Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Tacitus.
of the home.  But far greater was the alarm displayed in public places.  With every fresh piece of news that rumour brought, men’s feelings and the expression on their faces changed.  They were afraid to be found lacking in confidence when things looked doubtful, or in joy when they went well for Otho.  Above all, when the senate was summoned to the House, they found it extraordinarily hard always to strike the right note.  Silence would argue arrogance; plain speaking would arouse suspicion; yet flattery would be detected by Otho, who had so lately been a private citizen, practising the art himself.  So they had to turn and twist their sentences.  Vitellius they called enemy and traitor, the more prudent confining themselves to such vague generalities.  A few ventured to fling the truth at him, but they always chose a moment of uproar when a great many people were all shouting at once, or else they talked so loud and fast as to drown their own words.

Another cause of alarm was the various portents vouched for by 86 many witnesses.  In the Capitoline Square, it was said, the figure of Victory had let the reins of her chariot slip from her hands:  a ghost of superhuman size had suddenly burst out of the chapel of Juno:[182] a statue of the sainted Julius on the island in the Tiber had, on a fine, still day, turned round from the west and faced the east:  an ox had spoken in Etruria:  animals had given birth to strange monsters.  Many were the stories of these occurrences, which in primitive ages are observed even in time of peace, though now we only hear of them in time of panic.  But the greatest damage at the moment, and the greatest alarm for the future, was caused by a sudden rising of the Tiber.  Immensely swollen, it carried away the bridge on piles,[183] and, its current being stemmed by the heavy ruins, it flooded not only the flat, low-lying portions of the city, but also districts that seemed safe from inundation.  Many people were swept away in the streets, still more were overtaken by the flood in shops or in their beds at home.  The result was a famine, since food was scarce,[184] and the poor were deprived of their means of livelihood.  Blocks of flats, the foundations of which had rotted in the standing water, collapsed when the river sank.  No sooner had the panic caused by the flood subsided than it was found that, whereas Otho was preparing an expedition, its route over the Martian Plain and up the Flaminian Road was blocked.  Though probably caused by chance, or the course of Nature, this mishap was turned into a miraculous omen of impending disaster.

FOOTNOTES: 

    [152] Chap. 45.

    [153] Cp. note 46.

    [154] A much-frequented watering-place on the borders of
          Latium and Campania.  The hot baths were considered good for
          hysteria.

    [155] Cp. chap. 7.

    [156] Dio and Suetonius both say that Otho offered to share
          the empire with Vitellius, and the latter adds that he
          proposed for the hand of Vitellius’ daughter.  Tacitus here
          follows Plutarch.

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