P. Thra'sea Paetus
, one of those distinguished Romans in the reign of Nero who were disgusted with the tyranny and corruption of the times in which they lived, and endeavored to carry into practice the severer virtues of the Stoic philosophy.
He was a native of Patavium (Padua), and was probably born soon after the death of Augustus. Nothing is related of his early years, and we only know that he was of a noble family, and inherited considerable wealth from his ancestors.
In his youth he devoted himself with ardour to the study of the Stoic philosophy, and he appears at an early period of his life to have made the younger Cato his model, of whose life he wrote an account. (Plut. Cat. Min. 25, 37.
) At what period he settled at Rome, is uncertain, but there he became acquainted with the best spirits of his age. His house and gardens were the place in which the lovers of liberty and virtue were accustomed to assemble, and he himself became the counsellor and friend of them all, and was regarded by them with the utmost veneration and love.
In his marriage he sought a wife of congenial principles.
He married Arria, the daughter of the heroic Arria, who showed her husband Caecina how to die [ARRIA] ; and his wife was worthy of her mother and her husband.
At a later period he gave his own daughter in marriage to Helvidius Priscus, who trod closely in the footsteps of his father-in-law. Thus he was strengthened in his pursuit of high and noble objects by his domestic connections as well as by the friends with whom he constantly associated.
The first time that the name of Thrasea is mentioned in connection with public affairs, is in A. D. 57, when he had already acquired considerable reputation.
In that year he gave the most active support to the Cilicians, in their accusation of their late governor Cossutianus Capito, who, in consequence, gave up his intention of defending himself, and was condemned, and who thus became one (of Thrasea's bitterest enemies. (Comp. Tac. Ann. 13.33
, with 16.21, sub fin.)
In the following year (A. D. 58) Thrasea spoke in the senate on a matter trifling in itself, but which is recorded by the historian (Ann.
13.49) on account of the censure which Thrasea received in consequence from the friends of the court. Shortly after this, in March, A. D. 59, Thrasea acted in a manner far more offensive to the emperor.
In this year the tyrant had killed his mother Agrippina, to whom he owed the throne, and sent a letter to the senate, informing them that she had conspired against his life, and had received the punishment that was her due.
The obsequious senators forthwith proceeded to vote to the matricide all kinds of honours.
This was more than the noble spirit of Thrasea could endure.
He had been accustomed to give his assent in silence or with a few words to the former acts of adulation displayed by the senate towards their imperial master; but now, as soon as he had heard the emperor's letter, he rose from his seat and quitted the house without waiting till it came to his turn to give his opinion. Nero took no public notice of the conduct of Thrasen at the time, but he did not forget it, and only waited for a convenient opportunity to gratify his revenge.
In A. D. 62 Thrasea gave another instance of courage in the senate.
The praetor Antistius had been accused of writing libellous verses against Nero, and the consul elect, to please the emperor, had proposed that the offender should be put to death. Thrasea, on the contrary, maintained that this punishment was too severe, and proposed in its place confiscation of property and banishment to an island.
The freedom of Thrasea broke the spell of slavery.
The majority of the senate voted in favour of his proposition; and although Nero expressed his displeasure at the sentence, Thrasea would not yield, and the senate followed his noble example.
In the course of the same year Thrasea spoke in the senate on occasion of the trial of Claudius Timarchus, of Crete, with great applause, denouncing some of the causes of the evils of the provincial administration, and pointing out their remedy.
In A. D. 63 Thrasea received a public expression of Nero's hatred.
At the beginning of that year the senate went in a body to Antium, to congratulate Nero upon his wife Poppaea having recently given birth to a daughter; but Thrasea alone was forbidden to enter the imperial presence, an intimation of his approaching fate which he received with his usual calmness, for he had often been accustomed to say in the language of the Stoic school, " Nero can kill me, but cannot injure me."
He did not, however, court his fate. During the next three years he retired almost entirely from public life, and was hardly ever seen in the senate. but Nero could neither forget nor forgive him; and accordingly, after he had put to death so many distinguished men on occasion of Piso's conspiracy, he resolved, to use the words of Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 16.21
), to murder Virtue herself, by the execution of Thrasea and his friend Barea Soranus.
The accusation, condemnation, and death of Thrasea, are related by Tacitus, with more than his usual power and we must refer our readers for the details of the tragic scene to the masterly pages of the great historian.
The accusation against Thrasea was placed in the hands of his old enemy Cossutianus Capito, and of Eprius Marcellus. One of his friends, Arulenus Rusticus, who was then tribune of the people, offered to put his veto upon the decree of the senate, but Thrasea would not allow him thus to sacrifice his life. On the day of his impeachment the temple of Venus, where the senate assembled, was surrounded by soldiers, and bodies of troops were stationed in all the public buildings and open places of the city.
The senators had no alternative but submission or death. They gratified the wishes of the emperor by condemning Thrasea and Barea Soranus to death, and Helvidius Priscus, Thrasea's son-in-law, to banishment. Thrasea was allowed the choice of his own death.
It was late in the day when the senate pronounced its sentence; and the consul forthwith sent his quaestor to carry the fatal news to Thrasea.
He was in his gardens conversing with his friends, and was at that moment more particularly engaged in conversation with the Cynic philosopher Demetrius; and the subject of their discussion, as far as could be gathered from the few words that were overheard, appeared to be the immortality of the soul.
The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Domitius Caecilianus, one of Thrasea's most intimate' friends, who informed him of the senate's decision. Thrasea forthwith dismissed his friends, that they might not be involved in the fate of a condemned person ; and when his wife wished to follow the example of her mother, and die with her husband, he enrtreated her to preserve her life for the sake of their daughter.
He then went into a colonnade, where he awaited the arrival of the quaestor. When the latter had delivered to him the decree of the senate, he retired into his chamber with Demetrius and Helvidius Priscus, and there had the veins of both his arms cut.
As the blood gushed forth, he said " Let us offer a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer," and their, addressing a few words to the quaestor, he calmly awaited the approach of death. His last words were spoken to Demetrius, but these, unfortunately, are not preserved, as the existing MSS. of the Annals of Tacitus break off at this point. Thrasea perished in A. D. 66, two years before the death of Nero. His panegyric was written by his friend and admirer, Arulenus Rusticus, who was in consequence put to death by Domitian. (Tac. Ann. 13.49
2.91, 4.5, Agric. 2 ; D. C. 61.15
; Suet. Nero 37
, Dom. 10 ; Plin. Ep. 7.19
; Plut. Praccep. Reip. Gerend. 100.14,
p. 810a.; Arrian, Dissert.
1.1.26; Mart. 1. 9
; Juv. 5.36