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Suetonius: the story of Laetus and Otho


Bust of Otho, Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Otho (Musei Capitolini, Roma; **)
In his Life of Otho, section 10, Suetonius gives us a brief glimpse of the history of his family. He tells how his father, Suetonius Laetus, was present when the emperor decided to commit suicide after the lost battle of Cremona. The translation was made by J.C. Rolfe.

My father Suetonius Laetus took part in that war, as a tribune of the equestrian order in the Thirteenth legion. He used often to declare afterwards that Otho, even when he was a private citizen, so loathed civil strife, that the at the mere mention of the fate of Brutus and Cassius at a banquet he shuddered; that he would not have engaged with Galba, if he had not felt confident that the affair could be settled peacefully; further, that he was led to hold his life cheap at that time by the example of a common soldier. This man -on bringing news of the defeat of the army- was believed by no one, but was charged by the soldiers now with falsehood and now with cowardice, and accused of running away; whereupon he fell on his sword at the emperor's feet. My father used to say that at this sight Otho cried out that he would no longer endanger the lives of such brave men, who had deserved so well. 

Having therefore advised his brother, his nephew, and his friends one by one to look out each for his own safety as best they could, he embraced and kissed them all and sent them off. Then going to a retired place he wrote two notes, one of consolation to his sister, and one to Nero's widow Messalina, whom he had intended to marry, commending to her his corpse and his memory. Then he burned all his letters, to prevent them from bringing danger or harm to anyone at the hands of the victor. He also distributed what money he had with him among his servants. 

When he had thus made his preparations and was now resolved upon death, learning from a disturbance which meantime arose that those who were beginning to depart and leave the camp were being seized and detained as deserters, he said 'Let us add this one more night to our life' (these were his very words), and he forbade the offering of violence to anyone. Leaving the door of his bedroom open until a late hour, he gave the privilege of speaking with him to all who wished to come in. After that, quenching his thirst with a draught of cold water, he caught up two daggers, and having tried the point of both of them, put one under his pillow. Then closing the doors, he slept very soundly. When he at last woke up at about daylight, he stabbed himself with a single stroke under the left breast; and now concealing the wound, and now showing it to those who rushed in at his first groan, he breathed his last and was hastily buried (for such were his orders) in the thirty-eighth year of his age and on the ninety-fifth day of his reign.


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