Crispinus then entered on a line of life afterwards rendered notorious by the miseries of the age and men’s shamelessness. Needy, obscure, and restless, he wormed himself by steady informations into the confidence of a vindictive prince, and soon imperilled all the most distinguished citizens; and having thus gained influence with one, hatred from all besides, he left an example in following which beggars became wealthy, the insignificant, formidable, and brought ruin first on others, finally on themselves. He alleged against Marcellus that he had made some disrespectful remarks about Tiberius, a charge not to be evaded, inasmuch as the accuser selected the worst features of the emperor’s character and grounded his case on them. The things were true, and so were believed to have been said.
For my part, the wider the scope of my reflection on the present and the past, the more am I impressed by their mockery of human plans in every transaction. Clearly, the very last man marked out for empire by public opinion, expectation and general respect was he whom fortune was holding in reserve as the emperor of the future.
It was next proposed to relax the Papia Poppaea law, which Augustus in his old age had passed subsequently to the Julian statutes, for yet further enforcing the penalties on celibacy and for enriching the exchequer. And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of the childless state. Meanwhile there was an increase in the number of persons imperilled, for every household was undermined by the insinuations of informers; and now the country suffered from its laws, as it had hitherto suffered from its vices.
My purpose is not to relate at length every motion, but only such as were conspicuous for excellence or notorious for infamy. This I regard as history’s highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds. So corrupted indeed and debased was that age of sycophancy that not only the foremost citizens who were forced to save their grandeur by servility, but every ex-consul, most of the ex-praetors and a host of inferior senators would rise in eager rivalry to propose shameful and preposterous motions.
Brutidius who was rich in excellent accomplishments, and was sure, had he pursued a path of virtue, to reach the most brilliant distinction, was goaded on by an eager impatience, while he strove to outstrip his equals, then his superiors, and at last even his own aspirations. Many have thus perished, even good men, despising slow and safe success and hurrying on even at the cost of ruin to premature greatness.
That age indeed produced at one time two brilliant ornaments of peace. But while Labeo was a man of sturdy independence and consequently of wider fame, Capito’s obsequiousness was more acceptable to those in power. Labeo, because his promotion was confined to the praetorship, gained in public favour through the wrong; Capito, in obtaining the consulship, incurred the hatred which grows out of envy.
Had the emperor set bounds to his speech, he must have filled the hearts of his hearers with sympathy and admiration. But he now fell back on those idle and often ridiculed professions about restoring the republic, and the wish that the consuls or some one else might undertake the government, and thus destroyed belief even in what was genuine and noble.
With profound meaning was it often affirmed by the greatest teacher of philosophy that, could the minds of tyrants be laid bare, there would be seen gashes and wounds; for, as the body is lacerated by scourging, so is the spirit by brutality, by lust and by evil thoughts. Assuredly Tiberius was not saved by his elevation or his solitude from having to confess the anguish of his heart and his self-inflicted punishment.
Nothing ever happened to Cotta more to his distinction. Of noble birth, but beggared by extravagance and infamous for his excesses, he was now by the dignity of his revenge, raised to a level with the stainless virtues of Arruntius.
Claudius handed over to them the whole administration of justice for which there had been by sedition or war so many struggles; the Sempronian laws vesting judicial power in the equestrian order, and those of Servilius restoring it to the Senate, while it was for this above everything else that Marius and Sulla fought of old. But those were days of political conflict between the classes, and the results of victory were binding on the State.
This was Nero’s reason for himself undertaking the trial, and having convicted Veiento, he banished him from Italy, and ordered the burning of his books, which, while it was dangerous to procure them, were anxiously sought and much read. Soon full freedom for their possession caused their oblivion.
“It is not,” he urged, “by weak inaction that great empires are held together; there must be the struggle of brave men in arms; might is right with those who are at the summit of power. And though it is the glory of a private house to keep its own, it is the glory of a king to fight for the possessions of others.”
“Your age is such as to be now free from the passions of youth, and such is your life that in the past you have nothing to excuse. Hitherto, you have only borne adversity; prosperity tries the heart with keener temptations; for hardships may be endured, whereas we are spoiled by success.”
For all the greatest villains, distrusting the present, and dreading change, look for private friendship to shelter them from public detestation, caring not to be free from guilt, but only to ensure their turn in impunity.
Amidst the allurement of the city and all shameful excesses, they wasted their strength in idleness, and their energies in riot. At last, reckless even of health, a large portion of them quartered themselves in the notoriously pestilential neighbourhood of the Vatican; hence ensued a great mortality in the ranks.