P. Vergilius Maro Mantuanus parentibus modicis fuit ac praecipue patre, quem quidam opificem figulum, plures Magi cuiusdam viatoris initio mercennarium, mox ob industriam generum tradiderunt, egregiaeque substantiae silvis coemendis et apibus curandis auxisse reculam. natus est Cn. Pompeio Magno M. Licinio Crasso primum consulibus Iduum Octobrium die in pago qui Andes dicitur et abest a Mantua non procul. praegnans eo mater somniavit enixam se laureum ramum, quem contactu terrae coaluisse et excrevisse ilico in speciem maturae arboris refertaeque variis pomis et floribus, ac sequenti luce cum marito rus propinquum petens ex itinere devertit atque in subiecta fossa partu levata est. ferunt infantem ut sit editus neque vagisse et adeo miti vultu fuisse, ut haud dubiam spem prosperioris geniturae iam tum daret. et accessit aliud praesagium, siquidem virga populea more regionis in puerperiis eodem statim loco depacta ita brevi evaluit tempore, ut multo ante satas populos adaequavisset; quae “arbor Vergilii” ex eo dicta atque etiam consecrata est summa gravidarum ac fetarum religione suscipientium ibi et solventium vota.
(Suetonius, Vita Vergili 1-5)
Publius Vergilius Maro was a Mantuan of humble parentage, especially with regard to his father: some have reported that he was an artisan who was a potter, many that he was at first the employee of a viator [a minor official whose main task was to summon people who had to appear before magistrates] named Magus and then a son-in-law on account of his industry, and that he built up a fortune of no mean substance by buying up woodlands and tending bees. [Virgil] was born on the Ides of October, during the first consulships of Gnaeus Pompeius the Great and Marcus Licinius Crassus [October 15, 70 b.c.e.], in a village called Andes, not far from Mantua. While pregnant with him, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a laurel branch, which took root when it touched the earth and sprang up on the spot into the form of a full-grown tree, stuffed with diverse fruits and flowers. And the following day, while she was making for the neighboring country spot with her husband, she turned aside from the path and delivered herself by childbirth in an adjacent ditch. They say that when the child was born, he did not cry, and so mild was his countenance that even then he gave no small reason to hope that his birth would prove to be auspicious. Another omen was added to this when the poplar sprout that was immediately planted in the same place, according to the custom of the region in cases of childbirth, grew up so fast that it stood level with the poplars planted long before. It was called on that account the tree of Virgil, and it was in fact made sacred by the greatest reverence of pregnant women and new mothers who took and fulfilled vows there. (tr. David Wilson-Okamura, revised by Jan M. Ziolkowski)
Prasinae factioni ita addictus et deditus, ut cenaret in stabulo assidue et maneret, agitatori Eutycho comisatione quadam in apophoretis vicies sestertium contulit. Incitato equo, cuius causa pridie circenses, ne inquietaretur, viciniae silentium per milites indicere solebat, praeter equile marmoreum et praesaepe eburneum praeterque purpurea tegumenta ac monilia e gemmis domum etiam et familiam et supellectilem dedit, quo lautius nomine eius invitati acciperentur; consulatum quoque traditur destinasse.
(Suetonius, Cal. 55.2-3)
He* was so wildly keen on the Green Faction in the circus, that he used often to take his dinner in the stable and stay overnight there. At one of his parties, he gave the driver Eutychus two million sesterces in going-home presents. As for his horse Incitatus, to prevent whose disturbance he used to send his soldiers, the day before the circus games, to demand silence in the surrounding area, apart from the marble stable, the ebony manger, the purple blankets and the gem-studded collar, he also gave him a house and a household of slaves and furniture, so that guests he invited in his name might be entertained in a more refined manner. It is said, too, that he meant to make him consul.
Armorum nullo, sagittarum vel praecipuo studio tenebatur. centenas varii generis feras saepe in Albano secessu conficientem spectavere plerique atque etiam ex industria ita quarundam capita figentem, ut duobus ictibus quasi cornua efficeret. nonnumquam in pueri procul stantis praebentisque pro scopulo dispansam dexterae manus palmam sagittas tanta arte derexit, ut omnes per intervalla digitorum innocue evaderent.
(Suetonius, Dom. 19)
At his Alban retreat many people witnessed him* shoot a hundred animals of different kinds on numerous occasions and he would even deliberately shoot at the heads of some of them in such a way that two arrows seemed to make horns. Sometimes a slave would stand at a distance holding up the palm of his right hand as a target with the fingers outspread and Domitian would aim his shots with such skill that they would pass safely through the gaps between the boy’s fingers.
Domini appellationem ut maledictum et opprobrium semper exhorruit. cum spectante eo ludos pronuntiatum esset in mimo: “o dominum aequum et bonum!” et universi quasi de ipso dictum exsultantes comprobassent, et statim manu vultuque indecoras adulationes repressit et insequenti die gravissimo corripuit edicto; dominumque se posthac appellari ne a liberis quidem aut nepotibus suis vel serio vel ioco passus est atque eius modi blanditias etiam inter ipsos prohibuit. non temere urbe oppidove ullo egressus aut quoquam ingressus est nisi vespera aut noctu, ne quem officii causa inquietaret. in consulatu pedibus fere, extra consulatum saepe adoperta sella per publicum incessit. promiscuis salutationibus admittebat et plebem, tanta comitate adeuntium desideria excipiens, ut quendam ioco corripuerit, quod sic sibi libellum porrigere dubitaret, “quasi elephanto stipem.” die senatus numquam patres nisi in curia salutavit et quidem sedentes ac nominatim singulos nullo submonente; etiam discedens eodem modo sedentibus valere dicebat. officia cum multis mutuo exercuit, nec prius dies cuiusque sollemnes frequentare desiit, quam grandior iam natu et in turba quondam sponsaliorum die vexatus. Gallum Cerrinium senatorem minus sibi familiarem, sed captum repente oculis et ob id inedia mori destinantem praesens consolando revocavit ad vitam.
(Suetonius, Div. Aug. 53)
He always shrank from the title ‘Master’ as an insult and a reproach. On one occasion at the games when he was watching a farce, the line was spoken: ‘O good and just master!’ and the whole audience indicated their enthusiastic agreement, as if the words were addressed to the emperor. He immediately called a halt to their unbecoming adulation with his gesture and expression and, on the next day, reproached them most severely in an edict. Thereafter he would not even allow his children and grandchildren to call him ‘master’, whether jokingly or in earnest, and forbade them to use such obsequious titles even among themselves. Almost always his arrival at or departure from Rome or any other town was in the evening or at night so that people would not be troubled by the need to pay him respect. When consul, he went about in public places on foot and at other times in a sedan chair. All and sundry were permitted to attend his receptions, including the common people, and he acknowledged the wishes of his petitioners with such good humour that once he teased a man that he was as nervous of handing over his petition as if he were giving a present to an elephant. On days when the senate met, he always greeted the senators in the senate house, addressing each by name with no one prompting him, while they remained in their seats. Even as he left, he would pay his respects in the same manner, while they stayed seated. In the case of many, he discharged the mutual obligations of friendship, and did not fail to attend all their feast days until he was advanced in years and had once been made uncomfortable by the crowd at a betrothal ceremony. When the senator Gallus Cerrinius had suddenly lost his sight and decided to end his life by starvation, Augustus went in person to console him, though he was not a close friend, and persuaded him to live. (tr. Catharine Edwards)
Inter varios iocos, cum assistens simulacro Iovis Apellen tragoedum consuluisset uter illi maior videretur, cunctantem flagellis discidit collaudans subinde vocem deprecantis quasi etiam in gemitu praedulcem. quotiens uxoris vel amiculae collum exoscularetur, addebat: ‘tam bona cervix simul ac iussero demetur.’ quin et subinde iactabat exquisiturum se vel fidiculis de Caesonia sua, cur eam tanto opere diligeret.
(Suetonius, Cal. 33)
Among his other jokes, he once asked the actor Apelles, when he was next to a statue of Jupiter, which of them was the greater and when Appeles hesitated to answer, he had him flayed with scourges, praising the quality of his voice, as he cried out for mercy, as delightful even when groaning. Whenever he kissed the neck of a wife or a mistress, he would add: ‘This lovely neck would be severed the minute I gave the order.’ Indeed, from time to time he would exlaim that he might even have to use torture on his own Caesonia to find out from her why he loved her so very much. (tr. Catharine Edwards)
In puero statim corporis animique dotes exsplenduerunt, magisque ac magis deinceps per aetatis gradus: forma egregia et cui non minus auctoritatis inesset quam gratiae, praecipuum robur, quamquam neque procera statura et ventre paulo proiectiore; memoria singularis, docilitas ad omnis fere tum belli tum pacis artes. armorum et equitandi peritissimus, Latine Graeceque vel in orando vel in fingendis poematibus promptus et facilis ad extemporalitatem usque; sed ne musicae quidem rudis, ut qui cantaret et psalleret iucunde scienterque. e pluribus comperi, notis quoque excipere velocissime solitum, cum amanuensibus suis per ludum iocumque certantem, imitarique chirographa quaecumque vidisset, ac saepe profiteri maximum falsarium esse potuisse.
(Suetonius, Div. Tit. 3)
His qualities of mind and body at once stood out even when he was a boy but still more so as he advanced towards maturity. His appearance was striking, conveying authority as well as charm, and he was unusually strong, though not tall in stature, while his stomach protruded a little. He had an exceptional memory and a great gift for acquiring almost all the arts of war as well as those of peace. He was highly skilled in the use of weapons and in horsemanship and had a ready fluency in both Latin and Greek to such a degree that he could make a speech or compose a poem without preparation. Even in music he was not without talent and could sing and play the cithara with grace and skill. I have discovered from a number of sources that he used to write shorthand at great speed and for fun would play at competing with his secretaries and that he could imitate any handwriting he had seen and often confessed he could have been the greatest of forgers. (tr. Catharine Edwards)
Secessu vero Caprensi etiam sellaria excogitavit, sedem arcanarum libidinum, in quam undique conquisiti puellarum et exoletorum greges monstrosique concubitus repertores, quos spintrias appellabat, triplici serie conexi, in vicem incestarent coram ipso, ut aspectu deficientis libidines excitaret. cubicula plurifariam disposita tabellis ac sigillis lascivissimarum picturarum et figurarum adornavit librisque Elephantidis instruxit, ne cui in opera edenda exemplar imperatae schemae deesset.
(Suetonius, Tib. 43)
Then, on retiring to Capri, he* even established a suite which was to be the location for his secret pleasures. Here groups of girls and adult pathics selected from all over and the most inventive of sexual deviants whom he used to call ‘tight-bums’, would take it in turns to engage in filthy threesomes in his presence, so that the sight would arouse his flagging libido. The bedrooms were variously decked out with paintings and sculptures showing the most provocative images and figures, while the library was equipped with the works of Elephantis,** so that an illustration of the required position would always be available if anyone needed guidance in completing their performance.
** a Greek author notorious for her lewd writings.
(tr. Catharine Edwards, with her note on Elephantis)