The poisoning of Claudius

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  • Created on: 08-12-10 17:59

The poisoning of Claudius

Lines 1-10

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

feminine jealousy.


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









Lines 11-21

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


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