Thursday, October 24, 2013

Augustus and the Eels

Even the emperor Augustus had limits to how much cruelty he would put up with.

Yes, the emperor Augustus was a ruthless bastard, but he wasn’t the worst of the Roman lot.
“Vedius had tanks where he kept giant eels that had been trained to devour men, and he was in the habit of throwing to them slaves that had incurred his displeasure,” wrote biographer Anthony Everitt.
“Once, when he was entertaining Augustus at dinner, a waiter broke a valuable crystal goblet. Paying no attention to his guest, the infuriated Vedius ordered the slave to be thrown to the eels. The boy fell to his knees in front of the princeps, begging for protection. Augustus tried to persuade Vedius to change his mind. When Vedius paid no attention, he said: ‘Bring all you other drinking vessels like this one, or any others of value that you possess for me to use.’
“When they were brought, he ordered them all to be smashed. Vedius could not punish a servant for an offense Augustus had repeated, and the waiter was pardoned.”
The moral: Contrary to the Republican mythology, it’s not the poor but the rich and the powerful who develop a sense of entitlement, and its potential enormity apparently has no limits.
Source: “Augustus” by Anthony Everitt

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