26He was betrothed twice at an early age: to Aemilia Lepida, great-granddaughter of Augustus, and to Livia Medullina, who also had the surname of Camilla and was descended from the ancient family of Camillus the dictator. He put away the former before their marriage, because her parents had offended Augustus; the latter was taken ill and died on the very day which had been set for the wedding. 2He then married Plautia Urgulanilla, whose father had been honoured with a triumph, and later Aelia Paetina, daughter of an ex-consul. He divorced both these, Paetina for trivial offences, but Urgulanilla because of scandalous lewdness and the suspicion of murder. Then he married Valeria Messalina, daughter of his cousin Messala Barbatus. But when he learned that besides other shameful and wicked deeds she had actually married Gaius Silius, and that a formal contract had been signed in the presence of witnesses, he put her to death and declared before the assembled praetorian guard that inasmuch as his marriages did not turn out well, he would remain a widower, and if he did not keep his word, he would not refuse death at their hands. 3Yet he could not refrain from at once planning another match, even with Paetina, whom he had formerly discarded, and with Lollia Paulina, who had been the wife of Gaius Caesar. But his affections were ensnared by the wiles of Agrippina, daughter of his brother Germanicus, aided by the right of exchanging kisses and the opportunities for endearments offered by their relationship; and at the next meeting of the senate he induced some of the members to propose that he be compelled to marry Agrippina, on the ground that it was for the interest of the State; also that others be allowed to contract similar marriages, which up to that time had been regarded as incestuous. And he married her with hardly a single day’s delay; but none were found to follow his example save a freedman and a chief centurion, whose marriage ceremony he himself attended with Agrippina.
27He had children by three of his wives: by Urgulanilla, Drusus, and Claudia; by Paetina, Antonia; by Messalina, Octavia and a son, at first called Germanicus and later Britannicus. He lost Drusus just before he came to manhood, for he was strangled by a pear which he had thrown in the air in play and caught in his open mouth. A few days before this he had betrothed him to the daughter of Sejanus, which makes me wonder all the more that some say that Drusus was treacherously slain by Sejanus. Claudia was the offspring of his freedman Boter, and although she was born within five months after the divorce and he had begun to rear her, yet he ordered her to be cast out naked at her mother’s door and disowned. 2He gave Antonia in marriage to Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, and later to Faustus Sulla, both young men of high birth, and Octavia to his stepson Nero, after she had previously been betrothed to Silanus. Britannicus was born on the twenty-second day of his reign and in his second consulship. When he was still very small, Claudius would often take him in his arms and commend him to the assembled soldiers, and to the people at the games, holding him in his lap or in his outstretched hands, and he would wish him happy auspices, joined by the applauding throng. Of his sons-in-law he adopted Nero; Pompeius and Silanus he not only declined to adopt, but even put to death.
28Of his freedmen he had special regard for the eunuch Posides, whom he even presented with the headless spear at his British triumph, along with those who had served as soldiers. He was equally fond of Felix, giving him the command of cohorts and of troops of horse, as well as of the province of Judaea; and he became the husband of three queens. Also of Harpocras, to whom he granted the privilege of riding through the city in a litter and of giving public entertainments. Still higher was his regard for Polybius, his literary adviser, who often walked between the two consuls. But most of all he was devoted to his secretary Narcissus and his treasurer Pallas, and he gladly allowed them to be honoured in addition by a decree of the senate, not only with immense gifts, but even with the insignia of quaestors and praetors. Besides this he permitted them to amass such wealth by plunder, that when he once complained of the low state of his funds, the witty answer was made that he would have enough and to spare, if he were taken into partnership by his two freedmen.
29Wholly under the control of these and of his wives, as I have said, he played the part, not of a prince, but of a servant, lavishing honours, the command of armies, pardons or punishments, according to the interests of each of them, or even their wish or whim; and that too for the most part in ignorance and blindly. Not to go into details about less important matters (such as revoking his grants, rescinding his decisions, substituting false letters patent, or even openly changing those which he had issued), he put to death his father-in-law Appius Silanus and the two Julias, daughters of Drusus and Germanicus, on an unsupported charge and giving them no opportunity for defence; also Gnaeus Pompeius, the husband of his elder daughter, and Lucius Silanus who was betrothed to his younger one. 2Of these Pompey was stabbed in the embraces of a favourite youth, while Silanus was compelled to abdicate his praetorship four days before the Kalends of January and to take his own life at the beginning of the year, the very day of the marriage of Claudius and Agrippina. He inflicted the death penalty on thirty-five senators and more than three hundred Roman knights with such easy indifference, that when a centurion in reporting the death of an ex-consul said that his order had been carried out, he replied that he had given no order; but he nevertheless approved the act, since his freedmen declared that the soldiers had done their duty in hastening to avenge their emperor without instructions. 3But it is beyond all belief, that at the marriage which Messalina had contracted with her paramour Silius he signed the contract for the dowry with his own hand, being induced to do so on the ground that the marriage was a feigned one, designed to avert and turn upon another a danger which was inferred from certain portents to threaten the emperor himself.
30He possessed majesty and dignity of appearance, but only when he was standing still or sitting, and especially when he was lying down; for he was tall but not slender, with an attractive face, becoming white hair, and a full neck. But when he walked, his weak knees gave way under him and he had many disagreeable traits both in his lighter moments and when he was engaged in business; his laughter was unseemly and his anger still more disgusting, for he would foam at the mouth and trickle at the nose; he stammered besides and his head was very shaky at all times, but especially when he made the least exertion.
31Though previously his health was bad, it was excellent while he was emperor except for attacks of heartburn, which he said all but drove him to suicide.
32He gave frequent and grand dinner parties, as a rule in spacious places, where six hundred guests were often entertained at one time. He even gave a banquet close to the outlet of the Fucine Lake and was well-nigh drowned, when the water was let out with a rush and deluged the place. He always invited his own children to dinner along with the sons and daughters of distinguished men, having them sit at the arms of the couches as they ate, after the old time custom. When a guest was suspected of having stolen a golden bowl the day before, he invited him again the next day, but set before him an earthenware cup. He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.
33He was eager for food and drink at all times and in all places. Once when he was holding court in the forum of Augustus and had caught the savour of a meal which was preparing for the Salii in the temple of Mars hard by, he left the tribunal, went up where the priests were, and took his place at their table. He hardly ever left the dining-room until he was stuffed and soaked; then he went to sleep at once, lying on his back with his mouth open, and a feather was put down his throat to relieve his stomach. 2He slept but little at a time, for he was usually awake before midnight; but he would sometimes drop off in the daytime while holding court and could hardly be roused when the advocates raised their voices for the purpose. He was immoderate in his passion for women, but wholly free from unnatural vice. He was greatly devoted to gaming, even publishing a book on the art, and he actually used to play while driving, having the board so fitted to his carriage as to prevent his game from being disturbed.