A FAMILY OF PATRIOTS
HE "Opposition" under the régime of the Roman
Empire was an aristocratic party; of popular
revolt against the despotism founded by Julius and
consolidated by Augustus and his successor we scarcely
hear. That despotism was indeed essentially democratic
in its aim and temper. It courted the people, gave them
peace and plenty, and even condescended to listen to
their voices when they fancied themselves aggrieved.
But it found a bitter enemy in the worthier part of the
nobility. When I say "worthier part." I pronounce no
opinion on the respective merits of the Roman despots
and the Roman oligarchs. It may well be doubted whether
the world would have been benefited by the overthrow of
the Empire in favour of the aristocratic conspirators
who from time to time plotted against it. Still it is a
fact that the nobles who hated the Empire were worthier
than the nobles who accepted
 it. They were not satisfied with the safe and ignoble
enjoyment of their large possessions. They looked back
to the days when their ancestors had ruled the world,
and they aspired to restore them. And it is possible to
have respect for their aspirations. There are parties
which are the better for living in the "cold shade of
opposition," and the disaffected aristocrats of the
Empire were vastly superior to the faction so foolish,
so blind, so incapable, which represented the same
class in the last century of the Republic. The subject
of this chapter is a family that belonged to this
In the second year of Claudius (A.D. 42) an effort was
made to change, if not the system of government, at
least the person of the governor. The officer in
command of the armies of Dalmatia bore one of the very
noblest of Roman names, and claimed descent from the
Camillus who had saved Rome from the Gauls. He sent a
letter to the Emperor, bidding him abdicate his throne,
and proclaimed the Republic in his camp. For five days
the soldiers acquiesced, but the idea created no
enthusiasm. At the end of that time the army was in
revolt against their general, and either killed him or
forced him to commit suicide; for the accounts differ.
 his officers was one Cæcina Paetus. We know nothing
about him except that he had been Consul, that he was
implicated in his superior's guilt, and was deemed of
sufficient importance to be sent for to Rome and
brought to trial before the Senate. But his wife was a
remarkable woman. She was with her husband in the camp,
and had doubtless shared his schemes. When he was being
taken to Rome, she begged permission to accompany him.
The officer in command refused. She urged her request.
"A man of his rank," she said, "will of course have his
attendants to wait upon him at table and dress him. You
can save the expense; I will do everything myself."
Still meeting with refusal, she hired a fishing boat,
and followed the ship in which her husband was being
conveyed to Italy. The wife of Camillus turned "King's
evidence," and testified against the accused. Arria
turned fiercely upon her. "You!" she cried, "shall I
listen to you who saw your husband killed in your arms,
and yet endure to live?" The trial, of course, ended in
condemnation. Paetus was allowed to put an end to his
own life. He shrank from the pain. Arria snatched up a
dagger and inflicted on herself a formidable wound. "My
Paetus," she said, "it does not hurt." She was resolved
not to survive her husband. Her son-in-law strove in
vain to change her purpose. "If I
 had to die," he asked, "would you have your daughter
die with me?" "Yes," she answered, "if she has lived as
happily with you as I have with Paetus."
After this she was closely watched. "It is useless,"
she told her family, "you may make my death painful;
but you cannot prevent it." As she said it she jumped
up from her chair, and dashed her head violently
against the opposite wall. Brought back to life, she
said, "You see I was right; I shall find some way to
die, however hard it may be, if you refuse me an easy
one." It is a relief to turn to the picture of a
devotion for which we can feel a less qualified
sympathy. Some years before, her husband and her son
had been dangerously ill. The son, a boy of singular
promise, died; the physicians told her that her husband
must not know it. She took all the charge of the
funeral without his having a suspicion of the truth;
answered his questions about the boy with a cheerful
air—"He has slept well; he has taken his food with
relish." When the tears that she was keeping back were
too strong for her, she would leave the room and weep,
and then come back again composed and calm, "as if,"
says Pliny, who tells the story, "she had left her
bereavement outside the chamber door."
THRASEA AND THE YOUNGER ARRIA
Paetus and Arria seen to have left one daughter, another
Arria. Little is said of her, except that she was
thoroughly loyal to the great traditions of her name.
She had found a worthy husband in the Thrasea who has
been mentioned in the preceding section. Lucius
Thrasea Paetus was born at Patavium (Padua) about A.D.
15. Wealthy and noble, he naturally came to Rome to
seek such a career as the Imperial system still left
open to men of ability.
Of his early life we know no details. That he held the
usual offices we may infer from the fact that in A.D.
47 we find him a member of the Senate. In that year he
undertook the cause of the Cilician provinces against
their infamous governor Capito, and conducted it with
such energy and success that the accused was condemned.
It was a great triumph for Thrasea, but Capito bided
his time for vengeance. It was soon evident to shrewd
observers that he would not have to wait long. Thrasea
began to show in the Senate the independent temper
which was certain sooner or later to bring him into
collision with the ruling powers. He resisted a motion
brought forward by authority. It was but a trifling
mat-  ter, but the courtiers angrily resented his interference.
Thrasea avowed to his friends that his assertion of
independence in small matters was to pave the way to a
similar course in affairs of importance. A small
Opposition was gathering about him. Outside the Senate
his home became the centre of a "liberal" circle.
One of its most distinguished members was the young
Helvidius Priscus, an ardent disciple of the Stoic
school of thought, who lived so faithfully up to his
belief that Thrasea and Arria fixed upon him as a fit
husband for their only child, their daughter Fannia.
Topics more dangerous than philosophy were discussed at
these gatherings. The politics of the circle were
distinctly republican. The birthdays of famous
champions of liberty, of the elder Brutus who drove out
the Tarquins, of the younger Brutus who slew the
Dictator Julius, and of his associate Cassius, were
kept with high festivity. No vintage was too precious
for the cups in which their memory was toasted. "Wine,"
says Juvenal, when he would describe the very costliest
kind, "such as Thrasea and Helvidius used to drink in
high state on the birthdays of the Bruti and of
 In 59 A.D., came the serious occasion which was sure to
occur sooner or later. Nero had reached the climax of
wickedness by the murder of his mother. The Senators
vied with each other in offering shameful flatteries to
the criminal and insults to the dead. This was more
than Thrasea could bear: before his turn came to speak
he left the Senate-house. Nero took no notice at the
time, but he did not forget it.
By his action in the matter of Agrippina, Thrasea, says
Tacitus, "imperilled himself without teaching courage
to his colleagues," yet his example was not wholly
fruitless. In A.D. 62, a certain Antistius was
convicted of having recited at a banquet some
scurrilous verses about Nero. The penalty of death was
proposed, but Thrasea carried the Senate with him when
he moved as an amendment that the milder punishment of
exile should be substituted.
In the following year he had a warning of Nero's
hatred. The Empress Poppæa had given birth to a
daughter, and the Senate went in a body to congratulate
the Emperor on the event. Thrasea was forbidden to
enter the palace. After this he retired as much as
possible from public life, but he could not escape his
fate. Indeed he gave great offence to the Emperor by
absenting himself from the funeral of Poppæa. He was
not one of those who suffered after Piso's conspiracy,
but the end was not long
 delayed. No definite charge was made. His acts of
independence, his marked absence from the Senate, were
the offences brought up against him. The circle of
friends debated whether the accused should or should
not present himself in the Senate to hear and answer
the accusations brought against him. The result was not
doubtful; the only question was whether he should
better consult his own dignity and the interests of
liberty by his presence or absence.
The more fiery spirits among his friends advised him to
go and defy his enemies. One of them even offered to
veto the proceedings in his capacity of tribune. This
last offer Thrasea refused. "He had lived his life," he
said; "his younger friends had theirs before them." The
question itself he left for further deliberation. As a
matter of fact, he did not go. Probably he would not
have been permitted to enter the house, which on the
day of trial was beleaguered with troops. Of course the
verdict of guilty was returned. Thrasea was condemned
to death, but allowed to execute his sentence with his
own hand. Helvidius was banished. The officers who
brought him the news of his condemnation found him in
his gardens, surrounded by a numerous company of
friends. He received the message with philosophic calm,
even expressing some satisfaction that his son-in-law's
life had been spared. His
 friends he recommended to leave him at once, lest the
society of a condemned man should endanger their lives.
To his wife, who was eager to follow the example of her
mother and die with her husband, he counselled life. "Do
not rob our daughter," he said, "of your help and
His son-in-law and his intimate friend, the Stoic
philosopher Demetrius, with whom he had been discussing
the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, were kept
to be with him to the last.
Retiring to his chamber, he severed the veins in both
arms. As the blood flowed forth, he took some on his
hand, and sprinkled it on the ground as a libation,
with the words, "To Jupiter, who sets me free."
After a few more words, from which we only learn that
his death was tedious and painful, the narrative of
Tacitus breaks off.
Helvidius returned from his banishment, which he seems
to have spent with his wife Fannia at Apollonia in
Macedonia, after the death of Nero.
His first act was to indict Marcellus, the man who had
been the instrument of Nero's vengeance on Thrasea.
But the accused was too powerful to be overthrown.
The establishment of Vespasian on the
 throne did not please him. A vigorous Emperor put the
prospect of a republic into a remote distance. All
that he could do now was to assert his independence,
and this he did, with a boldness that certainly
bordered on rashness. Tacitus cannot praise him too
highly; but Suetonius, who was of another temper from
the republican historian, speaks of his violent
language. When the new Emperor came to Rome, Helvidius,
alone among the Senators, saluted him by the name which
he had borne before his elevation to the throne. This
attitude he continued to maintain. At last Vespasian
was provoked into forbidding him to enter the Senate.
Helvidius answered him with characteristic courage.
The dialogue between them is thus given by Epictetus:—
Helvidius. "You can expel me from the Senate; but
while I am yet a member, I must attend its meetings."
Vespasian. "Attend, then, but be silent."
Helvidius. "Do not then ask me for my opinion."
Vespasian. "But I am bound to ask you."
Helvidius. "Then I am bound to say what seems to
Vespasian. "If you say it, I will kill you."
Helvidius. "Have I ever claimed to be immortal?
 Do your part, and I will do mine. Your part is to kill,
mine is to die without fear. Yours is to send me into
exile, mine to go into exile without grief."
And Vespasian did first send him into exile and then
kill him. When it was too late, the fatal order was
recalled. The second messengers were met by the false
report of the victim's death, and did not prosecute
their journey. Had they done so, his life would have
been spared. Vespasian never ceased to regret his act.
wife of Helvidius had accompanied him in his second
exile. After his death she was permitted to return to
Rome. But it was not long before a third period of
exile followed. One of the little band of liberal
thinkers had written the biography of Helvidius. He was
brought to trial for the offence, and pleaded that he
had been requested to write by Fannia, the widow. She
was summoned before the Senate. "Did you ask him to
write?" thundered the prosecutor. "I did," said the
dauntless woman. "Did you give him the diaries of
Helvidius?" "I did." "Did your mother know of it?" "She
did not." She was banished for her share in the matter,
and the books were burnt by the public executioner. But
Fannia contrived to save some copies,
 and carried them with her to her place of banishment.
After the death of Domitian, she and her mother
returned. Pliny took up their case in the Senate, and
endeavoured to obtain the punishment of those who had
driven them into exile. In this he did not succeed, but
the rest of their lives was at least spent in safety
and honour. The last glimpse that we get of Fannia
shows a side of her character that we might, perhaps,
not otherwise have realised. We see her the tender,
"I am grievously troubled," Pliny writes, "by the
ill-health of Fannia. She fell into this while nursing
Junia. The Vestal Virgins, when so seriously ill that
they are compelled to leave the Hall of Vesta, are
committed to the care and guardianship of matrons. It
was while diligently discharging this duty that Fannia
imperilled her own life. She suffers from continual
fever, from a harassing cough, and the greatest
weakness. Her spirit only is unbroken—a spirit
absolutely worthy of Thrasea, her father, and
Helvidius, her husband. A purer, holier, nobler, braver
woman never was! And at the same time, how delightful
she is, how courteous!—how she combines in herself, a
thing that is given only to a few to do, all that is
venerable and all that is sweet! Another thing that
troubles me, is that, in her I seem about to lose again
her mother; she recalls
 that noble woman to us so perfectly, that were we to
lose her, it would open that old wound afresh and
inflict a new. I honoured both, I loved both; which I
honoured and loved most I cannot say, and they would
not have me distinguish."
Whether Fannia lived or died we do not know, but Pliny
speaks as if he had little hope.
My story has been a sad one, but it at least shows that
there were noble men and women even in the worst days