And so after a brief pause the company resumed its mirth. One and
the same night witnessed Britannicus’s death and funeral, preparations
having been already made for his obsequies, which were on a humble
scale. He was however buried in the Campus Martius, amid storms so
violent, that in the popular belief they portended the wrath of heaven
against a crime which many were even inclined to forgive when they
remembered the immemorial feuds of brothers and the impossibility
of a divided throne. It is related by several writers of the period
that many days before the murder, Nero had offered the worst insult
to the boyhood of Britannicus; so that his death could no longer seem
a premature or dreadful event, though it happened at the sacred board,
without even a moment for the embraces of his sisters, hurried on
too, as it was, under the eyes of an enemy, on the sole surviving
offspring of the Claudii, the victim first of dishonour, then of poison.
The emperor apologised for the hasty funeral by reminding people that
it was the practice of our ancestors to withdraw from view any grievously
untimely death, and not to dwell on it with panegyrics or display.
For himself, he said, that as he had now lost a brother’s help, his
remaining hopes centred in the State, and all the more tenderness
ought to be shown by the Senate and people towards a prince who was
the only survivor of a family born to the highest greatness.

He then enriched his most powerful friends with liberal presents.
Some there were who reproached men of austere professions with having
on such an occasion divided houses and estates among themselves, like
so much spoil. It was the belief of others that a pressure had been
put on them by the emperor, who, conscious as he was of guilt, hoped
for merciful consideration if he could secure the most important men
by wholesale bribery. But his mother’s rage no lavish bounty could
allay. She would clasp Octavia to her arms, and have many a secret
interview with her friends; with more than her natural rapacity, she
clutched at money everywhere, seemingly for a reserve, and courteously
received tribunes and centurions. She honoured the names and virtues
of the nobles who still were left, seeking apparently a party and
a leader. Of this Nero became aware, and he ordered the departure
of the military guard now kept for the emperor’s mother, as it had
formerly been for the imperial consort, along with some German troops,
added as a further honour. He also gave her a separate establishment,
that throngs of visitors might no longer wait on her, and removed
her to what had been Antonia’s house; and whenever he went there himself,
he was surrounded by a crowd of centurions, and used to leave her
after a hurried kiss.

Of all things human the most precarious and transitory is a reputation
for power which has no strong support of its own. In a moment Agrippina’s
doors were deserted; there was no one to comfort or to go near her,
except a few ladies, whether out of love or malice was doubtful. One
of these was Junia Silana, whom Messalina had driven from her husband,
Caius Silius, as I have already related. Conspicuous for her birth,
her beauty, and her wantonness, she had long been a special favourite
of Agrippina, till after a while there were secret mutual dislikes,
because Sextius Africanus, a noble youth, had been deterred from marrying
Silana by Agrippina, who repeatedly spoke of her as an immodest woman
in the decline of life, not to secure Africanus for herself, but to
keep the childless and wealthy widow out of a husband’s control. Silana
having now a prospect of vengeance, suborned as accusers two of her
creatures, Iturius and Calvisius, not with the old and often-repeated
charges about Agrippina’s mourning the death of Britannicus or publishing
the wrongs of Octavia, but with a hint that it was her purpose to
encourage in revolutionary designs Rubellius Plautus, who his mother’s
side was as nearly connected as Nero with the Divine Augustus; and
then, by marrying him and making him emperor, again seize the control
of the State. All this Iturius and Calvisius divulged to Atimetus,
a freedman of Domitia, Nero’s aunt. Exulting in the opportunity, for
Agrippina and Domitia were in bitter rivalry, Atimetus urged Paris,
who was himself also a freedman of Domitia, to go at once and put
the charge in the most dreadful form.

Night was far advanced and Nero was still sitting over his cups, when
Paris entered, who was generally wont at such times to heighten the
emperor’s enjoyments, but who now wore a gloomy expression. He went
through the whole evidence in order, and so frightened his hearer
as to make him resolve not only on the destruction of his mother and
of Plautus, but also on the removal of Burrus from the command of
the guards, as a man who had been promoted by Agrippina’s interest,
and was now showing his gratitude. We have it on the authority of
Fabius Rusticus that a note was written to Caecina Tuscus, intrusting
to him the charge of the praetorian cohorts, but that through Seneca’s
influence that distinguished post was retained for Burrus. According
to Plinius and Cluvius, no doubt was felt about the commander’s loyalty.
Fabius certainly inclines to the praise of Seneca, through whose friendship
he rose to honour. Proposing as I do to follow the consentient testimony
of historians, I shall give the differences in their narratives under
the writers’ names. Nero, in his bewilderment and impatience to destroy
his mother, could not be put off till Burrus answered for her death,
should she be convicted of the crime, but “any one,” he said, “much
more a parent, must be allowed a defence. Accusers there were none
forthcoming; they had before them only the word of a single person
from an enemy’s house, and this the night with its darkness and prolonged
festivity and everything savouring of recklessness and folly, was
enough to refute.”

Having thus allayed the prince’s fears, they went at daybreak to Agrippina,
that she might know the charges against her, and either rebut them
or suffer the penalty. Burrus fulfilled his instructions in Seneca’s
presence, and some of the freedmen were present to witness the interview.
Then Burrus, when he had fully explained the charges with the authors’
names, assumed an air of menace. Instantly Agrippina, calling up all
her high spirit, exclaimed, “I wonder not that Silana, who has never
borne offspring, knows nothing of a mother’s feelings.

Parents do not change their children as lightly as a shameless woman
does her paramours. And if Iturius and Calvisius, after having wasted
their whole fortunes, are now, as their last resource, repaying an
old hag for their hire by undertaking to be informers, it does not
follow that I am to incur the infamy of plotting a son’s murder, or
that a Caesar is to have the consciousness of like guilt. As for Domitia’s
enmity, I should be thankful for it, were she to vie with me in goodwill
towards my Nero. Now through her paramour, Atimetus, and the actor,
Paris, she is, so to say, concocting a drama for the stage. She at
her Baiae was increasing the magnificence of her fishponds, when I
was planning in my counsels his adoption with a proconsul’s powers
and a consul-elect’s rank and every other step to empire. Only let
the man come forward who can charge me with having tampered with the
praetorian cohorts in the capital, with having sapped the loyalty
of the provinces, or, in a word, with having bribed slaves and freedmen
into any wickedness. Could I have lived with Britannicus in the possession
of power? And if Plautus or any other were to become master of the
State so as to sit in judgment on me, accusers forsooth would not
be forthcoming, to charge me not merely with a few incautious expressions
prompted by the eagerness of affection, but with guilt from which
a son alone could absolve me.”
The Annals by Tacitus