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December 11, 2008

a changing of the guard

774px-JPaul_Laurens_The_Death_of_Tiberius.jpg [image: Jean-Paul Laurens, La Mort de Tibère (1864)]

Like many small men, I have been enjoying reading today about the death of a tyrant, Tiberius, the second Emperor of Rome.

Here is the passage; it is from Tacitus's Annals, bk 6, in the newly ancient translation of Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (their wonderful 19th century language sports handlebar moustaches and a central parting). Tacitus describes the despicable Praetorian prefect Quintus Naevius Sutorius Macro doing the right thing at Misenum in March, 37 AD:

"Tiberius's bodily powers were now leaving him, but not his skill in dissembling. There was the same stern spirit; he had his words and looks under strict control, and occasionally would try to hide his weakness, evident as it was, by a forced politeness. After frequent changes of place, he at last settled down on the promontory of Misenum in a country-house once owned by Lucius Lucullus. There it was noted, in this way, that he was drawing near his end. There was a physician, distinguished in his profession, of the name of Charicles, usually employed, not indeed to have the direction of the emperor's varying health, but to put his advice at immediate disposal. This man, as if he were leaving on business his own, clasped his hand, with a show of homage, and touched his pulse. Tiberius noticed it. Whether he was displeased and strove the more to hide his anger, is a question; at any rate, he ordered the banquet to be renewed, and sat at the table longer than usual, by way, apparently, of showing honour to his departing friend. Charicles, however, assured Macro that his breath was failing and that he would not last more than two days. All was at once hurry; there were conferences among those on the spot and despatches to the generals and armies. On the 15th of March, his breath failing, he was believed to have expired, and Caius Caesar was going forth with a numerous throng of congratulating followers to take the first possession of the empire, when suddenly news came that Tiberius was recovering his voice and sight, and calling for persons to bring him food to revive him from his faintness. Then ensued a universal panic, and while the rest fled hither and thither, every one feigning grief or ignorance, Caius Caesar, in silent stupor, passed from the highest hopes to the extremity of apprehension. Macro, nothing daunted, ordered the old emperor to be smothered under a huge heap of clothes, and all to quit the entrance-hall."

What a relief to find someone "nothing daunted." What a pleasure to read about an emperor, almost a god, being mundanely suffocated with a "huge heap of clothes." Tiberius was succeeded by his adopted grandson, Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, the third Emperor, better known as the hyperthyroidic, epileptic tyrant Caligula, who was wont to talk to the moon. A multitude of conspiratorial swords brutalized Caligula in 41 AD.

Posted by njenkins at December 11, 2008 02:47 AM

With the exception of interspersed quotations, all writing is © 2007-09 by Nicholas Jenkins