Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans/Tiberius and Vipsania

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Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans by Walter Savage Landor
Tiberius and Vipsania
Published in London, 1885.
Tiberius and Vipsania*
——۰——

Tiberius Claudius Nero having been compelled by his mother Livia and by Augustus to put away his first wife Vipsania, the daughter of Agrippa, and to marry Julia, the daughter of Augustus, afterwards meets Vipsania unexpectedly.

Tiberius.

Vipsania, my Vipsania, whither art thou walking ?

Vipsania.

Whom do I see ? my Tiberius ?

Tiberius.

Ah ! no, no, no ! but thou seest the father of thy little Drusus. Press him to thy heart the more closely for this meeting, and give him –

Vipsania.

Tiberius ! the altars, the gods, the destinies, are between us I will take it from this hand ; thus, thus shall he receive it.

Tiberius.

Raise up thy face, my beloved ! I must not shed tears. Augustus ! Livia ! ye shall not extort them from me. Vipsania, I may kiss thy head for I have saved it. Thou sayest nothing. I have wronged thee ; ay ?

Vipsania.

Ambition does not see the earth she treads on : the rock and the herbage are of one substance to her. Let me excuse you to my heart, O Tiberius. It has many wants ; this is the first and greatest.

Tiberius.

My ambition, I swear by the immortal gods, placed not the bar of severance between us. A stronger hand, the hand that composes Rome and sways the

world -

Vipsania.

Overawed Tiberius. I know it ; Augustus willed and commanded it.

Tiberius.

And overawed Tiberius ! Power bent, Death terrified, a Nero ! What is our race, that any should look down on us and spurn us ! Augustus, my benefactor, I have wronged thee ! Livia, my mother, this one cruel deed was thine ! To reign forsooth is a lovely thing ! O womanly appetite ! Who would have been before me, though the palace of Caesar cracked and split with emperors, while I, sitting in idleness on a cliff of Rhodes, eyed the sun as he swang his golden censer athwart the heavens, or his image as it overstrode the sea.* I have it before me ; and though it seems falling on me, I can smile at it ; just as I did from my little favourite skiff, painted round with the marriage of Thetis, when the sailors drew their long shaggy hair across their eyes, many a stadium away from it, to mitigate its effulgence. These too were happy days : days of happiness like these I could recall and look back upon with unaching brow. O land of Greece ! Tiberius blesses thee, bidding thee rejoice and flourish. Why can not one hour, Vipsania, beauteous and light as we have led, return ?

Vipsania.

Tiberius ! is it to me that you were speaking ? I would not interrupt you ; but I thought I heard my name as you walked away and looked up toward the East. So silent !

Tiberius.

Who dared to call thee ? Thou wert mine before the gods do they deny it ? was it my fault ?

Vipsania.

Since we are separated, and for ever, O Tiberius, let us think no more on the cause of it. Let neither of us believe that the other was to blame ; so shall separation be less painful.

Tiberius.

O mother ! and did I not tell thee what she was ? patient in injury, proud in innocence, serene in grief !

Vipsania.

Did you say that too ? but I think it was so : I had felt little. One vast wave has washed away the impression of smaller from my memory. Could Livia, could your mother, could she who was so kind to -

Tiberius.

The wife of Caesar did it. But hear me now, hear me : be calm as I am. No weaknesses are such as those of a mother who loves her only son immoderately ; and none are so easily worked upon from without. Who knows what impulses she received? She is very, very kind ; but she regards me only ; and that which at her bidding is to encompass and adorn me. All the weak look after power, protectress of weakness. Thou art a woman, O Vipsania ! is there nothing in thee to excuse my mother ? So good she ever was to me ! so loving !

Vipsania.

I quite forgive her : be tranquil, O Tiberius !

Tiberius.

Never can I know peace never can I pardon any one. Threaten me with thy exile, thy separation, thy seclusion ! remind me that another climate might endanger thy health ! There death met me and turned me round. Threaten me to take our son from us ! our one boy ! our helpless little one ! him whom we made cry because we kissed him both together. Rememberest thou? or dost thou not hear? turning thus away from me!

Vipsania.

I hear ; I hear. O cease, my sweet Tiberius! Stamp not upon that stone : my heart lies under it.

Tiberius.

Ay, there again death, and more than death, stood before me. O she maddened me, my mother did, she maddened me she threw me to where I am at one breath. The gods cannot replace me where I was, nor atone to me, nor console me, nor restore my senses. To whom can I fly ? to whom can I open my heart ? to whom speak plainly ?* There was upon the earth a man I could converse with, and fear nothing : there was a woman too I could love, and fear nothing. What a soldier, what a Roman, was thy father, O my young bride ! How could those who never saw him have discoursed so rightly upon virtue !

Vipsania.

These words cool my breast like pressing his urn against it. He was brave : shall Tiberius want courage ?

Tiberius.

My enemies scorn me. I am a garland dropped from a triumphal car, and taken up and looked on for the place I occupied ; and tossed away and laughed at. Senators ! laugh, laugh ! Your merits may be yet rewarded be of good cheer ! Counsel me in your wisdom, what services I can render you, conscript fathers !

Vipsania.

This seems mockery : Tiberius did not smile so, once.

Tiberius.

They had not then congratulated me.

Vipsania.

On what ?

Tiberius.

And it was not because she was beautiful, as they thought her, and virtuous as I know she is, but because the flowers on the altar were to be tied together by my heart-string. On this they congratulated me. Their day will come. Their sons and daughters are what I would wish them to be : worthy to succeed them.

Vipsania.

Where is that quietude, that resignation, that sanctity, that heart of true tenderness ?

Tiberius.

Where is my love ? my love ?

Vipsania.

Cry not thus aloud, Tiberius ! there is an echo in the place. Soldiers and slaves may burst in upon us.

Tiberius.

And see my tears? There is no echo, Vipsania ! why alarm and shake me so ? We are too high here for the echoes : the city is below us. Methinks it trembles and totters : would it did ! from the marble quays of the Tiber to this rock. There is a strange buzz and murmur in my brain ; but I should listen so intensely, I should hear the rattle of its roofs, and shout with joy.

Vipsania.

Calm, O my life ! calm this horrible transport.

Tiberius.

Spake I so loud ? Did I indeed then send my voice after a lost sound, to bring it back ; and thou fanciedst it an echo ? Will not thou laugh with me, as thou wert wont to do, at such an error ? What was I saying to thee, my tender love, when I commanded I know not whom to stand back, on pain of death ? Why starest thou on me in such agony? Have I hurt thy fingers, child ? I loose them : now let me look ! Thou turnest thine eyes away from me. Oh ! oh ! I hear my crime ! Immortal gods ! I cursed then audibly, and before the sun, my mother !


* Vipsania, the daughter of Agrippa, was divorced from Tiberius by Augustus and Livia, in order that he might marry Julia, and hold the empire by inheritance. He retained such an affection for her, and showed it so intensely when he once met her afterward, that every precaution was taken lest the meeting should recur. I have mentioned in a former volume my persuasion that the Claudii were deranged in intellect. There are few who, after the perusal of the three, will suspect me of apologizing for the vices of princes : but those who endure them are to be condemned still more severely. The Claudii who succeeded to the empire were by nature no worse men, and in some respects much better, than several of their race in the times of the republic, although power ripened at last their malady into ranker growth and deadlier poison. Appius Claudius, Appius Caecus, Publius, Appia, and after these the enemy of Cicero, shewed as ungovernable a temper as the imperial ones, breaking forth into tyranny and lust, into contempt of, and imprecations against, their country. Tiberius was a man of greater genius than any of the rest ; sorrowful, meditative, morose, suspicious. In the last Nero were dispositions the opposite to these, with some talents, and many good qualities. They could not disappear on a sudden, without one of those dreadful shocks, under which had been engulphed, in successive generations, almost every member of the Claudian family.

Cruelty, if we consider it as a crime, is the greatest of all : but I think we should more justly consider it, in men of education, as a madness ; for it quite destroys our sympathies, and, doing so, must supersede and master our intellect. It removes from us those that can help us, and brings against us those that can injure us : whence it opposes the great principle of our nature, self-love, and endangers not only our well-being but our being. Reason is then the most perfect, when it enables us the most benefit society: reason is then the most deranged, when there is that over it which disables a man from benefiting his fellow men .. and cruelty is that.

* The Colossus was thrown down by an earthquake during the war between Antiochus and Ptolemy, who sent the Rhodians three thousand talents for the restoration of it. Again in the time of Vespasian, " Coæ Veneris, item Colossi refectorem congiario magnâque mercede donavit," Suetonius in Vesp. The first residence of Tiberius in Rhodes was when he returned from his Armenian expedition, the last was after his divorce from Vipsania and his marriage with Julia.
* The regret of Tiberius at the death of Agrippa may be imagined to arise from a cause of which at this moment he was unconscious. If Agrippa had lived, Julia, who was his wife, could not have been Tiberius's, nor would he and Vipsania have been separated.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.