It only remained to account for the crime, and offer for it such lying defences as were most likely to gain credit. Flying to Naples from a scene which had now become awful to him,—for places do not change as men’s faces change, and, besides this, his disturbed conscience made him fancy that he heard from the hill of Misenum the blowing of a ghostly trumpet and wailings about his mother’s tomb in the hours of night,—he sent from thence a letter to the Senate, saying that his mother had been punished for an attempt upon his life, and adding a list of her crimes, real and imaginary, the narrative of her accidental shipwreck, and his opinion that her death was a public blessing. The author of this shameful document was Seneca, and in composing it he reached the nadir of his moral degradation. Even the lax morality of a most degenerate age condemned him for calmly sitting down to decorate with the graces of rhetoric and antithesis an atrocity too deep for the powers of indignation. A Seneca could stoop to write what a Thrasea Paetus could scarcely stoop to hear; for in the meeting of the Senate at which the letter was recited, Thrasea rose in indignation, and went straight home rather than seem to sanction by his presence the adulation of a matricide.
And the composition of that guily, elaborate, shameful letter was the last prominent act of Seneca’s public life.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Nor was it unnatural that it should be. Moral precepts, philosophic guidance were no longer possible to one whose compliances or whose timidity had led him so far as first to sanction matricide, and then to defend it. He might indeed be still powerful to recommend principles of common sense and political expediency, but the loftier lessons of Stoicism, nay, even the better utterances of a mere ordinary Pagan morality, could henceforth only fall from his lips with something of a hollow ring. He might interfere, as we know he did, to render as innocuous as possible the pernicious vanity which made Nero so ready to degrade his imperial rank by public appearances on the orchestra or in the race-course, but he could hardly address again such noble teachings as that of the treatise on Clemency to one whom, on grounds of political expediency, he had not dissuaded from the treacherous murder of a mother, who, whatever her enormities, yet for his sake had sold her very soul.
Although there may have been a strong suspicion that foul play had been committed, the actual facts and details of the death of Agrippina would rest between Nero and Seneca as a guilty secret, in the guilt of which Seneca himself must have his share. Such a position of things was the inevitable death-blow, not only to all friendship, but to all confidence, and ultimately to all intercourse. We see in sacred history that Joab’s participation in David’s guilty secret gave him the absolute mastery over his