Headline: Emperor’s Pedantry Nearly Ruins Naval Battle

Suetonius, Divus Claudius (21)

Before he drained the Fucine Lake, Claudius commissioned a mock naval battle. When the marine combatants shouted, ‘Ave emperor, those who are about to die salute you,’ Claudius responded, ‘Or perhaps those not about to die.’ After hearing these words, no one wanted to fight, as if some special forbearance had been granted. Claudius doubted for a while whether he should have all of them killed by fire and sword, but then he finally got up from his seat, and hurrying about along the extent of the lake (not without an ugly wavering motion), he, partly through threats and partly through exhortation, finally compelled them to battle. In this battle, the fleets of Sicily and Rhodes came against each other; each of the fleets was made of twelve triremes, and the signal was given by a silver Triton playing a trumpet, which had emerged from the middle of the lake by means of a machine.

Quin et emissurus Fucinum lacum naumachiam ante commisit. Sed cum proclamantibus naumachiariis: “Have imperator, morituri te salutant!” Respondisset: “Aut non,” neque post hanc vocem quasi venia data quisquam dimicare vellet, diu cunctatus an omnes igni ferroque absumeret, tandem e sede sua prosiluit ac per ambitum lacus non sine foeda vacillatione discurrens partim minando partim adhortando ad pugnam compulit. Hoc spectaculo classis Sicula et Rhodia concurrerunt, duodenarum triremium singulae, exciente bucina Tritone argenteo, qui e medio lacu per machinam emerserat.

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