Divus Claudius


Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Thomson, Alexander, M.D, translator; Reed, J.E., editor. Philadelphia: Gebbie, 1883.

By the encouragement of Titus Livius,[*](Titus Livius, the prince of Roman historians, died in the fourth year of the reign of Tiberius, A. U. C. 771; at which time Claudius was about twenty-seven years old, having been born A. U. C. 744.) and with the assistance of Sulpicius Flavus, he attempted at an early age the comlpeitiQof a history; and having called together a numerous auditory, to hear and give their judgment upon it, he read it over with much difficulty, and frequently interrupting himself. For after he had begun, a great laugh was raised amongst the company, by the breaking of several benches from the weight of a very fat man; and even when order was restored, he could not forbear bursting out into violent fits of laughter, at the remembrance of the accident. After he became emperor, likewise, he wrote several things which he was careful to have recited to his friends by a reader. He commenced his history from the death of the dictator Caesar; but afterwards he took a later period, and began at the conclusion of the civil wars; because he found he could not speak with freedom, and a due regard to truth, concerning the former period, having been often taken to task both by his mother and grandmother. Of the earlier history he left only two books, but of the latter, one and forty. He compiled likewise the "'History of his Own Life," in eight books, full of absurdities, but in no bad style; also, "A Defence of Cicero against the Books of Asinius Gallus,"[*](Asinius Gallus was the son of Asinius Pollio, the famous orator, and had written a book comparing his father with Cicero, and giving the former the preference. ) which exhibited a considerable degree of learning. He besides invented three new letters, and added them to the former alphabet,[*](Quintilian informs us, that one of the three new letters the emperor Claudius attempted to introduce, was the AEolic digamma, which had the same force as v consonant. Priscian calls another anti-sigma, and says that the character proposed was two Greek sigmas, back to back, and that it was substituted for the Greek ψ, ps. The other letter is not known, and all three soon fell into disuse.) as highly necessary. He published a book to recommend them while he was yet only a private person; but on his elevation to imperial power he had little difficulty in introducing them into common use; and these letters are still extant in a variety of books, registers, and inscriptions upon buildings.

He applied himself with no less attention to the study ofGreciani literature, asserting upon all occasions his love of that language, and its surpassing excellency. A stranger once holding a discourse both in Greek and Latin, he addressed him thus: " Since you are skilled in both our tongues." And recommending Achaia to the favour of the senate, he said, " I have a particular attachment to that province, on account of our common studies." In the senate he often made long replies to ambassadors in that language. On the tribunal he frequently quoted the verses of Homer. When at any time he had taken vengeance on an enemy or a conspirator, he scarcely ever gave to the tribune on guard, who, according to custom, came for the word, any other than this:

  1. ἄνδρ' ἐπαμύνασθαι ὅτε τισ πρότερος
  1. 'Tis time to strike when wrong demands the blow.
To conclude, he wrote some histories likewise in Greek, namely, twenty books on Tuscan affairs, and eight on the Carthaginian; in consequence of which another museum was founded at Alexandria, in addition to the old one, and called after his name; and it was ordered, that, upon certain days in every year, his Tuscan history should be read over in one of these, and his Carthaginian in the other, as in a school; each history being read through by persons who took it in turn.

Towards the close of his life, he gave some manifest indications that he repented of his marriage with Agrippina, and his adoption of Nero. For some of his freedmen noticing with approbation his having condemned, the day before, a woman accused of adultery, he remarked, "It has been my misfortune to have wives who have been unfaithful to my bed; but they did not escape punishment." Often, when he happened to meet Britannicus, he would embrace him tenderly, and express a desire " that he might grow apace, and receive from him an account of all his actions:" using the Greek phrase,

ὁ τρώσασ καὶ ἰάσεται
, "He who has wounded will also heal." And intending to give him the manly habit, while he was under age and a tender youth, because his stature would allow of it, he added, "I do so, that the Roman people may at last have a real Caesar."[*](Caesar by birth, not by adoption, as the preceding emperors had been, and as Nero would be, if he succeeded.)

Soon afterwards he made his will, and had it signed by all the magistrates as witnesses. But he was prevented from proceeding further by Agrippina, accused by her own guilty conscience, as well as by informers, of a variety of crimes. It is agreed that he was taken off by poison; but where, and by whom administered, remains in uncertainty. Some authors say that it was given him as he was feasting with the priests in the Capitol, by the eunuch Halotus, his taster. Others say by Agrippina, at his own table, in mushrooms, a dish of which he was very fond.[*](Tacitus informs us, that the poison was prepared by Locusta, of whom we shall hear, NERO, C. xxiii. etc.) The accounts of what followed likewise differ. Some relate that he instantly became speechless, was racked with pain through the night, and died about daybreak; others, that at first he fell into a sound sleep, -and afterwards. his food rising, he threw up the whole; but had another dose given him; whether in water-gruel, under pretence of refreshment after his exhaustion, or in a clyster, as if designed to relieve his bowels, is likewise uncertain.

His death was kept secret until everything was settled relative to his successor. Accordingly, vows were made for his recovery, and comedians were called to amuse him, as it was pretended, by his own desire. He died upon the third of the ides of October [13th October], in the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, and the fourteenth of his reign.[*](A. U. C. 806; A. D 54.) His funeral was celebrated with the customary imperial pomp, and he was ranked amongst the gods. This honour was taken from him by Nero, but restored by Vespasian.

The chief presages of his death were, the appearance of a comet, his father Drusus's monument being struck by lightning, and the death of most of the magistrates of all ranks that year. It appears from several circumstances, that he was sensible of his approaching dissolution, and made no secret of it. For when he nominated the consuls, he appointed no one to fill the office beyond the month in which he died. At the last assembly of the senate in which he made his appearance, he earnestly exhorted his two sons to unity with each other, and with earnest entreaties commended to the fathers the care of their tender years. And in the last cause he heard from the tribunal, he repeatedly declared in open court, "That he was now arrived at the last stage of mortal existence;" whilst all who heard it shrunk at hearing these ominous words.

It has been already observed, that Claudius was entirely governed by his freedmen; a class of retainers which enjoyed a great share of favour and confidence with their patrons in those times. They had before been the slaves of their masters, and had obtained their freedom as a reward for their faithful and attentive services. Of the esteem in which they were often held, we meet with an instance in Tiro, the freedman of Cicero, to whom that illustrious Roman addresses several epistles, written in the most familiar and affectionate strain of friendship. As it was common for them to be taught the more useful parts of education in the families of their masters, they were usually well qualified for the management of domestic concerns, and might even be competent to the superior departments of the state, especially in those times when negotiations and treaties with foreign princes seldom or never occurred; and in arbitrary governments, where public affairs were directed more by the will of the sovereign or his ministers, than by refined suggestions of policy.

From the character generally given of Claudius before his elevation to the throne, we should not readily imagine that he was endowed with any taste for literary composition; yet he seems to have exclusively enjoyed this distinction during his own reign, in which learning was at a low ebb. Besides history, Suetonius informs us that he wrote a Defence of Cicero against the Charges of Asinius Gallus. This appears to be the only tribute of esteem or approbation paid to the character of Cicero, from the time of Livy the historian, to the extinction of the race of the Caesars.