The Engines of the Broken World: Discourses on Tacitus and Lucan

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Lupus marshalled the seamen, and by them defeated the conspiracy, just breaking out; so that Staius the Tribune dispatched thither by the Emperor, with a stout band, dragged the leader himself and his most resolute partizans to Rome, which was already in a terror, on account of the multitude of domestic slaves, that were still augmenting immensly, while the genuine commonalty daily dwindled. During the same Consuls, were brought into the Senate a father arraigned, and his son the accuser, both named Vibius Serenus; a sad example of horror and calamity of the times!

The accuser then named Cneius Lentulus, and Seius Tubero, to the great confusion of Tiberius, when men of the first figure in Rome, his own intimate friends, Lentulus extremely old, Tubero broken with infirmities, were charged with devising hostile insurrections against the State. But they were both passed over without a pause. Against the father his slaves were examined upon the rack; and their examination went against the accuser, who, distracted with guilt, and frightened besides with the threatnings of the populace, dooming him to the dungeon, the rack, and the pains of parricide, fled out Edition: current; Page: [ ] of Rome.

He was dragged back from Ravenna, and compelled to prosecute his accusation; Tiberius, no wise concealing his old hatred to the exile Serenus, for that, after the condemnation of Libo, he had by letters upbraided the Emperor, that his signal zeal in that trial remained without reward; he had likewise inserted some expressions more contumacious than safe in the tender ears of a Prince naturally proud and prone to resentment. His words were eight years after rehearsed by Tiberius, who also charged him with many misdemeanours during that interval, though through the obstinacy of his slaves nothing, he said, could be discovered by torture.

In such a continued series of doleful proceedings, a small instance of joy intervened; Caius Cominius a Roman Knight, convicted of a scurrilous Poem against the Emperor, was pardoned by him at the supplication of his brother, who was a Senator. Hence it was reckoned the more astonishing, that he who knew better things, and what public renown attended clemency, should yet rather chuse the ways of tyranny and horror.

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For neither did he transgress through want of discernment; nor is it ever too intricate to be distinguished, whether the doings of Princes be applauded with sincerity, or whether only with the false guise of joy. Nay, Tiberius himself, who, upon other occasions, studied his words, and whose speech seemed to labour, yet, whenever he spoke as an advocate, spoke with readiness and volubility. Tiberius, mindful of this service, but pretending other motives, besought a reversal of the sentence of banishment, but to his expulsion from the Senate, made no opposition.

I am aware, that most of the transactions which I have already related, or shall hereafter relate, may, perhaps, appear minute, and too trivial to be remembered.

But, none must compare these my Annals with the writeings of those who compiled the Story of the ancient Roman people. They had for their subjects mighty wars, potent cities sacked, great Kings routed and taken captive; or, if they sometimes reviewed the domestic affairs of Rome, they there found the mutual strife and animosities of the Consuls and Tribunes, the Edition: current; Page: [ ] Agrarian and Frumentary laws, pushed and opposed, and the struggles between the Nobles and Populace; noble topics, and recounted by the old Historians with free scope.

To me remains a streightened task, and void of glory, steady peace, or short intervals of war, the proceedings at Rome sad and tragical, and a Prince careless of extending the Empire. Nor yet will it be without its profit to look minutely into such transactions, as, however small at first view, give often rise and motion to great events. For, all nations and cities are governed either by the populace, by the nobility, or by single rulers. The frame of a state chosen and compacted out of all these three, is easier applauded than accomplished, or if accomplished, cannot be of long duration.

So that, as dureing the Republic, either when the power of the people prevailed, or when the Senate bore the chief sway; it was necessary to know the genius of the commonalty, and by what measures they were to be humoured and restrained; and such too who were throughly acquainted with the spirit of the Senate and leading men, came to be esteemed skilful in the times, and men of prowess: so now, when that establishment is changed, and the present situation such, that one rules all; it is of advantage to collect and record these later incidents, as matters of public example and instruction; since few can, by their own wisdom, distinguish between things crooked and upright, few between Edition: current; Page: [ ] counsels pernicious and profitable, and since most men are taught by the fate and example of others.

But the present detail, however instructive, yet brings scanty delight. It is by the descriptions and accounts of nations, by the variety of battles, by the memorable fall of illustrious Captains, that the soul of the reader is engaged and refreshed. For myself, I can only give a sad display of cruel orders, incessant accusations, faithless friendships, the destruction of innocents, and endless trials, all attended with the same issue, death and condemnation; an obvious round of repetition and satiety! Besides that the old Historians are rarely censured; nor is any man now concerned whether they chiefly magnify the Roman or Carthaginian armies.

But, of many who under Tiberius suffered punishment, or were marked with infamy, the posterity are still subsisting; or if the families themselves are extinct, there are others found, who from a similitude of manners, think that, in reciting the evil doings of others, they themselves are charged: nay, even virtue and a glorious name create foes, as they expose in a light too obvious the opposite characters.

But I return to my undertaking. Satrius Secundus Edition: current; Page: [ ] and Pinarius Natta were his accusers, creatures of Sejanus; a mortal omen this to the accused; besides that Tiberius received his defence with an implacable countenance. He began it on this wise, casting away all hopes of life:.

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It is alledged, that I have praised Brutus and Cassius, men whose lives and actions have been compiled by a cloud of writers, and their memory treated by none but with honour. Titus Livius, an historian eminently famous for eloquence and veracity, celebrated Pompey with such abundant encomiums, that he was thence by Augustus named Pompeianus; nor did this prejudice their common friendship. Neither Scipio, nor Afranius, nor even this same Cassius, nor this same Brutus, are any where mentioned by him as traitors and parricides, the common nicknames now bestowed on them, but often as great and memorable men.

The writings of Asinius Pollio have conveyed down the memory of the same men under honourable characters. Corvinus Messala gloried to have had Cassius for his General: Yet both Pollio and Corvinus became signally powerful in wealth and honours Edition: current; Page: [ ] under Augustus. The letters of Marc Anthony, the speeches of Brutus, are full of reproaches, and recriminations against Augustus, false in truth, but urged with signal asperity.

But even the deified Julius, even the deified Augustus, bore all these invectives, and left them unsuppressed, whether with greater moderation or wisdom, I cannot easily say. For, if they are despised, they fade away; if you wax wroth, you seem to avow them for true. It has been ever allowed, without restriction or rebuke, to pass our judgment upon those whom death has withdrawn from the influence of affection and hate.

Are Cassius and Brutus now in arms? Do they at present fill with troops the fields of Philippi? Or do I fire the Roman people, by inflammatory harangues, with the spirit of civil rage? Brutus and Cassius, now above seventy Edition: current; Page: [ ] years slain, are still known in their Statues, which even the conqueror did not abolish; and what do the Historians, but preserve their characters? Impartial posterity to every man repays his proper praise; nor will there be wanting such as, if my death is determined, will not only revive the story of Cassius and Brutus, but even my story.

Hence we may justly mock the stupidity of those, who imagine that they can, by present power, extinguish the lights and memory of succeeding times; for, quite otherwise, the punishment of writers exalts the credit of the writings; nor did ever foreign Kings, or any else, who exercised the like cruelty, reap other fruit from it, than infamy to themselves, and glory to the sufferers.


Now for this whole year the course of accusations was so constant, that even during the solemnity of the Latin festival, when Drusus for his inauguration, as Governor of Rome, had ascended the Tribunal, he was accosted by Calpurnius Salvianus with a charge against Sextus Marius; a proceeding openly resented by the Emperor, and thence Salvianus was banished. But Fonteius Capito, who had as Proconsul governed Asia, was acquitted, upon proof that the crimes brought against him by Vibius Serenus were forged. Yet the forgery drew no penalty upon Serenus; nay, the public hate rendered him the more secure; for, every accuser, the more eager and incessant he was, the more sacred and inviolable he became.

Only the sorry and impotent were surrendered to chastisement. I shall therefore now unfold at once the motives of my silence then, and the rules which for the future I am determined to observe. Since the deified Augustus had not opposed the founding at Pergamus a Temple to himself and the Edition: current; Page: [ ] city of Rome, I, with whom all his actions and sayings have the force of laws, followed an example already approved, because to the worship bestowed upon me, that of the Senate was annexed.

An Intellectual History of Political Corruption

But as the indulging of this, in one instance, will find pardon; so a general latitude of being adored through every province, under the sacred representations of the Deities, would denote a vain spirit, a heart swelled with ambition. The glory too of Augustus will evanish, if by the promiscuous courtship of flattery it comes to be prostituted. This I acknowledge to you, and this acknowledgment I would have posterity to remember.

They will do abundant right to my memory, if they believe me to have been worthy of my ancestors, watchful of the Roman state, unmoved in perils, and in maintaining the public interest, fearless of private enmities.

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These are the Temples which in your breasts I would raise, these the fairest pourtraitures, and such as will endure. As to Temples and Statues of stone, if the Idol adored in them come to be hated by posterity, they are despised as his sepulchres.

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I here therefore invoke the Gods, that to the end of my life they would grant me a spirit undisturbed, and discerning in Edition: current; Page: [ ] duties human and divine: hence too I here implore our Citizens and Allies, that whenever my dissolution comes, they would with approbation and benevolent testimonies of remembrance, celebrate my actions and retain the odour of my name. Augustus too had chosen the nobler part, and hoped for deification.

All the other gratifications of Princes were instantly procured; one only was to be pursued insatiably, the praise and perpetuity of their name. For by contemning fame, the virtues that procure it, are contemned. Now Sejanus, intoxicated with excess of fortune, and moreover stimulated by the importunity of Livia, who, with the restless passion of a woman, craved the promised marriage, composed a Memorial to the Emperor.

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For, it was then the custom to apply to him in writing, though he were present. Yet of them he had never sought a blaze of honours; watching and toils like those of common soldiers, for the safe-guard of the Prince, had been his choice and ambition. However, what was most glorious for him he had attained, to be thought worthy of alliance with the Emperor; hence the source of his present hopes, and, since he had heard that Augustus, in the disposal of his daughter, had not been without thoughts even of some of the Roman Knights; he begged, that if a husband were sought for Livia, Tiberius would remember his friend, one whose ambition aimed no higher than the pure and disinterested glory of the affinity.

For he would never abandon the burden of his present trust, but hold it sufficient to be enabled to support his house against the injurious wrath of Agrippina; and in this he only consulted the security of his children. For himself; his own life would be abundantly long, whenever finally spent in the ministry of such a Prince. For a present answer, Tiberius praised the loyalty of Sejanus, civilly recounted the instances of his own favours towards him, and required time, as it were for a thorough deliberation. He therefore did not delude Sejanus with an obvious and plausible answer; that Livia could herself determine whether, after Drusus, she ought again to marry, or still persist his widow, and that she had a mother and grand-mother, nearer relations and more interested, to advise.

Nay, allowing that I suffered you afterwards to remain what you are; do you believe that they who saw her father, they who saw her brother, and the ancestors of our house, covered with the supreme dignities, will ever Edition: current; Page: [ ] suffer it? You, in truth, propose, to stand still in the same station; but the great Magistrates and Grandees of the state, those very Magistrates and Grandees who, in spight of yourself, break in upon you, and in all affairs court you as their Oracle, make no secret of maintaining that you have long since exceeded the bounds of the Equestrian Order, and far outgone in power all the confidents of my father; and from their hatred to you, they also censure me.

But, it seems, Augustus deliberated about giving his daughter to a Roman Knight. Where is the wonder, if, perplexed with a crowd of distracting cares, and apprized to what an unbounded height above others he raised whomsoever he dignified with such a match, he talked of Proculeius, and some like him, remarkable for the retiredness of their life, and no wise engaged in the affairs of state?

But if we are influenced by the hesitation of Augustus, how much more powerful is his decision, since he bestowed his daughter on Agrippa, and then on me? These are considerations which in friendship I have not with-held; however, neither your own inclinations, nor those of Livia, shall be ever thwarted by me. The secret and constant purposes of my own heart towards you, and with what further ties of affinity, I am contriving to bind you still faster to me, I at present forbear to recount. Thus much only I will declare, that there is Edition: current; Page: [ ] nothing so high, but those abilities, and your singular zeal and fidelity towards me, may justly claim, as, when opportunity presents, either in Senate, or in a popular assembly, I shall not fail to testify.

From this counsel he foresaw many advantages; upon himself would depend all access to the Emperor; a llletters and expresses would, as the soldiers were the carriers, be in great measure under his direction; in a little time the Prince, now in declining age, and then softened by recess, would more easily transfer upon him the whole charge of the Empire; he should be removed from the multitude of such as to make their court, attended him at Rome, and thence one source of envy would be stopt. So that by discharging the empty phantoms of power, he should augment the essentials.

Opportunely for Sejanus, there happened about that time the trial of Votienus Montanus, a man of celebrated wit; a trial which determined Tiberius to shun all assemblies of the fathers, and thence escape hearing the true and painful reflections which to his face were there uttered. Votienus suffered the pains of treason. For Tiberius having learnt that he was upbraided with cruelty towards the accused, and growing thence more obstinately cruel, punished Aquila with exile, for adultery with Varius Ligur, though she were already sentenced by Lentulus Getulicus, Edition: current; Page: [ ] Consul elect, to the penalties of the Julian law.

Nor had Philip, in his decision, acted by power, but from equity; the same afterwards was the adjudgment of King Antigonus, the same that of the Roman Commander Mummius. Then was discussed the petition from the citizens of Marseilles, and what they claimed according to the precedent of Publius Rutilius, was approved; for Rutilius, though by a law expelled from Rome, had been by those of Smyrna adopted a citizen; and as Volcatius Moschus, another exile, had found at Marseilles the same privilege and reception, he had to their Republic, as to his country, bequeathed his estate.

Upon Domitius devolved the lustre of his father, who in the Civil War held the dominion of the sea, till he espoused first the interest of Marc Anthony, and anon that of Augustus. His grand-father had fallen for the cause of the Patriots and Senate, Edition: current; Page: [ ] in the battle of Pharsalia. He himself was chosen for the husband of the younger Antonia, daughter of Octavia. He afterwards led an army over the Elb, and advanced farther into Germany than any Roman before him.

These things procured him the ensigns of triumph. There also died Lucius Antonius, of a race greatly illustrious, but unhappy; for, Julius Antonius his father having suffered death for adultery with Julia, Augustus removed this Lucius, then a child, and the grand-son of his sister, to the city of Marseilles, where, under the guise of his studies, the name of his exile might be hid. To his death, however, public honour was paid, and by a decree of Senate his bones were reposited in the tomb of the Octavii.