As it was, one of Plautus’s freedmen, thanks to swift winds, arrived
before the centurion and brought him a message from his father-in-law,
Lucius Antistius. “He was to avoid the obvious refuge of a coward’s
death, and in the pity felt for a noble name he would soon find good
men to help him, and daring spirits would rally round him. Meantime
no resource was to be rejected. If he did but repel sixty soldiers
(this was the number on the way), while tidings were being carried
back to Nero, while another force was on its march, many events would
follow which would ripen into war. Finally, by this plan he either
secured safety, or he would suffer nothing worse by daring than by

But all this had no effect on Plautus. Either he saw no resource before
him, an unarmed exile as he was, or he was weary of an uncertain hope,
or was swayed by his love of his wife and of his children, to whom
he thought the emperor, if harassed by no anxiety, would be more merciful.
Some say that another message came to him from his father-in-law,
representing that no dreadful peril hung over him, and that two teachers
of philosophy, Coeranus from Greece and Musonius from Etruria, advised
him to await death with firmness rather than lead a precarious and
anxious life. At all events, he was surprised at midday, when stripped
for exercise. In that state the centurion slew him in the presence
of Pelago, an eunuch, whom Nero had set over the centurion and his
company, like a despot’s minister over his satellites.

The head of the murdered man was brought to Rome. At its sight the
emperor exclaimed (I give his very words), “Why would you have been
a Nero?” Then casting off all fear he prepared to hurry on his marriage
with Poppaea, hitherto deferred because of such alarms as I have described,
and to divorce his wife Octavia, notwithstanding her virtuous life,
because her father’s name and the people’s affection for her made
her an offence to him. He wrote, however, a letter to the Senate,
confessing nothing about the murders of Sulla and Plautus, but merely
hinting that both had a restless temper, and that he gave the most
anxious thought to the safety of the State. On this pretext a thanksgiving
was decreed, and also the expulsion from the Senate of Sulla and Plautus,
more grievous, however, as a farce than as an actual calamity.

Nero, on receiving this decree of the Senate and seeing that every
piece of his wickedness was regarded as a conspicuous merit, drove
Octavia from him, alleging that she was barren, and then married Poppaea.
The woman who had long been Nero’s mistress and ruled him first as
a paramour, then as her husband, instigated one of Octavia’s servants
to accuse her an intrigue with a slave. The man fixed on as the guilty
lover was one by name Eucaerus, an Alexandrine by birth, skilled in
singing to the flute. As a consequence, her slave-girls were examined
under torture, and though some were forced by the intensity of agony
into admitting falsehoods, most of them persisted in upholding the
virtue of their mistress. One of them said, in answer to the furious
menaces of Tigellinus, that Octavia’s person was purer than his mouth.
Octavia, however, was dismissed under the form of an ordinary divorce,
and received possession of the house of Burrus and of the estates
of Plautus, an ill-starred gift. She was soon afterwards banished
to Campania under military surveillance. This led to incessant and
outspoken remonstrances among the common people, who have less discretion
and are exposed to fewer dangers than others from the insignificance
of their position. Upon this Nero, though he did not repent of his
outrage, restored to Octavia her position as wife.

Then people in their joy went up to the Capitol and, at last, gave
thanks to the gods. They threw down the statues of Poppaea; they bore
on their shoulders the images of Octavia, covering them with flowers,
and setting them up in the forum and in the temples. There was even
a burst of applause for the emperor, men hailing the recalled Octavia.
And now they were pouring into the Palace in crowds, with loud shoutings,
when some companies of soldiers rushed out and dispersed the tumultuous
throng with blows, and at the point of the sword. Whatever changes
had been made in the riot, were reversed, and Poppaea’s honours restored.
Ever relentless in her hatred, she was now enraged by the fear that
either the violence of the mob would burst on her with yet fiercer
fury, or that Nero would be swayed by the popular bias, and so, flinging
herself at his knees, she exclaimed that she was not in the position
of a rival fighting for marriage, though that was dearer to her than
life, but that her very life was brought into jeopardy by the dependants
and slaves of Octavia, who had assumed the name of the people, and
dared in peace what could hardly happen in war. “Those arms,” she
said, “have been taken up against the emperor; a leader only is wanting,
and he will easily be found in a commotion. Only let her whose mere
beck, though she is far away, stirs up tumult, quit Campania, and
make her way in person to Rome. And, again, what is my sin? What offense
have I caused any one? Is it that I am about to give to the house
of the Caesars a lawful heir? Do the people of Rome prefer that the
offspring of an Egyptian fluteplayer should be raised to the imperial
throne? In a word, if it be expedient, Nero should of his own choice
rather than on compulsion send for her who ruled him, or else secure
his safety by a righteous vengeance. The beginning of a commotion
has often been quieted by slight precautions; but if people once despair
of Octavia being Nero’s wife, they will soon find her a husband.”

Her various arguments, tending both to frighten and to enrage, at
once alarmed and incensed her listener. But the suspicion about the
slave was of little weight, and the torture of the slave-girls exposed
its absurdity. Consequently it was decided to procure a confession
from some one on whom could also be fastened a charge of revolutionary
designs. Fittest for this seemed the perpetrator of the mother’s murder,
Anicetus, commander, as I have already mentioned, of the fleet at
Misenum, who got but scant gratitude after that atrocious deed, and
subsequently all the more vehement hatred, inasmuch as men look on
their instruments in crime as a sort of standing reproach to them.
The Annals by Tacitus