The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/To His Soldiers Before Committing Suicide

Reported by Tacitus.

4103528The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — To His Soldiers Before Committing SuicideMarcus Otho Caesar Augustus



(69 A.D.)

To expose to further perils such spirit and such virtue as you now display, would, I deem, be paying too costly a price for my life. The more brilliant the prospects which you hold out to me, were I disposed to live, the more glorious will be my death. I and Fortune have made trial of each other—for what length of time is not material; but the felicity which does not promise to last, it is more difficult to enjoy with moderation. Yitellius began the Civil War; and he originated our contest for the princedom. It shall be mine to establish a precedent, by preventing a second battle for it.

By this let posterity judge of Otho. Vitellius shall be blessed with his brother, his wife, and children. I want no revenge, nor consolations. Others have held the sovereign power longer; none has resigned it with equal fortitude. Shall I again suffer so many of the Roman youth, so many gallant armies to be laid low, and cut off from the commonwealth? Let this resolution of yours to die for me, should it be necessary, attend me in my departure; but live on yourselves. Neither let me long obstruct your safety, nor do you retard the proof of my constancy. To descant largely upon our last moments is the act of a dastard spirit. Hold it as an eminent proof of the fixedness of my purpose, that I complain of no man! for to arraign or gods or men is the part of one who fain would live.[1]

  1. Of Otho's funeral, Tacitus says: "He was borne on the shoulders of the pretorian soldiers, who kissed his hands and his wound amid tears and praises. Some of the soldiers slew themselves at the funeral pile, not from any consciousness of guilt, nor from fear, but in emulation of the bright example of their prince, and to show their affection. At Bedriacum, Placentia, and other camps, numbers of every rank adopted that mode of death. A sepulcher was raised to the memory of Otho, of ordinary structure, but likely to endure." In a note to Sir. Yonge's translation, we are reminded that Plutarch visited Otho's tomb at Brixellum, now Brescello, on the river Po. Its materials have long since molded away, but the epitaph, written by Martial, still lives. The poet, while admitting that Otho led a dissolute life, adds that in his end he was not inferior to Cato:

    "Quum dubitaret adhuc belli civilis Enyo,
    Forsitan et posset vineere mollis Ortho;
    Damnavit multo staturum sanguine Martem,
    Et fodit certa pectora nuda manu.
    Sit Cato dum vivit, sane vel Cæsar major;
    Dum moritur, numquid major Othone fuit."
    —Lib. vi, 32.