The Life of Claudius, 43–46

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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43Towards the end of his life he had shown some plain signs of repentance for his marriage with Agrippina and his adoption of Nero; for when his freedmen expressed their approval of a trial in which he had the day before condemned a woman for adultery, he declared that it had been his destiny also to have wives who were all unchaste, but not unpunished; and shortly afterwards meeting Britannicus, he hugged him close and urged him to grow up and receive from his father an account of all that he had done, adding in Greek, “He who dealt the wound will heal it.” When he expressed his intention of giving Britannicus the gown of manhood, since his stature justified it though he was still young and immature, he added: “That the Roman people may at last have a genuine Caesar.”

44Not long afterwards he also made his will and sealed it with the seals of all the magistrates. But before he could go any farther, he was cut short by Agrippina, who was being accused besides of many other crimes both by her own conscience and by informers.

2That Claudius was poisoned is the general belief, but when it was done and by whom is disputed. Some say that it was his taster, the eunuch Halotus, as he was banqueting on the Citadel with the priests; others that at a family dinner Agrippina served the drug to him with her own hand in mushrooms, a dish of which he was extravagantly fond. Reports also differ as to what followed. 3Many say that as soon as he swallowed the poison he became speechless, and after suffering excruciating pain all night, died just before dawn. Some say that he first fell into a stupor, then vomited up the whole contents of his overloaded stomach, and was given a second dose, perhaps in a gruel, under pretence that he must be refreshed with food after his exhaustion, or administered in a syringe, as if he were suffering from a surfeit and required relief by that form of evacuation as well.

45His death was kept quiet until all the arrangements were made about the succession. Accordingly vows were offered for his safety, as if he were still ill, and the farce was kept up by bringing in comic actors, under pretence that he had asked to be entertained in that way. He died on the third day before the Ides of October in the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in the sixty-fourth year of his age and the fourteenth of his reign. He was buried with regal pomp and enrolled among the gods, an honour neglected and finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian.

46The principal omens of his death were the following: the rise of a long-haired star, commonly called a comet; the striking of his father Drusus’s tomb by lightning; and the fact that many magistrates of all ranks had died that same year. There are besides some indications that he himself was not unaware of his approaching end, and that he made no secret of it; for when he was appointing the consuls, he made no appointment beyond the month when he died, and on his last appearance in the senate, after earnestly exhorting his children to harmony, he begged the members to watch over the tender years of both; and in his last sitting on the tribunal he declared more than once that he had reached the end of a mortal career, although all who heard him prayed that the omen might be averted.

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