Today is the 1949th anniversary of the death of Nero. Suetonius' account in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars is well worth reading. It's too long to quote here, and is not available on the web (except in Latin), but highlights include:
In the end, he cannot even find anyone to defend him, though his freedman Phaon does lend him his country house to hide in. Here's the last part of the long and sordid story (49.1-4, quoted from the Loeb facing text of J. C. Rolfe, as recently revised by Donna W. Hurley):
At last, while his companions one and all urged him to save himself as soon as possible from the indignities that threatened him he bade them dig a grave in his presence, proportioned to the size of his own person, collect any bits of marble that could be found, and at the same time bring water and wood for presently disposing of his body. As each of these things was done, he wept and said again and again: "What an artist the world is losing!" [Qualis artifex pereo!]
While he hesitated, a letter was brought to Phaon by one of his couriers. Nero snatching it from his hand read that he had been pronounced a public enemy by the senate, and that they were seeking him to punish him in the ancient fashion; and he asked what manner of punishment that was. When he learned that the criminal was stripped, fastened by the neck in a fork [= V-shaped wooden frame] and then beaten to death with rods, in mortal terror he seized two daggers which he had brought with him, and then, after trying the point of each, put them up again, pleading that the fated hour had not yet come. Now he would beg Sporus to begin to lament and wail, and now entreat someone to help him take his life by setting him the example; anon he reproached himself for his cowardice in such words as these: "To live is a scandal and shame -- this does not become Nero, does not become him -- one should be resolute at such times -- come, rouse thyself!" And now the horsemen were at hand who had orders to take him off alive. When he heard them, he quavered [a line from the Iliad]:
"Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!"
and drove a dagger into his throat, aided by Epaphroditus, his private secretary. He was all but dead when a centurion rushed in, and as he placed a cloak to the wound, pretending that he had come to aid him, Nero merely gasped: "Too late!" and "This is fidelity!" With these words he was gone, with eyes so set and staring from their sockets that all who saw him shuddered with horror.
Sporus was his wife in a gay marriage. He also had a husband, Doryphorus, which means "spear-bearer": probably not his real name.
Some day when I have time to spare I'll quote Tacitus' account (Annals 14.3-9) of how Nero arranged to murder his mother with a specially-designed collapsible ship. Unfortunately, she ducked under the furniture when the lead-lined dining-room ceiling fell, and swam to shore when the ship suddenly tipped over on its side, so he had to have her stabbed to death in the usual way. He had wanted to make it look like an accident, since he had already used the old poisoned-mushroom trick on his stepfather (the emperor Claudius) and his cousin (Claudius' son Britannicus, his adoptive brother and the more directly legitimate heir).Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 09, 2003 09:07 PM