Aemilius had four sons, of whom Scipio and Fabius, as is already related, were adopted into other families; the other two, whom he had by a second wife, and who were yet but young, he brought up in his own house. One of these died at fourteen years of age, five days before his father’s triumph, the other at twelve, three days after; so that there was no Roman without a deep sense of his suffering, and who did not shudder at the cruelty of fortune, that had not scrupled to bring so much sorrow into a house replenished with happiness, rejoicing, and sacrifices, and to intermingle tears and laments with songs of victory and triumph.
Aemilius, however, reasoning justly that courage and resolution was not merely to resist armour and spears, but all the shocks of ill-fortune, so met and so adapted himself to these mingled and contrasting circumstances, as to outbalance the evil with the good, and his private concerns with those of the public; and thus did not allow anything either to take away from the grandeur, or sully the dignity of his victory. For as soon as he had buried the first of his sons (as we have already said), he triumphed; and the second dying almost as soon as his triumph was over, he gathered together an assembly of the people, and made an oration to them, not like a man that stood in need of comfort from others, but one that undertook to support his fellow-citizens in their grief for the sufferings he himself underwent.
“I,” he said, “who never yet feared anything that was human, have, amongst such as were divine, always had a dread of Fortune as faithless and inconstant; and, for the very reason that in this war she had been as a favourable gale in all my affairs, I still expected some change and reflux of things. In one day I passed the Ionian sea, and reached Corcyra from Brundisium; thence in five more I sacrificed at Delphi, and in other five days came to my forces in Macedonia, where, after I had finished the usual sacrifices for the purifying of the army, I entered on my duties, and, in space of fifteen days, put an honourable period to the war. Still retaining a jealousy of Fortune, even from the smooth current of my affairs, and seeing myself secure and free from the danger of any enemy, I chiefly dreaded the change of the goddess at sea, whilst conveying home my victorious army, vast spoils, and a captive king. Nay, indeed, after I was returned to you safe, and saw the city full of joy, congratulating, and sacrifices, yet still I distrusted, well knowing that Fortune never conferred any great benefits that were unmixed and unattended with probabilities of reverse. Nor could my mind, that was still as it were in labour, and always foreseeing something to befall this city, free itself from this fear, until this great misfortune befell me in my own family, and till, in the midst of those days set apart for triumph, I carried two of the best sons, my only destined successors, one after another to their funerals. Now, therefore, I am myself safe from danger, at least as to what was my greatest care; and I trust and am verily persuaded that for the time to come Fortune will prove constant and harmless unto you; since she has sufficiently wreaked her jealousy at our great success on me and mine, and has made the conqueror as marked an example of human instability as the captive whom he led in triumph, with this only difference, that Perseus, though conquered, does yet enjoy his children, while the conqueror, Aemilius, is deprived of his.” This was the generous and magnanimous oration Aemilius is said to have spoken to the people, from a heart truly sincere and free from all artifice.
Although he very much pitied the condition of Perseus, and studied to befriend him in what he was able, yet he could procure no other favour than his removal from the common prison, the Carcer, into a more cleanly and humane place of security, where, whilst he was guarded, it is said, he starved himself to death. Others state his death to be of the strangest and most unusual character: that the soldiers who were his guard, having conceived a spite and hatred against him for some reason, and finding no other way to grieve and afflict him, kept him from sleep, took pains to disturb him when he was disposed to rest, and found out contrivances to keep him continually awake, by which means at length he was utterly worn out, and expired. Two of his children, also, died soon after him; the third, who was named Alexander, they say proved an exquisite artist in turning and graving small figures, and learned so perfectly to speak and write the Roman language, that he became clerk to the magistrates, and behaved himself in his office with great skill and conduct.
They ascribed to Aemilius’s conquest of Macedonia this most acceptable benefit to the people, that he brought so vast a quantity of money into the public treasury, that they never paid any taxes, until Hirtius and Pansa were consuls, which was in the first war between Antony and Caesar. This also was peculiar and remarkable in Aemilius, that though he was extremely beloved and honoured by the people, yet he always sided with the nobles; nor would he either say or do anything to ingratiate himself with the multitude, but constantly adhered to the nobility, in all political matters, which in aftertimes was cast in Scipio Africanus’s teeth by Appius; these two being in their time the most considerable men in the city, and standing in competition for the office of censor. The one had on his side the nobles and the senate, to which party the Appii were always attached; the other, although his own interest was great, yet made use of the favour and love of the people. When, therefore, Appius saw Scipio come to the market-place, surrounded with men of mean rank, and such as were but newly made free, yet were very fit to manage a debate, to gather together the rabble, and to carry whatsoever they designed by importunity and noise, crying out with a loud voice: “Groan now,” said he, “O Aemilius Paulus, if you have knowledge in your grave of what is done above, that your son aspires to be censor, by the help of Aemilius, the common crier, and Licinius Philonicus.” Scipio always had the goodwill of the people, because he was constantly heaping favours on them; but Aemilius, although he still took part with the nobles, yet was as much the people’s favourite as those who most sought popularity and used every art to obtain it. This they made manifest, when, amongst other dignities, they thought him worthy of the office of censor, a trust accounted most sacred and of great authority, as well in other things, as in the strict examination into men’s lives. For the censors had power to expel a senator, and enrol whom they judged most fit in his room, and to disgrace such young men as lived licentiously, by taking away their horses. Besides this, they were to value and assess each man’s estate, and register the number of the people. There were numbered by Aemilius 347,452 men. He declared Marcus Aemilius Lepidus first senator, who had already four times held that honour, and he removed from their office three of the senators of the least note. The same moderation he and his fellow-censor, Marcius Philippus, used at the muster of the knights.
Whilst he was thus busy about many and weighty affairs he fell sick of a disease, which at first seemed hazardous; and although after a while it proved without danger, yet was troublesome and difficult to be cured: so that by the advice of his physicians he sailed to Velia, in south Italy, and there dwelt a long time near the sea, where he enjoyed all possible quietness. The Romans, in the meanwhile, longed for his return, and oftentimes by their expressions in the theatres gave public testimony of their great desire and impatience to see him. When, therefore, the time drew nigh that a solemn sacrifice was of necessity to be offered, and he found, as he thought, his body strong enough, he came back again to Rome, and there performed the holy rites with the rest of the priests, the people in the meantime crowding about him and congratulating his return. The next day he sacrificed again to the gods for his recovery; and, having finished the sacrifice, returned to his house and sat down to dinner, when, all on a sudden and when no change was expected, he fell into a fit of delirium, and, being quite deprived of his senses, the third day after ended a life in which he had wanted no manner of thing which is thought to conduct to happiness. Nay, his very funeral pomp had something in it remarkable and to be admired, and his virtue was graced with the most solemn and happy rites at his burial; consisting, not in gold and ivory, or in the usual sumptuousness and splendour of such preparations, but in the goodwill, honour, and love, not only of his fellow-citizens, but of his enemies themselves. For as many Spaniards, Ligurians, and Macedonians as happened to be present at the solemnity, that were young and of vigorous bodies, took up the bier and carried it; whilst the more aged followed, called Aemilius the benefactor and preserver of their countries. For not only at the time of his conquest had he acted to all with kindness and clemency, but, through the whole course of his life, he continued to do them good and look after their concerns, as if they had been his familiars and relations. They report that the whole of his estate scarce amounted to three hundred and seventy thousand drachmas; to which he left his two sons co-heirs; but Scipio, who was the youngest, being adopted into the more wealthy family of Africanus, gave it all to his brother.Such are said to have been the life and manners of Aemilius.
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