Agrippina, however, raved with a woman’s fury about having a freedwoman
for a rival, a slave girl for a daughter-in-law, with like expressions.
Nor would she wait till her son repented or wearied of his passion.
The fouler her reproaches, the more powerfully did they inflame him,
till completely mastered by the strength of his desire, he threw off
all respect for his mother, and put himself under the guidance of
Seneca, one of whose friends, Annaeus Serenus, had veiled the young
prince’s intrigue in its beginning by pretending to be in love with
the same woman, and had lent his name as the ostensible giver of the
presents secretly sent by the emperor to the girl. Then Agrippina,
changing her tactics, plied the lad with various blandishments, and
even offered the seclusion of her chamber for the concealment of indulgences
which youth and the highest rank might claim. She went further; she
pleaded guilty to an ill-timed strictness, and handed over to him
the abundance of her wealth, which nearly approached the imperial
treasures, and from having been of late extreme in her restraint of
her son, became now, on the other hand, lax to excess. The change
did not escape Nero; his most intimate friends dreaded it, and begged
him to beware of the arts of a woman, was always daring and was now

It happened at this time that the emperor after inspecting the apparel
in which wives and mothers of the imperial house had been seen to
glitter, selected a jewelled robe and sent it as a gift to his mother,
with the unsparing liberality of one who was bestowing by preference
on her a choice and much coveted present. Agrippina, however, publicly
declared that so far from her wardrobe being furnished by these gifts,
she was really kept out of the remainder, and that her son was merely
dividing with her what he derived wholly from herself.

Some there were who put even a worse meaning on her words. And so
Nero, furious with those who abetted such arrogance in a woman, removed
Pallas from the charge of the business with which he had been entrusted
by Claudius, and in which he acted, so to say, as the controller of
the throne. The story went that as he was departing with a great retinue
of attendants, the emperor rather wittily remarked that Pallas was
going to swear himself out of office. Pallas had in truth stipulated
that he should not be questioned for anything he had done in the past,
and that his accounts with the State were to be considered as balanced.
Thereupon, with instant fury, Agrippina rushed into frightful menaces,
sparing not the prince’s ears her solemn protest “that Britannicus
was now of full age, he who was the true and worthy heir of his father’s
sovereignty, which a son, by mere admission and adoption, was abusing
in outrages on his mother. She shrank not from an utter exposure of
the wickedness of that ill-starred house, of her own marriage, to
begin with, and of her poisoner’s craft. All that the gods and she
herself had taken care of was that her stepson was yet alive; with
him she would go to the camp, where on one side should be heard the
daughter of Germanicus; on the other, the crippled Burrus and the
exile Seneca, claiming, forsooth, with disfigured hand, and a pedant’s
tongue, the government of the world.” As she spoke, she raised her
hand in menace and heaped insults on him, as she appealed to the deified
Claudius, to the infernal shades of the Silani, and to those many
fruitless crimes.

Nero was confounded at this, and as the day was near on which Britannicus
would complete his fourteenth year, he reflected, now on the domineering
temper of his mother, and now again on the character of the young
prince, which a trifling circumstance had lately tested, sufficient
however to gain for him wide popularity. During the feast of Saturn,
amid other pastimes of his playmates, at a game of lot drawing for
king, the lot fell to Nero, upon which he gave all his other companions
different orders, and such as would not put them to the blush; but
when he told Britannicus to step forward and begin a song, hoping
for a laugh at the expense of a boy who knew nothing of sober, much
less of riotous society, the lad with perfect coolness commenced some
verses which hinted at his expulsion from his father’s house and from
supreme power. This procured him pity, which was the more conspicuous,
as night with its merriment had stript off all disguise. Nero saw
the reproach and redoubled his hate. Pressed by Agrippina’s menaces,
having no charge against his brother and not daring openly to order
his murder, he meditated a secret device and directed poison to be
prepared through the agency of Julius Pollio, tribune of one of the
praetorian cohorts, who had in his custody a woman under sentence
for poisoning, Locusta by name, with a vast reputation for crime.
That every one about the person of Britannicus should care nothing
for right or honour, had long ago been provided for. He actually received
his first dose of poison from his tutors and passed it off his bowels,
as it was rather weak or so qualified as not at once to prove deadly.
But Nero, impatient at such slow progress in crime, threatened the
tribune and ordered the poisoner to execution for prolonging his anxiety
while they were thinking of the popular talk and planning their own
defence. Then they promised that death should be as sudden as if it
were the hurried work of the dagger, and a rapid poison of previously
tested ingredients was prepared close to the emperor’s chamber.

It was customary for the imperial princes to sit during their meals
with other nobles of the same age, in the sight of their kinsfolk,
at a table of their own, furnished somewhat frugally. There Britannicus
was dining, and as what he ate and drank was always tested by the
taste of a select attendant, the following device was contrived, that
the usage might not be dropped or the crime betrayed by the death
of both prince and attendant. A cup as yet harmless, but extremely
hot and already tasted, was handed to Britannicus; then, on his refusing
it because of its warmth, poison was poured in with some cold water,
and this so penetrated his entire frame that he lost alike voice and
breath. There was a stir among the company; some, taken by surprise,
ran hither and thither, while those whose discernment was keener,
remained motionless, with their eyes fixed on Nero, who, as he still
reclined in seeming unconsciousness, said that this was a common occurrence,
from a periodical epilepsy, with which Britannicus had been afflicted
from his earliest infancy, and that his sight and senses would gradually
return. As for Agrippina, her terror and confusion, though her countenance
struggled to hide it, so visibly appeared, that she was clearly just
as ignorant as was Octavia, Britannicus’s own sister. She saw, in
fact, that she was robbed of her only remaining refuge, and that here
was a precedent for parricide. Even Octavia, notwithstanding her youthful
inexperience, had learnt to hide her grief, her affection, and indeed
every emotion.
The Annals by Tacitus