THE DEIFICATION OF CLAUDIUS
LAUDIUS, the fourth of the Julian Caesars, was one of
those unhappy men who, through no fault of their own,
miss their vocation. Nature made him for a scholar, and
fortune made him an emperor. He had some learning, and
was genuinely fond of literature; but in person and
manner he was singularly awkward and ungainly. His
mother had the greatest aversion to him. "A greater
fool than my son Claudius," was the most unfavourable
judgment that she could pass on any one. Augustus
thought him unfit to hold any public office of
importance; Tiberius annulled certain complimentary
resolutions which the senate had passed concerning him.
Caligula made him his butt. If he came a minute too
late to dinner, he found his place filled up. If he
fell asleep after the meal, which he commonly did, the
emperor and his guests pelted him with the stones of
olives and dates, or woke him up with a stroke from a
cane or a whip.
 In the Senate he was the last of the ex-consuls to be
asked his opinion. The solitary honour bestowed on him
was his nomination to a priesthood, and for this he had
to pay so extravagant a sum
that he was reduced to poverty.
Then came a sudden change of fortune. He was in
attendance at court when Caligula was assassinated. In
his terror he sought to conceal himself under some
curtains, but a soldier saw his legs sticking out from
his hiding place, and from mere curiosity dragged him
out. The poor wretch fell at his captor's knees, and
was astonished to find himself saluted as emperor.
Other soldiers gathered round, put him into a litter,
and carried him through the streets to the camp. All
who saw him thought that he was being carried off to
execution; and, indeed, for some time his fate was
doubtful. The Senate, supported by a few cohorts of the
city soldiers, thought of re-establishing the Republic.
But there was no energy, no harmony in their action,
and the populace was unmistakably in favour of a
despotism. Claudius had the claim of birth, and he was
acknowledged without further opposition, but not till
he had purchased the Praetorians with the enormous bribe
of £120 per man.
I have not to tell the story of his reign. It was a
dismal time for Rome, not because the Emperor
 was bad, but because he fell into bad hands. He was a
glutton and a voluptuary, but he was not blood-thirsty.
And yet, such was his weakness under the control of
designing advisers and counsellors, he shed more
innocent blood than rulers who were ten times more
cruel. At last the end came. His wife, the younger
Agrippina, had induced him to set aside his own
offspring, Britannicus, in favour of her son Nero. But
he showed signs of repenting of the act. "He that gave
the wound can heal," he said one day to the lad.
Shortly afterwards he was poisoned, according to common
report, by a dish of mushrooms, handed to him by his
This wretched creature, who scarcely deserved to be
called a man, was added to the number of the Roman
gods. The satire with which Seneca resented this
foolish act of adulation is one of the most curious
remains of Roman literature.
Claudius, in obedience to the decree which had made him
a god, presents himself at the gate of heaven and
demands entrance. The report of the door-keeper is that
he is tall, lame of one leg, and always shaking his
head, that it was impossible to tell of what race he
was, especially whether he was a Greek
or a Roman. Hercules, as the great traveller among the
dwellers in heaven, is deputed
 to question the stranger, recognises him, and is much
impressed by his claims.
A high debate follows among the gods as to whether the
new claimant is to be admitted. Janus, who opens it,
roundly asserts that, in his opinion, the honour had
been made too common, and that, in future, no mortal
should be admitted to it. Hercules pleads in his
favour. Other gods take sides for or against him.
Finally the motion is formally proposed: "Seeing that
Claudius is of the kin of Augustus, let him be made a
god, and let the thing be added to the Metamorphoses of
Hercules is very urgent in recommending him to his
follow-immortals. He canvasses them all, and beseeches
them to vote for him as a personal favour. He would do
the same for them on another occasion. "Scratch me, and
I'll scratch you." Then Augustus rises. "He had never,"
he said, "addressed them before, but had always been
content to mind his own business, but this was a thing
that he could not pass over. He must speak, seeing that
the fellow was a kinsman of his own. He has filled the
world with massacre," he went on, "but of this I will
not speak for the present; I will dwell only on the
murders with which he has polluted his own house. He
slew the two Julias, one of them his niece, and
 one his cousin;
and he slew them unheard and uncondemned. This may be
the custom upon earth, but it is not our fashion in
heaven. He slew a whole crowd of kinsmen, one of them
so foolish that he might have been Emperor himself.
Look at him. What a figure he is! Scarcely human, much
less divine! Hear him speak. Can he utter three
consecutive words? Who will worship such a god as this?
If this be the sort of creature that you deify, man
will refuse to believe that you are gods yourselves. I
propose this motion: 'Seeing that this Claudius slew so
many of his kindred and his wife, it is hereby
commanded that he quit heaven within thirty days.' "
The Senate of the gods divided on the question, and the
motion of Augustus was carried. Thereupon Hermes, the
conductor of souls, was called in. He carried off the
banished man to the region below, going by way of Rome.
As he approached the city, Claudius saw his own
funeral, and heard, with great delight, his own
praises. So at last it dawned upon his slow intellect
that he was really dead. As he came near to the gates
of the City of the Dead, there went up a great shout,
Claudius is coming! And straightway a crowd of his
victims went forth to meet him. His kinsmen were there
and his wife,
 and nobles and freedmen, thirty senators among them,
and three hundred and fifteen knights, and a crowd of
common folk like the sand on the sea-shore for
multitude. Claudius stood astonished at the sight.
"Why, the whole place is full of them!" he cried; and
then, stolidly unconscious of his having had anything
to do with their presence, "And pray how did you come
here?" He is carried off to be tried by Æacus, judge of
the dead. Æacus hears the charge against him, declines
to listen to his defence (a proceeding that astonishes
the audience, but is pronounced to be but paying him in
his own coin), and finds him guilty. Then his sentence
Should he take the place of one of the old offenders?
Sisyphus or Tantalus might well give place to him. But
no. If they were released, Claudius might himself hope
for some future remission of his punishment, and that
is not to be thought of. Finally Æacus condemns him to
throw dice for ever out of a dice-box without a bottom.
And so we leave him. It points the story to know that
Claudius had actually a temple and a priesthood
dedicated to him in the British colony of Camalodunum,
and that this was made one of the means of oppression
and extortion which exhausted the patience of the
natives and led to the bloody revolt of the Iceni under
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics