¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Nero’s architectural hubris attracted significant attention from litterateurs. Two voices that can usefully be compared with Tacitus’ account in the following chapters are those of Suetonius and Martial. See Suetonius, Nero 31.1–3:
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Non in alia re tamen damnosior quam in aedificando domum a Palatio Esquilias usque fecit, quam primo transitoriam, mox incendio absumptam restitutamque auream nominavit. De cuius spatio atque cultu suffecerit haec rettulisse. Vestibulum eius fuit, in quo colossus CXX pedum staret ipsius effigie; tanta laxitas, ut porticus triplices miliarias haberet; item stagnum maris instar, circumsaeptum aedificiis ad urbium speciem; rura insuper arvis atque vinetis et pascuis silvisque varia, cum multitudine omnis generis pecudum ac ferarum. 2 In ceteris partibus cuncta auro lita, distincta gemmis unionumque conchis erant; cenationes laqueatae tabulis eburneis versatilibus, ut flores, fistulatis, ut unguenta desuper spargerentur; praecipua cenationum rotunda, quae perpetuo diebus ac noctibus vice mundi circumageretur; balineae marinis et albulis fluentes aquis. Eius modi domum cum absolutam dedicaret, hactenus comprobavit, ut se diceret quasi hominem tandem habitare coepisse. 3 Praeterea incohabat piscinam a Miseno ad Avernum lacum contectam porticibusque conclusam, quo quidquid totis Baiis calidarum aquarum esset converteretur; fossam ab Averno Ostiam usque, ut navibus nec tamen mari iretur, longitudinis per centum sexaginta milia, latitudinis, qua contrariae quinqueremes commearent. Quorum operum perficiendorum gratia quod ubique esset custodiae in Italiam deportari, etiam scelere convictos non nisi ad opus damnari praeceperat.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 [There was nothing however in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendour will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied with tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being. He also began a pool, extending from Misenum to the lake of Avernus, roofed over and enclosed in colonnades, into which he planned to turn all the hot springs in every part of Baiae; a canal from Avernus all the way to Ostia, to enable the journey to be made by ship yet not by sea; its length was to be a hundred and sixty miles and its breadth sufficient to allow ships with five banks of oars to pass each other. For the execution of these projects he had given orders that the prisoners all over the empire should be transported to Italy, and that those who were convicted even of capital crimes should be punished in no other way than by sentence to this work.]
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 And here is Martial, the second poem from his Liber De Spectaculis, a book of epigrams on the Flavian Amphitheatre (better known today as the Colosseum), which was begun by Vespasian and finished by Titus. In – deliberate – contrast to Nero’s Golden House, this imperial building project was specifically designed to make a significant contribution to the civic life of Rome, thus restoring architectural order at the centre of the city, and it was recognized and hailed as such by Martial:
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [Where the starry colossus sees the constellations at close range and lofty scaffolding rises in the middle of the road, once gleamed the odious halls of a cruel monarch, and in all Rome there stood a single house. Where rises before our eyes the august pile of the Amphitheatre, was once Nero’s lake. Where we admire the warm baths, a speedy gift, a haughty tract of land had robbed the poor of their dwellings. Where the Claudian colonnade unfolds its wide-spread shade, was the outermost part of the palace’s end. Rome has been restored to herself, and under your rule, Caesar, the pleasances that belonged to a master now belong to the people.]
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 42.1 Ceterum Nero usus est patriae ruinis extruxitque domum in qua haud proinde gemmae et aurum miraculo essent, solita pridem et luxu vulgata, quam arva et stagna et in modum solitudinum hinc silvae inde aperta spatia et prospectus, magistris et machinatoribus Severo et Celere, quibus ingenium et audacia erat etiam quae natura denegavisset per artem temptare et viribus principis inludere.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 ceterum: Not a strongly adversative ‘but’ (like at), but more expressing simultaneity: while others tried to probe into the deeper meaning of the catastrophe, Nero is busy taking advantage of it.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Nero usus est patriae ruinis et extruxit domum: A cuttingly short start as we return to Tacitus’ narrative. usus est makes clear how Nero calculatingly saw the large-scale destruction as an opportunity, and Tacitus brings out the emperor’s apparent lack of patriotism (we remember Chapter 36) in the striking phrase patriae ruinis and enhances the effect further by expressing one idea (‘Nero used Rome’s ruins to build a house for himself’) in two separate clauses, each with a finite verb: ‘he used Rome’s ruins and built a house’ (contrast his moonshine over the sideshow non-event at 34.1). The sentence acquires its punch owing to two interrelated contrasts: between ruinis and extruxit; and between patriae (the common fatherland) and domus (Nero’s private house). These give the sentence real bite, developing the sense of Nero turning public misery into his own private gain. See further Annals 15.52.1, where we get a view of the building focalized by the conspirator Piso, who considers the palace a particularly apt location to assassinate the emperor: in illa invisa et spoliis civium extructa domo (‘in that hated palace reared from the spoils of his countrymen’). The house in question is the so-called ‘Golden House.’ The enormous project was not yet completed at Nero’s death, and Vespasian ordered it to be abandoned. He used part of the area to construct the Colosseum instead – which derives its name from the colossal statue of Nero mentioned by Suetonius in the passage cited above.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 in qua haud proinde gemmae et aurum miraculo essent … quam: The subjects of the relative clause are gemmae et aurum, with the latter hinting at the name of the house; the subjunctive essent expresses purpose (just as the dative miraculo). haud proinde … quam goes together (proinde … quam: ‘in the same way or degree as’). Tacitus does not omit to mention that there was an abundance of precious metal and stones, but goes on to say that even these weren’t the most amazing thing about the Domus Aurea.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 solita pridem et luxu vulgata: The phrase, in the neuter nominative plural, stands in apposition to the subjects of the relative clause, i.e. gemmae et aurum. solita … vulgata frame the further specifications of time (pridem) and of quality (luxu). Even the lavishness of the gold and gems of the palace were barely noteworthy in an age of such extravagance. The emphatic solita (‘familiar’) underlines how commonplace these riches were; pridem (‘long since’) suggests the long-term decline under emperors like Caligula and Nero; the moralising luxu, an ablative of respect, adds to this tone of decadence; and vulgata (coming from vulgus, the mob) implies even the common people were accustomed to such splendour (luxu vulgata = vulgaria). On Tacitus’ preference for uncommon over common diction (in this case luxu instead of luxuria) see above on 37.1: celeberrimae luxu famaque epulae fuere.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 quam arva et stagna et in modum solitudinum hinc silvae inde aperta spatia et prospectus [sc. miraculo essent]: A long, polysyndetic list of the rural elements of Nero’s palace, with extra emphasis from the sibilant alliteration. The phrase hinc … inde… conveys the extent of the estate, spreading out on all sides. Tacitus uses the striking noun solitudo (‘lone wilderness’) to make clear how the landscapers created the elements of wild nature in the centre of Rome. It was common for great Roman villas in the countryside to recreate aspects of nature (‘improvements on Nature’); but Tacitus makes clear both the scale of Nero’s efforts and the novelty of doing this in the heart of the city.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 magistris et machinatoribus Severo et Celere: A nominal ablative absolute with magistris et machinatoribus in predicative position. We know nothing else about Severus and Celer. The alliteration and use of two nouns to describe them suggest the many skills and artistry of these men; machinatoribus especially implies great technical ability.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 quibus ingenium et audacia erat etiam quae natura denegavisset per artem temptare et viribus principis inludere: The relative pronoun quibus, which is in the dative of possession, refers back to Severus and Celer. ingenium again underscores the talent of these men; audacia, however, is not necessarily a positive quality, and can hint at arrogance and recklessness, especially in this context. The architects and engineers are out to challenge the restrictions of nature. The antecedent of quae (and the accusative object of temptare) is an implied ea. The contrasts of this nicely wrought sentence stress how these men viewed nature’s laws as no obstacle: natura (nature) opposes artem (human skill); and temptare challenges denegavisset.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 et viribus principis inludere: Tacitus finishes with a cutting and unequivocally negative comment on these men. Their skills are not only in surpassing nature, but also in squandering money. The vivid verb inludere (‘fool away’), from ludo (‘play’), suggests the frivolity and vanity of the projects these men spent money on; and it is juxtaposed to principis to remind us powerfully of who is behind this (and whose resources are being wasted). viribus is dative with inludere.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 42.2 namque ab lacu Averno navigabilem fossam usque ad ostia Tiberina depressuros promiserant squalenti litore aut per montes adversos. neque enim aliud umidum gignendis aquis occurrit quam Pomptinae paludes: cetera abrupta aut arentia ac, si perrumpi possent, intolerandus labor nec satis causae. Nero tamen, ut erat incredibilium cupitor, effodere proxima Averno iuga conisus est; manentque vestigia inritae spei.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 The idea of the canal was to link the bay of Naples, through Lake Avernus (there was already a canal from the sea to the lake), to Ostia (and hence Rome). It was not necessarily a hare-brained idea: the coastline from the Bay of Naples north to Rome was very dangerous to shipping, but vital for the corn supply to the capital. (Tacitus mentions wreckage of part of the corn fleet at 15.46.2.) An attempt to eliminate this danger was therefore sensible. It is just the scale of the project that is too vast: like Nero’s planned canal through the isthmus of Corinth in Greece, and other gigantesque proofs of tyrant’s megalomania à la Herodotus’ Xerxes, the project was abandoned after Nero’s death; but not forgotten — a Nero skit in Greek preserved in with the works of 2nd-century Lucian keeps the mockery alive.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 namque [sc. se] ab lacu Averno navigabilem fossam usque ad ostia Tiberina depressuros [sc. esse] promiserant: The subjects are still Nero’s architects Severus and Celer. promiserant introduces an indirect statement, with an implied subjective accusative (se) and the future infinitive depressuros (esse) as verb; it takes fossam as accusative object.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 ab lacu Averno … ad ostia Tiberina: Tacitus separates the two ends of the canal in the sentence to enact the immense length of it, further made clear by usque ad (‘all the way to’) – Suetonius, in the passage cited above, estimates the length as about 160 miles.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 squalenti litore aut per montes adversos: Tacitus stresses the (insurmountable) difficulties of the project through: (i) the emphatic position of the entire phrase at the end of the sentence; (ii) the variatio of the ablative phrase and the prepositional phrase; (iii) the highly poetic and vivid adjective squalenti (barren, rough); (iv) the chiastic arrangement; (v) and climactic, final adversos.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 neque enim aliud umidum gignendis aquis occurrit quam Pomptinae paludes: Tacitus continues to list problems to do with the building of the canal. The absence of water is strongly emphasised by the litotes neque … aliud umidum (lit. ‘not anything moist’), which suggests utter aridity. gignendis aquis is a gerundive in the dative (expressing purpose). Already Caesar had tried to drain the (malarial) marshes behind Cape Circeo in Latium. Mussolini managed to make some headway in the 1930s.
Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0
cetera abrupta aut arentia [sc. erant] ac, si perrumpi possent, intolerandus
[sc. erat] labor nec satis causae [sc. erat]: Assonance emphasises the unsuitability of the land, made clear by the two graphic adjectives abrupta and arentia. Tacitus finishes with a scything comment on the futility of the operation. Even if the alternative route were feasible in principle, the work would be too much (intolerandus), and the positives would not outweigh the problems (nec satis causae). Tacitus delays this phrase in particular to finish off the description.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Nero tamen, ut erat incredibilium cupitor, effodere proxima Averno iuga conisus est; manentque vestigia inritae spei: Despite all of what Tacitus has said, Nero still went ahead with the project. The tamen stresses how Nero is at odds with all logic.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 ut erat incredibilium cupitor: A wonderfully succinct characterisation of Nero’s attitude. The -tor ending in Latin indicates a profession (as in mercator, imperator, machinator etc), and so the word cupitor or, according to another reading, concupitor represents Nero’s love of the impossible as something he does for a living. This is also a very rare word, coined by Tacitus, and thus conveys in and of itself something of Nero’s love of the unusual.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 manent vestigia inritae spei: Tacitus finishes off his account of the canal by revelling in the folly of the undertaking, pointing to the traces of the failure which are still visible even today. The emphatic position of the verb manent, and the dismissive last words inritae spei, leave us with a picture of a vainglorious emperor with no understanding of practicalities.
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 43.1 Ceterum urbis quae domui supererant non, ut post Gallica incendia, nulla distinctione nec passim erecta [sc. sunt], sed dimensis vicorum ordinibus et latis viarum spatiis cohibitaque aedificiorum altitudine ac patefactis areis additisque porticibus quae frontem insularum protegerent.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Tacitus frames this sentence with an initial and a final relative clause: urbis quae domui supererant – quae frontem insularum protegerent. In between he gives details on the architectual principles that informed the rebuilding of Rome, revolving around the main verb: erecta [sc. sunt]. (The subject, which is also the antecedent of the first relative pronoun, i.e. ea, is elided.) Tacitus first lists two modes in which the city-planners (unlike their predecessors after similar catastrophes) did not proceed: nulla distinctione nec passim; then, in antithesis, he enumerates the principles that were applied, not least as precautionary measures against future fires:
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Tacitus’ verbal design emulates the layout of the new Rome: the adjectives or participles dimensis, latis, cohibita, patefactis, additis, which give a sense of careful planning and a desire to create a beautful city stand in stark contrast to nulla distinctione and passim before; they also all come first in their phrases. Likewise, the first three phrases dimensis vicorum ordinibus || latis viarum spatiis || cohibita aedificorum altitudine are of identical construction (ablative phrases sandwiching a genitive plural).
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 urbis quae domui supererant: The partitive genitive urbis depends on the elided ea. With the relative clause, Tacitus makes a savagely ironic comment on the inordinate size of Nero’s new palace – as if it left marginal space for reconstructing the rest of the city that had burned down. Koestermann thinks the phrase quae domui supererant is ‘suspicious’, but cites a two-line poem (a ‘distich’) transmitted by Suetonius, Nero 39.2 (Roma domus fiet: Veios migrate, Quirites, | si non et Veios occupat ista domus – ‘Rome is becoming one house; off with you to Veii, Quirites! If that house does not soon seize upon Veii as well’) and Martial, Liber de Spectaculis 2.4 (cited above) as two other sources that crack the same joke. In further support, one could point to the fact that Tacitus concluded his stock-taking of the destruction wrought by the fire in Chapter 40 by using the same verb as here: septem reliquis pauca tectorum vestigia supererant, lacera et semusta. The lexical coincidence seems to intimate that the large-scale devastation inflicted on the cityscape by the fire are similar in kind to those inflicted by Nero’s palace.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 ut post Gallica incendia: Another reference to the torching of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC. In Livy’s account (as we saw above), when the Gauls sacked Rome, a proposal to move Rome to the site of Veii was flattened by the re-founding hero Camillus with the rhetorical question (5.54):
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Si fraude, si casu Veiis incendium ortum sit, ventoque ut fieri potest, diffusa flamma magnam partem urbis absumat, Fidenas inde aut Gabios aliamve quam urbem quaesituri sumus quo transmigremus?
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 [If by crime or chance a fire should break out at Veii, and that the wind should spread the flames, as may easily happen, until they consume a great part of the city – are we to quit it, and seek out Fidenae, or Gabii, or any other town you like, and migrate there?]
¶ 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 … promisce urbs aedificari coepta. tegula publice praebita est; saxi materiaeque caedendae unde quisque vellet ius factum, praedibus acceptis eo anno aedificia perfecturos. festinatio curam exemit uicos dirigendi, dum omisso sui alienique discrimine in vacuo aedificant…
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 [… people began in a random fashion to rebuild the city. Tiles were supplied at public expense, and everybody was granted the right to quarry stone and to hew timber where he liked, after giving security for the completion of the structures within that year. In their haste men were careless about making the streets straight and, paying no attention to their own and others’ rights, built on the vacant spaces…]
¶ 54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 latis viarum spatiis: Remember the narrowness of the streets before, mentioned in Chapter 38 as a cause of the fire’s rapid progress and one of the reasons for the high death toll. Nero’s vision is for wide boulevards.
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 porticibus: Colonnades to walk and talk in. Here, the stone colonnades also have the extra advantage of protecting the jerry-built blocks of flats from fire, from passing traffic and from the sun.
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 quae frontem insularum protegerent: The subjunctive in the relative clause expresses purpose. Cf. Suetonius, Nero 16.1: Formam aedificiorum urbis novam excogitavit et ut ante insulas ac domos porticus essent, de quarum solariis incendia arcerentur; easque sumptu suo exstruxit (‘He devised a new form of buildings of the city and in front of the houses and apartments he erected porches, from the flat roofs of which fires could be fought; and these he put up at his own cost’).
¶ 57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 43.2 eas porticus Nero sua pecunia extructurum purgatasque areas dominis traditurum pollicitus est. addidit praemia pro cuiusque ordine et rei familiaris copiis finivitque tempus intra quod effectis domibus aut insulis apiscerentur.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Tacitus now details measures undertaken by the emperor to relieve the stricken city. This was expected – it was the standard way to restore confidence among the population after the catastrophe. Apart from the instances of rapid response by Tiberius and Claudius cited above, see Suetonius, Augustus 30, who reports that Augustus gained renown by putting in place proactive measures and taking general care of intelligent town planning:
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Spatium urbis in regiones vicosque divisit instituitque, ut illas annui magistratus sortito tuerentur, hos magistri e plebe cuiusque viciniae lecti. Adversus incendia excubias nocturnas vigilesque commentus est; ad coercendas inundationes alveum Tiberis laxavit ac repurgavit completum olim ruderibus et aedificiorum prolationibus coartatum. Quo autem facilius undique urbs adiretur, desumpta sibi Flaminia via Arimino tenus munienda reliquas triumphalibus viris ex manubiali pecunia sternendas distribuit.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [He divided the area of the city into regions and wards, arranging that the former should be under the charge of magistrates selected each year by lot, and the latter under ‘masters’ elected by the inhabitants of the respective neighourhoods. To guard against fires he devised a system of stations of night watchmen, and to control the floods he widened and cleared out the channel of the Tiber, which had for some time been filled with rubbish and narrowed by jutting buildings. Further, to make the approach to the city easier from every direction, he personally undertook to rebuild the Flaminian Road all the way to Ariminum, and assigned the rest of the highways to others who had been honoured with triumphs, asking them to use their prize-money in paving them.]
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 It would be interesting to compare the reaction of the Berlusconi government to the earthquake that flattened the Italian city of L’Aquila (in Abbruzzo) in April 2009 or the people of Japan to the 2011 tsunami. Tacitus, like other Roman historians, lets his emperor play one-man rescue team and take all plaudits and complaints as if he has no advisers behind him: for a while he suspends his ‘it’s all a[nother] big act’ rhetoric of suspicion.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 eas porticus Nero sua pecunia extructurum purgatasque areas dominis traditurum pollicitus est: The subject is Nero, the verb is pollicitus est, which introduces an indirect statement. The subject accusative (se, i.e. Nero) is only implied. Tacitus does not say that Nero did do these things, only that he promised. We never find out if he delivered on this promise. But Suetonius (Nero 16.1: see above), too, reports that Nero built the colonnades at his own expense. In addition, he took on the expense of clearing away the rubble, so that those who lost their property in the fire had a clean construction site on which to rebuild their houses.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 addidit praemia pro cuiusque ordine et rei familiaris copiis finivitque tempus intra quod effectis domibus aut insulis apiscerentur: Nero also provided financial support for the rebuilding effort, correlating the amount according to the rank (pro … ordine) and wealth (pro … rei familiaris copiis) of each individual (cuiusque); he also specified a deadline by which the reconstruction had to be completed if the owners wished to cash in on the reward-scheme. The house-owners are the subject of the deponent verb apiscerentur; its (implied) accusative object is ea (= praemia). effectis domibus aut insulis is an ablative absolute. Despite the fact that landlords received a sum of money on timely completion of houses or flats which complied with the regulations, the rebuilding nevertheless proceeded slowly, as Suetonius notes in his biography of Vespasian (8.5): Deformis urbs veteribus incendiis ac ruinis erat; vacuas areas occupare et aedificare, si possessores cessarent, cuiusque permisit (‘As the city was unsightly from former fires and fallen buildings, he allowed anyone to take possession of vacant sites and build upon them, in case the owners failed to do so’).
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 43.3 ruderi accipiendo Ostienses paludes destinabat utique naves quae frumentum Tiberi subvectassent onustae rudere decurrerent; aedificiaque ipsa certa sui parte sine trabibus saxo Gabino Albanove solidarentur, quod is lapis ignibus impervius est;
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 ruderi accipiendo Ostienses paludes destinabat utique…: This verb has two objects, connected by the –que after uti: the accusative Ostienses paludes; and the uti-clause. Nero and his advisers came up with a smart scheme, by which the boats that brought corn up the Tiber returned loaded with rubble, to be deposited at Ostia, where the Tiber reached the sea. On previous occasions, people apparently dumped the rubble straight into the Tiber, which caused blockages: see Suetonius, Augustus 30.1, cited above.
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 ruderi … rudere: The position of this word (rubble) at the beginning and end of the sentence enacts the sense of the conveyer-belt system Nero is trying to achieve.
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 aedificiaque ipsa certa sui parte sine trabibus saxo Gabino Albanove solidarentur: The Latin reflects the building blocks under discussion: aedificia ipsa – certa sui parte – sine trabibus – saxo Gabino Albanove + the verb that indicates the aims and objectives of the effort: solidarentur.
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 saxo Gabino Albanove: An instrumental ablative. Its position next to sine trabibus helps to emphasise the replacement of wooden beams with fire-proof rock. Gabian rock was quarried in Gabii, ten miles east of Rome; Alban rock came from the shores of the Alban Lake, 15 miles south-east of Rome.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 quod is lapis ignibus impervius est: These types of rock were of volcanic origin and hence known for their fire-resistant qualities. But, as Miller points out, ‘they are also rough and not very decorative: hence the regulation to ensure their use.’
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 43.4 iam aqua privatorum licentia intercepta quo largior et pluribus locis in publicum flueret, custodes; et subsidia reprimendis ignibus in propatulo quisque haberet; nec communione parietum, sed propriis quaeque muris ambirentur.
¶ 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 Tacitus here enumerates three further measures undertaken by Nero for the benefit of the Roman citizens, as precautions against future fires. They are designed to ensure (a) a good supply of water; (b) means of fighting fires at the moment they break out; (c) measures to prevent fires from spreading. The syntax of this chapter still depends, in a loose way, on the destinabat of 43.3. Thus custodes could be taken either as a direct object (‘he designated guardians’) in parallel to Ostienses paludes or as the subject of an elliptical ut-clause in parallel to the uti-clause ([ut] custodes essent). custodes is preceded by a long purpose clause introduced by quo, but with the subject, i.e. aqua, which agrees with intercepta, placed in front for emphasis. Tacitus elides the ut in the two following clauses as well: et … haberet; nec … ambirentur.
¶ 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 aqua privatorum licentia intercepta: Tacitus begins with the problem – irresponsible citizens diverting Rome’s water supply for their own use (often only for ornamental fountains). The prominent position of aqua (a long way from its verb flueret) stresses the need to address this problem; and the pejorative licentia (an ablative of cause) heaps condemnation on the Romans who thieve from their fellows.
¶ 75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 privatorum … in publicum: The contrast between private and public also dominated Tacitus’ account of Nero’s Domus Aurea. It is almost as if the emperor here seems to make some amends for his own encroachment of civic space by stopping the private theft of public resources.
¶ 76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 custodes: Nero’s arrangements here build on the public administration of a vital resource (water) first put into place by Augustus. Nero’s custodians were meant to patrol the aqueducts to ensure individuals could not siphon water off for themselves.
¶ 79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 nec communione parietum, sed propriis quaeque muris: There is classic Tacitean variatio at play here: firstly in the two different words for wall (parietum … muris); and secondly in the change of construction from ‘noun + genitive’ to ‘noun + adjective attribute.’ This not only keeps the narrative from becoming monotonous, but also enacts the change of the regulations itself. Clearly detached houses are much less conducive to the spread of fire than semi-detached buildings. As Koestermann points out, already the 12 Tables (Rome’s most ancient code of law) specified a distance of 2.5 feet between housing blocks (insulae).
¶ 80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 43.5 ea ex utilitate accepta decorem quoque novae urbi attulere. erant tamen qui crederent veterem illam formam salubritati magis conduxisse, quoniam angustiae itinerum et altitudo tectorum non perinde solis vapore perrumperentur: at nunc patulam latitudinem et nulla umbra defensam graviore aestu ardescere.
¶ 81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 ea ex utilitate accepta decorem quoque novae urbi attulere: attulere = attulerunt. The pronoun ea (nominative neuter plural) sums up the measures Nero put in place. Motivated in the first place by utilitarian considerations, they also (quoque) helped to beautify the city. decus is a very positive word, implying glory and achievement as well as purely aesthetic qualities. In addition, novae urbi gives a flavour of what post-conflagration Rome must have looked like, a city renewed, with a different outlook than before.
¶ 82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 erant tamen qui…: Even after such a positive passage on Nero’s work, Tacitus reports the comments of some more sceptical voices (although, as usual, he refrains from indicating whether he shares their opinion). This finish to the chapter helps to convey Nero’s unpopularity: even when he did well, there were plenty of critics. Miller, following Koestermann, notes that ‘there always are such people: and they sometimes (as here) have a point.’ Perhaps, though the open streets, even if affording less shade, may well have been healthier in terms of preventing disease and ensuring a supply of fresh air. (Contrast Livy’s affectionate nostalgia for the rabbit warren of Rome as shoved up after the Gallic wipe-out, above.)
¶ 84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 angustiae itinerum et altitudo tectorum: Tacitus had occasion to mention the (notorious) narrowness of the Roman streets in Chapter 38 as one of the key causes of the fire’s rapid spread. So one wonders whether he is making a point here about Nero’s no-win position and the intractability of some of his critics. You may reflect on how sensitive the handling of disasters such as the New Orleans floods has proved for the standing of American presidents.
¶ 85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 non perinde solis vapore perrumperentur: perrumperentur is in the (oblique) subjunctive: this is not Tacitus’ own explanation but the argument of the critics who exaggerate the power of the sun’s rays so as to be able to harp about the new layout of the city. Put differently, this sentence does not mean ‘since the narrowness of the streets etc. were not so easily penetrated’, but ‘since they argued that the narrowness of the streets etc. were not so easily penetrated.’ This subtlety keeps the historian at an arm’s length from the comments of these men.
¶ 87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 patulam latitudinem et nulla umbra defensam graviore aestu ardescere: Tacitus continues to reproduce the exaggerated language of the critics: note the metonymic expression patula latitudo, picking out for emphasis the offending feature of the new streets (they are broad and open); the hyperbole in nulla umbra; the powerful phrase graviore aestu; the almost-military idea of defensam; and the emphatic metaphor in ardescere. At Annals 4.67.2 Tacitus calls the volcano Vesuvius a mons ardescens. The verb also ominously recalls the fire and anticipates the burning of the Christians.