See also full text of Suetonius: Life of Augustus [At Ancient History Sourcebook]
[Loeb Translation, 1913]
LXVIII. In early youth he incurred the reproach of sundry shameless acts. Sextus Pompey
taunted him with effeminacy; Mark Antony with having earned adoption by his uncle through
unnatural relations; and Lucius, brother of Mark Antony, that after sacrificing his honour
to Caesar he had given himself to Aulus Hirtius in Spain for three hundred thousand
sesterces, and that he used to singe his legs with red-hot nutshells, to make the hair
grow softer. What is more, one day when there were plays in the theatre, all the people
took as directed against him and loudly applauded the following line, spoken on the stage
and referring to a priest of the Mother of the Gods, as he beat his drum:
See'st how a wanton's finger sways the world ?
LXIX. That he was given to adultery not even his friends deny, although it is true that
they excuse it as committed not from passion bat from policy, the more readily to get
track of his adversaries designs through the women of their house holds. Mark Antony
charged him, besides his hasty marriage with Livia, with taking the wife of an ex-consul
from her husband's dining room before his very eyes into a bed-chamber, and bringing her
back to the table with her hair in disorder and her ears glowing; that Scribonia was
divorced because she expressed her resentment too freely at the excessive influence of a
rival; that his friends acted as his panders, and stripped and inspected matrons and
well-grown girls, as if Toranius the slave-dealer were putting them up for sale. Antony
also writes to Augustus himself in the following familiar terms, when he had not yet
wholly broken with him privately or publicly: "What has made such a change in you ?
Because I lie with the queen ? She is my wife. Am I just beginning this, or was it nine
years ago ? What then of you-do you lie only with Drusilla? Good luck to you if when you
read this letter you have not been with Tertulla or Terentilla or Rufilla or Salvia
Titisenia, or all of them. Does it matter where or with whom you take your pleasure ?
LXX. There was besides a private dinner of his, commonly called that of the
"twelve gods," which was the subject of gossip. At this the guests appeared in
the guise of gods and goddesses, while he himself was made up to represent Apollo, as was
charged not merely in letters of Antony, who spitefully gives the names of all the guests,
but also in these anonymous lines, which everyone knows:
As soon as that table of rascals had secured a choragus and Mallia saw six gods and six
goddesses, while Caesar impiously plays the false role of Apolloand feasts amid novel
debaucheries of the gods; then all the deities turned their faces from the earth and
Jupiter himself fled from his golden throne.
The scandal of this banquet was the greater because of dearth and famine in the land at
the time, and on the following day there was an outcry that the gods had eaten all the
grain and that Caesar was in truth Apollo, but Apollo the Tormentor, a surname Funder
which the god was worshipped in one part of the city. He was criticized too as over fond
of costly furniture and Corinthian bronzes and as given to gaming. Indeed, as early as the
time of the proscriptions there was written on his statue-
In silver once my father dealt, now in Corinthians"
since it was believed that he caused some men to be entered in the list of the
proscribed because of their Corinthian vases. Later, during the Sicilian war, this epigram
After he has twice been beaten at sea and lost his ships, he plays at dice all the
time, in the hope of winning one victory.
LXXI. Of these charges or slanders (whichever we may call them) he easily refuted that
for unnatural vice by the purity of his life at the time and afterwards; so too the odium
of extravagance by the fact that when he took Alexandria, he kept none of the furniture of
the palace for himself except a single agate cup, and presently melted down all the golden
vessels intended for everyday use. He could not dispose of the charge of lustfulness and
they say that even in his later years he was fond of deflowering maidens, who were brought
together for him from all quarters, even by his own wife. He did not in the least shrink
from a reputation for gaming, and played frankly and openly for recreation, even when he
was well on in years, not only in the month of December, but on other holidays as well,
and on working days too. There is no question about this, for in a letter in his own
handwriting he says:
I dined, dear Tiberius, with the same company; we had besides as guests Vinicius and
the elder Silius. We gambled like old men during the meal both yesterday and to-day; for
when the dice were thrown, whoever turned up the "dog" [*when only aces
appeared, the throw was called a canis; when all the dice turned up different
numbers Venus] or the six, put a denarius in the pool for each one of the dice, and
the whole was taken by anyone who threw the ' Venus.'
Again in another letter:
We spent the Quinquatria [*five day festival of Minerva, March 20-25] very merrily, my
dear Tiberius, for we played all day long and kept the gaming-board warm. Your brother
made a great outcry about his luck, but after all did not come out far behind in the long
run; for after losing heavily, he unexpectedly and little by little got back a good deal.
For my part, I lost twenty thousand sesterces, but because I was extravagantly generous in
my play, as usual. If I had demanded of everyone the stakes which I let go, or had kept
all that I gave away, I should have won fully fifty thoasand. But I like that better, for
my generosity will exalt me to immortal glory."
To his daughter he writes:
"I send you two hundred and fifty denarii, the sum which I gave each of my guests,
in case they wished to play at dice or at odd and even during the dinner."
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© Paul Halsall, November 1998