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When Julia and Agrippina were recalled, the act was done without consulting Messalina; and we can imagine her rage when these two women, as beautiful as herself, came back without her permission. Messalina had never found favor in the eyes of Seneca–he treated her with patronizing patience, as though she were a spoilt child.

Now that Julia was back, Messalina hatched the plot that struck them both. Messalina insisted that the wealth of Seneca should be confiscated. Claudius at this rebelled.

History is replete with instances of great men ruled by their barbers and coachmen. Claudius left the affairs of state to Narcissus, his private secretary; Polybius, his literary helper; and Pallas, his accountant. These men were all of lowly birth, and had all risen in the ranks from menial positions, and one of them at least had been sold as a slave, and afterward purchased his freedom. Then there was Felix, the ex-slave, another protege of Claudius, who trembled when Paul of Tarsus told him a little wholesome truth. These men were all immensely rich, and once, when Claudius complained of poverty, a bystander said, “You should go into partnership with a couple of your freedmen, and then your finances would be all right.” The fact that Narcissus, Pallas and Polybius constituted the real government is nothing against them, any more than it is to the discredit of certain Irish refugees that they manage the municipal machinery of New York City–it merely proves the impotence of the men who have allowed the power to slip from their grasp, and ride as passengers when they should be at the throttle.

Messalina managed her husband by alternate cajolings and threats. He was proud of her saucy beauty, and it was pleasing to an old man’s vanity to think that other people thought she loved him. She bore him two sons–by name, Brittanicus and Germanicus. A local wit of the day said, “It was kind of Messalina to present her husband with these boys, otherwise he would never have had any claim on them.”

But the lines were tightening around Messalina, and she herself was drawing the cords. She had put favorites in high places, banished enemies, and ordered the execution of certain people she did not like. Narcissus and Pallas gave her her own way, because they knew Claudius must find her out for himself. They let her believe that she was the real power behind the throne. Her ambitions grew–she herself would be ruler–she gave it out that Claudius was insane. Finally she decided that the time was right for a “coup de grace.” Claudius was absent from Rome, and Messalina wedded at high noon with young Silius, her lover. She was led to believe that the army would back her up, and proclaim her son, Brittanicus, Emperor, in which case, she herself and Silius would be the actual rulers. The wedding festivities were at their height, when the cry went up that Claudius had returned, and was approaching to demand vengeance. Narcissus, the wily, took up the shout, and panic-stricken, Messalina fled for safety in one way and Silius in another.

Narcissus followed the woman, adding to her drunken fright by telling her that Claudius was close behind, and suggested that she kill herself before the wronged man should appear. A dagger was handed her, and she stabbed herself ineffectually in hysteric haste. The kind secretary then, with one plunge of his sword, completed the work so well begun.

A truthful account of Messalina’s death was told to Claudius while he was at dinner. He finished the meal without saying a word, gave a present to the messenger, and went about his business, asking no questions, and never again mentioned the matter.

The fact is worthy of note that the name of Messalina is never once mentioned by Seneca. He pitied her vileness and villainy so much he could not hate her. He saw, with prophetic vision, what her end would be; and when her passing occurred, he was too great and lofty in spirit to manifest satisfaction.