Annals IV: 3

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Ceterum plena Caesarum domus, iuvenis filius, nepotes adulti moram cupitis adferebant; et quia vi tot simul corripere intutum, dolus intervalla scelerum poscebat. placuit tamen occultior via et a Druso incipere, in quem recenti ira ferebatur. (nam Drusus impatiens aemuli et animo commotior orto forte iurgio intenderat Seiano manus et contra tendentis os verberaverat.) igitur cuncta temptanti promptissimum visum ad uxorem eius Liviam convertere, quae soror Germanici, formae initio aetatis indecorae, mox pulchritudine praecellebat. hanc, ut amore incensus, adulterio pellexit, et postquam primi flagitii potitus est (neque femina amissa pudicitia alia abnuerit), ad coniugii spem, consortium regni et necem mariti impulit. atque illa, cui avunculus Augustus, socer Tiberius, ex Druso liberi, seque ac maiores et posteros municipali adultero foedabat, ut pro honestis et praesentibus flagitiosa et incerta expectaret. sumitur in conscientiam Eudemus, amicus ac medicus Liviae, specie artis frequens secretis. pellit domo Seianus uxorem Apicatam, ex qua tres liberos genuerat, ne paelici suspectaretur. sed magnitudo facinoris metum, prolationes, diversa interdum consilia adferebat.


ceterum – “however”: marks the end of a digression.

filius – Drusus, biological son of the emperor Tiberius. Now in his mid-thirties.

nepotes adulti – the sons of the deceased Germanicus (Tiberius’ adopted son): Nero Julius Caesar (17 in 23 AD), Drusus Caesar (16) and Gaius “Caligula” Julius Caesar (11).
There were also the twin sons of Drusus: Tiberius Gemellus (4) and Tiberius Germanicus. The latter died in 23 AD.

vi corripere – this signifies any violent end, including poison. The contrast of the sentence is between simul and intervalla (not between vi and dolus).

placuit – note the change of tense as well as the promotion of the verb.

tamen – used here because somehow Sejanus found an even more devious method than his usual trickery (dolus), by attacking Drusus through his wife.

Drusus intenderat – Dio (57.22, 1) says that it was Sejanus who struck at Drusus first. Tacitus’ account seems more plausible and he gives valid reasons.

contra tendentis – “as he resisted”.

cuncta temptanti – the implication is that Sejanus would stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

promptissimum visum – “it seemed most practical”.

Liviam – Tiberius’ niece and so first cousin of her husband Drusus. Also called Livilla by some authors.

ut – “as if”. Further deception from Sejanus.

adulterio – possibly an instrumental ablative, but could equally well be dative in place of ad + accusative (this often happens with compound verbs, e.g. appropinquo).

pellexit – a compound of per-lacio. lacio is unused in Latin literature, but it has several derivatives including laqueus “snare, noose” and lacesso “provoke, attack”.

femina – it is unclear whether Tacitus is making a sweeping statement about women in general or talking about Livia alone.

abnuerit – potential subjunctive, “may (not) have denied”; used for mild assertions as opposed to stated facts.

amissa pudicitia – these exact words are used by Lucretia in Livy (1.158.7). However, whereas Lucretia committed suicide in order to protect her family’s honour, Livia will help kill her husband so that she might reign with her lover.

municipali adultero – “a market-town adulterer”, since Sejanus came from Vulsinii. municipali highlights the fact that he did not have a senatorial background, otherwise his family would have been based in Rome. The word contrasts sharply with the illustrious names of emperors which precede it.

Eudemus – a Greek doctor and most probably a freedman.

specie artis – Sejanus’ scheme leads others into dissimulation. Note the various meanings of ars or artes employed by Tacitus.

pellit domo – the promoted verb and uncomplicated wording channel the callous brutality of Sejanus’ actions, and the mention of liberi creates pathos. The children were killed after Sejanus’ fall in 31 AD.

Apicatam – according to Dio she killed herself in 31 AD after learning of the death of her children. She left a suicide note which implicated Livia’s part in the death of Drusus, but her allegations may have been motivated by revenge for the affair with Sejanus.

paelici suspectaretur – “held under suspicion by his mistress”. The passive suspectaretur is rare, found only here and in Apuleius. paelici is most likely a dative agent, and its use here, for a future empress, is particularly disparaging.


But a house full of Caesars, a young son, and grandsons of age, brought a pause to his desires; and because it was unsafe to pick off through violence so many at the same time, deceit called for gaps between his crimes. And yet the more underhand path appealed to him, and to begin with Drusus, against whom he was spurred by recent anger (for Drusus, intolerant of a rival and rather temperamental in spirit, had held out his fists to Sejanus in a quarrel which had started by chance, and had struck him in the face while he was holding his out in return). Therefore, as he explored every avenue, it seemed simplest to Sejanus to turn to Drusus’ wife Livia, the sister of Germanicus who, having been unattractive at an early age, soon became an outstanding beauty. He urged her on to adultery, as though inflamed by passion, and, after he had obtained the first disgrace (and the woman, with modesty lost, will not deny other things), drove her on to the hope of marriage, a partnership in royal power, and the death of her husband. But she, whose great-uncle was Augustus, whose father-in-law was Tiberius, and who had children with Drusus, defiled herself and her ancestors and her descendants with a market-town adulterer, so that she might expect shameful and unreliable circumstances in place of honourable and actual ones. Eudemus, friend and doctor of Livia, was taken on in cahoots, a regular attendee at secret meetings under the pretext of his craft. Sejanus drove his wife Apicata from their home, from whom he had fathered three children, so that he was not suspected by his mistress. Yet the magnitude of the crime brought fear, delays, and sometimes conflicting plans.


What makes this such a powerful and memorable passage?