The death of Burrus was a blow to Seneca’s power, for virtue had not
the same strength when one of its companions, so to say, was removed,
and Nero too began to lean on worse advisers. They assailed Seneca
with various charges, representing that he continued to increase a
wealth which was already so vast as to be beyond the scale of a subject,
and was drawing to himself the attachment of the citizens, while in
the picturesqueness of his gardens and the magnificence of his country
houses he almost surpassed the emperor. They further alleged against
him that he claimed for himself alone the honours of eloquence, and
composed poetry more assiduously, as soon as a passion for it had
seized on Nero. “Openly inimical to the prince’s amusements, he disparaged
his ability in driving horses, and ridiculed his voice whenever he
sang. When was there to be an end of nothing being publicly admired
but what Seneca was thought to have originated? Surely Nero’s boyhood
was over, and he was all but in the prime of youthful manhood. He
ought to shake off a tutor, furnished as he was with sufficiently
noble instructors in his own ancestors.”

Seneca, meanwhile, aware of these slanders, which were revealed to
him by those who had some respect for merit, coupled with the fact
that the emperor more and more shunned his intimacy, besought the
opportunity of an interview. This was granted, and he spoke as follows:-

“It is fourteen years ago, Caesar, that I was first associated with
your prospects, and eight years since you have been emperor. In the
interval, you have heaped on me such honours and riches that nothing
is wanting to my happiness but a right use of it. I will refer to
great examples taken not from my own but from your position. Your
great-grandfather Augustus granted to Marcus Agrippa the calm repose
of Mitylene, to Caius Maecenas what was nearly equivalent to a foreign
retreat in the capital itself. One of these men shared his wars; the
other struggled with many laborious duties at Rome; both received
awards which were indeed splendid, but only proportioned to their
great merits. For myself, what other recompense had I for your munificence,
than a culture nursed, so to speak, in the shade of retirement, and
to which a glory attaches itself, because I thus seem to have helped
on the early training of your youth, an ample reward for the service.

“You on the other hand have surrounded me with vast influence and
boundless wealth, so that I often think within myself, Am I, who am
but of an equestrian and provincial family, numbered among the chief
men of Rome? Among nobles who can show a long succession of glories,
has my new name become famous? Where is the mind once content with
a humble lot? Is this the man who is building up his garden terraces,
who paces grandly through these suburban parks, and revels in the
affluence of such broad lands and such widely-spread investments?
Only one apology occurs to me, that it would not have been right in
me to have thwarted your bounty.

“And yet we have both filled up our respective measures, you in giving
as much as a prince can bestow on a friend, and I in receiving as
much as a friend can receive from a prince. All else only fosters
envy, which, like all things human, sinks powerless beneath your greatness,
though on me it weighs heavily. To me relief is a necessity. Just
as I should implore support if exhausted by warfare or travel, so
in this journey of life, old as I am and unequal even to the lightest
cares, since I cannot any longer bear the burden of my wealth, I crave
assistance. Order my property to be managed by your agents and to
be included in your estate. Still I shall not sink myself into poverty,
but having surrendered the splendours which dazzle me, I will henceforth
again devote to my mind all the leisure and attention now reserved
for my gardens and country houses. You have yet before you a vigorous
prime, and that on which for so many years your eyes were fixed, supreme
power. We, your older friends, can answer for our quiet behaviour.
It will likewise redound to your honour that you have raised to the
highest places men who could also bear moderate fortune.”

Nero’s reply was substantially this:- “My being able to meet your
elaborate speech with an instant rejoinder is, I consider, primarily
your gift, for you taught me how to express myself not only after
reflection but at a moment’s notice. My great-grandfather Augustus
allowed Agrippa and Maecenas to enjoy rest after their labours, but
he did it at an age carrying with it an authority sufficient to justify
any boon, of any sort, he might have bestowed. But neither of them
did he strip of the rewards he had given. It was by war and its perils
they had earned them; for in these the youth of Augustus was spent.
And if I had passed my years in arms, your sword and right hand would
not have failed me. But, as my actual condition required, you watched
over my boyhood, then over my youth, with wisdom, counsel, and advice.
And indeed your gifts to me will, as long as life holds out, be lasting
possessions; those which you owe to me, your parks, investments, your
country houses, are liable to accidents. Though they seem much, many
far inferior to you in merit have obtained more. I am ashamed to quote
the names of freedmen who parade a greater wealth. Hence I actually
blush to think that, standing as you do first in my affections, you
do not as yet surpass all in fortune.
The Annals by Tacitus