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Sabi'na, Poppaea

first the mistress and afterwards the wife of Nero, belonged to a noble family at Rome, and was one of the most beautiful women of her age. Her father was T. Ollius, who perished at the fall of his patron Sejanus; and her maternal grandfather was Poppaeus Sabinus, who had been consul in A. D. 9, and whose name she assumed as more illustrious than that of her father. Poppaea herself, says Tacitus, possessed every thing except a virtuous mind. From her mother she inherited surpassing beauty; her fortune was sufficient to support the splendour of her birth; her conversation was distinguished by sprightliness and vivacity; and her modest appearance only gave a greater zest to her favours. She rarely appeared in public; and whenever she did so, her face was partially concealed by a veil. She was careless of her reputation; but in her amours she always consulted her interest, and did not gratify blindly either her own passions or those of others. She had been originally married to Rufius Crispinus, praefect of the praetorian troops under Claudius, by whom she had a son, but she afterwards became the mistress of Otho, who was one of the boon companions of Nero, and by whose means she hoped to attract the notice of the emperor. Having obtained a divorce from Rufius, she married Otho. Her husband extolled her charms with such rapture to the emperor, that he soon became anxious to see the lovely wife of his friend. Poppaea, who was a perfect coquette, first employed all her blandishments to win the prince, and when she saw that she had secured her prize she affected modesty, and pleaded that respect for her husband would not allow her to yield to the emperor's wishes. Such conduct had the desired effect. Nero became more ardent in his passion, and to remove Otho out of the way sent him to govern the province of Lusitania. This was in A. D. 58. (Tac. Ann. 13.45, 46.) Other writers give rather a different account of Poppaea's first acquaintance with Nero. They relate that Otho married Poppaea at the request of Nero, who was anxious to conceal the intrigue from his mother, and that the two friends enjoyed her together, till the emperor became jealous of Otho and sent him into Lusitania. This was the account which Tacitus appears to have received when he was composing his Histories (Hist. 1.13); but as he relates the circumstances at greater length in his Annals, which were written subsequently, he had no doubt obtained satisfactory authority for the account which he there gives.

Poppaea now became the acknowledged mistress of Nero, but this did not satisfy her ambition. She was anxious to be his wife. But as long as Agrippina, the mother of Nero, was alive, she could scarcely hope to obtain this honour. She therefore employed all her influence with Nero to excite his resentment against his mother; and by her arts, seconded as they were by the numerous enemies of Agrippina, Nero was induced to put his mother to death in A. D. 59. Still she did not immediately obtain the great object of her desires; for although Nero hated his wife Octavia, he yielded for a time to the advice of his best counsellors, not to divorce the woman who had brought him the empire. At length, however, Poppaea, who still continued to exercise a complete sway over the emperor, induced him to put away Octavia, in A. D. 62, on the plea of barrenness, and to marry her a few days afterwards. But Poppaea did not feel secure as long as Octavia was alive, and by working alternately upon the fears and passions of her husband, she prevailed upon him to put the unhappy girl to death in the course of the same year. [OCTAVIA, No. 3.] Thus two of the greatest crimes of Nero's life, the nurder of his mother and of his wife, were committed at the instigation of Poppaea.

In the following year, A. D. 63, Poppaea was delivered of a daughter at Antium. This event caused Nero the most extravagant joy, and was celebrated with public games and other rejoicings. Poppaea received on the occasion the title of Augusta. The infant, however, died at the age of four months, and was enrolled among the gods. In A.D. 65 Poppaea was pregnant again, but was killed by a kick from her brutal husband in a fit of passion. It was reported by some that he had poisoned her; but Tacitus gave no credit to this account, since Nero was desirous of offspring, and continued to the last enamoured of his wife. Her body was not burnt, according to the Roman custom, but embalmed, and was deposited in the sepulchre of the Julii. She received the honour of a public funeral, and her funeral oration was pronounced by Nero himself. She was enrolled among the gods, and a magnificent temple was dedicated to her by Nero, which bore the inscription Sabinae deae Veneri matronae fecerunt. Nero continued to cherish her memory, and subsequently married a youth of the name of Sporus, on account of his likeness to Poppaea. [SPORUS.] But though the emperor lamented her death, the people rejoiced at it on account of her cruelty and licentiousness; and the only class in the empire who regretted her may have been the Jews, whose cause she had defended. It is rather curious to find Josephus (J. AJ 20.8.11) calling this adulteress and murderess a pious woman. Poppaea was inordinately fond of luxury and pomp, and took immense pains to preserve the beauty of her person. Thus we are told that all her mules were shod with gold, and that five hundred asses were daily milked to supply her with a bath.

Tac. Ann. 13.45, 46, 14.1, 60, 61, 15.23, 16.6, 7, 21; Suet. Nero 35, Oth. 3; Plut. Galb. 19; D. C. 61.11, 12, 62.13, 27, 28, 63.26; Plin. Nat. 11.42. s. 96, 12.18. s. 41, 28.12, s. 50, 33.11. s. 49, 37.3. s. 12; comp. Eckhel, vol. vi. p. 286.)

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