With regard to Caius Petronius, I ought to dwell a little on his antecedents.
His days he passed in sleep, his nights in the business and pleasures
of life. Indolence had raised him to fame, as energy raises others,
and he was reckoned not a debauchee and spendthrift, like most of
those who squander their substance, but a man of refined luxury. And
indeed his talk and his doings, the freer they were and the more show
of carelessness they exhibited, were the better liked, for their look
of natural simplicity. Yet as proconsul of Bithynia and soon afterwards
as consul, he showed himself a man of vigour and equal to business.
Then falling back into vice or affecting vice, he was chosen by Nero
to be one of his few intimate associates, as a critic in matters of
taste, while the emperor thought nothing charming or elegant in luxury
unless Petronius had expressed to him his approval of it. Hence jealousy
on the part of Tigellinus, who looked on him as a rival and even his
superior in the science of pleasure. And so he worked on the prince’s
cruelty, which dominated every other passion, charging Petronius with
having been the friend of Scaevinus, bribing a slave to become informer,
robbing him of the means of defence, and hurrying into prison the
greater part of his domestics.

It happened at the time that the emperor was on his way Campania and
that Petronius, after going as far as Cumae, was there detained. He
bore no longer the suspense of fear or of hope. Yet he did not fling
away life with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his
veins and then, according to his humour, bound them up, he again opened
them, while he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain
or on topics that might win for him the glory of courage. And he listened
to them as they repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul
or on the theories of philosophers, but light poetry and playful verses.
To some of his slaves he gave liberal presents, a flogging to others.
He dined, indulged himself in sleep, that death, though forced on
him, might have a natural appearance. Even in his will he did not,
as did many in their last moments, flatter Nero or Tigellinus or any
other of the men in power. On the contrary, he described fully the
prince’s shameful excesses, with the names of his male and female
companions and their novelties in debauchery, and sent the account
under seal to Nero. Then he broke his signet-ring, that it might not
be subsequently available for imperilling others.

When Nero was in doubt how the ingenious varieties of his nightly
revels became notorious, Silia came into his mind, who, as a senator’s
wife, was a conspicuous person, and who had been his chosen associate
in all his profligacy and was very intimate with Petronius. She was
banished for not having, as was suspected, kept secret what she had
seen and endured, a sacrifice to his personal resentment. Minucius
Thermus, an ex-praetor, he surrendered to the hate of Tigellinus,
because a freedman of Thermus had brought criminal charges against
Tigellinus, such that the man had to atone for them himself by the
torture of the rack, his patron by an undeserved death.

Nero after having butchered so many illustrious men, at last aspired
to extirpate virtue itself by murdering Thrasea Paetus and Barea Soranus.
Both men he had hated of old, Thrasea on additional grounds, because
he had walked out of the Senate when Agrippina’s case was under discussion,
as I have already related, and had not given the Juvenile games any
conspicuous encouragement. Nero’s displeasure at this was the deeper,
since this same Thrasea had sung in a tragedian’s dress at Patavium,
his birth-place, in some games instituted by the Trojan Antenor. On
the day, too, on which the praetor Antistius was being sentenced to
death for libels on Nero, Thrasea proposed and carried a more merciful
decision. Again, when divine honours were decreed to Poppaea, he was
purposely absent and did not attend her funeral. All this Capito Cossutianus
would not allow to be forgotten. He had a heart eager for the worst
wickedness, and he also bore ill-will to Thrasea, the weight of whose
influence had crushed him, while envoys from Cilicia, supported by
Thrasea’s advocacy, were accusing him of extortion.

He alleged, too, against him the following charges:- “Thrasea,” he
said, “at the beginning of the year always avoided the usual oath
of allegiance; he was not present at the recital of the public prayers,
though he had been promoted to the priesthood of the Fifteen; he had
never offered a sacrifice for the safety of the prince or for his
heavenly voice. Though formerly he had been assiduous and unwearied
in showing himself a supporter or an opponent even of the most ordinary
motions of senators, he had not entered the Senate-house for three
years, and very lately, when all were rushing thither with rival eagerness
to put down Silanus and Vetus, he had attended by preference to the
private business of his clients. This was political schism, and, should
many dare to do the like, it was actual war.”

Capito further added, “The country in its eagerness for discord is
now talking of you, Nero, and of Thrasea, as it talked once of Caius
Caesar and Marcus Cato. Thrasea has his followers or rather his satellites,
who copy, not indeed as yet the audacious tone of his sentiments,
but only his manners and his looks, a sour and gloomy set, bent on
making your mirthfulness a reproach to you. He is the only man who
cares not for your safety, honours not your accomplishments. The prince’s
prosperity he despises. Can it be that he is not satisfied with your
sorrows and griefs? It shows the same spirit not to believe in Poppaea’s
divinity as to refuse to swear obedience to the acts of the Divine
Augustus and the Divine Julius. He contemns religious rites; he annuls
laws. The daily records of the Roman people are read attentively in
the provinces and the armies that they may know what Thrasea has not
The Annals by Tacitus