Annals IV: 11

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Haec vulgo iactata, super id quod nullo auctore certo firmantur, prompte refutaveris. quis enim mediocri prudentia, nedum Tiberius tantis rebus exercitus, inaudito filio exitium offerret, idque sua manu et nullo ad paenitendum regressu? quin potius ministrum veneni excruciaret, auctorem exquireret, insita denique etiam in extraneos cunctatione et mora adversum unicum et nullius ante flagitii compertum uteretur? sed quia Seianus facinorum omnium repertor habebatur, ex nimia caritate in eum Caesaris et ceterorum in utrumque odio quamvis fabulosa et immania credebantur, atrociore semper fama erga dominantium exitus. ordo alioqui sceleris per Apicatam Seiani proditus, tormentis Eudemi ac Lygdi patefactus est; neque quisquam scriptor tam infensus extitit ut Tiberio obiectaret, cum omnia alia conquirerent intenderentque. mihi tradendi arguendique rumoris causa fuit ut claro sub exemplo falsas auditiones depellerem peteremque ab iis, quorum in manus cura nostra venerit, [ne] divulgata atque incredibilia avide accepta veris neque in miraculum corruptis antehabeant.


super id quod – “besides the fact that.”

refutaveris – potential subjunctive (see note in Ch. 3).

nullo auctore certo – i.e. by no professed historian. This does not mean that the story was merely an oral tradition; it made its way into certain literature.

mediocri prudentia…nedum Tiberius… – Tacitus uses an argument a fortiori to help debunk the rumour. mediocri prudentia is ablative of quality.

tantis rebus – i.e. the high affairs of state, the business of a monarch.

inaudito – both in a literal sense and in a legal sense.

exitium offeret – a striking metaphor, similar to one used by Cicero: mortem alicui offere (e.g. pro Rosc. Am. 13.37; 14.40).

sua manu – i.e. Tiberius’ hand, which would have been an act of filicide.

nullo ad paenitendum regressu – a similar expression is used by the historian Livy (e.g. xxiv 26 and xlii 13) among others. The verb paeniteo is related to the Latin noun poena, and is the origin of the English word “penance.”

quin potius – “Why not rather…?”

excruciaret…exquireret…uteretur – a notable tricolon. The length of each sentence corresponds to the action taking place: two short sentences to mimic a rapid enquiry, followed by a long-drawn-out sentence to reflect the crippling indecisiveness of Tiberius.

ministrum – the attendant who served the cup.

auctorem – the originator of the crime. The enquiry would determine whether this was Drusus or someone else.

unicum – understand filium.

ante – adverbial (= antea).

flagitii compertum – “found guilty of misconduct.”

caritate…odio – a true chiasmus (abl. …in + acc. … gen. … gen. … in + acc. … abl.).

nimia caritate –Tiberius’ weakness. There are echoes of Greek tragedy, since it is specifically excessive (nimia) affection for Sejanus which causes so much harm.

Caesaris et ceterorum – subjective genitives.

quamvis fabulosa – “ever so fabulous.”

fabulosa et immania – both words relate to the land of make-believe; fabulosus means “from a story (fabula)” and immanis describes both the inhuman nature and the vast size of a monster. Martin & Woodman: “T.’s point is that the world of Tiberian Rome was such that events like these were believed (credebantur).”

atrociore…exitusaphoristic. Tacitus is fond of using aphorisms to add gravitas and a strong, moral tone to his history. Even today, lurid conspiracy theories tend to flourish after the death of a prominent public figure.

alioqui – “besides.” The word usually means “in other respects” or “in general.”

per Apicatam Seiani proditus – in 31 AD (see Ch. 8). Supply uxorem with Seiani and est with proditus.

tormentis Eudemi ac Lygdi – the usual method of gaining information in the principate (and a feature of most regimes, ancient or modern, although not always as openly as in 1st century Rome).

scriptor – i.e. a professional historian.

tam infensus – in the very first chapter of the Annals, Tacitus reflects on how writers were compelled to portray the Roman emperors in a favourable light during their reigns, but often wrote with fresh hatred after their deaths (I.1). Even during a backlash, therefore, when they would have been looking for any mud to throw (omnia alia conquirerent), none of them made reference to the rumour in question.


This account was bandied about commonly, but on top of the fact that it is not confirmed by any reliable authority, you may readily reject it. For who of average good sense would offer death to his son without hearing him out, much less one trained in important affairs like Tiberius, and that by his own hand and with no way back in order to repent? Would he not instead have tortured the server of the poison, sought out the ringleader, and finally have used the innate dithering and delay, which he used even against outsiders, towards an only son and one found guilty of no outrage before? But because Sejanus was held to be the instigator of all the crimes, due to Caesar’s excessive fondness towards him, and everyone else’s hatred of them both, ever so fanciful and monstrous things were believed, since rumour is always more ghastly in regard to the deaths of the powerful. Moreover, the framework of the crime was betrayed by Sejanus’ wife Apicata, and revealed through the tortures of Eudemus and Lygdus. Nor did any writer present himself so hostile that he accused Tiberius of this, even though they raked up and exaggerated everything else. As for me, the reason for reporting and debunking the rumour was that, through a clear example, I might dispel false hearsay and ask them, into whose hands my work may fall, that they should not prefer well publicised and unbelievable things, even if they are hungrily accepted, to what is truthful and uncorrupted in regard to the miraculous.