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Gaius Caesar was born on the last day of August in 12 CE, and as the youngest son of the popular Germanicus he was affectionately called Caligula for the military boots he wore as a child among the soldiers on the Rhine. After his father died, he was adopted by Emperor Tiberius. Although his two brothers and mother were killed, Caligula managed to survive by joining in the perversions of the Emperor at Capri for six years. Tiberius predicted that Caligula would mean his own death and universal ruin, saying he was nursing a viper in Rome's bosom. According to Suetonius Caligula seduced Ennia Naevia, the wife of praetorian prefect Macro, who helped him stay alive and alter the will of Tiberius, supplanting Tiberius Gemellus, grandson of Tiberius. When Caligula entered Rome, a mob made him absolute ruler. Caligula stopped treason trials, recalled political exiles, allowed suppressed works to be published, abolished the sales tax, doubled bounty rates Tiberius had promised praetorian cohorts, provided games and spectacles, and was greeted with enthusiasm after the reclusive years of his predecessor. For several months Caligula gave his personal attention to governing before he suffered a serious illness.
At first Romans were delighted with Caligula's recovery; but then his behavior became monstrous for its atrocities according to historians such as Suetonius. He was elected consul and chose his uncle Claudius as his companion consul. Caligula transferred elections from the Senate to the people and moved the imperial mint to Rome. He had killed or drove to suicide many prominent Romans including Tiberius Gemellus and Macro. As his profligate spending used up funds, he revived treason trials to take money from the wealthy and imposed new taxes. He immediately accepted the honors and titles Augustus had taken decades to reluctantly acquire.
Caligula slept with all three of his sisters, treating Drusilla like a wife. When she died in 38 CE, he had her declared a goddess; during mourning he made it a capital crime to laugh, dine, or bathe with relatives. With imperial power his irrational behavior had few boundaries, as his peculiar whims no matter how cruel were obeyed out of fear. He often quoted Accius that he did not mind being hated as long as he was feared. He doted on actors, gladiators, and wives he desired. He used senators' wives and boys in a palace brothel to raise money. Many were killed for their money, and older citizens he called relatives in order to inherit their property. His greed was such that he enjoyed wallowing in large piles of gold. Caligula forced many men to compete as gladiators alone and in groups and in doing so was not bound by the usual laws. The appearance of democracy soon gave way to tyranny as he abolished the elections.
In 39 Caligula went to Germany to punish a suspected conspiracy by executing the commander of the upper Rhine legions, Gaetulicus, and a possible heir apparent, Lepidus; he sent his sisters Agrippina and Livilla into exile. After claiming to have fought Germans, Caligula entered Gaul to expropriate more money. At Lyons he auctioned imperial property at outrageous prices and sponsored a contest in Latin and Greek rhetoric with humiliating punishments for the losers. Instead of crossing over to Britain, Caligula ordered his soldiers to pick up seashells, possibly a currency in some countries. He pretended to have made great conquests but in fact had only accepted the surrender of Adminius, who had been banished by his father, the British king Cymbeline.
Caligula established the kingdoms of Lesser Armenia, Pontus, and part of Thrace for the three sons of Cotys he had been raised with at Rome. His removal of the Armenian king allowed the Parthians to take over there. Caligula gave the tetrarchies of Philip and Herod Antipas to his friend Herod Agrippa, who persuaded him to change the plans about his statue in the Jerusalem temple. After ordering Mauretanian king Ptolemy to kill himself, his army was resisted in trying to annex that kingdom. Caligula's megalomania aiming at his deification offended Jews, whom he therefore hated. After Jews had pulled down an altar Greeks had erected to him in Jamnia of Palestine and after the pogrom against Jews in Alexandria, Caligula ordered a statue of himself be built and installed in the temple at Jerusalem. When his governor Petronius balked at this, he ordered him to commit suicide; but news of Caligula's death arrived before that message.
According to Suetonius more than once he closed the granaries and let people go hungry. People who gathered at the Circus to protest Caligula's misrule were killed by soldiers. As his crimes increased, Caligula considered murdering the most distinguished senators and moving the capital to Antium or Alexandria. Since he appeared to be sick both physically and mentally, conspiracies against him increased. In 41 two officers of his praetorian guard killed him; his wife Caesonia, whom he had married after she bore him a daughter, was also killed along with the child.
While the Senate debated whether to restore the republic, the praetorian guard made Claudius Emperor, encouraged by his promise of 15,000 sesterces for each guard. The Senate confirmed Claudius as princeps. Claudius was born in Lyon on August 1, 10 BC. Thought a fool because of his physical disabilities, his wandering attention, and peculiar sense of humor, Claudius had been either ignored or ridiculed for years even though he wrote extensive histories on the reign of Augustus, the Etruscans, and Carthage; he also wrote an autobiography and a defense of Cicero. He believed that Rome was great because of its ability to change with appropriate reforms while holding to essential traditions. He explained that he pretended to be stupid to survive under Caligula, but according to Suetonius nobody believed him. He quickly gained popularity by showing respect for the Senate, dropping treason trials, recalling exiles, canceling Caligula's new taxes, and sponsoring gladiator shows, though his revival of the office of censor in 47 was disliked. Claudius tried to improve the quality of senators and knights by adding new ones and removing others. He extended citizenship in the empire. Sick slaves abandoned in the temple of Aesculapius were given their freedom if they recovered.
Claudius centralized administration by relying on the emancipated slaves of his household. Narcissus as secretary handled all correspondence; Pallas was responsible for finances; Callistus dealt with petitions and judicial matters; and Polybius was librarian and his literary advisor. Pallas and Callistus began with no money and ended up multi-millionaires. Claudius insured ships to protect the grain supply and had a new harbor built at Ostia. Aqueducts and roads were extended, and it took eleven years to drain the Fucine Lake. Appius Silanus, the former governor of Spain, was recalled to marry the mother of Claudius' wife Messalina; but when he refused to be Messalina's lover (according to Dio Cassius), Narcissus got him executed. This caused Annius Vinicianus to form a plot in 42 with the Dalmatia governor Camillus Scribonianus; but soldiers feared the chaos of attempting to revive the republic, and the attempted revolt was quelled in five days.
Claudius freed Philo's brother, the Alexandrian Alabarch Alexander, whom Caligula had imprisoned. In Jerusalem the elder Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel, was president of the Sanhedrin and made laws for the good of the whole community, treating Judean and non-Judean poor the same with help in times of need. Herod Agrippa tried to build fortifications in Jerusalem, but Syrian governor Vibius Marsus got Claudius to revoke his permission. After Claudius' friend Herod Agrippa died in 44, Judea reverted to a province. According to Josephus, Claudius issued an edict that the same rights and privileges Jews had in Alexandria should be extended throughout the empire, and Greek cities should maintain the rights and privileges preserved to them by Augustus. Since the young Agrippa was too young to rule, Claudius appointed Cuspius Fadus procurator of Judea. He contained a border dispute between Jews in Peraea and citizens of Philadelphia, and he sent out troops who killed the prophet Theudas as he was trying to lead 400 followers across the Jordan. Fadus was replaced by the son of the Alabarch Alexander, Tiberius Julius Alexander, who had become a Roman knight and adopted pagan religion.
After Claudius put Felix, the brother of Pallas, in charge of Galilee, Ventidius Cumanus became procurator of Judea and Samaria in 48 and had to quell more serious disturbances after a Roman soldier offended the Temple and a crowd at a festival. After a Galilean had been murdered, Galilean bandits led by Eleazar ben Dinai and forces Felix sent from Acrabatene attacked Samaria. Then the Samaritans appealed to Cumanus to send troops from Caesarea, and they killed many of Eleazar's followers. Jewish worship was tolerated in the empire, though some may have been expelled from Rome in 49; Suetonius wrote that Jews caused disturbances in Rome that were instigated by Chrestus, by which he probably meant the Christ. Banditry in Judea increased, and Syrian governor Quadratus had to send leaders of the Jews and Samaritans along with Cumanus and the tribune Celer to Rome to be disciplined in 52.
The Mauretanian revolt was put down by forces led by Suetonius Paulinus in 41-42 and then by Hosidius Geta in 44, resulting in it becoming two provinces. In 43 Claudius took away Lycia's independence and made it a province because of their savage vendettas; but he restored Rhodian independence because he approved of their morals. In 44 Claudius restored Achaea and Macedonia to the Senate, and Thrace was annexed as a province two years later. Claudius personally invaded Britain in 43 with four legions and a total of about 40,000 men. He made Camulodunum (Colchester) capital of the new province of Britannia with few casualties. Regni king Cogidumnus was allowed to reign as his legate at Noviomagus (Chichester), and Iceni king Prasutagus in Norfolk became his ally. His general Aulus Plautius was appointed governor and was succeeded by Ostorius Scapula in 47 until 52. Romans thus ruled southeast England, colonized Camulodunum, and spread their culture. British rebels led by Caratacus fought the Romans for nine years until their leader was finally captured and taken to Rome, where he was respected for his courage. Claudius suppressed the Druids, and the Senate futilely tried to banish astrologers from Italy in 52.
Mithridates regained his kingship of Armenia, while Claudius sent a letter to restrain Cotys, king of Lesser Armenia, and Gotarzes II and his brother Vardanes fought a civil war in Parthia. Gotarzes came to terms with Vardanes after notifying him of a conspiracy; Vardanes returned to Seleucia and ended its seven-year revolt. However, the autocratic Vardanes was soon assassinated while hunting, and Gotarzes took over. Discontented Parthians wanted Meherdates released from Rome and so appealed to Claudius and the Roman Senate to end the tyranny of Gotarzes, arguing that Parthian princes were given to Rome as hostages for these circumstances. Claudius sent Meherdates back with Syrian governor Gaius Cassius. However, Meherdates detoured through Armenia during winter, and he was defeated by the Parthian forces of Gotarzes, who soon became sick and died; he was succeeded by Media king Vonones II and his son Vologeses I.
In the Crimean Bosphorus another Mithridates revolted, and an alliance with Rome organized by King Cotys I was responsible for exterminating the town Uspe that had offered to turn over 10,000 slaves; but the Romans could not handle so many and decided they could only slaughter them in normal warfare. Mithridates eventually surrendered and was sent to Rome. After his general Corbulo attacked German Chauci led by Gannascus, Claudius gave him a triumph but restrained further warfare. In 48 Claudius made a speech arguing that extending citizenship to those on Rome's frontiers had always strengthened its empire in contrast to Sparta and Athens, who had segregated aliens. The Senate responded by making some Aedui Gaul chiefs senators. A census that year counted 5,984,072 citizens, probably including women and children.
In 51 a war broke out between Armenia's Mithridates and the Iberians ruled by Pharasmanes and supported by Mithridates' nephew Radamistus, who pretended to make an agreement with his uncle but then treacherously killed him. Rome decided to let Radamistus keep his ill-gotten gains but ordered Pharasmanes to withdraw from Armenia. The Roman governor of Cappadocia, Paelignus, invaded Armenia and ravaged the country. Syrian governor Quadratus sent a force to repair these outrages; but he was recalled so as not to provoke a war with Parthia, for Vologases took the opportunity to send his Parthian army into Armenia, driving out the Iberians. A winter epidemic forced the Parthians to withdraw from Armenia, allowing Radamistus to come back and punish people as traitors; but they soon replaced him with his brother Tiridates.
Claudius was also greatly influenced by his wife Messalina, who along with the imperial freedmen sold citizenship rights for money. In 48 Gaius Silius decided not to wait until the Emperor died of old age, arguing boldly, "Only innocent people can afford long-term plans. Flagrant guilt requires audacity."1 Messalina agreed to marry Silius while Claudius was sacrificing at Ostia. Narcissus asked the Emperor if he knew he was divorced, and Claudius wondered if he was still Emperor. Narcissus ordered Messalina and her husband Silius executed. Then Pallas persuaded Claudius to marry his own niece Agrippina the same year. She got Burrus appointed commander of the praetorian guard, and two years later her son Nero was adopted by the Emperor. Agrippina eliminated enemies with private trials and executions, aiming to have Nero supplant Claudius' son Britannicus, who, born in 41, was three years younger than Nero. Senator Annaeus Seneca was recalled from exile and became Nero's tutor. Seneca prophetically dreamed that his pupil was really Caligula. In 53 Nero married Octavia, the daughter of Claudius. As the health of Claudius deteriorated with drinking and gluttony, in 54 he was poisoned with mushrooms probably by Agrippina and her lover Pallas. According to Suetonius, Claudius had executed several of his relatives, 35 senators, and 300 knights.
Nero was supported by praetorian prefect Burrus and confirmed the guard by giving each man 15,000 sesterces. The Senate welcomed Nero and heard his speech composed by Seneca in which he promised to follow the Augustan model, end secret trials, stop court corruption, and respect the privileges of the Senate. Claudius was deified, and Nero could claim he was the son of a god. Only 16, Nero was at first dominated by his mother Agrippina, who murdered or drove to suicide Nero's aunt Domitia Lepida, proconsul of Asia Iunius Silanus, and the freedman Narcissus. According to Tacitus, Burrus and Seneca prevented other murders; disliking rule by a woman, they gained control by replacing Pallas. When Agrippina began to show affection for her step-son Britannicus, the boy was poisoned. Nero became involved with the freedwoman Acte and resented his mother taking the side of his wife Octavia; Agrippina had to retire from the palace. Suillius was banished in 58 after criticizing Seneca, whom he said had been exiled by Claudius for committing adultery in the house of Germanicus. Suillius accused Seneca of gaining 300,000,000 sesterces in four years of imperial friendship by charging high interest in Italy and the provinces. Suillius was charged with embezzling funds in Asia, causing a civil war, and convicting many knights.
At first the artistic young Emperor could hardly sign a death warrant and banned capital punishment. In 57 Nero forbade killing in circus contests; instead he emphasized athletics and inaugurated poetry and theater competitions. In 61 he had a gymnasium and baths built. Nero reduced taxes and gave slaves permission to file civil complaints against unjust masters. He pardoned authors who wrote epigrams criticizing his debaucheries. Seneca, who had wide financial interests, improved the financial administration. Governors were prosecuted for extortion. The food supply was protected, and the harbor at Ostia was completed. Colonies of veterans were established in Italy. Nero even tried to promote free trade by removing indirect taxes, but this proved too difficult. After Secundus was murdered by his slaves in 61, the law allowed the execution of 400 slaves in his palace, although the urban commoners protested. The jurist Cassius Longinus proposed stronger measures to control slaves.
Tacitus complained that Nero sponsored "effeminate" theatrical productions with eminent women rehearsing indecent parts. Money was given out, and respectable people were forced to spend it on vices, while the disreputable did so gladly.
Promiscuity and degradation thrived.
Roman morals had long become impure,
but never was there so favorable an environment
for debauchery as among this filthy crowd.
Even in good surroundings people find it hard to behave well.
Here every form of immorality competed for attention,
and no chastity, modesty, or vestige of decency could survive.2
A. Didius governed Britain (52-57) and reinstated Queen Cartimandua. In 59 Suetonius Paulinus attacked the hostile Druid center at Mona. When Iceni king Prasutagus died, expropriation of land, flogging of his widow Boudicca, raping of his two daughters, and Roman exploitation by money-lenders like Seneca led to a revolt, as offending imperial agent Catus Decianus withdrew to Gaul. Camulodunum was attacked, and all the Romans there were slaughtered. All of the infantry in Rome's ninth legion were killed while the cavalry fled; about 70,000 were killed when London and Verulamium were sacked. However, the greatly outnumbered but well disciplined troops of Paulinus managed near Lichfield to route the forces of Boudicca, who then took poison. 80,000 Britons were reported killed but only 400 Roman soldiers. Paulinus took reprisals; but famine did even more damage as they had neglected to sow their fields. The new imperial agent Classicianus disliked Paulinus and advised people to wait and surrender to a new governor, who would be more kind. The imperial freed slave Polyclitus arrived with an enormous escort to investigate, but he was scorned by the British. Finally Nero sent in the more conciliatory governor Petronius Turpillianus.
In Asia Roman general Domitius Corbulo captured and burned Artaxata and in 59 drove Tiridates out of Armenia, establishing Tigranes on the throne there. Corbulo was appointed governor of Syria. Tigranes provoked Parthia by attacking Adiabene. Nero sent an army under consul Caesennius Paetus, but in 62 he foolishly surrendered his forces to the Parthians at Rhandeia even though Corbulo was nearby. Paetus was dismissed, and Corbulo negotiated a treaty recognizing as king of Armenia the Parthian Tiridates. In 66 Tiridates was ostentatiously crowned by Nero in Rome, and the same year he ordered his best general Corbulo to commit suicide.
Nero set up Herod Agrippa's son Aristobulus as king of Lesser Armenia, added four cities to young Agrippa's kingdom, and appointed Felix procurator of the remainder of Judea. Brigandage was rampant, but Felix was friendly with the sicarii, who mingled in crowds and stabbed opponents with short daggers; after Felix was reprimanded by the high priest Jonathan, that cleric was murdered in this way. Agrippa appointed Ishmael II high priest, and his family compelled landowners to pay them all tithes, thus taking away the income of the lower priests. Roman cohorts were required to subdue a revolt led by an Egyptian Jew. Greeks were fighting Jews over who would control Caesarea; eventually the Greeks bribed Burrus to have Nero deprive the Judeans of civil rights. At two-year intervals the greedy Felix was succeeded by Festus about 60, Albinus in 62, and Florus in 64; in a deteriorating situation according to Josephus each governed worse than his predecessor. Albinus increased taxes, released bandits for money, and was bribed to ignore the crimes of the sicarii.
As procurator of Judea, Florus took 17 talents from the Temple treasury as back-taxes. Offended by Judean mockery, Florus ordered his soldiers to attack the marketplace, and according to Josephus they killed and crucified about 3600 people. The next day the people led by priests demonstrated for peace. Two cohorts arrived from Caesarea and killed more Judeans trying to occupy the Temple in Jerusalem. As Florus and the troops withdrew to Caesarea, he left one cohort with the priests to keep order. Jews tried to persuade Roman authorities they were not in revolt and complained about Florus. The spiritual leader of the revolutionary Zealots was Eleazar ben Ananias of the Shammai school. Those arguing for peace were the followers of Hillel who abhorred war, nobles benefiting from Roman rule, and the wealthy who feared revolutionary changes. Already taxes to Rome were being withheld. Agrippa gave a speech pointing out the folly of going to war with imperial Rome and urged them to collect the 40 talents due Rome, though when he tried to get them to obey Florus, they drove him away. The day in June of 65 the Jews decided not to pay taxes to Rome was later commemorated as a victory. Zealots led by Menahem took the fortress at Masada.
When Nero became involved with Poppaea Sabina, he had her husband Otho sent to Lusitania as governor. Under her influence Nero ordered his mother Agrippina murdered in 59 and his wife Octavia three years later when Burrus died. That year Nero appointed as praetorian prefects the successful grain manager Faenius Rufus and the vicious Sicilian Ofonius Tigellinus; then he married Poppaea Sabina. The ex-slave Doryphorus was eliminated for opposing the marriage as was Pallas for his wealth. Tigellinus gained power by appealing to Nero's vices; aristocrats, such as Cornelius Sulla in Gaul and Rubellius Plautus in Asia, were soon being executed. Tigellinus also gained influence by accusing Faenius Rufus of friendship with Agrippina.
Seneca tried to restrain Nero from eliminating contenders, saying, "No matter how many you slay, you cannot kill your successor."3 Seneca was attacked for his enormous wealth and extravagant estate. Since Seneca criticized Nero's amusements in charioteering and singing, they argued the Emperor no longer needed a tutor. Seneca thanked the Emperor for the wealth he had bestowed upon him, offered to give up his property to imperial agents, and asked to retire. Nero expressed gratitude to his tutor and hoped for his continued counsel, fearing his retirement would make him seem mean. Seneca dismissed his entourage and stayed home studying philosophy, escaping poison by living on fresh fruit and running water.
In 64 a fire broke out and burned more than half of Rome in a week. Nero returned from Antium and attempted to relieve the homeless, but a rumor spread that he sang his poem on the sacking of Troy. To counter rumors that Nero ordered the blaze so that he could rebuild and name a new city after himself, the fire was blamed on the unpopular Christians, whose secret rituals many misunderstood, resulting in the persecution of innocent people in Rome. Spectacles of Christians being thrown to dogs (or lions) or used as burning torches aroused sympathy from many people and increased Nero's unpopularity. Nero had the city rebuilt in a more ordered pattern, but he also planned extravagant gardens, palaces, and an enormous statue of himself. Italy and Greece were ransacked for works of art to replace the many treasures lost. To raise money for these projects and for an ambitious and impractical canal from Ostia to Lake Avernus, Nero increased taxes and even put to death six large landowners in Africa. Like Caligula, when he began to run out of money, Nero resorted to robberies and cruel blackmail. According to Dio Cassius many were put to death, while many others purchased their lives from Tigellinus for a great price. Gold and silver coins were also slightly debased.
The Senate resented the governing freedmen, Greeks, and Asians, but a plot to enthrone Calpurnius Piso was squelched in 65; Faenius Rufus, Seneca, Lucan, and a total of eighteen died, and thirteen were banished. Nero became more tyrannical, and Tigellinus was ordered to track down suspects. Before his death the next year the novelist Petronius wrote out a list of Nero's male and female bed partners. The Stoic philosopher Paetus Thrasea was condemned to death after being accused by Cossutianus Capito, whom Thrasea had convicted of extortion in Cilicia. Resentment also ended the life of Marcius Barea Soranus for governing Asia too well. Soranus had managed the clearing of the harbor at Ephesus but got into trouble by refusing to punish the people of Pergamum for stopping Nero's ex-slave Acratus from removing their statues and pictures.
Nero suffered from megalomania and identified with Apollo and other gods. During 67 he traveled in Greece to compete in poetic and athletic festivals, claiming 1808 first prizes; at Olympia he was given the crown even though he fell out of his chariot. At Corinth he announced Greek immunity from taxation while planning a canal through the isthmus. According to the historian Suetonius, who described in detail many crimes of Nero, the poetic Emperor felt so guilty that he believed the Furies were pursuing him with whips and torches. At Athens he did not dare to participate in the Eleusinian mysteries after the herald commanded all criminals to withdraw before the ceremonies began. Tacitus calculated that Nero squandered 2,200,000,000 sesterces in gifts.
Nero did not return to Rome until 68 to find the city suffering a grain shortage. Nevertheless the Emperor, preferring to perform rather than rule, went to Greek Naples, where he learned that Gaul's Lugdunensis (Lyons) governor Julius Vindex had raised 100,000 men in revolt. Hispania Tarraconensis governor Servius Sulpicius Galba, having discovered Nero's secret orders for his assassination, changed his loyalty from Nero to the Senate and people of Rome and was supported by Lusitanian governor Otho and Baetica quaestor Caecina. African legate Clodius Macer also revolted. However, the German legate Verginius Rufus defeated Vindex at Vesontio (Besançon), and Vindex committed suicide.
In Rome Tigellinus fled, and the other praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus offered the guards 30,000 sesterces each to support the Senate and proclaim Galba Emperor. The Senate declared Nero an enemy of Rome, and he was soon killed. Nero had been absorbed in music, the arts, and mystery cults; Plutarch and Josephus both complained of calumnies that soiled his memory. Trajan and other Emperors destroyed many works by Lucan, Plutarch, Rusticus, and others that commemorated his reign. Yet the historians Suetonius and Dio Cassius described his behavior as outdoing the many evils of Caligula. Some Christians believed that Nero was the anti-Christ as the first major persecutor of their faith.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born about 4 BC in Spain. His father was a lawyer and procurator, who wrote books on rhetoric. The child was raised by an aunt in Rome. Suffering bad health (possibly the asthma that affected his later years), young Seneca lived for a while in Egypt, where his aunt's husband was prefect. Seneca served as quaestor during the reign of Tiberius. Seneca's skill as an orator almost led the envious Caligula to have him killed; but the Emperor was persuaded the sickly intellectual would die soon. When Claudius became Emperor, Seneca was accused by the empress Messalina of adultery with Julia, daughter of Germanicus, and was banished to Corsica.
Eight years later in 49 Seneca was recalled to Rome by the new empress Agrippina to tutor her son Nero; the next year he was appointed praetor. When Nero became Emperor, Seneca served as his chief advisor for civilian affairs. Many attribute the good government of Nero's first five years to the influence of Seneca, though in 59 he wrote the letter to the Senate justifying the murder of Nero's mother Agrippina. According to Tacitus the senator Suillius asked by what philosophy Seneca acquired 300,000,000 sesterces in four years of imperial friendship; then he suggests it was by huge rates of interest and legacies. When the military advisor Burrus died in 62, apparently unable to control Nero's crimes, Seneca decided to request retirement. He was soon implicated in the Piso conspiracy and was ordered to commit suicide, which he did in 65. His wife also attempted suicide then, but she was rescued.
Nine tragedies based on Greek plays have been attributed to Seneca, while the one historical drama Octavia was probably written by an imitator soon after his death. There is no evidence they were performed, but they easily could have been. Four choral interludes divide the plays into the five acts recommended by Horace. The tragedies of Seneca were to have a great influence on the rebirth of tragedy in Italy, France, and England during the Renaissance.
Seneca's Mad Hercules is based on the Heracles of Euripides. The prolog (first act) is spoken by the goddess Juno, who insane with jealousy that her brother and husband Jupiter fathered Hercules by another woman, intends to drive Hercules mad. Yet she hopes her hate will be changed to favor and that his sons will remain unharmed by Hercules overcoming himself and her. His mother's husband Amphitryon laments that Hercules cannot enjoy the world he saved, because prosperous crime is called virtue, and good men obey the guilty when might is right. Amphitryon saw King Creon killed by Lycus. Megara, the wife of Hercules, hopes her husband will come back soon from the underworld of the dead. Lycus appears and wants to marry Megara; but as he killed her father, she hates him. Lycus asserts he rules with arms that annul laws and says he will force her.
Hercules arrives with Theseus and is informed by Amphitryon that Lycus intends to kill his children, father, and wife. Theseus notes the spiritual principle of justice that makes each person suffer for their crimes when they return. He warns those who rule to refrain from bloodshed, because they shall be judged more heavily. Hercules kills the tyrannical Lycus; but then Juno makes him mad so that he kills his wife and his own children, thinking they belong to Lycus. Realizing what he has done, Hercules destroys his weapons and threatens to kill himself to purge the earth of such a person; but Amphitryon, arguing this would be a sin in full consciousness, dissuades him, and Theseus offers his land as a refuge. This gruesome play reflects how imperial Rome suffers from the violence of its own great leaders, who often killed their own children.
The Trojan Women by Seneca combines elements from a play of that name and Hecuba by Euripides. Hecuba observes that Troy is being looted while it burns. Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, for his late father intends to sacrifice Polyxena, daughter of Hecuba and Priam. Agamemnon argues against this murder called marriage; he knows how such guilt comes back. Pyrrhus says no law forbids killing a prisoner; but Agamemnon says that shame may. Yet the prophet Calchas insists the Trojan princess must die for the Fates. Then Andromache tries to hide her little son from Ulysses, who has come to kill him too. The wily Ulysses gets the boy by threatening to disturb the sacred grave of her husband Hector. She condemns Ulysses for putting the blame on the prophet and the innocent gods. Helen appears with the lie that Polyxena is to be married to Achilles' son. Finally a messenger describes how the boy leaped to his death, and the princess was stabbed by Pyrrhus. Hecuba declares the war is over. By showing the horrors of defeat, Seneca, like Euripides, protests the folly of war.
Seneca's Phoenician Women only exists as four acts without a chorus based primarily on Euripides' play of the same name. In the first act Oedipus is seeking death while Antigone encourages him to live and control the mad strife between his sons. Oedipus knows they are mad for sovereignty but in the brief second act does not care what crimes they commit. In the third and fourth acts Jocasta pleads with her sons not to fight each other, courageously telling them they must slay her first. Polyneices has lost faith in his brother and his mother's promises. Jocasta takes heart when Eteocles puts aside his weapons. She argues they do their cause harm by inflaming the land with hostile arms and spreading terror. She notes that unwelcome empire will not be long maintained; but Eteocles seems to have hardened himself to holding power even if he must endure hatred. Though Oedipus and his sons seem to lack redemption, Jocasta nobly pleads against war for personal ambition.
Based on Euripides, Seneca's Medea begins with that woman invoking a curse on Corinth king Creon and his royal line, because he dissolved her marriage to Jason so that he could marry Creon's daughter. Her nurse offers the Stoic advice of curbing her temper and yielding to fate; but Medea argues with Creon that unjust sovereignty never endures long. Creon tells her to leave his land, but Medea asks for her husband to join her. Medea sets her will on limitless revenge, resenting that Jason did not even talk with her before deciding to leave her. Jason appears and tells Medea that he persuaded Creon not to kill her but to let her flee. Medea believes he is merely getting her out of the way so that he can marry Creusa. In Seneca's version Jason wants to keep their children and argues the queen can benefit them. Medea begs for her children or at least the chance to embrace them once more. Again Medea turns to black magic and even spills her blood on the altar as she prepares a poisoned bridal robe for Creusa. In the last act a messenger announces that the king and his daughter are dead as flames consume the palace. Then to make Jason suffer, the insane Medea kills both their sons in his presence even though Jason offers himself for the last remaining son. Seneca may have used this horrendous story to comment on the intrigues of women in the courts of Claudius and Nero.
Seneca's Phaedra follows the story of Hippolytus by Euripides. Young Hippolytus, son of Theseus and the Amazon queen, prays at the shrine of chaste Diana. While her husband Theseus is visiting the underworld, Phaedra has fallen in love with her stepson Hippolytus. Her nurse warns her that Hippolytus hates women, but Phaedra hopes he can be overcome by love. Phaedra wants to prevent her sin by dying. Hippolytus tells the nurse how he enjoys the purity of rustic life free of ambition, fear, and jealousy. Hippolytus admits he hates women and believes they initiate most wickedness. Phaedra asks to be his servant and offers him the regency if he will take her in his arms. Her heart is consumed by this mad love. Hippolytus never heard anything so foul and draws his sword. Rejected, Phaedra wishes to die. Hippolytus tells her to live and leaves his sullied sword. The nurse suggests a countercharge and accuses Hippolytus of raping her mistress.
Rescued by Hercules, Theseus returns to find that Phaedra wants to die. She refuses to say why until he threatens to torture her nurse. Phaedra says her body was violated and points to the sword. Believing his son by the Amazon is guilty, Theseus calls upon his third boon from Neptune to strike Hippolytus down. In the next act a messenger describes how Hippolytus was dragged to death by his chariot's horses near the stormy sea. Theseus mourns for having wished him dead. When the remains of Hippolytus are brought in, Phaedra admits that it was her unchastity not his; then she kills herself. Theseus realizes he is guilty of punishing an innocent man. Once again Seneca has portrayed the destructiveness of human passions.
Seneca's version of Oedipus cannot match the greatness of Sophocles. Oedipus wants to relieve the pestilence in Thebes and learns from Creon that the god instructs them to banish the murderer of King Laius. Oedipus promises to do so but resists Creon's advice he abdicate until he learns that he killed his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta. Then Oedipus gouges out his own eyes with his fingers. Jocasta commits suicide, and Oedipus hopes the plague will depart the city with him. Oedipus felt guilty for causing his own mother's death. Did Seneca regret having been complicit in Nero's murder of his mother?
Seneca's Agamemnon also does not equal that of Aeschylus. Seneca emphasized the horrifying heritage of Aegisthus by presenting as prolog the ghost of Thyestes, who ate his own sons and fathered Aegisthus by his daughter. Clytemnestra is so wicked that she argues to her nurse that the safest path of crime is greater crimes. She resents her husband's sacrificing their daughter and his making Achilles give up a maiden, and she is jealous of Agamemnon's captive prize, Cassandra. Yet to her paramour Aegisthus Clytemnestra argues his royal right to enjoy her. Only in antagonism to him does she soften to realize she needs forgiveness too. She chides Aegisthus for being grandson as well as son of Thyestes. The psychic Cassandra describes how Clytemnestra wrapped Agamemnon in a robe and cut off his head with an ax. Their daughter Electra helps her younger brother Orestes to escape with Strophius to Phocis and then verbally challenges her mother, hoping to die; but Aegisthus believes a worse punishment will be to imprison her until she tells them where Orestes is. Clytemnestra has to direct her wrath to killing Cassandra, who exults that Mycenae's leader is overthrown and predicts the queen's fatal madness. Seneca chose the most dramatic Greek plays and explored the psychological emotions that drove powerful people to tragedy.
Most gruesome of all is Seneca's Thyestes. Plays of that name by Sophocles and one by Varius Rufus performed in 29 BC to celebrate the victory at Actium are no longer extant. In the prolog the ghost of Tantalus, grandfather of Atreus and Thyestes, has been called by a Fury out of hell, where he hungrily cannot reach food. Tantalus warns the Fury not to soil his hands with sinful slaughter but to keep his altars clean. Atreus believes he must be avenged on his brother to be a successful king. He revels in compelling his subjects not only to endure but to approve his actions, while his minister notes it is better to win approval in their hearts. Atreus thinks people must be made to want what they dislike, while his minister advises his king to want what is right. The minister warns no throne can stand when there is neither shame nor law nor trust nor piety. Probably this scene reflects Seneca's attempts to advise Nero. Atreus resents his brother Thyestes for raping his wife and stealing the golden fleece and his throne. Atreus aims to make Thyestes tear and eat his children's flesh. To gain his trust he pretends to offer him partnership in ruling Argos. To test if Thyestes fathered his own sons Agamemnon and Menelaus, he intends to have them cooperate in punishing Thyestes.
Wanting nothing, Thyestes tells Atreus supreme power is nothing to him. His house is undefended but secure; because his estate is small, his peace is great. Tantalus, the son of Thyestes, reminds his father that Atreus is asking him to be king too, and so Thyestes agrees, as Atreus seems to be putting enmity away. The sons of Thyestes will be hostages, and the brothers Thyestes and Atreus give up their claims. Thyestes offers to serve Atreus, who invites his brother to a sacrifice. A messenger brings a detailed description of how Atreus butchered the three sons of Thyestes on an altar, cooked their flesh, and served it to his brother at a banquet. Then being showed their severed heads and hands, Thyestes asks that they be given a funeral; but Atreus indicates Thyestes has already consumed them. Finally for his revenge Thyestes trusts the gods will punish Atreus. Once more Seneca explores how ambition causes rulers to devour each other's children.
Seneca's longest play, Hercules on Oeta, is based on The Women of Trachis by Sophocles and portrays the death and deification of Hercules, the hero Romans admired for the many difficult tasks he accomplished. His wife Deianira is jealous of the captured Oechalian princess Iole. If she should become pregnant by Hercules, Deianira threatens to tear the child from the womb and kill Hercules or die herself. Yet consciously she only aims to charm her husband by giving him a robe with a potion she got from the dying centaur Nessus, who had been killed by Hercules for molesting her. Nessus promised its charm would "fix a wavering lover;" but its poison was to accomplish his revenge and fulfill the prophecy that Hercules would be killed by someone he had defeated. Their son Hyllus reports to his mother how the poisoned robe destroyed the flesh of his father Hercules. Deianira asks Hyllus to kill her with a sword; but he goes after her to try to prevent her death.
Hercules regrets being the victim of a woman and ironically wishes he were killed by some opponent like Nessus. Hyllus reports to Alcmena, the mother of Hercules, that her son is dying and that Deianira killed herself, explaining to her and Hercules the treachery of Nessus. In the last act Philoctetes describes how Hercules prepared and lit his own funeral pyre, and then Alcmena eulogizes her son and hears his divine voice from heaven. Purged of his body, his celestial spirit has once again conquered hell. Perhaps this ending is Seneca's pagan answer to the growing Christian myth of resurrection.
Octavia is the only Roman historical play to survive, though heroic warriors were occasionally commemorated in festivals. The plight of Octavia is as grim as any mythical tragic figures. Her mother was put to death by her father Claudius, who was poisoned by Agrippina (her stepmother and mother-in-law since she married her step-brother Nero). Her brother Britannicus was ordered killed by her husband Nero. The play is set in 62, three years after Nero has murdered his mother Agrippina. Realizing Octavia never loved him, Nero now wants to marry his mistress Poppaea.
The character Seneca describes the first age when war was unknown; by the third era people were controlled by sacred laws; but in the fourth agriculture, greed for gold, and iron led to the development of weapons and war. Now he laments that crime is king. Nero enters requesting the decapitated heads of banished Plautus and Sulla. Seneca asks if this is just treatment; but Nero replies that justice is for those who have no need to fear. Seneca suggests clemency, but Nero prefers putting enemies down. A Caesar should be feared, though Seneca says he should be loved. Instead of just orders approved by consent, Nero uses the sword. His wife Octavia must die so that he can marry the beautiful Poppaea. Seneca suggests that a husband should delight in the virtues of fidelity, honor, purity, and goodness, because beauty withers. The people do not approve of his marriage, but Nero insists on marrying the woman who already carries his child. Agrippina's ghost comes to complain of this marriage and prophesies a death will punish the crimes of her tyrannical son Nero.
A mob has gathered on Octavia's behalf, and Nero orders it tamed by suffering oppression. The prefect reports the mob is put down; but Nero is not satisfied with the deaths of only the ringleaders. Octavia must die for the mob's revolt. Octavia is taken away, and the chorus sadly concludes, "Rome loves to see the blood of her own children on her hands."4 As a witness to such intrigues, it is easy to see why Seneca was drawn to writing violent tragedies in which he tried to insert some humane appeals.
Seneca's writings helped to make Stoicism a popular Roman philosophy. "On Providence" answers the question of his friend Lucilius why many evils happen to good people if the world is governed by providence. Seneca accepted the Stoic idea that the orderly universe could not persist without some caretaker. Seneca believed the gods are best to the best people, and Nature never allows the good to be harmed by the good, for a friendship between the gods and the good is forged by virtue. Fathers restrain their sons with severe discipline in order to prepare them for the world, because they love them. Though misfortunes may happen to good people, evil cannot. The evils God keeps away from the good are sin, crime, greed, lust, and avarice. God protects and defends the good but not necessarily their baggage. Good is found within and does not need good fortune. The mind and courage were given to withstand what is sad, dreadful, and hard to bear. Good people become more capable by maintaining poise and assimilating all that occurs. They regard all adversity as exercise to gain strength. They turn every hardship and difficulty into advantage. Disaster is virtue's opportunity. What matters is not what you bear but how you bear it. A soft and easy life tends to produce weak people.
One should never feel sorry for the good, because although they may be called unhappy, they can never actually be unhappy. Seneca asked if the dictator Sulla was happy because his way to the forum was cleared by the sword. Struggling to hold on to things can bring pain; it is better not to cling to them. Seneca wrote that he does not submit against his will; he is God's follower, not his slave, because he knows all things proceed according to eternal laws. Everything must be given up eventually, and dying is short and easy.
After Seneca went into exile to Corsica in 41, he wrote for his mother "Consolation to Helvia." He knew of no one who was the object of grief writing to console, and he hesitated to exacerbate her sorrow. However, he believed the treatment would be worth the pain of opening the wounds. Seneca assured his mother that he was happy and could not be made unhappy, because Nature requires no extra equipment for happiness. The wise are neither elated by prosperity nor depressed by adversity but rely on themselves for satisfaction. Though he acknowledged that emotions are not always under control and that distraction only tends to cheat them for a while, grief overcome by reason can be appeased forever. For the primal source of the mind is the heavenly spirit. Seneca argued that exile is not bad, as many peoples have changed their homes. Marcus Brutus had noted that exiles carry their virtues with them. Seneca observed that Nature fashioned Caligula to show the height of vice when it is combined with power, and he ridiculed his extravagance in spending a million on hard-to-get foods for one meal. It is absurd to believe that one's financial balance is more important than mental balance. There can never be enough for the greedy, but Nature is satisfied with little. The mind can never be exiled, because it is divine and free to explore all time and space.
Seneca wrote "On Firmness" to his young Epicurean friend Serenus. Seneca argued that the wise can not truly be injured. Fortune may snatch away what she has given; but she does not give virtue, and it can never be taken away. Instead of shrinking from difficult circumstances, the wise consider even injury profitable as making trials of virtue and proving one's self. The wise may be wounded, but injuries received may be overcome, arrested, and healed. Verbal insults are even less difficult, and the wise regard them with a smile; for true criticisms are beneficial, and false ones are irrelevant.
Seneca wrote his long essay On Anger to his older brother Novatus, later known as Gallio when he governed Achaea starting in 52. Seneca called anger the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions, and he noted it has been called temporary insanity. Because it causes numerous crimes and wars, no plague has harmed the human race as much. Aristotle defined anger as the desire to repay suffering. No creature is more loving than humans, but Seneca asked what is more cruel than anger. Humans were born to help each other, but in anger they destroy each other. He referred to Plato's analysis that both punishment and anger are not consistent with good because one injures, and the other takes pleasure in injuring. Reason remains the mistress as long as she keeps apart from the passions; but if she mingles with them, she becomes contaminated and cannot hold them back. Passion and reason are not separate and transform the mind toward the better or the worse. If reason surrenders to anger, how can it free itself? Seneca criticized Aristotle's view that anger can be useful as a soldier. For Seneca following the leadership of reason is not anger, which he describes as willfulness. In the analogy anger would be disobedient soldiers.
Seneca found no reason for hating wrong-doers since error causes their mistakes. Does one hate the members of one's own body when undergoing surgery? Anger can be replaced by the desire to heal. Seneca observed that anger is unbalanced and usually goes farther than it should,
For it indulges its own impulses, is capricious in judgment,
refuses to listen to evidence, grants no opportunity for defense,
maintains whatever position it has seized,
and is never willing to surrender its judgment even if it is wrong.5
Reason, however, postpones action in order to listen to both sides and sift out the truth. Seneca described three stages of anger as: 1) a menace prompts passion involuntarily; 2) an act of volition assumes it is right to revenge one's hurt or punish another; and 3) one wishes to take vengeance whether it is right or not. Although the first reaction cannot be controlled, the other two stages can be banished by judgment.
Some argued that anger is expedient because it escapes contempt and terrifies the wicked. Seneca replied that powerful anger may cause one to be feared, which is worse than being scorned, and powerless anger exposes one to ridicule. Seneca found that it is easier to be virtuous but costly to indulge in vices. He suggested not falling into anger; but if one does, to do no wrong. Anger is best corrected by delay. Arrogance and ignorance make us prone to anger. Anger is especially dangerous, because more than any other vice it can affect a whole state. Nothing is worse than the enmity anger breeds, as nothing is more deadly than war. Seneca urged us to fight against ourselves, to conquer anger so that it will not conquer us. He suggested keeping it hidden in the depths of the heart so that it should not drive but can be driven. If the countenance is unruffled, the voice gentle, and the step slow, gradually the inner person will conform. Let us remember that even the wisest have faults, and let us forgive the foolish. For Seneca the greatest punishment for wrong-doing is having done it because of the torture of remorse. Vengeance exposes the doer to more injuries. Seneca asked us to find time to love and not waste time on evil things. He then gave numerous examples of anger, pointing out that in most cases it is the result of attaching great value to petty things.
In "On the Shortness of Life" Seneca addressed Paulinus, who was in charge of Rome's grain supply. Seneca recommended leisure for the practice of philosophy by being detached from involvement rather than wasting one's time pursuing fortunes and pleasures that do not last. He considered spending time in drinking and lust as the sorriest abuse of time, for he thought avarice, wrath, and unjust hatreds were more manly sins. For Seneca only philosophers really live and can explore the wisdom of past philosophers. He suggested that Paulinus take time for himself as he had given much of his life to the state. It is better to know the balance sheet of one's life than of the public grain supply.
"On Tranquillity of Mind" was also written to Serenus, Nero's prefect of police. He had asked Seneca how he could stop his mental vacillations that prevent tranquillity. Seneca observed that mental balance is disturbed by unrealized desires and the inability either to control or yield to passions. Although Seneca recommended quiet retirement, he also valued willingness to be of service to individuals and humanity with one's intelligence and counsel. Stoics claim the whole world as their fatherland and thus afford virtue a broad scope. Seneca advised choosing friends who are free from passions, because we are affected by those nearest. Thrift leads to contentment; even the poor can be wealthy by being thrifty, whereas without thrift even riches will fail to satisfy. One should avoid laboring for empty ends or without motivation. Seneca suggested cutting down on gadding about and making the rounds. Instead of being stuck in a rigid program, being adaptable is helpful.
When Emperor Nero was eighteen, he signed his first death warrant, commenting that he wished he had never learned to write. At that time Seneca wrote "On Clemency" to recommend mercy to the Emperor so that he could enjoy a clear conscience. Seneca considered this the most humane of the virtues. A high spirit is distinguished by composure, serenity, and the lofty disregard of insult and injury. Gentleness enhances the security of kings, because although frequent punishment may crush a few, it provokes the hatred of all. A stern king by destroying enemies may only multiply them. Although his temper flared in youth, Augustus learned clemency and gained a great reputation over the years. Seneca commended the early reign of the young Nero during which he could boast of not shedding blood anywhere in the world. Perhaps the greatest problem with cruelty is that one must keep to the same road, as crimes need more crimes to protect them.
Seneca praised the ruler whose solicitude is all-embracing, who fosters every part of the commonwealth as a member of himself, who inclines to milder courses than punishment, who is reluctant to use harsh remedies, whose spirit is free of hostility and cruelty, who wields power with even temper in order to satisfy his subjects, who makes his prosperity a public asset, who offers easy access and is affable in conversation, whose amiability wins affection, who is sympathetic to reasonable requests but not impatient with the unreasonable - such a person is loved, defended, and cherished by the whole state. Humans require skillful handling without passions like anger. Just as we treat diseases without getting angry, so human problems can also be treated gently. One must learn that wishing to be feared is as bad as being in fear. Seneca asked why anyone would lead such a life when one can be harmless to all. Only the king who provides security to others is secure. Most of books two and three of "On Clemency" are lost, but Seneca concluded the first book by comparing the prince who saves the lives of fellow citizens in the exercise of duty as a godlike power, while to kill multitudes without discrimination is like the power of fire and ruin.
Seneca also wrote "On the Happy Life" to his brother Gallio. Seneca accepted the Stoic premise that the happy life is in harmony with its own nature. It is attained with a sound mind that is courageous and energetic, careful of one's body but without anxiety, and attentive to all the advantages of life without being too attached to any. The happy person is free from fear and desire by the gift of reason. Concord and unity result from virtues, while discord comes from the vices. Asked why he has so much wealth when he discounts the value of money, Seneca replied that he is not equal to the best, though he is better than the wicked. He was content to be reducing his vices. While acknowledging that philosophers do not always practice what they preach, Seneca held that they practice much of what their virtuous minds conceive. Seneca thought it noble to aim at high things. He hoped to do nothing for opinion but everything for conscience, endeavoring to be guilty of nothing that impaired human liberty.
Seneca found more expression for virtue with riches than in poverty; for being poor requires only endurance, but riches need moderation, liberality, diligence, orderliness, and grandeur. Because he was willing to give up his riches, Seneca believed he was not owned by them as some people are. Why condemn wisdom to poverty? Seneca believed that wealth acquired without harming anyone or base dealing is honorable. Although he was known for his generosity, Seneca's critics were skeptical of the means he used to gain such immense wealth in such a short time by using his imperial favor. Seneca argued that the wise can use wealth by sharing it with the worthy. Yet he held that riches themselves are not a good, because though desirable they cannot make one good.
Seneca's longest work On Benefits discusses ingratitude as the most common vice. Great souls seek to do benefits; they search for good persons even after discovering bad people. The most important part of a benefit is the good will that bestows it; the ignorant regard only what meets the eye. A benefit is a virtuous act that no power can undo. The most important benefits are the necessary; the useful are second; the pleasurable, especially things that endure, are third. The best benefits anticipate one's desire; next is to indulge a request. Seneca concluded this work by noting that it is not the proof of a fine spirit to give a benefit and lose it, but rather to lose and still to give.
During the last three years of his life Seneca could concentrate on philosophy and wrote more than a hundred letters to Lucilius, the procurator in Sicily. Seneca's short discussions of philosophical issues later inspired the essay form used so well by Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and Emerson. Seneca wrote that a friend must be trusted, but before that you must judge. Philosophy promises the feeling of fellowship and of belonging to the human community. For Seneca the motto of living in conformity with nature did not mean torturing one's body nor rejecting simple standards of cleanliness nor adopting a hideous diet. Philosophy calls for a simple life, not a crude life of penance. He found a compromise between the ideal and popular morality in a life that can be admired and understood. Seneca found that part of the joy of learning is that it enabled him to teach so as to benefit others besides himself. In his 7th Letter Seneca warned against watching the butchery and slaughter of the shows in the arena. He suggested retiring into yourself as much as possible and associating with people who are likely to improve you.
Seneca wrote for later generations helpful recommendations that he hoped would be like successful medicine to lessen sores. Seneca delighted in quoting Epicurus in many letters, though he believed the Stoic sages feel their troubles but overcome them, while the Epicureans do not even feel them. He felt the wise can do without friends although they do not desire to do without them. Seneca's teacher Hecato recommended the best love philter: "If you wish to be loved, love."6 Although philosophy is not a popular occupation, Seneca believed that it molds and builds character, orders life, regulates conduct, shows what to do and what not to do, and keeps one on a correct course without fear or worry. The duty and proof of wisdom is that word and deed should be in accord. It may take time but terrors may be quieted, incitements quelled, illusions dispelled, extravagance checked, and greed reprimanded. In Letter 41 Seneca mentioned the divine spirit that is near you, with you, and inside you. This divine spirit resides within us, guards us, and watches us. As we treat it, so it will treat us. No one is good without God, and no one can rise above fortune without help from God. This is what prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors.
In the 47th Letter Seneca was glad to hear that Lucilius lived on friendly terms with his slaves as an enlightened person should. Seneca laughed at those who thought it degrading to eat with a slave but would fill their bellies and then vomit everything up. Though he did not question having slaves, Seneca recommended being kind and courteous to them. He observed that many people are slaves to sex or money or ambition, and all are slaves to hope or fear. He believed it is better to have slaves respect you than fear you. To be respected truly is to be loved; love and fear do not mix. Seneca believed discipline should be verbal, as correctional beatings are for animals only. Seneca felt the concern of a friend as his own, writing,
Friendship creates a community of interest between us in everything.
We have neither successes nor setbacks as individuals;
our lives have a common end.
No one can lead a happy life if he thinks only of himself
and turns everything to his own purposes.
You should live for the other person if you wish to live for yourself.7
Seneca advised against quibbling since straightforwardness and simplicity are in harmony with goodness. Seneca found greater power and value in that which creates (God) than in matter. In humans the body should serve this better spirit. Seneca held that the supreme good is virtue alone. People make mistakes because they consider the parts of life but not life as a whole. The greater part of progress is the desire to make progress. Those who wish to be happy should conclude that the good consists only in what is honorable. God relates to the soul; but sensual goods are only opinions. Seneca justified suicide, writing that the wise live as long as they should, not as long as they can; quality of life is more important than quantity. Dying well is more important than dying early or late if it means escaping living ill. Yet Seneca believed in learning as long as one is ignorant; even the old can learn. Reason perfects humans and makes them blessed. Virtue is the sole good, and there is no good without it.
Seneca observed that so-called pleasures, when they go beyond reasonable limits, become punishments. In Letter 88 he discussed from the ethical viewpoint liberal studies that are supposed to make a person free. Seneca believed that the pursuit of wisdom leads to freedom but questioned whether literary scholarship leads to virtue. As to music he preferred bringing harmony to his mind by getting his thoughts in tune. He wanted to learn how to avoid uttering plaintive notes when things went against him in life. He asked what was the use of mastering a horse if one is carried away by unbridled emotions, or of overcoming an opponent in wrestling or boxing if one is overcome by temper. Liberal studies alone do not improve character, but they may prepare the mind to acquire moral values. In the 89th Letter Seneca focused on the moral part of philosophy and divided it into three sections. First, theory assigns everything its proper place and assesses value; second is to control impulses; and third is to harmonize action resulting from impulses in order to attain consistency with the values. He recommended studying not to increase knowledge, but to improve it.
Seneca believed life is a gift of the immortal gods, but living well is the gift of philosophy that is bestowed by the gods. Philosophy does not construct arms for use in war, but it is a voice for peace, calling all humans to live in harmony. Seneca seemed to be criticizing Epicureans when he wrote that his philosophy did not take the citizen out of public life nor gods out of the world nor hand morality over to pleasure; he held that nothing is good unless it is honorable. Virtue for Seneca is all important, and it only comes to character by schooling, training, and continuing practice. Even the best people must cultivate virtue. Things can be made easier by viewing them with equanimity. Disasters, losses, and injuries have no more power against virtue than a cloud against the sun.
In discussing refraining from bloodshed in Letter 95, Seneca thought it a little thing not to harm those you ought to help. Yet to treat others with kindness is worthy of great praise. Seneca believed that all that is part of God and humanity is one - parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and for the same end, engendering in us mutual friendship and establishing fairness and justice. Like Socrates, Seneca held it is more wretched to commit injury than to suffer it. Since our birth is common, let us possess things in common. Freedom cannot be won without sacrifices. If you value freedom highly, everything else must be valued as little.
In Letter 105 Seneca observed that to be feared is to fear. No one can strike terror into others and still enjoy peace of mind. Not wronging others is a good start toward peace of mind. People without self-restraint lead disordered lives, experiencing fear equal to the injuries they do others because of conscience demanding answers. To expect punishment is to suffer it, and to deserve it is to expect it. Those with bad consciences may find circumstances of impunity but never freedom from anxiety. Even in his time Seneca noted that philosophy was degenerating from the study of wisdom to philology, the study of words. Seneca found that we are naturally attracted by wealth, pleasures, good looks, political advancement, and other enticing prospects, and we are repelled by exertion, death, pain, and limitations. He concluded that we need to train ourselves not to crave the former while not being afraid of the latter. He suggested retreating from attractive things and rousing ourselves to meet what attacks us. He compared this to leaning forward while walking uphill and leaning back when coming down. In his last letter Seneca explained that the Epicureans by making pleasure its ideal hold that good resides in the senses; but the Stoics find good in the intellect that is able to judge good and bad according to virtue and honor.
After the Zealots took Masada, Eleazar persuaded the ministers in the Temple at Jerusalem to refuse any offerings from pagans. Josephus wrote that abolishing the sacrifices for Rome and Caesar made war inevitable. Influential citizens sent delegations to King Agrippa and Florus, and Agrippa sent 2,000 horsemen to help preserve peace with Rome. Civil war broke out in Jerusalem between the insurgents in the Temple area and the prominent citizens of the upper city. The king's troops were driven out of the upper city, burning the high priest's house, the palaces of Agrippa and Berenice, and the office that recorded debts. It took two days to capture the fortress of Antonia and kill the garrison. The high priest Ananias was caught and murdered along with his brother. Menahem behaved so savagely that Eleazar turned against him, and Menahem was executed. Then Romans commanded by Metilius were allowed to depart without their arms or baggage. At the same time the people of Caesarea massacred the Jewish colony, resulting in 20,000 dead according to Josephus. Many were also killed in Scythopolis, Ascalon, and Ptolemais. In Alexandria, where Philo's nephew Tiberius Alexander was governing, it was reported that 50,000 Jews were killed.
Syrian governor Cestius Gallus led 30,000 soldiers from Antioch against Judea. Zealots in Jerusalem ignored Sabbath laws to prepare for war. After storming the walls of the Temple for six days, Cestius withdrew to Antioch, having lost 5,300 soldiers and 480 cavalry. Pagan attacks against Jews led Shammai followers to adopt a boycott against goods from pagans. Some of the Hillelites who objected were killed after a debate in the house of Eleazar ben Ananias. In Galilee about 4,000 rebels were led by John of Gischala. The Sanhedrin appointed as governor of Galilee the historian Flavius Josephus, who was born in Jerusalem in 38 and in 64 had gained the friendship of Nero's wife Poppaea in Rome. He raised and trained a large army in Galilee; but he returned some treasures to Agrippa while claiming he had sent them as booty to Jerusalem. John's friend Simon ben Gamaliel was president of the Sanhedrin and sent four envoys to remove Josephus from office in favor of John of Gischala; but Josephus had enough support to send the envoys back to Jerusalem in chains, thus stimulating civil war in Galilee.
Nero replaced Cestius with the proven commander Flavius Vespasian, who sent his son Titus to bring two legions from Alexandria. At the Syrian capital Antioch, the empire's third largest city, Vespasian gathered the forces of King Agrippa, allies, and Roman troops totaling about 50,000 men. As Vespasian's army invaded Galilee, many of the followers of Josephus fled, while some found shelter with him at Tiberias. Vespasian easily took Gabara, burned the town, and enslaved its people. Josephus sent his assessment of the situation to Jerusalem authorities, suggesting he negotiate or they send reinforcements. Vespasian besieged Jotapata, where more rebels had gathered, and Josephus went there to encourage the Jews. While Jotapata was holding out for 47 days, Japha revolted; but Roman forces led by Trajan (father of the Emperor) and Titus eventually killed 15,000 and enslaved 2,130. Also according to Josephus who may have exaggerated numbers, 11,600 Samaritans were slain on Mt. Gerizim. Finally Jotapata fell, and the dead were estimated at 40,000. Josephus managed to hide and surrendered when Vespasian sent to him a friend, the historian giving himself a philosophical speech on why suicide is a bad idea.
Jewish piratical activities were reduced when the Romans took Joppa, and only two women survived the slaughter and suicides at Gamala. At Gischala John asked Titus for the Sabbath day and then broke his word by fleeing to Jerusalem, though 6,000 following him were killed. As Vespasian declared a truce in Galilee, the bandits and revolutionaries gathered in Jerusalem or held out at Masada. In the Temple the Zealots arrested members of the royal family and replaced the high priests with individuals elected or chosen by lot, outraging Ananus, who called them tyrants and the scum of the nation. Joshua also tried to persuade arriving Idumaeans not to join the Zealots, but Simon son of Cathla said they came to fight for freedom but found the gates closed against them. The Idumaeans broke through to join the Zealots, and rock-throwing escalated into bloody brawls in the Temple, leaving 8,500 dead. The Zealots were victorious and elected seventy members to a new Sanhedrin. After eliminating Ananus and Joshua, the Zealots and Idumaeans began slaughtering people who would not join their rebel cause. The distinguished citizen Zechariah was tried and acquitted by the seventy; but two rebels killed him and declared an end to trials. This disgusted the Idumaeans, who released 2,000 citizens from the city to join Simon Bar-Giora at Masada, and many went home themselves.
As long as Jews were killing each other in Jerusalem, Vespasian
refrained from attacking it for two years, allowing his troops
to squelch resistance in Peraea and Idumaea. Many fled Jerusalem,
though some were killed by Zealots out of fear they would join
the Romans. Peace advocate Jochanan ben Zakkai escaped Jerusalem
by being carried in a coffin disguised by a funeral procession.
John of Gischala broke with the Zealots, causing more factional
fighting. The Sicarii came out of Masada to raid Engedi, killing
many and stealing provisions for Masada. Simon Bar-Giora proclaimed
liberty to slaves, with armed gangs drove Zealots back into Jerusalem,
and invaded Idumaea. Zealots captured Simon's wife, causing his
men to kill people outside of Jerusalem until they returned her.
Simon's ravaging of Idumaea with a large army caused many Idumaeans
and deserters from Simon to flee into Jerusalem. There Idumaeans
and deserters from John's army attacked the Zealots and John,
forcing the Zealots led by Eleazar ben Simon to take refuge in
the inner Temple while John's forces held the outer court. The
council of Jerusalem led by Matthias invited Simon Bar-Giora to
enter the city as their protector with an army of 10,000; they
were joined by the army of 5,000 Idumaeans.
News of Nero's death and his appointment by the Senate as Emperor reached Galba in Spain, which he had governed for eight years. While marching to Rome he sent an assassin to eliminate Clodius Macer in Africa. In Lower Germany Fabius Valens had his commander Fonteius Capito killed without waiting for such orders. Nero's freedmen and political advisors were executed except for Tigellinus, whose enemies Galba chose not to reward. The wealthy but parsimonious Galba refused to pay the troops what had been promised them. After the conspiracy of the ambitious Nymphidius failed, Galba ordered his supporters executed without a hearing. On the first day of 69 CE legions in Upper Germany led by Caecina refused to renew their oaths of loyalty to Galba. Two days later troops on the lower Rhine led by the unrewarded Fabius Valens acclaimed their commander Vitellius Emperor. Having no sons, Galba designated as his successor Piso Licinianus, who was acceptable to the Senate; but this alienated Otho, the first commander to support Galba and governor of Lusitania for ten years. Otho promised the praetorian guard the usual money and ordered a troop of cavalry to kill Galba and Piso. On January 15 Otho was proclaimed Emperor as Galba was beheaded in the forum. 120 people claiming rewards for participating were later ordered executed by Vitellius.
Otho was hated as a friend of Nero and because he showed that imperial power could be bought from soldiers willing to kill a Caesar. Vitellius and Otho each commanded about 100,000 troops. Valens and Caecina led their divisions for Vitellius over the snowy Alps and met in Transpadane Italy. Tacitus noted that some authorities reported efforts among the soldiers to have the armies declare an armistice and let the Senate choose an Emperor. Paulinus was said to have delayed Otho's side to make peace rather than have a fight between two scoundrels. Tacitus believed that such self-control among soldiers was unrealistic given the love of power and Rome's imperial history. Equality could be maintained when Rome was weak, but conquests of the world and the destruction of rival powers provided secure enjoyment of wealth and the desire to continue those habits. Rome had experienced civil war with many leaders such as Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Antony, who were more capable than Otho and Vitellius
The army of Vitellius defeated Otho's forces at Cremona, and according to Dio Cassius 40,000 men on each side were killed. Plutarch noted that in civil wars more are killed because no quarter is given, captives yielding no advantage. After a reign of three months Otho gallantly committed suicide to prevent further civil strife. While the Rhine armies of 60,000 soldiers and camp followers plundered Italy, the Senate confirmed the imperial power of Vitellius. Vitellius celebrated his victory with gladiator combats at Lugdunum and Cremona. The lavish spending (900,000,000 sesterces) and gluttonous habits of Vitellius soon drained the treasury of Rome while his cruel executions and tortures lost sympathy. Vitellius ordered astrologers to leave Italy by a specified day; Dio Cassius wrote that astrologers commanded him to depart life on the day on which he was killed. During the civil wars citizenship was extended to many provincials - by Galba to tribes in central Gaul, by Otho to Lingones in eastern Gaul, and by Vitellius to those in Spain and Africa.
Meanwhile Syrian governor Mucianus persuaded Vespasian to assume the position of Emperor for the good of the country. Alexandrian commander Tiberius Alexander pledged his troops to Vespasian on July 1 in 69, and a few days later legions in Judea took an oath to Vespasian in person. By July 15 all of Syria was loyal to Vespasian, and Mucianus began marching an army of 20,000 west through Asia Minor. Legions in the Danube region of Pannonia and Moesia also joined the Vespasian cause, as Antonius Primus led 50,000 men into Italy against Caecina's troops, who put their commander under arrest when he told them to desert to Primus. Once again armies from the north defeated the Emperor's defenders at Cremona. The attempt of Valens to bring reinforcements from Gaul ended in his capture and execution. Vitellius tried to send 20,000 troops, but they quickly deserted to Primus.
Envoys from Rome included the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, whose lectures to the soldiers on the blessings of peace and the dangers of war were greeted with laughter and derision. Believing that philosophy is what is fit and proper, Musonius Rufus also wrote that girls should have the same education as boys, that in marriage husband and wife should care for one another for all of life, and that men should follow the same sexual code they demand of women. The ascetic Musonius Rufus also criticized the pleasures of eating as dangerous and believed the only excuse for sexual intercourse is procreation. He said philosophers will not resent an injury, and he advised them to live by agriculture.
Vespasian's older brother Flavius Sabinus, whom Otho had made
prefect of Rome, offered Vitellius a million gold pieces and exile
for his abdication; but praetorian guards attacked and killed
Sabinus before the forces of Primus arrived to annihilate them
and execute Vitellius. The Roman Senate met to invest Flavius
Vespasian as Emperor, making his son Domitian Caesar. While the
victors hunted down the defeated and looted the city, Domitian
was preoccupied with seducing women. Primus was really in charge
until Mucianus arrived.
In the lower Rhine region the Batavian leader Iulius Civilis, who had been falsely charged with treason by army commander Fonteius Capito, supported the cause of Vespasian organized by Primus and attacked Vitellian garrisons. Besieging Vetera, Civilis invited independent German tribes to join him; even the more peace-loving Chauci participated. Flaccus declared for Vespasian and was lynched by troops loyal to Vitellius. News that Vitellius had been defeated and the capitol in Rome was burned stimulated Druid prophecies of conquest by Nordic peoples. Treviri chiefs Iulius Classicus and Iulius Tutor lured Roman commander Vocula away from Moguntiacum with false promises of aid, assassinated him, and gathered his forces into the Gallic imperial army. However, other Gallic tribes meeting at a conference at Durocortorum (Rheims) refused to join the Rhineland revolt. After Vetera capitulated, German tribes ignored the terms and massacred Roman troops. Gauls probably feared their territories would be plundered by independent German tribes, described by Tacitus as preferring warfare to farming. Germans avoided private feuds by compensating the families of victims with cattle or sheep. Veleda was treated as a goddess, and in the Sitones tribe women were the dominant sex.
In the summer of 70 Mucianus sent eight Roman legions (including two from Spain and one from Britain) led by Cerialis to recover Trevirorum (Trier) and drive the Batavians back to their homeland. Cerialis argued to the Treviri and Lingones Gauls that "lust, greed, and the roving spirit" motivated the Germans to invade Gaul. Noting that stability depended on armies, armies on pay, and pay came from taxes, he pointed out that Gauls now were in leadership roles. He then warned them,
You are surely not going to tell me that you expect a milder regime
when Tutor and Classicus are your rulers,
or that less taxation than now will be required to provide
the armies to defend you from the Germans and Britons?
For if the Romans are expelled-which Heaven forbid!-
what else will result but world-wide war
in which each nation's hand will be turned against its neighbor?
The good luck and good discipline of eight hundred years
secured the erection of this imperial fabric,
whose destruction must involve its destroyers in the same downfall.
But yours will be the most dangerous situation,
for you have the riches and resources which are the main causes of war.8
The forces of Tutor and Classicus did join with Civilis in
attacking the Roman legions, but they were defeated. Civilis collected
his forces at Vetera but after another battle withdrew beyond
the Rhine. Rebellion against Roman legions had only brought more
legions. The German people eventually asked Civilis to end the
war; Batavia was able to retain its status as untaxed except for
military levies, and Roman frontier defense was re-organized.
During the Passover festival John's force of 6,000 treacherously attacked the Zealots to become master of the Temple, about 2,400 surviving Zealots joining him. Factional fighting in Jerusalem between John's Zealots and Simon's army burned down all the buildings around the Temple and destroyed most of the stored grain. Emperor Vespasian's son Titus arrived with his army of 80,000 at Jerusalem early in 70. Using Josephus as a mouthpiece, Titus demanded only that they submit to Roman rule and pay their taxes, but Josephus recorded there was no civil answer. The forces of Simon and John cooperated in facing the common threat of the Romans. The Roman army captured two walls but were driven out by the desperate Jews. The Romans spent four days paying their legions, and Josephus circled the wall making verbal appeals, arguing that their nation should not bear arms but depend on the judgment of God. The famine was destroying the people in Jerusalem and would eventually reach the fighting men. To induce surrender Titus had as many as five hundred prisoners in a day crucified in view of the walls. Partisans told people this was how the Romans were treating deserters. So Titus ordered prisoners to have their hands cut off and sent to convince those in Jerusalem they were not the deserters.
In three days the Roman army built a wall around Jerusalem to force them to surrender. The famine became worse, and Simon had Matthias tortured to death for favoring the Romans. After a deserter was found picking gold coins out of his excreta, Arabs and Syrians began cutting open refugees to ransack their bellies. The Romans captured the Antonia fortress and once again summoned the Jews to surrender. The Romans set fire to the Temple gates, and Titus' orders to the contrary did not stop the fire from spreading to the Temple. Still the people said they had sworn to accept no terms. So the Roman soldiers burned and sacked the city. Six thousand Jews were slaughtered in the inner court as most of the Temple burned to the ground. Leaders retreated to the upper city called Zion, which was also leveled by fire. Josephus recorded that about a million lives were lost in the siege of Jerusalem; 97,000 were captured, and over 40,000 townspeople were released. The aged and sick were slaughtered, and those suspected of having resisted were executed. Children under 17 and most of the women were sold as slaves. The best looking were saved for the triumphal procession. Most were sent in irons to hard labor in Egypt or were given to Titus to be killed by sword or beasts in games. During this sorting by Fronto 11,000 died of starvation.
At Caesarea 2,500 were killed fighting in the arena to celebrate the birthday of Vespasian's son Domitian. At Antioch people asked Titus to expel the Jews, but he refused to even cancel their privileges. Josephus reported Eleazar ben Jairus claiming that all the towns in Syria exterminated Jews, including 18,000 in Damascus. Of the three remaining fortresses Herodium gave up immediately. Some in Machaerus surrendered to Judea's new governor Bassus to save their captured leader Eleazar and were released; but 1700 men of the lower town trying to escape were killed, while the women and children were enslaved. At Masada Sicarii led by Eleazar ben Jairus held out until 73 when Judea's new governor Silva had a ramp built. Then 960 people killed each other in a suicide pact; only two women and five children survived. In Alexandria the Jewish council turned in 600 Sicarii, who were tortured for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord. Vespasian ordered the Temple of Onias in Egypt closed. In Cyrene Catullus murdered 3,000 wealthy Jews, but his attempt to accuse Jews in Rome failed.
As Mucianus was heading toward Italy, Flavius Vespasian occupied Alexandria to control the essential Egyptian grain. He entered Rome in the summer of 70, and the next year Vespasian celebrated the end of the Jewish and Rhenish wars by closing the Janus temple. Cerialis was appointed governor of Britain in 71 and began the conquests of the Brigantes in the north and the Silures in Wales that were continued by Frontinus (74-78). Vespasian figured the state needed 4,000,000,000 sesterces. He greatly increased provincial taxes and revoked tax immunities given to Greece by Nero. He collected fees from candidates for office, sold pardons to the innocent and guilty (paid to his mistress Caenis), and appointed greedy procurators so that he could squeeze them for money like sponges. He reduced to provincial status Achaea, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium, and Samos as well as the kingdoms of Trachian Cilicia and Commagene. Vespasian conceded Latin rights to Spain.
Vespasian sponsored a temple of peace near the forum, a temple to Claudius, and the amphitheater later called the Colosseum. He paid teachers of Greek and Latin rhetoric large annual salaries and awarded prizes to poets and artists. However, irritated by anarchistic Cynics and for their criticizing his making the Emperor's office hereditary, Mucianus persuaded Vespasian in 71 to expel all the philosophers and astrologers from Rome except Musonius. Helvidius while praetor criticized monarchy so strongly that Vespasian left the Senate in tears, declaring he would be succeeded by his son or no one. Helvidius was banished for sedition and then put to death, though Vespasian tried to recall the executioners. Some Cynics returned, resulting in the flogging of Diogenes and the execution of Heras. Vespasian tried to restore the collapsed moral foundations by assuming the office of Censor. Any woman who took another man's slave as a lover was to lose her freedom, and no one lending money to a minor was entitled to collect the debt. Suetonius wrote he found no evidence of an innocent person being executed during Vespasian's reign.
Vespasian died of illness at the age of 69, prophesying he was about to become a god. He was succeeded by his son Titus, who was captain of the guards and had already been assisting him as secretary and reading the Emperor's speeches in the Senate. Titus had a passion for boys as well as for the Jewish queen Berenice. He provided such lavish gladiator shows that 5,000 beasts were killed in one day. During a two-year reign Titus did his best to help the victims of three major disasters - the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a three-day fire in Rome, and a terrible plague. Titus banished informers from the city or made sure they were severely punished. By accepting the office of chief priest he said he refrained from committing any murder. Titus stopped accusers from prosecuting anyone by more than one law for the same offense. He prevented challenges to wills because the deceased did not have free status. Titus also died of illness, which may have been assisted by the ice treatment of his brother Domitian, who succeeded him. As he was dying, Titus said that he had made one mistake. Many believed he referred to his taking his brother's wife Domitia; others thought he should have killed Domitian when he found him plotting against him; but Jews believed his sin was entering the sacred part of the Jerusalem Temple after his victory.
Domitian used the censorial office to nominate senators directly, and during the Flavian era many provincials joined the Senate. A new official called the iuridicus took over civilian jurisdiction from the governor in some of the larger provinces. Agricola governed Britain for six years until 84 CE with an efficient military that constructed 1300 miles of roads and sixty forts. Criticism of imperial Rome was recorded by Tacitus in the words of the Briton noble Calgacus, who described their robbery, butchery, and rapine in the lying name of "government," creating a desolate "peace." He claimed their women were raped or seduced; their money was consumed in taxes; their land was stripped of its harvest for Roman granaries; and their men were crippled by building roads under the lash and were often sold as slaves. In a major battle the Romans led by Agricola killed about 10,000 Britons while losing only 360 men.
The Dacian war led by Decebalus in Moesia broke out in 85 and was not ended until 88 when two legions at Moguntiacum led by Antonius Saturninus also revolted. So Domitian, after having put to death one group of envoys, made a treaty with Decebalus, who accepted vassal status the next year. The loyalty of the governor in Lower Germany helped to crush the revolt of Saturninus before Domitian arrived. Suetonius believed that Domitian's Chattian campaigns of 83 and 89 were not justified by military necessity. In 89 Domitian issued an edict banishing philosophers and astrologers.
Domitian strictly enforced collecting the two-drachma tax from Jews that previously had gone to the Temple at Jerusalem, and proselytizing for the Jewish religion (and possibly the Christian) was punished with exile, though Tertullian noted that he recalled most of them. To gain money Domitian also tried to tax anyone practicing the Jewish religion even if they were not circumcised. With the fall of Jerusalem the Sanhedrin dissolved; burnt offerings ended; and the chief priests of the Sadducean party disappeared. Jochanan ben Zakkai of the Pharisees developed a center for the study of the law at Jamnia. His memory helped to retain short oral sayings from the Torah called "Halacha." Deductions showing how ordinances from the law came from scriptures became Midrash and new interpretations formed the Talmud. His lectures applying the words of the prophets and relating scripture to historical events in the Roman period were called "Hagadah." Jochanan was succeeded by Gamaliel, a direct descendant of Hillel. When King Agrippa II died in 92, Domitian incorporated his kingdom into the province of Syria. The wealthy proselyte to Judaism, Flavius Clemens, was condemned to death in 95, witnessed by the four chief rabbis from Palestine - Gamaliel, Eliezer, Joshua, and Akiba.
Like some of the Julian Emperors, lack of funds made Domitian greedy, and fear of assassination made him cruel. Domitian sponsored extravagant entertainment in the Colosseum and the Circus. Suetonius believed that Domitian's strict oversight of the judicial system raised the standard of justice considerably. Domitian sentenced Vestals convicted of unchastity to death. He also punished informers severely. Although he enjoyed eunuchs himself, Domitian strictly prohibited castration and regulated the price of the remaining eunuchs. Domitian increased legionary pay from nine to twelve gold pieces per year; but needing money, he tried to reduce the military establishment. As this endangered the frontiers, he began resorting to extortion and confiscation of property, executing several senators on trivial charges. Domitian killed so many people that he ordered no records kept for posterity. Eventually his friends and freedmen conspired to murder him at the age of 44 in 96 CE.
After the brilliant writing of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid in the Augustan era, the literature in the later first century reflected the increasing decadence of the imperial culture. Although later attributed to Dionysius of Halicarnassus or Longinus, the author of a first-century treatise On the Sublime is considered unknown by scholars. This work claims to correct a work by Cecilius, a friend of Dionysius. The sublime (hypsos) is defined as excellent expression with elegance of conception and style. The five sources of the sublime discussed and illustrated from literature are the grandeur of thought including nobility of character, inspired emotion, effective style using rhetorical figures, noble diction using skillful metaphors and imagery, and dignified and elevated composition with organic unity. The author's first thought on the sublime is that humans have benevolence and truth in common with the gods. The sublime uplifts our souls and exalts us with joy. The sublime pleases everyone and does not lose its grandeur when reread. The author considered the first source, nobility of soul, the most important. Poets may use romantic exaggeration, but the finest oratory adheres to reality and truth.
The author of On the Sublime questions why his age lacks this quality and why literature is declining. One common view is that democracy nursed great men of letters, because freedom fosters imagination and inspires hope amid keen competition. Orators get more practice in helping to shed light on affairs of state. Also the love of money and the recent insatiable craving they suffer has made them slaves to the love of pleasure, petty-minded, and ignoble. Greater wealth has led to extravagance, which gives birth to pretentiousness, vanity, and luxury; these in turn breed insolence, lawlessness, and shamelessness. A judge who accepts a bribe considers only his own private interest as just and honorable. Some hunt others to death, lay traps for legacies, and bargain their souls for gain from any and every source. Such people are better off being ruled than living in freedom. Otherwise their consuming greed might set the world on fire with their evil deeds. The apathy of the current generation results from having no motives but to be praised or enjoy pleasures, never having the honorable desire to serve others.
Aesop's Fables were adapted into Latin poetry by Phaedrus, a freed slave of Augustus, and into Greek by Babrius, passing on the wisdom of these fabulous animal tales.
Perhaps the oldest extant novel, Chaereas and Callirhoe by Chariton, is from this era. This Hellenistic adventure story is quite well written in Greek and is set during the last part of the Peloponnesian War that ended in 404 BC. The beautiful Callirhoe, daughter of the renowned Sicilian leader Hermocrates who defeated the Athenian navy, marries Chaereas, the son of his political rival. Her frustrated suitors trap Chaereas into jealousy, and he kicks his just pregnant wife, apparently killing her; but she revives only to be abducted by tomb robbers. They sell her to the wealthy Dionysius of Miletus, whom she marries rather than abort her child. Chaereas learns she is alive and searches for her; but he is captured, sold into slavery, and crucified at Caria. Near death his identity becomes known to Mithridates, who attempts by letters to reunite the couple. Dionysius appeals to the king of Persia to keep Callirhoe, thinking Chaereas is dead. In Babylon the great beauty of Callirhoe even captivates the great king; but Chaereas joins an Egyptian revolt against the Persian empire and captures her and the Persian queen. Chaereas releases the queen and returns to Sicily with his wife. This story centers around the beauty of Callirhoe and the worship of Aphrodite, showing that erotic love was alive and well in Greek culture.
Perhaps to balance his fawning eulogy of Claudius after his
death, Seneca also wrote a satire usually called "The Pumpkinification
of Claudius." Seneca's brother Gallio commented that Claudius
had been hauled into heaven on a hook. In Seneca's Apocolocyntosis
Augustus speaks against Claudius in the divine Senate, accusing
him of killing his two great-granddaughters, his grand-niece Messalina,
and others without specifying charges and ascertaining facts.
Augustus warns them
that if they create such gods, no one will believe that they themselves
are gods. Augustus proposes
that Claudius be deported from heaven; the motion is carried;
and Mercury takes Claudius off to hell. At the tribunal of Aeacus
Claudius is charged with murdering 35 senators, 221 Roman knights,
and countless others. Aeacus pronounces him guilty and sentences
him to suffer what he had caused. He is ordered to throw dice
continually from a broken dice cup.
After serving as governor of Bithynia, Petronius became Nero's "arbiter of taste" in 63. The resentment of his rival Tigellinus led to a charge of conspiracy with Scaevinus. In 66 Petronius casually opened his vein, bound it, and opened it again as he enjoyed one last luxurious feast. Finally he wrote out a list of Emperor Nero's sex partners and sent it to him with his seal. Only fragments from two books of The Satyricon by Petronius remain; but they give a flavor of his hedonistic life artfully portrayed in a novel. Encolpius criticizes the artificiality of rhetoric and blames parents for not disciplining their children. Yet Petronius knew the value of Epicurean self-discipline, writing,
If greatness, poet, is your goal,
the craft begins with self-control.
For poems are of the poet part,
and what he is decides his art.
With character true poems begin.
Poet, learn your discipline.9
Extant portions of The Satyricon describe the phallic worship of Priapus and various homosexual and heterosexual episodes. A lavish banquet hosted by Trimalchio is described in detail. Niceros notes that it is better to tell a joke than to be one. Then he tells a story of a soldier who turned into a wolf. Habinnus prefers whole-wheat bread made without bleach to white bread because it is more healthy and less constipating. The poet Eumolpus observes that in their times they are so besotted with drink and steeped in debauchery that they lack the strength to study the great achievements of the past. Vice, rather than logic and dialectic, is the subject they teach and learn. The poetry of Eumolpus reflects on the drunk and barren rabble for which the Roman legions sack the world with steel, catering to greed. The Senate became as corrupt as the people, bidding for fees, consulting for cash, and auctioning freedom for gold. The greatness ripened, but now it rots as degenerates inherit Rome and in their greed despise the ancient strength.
Eumolpus pretends to be wealthy and brags that in Croton his
new friends can get them off for any crime they commit. Yet Encolpius
feels an outlaw's life is miserable, because he is always waiting
to be punished. Eventually Encolpius and Gito escape, but Eumolpus
is thrown off a cliff by the enraged townspeople. The frankness
of Petronius is not for all tastes, but he did describe the decadence
in Rome during the era of Nero.
The poet Persius was born on December 4, 34 CE in an equestrian family. His father died when he was six, and in Rome he was educated in literature by the dissolute Remmius Palaemon and in oratory by Verginius Flavus. At 16 Persius turned to Cornutus, the Stoic freedman from the house of Seneca. In his verses he thanked Cornutus for straightening his erratic behavior with his Socratic dexterity, as his mind submitted to the pressure of reason. When Persius died at age 27, Cornutus arranged for the publication of his Satires. They were praised by Lucan, Quintilian, and Martial. Persius chided myopic fathers for brainwashing their sons, asking how this could happen if they cherished the ancient spirit. He criticized traditional religion by noting that flesh profits from sin, while asking what use was gold to a temple. Instead Persius suggested we give the gods
a soul where human and divine commands are blended,
a mind which is pure within, a heart steeped in fine old honor.
Let me bring these to the temple,
and I'll win the favor of heaven with a handful of grain.10
Persius wrote how vice can make one insensible, as thick fat surrounds one's conscience, having no feelings of guilt nor notion of loss, like one laying on the bottom no longer sending bubbles to the surface. He prayed that when sadistic lust incites despots to savage cruelty, their punishment might be to see Goodness and then waste with the remorse at having betrayed her. His Fourth Satire has Socrates ask Alcibiades if his idea of the highest good is to dine forever among the flesh-pots. He lamented that no one tries to delve into one's heart, but everyone seems to be watching the bag on the back of the person in front. Persius cautioned those, who are greedily overwhelmed by the sight of cash, who are led by their prick, who are secure yet dun debtors before harsh tribunals. He suggested they spit out what is not them, shirk off the crowd, live alone, and consider how sparse their furniture is. He observed the natural law that disqualifies the incompetent from performing. Persius asked his readers if philosophy taught them how to live well, if they could tell the true from the counterfeit, if they could distinguish what to aim for and what to avoid, if their wants were modest, their housekeeping thrifty, and were they nice to their friends.
Martial received his name for having been born on the first of March in Spain about 40 CE. He came to Rome about 64, and his earliest surviving work celebrated the opening of the Colosseum in 80. By the time he published his first book of Epigrams about five years later he claimed to be known throughout the world. Martial lived on the fourth floor in a simple room and survived by attending a rich patron. He gained a small country estate about twenty miles from Rome and by 94 had bought a small house in Rome. In one poem he wrote how he sent the six-year-old slave girl Erotion to his parents. About 98 Martial returned to Spain and died a few years later. Like Ovid, he claimed that his life was more strict than his poetry, asking indulgence of the Censor. Of a man who denied that God exists he noted he may be right in regard to justice, or else how could this man be wealthy? To the poor he held out little hope, since these days only the rich get even more. He satirized a jockey of the Blues for dropping back to win a bribe by losing the race. Martial was reluctant to give up his freedom to marry for money and wrote this epigram:
Why have I no desire to marry riches?
Because, my friend, I want to wear the breeches.
Wives should obey their husbands; only then
Can women share equality with men.11
Martial did not agree with those who criticized the degenerate
morals of the time, as he believed the government was mild and
that they were assured happiness and peace. Those who moan about
bad times should not accuse our morals but blame their own. Yet
he wrote that anyone who calls the whole world nice seems to see
no difference between virtue and vice.
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus known as Lucan was born in 39 CE at Corduba in Spain. His father was a knight in a prominent family. Lucan was raised in Rome and also was probably influenced by the Stoicism of his uncle Seneca's freedman Cornutus. He studied in Athens before being recalled to join a close circle of Nero's friends. The Emperor appointed him quaestor before the legal age and also augur. After Seneca fell out of favor, Lucan in 64 was banned from reciting in public or advocating in the courts. The next year he joined the conspiracy of Calpurnius to overthrow Nero and was forced to commit suicide at age 25 along with his father and his uncles Seneca and Gallio. Nero's early reign promoted literary culture, and young Lucan wrote various works of poetry and plays. His epic poem on the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar breaks off in the tenth book.
In Civil War Lucan wrote of "legality conferred on crime" in which a mighty people attacked their own guts. A pact of tyranny was broken, and all the forces of the world were shaken with the conflict. Lucan lamented this excessive freedom of the sword that offered Latin blood to hated nations. He bitterly thought that this bloodshed could have won more earth and sea for fellow citizens. Lucan aimed to reveal the causes of the war. He noted that mighty structures tend to collapse on themselves, for prosperity sets limits to growth. He found no loyalty among associates in tyranny, especially after Crassus was killed in the Parthian disaster. After Pompey's wife (and Caesar's daughter) Julia died, their alliance was shattered. Pompey had great achievements but was declining, while the power of Caesar was rising. Rome's subduing of the world brought excessive wealth, and with prosperity morals declined. Violence became the measure of legality, as tribunes and consuls disrupted justice, while the people sold their votes for bribes. By crossing the Rubicon Caesar abandoned peace and desecrated law. The Senate expelled turbulent tribunes, and everyone headed for their leader's standards.
Caesar resented Pompey's control of grain in the world and claimed he was ridding enslaved Rome of its master. Before they fled, the senators gave the consuls war powers. Pompey's forces left Rome to Caesar. In the second book Lucan described the gory civil wars of Marius and Sulla. Cato tells Brutus that civil war is the greatest crime, but virtue must follow destiny. Pompey heads east to arouse that portion of his empire. Warlike Caesar follows and drives him out of Italy. The ghost of Julia appears and warns Pompey if he severs his pledges with the sword, civil war will cause him to join her. Caesar's soldiers rob the treasures in the temple, and for the first time a Caesar is richer than Rome. To build siege towers and ships to capture Massilia Caesar needs strong wood. When the soldiers refuse to strike the sacred trunks, Caesar himself takes up the ax until the soldiers fear him more than the gods. At one point soldiers from both sides try to bring peace and mingle in both camps; but Petreius calls his enslaved sword-hands back to wicked battle, arguing liberty should not be surrendered for peace. So he brings back their love of wickedness, and they proceed to commit every horror inflicted in battle's blind night. In Libya Caesar's forces led by Curio are defeated by Pompey's African allies.
Pompey's army is supplied by sea and has Caesar's forces cornered at Dyrrhachium; but Pompey restrains their violence in this civil war and allows his adversary to escape. Pompey also could have returned to Italy and imitated Caesar's recent conquest there; but he refuses to return home without first disbanding his soldiers. So he follows Caesar to Thessaly, where Lucan noted the first smelting of copper had driven people into wicked warfare. Pompey hopes to win the conflict by his patience; but eastern kings and peoples protest being detained from their native lands. Lucan even has Cicero expressing the impatience of the soldiers to fight, while Pompey laments he could have won a peace without slaughter. So fate is turned over to Fortune in a fight at Pharsalus. Usually freely describing the gruesome violence, Lucan cannot bear to write about the horrors of the civil strife.
Here the soldiers waging war were not assembled from the royal
auxiliaries but wielded weapons in their hands unasked:
that place contained brothers and their fathers.
Here is your madness, your frenzy, your wickedness, Caesar.
Mind of mine, shun this part of battle and leave it to darkness
and from my words let no age learn of horrors
so immense, of how much is licensed in civil war.12
Lucan believed this battle changed the destiny of Rome and nations for future generations, and he regretted not being able to prevent the loss of liberty.
Pharsalia did not have those elements of battle
which other calamities had:
there, Rome was ruined by the destinies of warriors,
here by entire peoples, a soldier's death there
was here a nation's death; here streamed Achaean blood,
Pontic and Assyrian-all that gore is stopped from sticking
and congealing on the plain by a torrent of Roman gore.
From this battle the peoples receive a mightier wound
than their own time could bear; more was lost than life
and safety: for all the world's eternity we are prostrated.
Every age which will suffer slavery is conquered by these swords.
How did the next generation and the next
deserve to be born into tyranny?
Did we wield weapons or shield our throats in fear and trembling?
the punishment of others' fear sits heavy on our necks.
If, Fortune, you intended to give a master to those born after battle,
you should have also given us a chance to fight.13
Pompey realizes he is defeated and refuses to multiply the ruin, retiring from the battle instead. Caesar reins in the slaughter but releases his men to plunder the Pompey camp. Pompey flees, followed by a large portion of the Senate, to join his fleet of a thousand ships in Greek waters; but he is eventually killed in Egypt by the ambitious young Ptolemy.
After Pompey's death Cato takes the fleet to Corcyra, where he is urged to consult an oracle to see if people will be permitted self-rule and the rule of law or whether civil war will waste all. Cato needed no oracle to tell him Stoic truths, saying,
We are all connected with the gods above,
and even if the shrine is silent
we do nothing without God's will;
no need has deity of any utterances:
the Creator told us at our birth once and always
whatever we can know."14
Lucan commended Cato's Stoic leadership in Africa by example
in trying circumstances. In Egypt Caesar
laments losing the one reward of civil war - to grant survival
to the conquered. Caesar
gives Ptolemy no reward but pardon and manages to defeat the intrigues
of Pothinus. As Lucan's narrative comes to an end, Caesar
still has to deal with the wiles of the young Cleopatra.
Lucan's artistic protest against the violence of tyranny was prematurely
shortened by the tyranny of Nero.
Statius was born at Neapolis about 45 CE and died there in 96. His father was a poet, and Statius became a court poet for Domitian, praising the Emperor and describing the lifestyle of the wealthy freedmen in his Silvae. Juvenal noted that Statius himself was not wealthy although he was a celebrity. His epic Thebaid is complete in twelve books, but the Achilleid only contains two books on the education of the hero Achilles. The prize Domitian gave Statius about 90 was probably for the Thebaid, which took him twelve years to write.
The Thebaid begins with the blind Oedipus cursing his sons in their struggle for the crown of Thebes. The brothers draw lots, and Polynices has to go into exile for a year while Eteocles rules before they are to switch. Jupiter announces to the gods he will destroy Thebes and punish Argos too. Juno protests and would prefer to punish Samos and Mycenae. Jupiter sends Mercury to the underworld to bring Laius back into the world. Polynices fights with Tydeus; but they are both taken in by Argos king Adrastus and married to his daughters as the fulfillment of a prophecy. Laius haunts Eteocles, inciting him against his brother. Tydeus is sent as the ambassador of Polynices to Thebes; but when Eteocles refuses to yield the throne after his year, Tydeus leaves the palace angrily. Eteocles sends fifty men to ambush Tydeus; but he kills them all except Maeon, who takes the news to Thebes and then kills himself. Jupiter orders Mars to arouse the war spirit in Argos, though Venus pleads for Thebes. When Tydeus returns to Argos, Adrastus consults the seers, Amphiarus and Melampus. Amphiarus tries to stop the violent conflict by asking, "Why, poor wretches, why rush into war, when fate and heaven stand barring the way?"15 He warns them of their bloody defeat. Yet Polynices' wife Argia urges her father to go to war.
After three years the Argives march to war in contingents under seven leaders. As the Thebans prepare, Eteocles consults the blind seer Tiresias, who summons prominent ghosts from the underworld and prophesies Thebes will be victorious. The approaching Argives suffer a drought after Bacchus dries up the rivers, but Hypsipyle leads them to the water of the Langia River. Hypsipyle tells how the women of Lemnos murdered their husbands, though Bacchus helped her save her father, King Thoas. She was chosen queen; after using men's weapons to attack the Argonauts, the influence of Venus brought about a truce. Jason fathered twins with Hypsipyle but then abandoned her. News of Thoas being alive caused her to flee; she was captured by pirates and enslaved. The baby boy Archemorus is killed by a snake, which is killed by Capaneus; but Hypsipyle is reunited with her 20-year-old twin sons. At the child's funeral the seven commanders protect her from the mourning parents, Lycurgus and Eurydice. In the funeral games the Argive warriors compete in a chariot race, running, discus, boxing, and wrestling.
Jupiter sends Mercury to get brutal Mars to instigate the war, and the deluded Thebans rush to arms. Jocasta with her daughters goes to the Argive camp and asks Polynices to come and demand his kingdom from Eteocles, and she will be the judge. Either he will get it, or he will fight with better right; but the angry Tydeus says to send him rather than let Polynices foolishly trust himself within the walls of Thebes, or let Eteocles come there. As war fury increases again, two tigers attack the charioteer of Amphiarus and are killed by Aconteus. Jocasta flees to Thebes, and the battle begins in confusion. Amphiarus drives his chariot through an opening of the earth into the underworld. There its king Pluto commands Tisiphone to bring about the horrible events of the war. Believing the gods have deserted them, the Argives retreat and replace the seer Amphiarus with Melampus. Then the armies fight at the seven gates. Ismene dreams Atys is her husband, and he is killed. Tydeus kills many, but he is mortally wounded by Melanippus; yet before he dies, he chews on the face of the decapitated Melanippus.
The incensed Thebans advance and fight over the body of Tydeus until Hippomedon on Tydeus' horse drives them back to the Ismenus River, where he is nearly drowned but is allowed to die of his wounds on the bank. Atalanta prays for her son Parthenopaeus, but he is killed in battle. Four Argive leaders have been killed, and their camp is surrounded. The Argives make a night attack and then breach the walls of Thebes. Tiresias prophesies that Creon's son, Menoeceus, must die, and after a heroic speech the young man kills himself. Capaneus tries to scale the battlement; but he is struck down by Jupiter's lightning, and the Argives retreat. The Furies stimulate Polynices and Eteocles to engage in single combat. Even though Adrastus tries to stop it and offers Polynices his throne, the brothers slay each other. Antigone prevents Oedipus from injuring himself further, and Ismene stanches the self-inflicted wound of her mother Jocasta. Creon becomes king of Thebes; he forbids burial of the Argive warriors and banishes Oedipus to Cithaeron.
In the 12th book the Thebans bury their dead with splendid pyres for Menoeceus and Eteocles. Upset by Creon's denial of Argive funerals, the widows march from Argos to Thebes but are turned away from the battlefield. They go to Athens and petition Theseus, while Argia and Antigone disregard Creon's law and sneak onto the battlefield. Argia feels responsible for instigating the war. So the wife and sister of Polynices wash his body and place it on the burning embers of his brother's pyre. The war has achieved nothing. The two women are arrested and insist on going before King Creon, while Juno leads the suppliant Argive women with olive branches from the temple of compassion in Athens. They do not complain the men were killed according to the chances of war; but they argue that they should be treated as human souls. Although death has smothered their rage, they vow the Argives must have pyres or Thebes will have war again. This struggle is between the gods of the underworld and the vengeance of Creon. Argia and Antigone are ready to die for their cause; but Theseus arrives with his Athenian army to defeat and kill Creon. Finally the two armies join in peace. Theseus is welcomed as a guest, and the funerals can take place.
In this violent epic even the gods and goddesses are portrayed as fighting for petty reasons, thus providing poor examples for ethical behavior. Clearly both brothers are in the wrong to go to war for their selfish ambitions - Eteocles for not giving up the throne after his term and Polynices for attacking his own city with a foreign power. Tragically the single combat came only after so many had been killed. Only in the last book does a humanitarian spirit arise as the women nonviolently insist on mutual respect.
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was born about 35 CE at Calagurris in northern Spain. His father was a successful rhetorician at Rome, and Quintilian was educated there by the famous grammaticus Remmius Palaemon and the renowned rhetorician Domitius Afer. He apparently returned to Spain to teach until he was brought to Rome by Galba in 68. Quintilian is considered the first rhetorician to receive a salary from the state for teaching. His pupils included the younger Pliny and two of Domitian's grand-nephews. He also pleaded cases in the courts, married, and had two sons. He retired about 88 and published his Institutio Oratoria shortly before his death, which occurred soon after Domitian's demise in 96.
The first book of the twelve in the Institutio discusses education prior to training in rhetoric. Quintilian indicated that after twenty years of teaching he gained leisure to study and write on the art of speaking. He found that most children are quick to reason and ready to learn, that reasoning comes as naturally to humans as flying to birds. Because of our natural mental activity and wisdom it is believed the soul comes from heaven. First, the child's nurse should speak correctly and be of good character. Studies can be made amusing. The children must be questioned and praised so that they rejoice when they have done well. Quintilian acknowledged that schools sometimes corrupt morals; but he noted that morals may be corrupted at home too. Too large a class is unsuitable for correcting faults or for explaining; a good teacher will not take on more students than can be managed. One should be on friendly and intimate terms, making teaching not a duty but a labor of love. Students learn from having merits praised and faults corrected. Hearing the laziness of a comrade criticized or one's diligence commended may inspire emulation.
Quintilian approved of play in the young and considered it a sign of a lively disposition. However, excessive indulgence can lead to idleness. Games reveal character in a natural way, and no child is too young to distinguish between right and wrong. Character can best be molded when it is innocent of deceit and most susceptible to instruction. Once a bad habit is formed, it cannot bend and must be broken. Quintilian disapproved of flogging although it was a popular custom. He argued that it is a disgraceful punishment fit only for slaves. It is an insult, especially at a later age. A boy insensible to instruction and reproof is likely to become hardened by blows. If the master is a thorough disciplinarian, such punishment is unnecessary. Although a child may be compelled with blows, young men are no longer amenable to such threats. In addition when children are beaten, pain and fear can bring very unpleasant results. The shame of this can depress the mind. Quintilian noted that helpless children can be easily victimized, and he believed that no one should be given unlimited power over them.
Once a child can read and write, Quintilian suggested a grammaticus, or teacher of literature. Good style in language requires correctness, lucidity, and elegance. Quintilian recommended pupils learn to paraphrase Aesop's fables, as the natural successors to fairy tales of the nursery. Students should also write aphorisms, moral essays, and delineations of character after the teacher gives the general plan from themes in literature. Quintilian included formal logic and found that geometry sharpened the mind and perception, developing reasoning skill by arriving at conclusions from definite premises. Acting can help orators develop their gestures and facial expressions. Gymnastics and dance in moderation can also be useful. Quintilian observed that variety can restore the mind, because it is harder to work on one subject without intermission. For a teacher the highest pleasure can be a child of virtue.
In the second book of his Education of an Orator Quintilian turned to the study of rhetoric. To the usual declaiming of themes and commonplaces Quintilian added controversies over real or imaginary causes, eulogies, and denunciations. In finding a teacher of rhetoric his first concern was good character. The purity of the teacher should preserve the young from corruption, while one's authority can keep the bolder from breaking out into license. The teacher should set an example of self-control and be able to govern pupil behavior with strict discipline. The teacher may adopt a parental attitude as representing them. The teacher should be free of vice and refuse to tolerate it. Quintilian hoped the teacher would be strict but not austere, genial but not too familiar. Above all, a father should not neglect choosing a teacher free from obvious immorality. The very best teachers ought to be selected, because an incompetent one is likely to approve faulty work in teaching both how to behave and how to speak.
Rhetoricians may study historical narratives that are both forceful and true. Narratives may be refuted or confirmed. Commonplaces may denounce vices such as adultery, gambling, or profligacy. Theses usually involve comparisons. Laws may be praised or denounced. A good teacher is able to differentiate the abilities of students and know their natural tendencies. Yet natural talent is not enough, or education would not be needed. Innate qualities should not be neglected; but defects should be corrected, and weaknesses strengthened. Quintilian agreed with Plato that true rhetoric is only possible for the just and good, and it requires a knowledge of justice. Quintilian defined rhetoric as the art or science of speaking well. More specifically he wrote, "Rhetoric is the science of correct conception, arrangement and utterance, coupled with a retentive memory and a dignified delivery."16 Its material includes any subject that might come up.
Most authorities believed rhetoric consists of invention, arrangement, expression, memory, and delivery. The parts of rhetoric as defined by Aristotle are panegyric, deliberative, and forensic. Quintilian did not limit panegyric to laudatory subjects concerned with honor nor deliberative to what is expedient nor forensic to what is just, because they are usually intermingled. He agreed with Cicero that deliberative should be more concerned with what is honorable than with the expedient alone. Quintilian wrote that the three aims of rhetoric are to instruct, move, and charm listeners. The five parts of a forensic speech usually are the exordium, the statement of facts, the proof, the refutation, and the peroration. The purpose of the exordium is to prepare the audience by making them well disposed, attentive, and ready to receive instruction. While being modest, a speaker has the strongest influence if the audience believes the speaker to be a good person. The statement of facts is usually followed by verification. The proof is the only indispensable part of a forensic speech.
Quintilian distinguished more violent emotions he called pathos from the gentler moral ones called ethos. The emotions disturb and carry one away temporarily. The moral feelings persuade and induce goodwill; they are usually more continuous. Quintilian observed that that the passion for abuse usually does more harm than good. A more effective speaker makes opponents unpopular rather than abusing them, for the latter tends to make the speaker disliked. He also found sarcasm to be injudicious as is anything that excites enmity and requires apologies later. Skilled debaters must control their anger, or it can lead to insulting language and even attacks on the judges. The speaker must identify with the persons who have suffered unmerited misfortune and plead their case while one is feeling their suffering as though it is one's own. Quintilian recommended reading the best writers and listening to the best speakers to learn the most appropriate words. The character of people is revealed by the words they use. Meaner vices using words are flattery, buffoonery, immodesty, obscenity, and disregarding all authorities. Such faults usually are found in those who are too anxious to please or amuse.
Quintilian agreed with Marcus Cato that the orator is a good
person skilled in speaking. He believed there is nothing worse
than using the powers of eloquence to lend arms to crime. Nature's
greatest gift to humans would be betrayed if it is used as an
accomplice to crime, a foe to the innocent, and an enemy of truth.
It would be better for humans to be dumb and without reason than
to turn these gifts to mutual destruction. Thus for Quintilian
no one can be a good orator without first being a good person.
As philosophers hold that a bad person can only be a fool, Quintilian
argued that a fool can never be an orator. Intelligence devoted
to oratory must be free of the distractions of vice. The criminal
mind is inevitably tormented with anxiety, remorse, and fear of
punishment. To expect the pursuit of virtue among these passions
is like looking for fruit among thorns and brambles. Study requires
a simple lifestyle, not the lust of luxury. How can an unjust
person speak on what is just and honorable? Thus the orator must
devote attention to forming moral character and acquiring a complete
knowledge of what is just, true, and good. Quintilian's orator
must also be a philosopher with the courage to speak. The orator
should also know civil law and the customs of one's state.
The historian Tacitus also wrote a dialog on oratory set in the year 75 CE, although it was probably written years later. His motive was a question from a friend as to why their age was so destitute of the glory of eloquence. Tacitus recorded a conversation he had with orators comparing the rhetoric of their time with that of the republican era of Cato and Cicero. Aper argued for the status quo, saying that oratory can safely bring aid to friends, strangers, and the imperiled, while to foes it brings fear and terror. Then Messala replied to the question of Maternus as to why there was a falling off of eloquence after the death of Cicero.
Cicero's erudition overflowed from universal knowledge he gained from studying philosophy and law, concentrating on good and evil, human nature, the power of virtue, and the depravity of vice. He understood emotions such as anger, pity, envy, sorrow, and fear, and he adapted his style to different mental conditions. Ancient orators were educated with grammar, music, and geometry, and they gained knowledge of civil law. The best orator must be equipped with every accomplishment of learning; but this is neglected by contemporary speakers, who are ignorant of the laws and the Senate's decrees, scoff at civil laws, and dread the study of philosophy and the opinions of the learned. Oratory has been reduced like one of the meanest handicrafts. Did not Demosthenes listen to Plato? Cicero said he gained his eloquence not from rhetoricians but from the Academy.
Messala also noted that during the republic laws were learned by daily hearing in the courts and popular assemblies, where men like Licinius Crassus, Caesar, and Cato began speaking while young men. Maternus noted that Pompey and Marcus Crassus rose to eminence more by speaking than with the might of arms. In those days no one could acquire much influence without some eloquence. He contrasted the technical points in current criminal cases with the broader issues of bribery in elections, plundering of allies, and the massacre of citizens. Although current courts may be more favorable to truth, the forum offered better training for eloquence when there were no time limits first imposed by Pompey. The "Emperor's perfect discipline" has restrained eloquence as well as everything else. No longer could one have the privilege of attacking the most influential men such as Scipio, Sulla, and Pompey. Orators get much less practice when conventional morality and a willing obedience to authority prevail.
The main source for the life of Apollonius of Tyana is the biography by Philostratus. The work was requested by Empress Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus, but it was not completed until after her death in 217. Philostratus used the letters of Apollonius, some of which survive, but his main source was the now lost memoirs by Damis of Nineveh, a devoted companion of Apollonius. Because of some historical inconsistencies, some scholars consider the adventurous travels to be more historical novel than biography. This is debatable, but the ethical teachings come across either way, though with more power to those believing in the authenticity of the inspired Pythagorean philosopher's experiences. During his life-time the sage was accused by the rival sophist Euphrates of being a charlatan or a wizard using evil magic. Philostratus stated that he ignored the lost work by Moeragenes which also criticized Apollonius, because he was ignorant of many circumstances in his life. Philostratus wrote that the many letters of Apollonius dealt with the gods, customs, moral principles, and laws and that in all those areas he corrected the errors into which humans had fallen.
Philostratus described how his spirit announced he was the Egyptian god Proteus before his birth and that Apollonius was born in a meadow of flowers surrounded by swans in Tyana of Cappadocia. Since Philostratus wrote that Apollonius died in the reign of Nerva (96-98), if he lived to be a hundred as some said, it is likely he was born about the same time as Jesus or some years after. As a child Apollonius moved to Aegae to live in the temple of Asclepius so that he could get a more peaceful and philosophic education. He studied with the Pythagorean Euxenus, but this man lived more like an Epicurean. Apollonius renounced the eating of flesh and the drinking of wine, because they muddied the mind and the ether in the soul. Also he wore linen clothing instead of animal products. He believed in praying to the gods for what he deserved rather than presuming to tell the godhead what is best. When his father died, he buried his body next to his mother's and gave away most of his property to his brother and other relatives. He asked his older brother to advise him and cure him of his faults, and he would also teach his brother, who had led a riotous life.
Apollonius decided not to wed nor have any connection with women. He said his hardest work was the five years he spent in silence. Yet the young man could reproach others with a gesture or by a look, and his presence would often stop quarrels. He ended a famine at Aspendus by reprimanding grain-dealers for pretending the earth was not the mother of all. When he began speaking again, his words were concise and powerful. Asked at Antioch how a sage should converse, Apollonius replied, "Like a law-giver, for it is the duty of the law-giver to deliver to the many the instructions of whose truth he has persuaded himself."17 When he told his seven followers he was going to Babylon, only a shorthand writer and a calligraphist accompanied him. However, at Nineveh he met and was joined by Damis. Apollonius could understand all languages, even those of animals. When crossing the Euphrates he was asked what he brought, and Apollonius said he had temperance, justice, virtue, continence, valor, and discipline. The feminine nouns were taken for slaves, but Apollonius said they are ladies of quality.
On the frontier of Babylon a satrap asked him why he was trespassing, but Apollonius said all the earth is his. Nearing the king, they asked him if he thought the king lacked the virtues he brought. Apollonius answered no, but he would teach him to practice them if he had them. Apollonius declined expensive gifts, holding to his prayer to have little and want nothing. He pointed out to Damis that eunuchs did not have chastity, which consists of not yielding to passion when the impulse is felt. He explained that greed combined all the vices, because money was needed for various desires. The Babylonian king offered him ten gifts. Apollonius asked that the Eretrians be allowed to cultivate the earth, and the king ended his enmity and made them his friends. When a eunuch was caught loving a lady, Apollonius urged the king to let him live, for that would be a greater punishment than death. Asked about governing, he advised respecting many while confiding in few. In regard to Roman villages in his territory, Apollonius said it was a mistake to go to war even over large issues, and this one was paltry. Apollonius was not impressed by the king's great wealth and suggested that he spend it. Upon leaving, Apollonius hoped to bring back the gift of having become a better man.
At Taxila in India Apollonius met a philosophic king who lived simply. Apollonius commended him for rating his friends more highly than gold and silver because of the blessings that result. The king told him he also shared his wealth with his enemies on his borders so that they protect his frontiers from invaders. Apollonius explained to Damis why drinking wine is damaging to divination. The king provided them with fresh camels and guides for their journey.
Further in India Apollonius met a group of sages led by Iarchas. Apollonius considered their lore more profound than his and came to learn. Observing that they knew everything, Apollonius asked them if they knew themselves also. They replied that they know everything, because they begin by knowing themselves. They considered themselves gods, because they are good men. Then they discussed the transmigration of souls and the Achaeans ruining Troy, though they felt talking so much about this war was the ruin of the Greeks. Iarchas noted that the Greeks seemed to think that abstaining from injustice constitutes justice, like Romans who do not sell justice or slaves that do not steal. He pointed out that Minos cruelly enslaved many people but is considered a judge in the underworld, while Tantalus suffers for having shared with his friends his immortality given him by the gods. Before returning to Ionia Apollonius healed a demoniac and others.
Back in Ephesus, Apollonius discussed sharing things in common by people supporting each other, like the sparrow that tells his friends about the spilled grain. He taught that people ought to do what they understand best and what they best can do. He helped the people of Smyrna get rid of their demon plague. At Athens he criticized the lascivious dancing at the festival of Dionysus, and he refused to watch the gladiator shows. At Olympia Apollonius discussed virtues such as wisdom, courage, and temperance. Although Musonius of Babylon was arrested in Rome because Nero suspected him of using magic, Apollonius went to Rome anyway. Some of his followers refused to go; he did not consider them cowards, though he hailed as philosophers those who rose above such fears. Apollonius taught the consul Telesinus. When asked what he prayed for, Apollonius replied that he prayed that the laws not be broken, that the wise may continue to be poor, but that others may be rich so long as they are so without fraud. Apollonius taught in public; he did not hover around the rich and powerful, though he welcomed talking to them just as much as he did to the common people. Seeing a bridegroom mourning his bride, Apollonius touched her and whispered to her; immediately she woke up from what seemed death and spoke.
Apollonius found the tales of Aesop more conducive to wisdom than poetry relating stories of outlandish passion, incestuous marriages, calumnies of the gods committing crimes and quarreling that lead jealous and ambitious people to imitate them. Aesop made use of humble stories that are clearly fictitious to teach great truths. Seeing the Colossus at Rhodes, Apollonius still believed that a person who loves wisdom in a sound and innocent spirit is much greater. At Alexandria Apollonius met Vespasian, though he refused to go to Judea to see him, believing that land during the war was polluted both by what the inhabitants did and by what they suffered. Apollonius told Vespasian that in praying for a king that is just, temperate, and wise with legitimate sons he was praying for him. Vespasian explained why he felt justified in taking the throne from the drunkard Vitellius. Euphrates and Dion gave speeches saying that Vespasian should restore the republic; but Apollonius argued that a monarchical policy was a foregone conclusion and that Vespasian could rule with generosity and self-restraint, that his sons commanding the armies should not be made hostile, and that a government by a single man who is the best, providing welfare for all the people, is popular government.
Vespasian agreed with Apollonius and asked him to instruct him. Apollonius advised him to use his wealth to help the poor while making the wealth of the rich secure. He should be governed by law himself too by respecting the laws, and he should reverence the gods. He should discipline his two sons by threatening not to bequeath the throne to them so they will regard it as a reward rather than a heritage. He should use moderation and gradual change in suppressing pleasures, because it is not easy to convert an entire people suddenly to wisdom and temperance. Apollonius suggested limiting the pride and luxury of the freedmen and slaves assigned to the Emperor. Governors should be selected by merit rather than by lot, making sure they speak the language and have affinity with the people they rule. Later Apollonius wrote to Vespasian criticizing him for seriously enslaving the Greeks when even Nero playfully had respected their liberties.
Apollonius visited Ethiopia and expressed the wish that it would be splendid if wealth were held in less honor, and equality flourished a little more. He cited Aristides as an example of a just person, for he fixed the tribute to Athens on a fair basis and returned home in his same poor clothes; but after his death excessive valuations and heavy tributes imposed on the islands led to the Peloponnesian War. After Domitian put to death three vestal virgins for breaking their oaths, Apollonius publicly criticized the Emperor by praying for the purification of the unjust murders. At Smyrna knowing that Nerva would soon become sovereign, Apollonius explained that tyrants cannot force destiny even by killing their adversaries. Even though Domitian was persecuting philosophers, Apollonius went to Rome to face his charges so that he could share the dangers of his friends. He believed that conscience is the perpetual companion of the sage who knows oneself, and thus he did not cower before what frightens many. Domitian ordered Apollonius arrested and brought into his presence. Apollonius consoled the other prisoners and defended Nerva before Domitian, declaring he was willing to endure all that he could inflict against his vile body while he pleaded the causes of those persons.
Apollonius accused Domitian of wronging philosophy, saying that philosophy is concerned about the Emperor if he does wrong. The indictment was reduced to four charges, and Apollonius answered them this way: 1) he wore peculiar clothes, because he does not like to bother poor animals; 2) he is thought to be a god, because people so honor persons thought to be good; 3) he predicted the plague in Ephesus, because having a lighter diet he was the first to sense the danger; and 4) the charge that he sacrificed a boy for Nerva was easily refuted for lack of evidence and because Apollonius never even sacrificed animals. Domitian acquitted Apollonius of the charges. Apollonius told the Emperor that his miscreants were causing ruin in the cities, exiles in the islands, lamentation on the mainland, cowardice in his armies, and suspicion in the Senate. Then Apollonius vanished from the court and soon appeared to Demetrius and Damis at Dicaearchia.
Apollonius believed that God created all things with the motive of goodness. In a letter he asked those who professed to be his disciples to remain within their houses, abstain from bathing, kill no living creature nor eat flesh, and be exempt from the feelings of jealousy, spite, hatred, slander, and enmity in order to bear the names of free people. To Democrates he wrote that to show excessive anger over small offenses prevents offenders from distinguishing when they have offended in greater things. To others he wrote that a quick temper may blossom into madness, and anger not restrained and cured by social intercourse may become a physical disease. To his brothers he wrote that they must not feel envious, because the good deserve what they have, and the bad even if they are prosperous live badly. He criticized orators and lawyers for promoting hatred and feuds. While speaking at Ephesus, Apollonius clairvoyantly perceived the murder of Domitian and announced it to the people at the time it happened before news confirmed it. Nerva became Emperor and sent for Apollonius to gain his advice; but the sage sent a letter to the new Emperor with Damis so that he could die alone. This sage had lived through a decadent era and taught wisdom until a better Emperor appeared.
1. Tacitus, Annals 11:26 tr. Michael Grant.
2. Ibid., 14:15.
3. Dio Cassius, Roman History 62: 18 tr. Earnest Cary.
4. Octavia 982-983 tr. E. F. Watling.
5. Seneca, On Anger 1:17:7 tr. John W. Basore.
6. Seneca, Letters 2:5 tr. Robin Campbell, p. 49.
7. Ibid., 48:2, p. 96.
8. Tacitus, The Histories, 4:74 tr. Kenneth Wellesley.
9. Petronius, The Satyricon tr. William Arrowsmith, p. 23.
10. Persius, Satires 2:72-75 tr. Niall Rudd.
11. Martial, Epigrams 8:12.
12. Lucan, Civil War 7:548-554 tr. Susan H. Braund.
13. Ibid., 7:632-646.
14. Ibid., 9:573-576.
15. Statius, Thebaid 3:631-632 tr. A. D. Melville.
16. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 5:10:54 tr. H. E. Butler.
17. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1:17 tr. F. C. Conybeare.
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