The Chorus sings regarding popular favor, which has been destructive to so many, and after that, brings into notice, the hard fates which have befallen the Caesarean Dynasty.
OH! that favor and enthusiastic preference emanating, from the people! What a source of trouble, and misery it has proved to so many! It is like the craft, which has filled its sails under a favorable wind, and has carried thee far away from the shore, but which same wind, when a dead calm presents itself, leaves thee helpless in the cruel ocean depths! A miserable parent,11 aforetime bewailed the loss of the Gracchi (Cornelia) whom intense popular regard, and excessive appreciation by the public, were the means of leading to their ultimate ruin,men, too, of such illustrious descent, and acknowledged piety, fidelity, distinguished eloquence, moral courage, and of unflinching severity, in their administration of just laws; and thee also Livius,12 fortune gave up to a similar end, whom neither thy magisterial dignity, nor the roof of thy very homestead, served as a protection against death! We could adduce many more striking examples, if our griefs did not prevent usit was only quite lately, Octavia, that citizens were up in arms, and were most desirous of restoring to thee thy countrythy palace, and to exact from thy brother thy conjugal rights, but now, forsooth, they can calmly look on and see thee weeping and in miserydragged away to meet thy doom! Poverty, in a state of happy contentment, lies hidden under the humble roof, but the storms of fate shake the lofty palaces, or capricious fortune overthrows them altogether!
OCT. Where art thou conducting me? What has that tyrant Nero ordered now? or what exile has his Queen Poppaeea appointed for me? or is it that she is melted by compassion at the troubles I have suffered, and my being so utterly cast down by such an array of misfortunes? If Nero is preparing to accumulate my sorrows, by my slaughter, as a climax to my sufferings, why does he even grudge me the privilege of dying in my own paternal soil, although my country has been the arena of so much cruelty towards me? But now there is no apparent hope of my ultimate safetyI perceive already in my misery the craft which bore away my brother! Ah! that is the craft, too, in which his mother was once carried off, and now, as an unfortunate wretch, banished from the marriage bed, I shall be carried away by the same conveyance. Piety has no tutelar deity now, and the Gods above, alas! are nowhere to be found! It is that cruel Erinnys, who can now cause me to weep adequately for the evils I have gone through! What Thracian nightingale will ever send forth its plaintive notes equal to mine? I only wish the Fates would give to me, in misery, a pair of wings! would I not cleave the air with my rapid wings spread out, and fly far, far away from all my present troubles, and remote from the busy haunts of man, and the hotbed of cruel slaughter, and alone in the desert grove, perched on some delicate twig, should I then be able to warble my tristful strains from my sorrowing throat!
CHO. The race of mortals is governed by the inexorable Fates! Nor does any thing sublunary answer the expectations of anyone as regards stableness or durability! and the coming day is always to be dreaded; whilst it invariably brings round in its train, such a variety of events! Surely thy Caesarean dynasty has undergone many troubles! What! Is fortune more cruel to thee, than it has been to many others before thee? We will mention thee, first of all, oh! thou the daughter of Agrippa, the unhappy parent of so many sons, the daughter-in-law of an Augustus, the wife of a Caesar, whose name shone so gloriously over the whole world, thou, that broughtest forth, from thy gravid uterus, so many pledges of peace to the universe! a double pledge, first, of love to a husband, secondly, a guarantee of unbroken succession to the imperial throne; by and bye, exile, stripes, undergoing the indignity of being fettered by chains, and being thus tormented for a long time, the once felicitously married Livia,13 the wife of Drusus, happy too, with the possession of her sons, rushed on to the commission of a terrible crime, and its subsequent punishment! Julia,14 her daughter, followed the fate of her mother; after a long time, however, she met her death by the sword, although for no crime, of her own! What could not thy own mother, Messalina, do who filled the palace of the Emperor, so dear to that husband too, and so proud and elated with her progeny; yet this same woman, having submitted to the unlawful advances of an underling (the marriage with Silius), fell by the sword of a savage soldier! What about Agrippina, too, such an illustrious parent of thy own Nero, who, with justice, and every show of reason, could have aspired to a place in the heavens, to absolute Apotheosis, as Divus did! was she not, however, outraged by the terrible hands of the Tyrrhenian boatmen, before she was seen to be hacked about by the sword, for a considerable time, and eventually succumbed, as the victim of a cruel son!
OCT. Behold that cruel tyrant will send me likewise to the tristful shades, and the manes! Why in my misery am I detained on earth to no purpose? Let me be seized upon for one of death’s victims, by those to whose power my bitter lot has surrendered me! I call the gods above to witness! But what am I now talking about in my madness? Let me spare myself the mockery of invoking the good will of the deities to whom, for some cause or other, I have evidently been an object of hatred! I therefore call the deities of Hell to witness, and the goddesses of Erebus, who are the avengers of crime, and thee, even, oh! my father, who really wert worthy of such a death, and punishment, as I am now about to suffer fromthat death, however, is by no means unacceptable or hateful to meGet the craft in readiness, unfurl the sails, and commit her to the waves and let the commander of that craft steer for the coast of Pandataria with a flowing breeze!
CHO. Oh! for the gentle breezes. Oh! for the light and balmy Zephyrs, which caught thee up, and wafted thee away, Iphigenia, surrounded, by an ethereal cloud, far from the altars of the cruel goddess (Diana), Oh! ye kind breezes, convey away this victim, Octavia, far away, from any cruel punishment, I pray, to the temples of Trivia, even (Diana) Aulis itself, is a less cruel place than thy city of Rome, and so is the land of the Tauri,15 for there it is they sacrifice the blood of any strangers who approach their shores, to appease the anger of the goddess whom they worship! But Rome is very different, she rejoices only in the slaughter of her own citizens!
1 GENITRIX.Urgulanilla and Aelia Paetina were divorced by Claudius before he married Messalina. Messalina the mother of Octavia, was noted for her lustful propensities, supposedly, I should think, suffering from the “furor uterinus”, which was not very mercifully regarded in those days. At all events, consistent with this notion of nymphomania, which led to such doings, so derogatory to her dignity as a Queen Consort, she had been guilty of a series of immoralities, before the disgraceful mockery of marriage with Silius, which, this time, however, cost her her life.
2 NOVERCA.The marriage of Claudius with Agrippina was regarded in Rome, as an incestuous marriage, although according to Juvenal, sexual morality was not a canon held in the strictest observance in those days of Patrician licentiousness.
3 ELECTRA.Sophocles has alluded copiously to the weeping of Electra, and her strong desire for the return of Orestes, to revenge the death of their father, Agamemnon.
4 SUBJECTA FAMULAE.Seneca constantly uses this word and in very different senses. Poppaea was not a slave, but a woman of good descent. Her father had filled the office of Quaestor.
5 SILANUS.Silanus was not killed, but committed suicide, the same day that Claudius married Agrippina, and Tacitus says this added to the public indignation.
6 VIDIMUS COELO JUBAR.Tacitus alludes to this comet, and Seneca in the Quaest: Natur.
7 REMOTUS.Seneca had been accused of adultery with Julia, the daughter of Germanicus, and was expatriated by Claudius to the island of Corsica. Agrippina obtained
his return and made him the tutor of Nero.
8 PLAUTI SULLAEQUE.Plautus Rabellius had been exiled into Asia, and Sulla into Narbonensian Gaul: but they were both executed by Nero’s ordersTacitus, Lib. 12. Annal., and Suetonius apud Neronem, Cap. 15.
9 PAVERE.It was at Philippi, where a great battle was fought by Octavius and Antony, against Brutus and Cassius, and allusion is here made to the immense number of the slain, which were left exposed, unburied, on the plains for the birds of prey to feast upon.
10 CULPA SENECAE.I think that the rendering I have given of the word “Culpa”, represents the poet’s meaning.
11 MISERANDA PARENS.This unfortunate woman was Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio Africanus, and being sprung from him, was consequently a scion of one of the principal families in Rome.
12 TE QUOQUE LIVI.The tribune Livius Drusus, established great reforms in the laws. He was assassinated just as he was leaving his own house.
13 LIVIA.Livia poisoned her husband, Drusus.
14 JULIA.Julia, the daughter of Livia, was accused of complicity in the poisoning of Drusus, but it was not proved; she was, nevertheless, exiled and ultimately suffered death.
15 TAURORUM.The Tauri were a people of Scythia, and they sacrificed strangers on the altars of Diana.