THE MURDER OF AN EMPRESS
 NERO was lord of Rome. Chance had placed a weak and
immoral boy in unlimited control of the greatest of
nations. Utterly destitute of principle, he gradually
descended into the deepest vice and profligacy, which
was soon succeeded by the basest cruelty and treachery.
And one of the first victims of his treachery was his
own mother, who had murdered her husband, the Emperor
Claudius, to place him on the throne, and had now
committed the deeper fault of attempting to control her
worthless and faithless son.
She had threatened to replace him on the throne with
his half-brother Britannicus, and Nero had escaped this
difficulty by poisoning Britannicus. She then opposed
his vicious passions, and made a bitter foe of his
mistress Poppæa, who by every artifice incensed the
weak-minded emperor against his mother, representing
her as the only obstacle to his full enjoyment of power
At length the detestable son was wrought up to the
resolution of murdering her to whom he owed his life.
But how? He was too cowardly and irresolute to take
open means. Should he remove her by poison or the
poignard? The first was doubtful.
 Agrippina was too practised in guilt, too accustomed to
vile deeds, to be easily deceived, and had, moreover,
by taking poisons, hardened her frame against their
effect. Nor could she be killed by the knife and the
murder concealed. The murder-seeking wretch, who had no
plan, and no stronger person than himself in whom he
could confide, was at a loss how to carry out his
At this juncture his tutor Anicetus came to his aid.
This villain, who bitterly hated Agrippina, was now in
command of the fleet that lay at Misenum. He proposed
to Nero to have a vessel built in such a manner that it
might give way in the open sea, and plunge to the
bottom with all not prepared to escape. If Agrippina
could be lured on board such a vessel, her drowning
would seem one of the natural disasters of the open
This suggestion filled with joy the mind of the
unnatural son. The court was then at Baiæ, celebrating
the festival called the Quinquatria. Agrippina was
invited to attend, and Nero, pretending a desire for
reconciliation, went to the sea-shore to meet her on
her arrival, embraced her tenderly, and conducted her
to a villa in a pleasant situation, looking out on a
charming bay of the Mediterranean.
On the waters of the bay floated a number of vessels,
among which was one superbly decorated, being prepared,
as she was told, in her honor as the emperor's mother.
This was intended to convey her to Baiæ, where a
banquet was to be given to her that evening.
 Agrippina was fond of sailing. She had frequently
joined coasting parties and made pleasure trips of her
own. But for some reason, perhaps through suspicion of
Nero's dark project, she now took a carriage in
preference, and arrived safely at Baiæ, much to the
discomfiture of her worthless son.
Nero, however, was cunning enough to conceal his
disappointment. He gave her the most gracious
reception, placed her at table above himself, and by
his affectionate attentions and his easy flow of talk
succeeded in dispelling any suspicions his mother may
The banquet was continued till a late hour, and when
Agrippina rose to go Nero attended her to the shore,
where lay the sumptuously decorated vessel ready to
convey her back to her villa. Here he lavished upon her
marks of fond affection, clasped her warmly to his
bosom, and bade her adieu in words of tender regret,
disguising his fell purpose under the utmost show of
Agrippina went on board, attended by only two of her
train, one of whom, a maid named Acerronia, lay at the
foot of her mistress's couch, and gladly expressed her
joy at the loving reconciliation which she had just
The night was calm and serene. The stars shone with
their brightest lustre. The sea extended with an
unruffled surface. The vessel moved swiftly, at no
great distance from the shore, under the regular sweep
of the rowers' oars. Yet little way had been made when
there came a disastrous change. A signal was given, and
suddenly the deck over
Agrip-  pina's cabin sank in, borne down by a great weight
One of the attendants of the empress was crushed to
death, but the posts of Agrippina's couch proved strong
enough to bear the weight, and she and Acerronia
escaped and made their way hastily to the deck. Here
confusion and consternation reigned. The plot had
failed. The vessel had not fallen to pieces at once, as
intended. Those who were not in the plot rushed wildly
to and fro, hampering, by their distracted movements,
the operations of the guilty. These sought to sink the
vessel at once, but in spite of their efforts the ship
sank but slowly, giving the intended victims an
opportunity to escape.
Acerronia, with instinctive devotion to her mistress,
or a desire to save her own life, cried out that she
was Agrippina, and pathetically implored the mariners
to save her life. She won death instead. The assassins
attacked her with oars and other weapons, and beat her
down to the sinking deck. Agrippina, on the contrary,
kept silent, and, with the exception of a wound on her
shoulder, remained unhurt. Dashing into the dark waters
of the bay, she swam towards the shore, and managed to
keep herself afloat till taken up by a boat, in which
some persons who had witnessed the accident from the
shore had hastily put out. Telling her rescuers who she
was, they conveyed her up the bay to her villa.
Agrippina had been concerned in too many crimes of her
own devising to be deceived. The treachery of her son
was too evident. Without touching a rock, and in
complete calm, the vessel had suddenly
 broken down, as if constructed for the purpose. Her own
wound and the murder of her maid were further proofs of
a preconcerted plot. Yet she was too shrewd to make her
suspicions public. The plot had failed, and she was
still alive. She at once despatched a messenger to her
son, saying that by the favor of the gods and his good
auspices she had escaped shipwreck, and that she thus
hastened to quiet his affectionate fears. She then
retired to her couch.
Meanwhile Nero waited impatiently for the news of his
mother's death. When word was at length brought him
that she had escaped, his craven soul was filled with
terror. If this should get abroad; if she should call
on her slaves, on the army, on the senate; if the
people should learn of the plot of murder, and rise in
riot; if any of a dozen contingencies should happen,
all might be lost.
The terrified emperor was in a frightful quandary. He
sent in all haste for his advisers, but none of them
cared to offer any suggestions. At length the villanous
Anicetus came to his aid. While they talked the
messenger of Agrippina had arrived, and was admitted to
give his message to the prince. As he was speaking
Anicetus foxily let fall a dagger between his legs. He
instantly seized him, snatched up the dagger and showed
it to the company, and declared that the wretch had
been sent by Agrippina to assassinate her son. The
guards were called in, the man was ordered to be
dragged away and put in fetters, and the story of the
discovered plot of Agrippina was made public.
 "Death to the murderess!" cried Anicetus. "Let me
hasten at once to her punishment."
Nero gladly assented, and Anicetus hurried from the
room, empowered to carry out his murderous intent.
Meanwhile the news of the peril and escape of the
empress had spread far and wide. A dreadful accident
had occurred, it was said. The people rushed in numbers
to the shore, crowded the piers, filled the boats, and
gave voice to a medley of cries of alarm. The uproar
was at length allayed by some men with lighted torches,
who assured the excited multitude that Agrippina had
escaped and was now safe in her villa.
While they were speaking a body of soldiers, led by
Anicetus, arrived, and with threats of violence
dispersed the peasant throng. Then, planting a guard
round the mansion, Anicetus burst open its doors,
seized the slaves who appeared, and forced his way to
the apartment of the empress.
Here Agrippina waited in fear and agitation the return
of her messenger. Why came he not? Was new murder in
contemplation? She heard the tumult and confusion on
the shore, and learned from her attendants what it
meant. But the noise was suddenly hushed; a dismal
silence prevailed; then came new noises, then loud
tones of command, and violent blows on the outer doors.
In dread of what was coming, the unhappy woman waited
still, till loud steps sounded in the passage, the
attendants at her door were thrust aside, and armed men
entered her chamber.
 The room was in deep shadow, only the pale glimmer of a
feeble light breaking the gloom. A single maid remained
with the empress, and she, too, hastened to the door on
hearing the tramp of war-like feet.
"Do you, too, desert me?" cried Agrippina, in deep
At that moment Anicetus entered the room, followed by
two other ruffians. They approached her bed. She rose
to receive them.
"If you come from the prince," she said, "tell him I am
well. If your intents are murderous, you are not sent
by my son. The guilt of parricide is foreign to his
Her words were checked by a blow on the head with a
club. A sword-thrust followed, and she expired under a
number of mortal wounds. Thus died the niece, the wife,
and the mother of an emperor, the daughter of the
celebrated soldier Germanicus, herself so stained with
vice that none can pity her fate, particularly as she
had committed the further unconscious crime of giving
birth to the monster named Nero.
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