The poisoning of Claudius
In the consulship of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius, it became
apparent by frequent portents that a change of circumstances for the
worse was being predicted. The standards and tents of soldiers
were set on fire by lightning from the sky; a swarm of bees settled on
the summit of the Capitol; it was reported that there were deformed
two-shaped of human beings, together with the off-spring of a pig on
which there were the talons of a hawk. Also counted among the
portents was the fact that the number of every magistracy was
reduced, since a quaestor, an aedile, a tribune, together with a
praetor and a consul, had died within a few months/ But Agrippina
was in a particular panic, fearing an utterance of Claudius (which he
had uttered when drunken) that he was destined first to suffer and
then to punish the crimes of his wives; so she decided to act – and to
do so quickly. First, however, Domitia Lepida was eliminated, out of
How has Tacitus enlivened the account so far?
- Lists the omens, setting us up for an event but doesn’t go into explanations.
- ‘agere et celerare’ - to act quickly. This makes you want to know what she is going to next – it keeps your interest.
- reads like an elaborate tale
- creates the idea of danger and urgency
- Very descriptive
- By saying eliminated (‘perdita’) he makes it sound worse that ‘kill’ thus making Lepida sound powerful.
- By using ‘prius’ (first) he makes it sound like a list of events
- Juxtapositioning of events
-words next to each other that contrast
-omens make it feels as if it is all happening one after another
-Doom and gloom – air of foreboding, something bad is going to happen
- Atmosphere of suspicion-it makes you ask what is going to happen.
-sequence of events, makes it feel as if they are building up
-Infinitives ‘agere et celerare’ (to act quickly) - hasty action
For these reasons the death [of Lepida] was declared, although Narcissus strongly
opposed it, who, suspected Aggrippina more and more, was said to have been made
known among his nearest friends that his own destruction (perniciem) was certain [he
thinks’ he is going to die next], whether Brittanicus or Nero came to power; but Caesar
[Claudius] deserved such duty from him that he would devote his life to serve his
interests. Messalina [3rd wife] and Silius [her lover] had been convicted – and there
were equally strong reasons for making an accusation again, if Nero [Clausius’ stepson]
had ruled; with Brittanicus [Claudius’ direct son] as successor, the emperor need have
no fear; but the whole imperial household was being overthrown by a stepmother’s
(novercae) plot – with far greater shameless behaviour (impudicitiam…