The Fate of Agrippina
However it may have been with others, Agrippina herself was not deceived by the false pretenses which Nero offered in explanation of his brother's death. She understood the case too well, and the event filled her mind with a tumult of conflicting emotions. Notwithstanding the terrible quarrels which had disturbed her intercourse with the emperor, he was still her son,—her first-born son,—and she loved him as such, even in the midst of the resentment and hostility which her disappointed ambition from time to time awakened in her mind. Her ambition was now more bitterly disappointed than ever. In the death of Britannicus the last link of her power over Nero seemed to be forever sundered. The hand by which he had fallen was still that of her son,—a son to whom she could not but cling with maternal affection, while she felt deeply wounded at what she considered his cruel ingratitude toward her, and vexed and maddened at finding herself so hopelessly circumvented in all her schemes.
As for Nero himself, he had no longer any hope or expectation of being on good terms with his mother again. He saw clearly that her schemes and plans were wholly incompatible with his, and that in order to secure the prosperous accomplishment of his own designs he must now finish the work that he had begun, and curtail and restrict his mother's influence by every means in his power. Other persons he attempted to conciliate. He made splendid presents to the leading men of Rome, as bribes to prevent their instituting inquiries in respect to the death of Britannicus. To some he gave landed estates, to others sums of money, and others still he advanced to high offices of civil or military command. Those whom he most feared he removed from Rome, by giving them honorable and lucrative appointments in distant provinces.
In the mean time Agrippina herself was not idle. As soon as she recovered from the first shock which the death of Britannicus had occasioned her, she began to think of revenge. Within the limits and restrictions which the suspicion and vigilance of Nero imposed upon her, she formed a small circle of friends and adherents, and sought out, diligently, though secretly, all whom she supposed to be disaffected to the government of Nero. She attached herself particularly to Octavia, who, being the daughter of Claudius, succeeded now, on the death of Britannicus, to whatever hereditary rights had been vested in him. She collected money, so far as she had power to do so, from all the resources which remained to her, and she availed herself of every opportunity to cultivate the acquaintance, and court the favor, of all such officers of the army as were accessible to her influence. In a word, she seemed to be meditating some secret scheme for retrieving her fallen fortunes,—and Nero, who watched all her motions with a jealous and suspicious eye, began to be alarmed, not knowing to what desperate extremes her resentment and ambition might urge her.
Up to this time Agrippina had lived in the imperial palace with Nero, forming, with her retinue, a part of his household, and sharing of course in some sense, the official honors paid to him. Nero now concluded, however, that he would remove her from this position and give her a separate establishment of her own,—making it correspond in its appointments with the secondary and subordinate station to which he intended thenceforth to confine her. He accordingly assigned to her a certain mansion in the city which had formerly been occupied by some branch of the imperial family, and removed her to it, with all her attendants. He dismissed, however, from her service, under various pretexts, such officers and adherents as he supposed were most devoted to her interests and most disposed to join with her in plots and conspiracies against him. The places of those whom he thus superseded were supplied by men on whom he could rely for subserviency to him. He diminished too the number of Agrippina's attendants and guards; he withdrew the sentinels that had been accustomed to guard the gate of her apartments, and dismissed a certain corps of German soldiers that had hitherto served under her command, as a sort of life-guard. In a word he removed her from the scenes of imperial pomp and splendor in which she had been accustomed to move, and established her instead in the position of a private Roman lady.
The unhappy Agrippina soon found that this change in her position made a great change in respect to the degree of consideration and regard which was bestowed upon her by the public. The circle of her adherents and friends was gradually diminished. Her visitors were few. The emperor himself went sometimes to see his mother, but he came always attended with a retinue, and after a brief and formal interview, he retired as ceremoniously as he came,—thus giving to his visit the character simply of a duty of state etiquette. In a word, Agrippina found herself forsaken and friendless, and her mind gradually sank into a condition of hopeless despondency, vexation and chagrin.
Things continued in this state for some time until at length one night when Nero had been drinking and carousing at a banquet in his palace, a well-known courtier named Paris, one of the principal of Nero's companions and favorites, came into the apartment and informed the emperor with a countenance expressive of great concern, that he had tidings of the most serious moment to communicate to him. Nero withdrew from the scene of festivity to receive the communication, and was informed by Paris, that a discovery had been made of a deep-laid and dangerous plot, which Agrippina and certain accomplices of hers had formed. The object of the conspirators, as Paris alledged, was to depose Nero, and raise a certain descendant of Augustus Cæsar, named Plautus, to the supreme command, in his stead. This revolution being effected, Agrippina was to marry the new emperor, and thus be restored to her former power.
The statement which Paris made was very full in all its details. The names of the chief conspirators were given, and all the plans explained. The chief witness on whose authority the charge was made, was a celebrated woman of the court, an intimate acquaintance and visitor of Agrippina, named Silana. Silana and Agrippina had been very warm friends, but a terrible quarrel had recently broken out between them, in consequence of some interference on the part of Agrippina, to prevent a marriage, which had been partially arranged between Silana and a distinguished Roman citizen, from being carried into effect. Silana had been exasperated by this ill office, and the revelation which she had made had been the result. Whether a conspiracy had really been formed, and Silana had been induced to betray the secret in consequence of the injury which Agrippina had inflicted upon her in preventing her marriage, or whether she wholly invented the story under the impulse of a desperate revenge, was never fully known. The historians of the time incline to the latter opinion.
However this may be, Nero was greatly alarmed at the communication which Paris made to him. He immediately abandoned his festivities and carousals, dismissed its guests, and called a council of his most confidential advisers, to consider what was to be done. He stated the case to this council, and announced it as his determination immediately to pronounce sentence of death upon his mother and upon Plautus, and to send officers at once to execute the decree, as the first step to be taken. Burrus, however, strongly dissuaded him from so rash a proceeding. "These are only charges," said he, "at present. We have yet no proofs. An informer has come to you at dead of night with this wild and improbable story, and if we take it for granted at once that it is true, and allow ourselves to act under the influence of excitement and alarm, we should afterward regret our rashness when the consequences could not be retrieved. Besides, Agrippina is your mother; and as it is the right of the humblest person in the commonwealth, when accused of crime, to be heard in answer to the accusation, it would be an atrocious crime to deprive the mother of the emperor of that privilege. Postpone, therefore, pronouncing judgment in this case until we can learn the facts more certainly. I pledge myself to execute sentence of death on Agrippina, if after a fair hearing, this charge is proved against her."
By such arguments and remonstrances as these Nero was in some degree appeased, and it was determined to postpone taking any decisive action in the emergency until the morning. As soon as it was day, Burrus and Seneca, accompanied by several attendants, who were to act as witnesses of the interview, were dispatched to the house of Agrippina to lay the charge before her and to hear what she had to say.
Agrippina was at first somewhat astonished at being summoned at so early an hour to give audience to so formidable a commission; but her proud spirit had become so fierce and desperate under the treatment which she had received from her son, that she was very slightly sensible to fear. She listened, therefore, to the heavy charge which Burrus brought against her, undismayed; and when he paused to hear her reply, instead of excusing and defending herself, and deprecating the emperor's displeasure, she commenced the most severe and angry invectives against her son, for listening for a moment to calumnies against her so wild and improbable. That Silana, who was, as she said, a dissolute and unprincipled woman, and who, consequently, could have no idea of the strength and the fidelity of maternal affection, should think it possible that a mother could form plots and conspiracies against an only son, was not strange; but that Nero himself, for whom she had made such exertions and incurred such dangers, and to whose interests she had surrendered and sacrificed every thing that could be dear to the heart of a woman—could believe such tales, and actually conceive the design of murdering his mother on the faith of them, was not to be endured. "Does not he know well," said she, in a voice almost inarticulate with excitement and indignation, "that, if by any means, Britannicus, or Plautus, or any other man were to be raised to power, my life would be immediately forfeited in consequence of what I have already done for him? Can he imagine, after the deep and desperate crimes which I have committed for his sake, in order that I might raise him to his present power, that I could seal my own destruction by bringing forward any one of his rivals and enemies to his place? Go back and tell him this, and say, moreover, that I demand an audience of him. I am his mother; and I have a right to expect that he shall see me himself, and hear what I have to say."
The commissioners whom Nero had sent with the accusations, were somewhat astonished at receiving these angry denunciations and invectives in reply, instead of the meek and faltering defense which they had expected. They were overawed, too, by the lofty and passionate energy with which Agrippina had spoken. They answered her with soothing and conciliatory words, and then went back to Nero, and reported the result of their interview.
Nero consented to see his mother. In his presence she assumed the same tone of proud and injured innocence, that had characterized her interview with the messengers. She scorned to enter into any vindication of herself; but assumed that she was innocent, and demanded that her accusers should be punished as persons guilty of the most atrocious calumny. Nero was convinced of her innocence, and yielded to her demands. Silana and two others of her accusers, were banished from Rome. Another still was punished with death.
Thus a sort of temporary and imperfect peace was once more established between Nero and his mother.
This state of things continued for about the space of three years. During this time, the public affairs of the empire, as conducted by the ministers of state and the military generals, to whom Nero intrusted them, went on with tolerable prosperity and success, while in every thing that related to personal conduct and character, the condition of the emperor was becoming every day more and more deplorable. He spent his days in sloth and sensual stupor, and his nights in the wildest riot and debauchery. He used to disguise himself as a slave, and sally forth at midnight with a party of his companions similarly attired, into the streets of the city, disturbing the night with riot and noise. Sometimes they would go out at an earlier hour,—while the people were in the streets and the shops were open,—and amuse themselves with seizing the goods and merchandise that they found offered for sale, and assaulting all that came in their way. In these frolics, the emperor and his party were met sometimes by other parties; and in the brawls which ensued Nero was frequently handled very roughly—his opponents not knowing who he was. At one time he was knocked down and very seriously wounded; and in consequence of this adventure, his face was for a long time disfigured with a scar.
Although in these orgies Nero went generally in disguise, yet as he and his companions were accustomed afterward to boast of their exploits, it soon became generally known to the people of the city that their young emperor was in the habit of mingling in these midnight brawls. Of course every wild and dissolute young man in Rome was fired with an ambition to imitate the example set him by so exalted an authority. Midnight riots became the fashion. As the parties grew larger, the brawls which occurred in the streets became more and more serious, until at last Nero was accustomed to take with him a gang of soldiers and gladiators in disguise, who were instructed to follow him within call, so as to be ready to come up instantly to his aid whenever he should require their assistance.
Year after year passed away in this manner, Nero abandoning himself all the time to the grossest sensual pleasures, and growing more and more reckless and desperate every day. His mother lived during this period in comparative seclusion. She attempted to exercise some little restraint over her son, but without success. She attached herself strongly to Octavia, the wife of Nero, and would have defended her, if she could, from the injuries and wrongs which the conduct of Nero as a husband heaped upon her.
At length the young emperor, in following his round of vicious indulgence, formed an intimacy with a certain lady of the court named Poppæa, the wife of Otho, one of Nero's companions in pleasure. Nero sent Otho away on some distant appointment, in order that he might enjoy the society of Poppæa without restraint. At length Poppæa gained so great an ascendency over the mind of the emperor as to seduce him entirely away from his duty to his wife, and she proposed that they should both be divorced and then marry one another. Nero was inclined to accede to this proposal, but Agrippina strongly opposed it. For a time Nero hesitated between the influence of Agrippina and the sentiment of duty, on the one hand, and the enticements of Poppæa on the other. In addition to the influence of her blandishments and smiles, she attempted to act upon Nero's boyish pride by taunting him with what she called his degrading and unmanly subjection to his mother. How long, she asked, was he to remain like a child under maternal tutelage? She wondered how he could endure so ignoble a bondage. He was in name and position, she said, a mighty monarch, reigning absolutely over half the world,—but in actual fact he was a mere nursery boy, who could do nothing without his mother's leave. She was ashamed, she said, to see him in so humiliating a condition; and unless he would take some vigorous measures to free himself from his chains, she declared that she would leave him forever, and go with her husband to some distant quarter of the world where she could no longer be a witness of his disgrace.
The effect of these taunts upon the mind of Nero was very much heightened by the proud and imperious spirit which his mother manifested toward him, and which seemed to become more and more stern and severe, through the growing desperation which the conduct of her son and her own hopeless condition seemed to awaken in her mind. The quarrel, in a word, between the emperor and his mother grew more and more inveterate and hopeless every day. At length he shunned her entirely, and finally, every remaining spark of filial duty having become extinguished, he began to meditate some secret plan of removing her out of his way.
He revolved various projects for accomplishing this purpose, in his mind. He did not dare to employ open violence, as he had no charge against his mother to justify a criminal sentence against her; and he dreaded the effect upon the public mind which would be produced by the spectacle of so unnatural a deed as the execution of a mother by command of her son. He could not trust to poison. Agrippina was perfectly familiar with every thing relating to the poisoning art, and would doubtless be fully on her guard against any attempt of that kind that he might make. Besides, he supposed, that by means of certain antidotes which she was accustomed to use, her system was permanently fortified against the action of every species of poison.
While Nero was revolving these things in his mind, the occasion occurred for a great naval celebration at Baiæ, a beautiful bay south of Rome, near what is now the bay of Naples. Baiæ was celebrated in ancient times, as it is in fact now, for the beauty of its situation, and it was a place of great resort for the Roman nobility. There was a small, but well-built town at the head of the bay, and the hills and valleys in the vicinity, as well as every headland and promontory along the shore, were ornamented with villas and country-seats, which were occupied as summer residences by the wealthy people of the city. Baiæ was also a great naval station, and there was at this time a fleet stationed there,—or rather at the promontory of Misenum, a few miles beyond,—under the command of one of Nero's confidential servants, named Anicetus. The naval celebration was to take place in connection with this fleet. It was an annual festival, and was to continue five days.
Anicetus had been a personal attendant upon Nero in his infancy, and had lived always in habits of great intimacy with him. For some reason or other, too, he was a great enemy to Agrippina, having been always accustomed, when Nero was a child, to take his part in the little contests which had arisen, from time to time, between him and his mother. Anicetus was of course prepared to sympathize very readily with Nero in the hatred which he now cherished toward Agrippina, and when he learned that Nero was desirous of devising some means of accomplishing her death, he formed a plan which he said would effect the purpose very safely. He proposed to invite Agrippina to Baiæ, and then, in the course of the ceremonies and manœuvers connected with the naval spectacle, to take her out upon the bay in a barge or galley. He would have the barge so constructed, he said, that it should go to pieces at sea, making arrangements beforehand for saving the lives of the others, but leaving Agrippina to be drowned.
Nero was greatly pleased with this device, and determined at once to adopt the plan. In order to open the way for carrying it into effect, he pretended, when the time for the festival drew nigh, that he desired to be reconciled to his mother, and that he was ready now to fall in with her wishes and plans. He begged her to forget all his past unkindness to her, and assuring her that his feelings toward her were now wholly changed, he lavished upon her expressions of the tenderest regard. A mother is always very easily deceived by such protestations on the part of a wayward son, and Agrippina believed all that Nero said to her. In a word, the reconciliation seemed to be complete.
At length, when the time for the naval festival drew nigh, Nero, who was then at Baiæ, sent an invitation to his mother to come and join him in witnessing the spectacle. Agrippina readily consented to accept the invitation. She was at this time at Antium, the place, it will be recollected, where Nero was born. She accordingly set sail from this place in her own galley, and proceeded to the southward. She landed at one of the villas in the neighborhood of Baiæ. Nero was ready upon the shore to meet her. He received her with every demonstration of respect and affection. He had provided quarters for her at Baiæ, and there was a splendid barge ready to convey her thither; the plan being that she should embark on board this barge, and leave her own galley,—that is the one by which she had come in from sea,—at anchor at the villa where she landed. The barge in which Agrippina was thus invited to embark, was the treacherous trap that Anicetus had contrived for her destruction. It was, however, to all appearance, a very splendid vessel, being very richly and beautifully decorated, as if expressly intended to do honor to the distinguished passenger whom it was designed to convey.
Agrippina, however, did not seem inclined to go in the barge. She preferred proceeding to Baiæ by land. Perhaps, notwithstanding Nero's apparent friendliness she felt still some misgivings, and was afraid to trust herself entirely to his power,—or perhaps she preferred to finish her journey by land only because, in making the passage from Antium, she had become tired of the sea. However this may have been, Nero acquiesced at once in her decision, and provided a sort of sedan for conveying her to Baiæ by land. In this sedan she was carried accordingly, by bearers to Baiæ, and there lodged in the apartments provided for her.
No favorable opportunity occurred for taking Agrippina out upon the water until the time arrived for her return to Antium. During the time of her stay at Baiæ, Nero devoted himself to her with the most assiduous attention. He prepared magnificent banquets for her, and entertained her with a great variety of amusements and diversions. In his conversation he sometimes addressed her with a familiar playfulness and gayety, and at other times he sought occasions to discourse with her seriously on public affairs, in a private and confidential manner. Agrippina was completely deceived by these indications, and her heart was filled with pride and joy at the thought that she had regained the affection and confidence of her son.
Nero and Anicetus determined finally to put their plan into execution by inducing Agrippina to embark on board their barge in returning to Antium, when the time should arrive, instead of going back in her own vessel. Their other attempts to induce her to go out upon the water had failed, and this was the only opportunity that now remained. It was desirable that this embarkation should take place in the night, as the deed which they were contemplating could be more effectually accomplished under the cover of the darkness. Accordingly, on the afternoon of the day on which Agrippina was to return, Nero prepared a banquet for her, and he protracted the festivities and entertainments which attended it until late in the evening, so that it was wholly dark before his mother could take her leave. Anicetus then contrived to have one of the vessels of his fleet run against the galley in which Agrippina had come from Antium, as it lay at anchor near the shore at the place where she had landed. The galley was broken down and disabled by the collision. Anicetus came to Agrippina to report the accident, with a countenance expressive of much concern; but added that the barge which the emperor had prepared for her was at her service, and proposed to substitute that in the place of the one which had been injured. There seemed to be no other alternative, and Agrippina, after taking a very affectionate leave of her son, went gayly, and wholly unconscious of danger, on board the beautiful but treacherous vessel.
It was observed that Nero exhibited an extreme degree of tender regard for his mother in bidding her farewell on this occasion. He hung upon her neck a long time, and kissed her again and again, detaining her by these endearments on the shore, as if reluctant to let her go. After Agrippina's death this scene was remembered by those who witnessed it, but in reflecting upon it they could not decide whether these tokens of affection were all assumed, as belonging to the part which he was so hypocritically acting, or whether he really felt at the last moment some filial relentings, which led him to detain his mother for a time on the brink of the pit which he had been preparing for her destruction. From all, however, that we now know in respect to the personal character which Nero had formed at this period, it is probable that the former is the correct supposition.
The plot, dexterous as the contrivance of it had been, was not destined to succeed. The vessel moved gently from the shore, rowed by the mariners. It was a clear starlight night. The sea was smooth, and the air was calm. Agrippina took her place upon a couch which had been arranged for her, under a sort of canopy or awning, the framework of which, above, had been secretly loaded with lead. She was attended here by one of her ladies named Aceronia Polla, who lay at her mistress's feet, and entertained her with conversation as the boat glided along on its way. They talked of Nero—of the kind attentions which he had been paying to Agrippina, and of the various advantages which were to follow from the reconciliation which had been so happily effected. In this manner the hours passed away, and the barge went on until it reached the place which had been determined upon for breaking it down and casting Agrippina into the sea. The spot which had been chosen was so near the land as to allow of the escape of the mariners by swimming, but yet remote enough, as was supposed, to make Agrippina's destruction sure. A few of the mariners were in the secret, and were in some degree prepared for what was to come. Others knew nothing, and were expected to save themselves as they best could, when they should find themselves cast into the sea.
At a given signal the fastenings of the canopy were loosened, and the loaded structure came down suddenly with a heavy crash, carrying away with it other parts of the vessel. One man was crushed under the weight of the falling ruins, and instantly killed. Agrippina and the lady in waiting upon her were saved by the posts of the bed or couch on which Agrippina was reclining, which happened to be in such a position that they held up the impending mass sufficiently to allow the ladies to creep out from beneath it. The breaking down, too, of the deck and bulwarks of the barge was less extensive than had been intended, so that Agrippina not only escaped being crushed by the ruins but she also saved herself at first from being thrown into the sea. The men then who were in the secret of the plot immediately raised a great cry and confusion, and attempted to upset the barge by climbing up upon one side of it—while the others, who did not understand the case, did all they could to save it. In the mean time the noise of the outcries reached the shore, and fishermen's boats began to put off with a view of coming to the rescue of the distressed vessel. Before they arrived, however, the boat had been overturned, Agrippina and Aceronia had been thrown into the sea, and the men who were in the secret of the plot, taking advantage of the darkness and confusion, were endeavoring to seal the fate of their victims, by beating them down with poles and oars as they struggled in the water.
These efforts succeeded in the case of Aceronia, for she uttered loud and continual outcries in her terror, and thus drew upon herself the blows of the assassins. Agrippina, on the other hand, had the presence of mind to keep silence. She received one heavy blow upon the shoulder, which inflicted a serious wound. In other respects she escaped uninjured, and succeeded, partly through the buoyancy of her dress, and partly by the efforts that she made to swim, in keeping her self afloat until she was taken up by the fishermen and conveyed to the shore. She was taken to a villa belonging to her, which was situated not far from the place where the disaster had occurred.
As soon as Agrippina had recovered a little from the terror and excitement of this scene, and had time to reflect upon the circumstances of it, she was convinced that what had occurred was no accident, but the result of a deep-laid design to destroy her life. She, however, thought it most prudent to dissemble her opinion for a time. As soon therefore as she had safely reached her villa, and her wound had been dressed, she dispatched a messenger to Baiæ to inform Nero of what had occurred. The vessel in which she had embarked had been wrecked at sea, she said, and she had narrowly escaped destruction. She had received a severe hurt, by some falling spar, but had at length safely reached her home at Antium. She begged, however, that her son would not come to see her, as what she needed most was repose. She had sent the messenger, she said, to inform him of what had occurred only that he might rejoice with her in the signal interposition of divine providence by which she had been rescued from so imminent a danger.
In the mean time Nero was waiting impatiently and anxiously in his palace at Baiæ for the arrival of a messenger from Anicetus to inform him that his plot had been successful, and that his mother was drowned. Instead of this a rumor of her escape reached him some time before Agrippina's messenger arrived, and threw him into consternation. People came from the coast and informed him that the barge in which his mother had sailed had been wrecked, and that Agrippina had narrowly escaped with her life. The particulars were not fully given to him, but he presumed that Agrippina must have learned that the occurrence was the result of a deliberate attempt to destroy her, and he was consequently very much alarmed. He dreaded the desperate spirit of resentment and revenge which he presumed had been aroused in his mother's mind.
He forthwith sent for Burrus and Seneca, and revealed to them all the circumstances of the case. He made the most bitter accusations against his mother, in justification of his attempt to destroy her. He had long been convinced, he said, that there could be no peace or safety for him as long as she lived, and now, at all events, since he had undertaken the work of destroying her and made the attempt, no alternative was left to him but to go on and finish what he had begun. "She must die now," said he, "or she will most assuredly contrive some means to destroy me."
Seneca and Burrus were silent. They knew not what to say. They saw very clearly that a crisis had arrived, the end of which would be, that one or the other must perish, and consequently the only question for them to decide was, whether the victim should be the mother or the son. At length, after a long and solemn pause, Seneca looked to Burrus, and inquired whether the soldiers under his command could be relied upon to execute death upon Agrippina. Burrus shook his head. The soldiers, he said, felt such a veneration for the family of Germanicus, which was the family from which Agrippina had sprung, that they would perform no such bloody work upon any representative of it. "Besides," said he, "Anicetus has undertaken this duty. It devolves on him to finish what he has begun."
Anicetus readily undertook the task. He had, in fact, a personal interest in it; for, after what had passed, he knew well that there could be no safety for him while Agrippina lived. Nero seemed overjoyed at finding Anicetus so ready to meet his wishes. "Be prompt," said he, "in doing what you have to do. Take with you whom you please to assist you. If you accomplish the work, I shall consider that I owe my empire to your fidelity."
Anicetus, having thus received his commission, ordered a small detachment from the fleet to accompany him, and proceeded to the villa where Agrippina had taken refuge. He found a crowd of country people assembled around the gates of the villa. They had been drawn thither by the tidings of the disaster which had happened to Agrippina, curious to learn all the particulars of the occurrence, or desirous, perhaps, to congratulate Agrippina on her escape. When these peasantry saw the armed band of Anicetus approaching, they know not what it meant, but were greatly alarmed, and fled in all directions.
The guards at the gates of Agrippina's villa made some resistance to the entrance of the soldiers, but they were soon knocked down and overpowered; the gates were burst open, and Anicetus entered at the head of his party of marines. Agrippina, who was upon her bed in an inner chamber at the time, heard the noise and tumult, and was greatly alarmed. A number of friends who were with her, hearing the footsteps of the armed men on the stairs, fled from the chamber in dismay, by a private door, leaving Agrippina alone with her maid. The maid, after a moment's pause, fled too, Agrippina saying to her as she disappeared, "Are you, too, going to forsake me?" At the same moment, Anicetus forced open the door of entrance, and came in accompanied by two of his officers. The three armed men, with an expression of fierce and relentless determination upon their countenances, advanced to Agrippina's bed side.
Agrippina was greatly terrified, but she preserved some degree of outward composure, and raising herself in her bed, she looked steadily upon her assassins.
"Do you come from my son?" said she. They did not answer.
"If you came to inquire how I am," said she, "tell him that I am better, and shall soon be entirely well. I can not believe that he can possibly have sent you to do me any violence or harm."
At this instant one of the assassins struck at the wretched mother with his club. The arm, however, of the most hardened and unrelenting monster, usually falters somewhat at the beginning, in doing such work as this, and the blow gave Agrippina only an inconsiderable wound. She saw at once, however, that all was lost—that the bitter moment of death had come,—but instead of yielding to the emotions of terror and despair which might have been expected to overwhelm the heart of a woman in such a scene, her fierce and indomitable spirit aroused itself to new life and vigor in the terrible emergency. As the assassins approached her with their swords brandished in the air, preparing to strike her, she threw the bed-clothes off, so as to uncover her person, and called upon her murderers to strike her in the womb. "It is there," said she, "that the stab should be given when a mother is to be murdered by her son." She was instantly thrust through with a multitude of wounds in every part of her body, and died weltering in the blood that flowed out upon the couch on which she lay.
Anicetus and his comrades, when the deed was done, gazed for a moment on the lifeless body, and then gathering together again the soldiers that they had left at the gates, they went back to Baiæ with the tidings. The first emotion which Nero experienced, on hearing that all was over, was that of relief. He soon found, however, that monster as he was, his conscience was not yet so stupefied, that he could perpetrate such a deed as this without bringing out her scourge. As soon as he began to reflect upon what he had done, his soul was overwhelmed with remorse and horror. He passed the remainder of the night in dreadful agony, sometimes sitting silent and motionless—gazing into vacancy, as if his faculties were bewildered and lost, and then suddenly starting up, amazed and trembling, and staring wildly about, as if seized with a sudden frenzy. His wild and ghastly looks, his convulsive gesticulations, and his incoherent ravings and groans, indicated the horror that he endured, and were so frightful that his officers and attendants shrunk away from his presence, and knew not what to do.
At length they sent in one after another to attempt to calm and console him. Their efforts, however, were attended with little success. When the morning came, it brought with it some degree of composure; but the dreadful burden of guilt which pressed upon Nero's mind made him still unutterably wretched. He said that he could not endure any longer to remain on the spot, as every thing that he saw, the villas, the ships, the sea, the shore, and all the other objects around him, were so associated in his mind with the thought of his mother, and with the remembrance of his dreadful crime, that he could not endure them.
In the mean time, as soon as the servants and attendants at Agrippina's villa found that Anicetus and his troop had gone, they returned to the chamber of their mistress and gazed upon the spectacle which awaited them there, with inexpressible horror. Anicetus had left some of his men behind to attend to the disposal of the body, as it was important that it should be removed from sight without delay, since it might be expected that all who should look upon it would be excited to a high pitch of indignation against the perpetrators of such a crime. The countenance, in the condition of repose which it assumed after death, appeared extremely beautiful, and seemed to address a mute but touching appeal to the commiseration of every beholder. It was necessary, therefore, to hurry it away. Besides, the soldiers themselves were impatient. They wished to get through with their horrid work and be gone.
They accordingly built a funeral pile in the garden of the villa,—using such materials for the purpose as came most readily to hand—and then took up the body of Agrippina on the bed upon which it lay, and placed all together upon the pile. The fires were lighted. The soldiers watched by the side of it until the pile was nearly consumed, and then went away, leaving the heart-broken domestics of Agrippina around the smoldering embers.