¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 45.1 Interea conferendis pecuniis pervastata Italia, provinciae eversae sociique populi et quae civitatium liberae vocantur. inque eam praedam etiam dii cessere, spoliatis in urbe templis egestoque auro quod triumphis, quod votis omnis populi Romani aetas prospere aut in metu sacraverat.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Tacitus now focuses attention on the economic consequences of Nero’s efforts to rebuild the burnt-out city and his ravaged reputation. The money-raising affected every part of the Roman empire: we move from Italy to the periphery (provinces, allies, supposedly autonomous civic communities within the reach of Roman power) before zooming in on Rome itself and its divinities. As in his stock-taking after the fire, Tacitus here bemoans the loss of treasures in the temples accumulated over centuries of Roman military success. The riches that resulted from close collaboration of Rome’s civic community and its supernatural fellow-citizens are now squandered by an irresponsible emperor.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 conferendis pecuniis pervastata [sc. est] Italia: The juxtaposition of these two phrases makes horrifyingly clear again Nero’s abuse of the country for his own ends. The strengthened verb pervastata (‘thoroughly ravaged’) suggests his ruthless exploitation of Italy. Clearly vast sums of money were needed for the building projects. Cf. Suetonius, Nero 38.3: conlationibusque non receptis modo verum et efflagitatis provincias privatorumque census prope exhausit (‘and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals’). More generally, as John Henderson points out, this is how capital cities of empires work, and not just Nero’s – the exotica and the scum of the earth are scoured and flood in, as we have seen, and the resources of the world are put at the service of beautifying, ennobling, and in case of disaster of putting them back on their feet, back on top, where they presume they belong.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 provinciae eversae [sc. sunt] sociique populi et quae civitatium liberae vocantur [= et eae civitatium quae liberae vocantur]: eversae, which here refers to financial ruin, takes three subjects: provinciae, socii populi, and civitates liberae, though Tacitus presents the last item in such a way as to show that Nero and his agents made a mockery of the attribute ‘free.’ civitates liberae were specially privileged states such as Athens that were supposed to be immune from taxation – hence the ironical vocantur.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 inque eam praedam etiam dii cessere: The polysyndeton continues (-que). In addition, the use of the word praeda to describe Nero’s fundraising is telling: it is used primarily in a military context for the booty stripped from a defeated enemy. Its use here paints Nero’s action as ruthless, thieving and hostile to his own subjects – and the gods. Tacitus’ use of the gods as subjects unable to withstand the emperor’s onslaught dramatically magnifies Nero’s greed and sacrilege, an effect helped by the emphasising etiam. As often, Tacitus does not leave Nero’s crime as simple rapacity, but introduces connotations of sacrilege and brutality as well.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 spoliatis in urbe templis: An ablative absolute. spoliatis implies military booty seized from a defeated foe, but here is used to convey the savage execution of Nero’s fund-raising campaign. The targets of his greed and desperation are the temples of the gods within the city of Rome: in urbe makes clear that Nero’s abuse of the city did not stop at the building of the Domus Aurea. Pliny the Elder, after listing the greatest works of Greek art in Rome in his Natural History, finishes by saying (34.84): ‘And among the list of works I have referred to all the most celebrated have now been dedicated by the emperor Vespasian in the Temple of Peace and his other public buildings; they had been looted by Nero, who conveyed them all to Rome and arranged them in the sitting-rooms of his Golden House.’
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 egestoque auro quod triumphis, quod votis omnis populi Romani aetas prospere aut in metu sacraverat: egesto auro is another ablative absolute that leads into a quod-clause, in which Tacitus details what kind of gold is at issue: the material investment made by successive generations of Roman magistrates in their communication with the divine sphere, either in situations of triumph (quod triumphis ~ prospere) or of crisis (quod votis ~ in metu; Roman generals vowed gifts to the gods in return for their support on the battlefield; it was often a measure of last resort to avert defeat). The anaphora quod … quod… lays emphasis on the many grand occasions on which these golden statues had been dedicated to the temples. The totalising omnis … aetas makes explicit Nero’s abuse of the shared and ancient Roman heritage, emphasised by the formal term populi Romani. The polarities prospere aut in metu, set off by variatio (adverb; in + abl.), cover the whole range, suggesting that all precious objects were fair game to Nero. Finally, the verb sacraverat reminds us of the holy origin of these items and Nero’s irreligiosity.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 triumphis: The triumph was the highest honour which could be awarded to a victorious Roman general. Nero perverts this sacred ritual. Far from celebrating public service and dedicating great riches to the Roman people, he steals from the accumulated public treasure for his own uses.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 45.2 enimvero per Asiam atque Achaiam non dona tantum, sed simulacra numinum abripiebantur, missis in eas provincias Acrato ac Secundo Carrinate. ille libertus cuicumque flagitio promptus, hic Graeca doctrina ore tenus exercitus animum bonis artibus non induerat.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 non dona tantum sed simulacra numinum abripiebantur: The non … tantum, sed … construction emphasises Nero’s lack of restraint, whilst the violent verb abripiebantur underlines his rapacity. And again, Tacitus points to the sacrilegious nature of Nero’s plunder. The Greek travel writer Pausanias (writing in the mid-second century) tells us that Nero stole 500 statues from Delphi alone (10.7.1), while also swooping up treasures from other sanctuaries such as Olympia (6.25.9; 6.26.3).
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 missis in eas provincias Acrato ac Secundo Carrinate: Tacitus uses an ablative absolute to name Nero’s agents: Acratus, one of Nero’s freedmen, mentioned later in the Annals but otherwise unknown, and Secundus Carrinas, who was believed to have been the son of an orator exiled by Caligula. A right pair, this, ‘Uncontrollable’ Greekling [akrates in Greek ethics is someone without command over himself or his passions] plus Roman-sounding ‘Winner’, for the dirty work.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 ille [sc. erat] libertus cuicumque flagitio promptus: A freedman rather than a senatorial official being sent to collect money was, for Tacitus, a sign of the unhealthy influence of ex-slaves at the imperial court. Almost by definition, such creatures were depraved and Acratus is no exception: Tacitus stresses that his immorality knew no bounds.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 hic Graeca doctrina ore tenus exercitus animum bonis artibus non induerat: Secundus Carrinas apparently studied philosophy (Graeca doctrina), but only superficially (ore tenus: lit. ‘as far as his mouth’, i.e. he talked the talk but did not bother to walk the walk): his mind (animus) remained unaffected by the exposure to the excellent education (cf. bonis artibus) he received. Tacitus revels in hypocrisy of this sort, and here stresses this with the simple and scathing contrast between ore and animum: a wonderfully concise and acid description of a hypocrite.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 45.3 ferebatur Seneca quo invidiam sacrilegii a semet averteret longinqui ruris secessum oravisse et, postquam non concedebatur, ficta valetudine, quasi aeger nervis cubiculum non egressus. tradidere quidam venenum ei per libertum ipsius, cui nomen Cleonicus, paratum iussu Neronis vitatumque a Seneca proditione liberti seu propria formidine, dum persimplici victu et agrestibus pomis ac, si sitis admoneret, profluente aqua vitam tolerat.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 To his account of Nero’s sacrilege, Tacitus appends an anecdote about the Stoic philosopher Seneca, Nero’s boyhood tutor and chief adviser in the early years of his reign. He last made an appearance in the Annals at 15.23, when he congratulated Nero on his reconciliation with Thrasea Paetus. At Annals 14.56, Tacitus reported that Seneca put in a request for early retirement and, after Nero refused to grant it, withdrew himself from the centre of power as much as possible. Now he again tries to put suitable distance between himself and Nero, yet again without success. The incident here prefigures his death in the wake of the conspiracy of Piso, which is given pride of place in Tacitus’ account of AD 65, at Annals 15.48–74. Tacitus makes it clear that he does not wish to vouch for the veracity of the anecdote: with ferebatur and tradidere quidam he references anonymous sources without endorsing them. But at 15.60.2 Tacitus recounts the attempt to poison Seneca as fact: … ut ferro grassaretur (sc. Nero) quando venenum non processerat (’… as poison had not worked, he was anxious to proceed by the sword’).
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 quo invidiam sacrilegii a semet averteret: A purpose clause (hence the subjunctive). Tacitus makes Nero’s sacrilege explicit, to the point of saying that his close adviser wanted to avoid being tainted by association. The noun invidiam is strong, implying real hatred, whilst the emphasised pronoun semet (himself) conveys Seneca’s fear that he himself might be held in some way responsible.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 longinqui ruris secessum oravisse: The emphatically positioned longinqui suggests Seneca’s desperate wish to be far from the firing line, as does the verb oravisse.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 ficta valetudine quasi aeger nervis: ficta and quasi return us to a favourite theme of Tacitus: the gulf between reality and presentation. Here, even the noble Seneca resorts to deceit – such is the nature of Roman political life under Nero. Seneca chose to simulate a muscular disease that restricted his mobility, presumably because it would have been difficult to prove that he faked it; it also offered a good pretext to stay away from court and he kept it going till his number was up (15.61.1). valetudo can mean both ‘good health’ and ‘ill health’ and here of course means the latter. In the gruesome event, the old valetudinarian bird was so tough he took a great deal of killing to see himself off (15.63.3, 64.3-4).
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 postquam non concedebatur: The subject is secessus. For the tense (postquam + imperfect) see Miller’s note at 37.3: ‘postquam with the imperfect indicative describes an action which continues up to the time of the main verb. Because of this, it often conveys a causal connection too, “now that”.’
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 tradidere quidam venenum ei per libertum ipsius, cui nomen [sc. erat] Cleonicus, paratum [sc. esse] iussu Neronis vitatumque [sc. esse] a Seneca proditione liberti seu propria formidine: tradidere [= tradiderunt] introduces an indirect statement with venenum as subject accusative and paratum (esse) and vitatum (esse) as infinitives. The marked position of venenum gives special emphasis to the horrifying fact that Nero tried to poison his old friend and teacher. Note again that it is a freedman involved in this skulduggery, with ipsius (his own) emphasising Nero’s role.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The detail cui nomen Cleonicus may render the story more concrete and hence plausible but, as John Henderson reminds us, the usual point in Tacitus’ naming especially Greek ‘extras’ for walk-on parts is that they tote ‘speaking names’: so, enter ‘Glory-Be-Victory’ [from kleos = glory and nike = victory]. (A favourite is ‘Invincible’ ‘Anicetus’, whose persistence finally clinched another staggered sequence of (botched) butchery, when eliminating Nero’s mother Agrippina to inaugurate Annals 14 and Nero’s first break out from the shackles of boyhood (notably Seneca’s control)).
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 paratum iussu Neronis vitatumque a Seneca: The failure of the plan is stressed by the balanced phrases here: ‘prepared by Nero’s orders, avoided by Seneca.’ The hand of the emperor behind this crime is explicit.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 proditione liberti seu propria formidine: Again Tacitus gives two possible explanations, linked by the alliteration and paronomasia proditione ~ propria and with emphasis on the second. The crime could have been revealed to Seneca by the crumbling of Cleonicus (proditione liberti), with the word proditio (‘treachery’, ‘betrayal’) used with immense irony – his ‘betrayal’ was to save the life of Seneca, a cutting comment on the perversity of Nero’s reign. Or the crime could have been foiled by Seneca’s own fear (propria formidine): this is the more incriminating explanation because it implies that Seneca was already expecting an assassination attempt from his one-time supervisee. There is variatio in constructions (noun + subjective genitive (proditione liberti) followed by attribute + noun), which generates a chiasmus that helps to stress the second option, as does the following dum-clause.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 dum persimplici victu et agrestibus pomis ac, si sitis admoneret, profluente aqua vitam tolerat: Seneca managed to prolong his life by only consuming non-processed food and running water, which pre-empted any possibility of adding poison – though the anecdote brings to mind Livia’s murder of Augustus by poisoning figs still on the tree. See Cassius Dio 56.30: ‘So Augustus fell sick and died. Livia incurred some suspicion in connexion with his death… she smeared with poison some figs that were still on trees from which Augustus was wont to gather the fruit with his own hands; then she ate those that had not been smeared, offering the poisoned ones to him.’ (Tacitus, at Annals 1.5, mentions the rumour that Livia tried to poison Augustus, but without going into details.) et agrestibus pomis explicates persimplici victu. Koestermann points out that the indicative tolerat within indirect speech is designed to convey Tacitus’ admiration for the Spartan simplicity of Seneca’s chosen way of life, but it may just as well cash out as sage precaution against the risk of poison at court (cf. 15.60.3). The subjunctive admoneret in the si-clause expresses repeated action (and thus has affinity with the generic use of the subjunctive).