperiumque traditurus foret. qua cogitatione bellum adversus patrem agitaverit an opes virisque adversus fratrem, in incerto fuit: nam Cerialis salubri temperamento elusit ut vana pueriliter cupientem. Domitianus sperni a senioribus iuventam suam cernens modica quoque et usurpata antea munia imperii omittebat, simplicitatis ac modestiae imagine in altitudinem conditus studiumque litterarum et amorem carminum simulans, quo velaret animum et fratris <se> aemulationi subduceret, cuius disparem mitioremque naturam contra interpretabatur.

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