Narration

The Trial of Piso before the Roman Senate

   Agrippina enters the Curia, and all the old senators find themselves faced with this woman venerable in her misfortune, and all these men in whom servility has extinguished all noble feelings feel an unknown desire for justice born in their heart. They respectfully welcome Agrippina and hear with pleasure the shouts of the people outside: "Death to Piso! death to the assassin!"
   Only a few friends of Piso stand up and ask in the name of the Empire that the accused be judged dispassionately:
    "Senators, do you allow yourselves then to be influenced by the shouts of a vile mob or by a woman's tears? Remember that Rome's greatness if founded on justice as well as glory! Do you have the courage then to condemn without trial, to sentence to death without appeal? No, you owe it to yourselves, you owe it to the Empire, you owe it to the emperor to remain dispassionate in your judgement. May passion be excluded form your decisions. Listen to the defendant with as much favour as the accuser. Remember that the life of a man and the honour of a family depend on your decision. Demonstrate that Rome has not become degenerate."
   Agrippina herself is moved by the wisdom of this speech, and fearing that her prey may escape her, she stands up, her eyes on fire and says in a vehement voice:
   "Germanicus is dead, and his murderer lives! This perfidy has poisoned him: he did not dare to try his strength in equal combat with the conqueror of the Germans; so he killed him traitorously. He is an assassin. He has attacked the emperor by killing his heir; he has put the possessions of the Empire at risk by killing their conqueror; he has violated all honest folk by killing Germanicus. Before all then is he injurious to the state and it is the voice of public interest that impels me to demand his death. But now, oh you senators, consider my predicament: I who saw my husband return from rebellions safe and sound, who have seen him stand calm amid legions in revolt, I see him shamefully poisoned. At the sight of me soldiers intoxicated by the blood of their masters have been moved to pity: will she not demand vengeance from you, oh senators? Be mindful that if you leave Piso unpunished it will be an eternal shame upon you. He is a bad citizen: remove from him then the rank of citizenship. Perhaps you are going to suggest exile? But the traitor who killed Germanicus will ally himself with barbarians for whom the assassination of a foremost general of the Empire is a title of glory: no, no, Piso must be condemned to death. That is his dessert as a rebel against the emperor."
   Carried away by the ardour of this speech, intoxicated by the spectacle of this woman, whose august beauty is intensified further by her fury, they allow themselves to be swept along against Piso. His death sentence is about to be pronounced.
   But they see the emperor remain impassive and, ashamed of allowing themselves to be lead on some distance from their leader, to have disappointed him perhaps, they stammer bashfully, talk about Piso's courage, of the duties he has performed, when in walks Sejanus holding a bloody dagger in his hand:
   "Behold the weapon", he says, "with which Piso has taken his own life. When I went into his prison cell, thinking that it was the people who were coming, he killed himself so as not to fall into the hands of his fellow-citizens alive. When he saw me, realizing his mistake, he said in a dying breath: "I thought the people had come and I did not want to die at their hands: I regret that hasty act, because I would have liked to explain to the Senate that I was innocent, and save my name from the disgrace that would ever be attached to it." I then told him that the emperor would at least show pity to his son and I implored him to tell me if he was guilty. Then raising himself up again he swore to me in a great oath to the gods that he was innocent, and the next moment a stream of blood came from his mouth and he fell down dead. So then, he was innocent, because a dying man will not damn himself to all eternity through perjury, especially when his fatherly love no longer had anything to fear."
   But at these words Gnaeus stands up, his face flushed with suppressed rage, and says in a hoarse voice:
   "Oh, Sejanus, you are very cunning and play the ignorant, but my father told me everything: he was guilty, but on the orders of Tiberius. The emperor thought he must bury this secret at all costs and resolved that it would perish along with Piso, but as the illustrious accused would have spoken before the Senate, he had him murdered in his prison cell: but all in vain, because my father had confessed his secret to me."
   Then in an ironical voice:
   "I am of course very grateful to the emperor that he had already found it more than enough to have Piso die a violent death without trial - when he had done nothing but obey the orders of his prince - and that he at least wanted to restore his good name by inventing this fable. But the truth will out: my father was guilty, but Tiberius more so, and when you say, Agrippina, that Piso had attacked the emperor by killing his heir, you are strangely deceived, because it was the emperor himself who had ordered the death of Germanicus. As for myself I must end my own life, after having demonstrated the infamy of the emperor and the perfidy of Sejanus."
   With these words, tearing the dagger from Sejanus's hands, he plunged it into his breast.
   Upon this sudden revelation Tiberius sees all his plans foiled, sees himself covered in shame, feels himself hated. He knows very well that nobody will let slip a single sign of contempt, but he knows very well that deep in their hearts they will slander him. His spirit already bitter and brimming with gall, turns even darker still: he is transported by rage, not by frank and exuberant rage, but a rage that he locks away in his heart; the muscles of his face betray no emotion, but he is stirred by terrible resolutions and he promises himself to have all the senators put to death, guilty of knowing his secret, and to banish Agrippina whose frank nature was already unbearable to him, and to whom he had made himself odious.
   As or her, without bursting forth with invectives against the emperor, she leaves casting him a gare of supreme contempt and goes over to weep beside Gnaeus's body: the emperor's treachery had indeed absolved Piso for her.
   And all the while, the senators are leaving in a tumult, not daring to face the emperor after such a storm.

School French composition, c. 1883 - 1884.

 


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