For Nero very soon learnt that Seneca was no longer necessary to him. For a time he lingered in Campania, guiltily dubious as to the kind of reception that awaited him in the capital. The assurances of the vile crew which surrounded him soon made that fear wear off, and when he plucked up the courage to return to his palace, he might himself have been amazed at the effusion of infamous loyalty and venal acclamation with which he was received. All Rome poured itself forth to meet him; the Senate appeared in festal robes with their wives and girls and boys in long array; seats and scaffoldings were built up along the road by which he had to pass, as though the populace had gone forth to see a triumph. With haughty mein, the victor of a nation of slaves, he ascended the Capitol, gave thanks to the gods, and went home to betray henceforth the full perversity of a nature which the reverence for his mother, such as it was, had hitherto in part restrained. But the instincts of the populace were suppressed rather than eradicated. They hung a sack from his statue by night in allusion to the old punishment of parricides, who were sentenced to be flung into the sea, tied up in a sack with a serpent, a monkey, and a cock. They exposed an infant in the Forum with a tablet on which was written, “I refuse to rear thee, lest thou shouldst slay thy mother.” They scrawled upon the blank walls of Rome an iambic line which reminded all who read it that Nero, Orestes, and Alcmaeon were murderers of their mothers. Even Nero must have been well aware that he presented a hideous spectacle in the eyes of all who had the faintest shade of righteousness among the people whom he ruled.
All this took place in A.D. 59, and we hear no more of Seneca till the year 62, a year memorable for the death of Burrus, who had long been his honest, friendly, and faithful colleague. In these dark times, when all men seemed to be speaking in a whisper, almost every death of a conspicuous and high-minded man, if not caused by open violence, falls under the suspicion of secret poison. The death of Burrus may have been due (from the description) to diphtheria, but the popular voice charged Nero with having hastened his death by a pretended remedy, and declared that, when the Emperor visited his sick bed, the dying man turned away from his inquiries with the laconic answer, “I am well.”
His death was regretted, not only from the memory of his virtues, but also from the fact that Nero appointed two men as his successors, of whom the one, Fenius Rufus, was honorable but indolent; the other and more powerful, Sofonius Tigellinus had won for himself among cruel and shameful associates a pre-eminence of hatred and of shame.