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THE race of the Caesars became extinct in Nero; an event prognosticated by various signs, two of which were particularly significant. Formerly, when Livia, after her marriage with Augustus, was making a visit to her villa at Veii, 1 an eagle flying by, let drop upon her lap a hen, with a sprig of laurel in her mouth, just as she had seized it. Livia gave orders to have the hen taken care of, and the sprig of laurel set; and the hen reared such a numerous brood of chickens, that the villa, to this day, is called the Vila of the Hens. The laurel grove2 flourished so much, that the Caesars procured thence the boughs and crowns they bore at their triumphs. It was also their constant custom to plant others on the same spot, immediately after a triumph; and it was observed that, a little before the death of each prince, the tree which had been set by him died away. But in the last year of Nero, the whole plantation of laurels perished to the very roots, and the hens all died. About the same time, the temple of the Caesars3 being struck with lightning, the heads of all the statues in it fell off at once; and Augustus's sceptre was dashed from his hands.
2 The conventional term for what is most commonly known as,
is retained throughout the translation. But the tree or shrub which had this distinction among the ancients, the Laurus nobilts of botany, the Daphne of the Greeks, is the bay tree, indigenous in Italy, Greece an( the East, and introduced into England about 1562. Our laurel is plant of a very different tribe, the Prunus lauro-cerasus, a native of th Levant and the Crimea, acclimated in England at a later period than the bay.
“The Laurel, meed of mighty conquerors,
And poets sage.
”--Spenser's Faerie Queen.
3 The Temple of the Caesars is generally supposed to be that dedicated by Julius Caesar to Venus Genetrix, from whom the Julian family pretended to derive their descent. See JULIUS, c. lxi.; AUGUSTUS, xcviii. xcix.
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