Lusus Naturae (Erotic Chaos)


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The temporal adverb mox presumably refers to a point in time in the same year AD What do you think is going on? And does your Tacitus want us to fathom, to wonder, or to flounder? See Cassius Dio It is not entirely clear whether his measure was effective, ineffectual to begin with, or fell into abeyance after a while. The law aimed to end both aspects of this practice i. The sentence has an air of formality and may well be modelled on the language of the decree itself. The concilium met, usually, once a year, and after the rites discussed any business that concerned the province.

Any formal expressions of thanks would be voted here, and conveyed by a delegation to the Senate. Suetonius, Augustus The normal formulation would have been the inverse, i. Tacitus varies or evades it. This is a regular feature of his narrative and serves a variety of purposes. The Romans themselves traced the beginnings of the practice of writing year-by-year chronicles to the custom of the pontifex maximus recording on a board tabula kept on display outside his place of residence a the names of the high magistrates and b key events of public significance, not least those of a religious nature such as prodigies, on a yearly basis.

The recording started from scratch each year, but the priesthood of the pontiffs also archived the information thus collected. Prodigies are divine signs, and their recording situates the narrative within a supernatural context. What follows are some pointers for how Tacitus integrates the sphere of the divine into his narrative universe. Griffin, for instance, identifies four supernatural forces to which Tacitus appeals in his narrative to render events intelligible: i divine intervention; ii fate, in the Stoic sense of an unalterable chain of natural causes; iii destiny, as determined by the time of our birth, i.

Here is a look at some representative passages that are particularly pertinent for an appreciation of To begin with, it is important to stress that Tacitus recognizes the gods as a force in history that strikes emperors and senators alike. See, for instance, Annals Isdem diebus nimia luxus cupido infamiam et periculum Neroni tulit, quia fontem aquae Marciae ad urbem deductae nando incesserat; videbaturque potus sacros et caerimoniam loci corpore loto polluisse.

The grave illness that followed confirmed the wrath of the gods. They cause havoc, and not only for the princeps. In the wake of the conspiracy of Piso, the wrath of the gods somehow encompasses all of Roman society. Annals Tot facinoribus foedum annum etiam di tempestatibus et morbis insignivere. Equitum senatorumque interitus, quamvis promisci, minus flebiles erant, tamquam communi mortalitate saevitiam principis praevenirent.

Campania was laid waste by a whirlwind, which wrecked the farms, the fruit trees, and the crops far and wide and carried its violence to the vicinity of the capital, where the force of a deadly disease decimated the human population at all levels of society, even though there was no visible sign of unwholesome weather conditions. But the houses were filled with lifeless bodies, the streets with funerals. Neither sex nor age gave immunity from danger; slaves and the free-born population alike died like flies, amid the laments of their wives and children, who, while tending to the ill and mourning the deceased , became infected, died, and often were burnt on the same pyre.

The deaths of knights and senators, while likewise indiscriminate, gave less rise to lamentation, since it appeared as if they were cheating the savagery of the emperor by undergoing the common lot. In some cases, divine retribution for an act of transgression is virtually instantaneous: witness the illness that befell Nero shortly after his inadvisable swim.

Too big a gap generates disbelief in the efficacy of prodigies — and the gods. Tacitus himself draws attention to this problem at Annals Miro tamen certamine procerum decernuntur supplicationes apud omnia pulvinaria, utque quinquatrus, quibus apertae insidiae essent, ludis annuis celebrarentur, aureum Minervae simulacrum in curia et iuxta principis imago statuerentur, dies natalis Agrippinae inter nefastos esset. Thrasea Paetus silentio vel brevi adsensu priores adulationes transmittere solitus exiit tum senatu, ac sibi causam periculi fecit, ceteris libertatis initium non praebuit.

This time, Thrasea Paetus, who was wont to let earlier instances of flattery pass either in silence or with a curt assent, walked out of the senate, creating a source of danger for himself, without opening up a gateway to freedom for the others. Portents, too, appeared, frequent and futile: a woman gave birth to a snake, another was killed by a thunderbolt during intercourse with her husband; the sun, again, was suddenly eclipsed and the fourteen regions of the capital were struck by lightning.

These events happened so utterly without any concern of the gods that Nero continued his reign and his crimes for many years to come. Yet Tacitus goes on to dismiss the prodigia as ineffectual because the warning they supposedly constituted resulted neither in a change of behaviour and ritual amendment to avert the apparently imminent danger nor in supernatural punishment of the real criminal, the emperor. The fact that Nero kept on living a life of crime for years to come suggests to Tacitus that the apparent portents lacked divine purpose.

Moreover, as the passage from Annals 16 that we just cited illustrates, before Nero gets his comeuppance he visits Roman society like a wrathful divinity himself. Ultimately, divine efficacy in Roman history has become inscrutable and unpredictable. The world that Tacitus records eludes easy understanding.

Some aspects of it are both re-prehensible and incomprehensible. Communication at all levels is seriously distorted. Tacitus mentions its dedication at the very end of his account of AD 61 Griffin uses Ann. Nero] dedicated his new public baths in Rome, a complex that included a gymnasium. Perhaps something else entirely is going on: could Tacitus have slyly shifted the date of the dedication of the gymnasium back a year so that he could correlate the endings of his accounts of AD 61 Has the desire for a suggestive artistic design here overruled the principle of chronological accuracy?

As the name suggests, it was a quintessentially Greek institution — a place for athletic exercise in particular wrestling , communal bathing, and other leisure pursuits such as philosophy. He certainly built gymnasia at Rome, Baiae, and Naples; wrestlers competed at his Neronia; he enjoyed watching them in Naples; and he actually employed court wrestlers, luctatores auli. Contemporary rumor had it that he intended himself to compete in the next Olympic Games among the athletes, for he wrestled constantly and watched gymnastic contests throughout Greece In part, the structure of his narrative provides an eloquent interpretation: it is hardly coincidental that he should have concluded his account of AD 61 with the dedication of the gymnasium by Nero and his account of AD 62 with instances of divine wrath directed against the building and the statue of the emperor contained therein.

Tacitus thus chiastically interrelates the end of 61, the end of 62, and the beginning of End of obituary of Memmius Regulus pater Just as the corporeal being of the emperor, as supreme ruler of the Mediterranean, was endowed with his divine essence or genius, and came to be elevated conceptually above the bodies of his subjects, so too imperial images were conceived differently from those of private individuals.

Unlike most of their subjects, the emperor or empress could exist as effigies in multiple bodies that took the form of portrait statues populating every kind of Roman environment such as fora , basilicae , temples, baths, military camps and houses. New principes , especially if they belonged to a different dynasty, tended systematically to do away with the artistic representations of their predecessors. Divine displeasure at the Hellenizing shenanigans of the emperor could not have been articulated more clearly.

The lightning bolt is the hallmark of Jupiter: so this message comes from the top. This earthquake, which Seneca, in his Natural Histories 6. Hence there is a proleptic point in magna ex parte : Tacitus and his readers would of course have read this passage with the later catastrophe in mind, turning the earthquake mentioned here into an ominous prefiguration of greater evil to come, though not specifically related to the reign of Nero but easily relatable to the imminent fall of the first dynasty of Caesars.

Seismic activity has natural causes but frequently features the same temporal logic as prodigies, insofar as a minor tremor or eruption — at times many years in advance — is then followed by a cataclysmic outbreak. Likewise, prodigies constituted a preliminary indication of divine displeasure that issued a warning of an imminent disaster but also afforded a precious window of opportunity to make amends, appease the gods, and thus avert it. The Romans understood extreme natural events as divinely motivated signs, but were unaware of — or refused to believe in — the ineluctability of natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions; they preferred to invest in the conviction that proper communication with the gods constituted some safeguard against crises and chaos.

But is that so different from contemporary religious creeds? Devoted in the main to the cultivation of the sacred fire, which was not supposed to go out since it symbolized the eternity of the Roman state, they were associated with the well-being of the Roman commonwealth and its continuity in time. Any change in personnel owing to a premature death or other event affecting the smooth functioning of the college therefore amounted to an affair of state. Laelia was perhaps the daughter of D.

Laelius Balbus. She was found guilty and, despite pleading her innocence, executed by being buried alive. See Suetonius, Domitian 8. Now read on:. The set text only includes the initial paragraph 23 and then vaults forward to the start of AD 64 at The stretch left out primarily covers — in spectacularly telling contrast — military developments in the Near East. In the meantime, we have a royal birth! A daughter! A dead duck. Memmius Regulus, the son of P.

Memmius Regulus, one of the consuls of 31, who died in Tacitus records the death at Eo anno mortem obiit Memmius Regulus, auctoritate constantia fama, in quantum praeumbrante imperatoris fastigio datur, clarus, adeo ut Nero aeger valetudine, et adulantibus circum, qui finem imperio adesse dicebant, si quid fato pateretur, responderit habere subsidium rem publicam. So true was this that Nero, indisposed and surrounded by sycophants predicting the dissolution of the empire, should he go the way of fate, answered that the nation had a resource.

Verginius Rufus, a name that points far into the future. Twice he declined to be hailed emperor. Pliny records the inscription that Rufus chose for his tombstone 6. He died in 97, during his third consulship, at the ripe old age of The text thus evokes both dynastic succession and annalistic sequence as two complementary grids for imposing patterns on historical time:.

The very simplicity of associating each year with the name of the consuls in office whether initially elected or suffect generates a sense of order and continuity in time more fundamental than the changing dynasties that rule at Rome. There is, then, an ideology built into the annalistic approach to Roman history: emperors come and go; but each year, consuls still enter into their office and maintain a semblance of republican continuity.

But through strategic arrangement of his material, our author activates the pattern as a meaningful foil for his imperial history: here it is his obituary of Memmius Regulus pater at Without this obituary, readers would have had much greater difficulties in associating the son with his father and his consulship in 31 or in thinking ahead to the death of Verginius Rufus during his third consulship and the figure who would take his place and deliver the funeral oration. And far less melodrama to savour. The undramatic record of who held the consulship stands in stark contrast to the triumphs and tragedies of the imperial household.

The names of the imperial couple Poppaea and Nero in the first sentence about AD 63 instantly counterbalance those of Memmius Regulus and Verginius Rufus and refocus attention from republican office to the doings of the imperial family. She enters the Annals at There was in the capital a certain Poppaea Sabina, daughter of Titus Ollius, though she had taken the name of her maternal grandfather, Poppaeus Sabinus, of distinguished memory, who, with the honours of his consulate and triumphal insignia, outshone her father: for Ollius had fallen a victim to his friendship with Sejanus before holding the major offices.

She was a woman possessed of all advantages but good character huic mulieri cuncta alia fuere praeter honestum animum. For her mother, after eclipsing the beauties of her day, had endowed her alike with her fame and her looks: her wealth was adequate for her standing by birth.

Her conversation was engaging, her wit not without point sermo comis nec absurdum ingenium ; she paraded modesty, and practised wantonness modestiam praeferre et lascivia uti. In public she rarely appeared, and then with her face half-veiled, so as not quite to satiate the beholder, — or, possibly, because that look suited her.

Thus whilst living in the wedded state with Rufrius Crispinus, a Roman knight by whom she had had a son, she was seduced by Otho [sc. The plan misfired: once brought into the presence of the emperor, Poppaea succeeded in getting Nero infatuated with her, but, after the first adulterous night, played hard to get by insisting that she could not give up her marriage to Otho.

To get rid of his rival, Nero broke his ties of friendship with Otho, debarred him from court, and ultimately appointed him as governor of Lusitania present-day Portugal ; there he remained for ten years until the outbreak of civil war in After recording the appointment, Tacitus abruptly discontinues his account of what happened between Nero and Poppaea. Much to the delight of Poppaea.

Post finem ludicri Poppaea mortem obiit, fortuita mariti iracundia, a quo gravida ictu calcis adflicta est. That poison played its part I am unable to believe, though the assertion is made by some writers less from conviction than from hatred; for Nero was desirous of children, and love for his wife was a ruling passion. The body was not cremated in the Roman style, but, in conformity with the practice of foreign courts, was embalmed by stuffing with spices, then laid to rest in the mausoleum of the Julian clan.

Still, a public funeral was held; and the emperor at the Rostra eulogized her beauty, the fact that she had been the mother of an infant daughter now divine, and other favours of fortune which did duty for virtues. Within the Annals , the passage is part of a sequence, stretching back to the very beginning of the work: at Annals 1. At Annals Here the honorands are a newborn baby — and a concubine-turned-wife. Tacitus expresses his disapproval obliquely with a break in syntax after Augustam.

Domitius Ahenobarbus, his uncle Caligula was just succeeding Tiberius as emperor, before soon losing it with everybody. Many Roman nobles had sea-side villas in the region, but it became a particularly significant location for the imperial family. It was where Augustus received a delegation from the Roman people that acclaimed him pater patriae. He was in Antium when news of the fire of Rome reached him Annals This was an excellent way to show loyalty and devotion to the princeps ; on occasion, however, it backfired.

In his biography of Caligula, Suetonius mentions instances in which the emperor demanded that those who had made vows for his health when he was sick kept them after his return to health 27 :. Votum exegit ab eo, qui pro salute sua gladiatoriam operam promiserat, spectavitque ferro dimicantem nec dimisit nisi victorem et post multas preces. Another who had offered his life for the same reason, but delayed to kill himself, he turned over to his slaves, with orders to drive him decked with sacred boughs and fillets through the streets, calling for the fulfilment of his vow, and finally hurl him from the embankment.

We and Tacitus tend to see the proposed honours as manifestations of corporate servility. It is therefore useful to recall that there is another cultural logic in play. The bestowal of honours to someone socially superior, whether man or god, obliged him to return them with benefactions. Or, we might say, to rule well. It could indeed be honourable to reject excessive honours, and for example, the elder Scipio had excelled in this gloria recusandi. On the other hand, refusing honours also entailed rejecting the moral obligations that went with them, even to the point of recognizing no bonds whatsoever.

So it would be socially irresponsible to reject all such proposals. The priesthood of the Arval Brothers, which consisted of senators, vowed sacrifices in case of a successful delivery. The Arval Brothers too fulfilled their vows, as recorded in their Acta under 21 January in Capitolio uota soluta quae susceperant pro partu et incolumitate Poppaeae.

Polysyndeton the alternating et In turn, a favorable outcome of such prayers led to public days of thanksgiving, on which the citizen body gave thanks for their deliverance. Every five years, it was to hold Greek games in memory of the victory, modelled on the Games at Olympia: see Suetonius, Augustus A Roman colony may have been set up in the vicinity.

But, as R. Its local government, coinage, and public inscriptions were Greek. The topic will resurface forcefully later on in the set text. Here it is important to note that the senators clearly knew how to please their princeps. At issue are races in the circus, which already were established at Bovillae in honour of the gens Julia see Map of Italy. Now Antium was to receive games as well, in honour of the gens Claudia and the gens Domitia the dative singular genti is to be supplied with both Claudiae and Domitiae. Nero shared ancestors with all three gentes.

But the extraordinary honour he now accorded to Antium — in implicit rivalry with Bovillae — suggests a deliberate attempt to step outside the shadow of Augustus. Fully-built stone circuses will be seen to be very rare outside Rome at such an early date. Undoubtedly it was the special connection of the Julian gens with Bovillae that prompted the construction of this circus, for the reputed origin of Julus was at nearby Alba Longa whence the ancient cults had been transferred to Bovillae prior to the Augustan period.

Under Tiberius at the end of AD 16 a shrine to the Julian gens and a statue of the divine Augustus were dedicated at Bovillae. Augustus may have established a college of youths collegia iuvenum at Bovillae, while in AD 14 Tiberius established the sodales Augustales which administered the cult of the gens Iulia. Both organizations may have been involved with the games at Bovillae. Circus games are specifically alluded to in AD Thus the circus was probably used chiefly for games held under the close auspices of the emperor or the cult of the emperor, and it may have been located in close proximity to the shrine sacrarium of the Julian gens.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that the monumental entertainment buildings of Bovillae, like some of its other public buildings, were a special project of Augustus and Tiberius. Nero could clearly not hold his own in terms of military achievement, so he decided to excel in a field of social practice on which no princeps had hitherto left a conspicuous mark: cultural activities cultivated in Greece. Rursusque exortae adulationes censentium honorem divae et pulvinar aedemque et sacerdotem.

All the efforts were as written on water. Tacitus announces this anticlimax with laconic brevity and a mocking f -alliteration. The language is very matter-of-fact and unelaborated, again contrasting the simple reality of the death with the extravagant honours previously listed. In terms of syntax and placement in the sentence the phrase mirrors dato et Poppaeae eodem cognomento at The verb exorior hints at novelty, and the proposed honours were indeed unprecedented: i deification honorem divae ; ii a sacred couch pulvinar ; iii a temple aedem ; and iv a priest sacerdotem.

Tacitus again employs polysyndeton to stress the profusion of honours showered on the dead baby by the supine senators and as with the ablative absolute to set up a correlation this time on the level of style between the events at her birth and upon her death. See above But we are supposed to recall what other emperors had dreamed up in this respect. Drusilla was married to Marcus Lepidus, at once the favorite and lover of the emperor, but Gaius [sc. Caligula] also treated her as a concubine. When her death occurred at this time, her husband delivered the eulogy and her brother accorded her a public funeral.

All the honours that had been bestowed upon Livia were voted to her, and it was further decreed that she should be deified, that a golden effigy of her should be set up in the senate-house, and that in the temple of Venus in the Forum a statue of her should be built for her, 3 that she should have twenty priests, women as well as men; women, whenever they offered testimony, should swear by her name, and on her birthday a festival equal of the Ludi Megalenses should be celebrated, and the senate and the knights should be given a banquet.

She accordingly now received the name Panthea, and was declared worthy of divine honours in all the cities. For this declaration he received a million sesterces. The advanced position and parallelism of ut laetitiae, ita maeroris both genitives are dependent on immodicus highlight that Nero is prone to excess at either end of the emotional spectrum. Valerie French provides some numbers: Tacitus here connects the last major event he recounted in his coverage of 62 the speech of Thrasea on provincial government with the first major event in his account of 63, i.

More precisely, the phrasing here stands in intratextual dialogue with the very end of the surviving portion of the Annals : at The last image where the text breaks off is of Thrasea dying slowly in excruciating pain after opening his veins by order of the princeps Thraseam prohibitum immoto animo praenuntiam imminentis caedis contumeliam excepisse: adnotatum est introduces an indirect statement with Thraseam as subject accusative and excepisse as infinitive.

At The whole cf. Within the relative clause iactaverit introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative and reconciliatum esse as verb. There is an interesting shift in grammatical position from the relative clause to the second part of the indirect statement dependent on ferunt : in the relative clause Nero is the subject of the main verb and the subjective accusative of the indirect statement se , whereas Thrasea is in the dative; afterwards Nero is mentioned in the dative Caesari , whereas Seneca becomes the subject accusative.

Here, he tells the little tale to illustrate aspects of the intertwined characters of three major figures. The position of gloria at the beginning suggests that the outcome of the event was as it should be, then the delayed and threatening pericula reminds us that the world of Neronian Rome was not so fair and just, and that something more sinister was awaiting them. Ultimately, both had to commit suicide. And with her went — the whole shooting-match. Poppaea and Nero, Seneca and Thrasea. The dynasty of Augustus, the Annals of Tacitus. Laecanio M. Licinio consulibus acriore in dies cupidine adigebatur Nero promiscas scaenas frequentandi.

Licinio consulibus: As we have seen, this is the annalistic formula that indicates the beginning of the consular year our AD Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi, however, was indicted for treason by the delator M. Aquilius Regulus and executed by Nero. At the same time, further syntactical aspects and relations generate the impression that Nero is carried away by disgraceful desire:. He needed now to have indiscriminate access to the stage, no-holds-barred cf. In terms of syntax, the sentence here recalls Special festivities at this rite of passage were unremarkable. He also kept his chin smooth afterwards, like the rest; for he was already beginning to be enamoured of Livia also, and for this reason divorced Scribonia the very day she bore him a daughter.

Inter ceteras disciplinas pueritiae tempore imbutus et musica, statim ut imperium adeptus est, Terpnum citharoedum vigentem tunc praeter alios arcessiit diebusque continuis post cenam canenti in multam noctem assidens paulatim et ipse meditari exercerique coepit neque eorum quicquam omittere, quae generis eius artifices vel conservandae vocis causa vel augendae factitarent; sed et plumbeam chartam supinus pectore sustinere et clystere vomituque purgari et abstinere pomis cibisque officientibus; donec blandiente profectu, quamquam exiguae vocis et fuscae, prodire in scaenam concupiit, subinde inter familiares Graecum proverbium iactans occultae musicae nullum esse respectum.

For he used to lie upon his back and hold a leaden plate on his chest, purge himself by the syringe and by vomiting, and deny himself fruits and all foods injurious to the voice. He does not dare to inaugurate his career as a public performer in Rome but chooses a Greek city famous for its Greek entertainment culture instead. The quasi here thus has causal force. Although it had long been part of Roman Italy, Neapolis seems to have retained much of its Greek character.

Aristocratic norms were more flexible there, making it a more suitable place for Nero to inaugurate his career as a public performer. The antithesis between Greek and Roman is significant. Traditional Roman thinkers saw themselves as the guardians of great civilised Roman values mores maiorum. They may have enjoyed and respected Greek art and literature, but Greek behaviour, morals and practices came with a stigma: Greekness was often tied up in Roman thought with luxury and immorality.

The two participles transgressus ; adeptus and the phrases they govern in Achaiam ; insignesque et antiquitus sacras coronas are arranged chiastically. The participle transgressus carries an aggressive note, in a double sense: Nero is transgressing against Roman cultural norms; and he is invading Greece, reversing the cultural conquest of Italy famously noted by Horace at Epistle 2. They all go with the main verb at the end: complent.

Tacitus revels in the idea of so many men from so many different groups flooding into the theatre of Neapolis. They help to give a sense of noble, devoted servants of the emperor caught up in this group. The impression is undone by the vague and promiscuous aut varios usus that follows it. By the time Nero first appeared in public in Naples, in 64, these Roman knights were backed by some 5, hardy plebeian youths. The maniple was a company in the Roman army, numbering two centuries i. Here it is plural manipuli , indicating that Nero took a very sizeable number of soldiers with him.

Their presence, stressed by the alliteration, the etiam and their final position in the list, seems highly incongruous: these fighting men of Rome are there, not to invade, but to watch their emperor disgrace himself like a Greek on the stage. In other words, we have:. A majority of right-thinking observers saw this event as triste , in contrast to the one man, Nero himself, who thought otherwise. In addition the pleonastic providum The alliteration providum potius helps to stress the contrast.

Nevertheless, a theatre collapsing is not generally viewed as providential, and one can appreciate the challenge Nero faced in endowing it with positive meaning. The antecedent of qui is populo. Suetontius, Nero Licinio L. Calpurnio consulibus ingentium bellorum cladem aequavit malum improvisum: eius initium simul et finis exstitit. It began and ended in a moment. A certain Atilius, of the freedman class, who had begun an amphitheatre at Fidena, in order to give a gladiatorial show, failed both to lay the foundation in solid ground and to secure the fastenings of the wooden structure above; the reason being that he had embarked on the enterprise, not from a superabundance of wealth nor to court the favours of is townsmen, but with an eye to sordid gain.

Greedy for such amusements, since they had been debarred from their pleasures under the reign of Tiberius, people poured to the place, men and women, old and young, the stream swollen because the town lay near. This increased the gravity of the catastrophe, as the unwieldy fabric was packed when it collapsed, breaking inward or sagging outward, and precipitating and burying a vast crowd of human beings, intent on the spectacle or standing around. Those, indeed, whom the first moment of havoc had dashed to death, escaped torture, so far as was possible in such a fate: more to be pitied were those whose mutilated bodies life had not yet abandoned, who by day recognized their wives or their children by sight, and at night by their shrieks and moans.

The news brought the absent to the scene — one lamenting a brother, one a kinsman, another his parents. Even those whose friends or relatives had left home for a different reason still felt the alarm, and, as it was not yet known whom the catastrophe had destroyed, the uncertainty gave wider range for fear. Note the variatio here, this time in terms of word order: the present participle celebrans comes at the end of its phrase, whereas the future petiturus The juxtaposition of a present participle and future participle is striking: Nero has hardly finished dealing with one calamity before his mind is already set on the next outrage.

One wonders what evidence Tacitus can have had for the claim that already in AD 64 Nero had plans to go straight from his first public appearance on stage at Neapolis on a tour through Greece — two years before he actually did. Now it is true that Beneventum, though situated to the north of Neapolis, would be a good stop on the way to Brundisium, especially if Nero wanted to honour Vatinius with his presence at the games: it was situated at the Via Appia see Map of Italy ; but for the same reasons, Nero might have gone there on his way back to Rome. Given that a tour of Greece by the emperor was a logistical challenge of the first order, it is rather unlikely that Nero opted for and against going at the spur of the moment.

Support for this assumption comes from the etymology of Beneventum, which makes it an ideal place to ponder a sea voyage. See previous note for its etymology. But such men, in Roman as in medieval times, could be powerful and dangerous. Tacitus recognises his importance, and his colour-value in the narrative.

Recall that at Vatinius The mentioning of Vatinius offers the occasion for a character-portrayal or rather assassination of malicious brilliance The suspicion that Tacitus here exercises creative license thickens in light of the fact that Cassius Dio Again, one may wonder how best to explain this discrepancy in our sources.

They are presented in a punchy, asyndetic tricolon, with typical variation in construction and style: i sutrinae tabernae alumnus , ii corpore detorto , iii facetiis scurrilibus. Tacitus further casts him as one of the ostenta marvels, monstrosities of the court, describing him like a freakish and horrifying object.

Note the emphatic position of sutrinae , to stress the lowliness of his family. Tacitus, as many other classical authors, operates on the assumption that physical appearance offers insights into character. Not coincidentally, Tacitus uses the verb at the very beginning of the Annals in his characterization of Tiberius 1. Again, the adjective scurrilibus is significant: it is a rare word and comes from the noun scurra , a buffoon or jester.

This structure primo Jesters were, as in mediaeval times, a feature of the Roman imperial court. Turning physical impairment into a double plus, the jester turned informer rose to be a powerful — towering — strongman valuit, vi, praemineret. The effect is enhanced by the use of the plural for both pleasures voluptates and crimes a sceleribus : Nero is a perverse and criminal polymorph. Like Nero, he was a great-great-grandson of Augustus — a lineage that turned him into a potential rival to the throne see Family Tree. Like mother, like son, who, now fully grown-up, no longer needs parental guidance to commit murder having honed his skills by doing away with his own mother.

He had squandered his property rather prodigally, whether following his native bent or with the deliberate intention of not being very rich. Nero therefore declared that, as he lacked many things, he must be covetous of the goods of others, and consequently caused a fictitious charge to be brought against him of aspiring to the imperial power. Its most famous scions were the two Bruti, one of whom expelled the kings from Rome in BC, the other who led the assassins of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The immense nobility and antiquity of his lineage make him an especially dangerous threat to Nero.

Torquatum and the verb esse elided. Cassius Dio cited above suggests that Torquatus gave away his wealth as a safety measure, to pre-empt being murdered to fill the imperial purse. All large Roman households had freedmen in senior positions who managed the business and administrative responsibilities of their masters. However, with the imperial household becoming the centre of power, these titles became essentially offices of state, which in turn meant that their use by anyone else but the emperor could be interpreted as a sign that this person harboured hopes of usurping the throne.

In Annals 2. Torquatum modified by sontem and diffisum in predicative position , is implied; the verb is victurum fuisse. Of course Nero does not concede that Torquatus was innocent; rather, he goes out of his way to stress that he was guilty. First, we have the emphatically placed sontem ; then comes the comment that he was right to lose confidence in his defence defensioni merito diffisum.

This serves him as foil to promote his mercy: he would have pardoned a man whom he knew to be plotting against him. The iudex Nero mentions is he himself, either because some trials of this type were held intra cubiculum i. That Tacitus presents Nero as referring to himself in the third person generates more of that ironic tone with which Tacitus has imbued this little story. The sentence harks back to Nero returned to the idea of touring Greece in AD 66, but the part of the Annals that would have covered the tour is unfortunately lost.

Tacitus here employs very vague temporal markers what does non multo post mean, precisely? Did he hear about a conspiracy? Was the affair of Torquatus more serious? Was he more alarmed by events in Neapolis than he made out? The silence of this parenthesis adds drama, certainly.

And by contrast it underlines that the reasons for getting rid of Silanus were unmistakeable, however nonchalantly Nero assured us otherwise. But we may wonder how Tacitus could have had evidence of the day-dreams of the emperor. As with the abandoned trip to Greece, the historiographer here adopts a stance of impossible omniscience. In other words, he counterbalances an action that could be interpreted negatively on the part of the people departure from Rome, to honour another city with his presence with declaring his abiding affection and concern for the urban populace even in his absence.

All of this formed part of the elaborate system of symbolic communication between the emperor and the groups that sustained his reign. For a senatorial historiographer such as Tacitus, the proximity and affection between the people and the emperor would be grating. Horace, in an Ode addressed to Augustus while he was absent on campaign in Gaul, presents both the people and the senate as yearning for his return to the capital 4.

Bring back light to your country, good leader. When like springtime your face has shown upon the people, the day goes by more pleasantly and the rays of the sun shine more brightly. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth and the Roman family: Nero is creating the image of a father leaving his family on his travels. It tends to be the more discreditable one as well. This is the case here. The ploy also allows him to suggest things without affirming them, to force us to make up our minds as to which is more plausible, while also pushing one option as more likely.

Put differently, Tacitus removes the incident from the sphere of empirical observation, explanation, and communication and locates it entirely in the psychology of Nero. The strengthened verb ex terrente makes clear just how much the numen managed to frighten the emperor if it did. The litotes of numquam timore vacuus stresses the power of the frightful memories lodged in his brain. It is an arresting image: Nero, as he looks upon the images of the gods, breaking down in terror as he remembers the crimes he has committed. See, for instance, For the rest of the night, sometimes dumb and motionless, but not rarely starting in terror to his feet with a sort of delirium, he waited for the daylight which he believed would bring his end.

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Nero stressed repeatedly note the frequentative verb dictito that love for this country outweighed any of his other concerns. But the way that Tacitus puts the point still makes Nero appear selfish: sibi is a dative of interest, whereas cura , in the parlance of politics, refers to the diligent management of state affairs, public duties, and civic responsibilities. It points up Nero as an incompetent regent of the empire, who oscillates between selfish interests and empty gestures of affection for his people.

Alliteration vidisse — vultus adds further stylistic colour to the first phrase and homoioteleuton - tas , - as to the second. The implied subject is the citizens. Nero, putting words into the mouths of his subjects, claims they cannot bear any absence of his: if they cannot even ne Tacitus mischievously has Nero out himself here as someone with a tendency towards immoderate actions — recall Nero imagines the people consoled in the face of adversity by his presence. It is tempting to take refoveri as a proleptic reference to the fire — Nero sure knows how to make the city glow One has to supply the accusative object for retinere — i.

Note the pronounced p -alliteration throughout by which Tacitus links — ominously for anyone harbouring republican sentiments — the private sphere cf. It alliterates with vol uptatum , suggesting that the people are slaves to desire. See Satire It has an obsessive desire for two things only — bread and circuses. The latter concern is expressed in much longer and more complex syntax, compared to the two words voluptatum cupidine dedicated to entertainment. The variatio lends more weight to the latter, not least because of the emphatic final position of metuenti , which renders it apparent that fear of corn shortage was greater than desire for games.

Neglect or failure could lead to riots. They do not wonder whether he would be better near or far, but where he would be more dreadful atrocior , implying of course that wherever he is, far or near procul an coram , he is a horrendous prospect. The adjective atrocior is a very strong one, implying cruelty and savagery. The subject is Nero; atrocior is a predicative complement. Tacitus considers this psychological reaction a law of nature cf. Do you agree? The claim is made implausible, not just by his need to prove it but by the exaggerated nature of it.

Throughout the passage, Tacitus uses rare or unusual words or phrases to enhance the sense of exotic extravagance: see prodigentia Cassius Dio, too, has a detailed description of the event And on one occasion after exhibiting a wild-beast hunt he immediately piped water into the theatre and produced a sea-fight; then he let the water out again and arranged a gladiatorial combat.

Last of all, he flooded the place once more and gave a costly public banquet. The arrangements made were as follows. In the centre of the lake there had first been lowered the great wooden casks used for holding wine, and on top of these, planks had been fastened, 3 while round about this platform taverns and booths had been erected. Thus Nero and Tigellinus and their fellow-banqueters occupied the centre, where they held their feast on purple rugs and soft cushions, while all the rest made merry in the taverns.

Consequently, indiscriminate rabble as the throng was, they not only drank greedily but also wantoned riotously; and now a slave would debauch his mistress in the presence of his master, and now a gladiator would debauch a girl of noble family before the eyes of her father. Many men met their death in these encounters, and many women, too, some of the latter being suffocated and some being seized and carried off.

The centre that ought to hold the empire together thus emerges as alien and rotten at its core. The practice of suggestive juxtaposition continues in the following paragraph, where Tacitus begins his account of the great fire of Rome; in other words, he goes from moral to physical chaos, from the metaphorical to the literal ruin of the capital under Nero.

More generally, banquets in Tacitus are often used as the setting of profound immorality. Tacitus here runs two sentences into one. Taken apart the Latin would be: celeberrimae epulae Put differently, the quas does double duty as both accusative object of referam and as subject accusative of the indirect statement dependent on referam.

The start of the digression is marked by Igitur Here he is presented as the architect of an appalling display of imperial decadence. He also left his mark on the urban topography. Arguably the most famous building he sponsored was the Pantheon. The subject of the relative clause is convivium. Tacitus says, literally, that the banquet was moving over the lake, pulled along by other ships navium aliorum tractu.

Here the polyptoton helps to generate a picture of the number of boats and to emphasise the diverse uses to which they were put. They are arranged according to age per aetates — and their sexual expertise scientiam libidinum. The suddenness of this revelation is a big surprise after the purely choreographic description so far! So, with extra shock-value for its unexpectedness, the moral degeneracy of the party comes full into view.

The accusative objects volucres et feras and animalia maris are well balanced phrases that, with variation, cover animals of the air volucres , land feras , and sea animalia maris. They come from far-flung and exotic habitats. The distance from which the creatures have been brought is underlined by the uncommon preposition abusque , which itself is further emphasized by being placed after its noun. And when Tacitus elsewhere refers to Oceanus in his own person as opposed to in reported speech , he means a specific sea such as the English Channel or the North Sea; only here does he use Oceanus without qualification, evidently referring to the sea or great river which, according to ancient legend, encircled the world but about which even Herodotus expressed some scepticism on several occasions.

One could take it as a locative or, more likely, as dative with adstabant. The disgraceful incongruity of noble women inlustribus feminis manning brothels sums up the total disintegration of Roman morals. The piety, chastity and virtue of the noble Roman family woman matrona or maiden virgo was an essential part of idealized Roman morality, and for noble women to be acting in both senses… as prostitutes is utterly appalling. Also, Tacitus does not simply say that there were noble women in the brothel: they were filled completa with them.

Conversely, the nakedness of the scorta would normally mean that they were out of sight; yet it is they who are on display visebantur. These paradoxes and reversals lead to another. Since the scorta are naked nudis corporibus , the suggestion is that the feminae are clothed; and, since the feminae are also inlustres , there is a contrast between their presumed haute couture and their incongruous surroundings lupanaria.

Sometimes too he closed the inlets and banqueted in public in the great tank in the Campus Martius, or in the Circus Maximus, waited on by harlots and dancing girls from all over the city. Whenever he drifted down the Tiber to Ostia, or sailed about the Gulf of Baiae, booths were set up at intervals along the banks and shores, fitted out for debauchery, while bartering matrons played the part of inn-keepers and from every hand solicited him to come ashore.

A very short, punchy sentence, made more so by the ellipsis of the verb, draws our attention to what went on. Tacitus reflects the sound and light of the party, its over-extravagance and ornateness, in his verbal design. So far, he has adopted a panoramic survey approach towards recording what happened at the party; now he zooms in on the emperor. After conveying a general sense of the proceedings, we get a detailed, close-up look at what Nero himself got up to. Apparently, the emperor indulged his depraved appetites without inhibition at the party, a factoid that Tacitus uses as a foil for something even more obscene, an account of his mock-marriage to Pythagoras.

Put differently, Suetonius strips, Tacitus teases. In principle, it is difficult to defile oneself per licita , but Nero somehow manages the impossible. As in The link involves the personnel — Pythagoras was among the perverted crowd that participated in the banquet of Tigellinus uni ex illo contaminatorum grege.

It is important to note, however, that the marriage was not part of the banquet. At the same time, he indulges in the creative license to link up temporally distinct but thematically related episodes — in defiance of the annalistic principle. This condensation of material ensures that within this paragraph Tacitus reaches unprecedented heights on the imperial scandalometer.


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But the real shocker comes at the end: the verb denubo is specifically used of a woman marrying a man — so Nero is the bride here. The word grex usually denotes animals, and thus dehumanises the men and emphasises their degeneracy. Finally, the powerfully pejorative adjective contaminatorum stresses the moral pollution of these men.

Yet Cleopatra was not only a woman but queen of, precisely, Alexandria. His poem is, after all, a victory ode that celebrates a Roman triumph over an alien queen who tried to reduce Rome to ruins. He is almost certainly also a eunuch — and a dreadful bringdown of a parodic return to life for the metempsychosis and triangle and vegetarianism guru. The appalling incongruity of this title inserted strategically in-between inditum And his passive role in this play for today. The culmination of a genuine wedding service came at night, when the bride was undressed by fellow women who had only ever had one man univirae , before the groom was brought in and the marriage consummated in private, while friends and family sang wedding hymns outside.

The cuncta everything suggests pretty graphically that there was no modesty here. In contrast, Nero turns his wedding night experience into a public spectacle. The remainder of Book 15 Chapters 48—74 covers the conspiracy of Piso in AD 65, which developed in part as a reaction to the rumour that Nero himself was responsible for setting the city on fire. Here is what Subrius Flavius, one of the conspiractors, allegedly said to Nero just before his execution Annals No one of the soldiers was more loyal to you while you deserved to be loved.

I began to hate you after you became the murder of your mother and your wife, a charioteer and actor, and an arsonist. These passages provide telling foils and benchmarks for the way Nero dealt with the challenge. Here is Annals 4. Nondum ea clades exoleverat cum ignis violentia urbem ultra solitum adfecit, deusto monte Caelio; feralemque annum ferebant et ominibus adversis susceptum principi consilium absentiae, qui mos vulgo, fortuita ad culpam trahentes, ni Caesar obviam isset tribuendo pecunias ex modo detrimenti.

Thanks were returned to him; in the senate, by the noble; among the people, by a rise in his popularity: for without respect of persons, and without the intercession of relatives, he had aided with his liberality even unknown sufferers whom he had himself encouraged to apply. The people of Rome, he reports, are wont to ascribe responsibility for disasters to their leader, whom they charge with disregarding crucial pieces of supernatural intelligence that — so the assumption — could have averted the catastrophes if properly heeded.

Tacitus, adopting the stance of enlightened and skeptical historiographer, mocks the people for positing causalities where there are none. Yet at the same time, both he and the emperor realize that these popular delusions about causal relationships between political and religious leadership on the one hand and general well-being or, conversely, suffering on the other are very real in their consequences.

If the groundswell of negative opinion intensified, it could destabilize the political order, lead to riots, and cause a regime change or at least a swap on top. These measures are so effective that his popularity ratings rise again. The better and happier becomes the fortune of our commonwealth day by day and the greater the empire grows — and already we have crossed into Greece and Asia, places filled with all the allurements of vice, and we are handling the treasures of kings — the more I fear that these things will capture us rather than we them.

Tokens of danger, believe me, were those statues which were brought to this city from Syracuse. Altogether too many people do I hear praising the baubles of Corinth and Athens and laughing at the mouldings worked in clay of our Roman gods. I refer that these gods be propitious to us, and I trust that they will be if we allow them to remain in their own dwellings. In the memory of our forefathers Pyrrhus, through his agent Cineas, tried to corrupt with gifts the minds of our men and women as well. Not yet had the Oppian law been passed to curb female extravagance, yet not one woman took his gifts.

What do you think was the reason? The same thing which caused our ancestors to pass no law on the subject: there was no extravagance to be restrained. As it is necessary that diseases be known before their cures, so passions are born before the laws which keep them within bounds. What provoked the Licinian law about the five hundred iugera except the uncontrolled desire of joining field to field? What brought about the Cincian law except that the plebeians had already begun to be vassals and tributaries to the senate?

And so it is not strange that no Oppian or any other law was needed to limit female extravagance at the time when they spurned gifts of gold and purple voluntarily offered to them.

And like Thrasea, he correlates the passing of sumptuary legislation with the emergence of desires harmful to the fabric of Roman society. Unlike Thrasea, he actively invokes a past period of perfection during which such legislation was not yet required. But even for Cato this period is ancient history; and once corruption has set in, there is no way back.

This is the fallen state of the Roman world that Thrasea inhabits as well. He would like a decision that a checks further haughty behaviour on the part of provincials, i. Both terms find further elaboration in the quo -clause: fide is picked up by quo tutelae sociorum nihil derogetur ; and constantia by [ quo ] nobis opinio decedat, qualis quisque habeatur, alibi quam in civium iudicio esse. The - que after constantia , which links fide and constantia , is the first! The two parts of the quo -clause The noun superbia , too, is highly damning. It is not something the Romans tolerated in the territories under their control.

The attribute in predicative position and the noun it modifies encase two key Roman values. In relationships that were both reciprocal with party rendering some, but not necessarily the same, kind of service to the other and asymmetrical with one party being much more powerful than the other , a commitment to fides on both sides operated as a partial counterweight to steep inequalities in power.

At pro Sestio 77, for instance, Cicero identifies obstinate persistence pertinacia aut constantia on the part of a tribune as a frequent source of riots. The emphasis on citizenship and on Rome as a civic community has a republican ring to it. It sidelines, by passing over in silence, other, more salient distinctions — as the one between the emperor and everyone else. Conversely, the notion that the worth of a person lies in the judgement of some individual or social group goes against the Stoic principle of the self-sufficiency of excellence, which does not require external validation of any kind.

Thrasea here adjusts his philosophical affiliations to the realities of Roman politics. Thrasea correlates and contrasts the past and the present by means of lexical and thematic inversions. In the course of the sentence, Thrasea sketches out a complete reversal of republican realities in imperial times: we are moving from one random Roman lording it over every provincial to one random provincial lording it over every Roman. At the centre of the design Thrasea places the antithesis de cuiusque obsequio — ad nutum alicuius. In effect, Thrasea argues that the Romans have allowed their provincial subjects to become their overlords — a complete inversion of what things used and ought to be.

The term referred to the senatorial privilege of travelling at public expense like a legate to look after their personal interests without the requirement of taking on civic duties. Provincials were expected to entertain and support such travellers like a Roman official on public business and bitterly complained about this additional burden.

Cicero, for one, tried unsuccessfully to outlaw this practice. Are we to imagine Thrasea deliberately deviating from the truth to further his case? Or would he and his audience perhaps even Tacitus? What did they report on? Thrasea supplies the answer in the indirect question hence the subjunctive quid Thrasea could have added eis but leaves it out, generating a wrong impression of objectivity. Written out in full, the sentence would run: quo modo ad nutum alicuius [provincialis] grates [a provincialibus decernuntur], ita promptius accusatio [a provincialibus] decernitur. His speech now makes a surprising turn.

Up till now his focus has been on whipping up outrage at provincial conceit and the unwholesome inversion of imperial hierarchies. Now Thrasea suggests that he minds neither the provincials bringing charges nor boasting about their power — the real problem lies elsewhere: the corruption in Rome. The principle has wider applications: there is an implicit analogy here between the insincere or extorted laus that provincials lavish on Roman governors and the insincere or extorted laus that Roman senators lavish on the princeps. The mood is subjunctive. This is, however, not the only place in the Annals where this construction occurs: Tacitus also uses it at He argues that the provincials should still be able to bring cases against corrupt governors; what must be stopped as he goes on to argue are the false or corrupt votes of thanks.

The verb ostento another frequentative carries the idea of parading or showing off and suggests that Thrasea considers the powers he would like the provincials to retain rather inconsequential. For Tacitus on real power vs pomp and show, see The elegant simplicity of quam malitia , quam crudelitas which come with the force of punches to the face contrasts with the slightly contorted expression laus falsa et precibus expressa , in the course of which laus , a positive notion, comes gradually undone. The assimilation of laus to malitia and crudelitas conjures a world of rampant immorality in which key ethical and semantic distinctions have broken down.

Paradoxically, he claims that trying to win favour frequently amounts to a greater crime than causing offence. The sequence peccantur — demeremur — offendimus is climactic: we begin with an impersonal passive, move on to the 1st person plural of a deponent demeremur , and end up with offendimus , which is active in form and meaning.

The alliteration of p and d and the neat antithesis in dum demeremur quam dum offendimus , stressed by the anaphora of dum , also help to make this remark shine. It explains why causing offence — an apparent negative — ought not to be considered a cause for concern. Even certain positive qualities virtutes trigger hatred. Thrasea invokes a mindset so firm of purpose that no attempt to curry favour has any effect. Overall, the expression evokes the moral discourse of republican Rome and, more specifically, Sallustian idiom: see Bellum Iugurthinum The line of reasoning here seems to be as follows: the majority cf.

For someone as reluctant to waste time on connectives as Thrasea, his use of et , which oddly correlates a verb omitted sunt with the one main verb in the sentence inclinat , stands out. Note also the long, sevenword build up with those resounding polysyllables, and then the simple, self-enacting, anticlimactic finis inclinat.

In the context of provincial administration, however, Thrasea presents the practice as demeaning and distinctly undesirable: governors ought not to behave like candidates for political office chasing the popular vote. By using the first person plural conquirimus Thrasea suggests that it is not just the reputation of the individual miscreant that is at issue here but that of the entire senate with one implication being: we, sc. Thrasea here switches from moral indictment to asserting the tangible benefits of his proposed measure: if governors refrain from canvassing or buying votes, the provinces will be run better and more consistently.

Note the use of moods: we get a potential subjunctive in the protasis arceantur , and a future indicative in the apodosis regentur : the provinces will be run If the appropriate measures are taken, so Thrasea seems to suggest, then the desired outcome is not in doubt: it will not just kick in potentially , but with certainty.

In other words, it should be a no-brainer. See Bellum Catilinae 2. Quodsi regum atque imperatorum animi virtus in pace ita ut in bello valeret, aequabilius atque constantius sese res humanae haberent, neque aliud alio ferri neque mutari ac misceri omnia cerneres.

Nam imperium facile eis artibus retinetur quibus initio partum est. The construction — a conditional sequence — is the same though note that Sallust uses a present counterfactual. And both authors trace a similar trajectory from positive beginnings to eventual decline. The quaestio de repetundis the Roman extortion court was the first permanent criminal court or tribunal in Rome, established in BC by the lex Calpurnia mentioned above to try cases of extortion by provincial governors. The use of the passive both here and in the following sentence keeps Thrasea in the limelight.

The other senators remain an anonymous collective. Here it did not come to pass since the consuls, who presided over the proceedings, intervened. The ablative absolute abnuentibus consulibus has causal force, with abnuentibus introducing an indirect statement, with the infinitive again in the passive: relatum , sc.

The consuls P. Marius and L. Afinius object to an actual resolution on formal grounds: the matter before the senate was whether Timarchus was guilty or not, and Thrasea had used the occasion to scrutinize key principles of provincial government. This part of his argument was extra causam , and while it received the enthusiastic support of the majority of senators, the consuls were wary to add new items, especially those of far-reaching consequences, to the official agenda ad hoc since they had not yet been able to check whether they had the support of the emperor.

And this particular proposal came from Thrasea, who had already upset the emperor on previous occasions with his independence. More specifically, the passage here harks back to the incident with which Tacitus begins his account of the year the maiestas -trial of the praetor Antistius at Just as the two speeches by Thrasea mirror each other, so does the reaction of the presiding consuls.

Their negative intervention here recalls their reaction at The scenario affords us telling insights into the workings of the imperial system, and the interrelation of power and character. Thrasea speaks his mind, without regard for the consequences. The moral majority retains its protective anonymity but can be fired up. Thrasea does not care what the princeps thinks or how he may react; for almost everyone else the mind and disposition of the emperor is the yardstick for their own thoughts and actions.

The temporal adverb mox presumably refers to a point in time in the same year AD What do you think is going on? And does your Tacitus want us to fathom, to wonder, or to flounder? See Cassius Dio It is not entirely clear whether his measure was effective, ineffectual to begin with, or fell into abeyance after a while. The law aimed to end both aspects of this practice i. The sentence has an air of formality and may well be modelled on the language of the decree itself.

The concilium met, usually, once a year, and after the rites discussed any business that concerned the province. Any formal expressions of thanks would be voted here, and conveyed by a delegation to the Senate. Suetonius, Augustus The normal formulation would have been the inverse, i. Tacitus varies or evades it. This is a regular feature of his narrative and serves a variety of purposes. The Romans themselves traced the beginnings of the practice of writing year-by-year chronicles to the custom of the pontifex maximus recording on a board tabula kept on display outside his place of residence a the names of the high magistrates and b key events of public significance, not least those of a religious nature such as prodigies, on a yearly basis.

The recording started from scratch each year, but the priesthood of the pontiffs also archived the information thus collected. Prodigies are divine signs, and their recording situates the narrative within a supernatural context. What follows are some pointers for how Tacitus integrates the sphere of the divine into his narrative universe. Griffin, for instance, identifies four supernatural forces to which Tacitus appeals in his narrative to render events intelligible: i divine intervention; ii fate, in the Stoic sense of an unalterable chain of natural causes; iii destiny, as determined by the time of our birth, i.

Here is a look at some representative passages that are particularly pertinent for an appreciation of To begin with, it is important to stress that Tacitus recognizes the gods as a force in history that strikes emperors and senators alike. See, for instance, Annals Isdem diebus nimia luxus cupido infamiam et periculum Neroni tulit, quia fontem aquae Marciae ad urbem deductae nando incesserat; videbaturque potus sacros et caerimoniam loci corpore loto polluisse.

The grave illness that followed confirmed the wrath of the gods. They cause havoc, and not only for the princeps. In the wake of the conspiracy of Piso, the wrath of the gods somehow encompasses all of Roman society. Annals Tot facinoribus foedum annum etiam di tempestatibus et morbis insignivere. Equitum senatorumque interitus, quamvis promisci, minus flebiles erant, tamquam communi mortalitate saevitiam principis praevenirent. Campania was laid waste by a whirlwind, which wrecked the farms, the fruit trees, and the crops far and wide and carried its violence to the vicinity of the capital, where the force of a deadly disease decimated the human population at all levels of society, even though there was no visible sign of unwholesome weather conditions.

But the houses were filled with lifeless bodies, the streets with funerals. Neither sex nor age gave immunity from danger; slaves and the free-born population alike died like flies, amid the laments of their wives and children, who, while tending to the ill and mourning the deceased , became infected, died, and often were burnt on the same pyre. The deaths of knights and senators, while likewise indiscriminate, gave less rise to lamentation, since it appeared as if they were cheating the savagery of the emperor by undergoing the common lot. In some cases, divine retribution for an act of transgression is virtually instantaneous: witness the illness that befell Nero shortly after his inadvisable swim.

Too big a gap generates disbelief in the efficacy of prodigies — and the gods. Tacitus himself draws attention to this problem at Annals Miro tamen certamine procerum decernuntur supplicationes apud omnia pulvinaria, utque quinquatrus, quibus apertae insidiae essent, ludis annuis celebrarentur, aureum Minervae simulacrum in curia et iuxta principis imago statuerentur, dies natalis Agrippinae inter nefastos esset.

Thrasea Paetus silentio vel brevi adsensu priores adulationes transmittere solitus exiit tum senatu, ac sibi causam periculi fecit, ceteris libertatis initium non praebuit. This time, Thrasea Paetus, who was wont to let earlier instances of flattery pass either in silence or with a curt assent, walked out of the senate, creating a source of danger for himself, without opening up a gateway to freedom for the others.

Portents, too, appeared, frequent and futile: a woman gave birth to a snake, another was killed by a thunderbolt during intercourse with her husband; the sun, again, was suddenly eclipsed and the fourteen regions of the capital were struck by lightning. These events happened so utterly without any concern of the gods that Nero continued his reign and his crimes for many years to come.

Yet Tacitus goes on to dismiss the prodigia as ineffectual because the warning they supposedly constituted resulted neither in a change of behaviour and ritual amendment to avert the apparently imminent danger nor in supernatural punishment of the real criminal, the emperor. The fact that Nero kept on living a life of crime for years to come suggests to Tacitus that the apparent portents lacked divine purpose.

Moreover, as the passage from Annals 16 that we just cited illustrates, before Nero gets his comeuppance he visits Roman society like a wrathful divinity himself. Ultimately, divine efficacy in Roman history has become inscrutable and unpredictable. The world that Tacitus records eludes easy understanding. Some aspects of it are both re-prehensible and incomprehensible. Communication at all levels is seriously distorted. Tacitus mentions its dedication at the very end of his account of AD 61 Griffin uses Ann.

Nero] dedicated his new public baths in Rome, a complex that included a gymnasium. Perhaps something else entirely is going on: could Tacitus have slyly shifted the date of the dedication of the gymnasium back a year so that he could correlate the endings of his accounts of AD 61 Has the desire for a suggestive artistic design here overruled the principle of chronological accuracy?

As the name suggests, it was a quintessentially Greek institution — a place for athletic exercise in particular wrestling , communal bathing, and other leisure pursuits such as philosophy. He certainly built gymnasia at Rome, Baiae, and Naples; wrestlers competed at his Neronia; he enjoyed watching them in Naples; and he actually employed court wrestlers, luctatores auli.

Contemporary rumor had it that he intended himself to compete in the next Olympic Games among the athletes, for he wrestled constantly and watched gymnastic contests throughout Greece In part, the structure of his narrative provides an eloquent interpretation: it is hardly coincidental that he should have concluded his account of AD 61 with the dedication of the gymnasium by Nero and his account of AD 62 with instances of divine wrath directed against the building and the statue of the emperor contained therein.

Tacitus thus chiastically interrelates the end of 61, the end of 62, and the beginning of End of obituary of Memmius Regulus pater Just as the corporeal being of the emperor, as supreme ruler of the Mediterranean, was endowed with his divine essence or genius, and came to be elevated conceptually above the bodies of his subjects, so too imperial images were conceived differently from those of private individuals. Unlike most of their subjects, the emperor or empress could exist as effigies in multiple bodies that took the form of portrait statues populating every kind of Roman environment such as fora , basilicae , temples, baths, military camps and houses.

New principes , especially if they belonged to a different dynasty, tended systematically to do away with the artistic representations of their predecessors. Divine displeasure at the Hellenizing shenanigans of the emperor could not have been articulated more clearly. The lightning bolt is the hallmark of Jupiter: so this message comes from the top.

This earthquake, which Seneca, in his Natural Histories 6. Hence there is a proleptic point in magna ex parte : Tacitus and his readers would of course have read this passage with the later catastrophe in mind, turning the earthquake mentioned here into an ominous prefiguration of greater evil to come, though not specifically related to the reign of Nero but easily relatable to the imminent fall of the first dynasty of Caesars. Seismic activity has natural causes but frequently features the same temporal logic as prodigies, insofar as a minor tremor or eruption — at times many years in advance — is then followed by a cataclysmic outbreak.

Likewise, prodigies constituted a preliminary indication of divine displeasure that issued a warning of an imminent disaster but also afforded a precious window of opportunity to make amends, appease the gods, and thus avert it. The Romans understood extreme natural events as divinely motivated signs, but were unaware of — or refused to believe in — the ineluctability of natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions; they preferred to invest in the conviction that proper communication with the gods constituted some safeguard against crises and chaos.

But is that so different from contemporary religious creeds? Devoted in the main to the cultivation of the sacred fire, which was not supposed to go out since it symbolized the eternity of the Roman state, they were associated with the well-being of the Roman commonwealth and its continuity in time. Any change in personnel owing to a premature death or other event affecting the smooth functioning of the college therefore amounted to an affair of state. Laelia was perhaps the daughter of D. Laelius Balbus. She was found guilty and, despite pleading her innocence, executed by being buried alive.

See Suetonius, Domitian 8. Now read on:. The set text only includes the initial paragraph 23 and then vaults forward to the start of AD 64 at The stretch left out primarily covers — in spectacularly telling contrast — military developments in the Near East. In the meantime, we have a royal birth! A daughter! A dead duck. Memmius Regulus, the son of P. Memmius Regulus, one of the consuls of 31, who died in Tacitus records the death at Eo anno mortem obiit Memmius Regulus, auctoritate constantia fama, in quantum praeumbrante imperatoris fastigio datur, clarus, adeo ut Nero aeger valetudine, et adulantibus circum, qui finem imperio adesse dicebant, si quid fato pateretur, responderit habere subsidium rem publicam.

So true was this that Nero, indisposed and surrounded by sycophants predicting the dissolution of the empire, should he go the way of fate, answered that the nation had a resource. Verginius Rufus, a name that points far into the future. Twice he declined to be hailed emperor. Pliny records the inscription that Rufus chose for his tombstone 6.

He died in 97, during his third consulship, at the ripe old age of The text thus evokes both dynastic succession and annalistic sequence as two complementary grids for imposing patterns on historical time:. The very simplicity of associating each year with the name of the consuls in office whether initially elected or suffect generates a sense of order and continuity in time more fundamental than the changing dynasties that rule at Rome. There is, then, an ideology built into the annalistic approach to Roman history: emperors come and go; but each year, consuls still enter into their office and maintain a semblance of republican continuity.

But through strategic arrangement of his material, our author activates the pattern as a meaningful foil for his imperial history: here it is his obituary of Memmius Regulus pater at Without this obituary, readers would have had much greater difficulties in associating the son with his father and his consulship in 31 or in thinking ahead to the death of Verginius Rufus during his third consulship and the figure who would take his place and deliver the funeral oration.

And far less melodrama to savour. The undramatic record of who held the consulship stands in stark contrast to the triumphs and tragedies of the imperial household. The names of the imperial couple Poppaea and Nero in the first sentence about AD 63 instantly counterbalance those of Memmius Regulus and Verginius Rufus and refocus attention from republican office to the doings of the imperial family.

She enters the Annals at There was in the capital a certain Poppaea Sabina, daughter of Titus Ollius, though she had taken the name of her maternal grandfather, Poppaeus Sabinus, of distinguished memory, who, with the honours of his consulate and triumphal insignia, outshone her father: for Ollius had fallen a victim to his friendship with Sejanus before holding the major offices. She was a woman possessed of all advantages but good character huic mulieri cuncta alia fuere praeter honestum animum.

For her mother, after eclipsing the beauties of her day, had endowed her alike with her fame and her looks: her wealth was adequate for her standing by birth. Her conversation was engaging, her wit not without point sermo comis nec absurdum ingenium ; she paraded modesty, and practised wantonness modestiam praeferre et lascivia uti.

In public she rarely appeared, and then with her face half-veiled, so as not quite to satiate the beholder, — or, possibly, because that look suited her. Thus whilst living in the wedded state with Rufrius Crispinus, a Roman knight by whom she had had a son, she was seduced by Otho [sc. The plan misfired: once brought into the presence of the emperor, Poppaea succeeded in getting Nero infatuated with her, but, after the first adulterous night, played hard to get by insisting that she could not give up her marriage to Otho.

To get rid of his rival, Nero broke his ties of friendship with Otho, debarred him from court, and ultimately appointed him as governor of Lusitania present-day Portugal ; there he remained for ten years until the outbreak of civil war in After recording the appointment, Tacitus abruptly discontinues his account of what happened between Nero and Poppaea. Much to the delight of Poppaea. Post finem ludicri Poppaea mortem obiit, fortuita mariti iracundia, a quo gravida ictu calcis adflicta est.

That poison played its part I am unable to believe, though the assertion is made by some writers less from conviction than from hatred; for Nero was desirous of children, and love for his wife was a ruling passion. The body was not cremated in the Roman style, but, in conformity with the practice of foreign courts, was embalmed by stuffing with spices, then laid to rest in the mausoleum of the Julian clan.

Still, a public funeral was held; and the emperor at the Rostra eulogized her beauty, the fact that she had been the mother of an infant daughter now divine, and other favours of fortune which did duty for virtues. Within the Annals , the passage is part of a sequence, stretching back to the very beginning of the work: at Annals 1. At Annals Here the honorands are a newborn baby — and a concubine-turned-wife. Tacitus expresses his disapproval obliquely with a break in syntax after Augustam. Domitius Ahenobarbus, his uncle Caligula was just succeeding Tiberius as emperor, before soon losing it with everybody.

Many Roman nobles had sea-side villas in the region, but it became a particularly significant location for the imperial family. It was where Augustus received a delegation from the Roman people that acclaimed him pater patriae. He was in Antium when news of the fire of Rome reached him Annals This was an excellent way to show loyalty and devotion to the princeps ; on occasion, however, it backfired.

In his biography of Caligula, Suetonius mentions instances in which the emperor demanded that those who had made vows for his health when he was sick kept them after his return to health 27 :. Votum exegit ab eo, qui pro salute sua gladiatoriam operam promiserat, spectavitque ferro dimicantem nec dimisit nisi victorem et post multas preces. Another who had offered his life for the same reason, but delayed to kill himself, he turned over to his slaves, with orders to drive him decked with sacred boughs and fillets through the streets, calling for the fulfilment of his vow, and finally hurl him from the embankment.

We and Tacitus tend to see the proposed honours as manifestations of corporate servility. It is therefore useful to recall that there is another cultural logic in play. The bestowal of honours to someone socially superior, whether man or god, obliged him to return them with benefactions. Or, we might say, to rule well. It could indeed be honourable to reject excessive honours, and for example, the elder Scipio had excelled in this gloria recusandi. On the other hand, refusing honours also entailed rejecting the moral obligations that went with them, even to the point of recognizing no bonds whatsoever.

So it would be socially irresponsible to reject all such proposals. The priesthood of the Arval Brothers, which consisted of senators, vowed sacrifices in case of a successful delivery. The Arval Brothers too fulfilled their vows, as recorded in their Acta under 21 January in Capitolio uota soluta quae susceperant pro partu et incolumitate Poppaeae. Polysyndeton the alternating et In turn, a favorable outcome of such prayers led to public days of thanksgiving, on which the citizen body gave thanks for their deliverance. Every five years, it was to hold Greek games in memory of the victory, modelled on the Games at Olympia: see Suetonius, Augustus A Roman colony may have been set up in the vicinity.

But, as R. Its local government, coinage, and public inscriptions were Greek. The topic will resurface forcefully later on in the set text. Here it is important to note that the senators clearly knew how to please their princeps. At issue are races in the circus, which already were established at Bovillae in honour of the gens Julia see Map of Italy. Now Antium was to receive games as well, in honour of the gens Claudia and the gens Domitia the dative singular genti is to be supplied with both Claudiae and Domitiae.

Nero shared ancestors with all three gentes. But the extraordinary honour he now accorded to Antium — in implicit rivalry with Bovillae — suggests a deliberate attempt to step outside the shadow of Augustus. Fully-built stone circuses will be seen to be very rare outside Rome at such an early date. Undoubtedly it was the special connection of the Julian gens with Bovillae that prompted the construction of this circus, for the reputed origin of Julus was at nearby Alba Longa whence the ancient cults had been transferred to Bovillae prior to the Augustan period.

Under Tiberius at the end of AD 16 a shrine to the Julian gens and a statue of the divine Augustus were dedicated at Bovillae. Augustus may have established a college of youths collegia iuvenum at Bovillae, while in AD 14 Tiberius established the sodales Augustales which administered the cult of the gens Iulia. Both organizations may have been involved with the games at Bovillae. Circus games are specifically alluded to in AD Thus the circus was probably used chiefly for games held under the close auspices of the emperor or the cult of the emperor, and it may have been located in close proximity to the shrine sacrarium of the Julian gens.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that the monumental entertainment buildings of Bovillae, like some of its other public buildings, were a special project of Augustus and Tiberius. Nero could clearly not hold his own in terms of military achievement, so he decided to excel in a field of social practice on which no princeps had hitherto left a conspicuous mark: cultural activities cultivated in Greece.

Rursusque exortae adulationes censentium honorem divae et pulvinar aedemque et sacerdotem. All the efforts were as written on water. Tacitus announces this anticlimax with laconic brevity and a mocking f -alliteration. The language is very matter-of-fact and unelaborated, again contrasting the simple reality of the death with the extravagant honours previously listed. In terms of syntax and placement in the sentence the phrase mirrors dato et Poppaeae eodem cognomento at The verb exorior hints at novelty, and the proposed honours were indeed unprecedented: i deification honorem divae ; ii a sacred couch pulvinar ; iii a temple aedem ; and iv a priest sacerdotem.

Tacitus again employs polysyndeton to stress the profusion of honours showered on the dead baby by the supine senators and as with the ablative absolute to set up a correlation this time on the level of style between the events at her birth and upon her death. See above But we are supposed to recall what other emperors had dreamed up in this respect. Drusilla was married to Marcus Lepidus, at once the favorite and lover of the emperor, but Gaius [sc. Caligula] also treated her as a concubine. When her death occurred at this time, her husband delivered the eulogy and her brother accorded her a public funeral.

All the honours that had been bestowed upon Livia were voted to her, and it was further decreed that she should be deified, that a golden effigy of her should be set up in the senate-house, and that in the temple of Venus in the Forum a statue of her should be built for her, 3 that she should have twenty priests, women as well as men; women, whenever they offered testimony, should swear by her name, and on her birthday a festival equal of the Ludi Megalenses should be celebrated, and the senate and the knights should be given a banquet. She accordingly now received the name Panthea, and was declared worthy of divine honours in all the cities.

For this declaration he received a million sesterces. The advanced position and parallelism of ut laetitiae, ita maeroris both genitives are dependent on immodicus highlight that Nero is prone to excess at either end of the emotional spectrum. Valerie French provides some numbers: Tacitus here connects the last major event he recounted in his coverage of 62 the speech of Thrasea on provincial government with the first major event in his account of 63, i. More precisely, the phrasing here stands in intratextual dialogue with the very end of the surviving portion of the Annals : at The last image where the text breaks off is of Thrasea dying slowly in excruciating pain after opening his veins by order of the princeps Thraseam prohibitum immoto animo praenuntiam imminentis caedis contumeliam excepisse: adnotatum est introduces an indirect statement with Thraseam as subject accusative and excepisse as infinitive.

At The whole cf. Within the relative clause iactaverit introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative and reconciliatum esse as verb. There is an interesting shift in grammatical position from the relative clause to the second part of the indirect statement dependent on ferunt : in the relative clause Nero is the subject of the main verb and the subjective accusative of the indirect statement se , whereas Thrasea is in the dative; afterwards Nero is mentioned in the dative Caesari , whereas Seneca becomes the subject accusative.

Here, he tells the little tale to illustrate aspects of the intertwined characters of three major figures. The position of gloria at the beginning suggests that the outcome of the event was as it should be, then the delayed and threatening pericula reminds us that the world of Neronian Rome was not so fair and just, and that something more sinister was awaiting them. Ultimately, both had to commit suicide. And with her went — the whole shooting-match.

Jerreth Esq.: Lusus Naturae, Narcosa, & NSFW - Impressions

Poppaea and Nero, Seneca and Thrasea. The dynasty of Augustus, the Annals of Tacitus. Laecanio M. Licinio consulibus acriore in dies cupidine adigebatur Nero promiscas scaenas frequentandi. Licinio consulibus: As we have seen, this is the annalistic formula that indicates the beginning of the consular year our AD Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi, however, was indicted for treason by the delator M.

Aquilius Regulus and executed by Nero. At the same time, further syntactical aspects and relations generate the impression that Nero is carried away by disgraceful desire:. He needed now to have indiscriminate access to the stage, no-holds-barred cf. In terms of syntax, the sentence here recalls Special festivities at this rite of passage were unremarkable.

He also kept his chin smooth afterwards, like the rest; for he was already beginning to be enamoured of Livia also, and for this reason divorced Scribonia the very day she bore him a daughter. Inter ceteras disciplinas pueritiae tempore imbutus et musica, statim ut imperium adeptus est, Terpnum citharoedum vigentem tunc praeter alios arcessiit diebusque continuis post cenam canenti in multam noctem assidens paulatim et ipse meditari exercerique coepit neque eorum quicquam omittere, quae generis eius artifices vel conservandae vocis causa vel augendae factitarent; sed et plumbeam chartam supinus pectore sustinere et clystere vomituque purgari et abstinere pomis cibisque officientibus; donec blandiente profectu, quamquam exiguae vocis et fuscae, prodire in scaenam concupiit, subinde inter familiares Graecum proverbium iactans occultae musicae nullum esse respectum.

For he used to lie upon his back and hold a leaden plate on his chest, purge himself by the syringe and by vomiting, and deny himself fruits and all foods injurious to the voice. He does not dare to inaugurate his career as a public performer in Rome but chooses a Greek city famous for its Greek entertainment culture instead. The quasi here thus has causal force. Although it had long been part of Roman Italy, Neapolis seems to have retained much of its Greek character.

Aristocratic norms were more flexible there, making it a more suitable place for Nero to inaugurate his career as a public performer. The antithesis between Greek and Roman is significant. Traditional Roman thinkers saw themselves as the guardians of great civilised Roman values mores maiorum. They may have enjoyed and respected Greek art and literature, but Greek behaviour, morals and practices came with a stigma: Greekness was often tied up in Roman thought with luxury and immorality.

The two participles transgressus ; adeptus and the phrases they govern in Achaiam ; insignesque et antiquitus sacras coronas are arranged chiastically. The participle transgressus carries an aggressive note, in a double sense: Nero is transgressing against Roman cultural norms; and he is invading Greece, reversing the cultural conquest of Italy famously noted by Horace at Epistle 2. They all go with the main verb at the end: complent. Tacitus revels in the idea of so many men from so many different groups flooding into the theatre of Neapolis.

They help to give a sense of noble, devoted servants of the emperor caught up in this group. The impression is undone by the vague and promiscuous aut varios usus that follows it. By the time Nero first appeared in public in Naples, in 64, these Roman knights were backed by some 5, hardy plebeian youths. The maniple was a company in the Roman army, numbering two centuries i. Here it is plural manipuli , indicating that Nero took a very sizeable number of soldiers with him. Their presence, stressed by the alliteration, the etiam and their final position in the list, seems highly incongruous: these fighting men of Rome are there, not to invade, but to watch their emperor disgrace himself like a Greek on the stage.

In other words, we have:. A majority of right-thinking observers saw this event as triste , in contrast to the one man, Nero himself, who thought otherwise. In addition the pleonastic providum The alliteration providum potius helps to stress the contrast. Nevertheless, a theatre collapsing is not generally viewed as providential, and one can appreciate the challenge Nero faced in endowing it with positive meaning.

The antecedent of qui is populo. Suetontius, Nero Licinio L. Calpurnio consulibus ingentium bellorum cladem aequavit malum improvisum: eius initium simul et finis exstitit. It began and ended in a moment. A certain Atilius, of the freedman class, who had begun an amphitheatre at Fidena, in order to give a gladiatorial show, failed both to lay the foundation in solid ground and to secure the fastenings of the wooden structure above; the reason being that he had embarked on the enterprise, not from a superabundance of wealth nor to court the favours of is townsmen, but with an eye to sordid gain.

Greedy for such amusements, since they had been debarred from their pleasures under the reign of Tiberius, people poured to the place, men and women, old and young, the stream swollen because the town lay near.

This increased the gravity of the catastrophe, as the unwieldy fabric was packed when it collapsed, breaking inward or sagging outward, and precipitating and burying a vast crowd of human beings, intent on the spectacle or standing around. Those, indeed, whom the first moment of havoc had dashed to death, escaped torture, so far as was possible in such a fate: more to be pitied were those whose mutilated bodies life had not yet abandoned, who by day recognized their wives or their children by sight, and at night by their shrieks and moans.

The news brought the absent to the scene — one lamenting a brother, one a kinsman, another his parents. Even those whose friends or relatives had left home for a different reason still felt the alarm, and, as it was not yet known whom the catastrophe had destroyed, the uncertainty gave wider range for fear.

Note the variatio here, this time in terms of word order: the present participle celebrans comes at the end of its phrase, whereas the future petiturus The juxtaposition of a present participle and future participle is striking: Nero has hardly finished dealing with one calamity before his mind is already set on the next outrage. One wonders what evidence Tacitus can have had for the claim that already in AD 64 Nero had plans to go straight from his first public appearance on stage at Neapolis on a tour through Greece — two years before he actually did.

Now it is true that Beneventum, though situated to the north of Neapolis, would be a good stop on the way to Brundisium, especially if Nero wanted to honour Vatinius with his presence at the games: it was situated at the Via Appia see Map of Italy ; but for the same reasons, Nero might have gone there on his way back to Rome. Given that a tour of Greece by the emperor was a logistical challenge of the first order, it is rather unlikely that Nero opted for and against going at the spur of the moment. Support for this assumption comes from the etymology of Beneventum, which makes it an ideal place to ponder a sea voyage.

See previous note for its etymology. But such men, in Roman as in medieval times, could be powerful and dangerous. Tacitus recognises his importance, and his colour-value in the narrative. Recall that at Vatinius The mentioning of Vatinius offers the occasion for a character-portrayal or rather assassination of malicious brilliance The suspicion that Tacitus here exercises creative license thickens in light of the fact that Cassius Dio Again, one may wonder how best to explain this discrepancy in our sources.

They are presented in a punchy, asyndetic tricolon, with typical variation in construction and style: i sutrinae tabernae alumnus , ii corpore detorto , iii facetiis scurrilibus. Tacitus further casts him as one of the ostenta marvels, monstrosities of the court, describing him like a freakish and horrifying object. Note the emphatic position of sutrinae , to stress the lowliness of his family. Tacitus, as many other classical authors, operates on the assumption that physical appearance offers insights into character. Not coincidentally, Tacitus uses the verb at the very beginning of the Annals in his characterization of Tiberius 1.

Again, the adjective scurrilibus is significant: it is a rare word and comes from the noun scurra , a buffoon or jester. This structure primo Jesters were, as in mediaeval times, a feature of the Roman imperial court. Turning physical impairment into a double plus, the jester turned informer rose to be a powerful — towering — strongman valuit, vi, praemineret. The effect is enhanced by the use of the plural for both pleasures voluptates and crimes a sceleribus : Nero is a perverse and criminal polymorph.

Like Nero, he was a great-great-grandson of Augustus — a lineage that turned him into a potential rival to the throne see Family Tree. Like mother, like son, who, now fully grown-up, no longer needs parental guidance to commit murder having honed his skills by doing away with his own mother. He had squandered his property rather prodigally, whether following his native bent or with the deliberate intention of not being very rich. Nero therefore declared that, as he lacked many things, he must be covetous of the goods of others, and consequently caused a fictitious charge to be brought against him of aspiring to the imperial power.

Its most famous scions were the two Bruti, one of whom expelled the kings from Rome in BC, the other who led the assassins of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The immense nobility and antiquity of his lineage make him an especially dangerous threat to Nero. Torquatum and the verb esse elided. Cassius Dio cited above suggests that Torquatus gave away his wealth as a safety measure, to pre-empt being murdered to fill the imperial purse. All large Roman households had freedmen in senior positions who managed the business and administrative responsibilities of their masters.

However, with the imperial household becoming the centre of power, these titles became essentially offices of state, which in turn meant that their use by anyone else but the emperor could be interpreted as a sign that this person harboured hopes of usurping the throne. In Annals 2. Torquatum modified by sontem and diffisum in predicative position , is implied; the verb is victurum fuisse. Of course Nero does not concede that Torquatus was innocent; rather, he goes out of his way to stress that he was guilty.

First, we have the emphatically placed sontem ; then comes the comment that he was right to lose confidence in his defence defensioni merito diffisum.

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This serves him as foil to promote his mercy: he would have pardoned a man whom he knew to be plotting against him. The iudex Nero mentions is he himself, either because some trials of this type were held intra cubiculum i. That Tacitus presents Nero as referring to himself in the third person generates more of that ironic tone with which Tacitus has imbued this little story.

Reward Yourself

The sentence harks back to Nero returned to the idea of touring Greece in AD 66, but the part of the Annals that would have covered the tour is unfortunately lost. Tacitus here employs very vague temporal markers what does non multo post mean, precisely? Did he hear about a conspiracy? Was the affair of Torquatus more serious? Was he more alarmed by events in Neapolis than he made out? The silence of this parenthesis adds drama, certainly. And by contrast it underlines that the reasons for getting rid of Silanus were unmistakeable, however nonchalantly Nero assured us otherwise.

But we may wonder how Tacitus could have had evidence of the day-dreams of the emperor. As with the abandoned trip to Greece, the historiographer here adopts a stance of impossible omniscience. In other words, he counterbalances an action that could be interpreted negatively on the part of the people departure from Rome, to honour another city with his presence with declaring his abiding affection and concern for the urban populace even in his absence.

All of this formed part of the elaborate system of symbolic communication between the emperor and the groups that sustained his reign. For a senatorial historiographer such as Tacitus, the proximity and affection between the people and the emperor would be grating. Horace, in an Ode addressed to Augustus while he was absent on campaign in Gaul, presents both the people and the senate as yearning for his return to the capital 4.

Bring back light to your country, good leader. When like springtime your face has shown upon the people, the day goes by more pleasantly and the rays of the sun shine more brightly. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth and the Roman family: Nero is creating the image of a father leaving his family on his travels. It tends to be the more discreditable one as well. This is the case here. The ploy also allows him to suggest things without affirming them, to force us to make up our minds as to which is more plausible, while also pushing one option as more likely.

Put differently, Tacitus removes the incident from the sphere of empirical observation, explanation, and communication and locates it entirely in the psychology of Nero. The strengthened verb ex terrente makes clear just how much the numen managed to frighten the emperor if it did. The litotes of numquam timore vacuus stresses the power of the frightful memories lodged in his brain.

It is an arresting image: Nero, as he looks upon the images of the gods, breaking down in terror as he remembers the crimes he has committed. See, for instance, For the rest of the night, sometimes dumb and motionless, but not rarely starting in terror to his feet with a sort of delirium, he waited for the daylight which he believed would bring his end. Nero stressed repeatedly note the frequentative verb dictito that love for this country outweighed any of his other concerns. But the way that Tacitus puts the point still makes Nero appear selfish: sibi is a dative of interest, whereas cura , in the parlance of politics, refers to the diligent management of state affairs, public duties, and civic responsibilities.

It points up Nero as an incompetent regent of the empire, who oscillates between selfish interests and empty gestures of affection for his people. Alliteration vidisse — vultus adds further stylistic colour to the first phrase and homoioteleuton - tas , - as to the second. The implied subject is the citizens. Nero, putting words into the mouths of his subjects, claims they cannot bear any absence of his: if they cannot even ne

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