GCSE Latin Prose B 2025-26

GCSE Latin Prose B 2025-26

Messalina (Tacitus) and avunculus meus (Pliny the Younger)




Messalina novo et quasi insano amore incensa est.

Messalina burned with new and almost mad love.

nam in C. Silium, iuventutis Romanae pulcherrimum, ita exarserat ut Iuniam Silanam, nobilem feminam, matrimonio eius exturbaret liberoque adultero potiretur.

For she had been so inflamed for Gaius Silius, the most handsome of Roman youth, that she drove Junia Silana, a noble woman, out of marriage with him and acquired an adulterer who was single.

neque Silius flagitii aut periculi nescius erat: sed intellexit exitium, si abnueret, fore certum et, si consentiret, nonnullam facinoris celandi spem esse;

Nor was Silius unaware of the scandal or danger: but he understood that, if he refused, death would be certain and, if he agreed, there was some hope of hiding the crime;

simulque se magna praemia accepturum.

and at the same time he would receive great rewards.

igitur placuit neglegere futura praesentibus frui.

Therefore he decided to ignore the future and enjoy the present.

illa non furtim sed multis cum comitibus ventitat domum, egredienti adhaeret, dat opes honoresque;

She came repeatedly to his house, not secretly but with many companions, she would cling to him when he went out, she granted him money and honours;

postremo servi, liberti, paratus principis apud adulterum saepe videbantur.

finally the slaves, freedmen, belongings of the emperor were often seen at the house of her lover.

at Claudius matrimonii sui erat ignarus.

But Claudius was unaware of the state of his marriage.

Messalina novo et quasi insano amore incensa est.

novō: indicating that Messalina had had at least one affair previously.

quasi īnsānō: Roman poets frequently presented love as a form of madness. Here īnsānō has further point in that for Messalina and Silius their affair will be dangerous if Claudius finds out. The literal translation of quasi is ‘as if’; translate it here as ‘as it were’ or ‘one could say’, i.e. it has the effect of putting īnsānō in inverted commas, indicating that the word is being used slightly differently from its usual sense in the context of love.

nam in C. Silium, iuventutis Romanae pulcherrimum, ita exarserat ut Iuniam Silanam, nobilem feminam, matrimonio eius exturbaret liberoque adultero potiretur.

incēnsa est … exarserat: Roman writers frequently use fire as a metaphor for love. In C. Sīlium … exarserat: exardēscere in (+ accusative) = ‘be inflamed (with love) for’. C. Sīlium: Gaius is abbreviated to C. Originally the letter c represented both c- and g- sounds.

Iūniam Sīlānam: she died in exile.

mātrimōniō eius exturbāret: eius is an objective genitive and refers to Silius. Lit. ‘marriage of him’, but translate here as ‘her marriage to him’. The phrase mātrimōniō exturbāre means ‘to divorce’ (lit. ‘to force out of marriage’). Usually it is used of a husband divorcing his wife. Here, however, the subject is Messalina. What does this suggest about Messalina?

līberōque adulterō potīrētur: ‘Took a lover [who was] unencumbered [by a wife]’. Alternatively, understand (‘him’), as object of potīrētur. ‘Took [him], unencumbered by a wife, as her lover’ (potior takes the ablative).

adulterō: The emperor Augustus introduced a law in 18BC which made adultery a crime. Before this time adultery had been a matter for the family. Adultery was defined as sex outside marriage between a Roman male citizen and a married Roman female citizen or between a married Roman female citizen and any male. The normal penalty was to be banished to an island and have part of one’s property and dowry confiscated. If a husband had clear evidence of his wife’s adultery he had to divorce her. Note the double standard; a married male citizen was allowed to have sex with slaves, ex-slaves and unmarried female lower-class citizens, whereas a married female upper-class citizen was expected to have sex only with her husband. Adultery by a man was only a crime if the woman was a respectable married woman. Augustus even banished his own daughter Julia when he found out about her adultery.

neque Silius flagitii aut periculi nescius erat: sed intellexit exitium, si abnueret, fore certum et, si consentiret, nonnullam facinoris celandi spem esse;

fore: The future infinitive of esse, an alternative to futūrum esse.

nōnnūllam … spem: Notice the word order. The adjective is separated from its noun by the dependent genitive phrase. The effect is to emphasise the key word nōnnūllam.

simulque se magna praemia accepturum.

simulque … acceptūrum: This is still part of the indirect statement introduced by intellēxit. acceptūrum = acceptūrum esse, the future infinitive. Tacitus often omits forms of the verb esse.

igitur placuit neglegere futura praesentibus frui.

placuit: Understand ; ‘it was pleasing [to him]’, i.e. ‘he decided’.

neglegere futūra (et) praesentibus fruī: futūra is the future participle of sum; the neuter plural is used as a noun, literally ‘things about to be’ = ‘the future’. praesentibus is a neuter plural adjective = ‘present things’, i.e. ‘the present’. It is common in Latin to use the neuter form of adjectives and participles as nouns. Omission of the connective et (asyndeton) makes the expression more economical and forceful. Notice the word order: in the second limb, the order of infinitive (A) and participle (B) is reversed: neglegere futūra praesentibus fruī – infinitive 1 participle 1 participle 2 infinitive 2 A B B A. This pattern of words is called chiasmus. The effect is to draw the reader’s/listener’s attention to the two contrasting pairs of words.

illa non furtim sed multis cum comitibus ventitat domum, egredienti adhaeret, dat opes honoresque;

illa: Messalina. multīs cum comitibus: the preposition is sandwiched between adjective and noun. This is a common word order in Latin. ventitat: it is common in Latin to use a present tense where English would use a past tense; this is known as the historic present tense. An historic present tense can be translated into English as either a present or a past tense. The effect of using the historic present tense is to make events more vivid or immediate. The usage occurs frequently in this extract and will not usually be commented on. ventitō is the frequentative form of veniō, indicating that the action was done repeatedly, e.g. ‘she visited him repeatedly’.

ēgredientī (Sīliō): ēgredientī is the dative singular of the present participle, referring to Silius.

dat opēs honōrēsque: Roman women could own property and were in charge of their own wealth; however, the next sentence shows that at least some of the property she bestowed on Silius belonged to her husband, the emperor Claudius. The honours presumably were public office and status. Silius’ designation to the consulship may have been a gift from Messalina; she could have obtained them for him by using her influence with the emperor.

postremo servi, liberti, paratus principis apud adulterum saepe videbantur.

videbantur: Tacitus doesn’t tell us who saw these things at the house of Silius, but the fact they were seen at all is a problem for Claudius – he can no longer turn a blind eye.

at Claudius matrimonii sui erat ignarus.

at: marks a strong contrast.

mātrimōniī suī … ignārus: Literally, ‘unaware of his own marriage’. This sentence is typical of Tacitus’ economy of expression. A suitable translation would be ‘was unaware of the state of his own marriage’ or ‘was unaware of his own marital problems.’



iam Messalina propter facilitatem adulteriorum ad novas libidines versa est.

Now Messalina, because of the ease of her adultery, turned to new pleasures.

Silius, sive fatali insania an ipsa pericula remedium imminentium periculorum ratus, abrumpi dissimulationem urgebat:

Silius, either because of a predestined madness or thinking that dangers themselves were a cure for threatening dangers, was insisting that concealment be thrown off.

quippe non exspectandum, dum princeps senesceret.

Indeed it was not necessary to wait until the emperor grew old.

se caelibem, orbum, nuptiis et adoptando Britannico paratum.

He himself was unmarried, childless and prepared for marriage and to adopt Britannicus.

eandem Messalinae potentiam mansuram esse, addita securitate, si praevenirent Claudium,

The same power would remain for Messalina, with added security, if they forestalled Claudius,

qui insidiis incautus sed ad iram celer esset.

who was unaware of a plot but was quick to anger.

Messalina, non amore in maritum, sed verita ne Silius summa adeptus se sperneret, diu haesitavit;

Messalina, not because of love for her husband, but fearing that Silius, having obtained supreme power, might reject her, hesitated for a long time.

sed tandem persuasum.

But finally she was persuaded.

nomen enim matrimonii concupivit ob magnitudinem infamiae.

For she longed for the name of marriage, because of the magnitude of its outrageousness.

nec ultra morata quam dum sacrificii gratia Claudius Ostiam proficisceretur, cuncta nuptiarum sollemnia celebrat.

Having delayed no longer than until Claudius set out to Ostia for the purpose of a sacrifice, she celebrated all the rituals of marriage.

adulteriōrum: the plural could either be exaggeration or it could indicate that Messalina had a series of affairs.

novās libīdinēs: Tacitus reveals what these new pleasures were later in this section. Either Tacitus is hinting at some new vices or he is anticipating what happens.

Sīlius … urgēbat: this is a difficult sentence.

  • The phrases introduced by sīve and an introduce two possible motives for Silius’ behaviour. The first is expressed by an ablative phrase (fātālī īnsāniā). Here the ablative is translated as ‘because of’ or ‘through’.

  • Silius’ alternative motive is introduced by ratus: Tacitus is telling the reader what Silius was thinking. ratus can be translated as ‘thinking’ or ‘because he thought’. The content of his thought is expressed in an indirect statement (accusative and infinitive with the infinitive esse omitted): he thought that something was a remedy for something else. Dangers (perīcula) were a remedy for dangers (perīculōrum).

  • Tacitus is saying that dangers themselves are a remedy for threatening dangers, meaning something like ‘Taking a risk now can avert danger in the future.’; or ‘Dangerous situations demand dangerous solutions.’ The English proverb ‘Attack is the best form of defence’ could be compared.

  • Now focus on the final clause, to which the rest of the sentence has been building up: abrumpī dissimulātiōnem urgēbat. What was Silius doing? What was he insisting should be done?

abrumpī dissimulātiōnem urgēbat: a rare use of urgeō with accusative and infinitive to express an indirect command; normally it would be followed by ut or ne + subjunctive. Only Claudius is being kept in the dark about the adultery.

urgēbat: notice the imperfect tense, suggesting that Silius kept on insisting.

quippe … esset: in these three sentences Tacitus is reporting Silius’ words. The colon after urgēbat indicates that a section of reported speech is going to follow. The main verbs are infinitives (sometimes esse is omitted) and the verbs in the subordinate clauses are subjunctive. There are two ways of translating extended sections of reported speech. Either start off in English with an introductory verb, e.g. ‘He said that …’ or convert the words to direct speech. refers to Silius.

nōn exspectandum: add esse. exspectandum is an impersonal passive gerundive, indicated what should or must happen?’

sē caelibem: In what tone of voice do you think Silius uses the word caelibem? Is he being ironic?

nūptiīs et adoptandō Britannicō parātum: adoptandō is a gerundive and the dative case depends on parātum. Britannicus is the son of Claudius and Messalina. Silius’ suggestion is startling. It would be legal for Silius to marry Messalina and adopt Britannicus (and presumably Octavia, the sister of Britannicus, as well) only after Claudius had died or she had divorced him. Romans thought it was very important to have a male heir to continue the family and inherit property. An upper-class Roman man who did not have a son would often adopt an heir. Roman emperors often did this to ensure a successor.

eandem Messalīnae potentiam: the separation of adjective and noun highlights Silius’ argument: that Messalina will still be the wife of an emperor, only the emperor will be Silius, not Claudius. Notice that the word order puts emphasis on eandem.

additā sēcūritāte: lit. ‘with freedom from anxiety (or safety) having been added’, i.e. ‘with, in addition, freedom from anxiety (or safety)’. sēcūritās can be translated as either ‘freedom from anxiety’ or ‘safety, security’. Is there evidence that Messalina has shown anxiety so far? In what sense would she be more secure?

īnsidiīs incautus: ‘slow to suspect intrigue’, lit. ‘unsuspecting as regards plots’. īnsidiīs is dative. Silius may be twisting the truth here to make his plan more convincing to Messalina. Certainly, Tacitus has presented Claudius as easily duped by Messalina; however, his past behaviour, as recorded by Tacitus, shows him to have been on his guard against potential plots against him. Messalina must have been aware that she was a possible suspect.

ad īram celer: i.e. once he did suspect a plot he reacted quickly. This explains why Silius is saying that it is important to act quickly, before Claudius becomes suspicious.

amōre: the ablative expresses the cause of Messalina’s behaviour, ‘not through love for (in) her husband’.

summa: the neuter plural of the adjective is used as a noun = ‘the heights’ i.e. ‘supreme power, the throne’.

sē: ‘her’, referring to the subject of the sentence, Messalina.

persuāsum: impersonal passive. Tacitus’ sentence is very economical, abbreviated from eī persuasum est. This is impossible to translate literally into English (‘It was persuaded to her!’). A close translation might be something like, ‘Persuasion was given to her’. Translate as ‘she was persuaded’.

nōmen … mātrimōniī: the idea here could be that it was a marriage in name only because she was not divorced from her husband. Alternatively, the idea of being called Silius’ wife (the label ‘marriage’) appealed to her because marriage was more outrageous than adultery. The phrase could be translated as ‘the idea of marriage’ or ‘the label of marriage’.

nec ultrā … quam dum: ‘only until’, lit. ‘not longer than until’.

sacrificiī grātiā: the preposition grātiā regularly follows its dependent genitive noun. Claudius was chief priest (pontifex maximus) and so would have overseen important sacrifices.

Ostiam: ‘to Ostia’. With the names of towns, the accusative is regularly used without a preposition to indicate movement towards. Ostia was Rome’s harbour, situated at the mouth of the River Tiber, about sixteen miles from the city. It was the place where the grain, imported mainly from Egypt, was unloaded. Rome’s population was heavily dependent on imported grain, and maintenance of the grain supply was one of an emperor’s important preoccupations. Therefore, the sacrifice may have been in connection with the grain supply. An alternative explanation is that it was something to do with a temple which Claudius had built at Ostia, perhaps a dedication.



igitur domus principis inhorruit, maximeque ei qui potentiam habebant timuerunt ne res verterentur:

Therefore the household of the emperor shuddered, and most of all those who held power feared that the government might be overthrown.

spem tamen habebant, si Claudio de atrocitate sceleris persuasissent, Messalinam posse opprimi sine quaestione damnatam;

However they had hope that, if they persuaded Claudius of the enormity of the crime, Messalina could be crushed by being condemned without trial.

sed periculum esse ne ille defensionem audiret, neve clausae aures etiam confitenti non essent.

But there was a danger that he might listen to her defence, and that his ears might not be closed to her even if she confessed.

Narcissus, occasiones quaerens, cum Caesar diu apud Ostiam moraretur, duas eius paelices largitione et promissis perpulit delationem subire.

Narcissus, looking for opportunities, while Claudius delayed for a long time at Ostia, induced two of his courtesans with bribery and promises to undertake the accusation.

exim Calpurnia (id alteri paelici nomen), ubi datum est secretum, ad genua Caesaris provoluta nupsisse Messalinam Silio exclamat;

Then Calpurnia (that was the name of one courtesan), when a private interview was given, having fallen down at the knees of Claudius, exclaimed that Messalina had married Silius.

altera paelice haec confirmante, Calpurnia cieri Narcissum postulat.

With the other courtesan confirming this, Calpurnia demanded that Narcissus be summoned.

qui ‘discidiumne tuum’ inquit ‘novisti? nam matrimonium Silii vidit populus et senatus et milites; ac nisi celeriter agis, tenet urbem maritus.’

He said ‘Do you know about your divorce? For the people and the senate and the soldiers have seen Silius’ marriage; and unless you act quickly, her husband holds the city.’

domus prīncipis: the members of the imperial staff.

eī quī potentiam habēbant: the freedmen (libertī) who were Claudius’ closest advisers and had most to lose from a coup. These ex-slaves were employed by the emperor as personal assistants and advisers. Some of Claudius’ freedmen became extremely rich and powerful; their influence with the emperor was often resented by Roman nobles and senators.

rēs verterentur: ‘that there would be a coup’, or ‘that the government would be overthrown’, lit. ‘that things would be overturned’. rēs here has the sense of ‘government’.

At this point the set text omits a passage in which the freedmen discuss the situation: they see Silius as posing a definite threat to the regime, and express fears about Claudius’ gullibility and subservience to his wife. Tacitus is now definitely making it clear that Silius was seen as plotting to overthrow Claudius.

sī … persuāsissent: pluperfect subjunctive in indirect statement (for a future perfect in the original direct statement): ‘they hoped that if …’.

sceleris: this could be the marriage or the plot to overthrow Claudius or both.

sine quaestiōne: if Messalina were put on trial Claudius would be the judge. Claudius’ freedmen wanted to avoid giving Messalina any opportunity of putting her case and winning Claudius over. A trial would also have brought unwelcome publicity, and the delay might have given Messalina time to persuade Claudius to forgive her.

perīculum esse nē … nēve: Tacitus is continuing to report what Claudius’ advisers thought; this is indicated by the accusative and infinitive construction, perīculum esse. perīculum esse is followed by two fear clauses, nē … nēve, ‘there was a danger that … and that …’.

ille: Claudius.

clausae aurēs … nōn essent: this is a vivid restatement of dēfēnsiōnem audīret, but with the addition of etiam cōnfitentī, ‘even if she confessed’.

cōnfitentī: add Messalīnae. cōnfitentī is dative singular of the present participle of cōnfiteor (‘I confess’); the dative is used because Claudius’ ears were not closed to her, i.e. Claudius listened to her.

Narcissus: the most powerful of Claudius’ freedmen, the secretary in charge of his correspondence.

occāsiōnēs: opportunities of convincing Claudius of Messalina’s guilt.

Caesar: Claudius.

Ostiam: where Claudius had gone to make sacrifice.

duās eius paelicēs: either ‘his two concubines’ or ‘two of his concubines’. These were freedwomen, kept by the emperor as his mistresses. Tacitus takes it for granted that the emperor would have mistresses.

Calpurnia: nothing is known about this woman.

sēcrētum: here = ‘a secret interview’.

nūpsisse Messalīnam Sīliō: notice the word order. The usual word order in Latin would be Messalīnam Sīliō nūpsisse (in direct speech, Messalīna Sīliō nūpsit: subject, object, verb). The effect of this departure from the norm (hyperbaton) could be to attract the attention of the listener (Claudius), or to delay the shocking revelation of who has married whom.

exim: it is clear that this takes place while Claudius is still at Ostia. Either Narcissus and the two concubines were there with Claudius all the time, or Narcissus has quickly brought the girls from Rome. Tacitus does not provide these details, which would slow down the narrative.

ciērī Narcissum postulat: presumably part of Narcissus’ plan – he has told Calpurnia to say this.

quī: ‘and he’, i.e. Narcissus. The relative pronoun is often used in Latin to connect a sentence to the previous one (connecting relative).

discidium: a shocking word to use here as there has been no formal divorce. Divorce could be initiated by one partner, either husband or wife. By marrying a new husband, Messalina could be regarded as divorcing Claudius.

populus et senātus et mīlitēs: the people, the Senate and the soldiers, i.e. the whole population of Rome except the emperor himself. mīlitēs means the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard was the emperor’s bodyguard. Its job was to protect the emperor and his family, avert plots against the emperor, and suppress disturbances. It was important for a new emperor to gain and retain the support of the praetorians. The praetorians had chosen Claudius to become emperor after the murder of Caligula. They were based in a permanent camp in the northeast of the city.

mātrimōnium Sīliī vīdit populus et senātus et mīlitēs: notice the unusual word order; an example of hyperbaton. The three subjects have been postponed to the end of the sentence, after the verb. The effect may be to draw attention to the three delayed subjects. Tacitus emphasises that the whole city knows by separating out the three elements. Narcissus mentions the three groups in what Claudius would regard as ascending order of importance.

nisi … agis, tenet urbem marītus: the present tenses instead of the usual future perfect and future give a sense of urgency and immediacy. The present tense is used idiomatically in the protasis of conditionals to express threat or warning. Its use in the apodosis is particularly striking.

tenet urbem marītus: another example of unusual word order in Narcissus’ speech. Students could be asked to rearrange these three words in the more regular order: marītus urbem tenet (subject, object, verb). Again the effect is to draw attention (of both Claudius and the reader/listener) to the words, and also to emphasise the final word, marītus.

marītus: Silius.



non solum rumor interea, sed undique nuntii ad Messalinam contendunt, qui Claudium omnia cognovisse et venire promptum ultioni adferrent.

Meanwhile not only rumour, but messengers from all directions hurried to Messalina to report that Claudius had found out everything and was coming ready for revenge.

igitur Messalina Lucullianos in hortos, Silius dissimulando metui ad forum digrediuntur.

Therefore they separated, Messalina to the Gardens of Lucullus, Silius, to disguise his fear, to the Forum.

illa tamen, quamquam res adversae consilium eximerent, ire obviam et aspici a marito statim constituit, quod saepe ei fuerat subsidium;

She, however, although misfortune prevented planning, immediately decided to go to meet and be seen by her husband – a ploy which had often been a life-saver for her;

misitque ut Britannicus et Octavia in complexum patris irent.

and she sent orders that Britannicus and Octavia should go into the embrace of their father.

atque interim, tribus omnino comitantibus – tam repens erat solitudo – postquam per urbem pedibus ivit, vehiculo, quo purgamenta hortorum eripiuntur, Ostiensem viam intrat.

And meanwhile, with three companions in total – so sudden was her desertion – after she went through the city on foot, in a cart in which the garden-refuse was removed, she took the road to Ostia.

nullam misericordiam civibus commovit quia flagitiorum deformitas praevalebat.

She aroused no pity from the citizens, because the appalling nature of the scandals carried more weight.

et iam erat in aspectu Claudii clamitabatque ut audiret Octaviae et Britannici matrem.

And now she was in Claudius’ sight and shouting repeatedly that he should listen to the mother of Britannicus and Octavia.

Narcissus tamen obstrepuit, Silium et nuptias referens; simul codicillos libidinum indices tradidit, quibus visus Caesaris averteret.

Narcissus, however, shouted her down, recalling Silius and their marriage. At the same time he handed over notebooks as proof of her lusts, with which to distract the attention of Claudius.

nec multo post urbem ingredienti offerebantur liberi, sed Narcissus amoveri eos iussit.

Not long afterwards his children were presented to him as he was entering the city, but Narcissus ordered them to be removed.

rumor: almost a personification. Poetic.

quī … adferrent: ‘to … report [that]’. The subjunctive verb in the relative clause expresses purpose. adferre = ‘to report’.

Lūculliānōs in hortōs: the preposition is sandwiched between the adjective and the noun. The gardens of Lucullus were a large park to the north of the centre of Rome originally owned by the wealthy aristocrat Lucius Licinus Lucullus (c. 114-57 BC). Messalina had recently acquired these gardens after contriving the death of their previous owner, Valerius Asiaticus, by getting someone to bring a false charge against him.

dissimulāndō metuī: dissimulāndō is a gerundive, in agreement with metuī. The dative of the gerundive expresses purpose, ‘for fear being concealed’, i.e. ‘to conceal his fear’ or ‘to pretend that he was not afraid’. Tacitus frequently uses the dative case to express purpose, especially in a noun and gerundive phrase.

forum: Why, by going to the forum, would Silius be concealing his fear? Clearly the forum was a very public place, the centre of business and politics. As consul designate, soon to take office, Silius was a prominent figure, and it is likely that he would normally spend his mornings in the forum attending to public business. So, Silius was acting as normal. Perhaps he wanted people to think that he was innocent. Or he may have wanted to be seen as acting in a dignified way, even if he was going to be caught and punished. Or he may even have thought he still had a chance of pulling off the coup.

illa: ‘she’, i.e. Messalina.

rēs adversae: ‘dangerous situation’ or ‘disaster’ (lit. ‘hostile things’).

quod: the connecting relative pronoun, referring to the whole idea contained in the previous clause, īre … marītō.

cōnsilium: here = ‘ability to plan’, ‘judgement’.

subsidium: here = ‘means of salvation’, ‘lifeline’.

mīsitque ut: mittō + ut and a subjunctive verb = ‘send orders that’, introducing an indirect command.

Britannicus: son of Claudius and Messalina, about six years old.

Octāvia: daughter of Claudius and Messalina, about seven years old. Tacitus does not say where the children were at the time – clearly not with Messalina.

tribus omnīnō comitantibus: the wife of the emperor would generally have a much larger entourage. In a sentence omitted from this extract, Tacitus has said that the rest (presumably the guests at the party) slipped away, soldiers arrived and arrested anyone they found hiding or in the streets.

per urbem: i.e. she walked from the gardens of Lucullus in the north of the city to the Porta Ostiensis in the south, at which point she climbed on to a garden refuse cart. A suitable translation of per here would be ‘the full length of’ or ‘right through’.

pedibus: Messalina would not be used to travelling on foot through the streets of Rome. Normally she would be carried in a litter.

Ostiēnsem viam: the via Ostiēnsis, the road leading from Rome to Ostia – the road on which Claudius will travel from Ostia to Rome.

civibus: potentially ambiguous, but context makes it clear that the meaning is ‘in the citizens’ (not ‘for the citizens’).

At this point a section of Tacitus’ text has been cut from the extract set for examination. Here is a brief summary:

The narrative switches back to Claudius and the situation at Ostia. Narcissus takes charge of the situation. He and others lacked confidence in the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Geta, so Narcissus proposed that Claudius’ only hope of retaining power was to hand over command of the troops to one of his freedmen. He volunteered himself. Then, so that Claudius did not change his mind on the journey back to Rome, he sat beside him in the carriage. Claudius veered between condemning his wife’s conduct and sentimentally reminiscing about their relationship.

clāmitābat: clāmitō is the frequentative form of clāmō. Cf. ventitat in Section 1. The force of the frequentative can be insistence as well as frequency; perhaps both ideas are present here. The imperfect tense adds to the idea of repeated, insistent demands, i.e. ‘she kept on shouting insistently’.

clāmitābatque ut audīret: clāmitābat introduces an indirect command with ut + subjunctive verb; ‘she kept on crying out that he should hear’ or ‘she kept on shouting, telling him to listen to’.

obstrepuit: add Messelinae or . obstrepō takes the dative.

statim constituit: having just said that Messalina has lost the ability to plan, Tacitus says that she straightaway made a decision. She has just gone (or set off for? Tacitus does not make it clear whether she changed her mind before she got there) to the gardens of Lucullus, then changes her mind and goes to meet Claudius at the opposite end of the city. How is this apparent contradiction to be explained? Is Tacitus saying that Messalina lost the ability to think rationally, and now is acting on instinct – doing what she always does and relying on her ability to manipulate her husband? Alternatively, cōnsilium eximerent could mean that the hostile turn of events took away her ability to plan in the sense that she did not have time to make proper plans, so she made an instant decision without weighing up her options. In the end, it comes to the same thing – Messalina relied on instinct.

referens: referō here = ‘recall’ i.e. ‘reminding Claudius of’.

cōdicillōs: several wax writing tablets tied together to make a notebook.

libīdinum indicēs: in apposition to cōdicillōs, ‘as proof of her immorality’. Tacitus does not make clear whether these writing tablets are some kind of proof of Messalina’s adultery or simply a list of names or accusations written down by Narcissus to impress Claudius with his wife’s guilt. The plural libīdinum could refer to several different love affairs or to several instances of her adultery with Silius.

quibus … āverteret: the subjunctive verb in the relative clause expresses purpose. quibus is ablative. Lit. ‘with which to distract’.

vīsūs: plural noun for singular, as often in Latin writers; ‘gaze, attention’. What was Narcissus’ purpose in handing over the tablets to Claudius?

Caesaris: the emperor, Claudius.

nec multō post: multō is ablative, ‘not later by much’, i.e. not much later.

ingredientī: add Claudiō.

offerēbantur: offerō = ‘bring before’, ‘bring to meet’. The imperfect tense could indicate repeated attempts or an action which was attempted but not completed. Narcissus was too quick for them.



mirum inter haec silentium Claudii: omnia liberto oboediebat; qui contionem militum in castris paravit.

Meanwhile, Claudius’ silence was remarkable: he obeyed his freedman in everything; it was he who organised a meeting of the troops in their camp.

apud eos praemonente Narcisso princeps pauca verba fecit: continuus dehinc clamor militum nomina reorum et poenas flagitantium.

While Narcissus was explaining the situation in front of them, the emperor added a few words. Following this there was immediate uproar among the soldiers, demanding the names of the guilty and their punishment.

ductus Silius ad tribunal non defensionem, non moras temptavit, sed precatus est ut mors acceleraretur.

Silius, brought onto the platform, attempted no defence, no delay, but he prayed that his death might be quick.

interim Messalina Lucullianis in hortis prolatare vitam, componere preces, nonnulla spe et ira: tantam superbiam etiam tum gerebat.

Meanwhile Messalina prolonged her life in the Gardens of Lucullus and composed prayers, not without hope and anger: even then she was displaying such great arrogance.

ac nisi caedem eius Narcissus properavisset, vertisset pernicies in accusatorem.

And if Narcissus had not hastened her execution, she would have turned the downfall onto her accuser.

nam Claudius domum regressus, ubi cena vinoque incaluit, imperavit ut femina misera (hoc enim verbo Claudium usum esse ferunt) ad causam dicendam postridie adesset.

For Claudius, having returned home, when he had warmed up with dinner and wine, ordered that the ‘poor’ woman (for they say Claudius used this word) should be present the next day to plead her case.

quod ubi Narcissus audivit et languescere iram redire amorem vidit, timebat, si moraretur, propinquam noctem et uxorii cubiculi memoriam;

When Narcissus heard this and saw that his anger was weakening and his love returning, he feared, if he delayed, the approaching night and the memory of the marriage-bed.

igitur prorumpit denuntiatque centurionibus et tribuno, qui aderat, exsequi caedem: ita imperatorem iubere.

Therefore he rushed forth and ordered the centurions and a tribune who was present to carry out the execution: “thus the emperor orders.”

mīrum inter haec silentium Claudiī: add erat. Notice the word order. The separation of adjective and noun (mīrum … silentium), with the adjective coming first, draws attention to mīrum. Why do you think Claudius’ silence is described as ‘strange’ or ‘remarkable’. Is this Tacitus’ comment?

inter haec: literally ‘among these things’. A suitable translation would be: ‘While this was happening’.

omnia lībertō oboediēbat: the vocabulary highlights the fact that Claudius’ relationship with Narcissus is an inversion of the norm. What do you think is the effect of using lībertō rather than referring to Narcissus by name?’

omnia: the accusative plural = ‘in everything’.

quī: connecting relative pronoun, ‘and he’. The antecedent is lībertō.

in castrīs: the action has now shifted to the camp of the Praetorian Guard in the northeast of Rome. A few lines in which Tacitus describes Claudius’ journey to the camp have been omitted in this extract.

praemonente Narcissō: Probably praemonente here signifies that Narcissus warned the soldiers that a crisis was imminent, before leaving the emperor to supply the details. Alternatively, Narcissus could be giving advice to Claudius on his speech to the soldiers.

continuus … clāmor: add erat.

nōmina … flāgitantium: presumably Narcissus and Claudius had said only that there was a plot, without revealing the names of the conspirators. Narcissus may have kept Messalina’s name concealed because he was afraid that the soldiers would be overawed by her powerful position and be unwilling to act; once their passions had been roused by general warnings of imminent rebellion against the emperor, they would be less likely to subside when the identities of the conspirators were revealed. Claudius may have been too ashamed to name her and her lover. In a comment omitted from this extract Tacitus says: “he [Claudius] could hardly express his indignation for shame.”

ductus Sīlius ad tribūnal: Tacitus speeds up the action; he omits the arrest of Silius. The tribūnal was the raised platform which was a standard feature of the principia (headquarters) of a Roman fort; here the commanding officer addressed his soldiers.

morās: the plural could be translated as ‘delaying tactics’.

precātus est ut mors accelerārētur: Tacitus switches the focus of the narrative from Silius to Messalina without describing Silius’ death, and Silius is not mentioned again. However, in a passage that has been omitted here, Tacitus describes the execution of several co-conspirators and lovers of Messalina. The normal penalty for treason against the emperor was beheading. What do you think happened to Silius? Why do you think Tacitus omits a description of his execution? Perhaps Tacitus wanted to concentrate on the death of Messalina.

Lūculliānīs in hortīs: Messalina is now in the gardens of Lucullus as her one remaining refuge. Tacitus has not described her journey there from the via Ostiensis. This is another example of his tendency to speed up the narrative by leaving gaps.

prōlātāre, compōnere: historic infinitives. An infinitive is sometimes used instead of an imperfect tense in descriptions of rapid and lively action. It would be appropriate here to translate prōlātāre with a conative sense: ‘she tried to …’.

compōnere precēs: an appeal to Claudius, either written or spoken. If the latter, she was hoping for a meeting with the emperor.

spē et īrā: this is very economically expressed. She was hoping to be pardoned by Claudius. The anger is surely aimed at Narcissus, because he has prevented her appealing to Claudius.

gerēbat: here = ‘displayed’.

nisi …properāvisset, vertisset: pluperfect subjunctives are used for unfulfilled past conditions: ‘If x had (not) …, y would have ….’.

vertisset perniciēs: Tacitus is saying that, unless Narcissus acted fast, he would be the one who was destroyed.

accūsātōrem: Narcissus.

cēnā vīnōque incaluit: incalēscō (lit. ‘grow warm’) is used here with a metaphorical meaning, ‘to become relaxed, to be soothed, to be mellowed’.

ad causam dīcendam: ‘to plead her case’, ‘to defend herself’. This is precisely what Narcissus has tried to avoid.

quod … memoriam: after the initial reading aloud, this multi-clause sentence can be broken down into short parts for comprehension and translation.

quod ubi Narcissus audīvit: = ubi Narcissus hoc audīvit. quod is a connecting relative.

prōrumpit dēnūntiatque: historic present tenses and vivid choice of vocabulary.

centuriōnibus et tribūnō: these were the officers stationed at the palace to guard the emperor while he was in residence. A tribune was a higher-ranking officer than a centurion; quī aderat suggests that it was only by chance that a tribune was on hand to take responsibility for the killing of Messalina. Note that aderat shows that the antecedent of quī is tribūnō (singular).

exsequī: the use of the infinitive with dēnūntiō in an indirect command (instead of ut + subjunctive) is rare, and therefore emphasises the action.

ita imperātōrem iubēre: add dīxit. The infinitive verb and accusative subject, and the colon at the end of the previous sentence, signify that Tacitus is still reporting what Narcissus said.



missus: add est.

ūnus ē lībertīs: ūnus ē = ‘one of’, lit. ‘one out of’; one of the imperial freedmen. The remainder of this sentence has been omitted for the examination; in it, Tacitus adds that the freedman was sent to prevent Messalina’s escape and see that the order was carried out. Probably Narcissus trusted a freedman to obey his orders more than he trusted the army officers, and he may have been worried that at the last moment the soldiers would shrink from the task.

humī fūsam: ‘sprawled on the ground’ or ‘prostrate on the ground’.

māter Lepida: Domitia Lepida was the great-niece of the emperor Augustus and cousin of Agrippina, Nero’s mother; Agrippina later engineered Lepida’s death.

haud concors fuerat: this was because Messalina had brought about the death of her mother’s second husband, Appius Silanus. Messalina had tried to seduce her step-father, but he rejected her advances, and, in retaliation, she had him killed. With Narcissus’ help, she plotted to have Silanus executed on a false charge. haud concors is therefore an understatement: an example of litotes. concors is a compound word: – con (with) + cor (heart) – cognate with English ‘concord’.

necessitātibus: the plural here can be translated as ‘time of need’ or ‘crisis’.

flōrentī fīliae haud concors fuerat suprēmīs eius necessitātibus ad misericordiam versa: notice the word order. The two pairs of balanced phrases bring out the contrast between past and present circumstances (flōrentī balances suprēmīs … necessitātibus) and Lepida’s feelings (haud concors balances misericordiam).

suādēbat: encourage students to consider various ways of translating the imperfect tense. It could be translated either as conative ‘(‘she tried to persuade her’) or iterative (‘she kept urging her’).

trānsiisse vītam neque aliud quaerendum: the colon after opperīrētur and the accusative (vītam) and infinitive (trānsiisse) indicate that Tacitus is continuing to report what Lepida said. quaerendum: add esse.

mortem decōram: it was a widely held Roman belief that suicide was preferable to a dishonourable death. However, the attitude to suicide was not straightforward; whether it was approved or disapproved of depended on two things: motive and manner. Avoidance of shame and dishonour was considered an appropriate motive, for example when an upper-class Roman was condemned to death he was given a chance to commit suicide. Suicide in these circumstances was regarded as an honourable death. Suicide which was the result of a calculated and rational decision was admired more than an impulsive act. The Stoic philosophers, for example, advocated a rational death; famous Stoics who committed suicide were Seneca and Cato.

cum … pulsae sunt: the indicative is used because the main idea is in the cum clause (inverse cum).

venientium: the genitive of the present participle is used here as a noun, ‘of [men] approaching’.

forēs: probably the gate to the garden.

quod: connecting relative pronoun (neuter accusative singular) referring to the dagger (ferrum).

iugulō aut pectorī: ‘(now) to her throat, (now) to her breast’. The connective aut suggests Messalina’s fumbling attempts and indecisiveness.

per trepidātiōnem: ‘in terror’.



Before dawn he used to go to the Emperor Vespasian (for he also made use of the nights), then to the duty assigned to him. When he had returned home, he used to give the rest of the time to his studies. Often after food (which by the custom of our forefathers was light and easy [to digest]) in summer, if there was any leisure, he used to lie in the sun, a book was read, he made notes on [it] and made extracts. For he read nothing from which he did not make extracts; he was even accustomed to say that no book was so bad that it was not of use in some part. After [he had sat in] the sun he was often washed with cold water, then had a snack and slept very briefly; soon, as if on another day, he studied until dinner time. Over dinner a book was read and notes made on it, and rapidly indeed.

ante lucem ibat ad Vespasianum imperatorem (nam ille quoque noctibus utebatur), deinde ad officium sibi delegatum.

Before dawn he used to go to the Emperor Vespasian (for he also made use of the nights), then to the duty assigned to him.

reversus domum reliquum tempus studiis dabat.

When he had returned home, he used to give the rest of the time to his studies.

saepe post cibum (qui veterum more interdiu levis et facilis erat) aestate, si quid otii erat, iacebat in sole

Often after food (which by the custom of our forefathers was light and easy [to digest]) in summer, if there was any leisure, he used to lie in the sun

liber legebatur, adnotabat excerpebatque.

a book was read, he made notes on [it] and made extracts.

nihil enim legit quod non excerperet;

For he read nothing from which he did not make extracts;

dicere etiam solebat nullum librum esse tam malum ut non aliqua parte prodesset.

For he read nothing from which he did not make extracts; he was even accustomed to say that no book was so bad that it was not of use in some part.

post solem plerumque aqua frigida lavabatur, deinde gustabat dormiebatque minimum;

After [he had sat in] the sun he was often washed with cold water, then had a snack and slept very briefly;

mox quasi alio die studebat in cenae tempus.

soon, as if on another day, he studied until dinner time.

super cenam liber legebatur adnotabatur, et quidem cursim.

Over dinner a book was read and notes made on it, and rapidly indeed.



These things [happened] among the middle of his tasks and the bustle of the city. In [his] alone time, only the time in the baths was taken away from studies (when I say ‘baths’ I am talking about the inner [rooms]; for while he was being scraped down and dried, he was listening to something or dictating. On a journey, as if freed from other cares, he devoted himself to this alone: at his side a secretary with a book and writing tablets, whose hands in winter were protected by long sleeves, so that not even the harshness of the weather would take away any study time; for this reason at Rome also he was carried in a chair. I remember that I [was] scolded by him because I was walking: he said ‘You could have not wasted these hours’; for he thought that every moment was wasted which was not devoted to study. Farewell

haec inter medios labores urbisque fremitum.

These things [happened] among the middle of his tasks and the bustle of the city.

in secessu solum balinei tempus studiis eximebatur

In [his] alone time, only the time in the baths was taken away from studies

(cum dico ‘balnei’, de interioribus loquor;

(when I say ‘baths’ I am talking about the inner [rooms];

nam dum destringitur tergiturque, audiebat aliquid aut dictabat).

for while he was being scraped down and dried, he was listening to something or dictating.

in itinere quasi solutus ceteris curis, huic uni vacabat:

On a journey, as if freed from other cares, he devoted himself to this alone:

ad latus notarius cum libro et pugillaribus, cuius manus hieme manicis muniebantur,

at his side a secretary with a book and writing tablets, whose hands in winter were protected by long sleeves,

ut ne caeli quidem asperitas ullum studii tempus eriperet;

so that not even the harshness of the weather would take away any study time;

qua ex causa Romae quoque sella vehebatur.

for this reason at Rome also he was carried in a chair.

repeto me correptum ab eo, quod ambularem:

I remember that I [was] scolded by him because I was walking:

‘poteras’ inquit ‘has horas non perdere’;

he said ‘You could have not wasted these hours’;

nam perire omne tempus arbitrabatur, quod studiis non impenderetur. vale.

for he thought that every moment was wasted which was not devoted to study. Farewell.