The History, 18.3

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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3While the god-like wisdom of the Cæsar was thus successful in Gaul, great disturbances arose in the court of the emperor, which from slight beginnings increased to grief and lamentations. Some bees swarmed on the house of Barbatio, at that time the commander of the infantry. And when he consulted the interpreters of prodigies on this event, he received for an answer, that it was an omen of great danger; the answer being founded on the idea that these animals, after they have fixed their abode, and laid up their stores, are usually expelled by smoke and the noisy din of cymbals.

2Barbatio’s wife was a woman called Assyria, neither silent nor prudent. And when he had gone on an expedition which caused her much alarm, she, because of the predictions which she recollected to have been given her, and being full of female vanity, having summoned a handmaid who was skilful in writing, and of whom she had become possessed by inheritance from her father Silvanus, sent an unseasonable letter to her husband, full of lamentations, and of entreaties that after the approaching death of Constantius, if he himself, as she hoped, was admitted to a share in the empire, he would not despise her, and prefer to marry Eusebia, who was Constantius’s empress, and who was of a beauty equalled by few women.

3She sent this letter as secretly as she could; but the maid, when the troops had returned from their expedition at the beginning of the night, took a copy of the letter which she had written at the dictation of her mistress, to Arbetio, and being eagerly admitted by him, she gave him the paper.

4He, relying on this evidence, being at all times a man eager to bring forward accusations, conveyed it to the emperor. As was usual, no delay was allowed, and Barbatio, who confessed that he had received the letter, and his wife, who was distinctly proved to have written it, were both beheaded.

5After this execution, investigations were carried further, and many persons, innocent as well as guilty, were brought into question. Among whom was Valentinus, who having lately been an officer of the protectores, had been promoted to be a tribune; and he with many others was put to the torture as having been privy to the affair, though he was wholly ignorant of it. But he survived his sufferings; and as some compensation for the injury done to him, and for his danger, he received the rank of duke of Illyricum.

6This same Barbatio was a man of rude and arrogant manners, and very unpopular, because while captain of the protectores of the household, in the time of Gallus Cæsar, he was a false and treacherous man; and after he had attained the higher rank he became so elated that he invented calumnies against the Cæsar Julian, and, though all good men hated him, whispered many wicked lies into the ever-ready ears of the emperor.

7Being forsooth ignorant of the wise old saying of Aristotle, who when he sent Callisthenes, his pupil and relation, to the king Alexander, warned him to say as little as he could, and that only of a pleasant kind, before a man who carried the power of life and death on the tip of his tongue.

8We should not wonder that mankind, whose minds we look upon as akin to those of the gods, can sometimes discern what is likely to be beneficial or hurtful to them, when even animals devoid of reason sometimes secure their own safety by profound silence, of which the following is a notorious instance:—

9When the wild geese leave the East because of the heat, and seek a western climate, as soon as they reach Mount Taurus, which is full of eagles, fearing those warlike birds, they stop up their own beaks with stones, that not even the hardest necessity may draw a cry from them; they fly more rapidly than usual across that range, and when they have passed it they throw away the stones, and then proceed more securely.

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