Annals IV: 39

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At Seianus nimia fortuna socors et muliebri insuper cupidine incensus, promissum matrimonium flagitante Livia, componit ad Caesarem codicillos: moris quippe tum erat quamquam praesentem scripto adire. eius talis forma fuit: benevolentia patris Augusti et mox plurimis Tiberii iudiciis ita insuevisse ut spes votaque sua non prius ad deos quam ad principum aures conferret. neque fulgorem honorum umquam precatum: excubias ac labores ut unum e militibus pro incolumitate imperatoris malle. ac tamen quod pulcherrimum adeptum, ut coniunctione Caesaris dignus crederetur: hinc initium spei. et quoniam audiverit Augustum in conlocanda filia non nihil etiam de equitibus Romanis consultavisse, ita, si maritus Liviae quaereretur, haberet in animo amicum sola necessitudinis gloria usurum. non enim exuere imposita munia: satis aestimare firmari domum adversum iniquas Agrippinae offensiones, idque liberorum causa; nam sibi multum superque vitae fore, quod tali cum principe explevisset.


nimia fortuna – “excessive good fortune.” A clear allusion to Greek tragedy, in which characters have a habit of getting carried away when things seemingly go their way, only to be struck down by the play’s end. Sejanus, emboldened by his success up to this point, takes a step too far with the letter which follows.

socors – literally “separated from (se-) the heart (cors),” so “heartless” or “senseless.”

muliebri cupidine – normally the hero would be motivated by his desire for the woman (e.g. Turnus for Lavinia, Aen. XII.70-71), but Sejanus has no real desire for Livia (cf. Ch. 3) and so it is her insistence, and his ambition, which leads him to make his request to Tiberius.

flagitante Livia – although the verb flagitio is morally neutral, its use here is surely designed to evoke its cognate flagitium (a favourite word of Tacitus, used over 60 times in the extant books of the Annals), and thus piles more disgrace on Livia.

moris quippe tum – this sounds like the custom, introduced by Julius Caesar, had died out by Tacitus’ time. Martin & Woodman think not, and that the contrast is instead with the long absence which Tiberius embarks upon in 26, when practically the only way to reach him is by letter.

eius – a word such as scripti or epistula needs to be understood.

patris Augusti – a particularly ingratiating start to the letter, designed to flatter Tiberius’ relationship with Augustus (he was an adopted son, and probably not the favourite one). Buttering up one’s audience in this way is a rhetorical technique known as captatio benevolentiae.

iudiciis – “(tokens of) favourable opinion.” These may range from kind words to additional powers.

ut unum e militibus – ambiguous. Sejanus could be saying that he really is one of the soldiers, or he is like one of the soldiers. Either way, he presents a humble view of his relationship with Tiberius, and the military aspect he points up is designed to appeal to one of Rome’s great generals (Tiberius oversaw Roman expansion along the Danube).

quod pulcherrimum – “what was fairest of all,” the object of adeptum and qualified by the subsequent ut clause.

coniunctione Caesaris – Sejanus is referring to the betrothal of his daughter Junilla to Claudius’ son Drusus in 20 AD (see note in Ch. 7).

audiverit – would be audivisset in Ciceronian Latin.

ita – i.e. following Augustus’ example.

haberet…usurum – “let him think of a friend who would gain nothing but glory from the alliance,” i.e. Sejanus would seek no political advancement. He was content with the command of the Praetorians and to remain an equestrian.

exuere – the opposite of induo, and therefore metaphorical.

satis aestimare… – i.e. he considered the protection of Livia’s family to be reward enough. idque liberorum causa is added to provide a sheen of morality.

multum superque – “more than enough.”

vitae quod – “(that part) of his life which…” vita is a partitive genitive, and id can be supplied.


But Sejanus, dazed by excessive good fortune and also fired by a woman’s desire, since Livia was insisting on the promised marriage, composed a note to Caesar: indeed it was then customary to approach him in writing, even though he was present. The sense of it was such: through the kindness of his father Augustus and later through the very many favourable opinions of Tiberius he had become accustomed to relay his hopes and prayers not to the gods first but to the ears of the emperors. Nor had he ever begged for the splendour of honours: he preferred keeping watch and toils, like one of the soldiers, for his commander’s safety. And yet he had obtained what was finest of all, to be considered worthy of a connection with Caesar: hence the beginning of his hope. And since he had heard that, in marrying off his daughter, Augustus had considered to a certain extent even Roman knights, so, if a husband was being sought for Livia, he should bear in mind his friend who would enjoy only the honour of the relationship. For he was not shedding the duties imposed on him; he thought it sufficient that his household was strengthened against the unjust resentments of Agrippina, and this for the sake of the children; for, in his instance, the part of his life which he completed alongside such an emperor would be more than enough.