¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Chapters 1–18 of Annals 15 cover developments in Rome’s war against Parthia. In 15.19 (i.e. the chapter before the set text starts), Tacitus’ focus shifts back to domestic matters. Unethical senatorial careerism comes back onto the agenda. He records that members of Rome’s ruling élite increasingly exploited a legal loophole to circumvent a stipulation of the lex Papia Poppaea de maritandis ordinibus (‘Papian-Poppaean law on marrying categories’). The law, which was part of Augustus’ legislative initiatives concerning morals and marriage, ensured preferential treatment of candidates for high-powered posts in the imperial administration who had one or more children. As Cassius Dio put it (53.13.2): ‘Next he [sc. Augustus] ordained that the governors of senatorial provinces should be annual magistrates, chosen by lot, except when a senator enjoyed a special privilege because of the large number of his children or because of his marriage.’ To receive the legal benefits without going through the trouble of raising children, childless careerists began to adopt young men shortly before the appointment or election procedure, only to release them again soon after securing the desired post. This practice of ‘fictive adoption’ (ficta or simulata adoptio), which, as Tacitus notes in his inimitable style, enabled the practitioners to become fathers without anxiety and childless again without experiencing grief (sine sollicitudine parens, sine luctu orbus), caused massive resentment among those who invested time and effort in the raising of children. They appealed to the senate, which issued a decree that no benefits of any kind be derived from such sham adoptions (15.19.4, the last sentence of the chapter):
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 [A senatorial decree was thereupon passed, ruling that a feigned adoption should not assist in any way in gaining a public appointment, nor even be of use in taking up an inheritance.]
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Then a sudden transition in narrative registers occurs. With the first word of the set text (exim), we join the senate meeting, in which this decree came to pass, and witness the next item on the agenda in ‘real time’ (as it were): the lawsuit against the Cretan power-broker Claudius Timarchus. From then on we we get a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings and are even treated to a direct speech from the Stoic Thrasea Paetus (20.3–21.4). This meeting of the senate, which suddenly comes to life, is the last event of AD 62 that Tacitus reports in detail. As such it harks back to how his account of the year began at 14.48: also with a lawsuit and a meeting of the senate in which the same figure starred as here – Thrasea Paetus. For a proper appreciation of 15.20–22, and in particular its protagonist, we therefore need to know of this earlier occasion – which we accordingly discuss at some length in our Introduction (see section 6).
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 20.1 Exim Claudius Timarchus Cretensis reus agitur, ceteris criminibus ut solent praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati: una vox eius usque ad contumeliam senatus penetraverat, quod dictitasset in sua potestate situm an pro consulibus qui Cretam obtinuissent grates agerentur.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 They feature more or less parallel syntax: in each case, a main clause (exim … agitur; una … penetraverat) is followed by a sequence of subordinate clauses. In thematic terms, however, the design is obliquely asymmetrical. The first main clause sets up the entire scene, whereas the second main clause harks back not to the first main clause (its apparent syntactic counterpart) but to the subordinate constructions that follow it: una vox correlates antithetically with ceteris criminibus. The design downplays the generalizing cetera crimina: they are awkwardly tagged on in an ablative absolute and further elaborated in an elliptical ut-clause, in contrast to the one specific vox, which is the subject and in first position. Sandwiched as they are between two main clauses that lead from the introduction of the defendant to the one offence (the una vox) that brought him to the attention of the senate, they are syntactically glossed over.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 exim Claudius Timarchus Cretensis reus agitur, ceteris criminibus ut solent praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati: The main clause – exim Claudius Timarchus Cretensis reus agitur – is straightforward enough. But then the syntax starts to get difficult. Tacitus continues, awkwardly, with a nominal ablative absolute, i.e. an ablative absolute that is missing the participle (in this case the present participle of esse, which does not exist in Latin): ‘the rest of the charges being…’ The subsequent ut-clause, too, has its problems. Against standard word order, Tacitus places the verb at the beginning (solent). The fact that it is in the indicative helps to clarify the meaning of ut (‘as’). But an infinitive that would complete the main verb solent is nowhere to be seen. The entire rest of the ut-clause is taken up by one long subject phrase: praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati. The missing infinitive with the verb soleo is not in itself unusual (it frequently has to be supplied from context), but here it generates an exceptionally open-ended construction:
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Well? What is the infinitive that has gone absent without leave? Two possible options are accusari (‘tend to be accused of’) or, with a slight semantic slippage from crimina in the sense of ‘charges’ to crimina in the sense of ‘crimes’, committere (‘tend to perpetrate’). Since there is a break after the ut-clause (una vox starts the second main clause), we have to make up our own minds – or remain studiously and elegantly ambiguous in our translation, as does Woodman: ‘Next, Claudius Timarchus, a Cretan, appeared as a defendant on the general charges customary for those paramount provincials whose elevation to excessive wealth results in injury to lesser people.’
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 exim: The temporal marker (‘thereupon’, ‘thereafter’) is typical of Tacitus’ habit to flag up the generic affiliations of his text, as he purports to record events in their order of occurrence and gives the impression (arguably correct) that he used archival data, such as official records of the senate’s business (the acta senatus) in compiling his Annals. But his formal commitment to annalistic writing ought not to obscure that he proceeded selectively and arranged his material in such a way that further meaningful patterns emerge. The two lawsuits that frame his account of AD 62, each starring Thrasea Paetus, are an excellent example of his practice. An interesting tension ensues between Tacitus’ artful design and strategic selectivity on the one hand and, on the other, the apparently artless recording of events in chronological order implied by temporal markers such as exim.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Claudius Timarchus Cretensis: Claudius Timarchus is otherwise unknown, yet is clearly a powerful Cretan, whose name specifies a hybrid freedman combining hints of the doddery emperor with Greek ‘Ruling-Élite’ (as Tacitus’ indignant remarks on jumped-up nouveaux provincial types caustically spell out: see below). Crete (along with Cyrenaica) was a ‘senatorial’ province governed by an ex-praetor (‘pro-consul’) – as opposed to an ‘imperial’ province under the direct control of the princeps. In his Geography, Strabo (c. 63 BC – AD 23) includes an extensive discussion of this split, which was a key feature of the reorganization of the Roman empire under Augustus. The passage is worth citing in full since it yields valuable insights into the logic of the Augustan settlement that defined the career opportunities of the senatorial élite under the principate (17.3.25):
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 But the Provinces have been divided in different ways at different times, though at the present time they are as Augustus Caesar arranged them; for when his native land committed to him the foremost place of authority and he became established for life as lord of war and peace, he divided the whole empire into two parts, and assigned one portion to himself and the other to the Roman people; to himself, all parts that had need of a military guard (that is, the part that was barbarian and in the neighbourhood of tribes not yet subdued, or lands that were sterile and difficult to bring under cultivation, so that, being unprovided with everything else, but well provided with strongholds, they would try to throw off the bridle and refuse obedience), and to the Roman people all the rest, in so far as it was peaceable and easy to rule without arms; and he divided each of the two portions into several Provinces, of which some are called ‘Provinces of Caesar’ and the others ‘Provinces of the People.’ And to the ‘Provinces of Caesar’ Caesar sends legati and procurators, dividing the countries in different ways at different times and administering them as the occasion requires, whereas to the ‘Provinces of the People’ the people send praetors or proconsuls, and these Provinces also are brought under different divisions whenever expediency requires.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Put differently, Augustus arranged things in such a way that the emperor retained exclusive control over the army, without denying other members of the ruling élite the opportunity to enrich themselves and enhance their careers by taking up positions in provincial government. The administration of what Strabo calls the ‘Provinces of the People’ was ultimately the responsibility of the senate, and cases that could not be decided by the governor on the spot were referred back to Rome.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati: The massive subject-phrase of the ‘ut solent…’ clause. Tacitus has placed the key words at the beginning (praevalidi) and the end (elati). praevalidi is an adjective functioning as a noun (‘the supremely powerful’) and takes a partitive genitive (provincialium). elati is the perfect passive participle of effero, also functioning as a noun and governing the ablative phrase opibus nimiis together with prepositional phrase ad iniuriam minorum. The overall design is therefore chiastic. Tacitus uses this phrase to type-cast Timarchus. He is not interested in the accused as an individual, but as the representative of a specific social group: the provincial super-élite. Several stylistic touches reinforce the tremendous power and wealth that this élite has at its disposal, notably the strengthened adjective prae-validus (in nice alliteration with provincialium, deftly reproduced by Woodman in English with ‘paramount provincials’: see above), the emphasis on excessive (nimiis) wealth, and the choice of the vivid participle elati, which suggests elevation above common mortals. Tacitus contrasts the excessively powerful with their inferiors (minorum) and implies that such a differential in power and resources almost inevitably results in harm for those at the lower end of the pecking order: the preposition ad here conveys a sense of function, purpose, or result (OLD G). These are men ‘raised by their excessive wealth so as to inflict harm on their inferiors.’ The construction hints at Tacitus’ pessimistic view of human nature.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 For those of you who have read Cicero, in Verrem 2.1.53–69, at AS-level, provincial exploitation during the late republic will be a familiar topic. Tacitus mentions it at the very beginning of the Annals, where he surveys different social groups and their reasons for welcoming, or at least accepting, the new world order of the Augustan principate (1.2.2):
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 neque provinciae illum rerum statum abnuebant, suspecto senatus populique imperio ob certamina potentium et avaritiam magistratuum, invalido legum auxilio, quae vi ambitu, postremo pecunia turbabantur.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [Neither were the provinces ill-disposed towards that state of affairs, given that they had become disillusioned by the regime of the senate and the people on account of the warring among the powerful and the greed of the magistrates and because of the ineffective protection afforded by the laws: they tended to be rendered invalid by sheer force, political manipulation, and, ultimately, bribery.]
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Our passage suggests that the principate did by no means bring an end to provincial exploitation, even though the type of suffering inflicted on subject peoples changed: under imperial rule, the provinces were at least no longer ransacked by civil-war parties (cf. certamina potentium) fighting it out on their territory, with at times terrible costs to the indigenous population. Greed of magistrates, however, seems to have remained a constant.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 una vox eius usque ad contumeliam senatus penetraverat, quod dictitasset in sua potestate situm [sc. esse] an pro consulibus qui Cretam obtinuissent grates agerentur: In contrast to what precedes it, the syntax of this sentence is reasonably straightforward, if intricate:
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 – dictitasset in turn introduces an indirect statement, with situm (sc. esse) as infinitive and an implied id as subject accusative, which takes the an-clause as predicate (’… that it resided in his power whether…’)
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Yet despite the intricate syntax, the meaning of this clause is crystal clear: an insolent utterance earned the uppity Cretan provincial a court-appearance in Rome. The contrast between the hazy syntax that characterizes the stretch ceteris criminibus … minorum elati and the precise syntax in the sentence that follows is thematically appropriate. Tacitus distinguishes two types of accusations by means of the antithesis ceteris criminibus and una vox. The cetera crimina, so he suggests, are charges that tend to be levied against provincial strongmen as a matter of course (solent), with the strong implication being (which does not, however, amount to an assertion) that the charges are genuine. But Tacitus never specifies what Timarchus’ abuse and exploitation of his fellow-provincials consisted in. On the other hand, he goes into great detail about the one utterance (yes, a mere utterance, however arrogant and frequently repeated) that rubbed the Roman overlords the wrong way. The switch from opaque to precise syntax gives Tacitus’ Latin an insidious spin: the casual indifference of the obscure and elliptical sentence construction that characterizes his presentation of the cetera crimina would seem to suggest that the Romans do not really care all that much about Timarchus’ acts of transgression against his fellow-provincials, whereas the detailed elaboration of the one (seemingly inconsequential) boast that affected Roman majesty reflects the hyper-attentive indignation that ensues as soon as Roman sentiments are at stake. Taken thus, Tacitus’ syntax would seem to mock the priorities of the senate when it comes to the administration of justice in the provinces and to expose its over-blown sense of self-importance – without of course in any way whitewashing Timarchus, who emerges as another specimen in his pessimistic ‘anthropology of power’: in Tacitus’ book, all sheep are black.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 una vox eius usque ad contumeliam senatus penetraverat: The sentence, which follows in stark asyndeton, contains a fourfold contrast to what precedes: (i) una vox picks up ceteris criminibus; and usque ad contumeliam senatus harks back to ad iniuriam minorum, correlating and contrasting (ii) iniuriam and contumeliam as well as (iii) the objective genitives minorum and senatus. In addition, while both elati and penetraverat contain the sense of crossing a boundary or norm, (iv) solent suggests that the cetera crimina are par for the course, whereas penetraverat underscores the apparent singularity of this one particular transgression. Tacitus makes the perceived gravity of this ‘crime’ very clear – it is the one that made Timarchus’ case different from the usual: both usque ad (‘right up to’, ‘as far as’) and penetraverat suggest that this additional offence outweighs the others in seriousness. But the correlation of contumeliam senatus with iniuriam minorum hints at irony: one is made to wonder what sort of political system it is, in which a verbal slight of superiors counts as a more serious transgression than the systematic exploitation of the powerless. (It is worth bearing in mind that Tacitus composed the Annals after a long public career that included the administration of the plum province.)
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 dictitasset: (= dictitavisset) Normal Latin verbs can be re-formed with -to or -so (first conjugation) to produce so-called ‘frequentative’ forms. This indicates that the action keeps happening: so rogito = I keep asking, ask persistently (from ‘rogo’); curso = I run about constantly (from ‘curro’). Here, dictito re-doubles the frequentative form ‘dicto’ (formed from ‘dico’) to bring out that Timarchus kept bragging about his power incessantly. The subjunctive mood indicates that it is not a fact that Timarchus said these things but an accusation (with an implied verb that governs the indirect statement): ‘because (people claimed) he had kept saying that…’ Miller calls it ‘subjunctive of the charge, virtual oblique.’ This subtlety of Latin is one of the ways in which Tacitus can report scurrilous allegations in his history without actually endorsing them himself.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 in sua potestate situm an pro consulibus qui Cretam obtinuissent grates agerentur: Here we have the insult that grated with the senate (via the proconsular governor, the senate’s representative in the province): Timarchus claimed that it was his decision whether votes of thanks were given to the proconsuls in charge of the province. The exposed position of in sua potestate underscores the hubris of Timarchus. Meanwhile, age-old myth maintained that ‘All Cretans are liars’ – and made merry with the paradox that arises when a Cretan tells you so…
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 pro consulibus … grates agerentur: pro and consulibus (in the dative) are to be taken together (‘proconsuls’ – originally ‘stand-ins for consuls’). grates is in the nominative plural; the word is a poeticism: ‘grates was originally a religious term for thanks to a god but was first used = gratias by poets and then (from Curtius) by writers of elevated prose. In [the Annals] Tacitus greatly prefers it to gratias, which he reserves for speeches.’ At the time, provincial assemblies could decree a vote of thanks for their Roman governors, which a delegate would then convey to Rome and announce in the senate. The practice has republican roots. At in Verrem 2.2.13, for example, Cicero notes that from all of Sicily only Messana sent a legate to Rome to praise Verres for his provincial administration (and this legate, Heius, combined praise with demands to have the personal property that Verres had stolen from him returned). Given that ex-governors had to give an account of their term in office, such votes of thanks could come in handy – apart from offering a neat opportunity for aristocratic self-promotion. Votes, of course, can be bought or manipulated, and this is the form of corruption at issue here.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 20.2 quam occasionem Paetus Thrasea ad bonum publicum vertens, postquam de reo censuerat provincia Creta depellendum, haec addidit: quam is a connecting relative (= eam). The subordinate postquam-clause, seemingly introduced as a mere afterthought, again allows Tacitus to underscore Roman priorities by way of syntax: just as with the ablative absolute ceteris criminibus and the incomplete ut-solent clause in the previous sentence, the construction conveys the sense that those matters of most urgent and direct concern to the provincials do not hold anyone’s attention at Rome. By reporting the verdict on the defendant (note that Timarchus is not mentioned by name again – he is just ‘reus’) in a postponed subordinate clause, Tacitus gives the impression that Paetus dispatched briskly and dismissively with the case at hand. One could argue that the pluperfect with postquam here ‘implies not only temporal precedence, but a logical relationship’; and that is true insofar as the wider reflections to follow presuppose the satisfactory closure of the specific case at issue. But Paetus (and Tacitus) very much focus on the general principles that ought to define the Roman approach to imperial rule rather than the particular crimes of the provincial Timarchus or the plight of the Cretans. There is, then, arguably no logical relationship in place. Rather, the punishment imposed on the culprit – the main concern from the point of view of the provincials – is quickly glossed over on the way to Paetus’ main concern, the behavioural standards of Rome’s ruling élite.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Paetus Thrasea: Tacitus here reverses his names, from the usual Thrasea Paetus to Paetus Thrasea. We may wonder why. Are we simply dealing with a further instance of variatio, which is such a hallmark of his style, keeping his prose distinctive, unpredictable and interesting? Or is Tacitus perhaps making an oblique point that under the principate matters are not as they ought to be (or traditionally were)? We may at any rate savour the nomenclature (with the help of observations supplied by John Henderson): what are we are dealing with in the case of Thrasea Paetus are two cognomina. To appreciate this point calls for a brief excursion on Roman naming conventions. The cognomen was the third element in a Roman name, coming after the praenomen (‘given name’) and the nomen gentile (‘family name’). It was often a nickname, but could, like the nomen gentile, become hereditary. Here are some (famous) examples:
|praenomen||nomen gentile||cognomen||English meaning
|Quintus||Horatius||Flaccus||Mr. Flabby or Flap-eared|
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 And here is John Henderson on the role of the cognomen in Roman (invective) rhetoric: ‘Now equating a fellow-citizen of some distinction with his cognomen was the most cliché topos in all Roman civic discourse (sermo), and their wonderfully rustic mos of cultivating peasant gibes at features of the body had even defined Roman liberty as levelling obloquy. Hung with glee, and worn with pride, round the necks of highest and lowest in society, this habitual “standing epithet” was there ready to be trotted out, at any instant, in whatever context. The “informal” pet name picking out a self, there to hug or to hurt its bearer, picked on a blunt and crude archaic image-repertoire of deformity and dysfunction to stamp them, stomp on them, stamp them into the ground.’
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 As it happens, both Paetus and Thrasea are cognomina, the former Latin, the latter Graecizing, each highly appropriate to the character in question: paetus means ‘squinty’, θρασύς (thrasus) means ‘reckless.’ They compound to make our philosophizing senator Mr. Squinty-Bold: a Roman politician with a Greek philosophical mindset, who just so happens to ‘spot’ (askance) and ‘boldly’ seize an opportunity to pull off… a ‘reverse’ (cf. vertens). Put differently, Tacitus’ inversion of his character’s two nicknames reflects what Paetus is doing here. It is also the case that there was but one ‘Thrasea’, but several figures called Paetus. Caesennius Paetus, for example, has been busy messing up as a proconsular commander on the Eastern Front earlier in Annals 15.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 ad bonum publicum vertens: Tacitus here anticipates Thrasea’s sly re-definition of the issue under negotiation: Thrasea concentrates not on the specific case at hand, the diminished Roman dignitas, or the rights of provincials: his concern is rather with the overall ethos and behavioural standards of Rome’s senatorial élite.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 de reo censuerat provincia Creta depellendum: censuerat introduces an indirect statement. Its subject accusative has to be supplied from de reo, i.e. eum or Timarchum (the elision reinforces the sense that Thrasea does not really care all that much about the details of this case); the verb is the gerundive depellendum (sc. esse). Arguably the most famous instance of this construction is the notorious habit of Cato the Elder (234 – 149 BC) to close his speeches with the statement ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam (‘and by the way, I think that Carthage ought to be razed to the ground’). This may not be coincidental: Paetus’ speech contains stylistic reminiscences of Cato the Elder’s oratory (see below), and Tacitus may here be gently hinting at what is in store – as well as highlighting the affinity in character between Cato the Elder and Thrasea Paetus.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 haec addidit: What follows is the longest direct speech in Annals 15. We do not know whether it is based on (in the sense of re-invents) one that Paetus actually delivered. (Officialdom rarely records unsuccessful proposals that are – as this one here – set aside as impertinent and out-of-order; Tacitus does – if it suits his aims of scandalized satire and his portrayal of Thrasea Paetus as an anachronistic throw-back to republican times.) The use of (often freely invented) direct speech is at any rate one of the areas in which ancient historiography differs from modern historiography. Virtually all Greek and Roman historiographers put speeches into the mouths of their characters. Tacitus uses this device comparatively rarely, but when he does he tries to give the speaker a distinctive style that differs from that of the surrounding narrative. The structure of the speech is as follows:
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Thrasea’s speech is shot through with formulations that point back to Cato the Elder and Sallust (86 – c. 35 BC) – two ‘moralizing’ authors from the middle and late republic, i.e. exactly the period in Roman history that Thrasea evokes as normative.
¶ 47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 20.3: ‘usu probatum est, patres conscripti, leges egregias, exempla honesta apud bonos ex delictis aliorum gigni. sic oratorum licentia Cinciam rogationem, candidatorum ambitus Iulias leges, magistratuum avaritia Calpurnia scita pepererunt; nam culpa quam poena tempore prior, emendari quam peccare posterius est.
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 usu probatum est: Thrasea opens by claiming that his argument is grounded in historical fact: ‘proved by experience’ is a strong claim to make and, if true, would instantly stamp his discourse on Roman moral legislation with special authority.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 patres conscripti: patres conscripti is the formal term of address for the senators, dating back to the beginning of the republic. It is a shortened version of patres et conscripti, i.e. the original (patrician) members (patres) and those (plebeian) members enlisted (in Latin: conscribo, –ere, –psi, –ptum) at a later stage. See e.g. Livy 2.1.10 (we are in 509 BC, i.e. the year after the expulsion of the kings) – a passage that is worth citing in full since it brings out the powerful republican ideology built into the expression:
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Deinde, quo plus virium in senatu frequentia etiam ordinis faceret, caedibus regis deminutum patrum numerum primoribus equestris gradus lectis ad trecentorum summam explevit; traditumque inde fertur ut in senatum vocarentur qui patres quique conscripti essent: conscriptos, videlicet novum senatum, appellabant lectos. Id mirum quantum profuit ad concordiam civitatis iungendosque patribus plebis animos.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 [Then, to augment the strength of the senate by an increase of the order, he (sc. Brutus) filled up to the sum-total of 300 the number of the fathers, which had been depleted by the murders committed by the king, by enlisting leading men of the equestrian rank. From that time it is said to have been handed down that there be summoned into the senate those who were the ‘Fathers’ and those who were the ‘Conscripted’: they called the ‘Conscripted’ (i.e. the new members of the senate) the Enrolled. It is wonderful how useful this measure was for the harmony of the senate and for uniting the plebs with the senators (patres).]
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 leges egregias, exempla honesta apud bonos ex delictis aliorum gigni: An indirect statement introduced by usu probatum est, with leges egregias, exempla honesta (in asyndetic sequence) as subject accusative and gigni as infinitive. The adjectives egregius (‘outstanding’, from ex + grex) and, especially, honestus (etymologically related to honor, -oris m., ‘high esteem’, ‘public office’) recall the type of the noble Roman of old to which Thrasea tries to conform – as does the adjective bonus, here used as a noun (‘the good’). But Thrasea’s retrospective is also brutally realistic insofar as he sacrifices a good deal of historical nostalgia for a pessimistic anthropology. Even benchmarks of excellence achieved in the past, he submits, did not come about from some moral fibre inherent in the ancient Romans, but rather in reaction to criminal conduct. His exempla are not outstanding deeds of shining glory but rather legal measures and punitive sanctions. (See OLD s.v. exemplum 3 for the sense of ‘a warning example, deterrent; an exemplary punishment.’) Put differently, the norms that Thrasea evokes point to a social dynamic at variance with an unambiguous glorification of the past. Even in republican and early imperial times, sound legal measures arose ‘among the good’ (apud bonos) only (?) as punitive responses to the crimes and transgressions of others (ex delictis aliorum). While Thrasea thus contrasts the good, right-thinking, proper Romans (boni) with unspecified ‘others’ (alii), the good themselves come across as strangely passive insofar as they prove their moral fibre only in reaction to negative stimuli. By invoking ‘the good’ Thrasea puts moral pressure on his addressees, the senators, implying that they do not merit this desirable label unless they vote in favour of his motion.
¶ 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 leges egregias, exempla honesta: Note the staccato-like asyndeton, the strict parallel construction (noun + adjective; noun + adjective), and comparative lack of adornment (apart from the whiff of alliteration in egregias ~ exempla). This is very un-Tacitean style but perhaps adds a flavour of Stoic ‘rhetoric’ or ‘Catonic simplicity’ to Thrasea’s speech. (The Stoics were all about logic, not rhetoric. Likewise, Cato the Elder disapproved of flowery rhetoric as something alien to Roman common sense: his advice to public speakers was rem tene, verba sequentur – ‘stick to the topic, and the words will come automatically.’)
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 oratorum licentia Cinciam rogationem, candidatorum ambitus Iulias leges, magistratuum avaritia Calpurnia scita pepererunt: Thrasea continues asyndetically, listing three examples to illustrate the principle that misdeeds or moral failings tend to bring forth corrective legislative measures. The style has the simplicity of a catalogue, an impression reinforced by the remorselessly parallel design of the tricolon. Three nouns in the genitive plural (oratorum, candidatorum, magistratuum) specify the offending group. They depend on three nouns in the nominative singular, which indicate the nature of the offence (licentia, ambitus, avaritia). The three accusative objects follow the same pattern: in each case we first get the attribute that identifies the name of the measure taken (Cinciam, Iulias, Calpurnia) and then the legislative term that the attribute modifies (rogationem, leges, scita, though here at least Thrasea aims for variety: see below). A tabled display brings out the systematic approach to rhetorical illustration that Thrasea adopts:
|Offending group||Nature of the offence||Name of measure to address it||Legislative term of the measure taken|
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Again, Tacitus uses style as means of ethopoiea (‘projection of character’): Thrasea is utterly disinterested in dressing up his discourse with rhetorical flourishes. (As you may remember from reading Cicero at AS-level, Cicero, for one, likes to introduce some variety into his tricola, for instance by putting the last colon in chiastic order to the preceding two or using a tricolon crescens, where the cola increase in length.) Thrasea does not list the laws in chronological order:
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Rather, he has designed his tricolon climactically with respect to the offending group: we move from public speakers (oratores), to candidates for public office (candidati), to office holders (magistratus). Thrasea chooses his examples carefully. All three pieces of legislation turn out to be relevant to the issue at hand.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Cinciam rogationem: The lex Cincia de donis et muneribus (‘Cincian law on gifts and fees’) was a plebiscite of 204 BC that, among other stipulations, prohibited gifts or payments of any kind to advocates. Tacitus already had occasion to mention the law at Annals 11.5–7 and 13.42.1 – indicating that financial compensation for acting as orator in court remained a hot-button issue under the principate.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Iulias leges: The leges Iuliae de ambitu (‘Julian laws on bribery’) were passed by Augustus in 18 BC and 8 BC. Cassius Dio 54.16.1: ‘Among the laws that Augustus enacted was one which provided that those who had bribed anyone in order to gain office should be debarred from office for five years. He laid heavier assessments upon the unmarried men and upon the women without husbands, and on the other hand offered prizes for marriage and the begetting of children.’ See also Suetonius, Augustus 34.1: Leges retractavit et quasdam ex integro sanxit, ut sumptuariam et de adulteriis et de pudicitia, de ambitu, de maritandis ordinibus (‘He revised existing laws and enacted some new ones, for example, on extravagance, on adultery and chastity, on bribery, and on the encouragement of marriage among the various classes of citizens’). Put differently, by invoking this particular piece of Augustan legislation, Thrasea harks back to a previous item on the agenda of this particular senate-meeting, i.e. the tricksing of childless senators to reap the benefits Augustus accorded to procreating members of the ruling élite.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 magistratuum avaritia: The phrase recalls Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum 43.5, especially since Thrasea’s speech will shortly rework another formulation from the same passage (see below 21.3: invictus adversum gratiam animus):
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Itaque ex sententia omnibus rebus paratis conpositisque in Numidiam proficiscitur, magna spe civium cum propter artis bonas tum maxime quod adversum divitias invictum animum gerebat et avaritia magistratuum ante id tempus in Numidia nostrae opes contusae hostiumque auctae erant.
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [Therefore, after everything was prepared and arranged to his satisfaction, Metellus left for Numidia, bearing with him the high hopes of the citizens, which were inspired not only by his good qualities in general, but especially because he possessed a mind superior to riches; for it had been the avarice of magistrates that before this time had blighted our prospects in Numidia and advanced those of the enemy.]
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Calpurnia scita: The lex Calpurnia de repetundis (‘Calpurnian law on the recovery of public funds’) of 149 BC, proposed by the tribune of the people Lucius Calpurnius Piso, established Rome’s first permanent court, the quaestio de repetundis, the same court in which Verres stood trial. One of its main functions was to try governors for extortion committed during their term of office.
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 rogationem … leges … scita: The procedure for passing each of the laws mentioned will have been similar, but Tacitus/ Thrasea opts for lexical variation. rogatio refers to a proposed measure that is put before a Roman assembly for approval – our ‘bill.’ Once approved, a rogatio/ bill becomes a lex (‘law’). A scitum, which is the perfect participle of scisco (‘to vote for’, ‘to approve’), is a resolution of a popular assembly. The word thus places the emphasis on the process of decision-making, and it is usually found with a genitive of the decision-making body, especially the people: plebis scitum (‘plebiscite’), populi scitum (‘the decree of the people’). For this reason, it does not work quite as well as rogatio or lex with an adjective attribute of the person responsible for drafting the bill or law because technically speaking the scitum that turned the rogatio of Piso into the lex Calpurnia was not that of Piso, but that of the people. The slight incongruity is more than made up for by the rhetorical effect of the lexical variety: it seems to imply that the examples could be further multiplied.
¶ 66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 nam culpa quam poena prior [sc. est], emendari quam peccare posterius est: The two quam go with the two comparatives prior and posterius and coordinate the four subjects: culpa and poena, emendari and peccare. Thrasea closes his opening gambit with a gnomic saying that is as intricate in rhetorical design as it is banal in content. He makes the same point twice, first with a pair of nouns, then with a pair of infinitives (functioning as nouns), juxtaposed (once again) asyndetically: crime precedes punishment, to be reformed comes after committing a transgression. But the order is for once chiastic: culpa correlates with peccare, poena with emendari, though there is a whiff of parallel design in the alliterative sequence poena prior ~ peccare posterius. The introductory nam has causal force but is perhaps best left untranslated (with a footnote to the examiners that this is a deliberate omission). The repetitious formulation of the argument, the variation of constructions and the expression of the thought from two opposite angles serve to emphasise Thrasea’s point that the senators should make use of Timarchus’ crime to create a good new law. The sentence stands in allusive dialogue with earlier Latin historiography, recalling passages in both Sallust and Livy: ‘significant too is its [sc. Thrasea’s speech] markedly Sallustian language and the fact that in its defence of the established order of things it echoes the conservatism of Cato the Censor [as reported by Livy] when he spoke against the repeal of the sumptuary Oppian law.’ Here are the two most pertinent passages. First, Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum 85.12:
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Atque ego scio, Quirites, qui postquam consules facti sunt et acta maiorum et Graecorum militaria praecepta legere coeperint: praeposteri homines, nam gerere quam fieri tempore posterius, re atque usu prius est.
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [I personally know of men, citizens, who after being elected consuls began for the first time to read the history of our forefathers and the military treatises of the Greeks, preposterous creatures! for though in order of time administration follows election, yet in actual practice it comes first.]
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 The passage from Livy to consider concerns an episode from 195 BC. Two tribunes of the people proposed the abrogation of the Oppian law that had been passed during the war against Hannibal in 215 BC: it limited public indulgence in luxury items by women. Repeal of the law found much support. But the proposal met with adamant opposition from one of the consuls, Cato the Elder. The speech as given by Livy is too long to be quoted in its entirety. But the following extract towards the end should suffice to highlight affinities between his position and that adopted by Thrasea in Tacitus; it also conveys a good flavour of the period in Roman history and its most iconic representative that Thrasea is keen to evoke in support of his argument (34.4):
¶ 69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 ‘Saepe me querentem de feminarum, saepe de virorum nec de privatorum modo sed etiam magistratuum sumptibus audistis, diversisque duobus vitiis, avaritia et luxuria, civitatem laborare, quae pestes omnia magna imperia everterunt. haec ego, quo melior laetiorque in dies fortuna rei publicae est, quo magis imperium crescit – et iam in Graeciam Asiamque transcendimus omnibus libidinum inlecebris repletas et regias etiam adtrectamus gazas –, eo plus horreo, ne illae magis res nos ceperint quam nos illas. infesta, mihi credite, signa ab Syracusis inlata sunt huic urbi. iam nimis multos audio Corinthi et Athenarum ornamenta laudantes mirantesque et antefixa fictilia deorum Romanorum ridentes. ego hos malo propitios deos et ita spero futuros, si in suis manere sedibus patiemur. patrum nostrorum memoria per legatum Cineam Pyrrhus non virorum modo sed etiam mulierum animos donis temptavit. nondum lex Oppia ad coercendam luxuriam muliebrem lata erat; tamen nulla accepit. quam causam fuisse censetis? eadem fuit quae maioribus nostris nihil de hac re lege sanciundi: nulla erat luxuria quae coerceretur. sicut ante morbos necesse est cognitos esse quam remedia eorum, sic cupiditates prius natae sunt quam leges quae iis modum facerent. quid legem Liciniam excitavit de quingentis iugeribus nisi ingens cupido agros continuandi? quid legem Cinciam de donis et muneribus nisi quia vectigalis iam et stipendiaria plebs esse senatui coeperat? itaque minime mirum est nec Oppiam nec aliam ullam tum legem desideratam esse quae modum sumptibus mulierum faceret, cum aurum et purpuram data et oblata ultro non accipiebant. …’
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [‘You have often heard me complaining of the extravagance of the women and often of the men, both private citizens and magistrates even, and lamenting that the state is suffering from those two opposing evils, avarice and luxury, which have been the destruction of every great empire. 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. …’]
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Already Cato the Elder, then, posited a causal link between Rome’s triumphal military success abroad and a decline in morality (or at least self-restraint) at home. 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.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 20.4: ergo adversus novam provincialium superbiam dignum fide constantiaque Romana capiamus consilium, quo tutelae sociorum nihil derogetur, nobis opinio decedat, qualis quisque habeatur, alibi quam in civium iudicio esse.
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 After setting out and illustrating his principles, Thrasea proceeds to outline a course of action. He would like a decision that (a) checks further haughty behaviour on the part of provincials, i.e. is directed adversus novam provincialium superbiam; but also (b) meets Roman standards of excellence in terms of fides and constantia (dignum fide constantiaque Romana capiamus consilium). 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 (!) connective in Thrasea’s speech, but he instantly falls back into asyndetic mode. The two parts of the quo-clause (…derogetur, … decedat) are unlinked, continuing the terse, unremitting, to-the-point accounting and enumeration that is a hallmark of the speech from the outset.
¶ 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 adversus novam provincialium superbiam: The adverb adversus helps to generate a sense of threat, which is magnified further by novam (basically ‘new’, but here with an extra edge – ‘unprecedented’). In general, ‘newness’ carried a negative charge for a Roman audience, implying something never previously encountered, new and dangerous. (The Latin for ‘revolutionary chaos’ is res novae.) The noun superbia, too, is highly damning. It is not something the Romans tolerated in the territories under their control. The most famous articulation of the principle ‘Squash the Proud’ is the ‘imperial mission’ statement towards the end of Aeneid 6, where Anchises, in anticipation of the founding of Rome and her rise to world-empire, exclaims (6.851–53):
¶ 77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 [You, Roman, be mindful of ruling the people with your power of command (be these your arts), to impose custom upon peace, to spare the vanquished, and to squash the proud.]
¶ 77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 Thrasea draws a stark, idealised antithesis between the provincials (provincialium) and the Romans (Romana), the former exhibiting arrogance (superbiam), the latter more noble qualities (fide constantiaque).
¶ 78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 dignum fide constantiaque Romana … consilium: dignum … consilium forms an impressive hyperbaton. The attribute (in predicative position) and the noun it modifies encase two key Roman values. fides is a key concept in how the Romans thought about social relations, and dictionary entries (‘confidence’, ‘loyalty’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘credibility’) convey only a limited sense of the full semantic range and force of the qualities at issue: fides underwrites socio-economic exchanges, defines political interactions, and justifies Roman rule. 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. constantia – often paired with gravitas and the opposite of fickleness (‘steadfastness’) – is one of the republican virtues that Cicero likes to bring into play when talking about the moral fibre of his clients or the Roman ancestors. But it was not an entirely unproblematic quality, especially in a political system such as republican and imperial Rome that depended much on compromise and consensus. An unwavering (‘obstinate’) attitude of adversaries could paralyse the political process. 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. And as we have seen in our discussion of Thrasea Paetus’ behaviour in the context of Atilius’ treason trial (see Introduction, section 6), haughty disregard for the social scripts of imperial politics, while perhaps soliciting approval as an admirable display of constantia, might also be regarded as a self-serving pursuit of gloria, with dysfunctional consequences for the terms of interaction between senate and princeps.
¶ 80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 quo tutelae sociorum nihil derogetur, nobis opinio decedat…: The relative pronoun quo (in the ablative of means or instrument, referring back to consilium) introduces a clause that elaborates on fides and constantia in parallel design:
¶ 81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 Both derogari and decedere contain the idea of removal or subtraction, yet in antithetical correlation: nothing ought to be removed from Roman fides (with the emphatic nihil stressing the uncompromising disposition of Thrasea); but if the Romans do not get rid of the idea that the actions or opinions of provincials have influence in Rome, their constantia (here in the sense of ‘firmness of purpose’) will be diminished. Both parts of the quo-clause thus reinforce the Roman sense of superiority vis-à-vis the provincial subjects. Fides manifests itself in the proper guardianship of those entrusted to one’s care; constantia in an attitude of indifference towards attempts of provincials to gain any sort of purchase on political decision-making in Rome.
¶ 82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 qualis quisque habeatur, alibi quam in civium iudicio esse: An indirect statement dependent on opinio decedat. The phrasing alibi quam (‘anywhere else but’) makes the point powerfully that no other opinion than that of Roman citizens should matter and combines with the earlier nihil to reinforce the impression that Thrasea’s way of thinking is unconditional and categorical: he is not one to budge from principles, not even an inch. qualis refers to the type, quality, or character of a person and stands in predicative position to quisque: ‘of which quality or worth each individual is to be regarded.’ Hence: ’… let us adopt a policy…, whereby (quo)… we depart from the opinion that what each man is held to be like rests somewhere other than in the judgment of his fellow citizens.’
¶ 83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 in civium iudicio: Thrasea draws a determined line between citizens and non-citizens. 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. (Especially for members of the ruling élite, the iudicium principis was of course a key factor.) 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.
¶ 85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 21.1: Olim quidem non modo praetor aut consul sed privati etiam mittebantur qui provincias viserent et quid de cuiusque obsequio videretur referrent; trepidabantque gentes de aestimatione singulorum: at nunc colimus externos et adulamur, et quo modo ad nutum alicuius grates, ita promptius accusatio decernitur.
¶ 86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 Thrasea proceeds by drawing a sharp contrast between ‘back then’ (olim) and ‘nowadays’ (nunc). Word order underscores the strength of feeling: the key adverbs olim and nunc are placed in front position and find reinforcement through two strategic particles: quidem, which is usually placed directly after the word it emphasizes and here endows olim with special resonance (‘in the good old days, as you well know’); and the strongly adversative at. The order is chiastic: temporal adverb (olim) + particle (quidem) :: particle (at) + temporal adverb (nunc). Thrasea correlates and contrasts the past and the present by means of lexical and thematic inversions. For the past, he invokes the high magistrates of the republic (praetor, consul) as well as any non-office-holders on top (privati); for the present, he opts for an undifferentiated ‘we’ (colimus, adulamur), as if to underscore the contemporary irrelevance of key political categories from republican times (see further below on privati). The collective self-indictment is reinforced by the contrast between the collective ‘we’ and the preceding de aestimatione singulorum: in the past, entire people (gentes) stood in fear of the assessment of single individuals; now all Romans are beholden to the whim and will of some random provincial. 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. obsequium indicates ‘(slavish) obedience’, nutus (‘nod’, but here in the technical sense of ‘a person’s nod as the symbol of absolute power’) refers to someone’s virtually unlimited power to get things done by a mere jerk of the head. By means of two strategic omissions Thrasea manages to suggest that complete nonentities are now in charge at Rome: after alicuius we must mentally supply provincialis (‘by some provincial or other’); and the ablative of agency with decernitur (a provincialibus) is also only implied. 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.
¶ 87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 non modo praetor aut consul sed privati etiam mittebantur: Thrasea claims here that in the olden days not just high-ranking officials but even privati (citizens without office or imperium) were dispatched to run affairs abroad. He is here using privatus in the technical ‘republican’ sense, i.e. ‘non-office holder.’ In the early empire, privatus became (also) an antonym of princeps – i.e. it could be used to refer to any Roman (including high magistrates) as opposed to the emperor. Commentators see in Thrasea’s gesture to republican times a reference to the so-called legatio libera. 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. There were, then, good reasons why provincials feared these ‘legates’ – not because they represented Roman law and order (as Thrasea intimates), but because they constituted a particularly insidious form of provincial exploitation. Note also that Thrasea misrepresents the practice: these ‘legates’ were not ‘sent’ by the senate – they received a special privilege to go. The distortions and the hyperbole – both clearly conducive to Thrasea’s argument – raise interesting questions about his character (and Tacitus’ use of characterization). Are we to imagine Thrasea deliberately deviating from the truth to further his case? Or would he and his audience (perhaps even Tacitus?) share a somewhat inaccurate and certainly nostalgic conception of republican times?
¶ 88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 qui provincias viserent et quid de cuiusque obsequio videretur referrent: The verbs of the relative clause – viserent and referrent – are in the subjunctive, indicating purpose: these people, Thrasea claims (incorrectly: see previous note), were sent in order to inspect and report. What did they report on? Thrasea supplies the answer in the indirect question (hence the subjunctive) quid … videretur. video in the passive with neuter pronoun as subject means ‘to seem good, right, proper’, so in essence, these Roman visitors issued reports on ‘what seemed proper about the obedience of each individual.’ There is an insidious, subjective touch to videretur: videri, in the sense ‘to seem’, presupposes the eye of a beholder to whom something appears to be the case without it necessarily being the case, and the verb therefore routinely takes a dative of a person whose perspective is at issue. Thrasea could have added eis but leaves it out, generating a wrong impression of objectivity.
¶ 89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 cuiusque: The word makes clear that Thrasea imagines the inspection and reporting to have been far-reaching, extending to every single provincial – a hyperbole bordering on the absurd. It evokes association of Hesiod’s droves of immortals who walk the earth in disguise and report on the conduct of humans (Works & Days 252–55) or the prologue of Plautus’ Rudens, where the minor divinity Arcturus develops a ‘Big Jupiter is watching you’ theology – or, indeed, modern totalitarian regimes and their systems of mass-surveillance.
¶ 90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 trepidabantque gentes de aestimatione singulorum: The –que, so rare in Thrasea’s speech, links mittebantur (cause) and trepidabant (effect) particularly tightly. The overall design is chiastic – subject (praetor, consul, privati) verb (mittebantur) :: verb (trepidabant) subject (gentes) – which results in the emphatic placement of trepidabant at the beginning of the second main clause and underscores the dynamic of ‘cause and effect.’ The contrast between gentes (entire nations) and singulorum (individuals) brings out the power individual magistrates were able to exercise in the old days. aestimatio here seems to refer to a general ‘assessment’ or ‘appraisal’, but it is also a technical term in law, where it refers specifically to the assessment of damages and their pecuniary value, the insidious implication being that any aestimatio by any Roman will cost Rome’s subject people – dearly.
¶ 91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 colimus externos et adulamur: Thrasea pleonastically uses two verbs with almost identical meanings (‘we court and flatter’) to lay on thick the weakness and cravenness of modern officials, which reflects badly on the entire ruling élite (Thrasea implicates himself and everyone else present by switching into the first person plural). There is a note of contempt here, especially in the word externos (‘foreigners’).
¶ 92 Leave a comment on paragraph 92 0 quo modo ad nutum alicuius grates, ita promptius accusatio decernitur: A highly condensed mode of expression. Written out in full, the sentence would run: quo modo ad nutum alicuius [provincialis] grates [a provincialibus decernuntur], ita promptius accusatio [a provincialibus] decernitur. Although Timarchus’ ‘crime’ was to claim control over votes of thanks, Thrasea frightens the senators by pointing out that perversely empowered provincials are even quicker (promptius) to press charges against Roman officials than to decree votes of thanks – only to frustrate expectations in the following sentence.
¶ 93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 21.2: decernaturque et maneat provincialibus potentiam suam tali modo ostentandi: sed laus falsa et precibus expressa perinde cohibeatur quam malitia, quam crudelitas.
¶ 94 Leave a comment on paragraph 94 0 We have reached the point where Thrasea presents his key paradox. 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. In what seems at first sight a counterintuitive move, he argues that the provincials ought to retain the right to press charges; but they should be prohibited from issuing (which inevitably means ‘selling’) votes of thanks. 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. As Rudich puts it, perhaps over-assertively: ‘Thrasea Paetus’ message was only thinly masked by rhetorical generalities and must accordingly have been perceived by his audience as an attack on their own practice of adulatio.’
¶ 95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 decernaturque: Thrasea is again elliptical: to complete the first phrase, one needs to supply accusatio from the previous sentence. The mood is subjunctive. The present subjunctive can be used in the third person to give orders (‘jussive subjunctive’), here translating as ‘let it [sc. an accusation] be decreed.’
¶ 96 Leave a comment on paragraph 96 0 et maneat provincialibus potentiam suam tali modo ostentandi: The syntax here is rather unusual: the genitive of the gerund (ostentandi), which takes potentiam suam as accusative object, lacks a noun on which it depends and one might have expected an infinitive instead. This is, however, not the only place in the Annals where this construction occurs: Tacitus also uses it at 15.5 (vitandi) and 13.26 (retinendi). As Miller points out, ‘it is extremely unlikely that in all three instances the same odd construction has been caused by the same accident of textual transmission. It is more probably an example of Tacitean experimentation with language’ – in this case the blurring between the use of the gerund and the infinitive. The potentia refers specifically to the last thing Thrasea had mentioned, i.e. the power of provincials to charge Roman officials with maladministration. 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. There is a mocking tone to his concession: the ‘potentia’ of the provincials does not amount to much. (For Tacitus on real power vs pomp and show, see 15.31: … inania tramittuntur.)
¶ 97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 sed laus falsa et precibus expressa perinde cohibeatur quam malitia, quam crudelitas: Thrasea falls back into asyndetic mode – here reinforced by the anaphora of quam: quam malitia, quam crudelitas – to proclaim his counterintuitive conviction that contrived praise is as much in need of policing as (perinde … quam = as much as) malitia (‘wickedness’) and crudelitas (‘cruelty’). 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 first attribute (falsa) seems to refer to provincials ‘selling’ their votes of thanksgiving, whereas the second attribute (precibus expressa – from exprimere ‘to squeeze out’) refers to Roman governors extorting votes of thanksgiving from their provincial subjects. Either form of ‘praise’ is morally corrupt and potentially the result of cruel behaviour. The assimilation of laus to malitia and crudelitas conjures a world of rampant immorality in which key ethical and semantic distinctions have broken down.
¶ 98 Leave a comment on paragraph 98 0 21.3: plura saepe peccantur, dum demeremur quam dum offendimus: This aphoristic phrase sums up Thrasea’s attitude to provincial government. 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.
¶ 99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 quaedam immo virtutes odio sunt: The word immo (here unusually placed second) puts a novel, corrective spin on the preceding sentence. It explains why causing offence – an apparent negative – ought not to be considered a cause for concern. Even certain positive qualities (virtutes) trigger hatred.
¶ 100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0 severitas obstinata, invictus adversus gratiam animus: The phrase stands in apposition to virtutes, indicating two examples of just such excellent if unpopular qualities. The overall design is a majestic chiasmus – noun (severitas) + attribute (obstinata) :: attribute (invictus) + noun (animus) – that comes with three special twists: (i) Thrasea again puts on display his aversion to connectives: the two virtutes are listed one after the other, asyndetically. (ii) The overall arrangement is climactic both in quantitative and thematic terms: the second half is significantly longer because invictus, the attribute of animus, is in predicative position and governs the additional phrase adversus gratiam; and there is an increase in intensity from obstinata (‘resolute’) to invictus, which signifies an even higher degree of determination and resolve than obstinatus: the subtle military metaphor makes the evocation of a strong, incorruptible Roman mind especially arresting. (Note that as gloss on Greek amachos (‘unconquerable’) invictus means ‘invinc-ible’, so it only appears to match the past participle obstinata.) Thrasea invokes a mindset so firm of purpose that no attempt to curry favour has any effect. (iii) He twists standard Latin word order out of shape: usually, adjectives in attributive position indicating degree (such as obstinata) come before the noun they modify, whereas adjectives in predicative position (as is the case with invictus here) come after the noun they modify. Overall, the expression evokes the moral discourse of republican Rome and, more specifically, Sallustian idiom: see Bellum Iugurthinum 43.5 (…quod adversum divitias invictum animum gerebat), cited in full above at 20.3.
¶ 101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 21.4 inde initia magistratuum nostrorum meliora ferme et finis inclinat, dum in modum candidatorum suffragia conquirimus: quae si arceantur, aequabilius atque constantius provinciae regentur. nam ut metu repetundarum infracta avaritia est, ita vetita gratiarum actione ambitio cohibebitur.’
¶ 102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0 inde initia magistratuum nostrorum meliora ferme et finis inclinat: The word inde (‘in consequence’) continues Thrasea’s claim that certain excellent qualities (virtutes) such as a strict resolve and a mind steeled against attempts at ingratiation are liable to incur hatred. The line of reasoning here seems to be as follows: the majority (cf. ferme) of Roman magistrates approach their term in office with sound ethics but a feeble disposition; they start out governing with obstinata severitas and rejecting anyone trying to curry favour (hence initia … meliora) – only to encounter resistance or hatred; unable to endure being the source and target of negative emotions, they let themselves be corrupted towards the end. The ellipsis of a verb in the first half (literally, ‘the beginnings of our magistracies [sc. are] generally better’) seems to enact the sense of the early promise quickly slipping away; it also reinforces the antithesis between initia and finis. 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. The sentence bubbles with sound effects, especially the alliteration and homoioteleuton of i, m and f (see the underlining) all drawing the listeners’ attention to the speaker’s diagnosis of Rome’s political ills. Note also the long, seven-word build up with those resounding polysyllables, and then the simple, self-enacting, anticlimactic finis inclinat.
¶ 103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0 dum in modum candidatorum suffragia conquirimus: A suffragium is a vote cast in an assembly (for a candidate, resolution, or such like), and the phrase suffragia conquirere refers to the canvassing of votes – a common occurrence before elections. 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. you, have all done it!): governors represent Rome’s ruling élite as a whole, and the behaviour of one reflects on everyone else.
¶ 104 Leave a comment on paragraph 104 0 quae si arceantur, aequabilius atque constantius provinciae regentur: quae is a connecting relative (= ea) and refers back to the practice of courting favour with provincials to receive a vote of thanks. 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.)
¶ 106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0 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.
¶ 107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 [Now if the mental excellence with which kings and rulers are endowed were as potent in peace as in war, human affairs would run an evener and steadier course, and you would not see power passing from hand to hand and everything in turmoil and confusion; for empire is easily retained by the qualities by which it was first won.]
¶ 107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 The two passages share a number of parallels: in each case, the matter at issue is the mental disposition of those in power in a time of peace. 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. Syme suggests that the Sallustian idiom lends support to Thrasea Paetus’ mission to ‘recall ancient dignity in an oration defending the honour of the senatorial order.’ To reinforce the Sallustian ring of the phrase, Thrasea for once even suspends his dislike of connectives and uses a rare atque.
¶ 108 Leave a comment on paragraph 108 0 metu repetundarum infracta avaritia est: Thrasea abbreviates: metu repetundarum stands for metu pecuniarum repetundarum or metu quaestionis repetundarum. pecuniae repetundae was a technical legal term meaning ‘the recovery of extorted money’, but pecuniae is often omitted. The quaestio de repetundis (the Roman extortion court) was the first permanent criminal court or tribunal in Rome, established in 149 BC by the lex Calpurnia (mentioned above) to try cases of extortion by provincial governors. Thrasea’s (blatantly disingenuous) claim that these courts had defeated officials’ greed is stressed by the vivid verb infracta … est and by the position of avaritia inside the components of the verb – a design that seems to enact the crushing of the greed.
¶ 109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0 vetita gratiarum actione ambitio cohibebitur: In fine style, Thrasea finishes with a succinct summary of his proposal: ban votes of thanks (the ablative absolute vetita … actione replaces a conditional clause) and corruption will end (the future here follows the same confident logic as regentur above).
¶ 111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0 22.1: Magno adsensu celebrata sententia. non tamen senatus consultum perfici potuit abnuentibus consulibus ea de re relatum. mox auctore principe sanxere, ne quis ad concilium sociorum referret agendas apud senatum pro praetoribus proue consulibus grates, neu quis ea legatione fungeretur.
¶ 112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0 magno adsensu celebrata [sc. est] sententia: The ellipsis of est gives the impression of a pithy parallelism, with two phrases in which an attribute (magno, celebrata) is followed by a noun (adsensu, sententia). The use of the passive both here and in the following sentence keeps Thrasea in the limelight. The other senators remain an anonymous collective. And the meaningful/meaningless round of applause rings out hollow here to celebrate a stand-out tableau – nailing Tacitus’ equivalent of the ‘Cretan liar’ paradox to imperial Rome.
¶ 113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0 non tamen senatus consultum perfici potuit abnuentibus consulibus ea de re relatum [sc. esse]: The subject of the sentence is consultum, modified by senatus in the genitive. A ‘resolution of the senate’ was not technically speaking a law, but it had the force of law, especially in foreign and provincial affairs. 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. esse. 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 62: the maiestas-trial of the praetor Antistius at 14.48–49 (cited and discussed in the Introduction, Section 6). 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 14.49: at consules, perficere decretum senatus non ausi, de consensu scripsere Caesari (‘The consuls, however, not venturing to complete the senatorial decree in form, wrote to the emperor and stated the opinion of the meeting’). 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. The consuls, who are ultimately responsible, don’t want to stick their necks out. 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 historian knows that traditional forms of good governance always hand officials tools to block unwelcome reform; in the Caesars’ Rome, at any rate, Tacitus shows, the public pageant of government was pure rigmarole.
¶ 114 Leave a comment on paragraph 114 0 mox auctore principe…: In this case there is no hint that Nero felt slighted by Thrasea’s proposal; instead, he himself put forward such a motion soon afterwards. The temporal adverb mox presumably refers to a point in time in the same year (AD 62). Rudich even argues that Thrasea’s proposal played into Nero’s hands and interprets the reluctance of the consuls to have the motion passed differently: ‘It is no accident that the consuls were reluctant to promulgate Thrasea Paetus’ motion to abolish provincial thanksgivings…, while Nero, on the other hand, approved it. Though it was intended to oppose imperial adulatio, the emperor was exploiting Thrasea Paetus’ move for the opposite purpose, that is, of depriving the Senate of another fraction of its political prestige.’ We have suggested a somewhat different explanation for the consuls’ hesitation. And Rudich’s reading leaves open the question as to why Thrasea’s proposal received the enthusiastic support of the senate. What do you think is going on? And does your Tacitus want us to fathom, to wonder, or to flounder?
¶ 115 Leave a comment on paragraph 115 0 sanxere: (= sanxerunt, i.e. the senators). In AD 11, Augustus had passed a law that stipulated an interval of 60 days between the end of a governor’s tenure and the proposal of a vote of thanks. See Cassius Dio 56.25.6: ‘He also issued a proclamation to the subject nations forbidding them to bestow any honours upon a person assigned to govern them either during his term of office or within sixty days after his departure; this was because some governors by arranging beforehand for testimonials and eulogies from their subjects were causing much mischief.’ Now Nero’s proposal aimed to ban the practice altogether. It is not entirely clear whether his measure was effective, ineffectual to begin with, or fell into abeyance after a while.
¶ 116 Leave a comment on paragraph 116 0 ne quis … referret agendas apud senatum … grates, neu quis ea legatione fungeretur: After votes of thanks were made in the council, a delegation was sent to Rome to report it to the senate. The law aimed to end both aspects of this practice (i.e. the voting of thanks and the dispatch of a delegation). The sentence has an air of formality and may well be modelled on the language of the decree itself. referret introduces an indirect statement with agendas [sc. esse] as verb and grates as subject accusative.
¶ 118 Leave a comment on paragraph 118 0 concilium sociorum: This institution, which had Hellenistic and republican precedents, came into its own under Augustus, as an important site of communication between the centre of imperial power in Rome and the provinces: ‘in each province, the altar to Rome and Augustus provided an official cult centre, and its service provided an occasion for assembly. 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.’
¶ 119 Leave a comment on paragraph 119 0 pro praetoribus prove consulibus: prove = pro + the enclitic ve. pro praetoribus refers to the legati Augusti pro praetore who governed the imperial provinces (‘propraetorian governors of the emperor’); pro consulibus refers to the governors of senatorial provinces, who since the time of Augustus all carried the title of proconsuls: see e.g. Suetonius, Augustus 47. The normal formulation would have been the inverse, i.e. proconsul legatusve. The passage is a good example of what Syme has diagnosed as one of the perversities of Tacitean style: ‘The terminology of the Roman administration was awkward or monotonous. Tacitus varies or evades it. … he will go to any lengths or contortions rather than denominate the governor of an imperial province by the exact title.’ Tacitus means to press, to expose, all official language for its emptiness, inanity, fantasy.
¶ 120 Leave a comment on paragraph 120 0 row’ is just what Nero’s baby didn’t manage to do. And with her went – the whole shooting-match. Soon. Poppaea and Nero, Seneca and Thrasea. The dynasty of Augustus, the Annals of Tacitus.
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The law was introduced by the bachelors (!) Marcus Papius Mutilus and Quintus Poppaeus Secundus, two of the consuls of AD 9 (hence lex Papia Poppaea). This piece of legislation was an adjustment of the more famous (and, among members of the ruling élite, highly unpopular) lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus (‘Julian law on marrying categories’) that Augustus passed in 18 BC. For further details (including our sources in translation) see Cooley (2003) 353–72.
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We owe this observation to John Henderson: ‘Claudius’ recalls Nero’s predecessor the emperor Claudius (the hero of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius), whereas ‘Timarchus’ combines the two Greek words timê (‘honour’, ‘distinction’) and archê (‘power’, ‘rule’).
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In his account of the arrangement put in place by Augustus, Cassius Dio reports and shreds the ideological veneer (53.12.1–3): ‘In this way he [sc. Augustus] had his supremacy ratified by the senate and by the people as well. But as he wished even so to be thought a man of the people, while he accepted all the care and oversight of the public business, on the ground that it required some attention on his part, yet he declared he would not personally govern all the provinces, and that in the case of such provinces as he should govern he would not do so indefinitely; and he did, in fact, restore to the senate the weaker provinces, on the ground that they were peaceful and free from war, while he retained the more powerful, alleging that they were insecure and precarious and either had enemies on their borders or were able on their own account to begin a serious revolt. His professed motive in this was that the senate might fearlessly enjoy the finest portion of the empire, while he himself had the hardships and the dangers; but his real purpose was that by this arrangement the senators should be unarmed and unprepared for battle, while he alone had arms and maintained soldiers.’