Roman Historical Drama: The Octavia In Antiquity and Beyond [1 ed.] 0198718292, 9780198718291

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Roman Historical Drama: The Octavia In Antiquity and Beyond [1 ed.]
 0198718292, 9780198718291

Table of contents :
Cover
Roman Historical Drama: The Octavia in Antiquity and Beyond
Copyright
Dedication
Acknowledgements
Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Part I: The Tradition
1: Recovering a Lost Genre
2: Republican Flourishing and Imperial Decline?
3: A Genre and its Uses
1. RITUALS AND ORIGINS
2. DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE
4: Accius
1. BRUTUS
2. DECIUS OR ‘DEFEATING THE GAULS’
5: Romans Fighting Romans
1. PARTISAN STAGINGS
2. PHARSALOS—SEEN FROM CÁDIZ
3. SPAIN, CAESAR, AND POMPEY
6: Stages Old and New
1. STAGING AND RECITATION
2. THE FUN (AND SHAME) IN ACTING
3. UPPER CLASS ANXIETIES
4. TRAGEDY ON THE ROMAN STAGE, FROM NERO TO TRAJAN
5. THE EMPEROR-ACTOR
6. THE IMPERIAL STAGE
7: Imperial Praetextae
1. THE AENEAS BY POMPONIUS SECUNDUS
2. PERSIUS’ ESSAY
3. TACITUS AND MATERNUS
4. CATO THE YOUNGER
5. MATERNUS’ CATO
6. THE FATE OF MATERNUS
7. MATERNUS’ NERO: DATE AND CONTEXT
Part II: The Octavia
8: A Praetexta?
1. GENRE CONTINUITY?
2. TRADITIONAL ASPECTS
3. PLOTS AND STRUCTURES
9: Time and Place
1. THE ANONYMUS
2. IMPLIED SETTINGS
3. DRAMATIC TIME
4. DRAMATIC PLACE
10: Plot and Historical Background
1. ‘A TRAGEDY HAS THREE PARTS’
2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: PARALLELS AND CONTRASTS
3. THE IMPLIED GEOGRAPHY
4. ADJUSTING AND RESHAPING TRADITION
11: Octavia and the People
1. NURSE AND EMPRESS
2. THE CURSED CHAMBER
3. THE CURSE
4. THE FIRST SONG OF THE CHORUS ROMANORUM
12: Seneca and Nero
1. SENECA’S MONOLOGUE
2. SENECA-NERO: THE FIRST PART OF THE DIALOGUE
3. SENECA-NERO: THE FINAL PART OF THE DIALOGUE
13: The Ghost, the Divorce, and the Wedding
1. STAGING GHOSTS
2. A GHOST COME REAL
3. A NEW BEGINNING
4. EXIT OCTAVIA
5. THE SECOND SONG OF THE CHORUS ROMANORUM
14: What Poppaea Saw
1. EMPRESS JOINS NURSE
2. EXIT POPPAEA
3. A PROPHECY FITTING THE FACTS
15: The Revolt, the Fire, and the Ship of Death
1. CHORUS OF COURTIERS AND MESSENGER
2. NERO AND THE FIRE OF ROME
3. THE PREFECT AND NERO
4. THE THIRD SONG OF THE CHORUS ROMANORUM
5. OCTAVIA TRIUMPHANT
16: The Time of Writing
1. LOOKING FOR TERMINI POST
2. A DATE SOON AFTER NERO’S FALL?
3. THE POPULUS ROMANUS AGAINST NERO
4. ROMA RENASCENS
5. TRUE CLEMENTIA
6. ‘NERO FORCED ME’
7. NERO UNMASKED
Part III: The Afterlife
17: Tragic Pasts
1. PROLOGUE
2. A GREEK OR GRECO-ROMAN REVIVAL?
3. OCTAVIA, TRISSINO, AND RUCELLAI: THE BEGINNINGS OF VERNACULAR TRAGEDY
4. FROM POETICS TO STAGING: GIRALDI, SPERONI, AND DOLCE
5. TASSO’S TORRISMONDO
6. MARY STUART GOES ON STAGE
7. OCTAVIA GOES ABROAD: FRANCE, PORTUGAL, SPAIN, AND ENGLAND
8. OCTAVIA GOES TO THE OPERA
9. ENVOI
Bibliography
Manuscripts
Printed sources
Abbreviations
Index Locorum: Ancient Texts and Evidence
Index of Persons, Subjects, and Places

Citation preview

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R O M A N HI S T O R I C A L D R A M A

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Roman Historical Drama The Octavia in Antiquity and Beyond

PATRICK KRAGELUND

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Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Patrick Kragelund 2016 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2016 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2015931307 ISBN 978–0–19–871829–1 Printed and bound by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work. Copyright Acknowledgements Excerpts from the Senecan tragedies included throughout this volume are reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library from SENECA IX: TRAGEDIES II, Loeb Classical Library Volume 78, edited and translated by John G. Fitch, pp. 547, 563, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2004 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Loeb Classical Library ® is a registered trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Magistris, discipulis, amicis amorique meo

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Acknowledgements In the history of Western drama, the year 2015, that by sheer serendipity sees the publication of this book, contains three significant anniversaries: in 1515— half a millennium back—Rome saw the finishing of the first tragedy written in any vernacular, Gian Giorgio Trissino’s Sofonisba; in 1315—two hundred years further back—Padua saw the first reading of a classical style tragedy since antiquity, Albertino Mussato’s neo-Latin Ecerinis; and in April 65 AD— bar 50 years two millennia back—Romans learnt that the emperor Nero had forced Seneca, the great statesman, philosopher and tragedian, to commit suicide. This book focuses on a script and a genre that—it is here argued—has numerous and crucial links with these watersheds in theatre history; the improved understanding of these links will, I believe, enhance and transform the understanding not just of ancient drama, but also of its post-classical revival. In writing a book like the present, one incurs long time debts of gratitude that I am happy to acknowledge. Thanks, first, to my original mentors at the University of Copenhagen, Johnny Christensen and Minna Skafte Jensen, the latter eventually also my supervisor (1982) and one of the examiners at my Habilitation (1999), for their interest and encouragement, in early days as now; to my first editors and much more, Marianne Alenius and Ivan Boserup; and to the first, festive and wildly inspiring, group of students with whom I read the Octavia—you know who you are! From abroad, A.J. Boyle, Harriet Flower, John Fitch, Miriam Griffin, Toph Marshall and T.P. Wiseman have been scholars with whom this project has benefitted from long and continued dialogue. In Copenhagen Per Methner’s renowned undergraduate courses would often and highly successfully use the Octavia as a beginner’s text that ‘has it all’, poetry, drama, history, philosophy—and, of course, Nero. At intervals being invited to lecture on such courses and experience keen undergraduate interest has been a recurring inspiration. So have invitations to give talks at the American Academy in Rome, at the University of Southern Denmark and at our old debating society, Filologisk-Historisk Samfund, for these many last years with Mogens Herman Hansen as the genial chairperson. At the University of Bergen the late Thomas Hägg sided with my friends and, one can proudly add, one time students, Karen Skovgaard-Petersen and Lars Boje Mortensen in persuading me to present a survey of the status of research on the genre for the Symbolae Osloenses; the survey benefitted from the encouraging responses of eight international experts. In broadening my understanding of the genre I have, when publishing, incurred further debts

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Acknowledgements

of gratitude to editors and to sharp and helpful anonymous referees at Classica & Mediaevalia, Classical Quarterly, Historia, Meddelelser from Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Museum Tusculanum Press and Symbolae Osloenses. I am grateful to the publishers of these journals for permission to reuse and recast material first published by them. Scholars need access to data, to publications and to collections: thanks to my old employer, the Danish Academy in Rome, for continued support; to the Danish Academy in Athens for brief, but crucial stays; to my staff at the Danish National Art Library for getting hold of even the most impossible publications; to the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice for assistance in perusing their sixteenth century Drammatiche; to the Bikuben Foundation for the financial support which enabled me to stay and work for extended periods in Berlin, London and Rome. In a concluding phase the Carlsberg Foundation generously covered the cost of the book’s illustrations and with even greater generosity supported a prolonged stay in Florence that was made possible by a sabbatical of three months granted me by my employer, the Danish Ministry of Culture. That stay finally pushed Sisyphus’ stone up over the ridge. In Copenhagen and at the OUP I am grateful for final assistance from Neil Stanford, Emily Brand, Nicholas Bromley, Helen Hughes, Céline Louasli and Annie Rose in improving and streamlining the manuscript and its indexes. Copenhagen August 2015.

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Contents List of Illustrations List of Tables

xii xv PART I THE TRADITION

1. Recovering a Lost Genre

3

2. Republican Flourishing and Imperial Decline?

13

3. A Genre and its Uses 1. Rituals and origins 2. Days of remembrance

24 25 32

4. Accius 1. Brutus 2. Decius or ‘Defeating the Gauls’

46 46 53

5. Romans Fighting Romans 1. Partisan stagings 2. Pharsalos—seen from Cádiz 3. Spain, Caesar, and Pompey

58 60 62 66

6. Stages Old and New 1. Staging and recitation 2. The fun (and shame) in acting 3. Upper class anxieties 4. Tragedy on the Roman stage, from Nero to Trajan 5. The emperor-actor 6. The imperial stage

69 71 73 77 83 90 94

7. Imperial Praetextae 1. The Aeneas by Pomponius Secundus 2. Persius’ essay 3. Tacitus and Maternus 4. Cato the Younger 5. Maternus’ Cato 6. The fate of Maternus 7. Maternus’ Nero: date and context

100 101 103 103 105 107 109 120

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Contents PART II THE OCTAVIA

8. A Praetexta? 1. Genre continuity? 2. Traditional aspects 3. Plots and structures

129 129 133 139

9. Time and Place 1. The Anonymus 2. Implied settings 3. Dramatic time 4. Dramatic place

144 144 146 151 153

10. Plot and Historical Background 1. ‘A tragedy has three parts’ 2. Historical background: parallels and contrasts 3. The implied geography 4. Adjusting and reshaping tradition

172 173 176 183 186

11. Octavia and the People 1. Nurse and empress 2. The cursed chamber 3. The curse 4. The first song of the Chorus Romanorum

190 191 195 203 206

12. Seneca and Nero 1. Seneca’s monologue 2. Seneca-Nero: the first part of the dialogue 3. Seneca-Nero: the final part of the dialogue

213 214 217 230

13. The Ghost, the Divorce, and the Wedding 1. Staging ghosts 2. A ghost come real 3. A new beginning 4. Exit Octavia 5. The second song of the Chorus Romanorum

237 237 239 242 248 251

14. What Poppaea Saw 1. Empress joins nurse 2. Exit Poppaea 3. A prophecy fitting the facts

258 258 262 270

15. The Revolt, the Fire, and the Ship of Death 1. Chorus of courtiers and messenger 2. Nero and the Fire of Rome 3. The Prefect and Nero

274 274 278 281

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Contents 4. The third song of the Chorus Romanorum 5. Octavia triumphant 16. The Time of Writing 1. Looking for termini post 2. A date soon after Nero’s fall? 3. The populus Romanus against Nero 4. Roma Renascens 5. True clementia 6. ‘Nero forced me’ 7. Nero unmasked

xi 285 288 297 298 306 314 325 328 335 343

PART III THE AFTERLIFE 17. Tragic Pasts 1. Prologue 2. A Greek or Greco-Roman revival? 3. Octavia, Trissino, and Rucellai: The beginnings of vernacular tragedy 4. From poetics to staging: Giraldi, Speroni, and Dolce 5. Tasso’s Torrismondo 6. Mary Stuart goes on stage 7. Octavia goes abroad: France, Portugal, Spain, and England 8. Octavia goes to the opera 9. Envoi

363 363 372

Bibliography Index Locorum: Ancient Texts and Evidence Index of Persons, Subjects, and Places

420 441 461

379 390 397 402 407 414 416

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List of Illustrations Figure 3.1. The entries for April in a Roman calendar from Praeneste (now Palestrina) referring, on the first, to the birthday of Venus and to her son Aeneas ‘from whom descends the Roman people’ (A QVO P. R), then to the festival of Magna Mater, LVDI M(atri) D(eum) M(agnae) I(daeae). © Danish National Art Library.

30

Figure 3.2. The inscription of Paullus’ victory monument in Delphi. © École Française d’Athènes.

34

Figure 3.3. A pedestal with the inscription M. FOLVIVS M. F./ SER. N. NOBILIOR/ COS AMBRACIA CEPIT (‘The consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior/ son of Marcus, grandson of Sergius/ took (this booty) back home from Ambracia’). © Musei Capitolini, Rome.

37

Figure 3.4. A section of the second-century marble plan of the city of Rome showing the Temple of Hercules and the Muses and the Porticus Octaviae framing temples of Juno and Jupiter. © Danish National Art Library.

39

Figure 3.5. The entry (beginning at the fifth line from the top) concerning the victory at Pydna and subsequent three day triumph of Lucius Aemilius Paullus in the official list of the triumphs celebrated in Rome. © Danish National Art Library.

42

Figure 4.1. Roman denarius minted by one Q. MAX, probably Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus in the 120s BC. The symbols on the reverse combine Jupiter’s thunderbolt with emblems traditionally linked to the goddess Ceres. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

56

Figure 5.1. A dedication found in Rome ‘to Magna Mater and her ship Salvia’. Dating from the mid-first century it illustrates the legend of the arrival of Magna Mater. © Danish National Art Library.

59

Figure 5.2. Obverse of Roman denarius minted by Brutus and his adherents in 43–42 BC proclaiming the murder of Caesar a deed rooted in ancestral tradition. The obverse shows the bearded portrait of Brutus, the legendary founder of the Republic. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

61

Figure 6.1. Coin minted under Nero showing Apollo in the dress that the god’s admirers would don when performing as citharoedes. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

74

Figure 6.2. Fundilius Doctus, Apollinis parasitus. Roman life size marble statue (h. 183 cm) found in the sanctuary of Diana at Nemi in 1887. © Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Kbenhavn. Photo by Ole Haupt.

79

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List of Illustrations

xiii

Figure 8.1. A Roman gold coin from the first months in autumn 54 of Nero’s rule. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

138

Figure 9.1. A Renaissance illustration of the typical tragic stage as it is suggestively described by the Roman architect Vitruvius. From Il secondo libro di Perspettiva di Sebastiano Serlio Bolognese (Paris 1545). © Danish National Art Library.

155

Figure 9.2. Roman sarcophagus from c.135–40 illustrating the story of Orestes in the Museo Gregoriano Profano, the Vatican, Rome. © Danish National Art Library.

163

Figure 9.3. Illustrations of scenes of the Octavia from a manuscript in the Biblioteca Marciana. © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice.

169

Figure 9.4. The final scene of the Octavia in a fourteenth century manuscript in the Biblioteca Marciana. © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice.

170

Figure 10.1. Roman soldiers presenting the amputated heads of defeated Dacians to Trajan. Relief on the column of Trajan in his Forum in Rome. © Danish National Art Library.

180

Figure 10.2. Map showing the relative position of Ostia, Pandataria (modern Ventotene), and Campania.

185

Figure 11.1. The fragments and restored reading of the inscription (ILS 216) once adorning the Emperor Claudius’ triumphal arch from c.51–52 AD. © Danish National Art Library.

193

Figure 12.1. An enthusiastic early Renaissance reader of the dialogue between Nero and Seneca has adorned the margins with a total of six pointing hands reminding him to ‘Note!’ (Nota) these brilliant lines on might versus right. © Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence.

218

Figure 12.2. A recently discovered gold coin marking the first phase of the Augustan resettlement of the res publica in 28–27 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

223

Figure 12.3. A brass coin from the reign of Caligula linking apotheosis and the Augustan ideal of consensus. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

224

Figure 13.1. Gold coin from AD 54 featuring Nero and Agrippina facing each other. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

244

Figure 13.2. Relief found in Aphrodisias depicting Agrippina crowning Nero. © New York University Excavations at Aphrodisias.

245

Figure 15.1. Roman marble relief showing a trophy with weapons and anchors lying at its foot and with barbarians shackled to its trunk. © Museo Civico Archeologico di Fiesole, Italy.

289

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List of Illustrations

Figure 16.1. Reverse of denarius minted by the assassins of Julius Caesar in 43–42 BC. The legend EID(us) MAR(tiae) (‘The Ides of March’) and the cap of liberty flanked by daggers immortalize the date and commemorate the murder as a blow for liberty. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

318

Figure 16.2. Reverse of denarius minted by the rebels against Nero in spring 68. The mint master has clearly looked closely at an exemplar of Brutus’ renowned ‘Ides of March’ issue. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

319

Figure 16.3. Eugène Guillaume, Les Gracques. Bronze. Begun in Rome in 1848, exhibited at the Salon 1853. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

346

Figure 16.4. The urn of Agrippina the Elder. © Musei Capitolini, Rome.

350

Figure 16.5. Sestertius from AD 68. Obv.: Galba’s head, laureate. Legend: SER SVLPI(cius) GALBA IMP. CAESAR AVG. TR. P. © Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

352

Figure 17.1. A fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Italian schoolboy translating Nero’s aggressive imagery of ruling by the sword into an image of a contemporary condottiere wielding his threatening weapon. © Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

364

Figure 17.2. The so-called tomb of Antenor in Padua. Photo: Mogens Nykjær.

366

Figure 17.3. Title pages of Lodovico Dolce’s 1560 editions of his own and of Seneca’s collected tragedies, which Dolce had translated. © British Library.

394

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List of Tables Table 2.1. The evidence for the known praetextae

14

Table 2.2. Varro’s system of dramatic genres

17

Table 10.1. The tripartition of Octavia’s plot

173

Table 10.2. Stemma of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty

177

Table 15.1. Stemma showing the relations between the executed Claudian women evoked by the Chorus in Octavia 932–59

291

Table 16.1. Chief events in the period from the revolt of Vindex to the final victory of Vespasian.

317

Table 16.2. References to the Roman people (P(opulus) R(omanus)) in the coinage of the revolt against Nero and from Galba down to Trajan

322

Table 16.3. ‘Rome Reborn’ (ROMA RENASCENS) slogans in the coinage of the revolt against Nero and from Galba down to Trajan

327

Table 16.4. References to clementia in the coinage of the Early Empire (Augustus–Trajan)

332

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Part I The Tradition

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1 Recovering a Lost Genre Browse a search-engine or enter any bookshop with an extensive stock, including a section specializing in theatre, and you will, without fail, find editions of Ibsen and Strindberg, Chekhov and Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Allowing for local variation, Schiller and Brecht, Racine and Molière, Goldoni and Pirandello and, from ancient Rome, Plautus and Terence are also regularly represented under such rubrics or on such shelves. What is often missing, however, is Seneca—the great and only surviving representative of Imperial Roman drama and during the Renaissance commonly considered the peer of the Greeks. ‘But it is not real drama, is it? I mean, he did not write for the stage, did he?’ is a typical and, on its own terms, well-informed reply; a comment, I shall argue, that has little to do with the historical record, but everything to do with modern, i.e. post-romantic ideas about Greece and Rome, about the Greeks producing real drama, and the Romans empty rhetoric. Since the early nineteenth century1 such ideas have received unhesitating and even enthusiastic support from writers of the most diverse backgrounds, sometimes to paradoxical effect. Here, for instance, is the modernist poet and playwright T.S. Eliot explaining what Shakespeare owed to ‘ancient’ theatre (a deceptively all-embracing label): Behind the dialogue of Greek drama we are always conscious of a concrete visual actuality, and behind that of a specific emotional actuality . . . This is merely a 1 Manuwald (2001) provides a comprehensive bibliography to all fragments and ancient references. In what follows, there has been no attempt at continuous, let alone exhaustive referencing. The primary focus of these footnotes is on the relevant primary evidence and on discussions I have found fundamental, stimulating or helpful. At the same time, a consistent attempt has been made to engage fully or sufficiently with readings that either challenge or differ significantly from the views and inferences presented here. If not otherwise stated, translations are my own. Abbreviations follow the standards of OCD3 or as outlined in the bibliography. For the problems, in terms of both methodology and evidence, inherent in the view that Senecan drama was never meant to move ‘from the schools of rhetoric on to the stage’ (first suggested by the influential Romantic critic A.W. von Schlegel in 1809 and strongly endorsed by Zwierlein (1966)), see the discussion in Fitch (2000) 1–12; Kragelund (1999) and (2008) and this book’s Ch. 6 and 9–10.

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Roman Historical Drama particular case of the amazing unity of Greek, the unity of concrete and abstract in philosophy, the unity of thought and feeling, action and speculation, in life. In the plays of Seneca, the drama is all in the word, and the word has no further reality behind it. His characters all seem to speak with the same voice, and at the top of it; they recite in turn.2

In Senecan tragedy, the ‘drama is all in the word, and the word has no further reality behind it’. Of immense influence, such notions (which of course are so heavily imbued with metaphysical awe for all things Greek that they placed Eliot in a quandary since he knew well that Renaissance dramatists, among them Shakespeare, were infinitely more familiar with Seneca than with his Greek forerunners) have, since the early nineteenth century, offered an almost obligatory framework for discussing Senecan drama. This is, standard handbooks will claim, drama without ‘implicit stage direction’ and with ‘little felt sense of practical dramaturgy’.3 Labels like ‘rhetorical exercises’ and ‘incoherent and unimaginative closet drama’ are much bandied about, scholars having attempted to prove that the surviving specimens were never intended to be performed. Conducted with a logical rigour worthy of a Hegel or Kant, such advocacy is, however, surprisingly often vitiated by an incomplete understanding of the actual workings of the Roman stage. Hazy notions about unities of time and place (a Renaissance, not a Roman concept) are wrongly given obligatory status. Discussions of ancient theatre that in fact focus almost exclusively on evidence for the stage of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, are invoked as the factual basis on which to assess a group of dramas written within very different parameters.4 The result is a tradition that ostensibly discusses tragedy in Greece and Rome, while in fact treating the Roman variety as a feeble sideshow of little independent interest and limited historical impact. These days, this interpretative framework is ever more frequently challenged, but its central tenets are still what textbooks and popular dictionaries will not hesitate to pass on as received and common-sense wisdom. Apart from comedy and such popular spectacles as pantomimes, mimes, and gladiatorial combats (genres of which recent studies have greatly advanced our knowledge), the Roman age is, when it comes to tragedy and historical drama, frequently seen as a relatively sterile period, the surviving scripts often claimed to represent a bookish, essentially untheatrical trend.5 ‘After all, there is no evidence showing that it was otherwise, is there?’

2

3 Eliot (1963) 14 (first edited 1927). Kennedy (2003) 1221. Unities of time and place: readings based upon such anachronistic premises: Ch. 8.3 and 9.3–4. 5 New approaches in the discussion of the Roman stage, comedy and tragedy: Green (2008), Marshall (2006), and the survey of Goldberg (2007); Leppin (1992), Csapo & Slater (1994), Hall & Easterling (2002) and Csapo (2010) look closely at the evidence for actors and acting. 4

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Ch. 1: Recovering a Lost Genre

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By focusing on the rich and varied evidence for the history and development of Roman historical drama, the present study will take its place among the many on-going efforts aimed at challenging such assumptions. This means taking the reader back to a long-forgotten dramatic genre, of which only a single dramatic script has survived. This genre had formats, characters, and episodes taken from Roman history; its plots were fashioned and performed according to scenic conventions that—it will here be argued—in many respects were very unlike what is commonly associated with ancient drama. Aspects of this genre and of this single survival have since the 1980s been debated with growing intensity, the present author being an early and assiduous participant. After a long series of specialized studies published at irregular intervals over the last three decades that, over the years, have greatly gained in impact, it now seems time to present a synthesis. The study falls into three main sections, each of which I hope will offer readers an eye-opening look at different aspects of the genre. This opening section, which covers developments roughly from the late third century BC down to the early second century AD (Ch. 1–6) sets the stage for the discussion, first of the other imperial praetextae (Ch. 7), then, in Chapters 8–16, of the Octavia, which, here, is seen as the sole completely surviving specimen of its genre. In ancient drama as we know it, its layout is, for a number of reasons, unique. First, because of its strong emphasis on things Roman, in its plot, props, formats, and settings. Second, because of its frequent, sometimes abrupt, changes of settings; and, third, because of its strongly emphasized three-day structure. As will be argued, the layout of this drama bears a strong imprint of developments in its own genre, as well as in ancient drama in general, thus providing evidence for a stage culture that in important respects is very different from what one usually associates with Greece and Rome. In addition to these, by themselves arresting, structural aspects, the action of this play also sets it apart. The Octavia dramatizes a crucial episode in the history of Imperial Rome: the Emperor Nero’s decision in AD 62 to divorce and execute his empress Octavia and marry his mistress Poppaea. A move of deep dynastic and political significance, this political and erotic plot offers walk-on roles for some of the period’s most renowned historical players: Nero, Octavia, and Poppaea, as well as Nero’s mentor, the philosopher and dramatist Seneca; returning from the dead, the avenging ghost of Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is also a principal. This is no mere court drama, however, the protagonist of its pivotal chorus scenes being the people of Rome, who in growing revulsion finally revolt against the tyrant and his evil mistress. The prominent and active role of the play’s populus Romanus is an aspect that seems rooted in the ancient traditions of the genre. What is more, this prominence also—it will here be argued—throws a revealing light, not only on the unknown dramatist’s time of writing (discussed in Ch. 16), but also on his intended audience.

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Roman Historical Drama

The third and final section of this study (Ch. 17) will then look at key episodes in the fate of this script, roughly from the point when it re-emerged out of the Dark Ages onwards. The primary focus in this section will be on its often unacknowledged impact on the theatre of the early Italian Renaissance, moving from there onwards to France, the Iberian Peninsula, and England (where Shakespeare has ensured that the links to this tradition have never been forgotten). While politics and the historical, as well as a number of genre characteristics, constitute the link between the Octavia and its predecessors, the historical and the erotic are, along with a number of the above characteristics, what the Renaissance took over, the discussion of these latter aspects ranging from the first classical-style tragedies in the vernacular to one of the earliest operas still in the repertoire—thus bringing the discussion up to the point in history when, in the mid-eighteenth century, the Romantic quest for the primitive and original turned literary hierarchies upside down, a side effect being that this once admired drama, along with those by Seneca himself, was demoted from its rightful position in the history of Western theatre, its links with what was now considered real drama being resolutely severed. The project undertaken here is in numerous respects indebted to friends and colleagues at home and abroad. At a turning point in my scholarly career, with a two volume study on politics and classical antiquity in the oeuvre of the Danish painter Nicolai Abildgaard (1743–1809) successfully published6 and with a new job as director of a national research library that was badly in need of fundamental modernization, colleagues in Bergen, Norway (where for a wonderful spell, I was visiting professor in Latin) invited me to resume work on the subject of my PhD dissertation in 1982, and present a survey and discussion of Roman historical drama in the Symbolae Osloenses (2002). The editors assembled a group of distinguished colleagues from around the globe, who contributed with comments and responses. This brought me thoroughly back in touch with parallel developments in this thriving subject, with colleagues across borders and oceans, some old, many new acquaintances, as well as with areas, where it emerged that there were issues still greatly in need of more detailed study, such as modes of performance, Renaissance reception, Nero’s economy, and the grim fate of the genre’s last known dramatist, the brave and controversial senator Curiatius Maternus (?–91).7 The translation of the Octavia, which I and my old friend and frequent editor Marianne Alenius took it upon ourselves to produce for a Danish 6 An ‘outsider’s’ view of one of the patriarchs of Danish art, my study Abildgaard, kunstneren mellem oprørerne I–II (Copenhagen 1999) has fundamentally changed the approach to the painter’s life, politics, and reception of the classics: T. Lederballe (ed.) Nicolai Abildgaard. Revolution embodied, exh. cat. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (2009). 7 Kragelund (1999), (2005), and (2012a) discuss performance issues, (2006) and (2009) the drama’s reception, (1987), (1998), (2000), (2003), (2007), (2010), and (2012b) the history of the period and of Curiatius Maternus.

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theatre group in 1984 (they played with such success that the run had to be extended) surprisingly went out of print in 2000, so we chose to reedit what is now a text with a growing place in college curricula, in the original or translation. Repeated discussions over the years, as well as invitations to give talks about this drama, have strengthened my feeling that its qualities merit a wider audience. Colleagues at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen invited me to contribute to two exhibition projects of immediate relevance to my work: one on portraits probably from the family tomb of the Emperor Galba’s heir Piso; the other on the, in every sense, dramatic life and afterlife of Nero’s mother, Agrippina.8 On top of this comes inspiration from other quarters. The development, transmission, and codification of rival traditions concerning Rome’s early history are aspects where recent decades have seen great advances of crucial relevance for historical drama. Add to this the renewed interest in the understanding of Senecan mythological drama, which for our anonymous author was of immense importance, even where the historical genre, in which he had chosen to write, pointed to very different dramatic solutions. Performance studies that have otherwise also changed the understanding of ancient and, in particular, Roman drama are another area where my reading has received much inspiration. Along with and, indeed, beyond the impact of such studies within the classical repertoire, the present study stands deeply indebted to semiotic reflection, as well as to the actual work of modern playwrights and film-makers, with their often insightful, self-reflective manner of turning linear narrative into living drama.9 Approaches focusing on the importance not only of actors on stage, but, as it has aptly been phrased, also of ‘actors in the audience’ has given new urgency to the attempt to understand this drama’s historical configuration in relation to the expectations and outlook of those for whom it might have been written. Given its historical subject, this study has, finally, benefited immensely from the great advances of recent decades in the understanding of the Neronian period, of its archaeology, theatre, politics, and ideological tensions, as well as of the post-Neronian development of the tyrant’s image.10 This also holds true of studies that, probably due to the controversial status of this drama, steer clear of actually making use of its evidence. As for the drama’s—and its tradition’s—impact on the history of theatre, I am finally deeply indebted to Nero’s most recent victim, my partner Mogens,

8 Many exciting discussions materialized in two exhibitions and catalogues: Kragelund (2003) and Moltesen & Nielsen (2007). 9 Theoretical and practical inspiration from performance studies: Ch. 8–16. 10 ‘actors in the audience’: Bartsch (1994); Flower (2002) and (2006) 199–209 and Wiseman (2008) 208–9 point to the relevance of such an approach for understanding the Octavia. For the links between the Octavia and the history of the reign of Nero: Ch. 10.2–4; 16.1–7.

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Roman Historical Drama

whose own research made frequent stays in Venice, summer after summer, a much cherished necessity. While pursuing other research projects, I realized that the Biblioteca Marciana holds unrivalled holdings of dramatic scripts from the sixteenth century, the perusal of which allowed me to study the Italian reception of the Octavia at the centre of the theatre-land of the Italian and, indeed, European Renaissance.11 Writing a book like the present presents a double challenge, since its intended readership hails from two sectors, one that is interested in drama as well as in a crucial episode in its early Western history, and another that is interested in a specific drama that holds an important but commonly overlooked place in Roman and indeed ancient literature. This means writing about this drama qua drama but also qua Roman (the latter being the area where my training lies). An attempt has been made to keep both readerships in mind, never to take knowledge of the ancient world for granted, and, at the same time never to presume knowledge of the workings of the stage and the deciphering of a dramatic script. All texts are quoted in the original but consistently translated, events are dated, persons identified and technical terms explained. Where some discussions may prove banal to one group but eye-opening to others, it is my hope that the two strands, when brought together, will provide readers of both camps with new insights. * The prologue at its end, the protagonist may enter: the praetexta, a dramatic genre dealing with the ‘great deeds of the Romans’ (res gestae Romanorum),12 was named after the ceremonial purple bordered toga worn by its typical leading characters, generals, senators, and magistrates of the ‘Roman Commonwealth’, the res publica Romana. In Greek there was, perhaps significantly, no corresponding term, leaving no option but to use transliteration when referring to such Roman plays. True, Greek dramatists also wrote drama that one might describe as historical, but the output was perhaps too sporadic to generate a corresponding terminology; or perhaps the dividing line between myth and history was not sufficiently clear-cut (where, for instance, should one place the anonymous drama on Herodotus’ King Gyges, partly known from papyri?). And was the tragedy of King Mausolus, which the renowned tragedian Theodectes presented at the dedication of King Mausolus’ tomb in Halicarnassus—the seventh wonder of the world—focused on the king’s

11 Boyle (2008) is, strikingly, the first commentary to acknowledge at all that this drama had a Nachleben; Wilson (2003) 1–2 briefly, and Boyle more expansively, survey other such echoes in French and above all Elizabethan drama; Kragelund (2009), Schubert (2012) and Ch. 17 look at Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Flanders and also England; for the libretto of Monteverdi’s Poppea, Ch. 17.8. 12 Festus p. 249, 14L, ‘praetextae appellantur, quae res gestas Romanorum continent scriptae’. Further evidence concerning the genre: 15 n. 4ff.

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mythical ancestor or on himself?13 Add to this the difficulties in directly staging contemporary life (a conundrum that, as we shall see, also came to have an impact on the Roman genre). Indeed, it can be argued that Aeschylus’ Persians (472 BC), the earliest historical drama to have survived, is very deliberate in sidestepping precisely such difficulties (including the charge of hubris) by celebrating Greek victory as seen through the tearful eyes of the defeated. After all, Aeschylus’ only known forerunner ran into considerable trouble for being far more direct: Phrynicus’ Capture of Miletus (c.494 BC) dramatized a crushing Persian victory and Greek defeat. At Athens, Herodotus reports that the play reduced the whole theatre to tears of compassion, this stirring experience resulting in the tragedian being fined and further plays on this subject forbidden. It is therefore hardly coincidental that Sophocles and Euripides, for all their contemporary relevance, never seem to have opted for a format that would allow them to dramatize something near-contemporary.14 In Rome, developments were very different, with all the great early tragedians (and unknown numbers of others) not only taking subjects from Greek myth, but also from Roman myths, legends, and history, early as well as nearcontemporary. For all their contemporary relevance and often triumphalist themes some of these plays were described as ‘similar to tragedies’ (tragoediis similes).15 By a happy coincidence, with great implications for the Renaissance revival of classical-style tragedy (see Ch. 17), one of these look-alike tragedies dealing with events of a stirring and, as we shall see, very recent past has in fact survived. What is more, its take on history is not, as in Aeschylus, through some distant, Persian proxy, but very up-front and direct, its setting being in Rome, its props, rituals and formats unmistakably Roman; and so, of course, were its protagonists. But more on this below. What matters here are the beginnings. Origins may well be pre-literary (in Rome, literature was a slow starter) but in its written form plays of this type are first mentioned as part of the oeuvre of one of the founders of Roman literature, Gnaeus Naevius in c.200 BC. As an active literary form it is last heard of in the Dialogus of the great historian, Tacitus, from c.98 AD:16 in his youth he had witnessed a heated debate about a historical drama written by 13 Lydus De magistratibus 1.40; Herodotus 6.21 calls Phrynicus’ Capture of Miletus a drama; Gell. NA 10.18.7 labels Theodectes’ King Mausolus a tragedy; its probable role in establishing a hero-cult of the King: Hornblower (1982) 260–1; 353; Di Marco (20092) 133–4 lists further such titles. 14 Herodotus 6.21; Phrynicus observed the veto in so far as his next historical tragedy, The Phoenician Women, played at Susa and mirrored the Persian defeat as seen through the Persian experience; tradition has it that Aeschylus based his Persians on this model: Rosenbloom (2006) 33–5. 15 Ch. 2 focuses on definitions of the genre. 16 The classic point of departure is Ribbeck’s collection of fragments in TRF3 and his study on Republican tragedy, Ribbeck (1875).

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the senator Curiatius Maternus, whose outspoken dramas probably cost him his life. What is known of the reactions to two of his known plays is, in any case, no mean exit for a genre often sailing close to political controversy.17 The chart in Table 2.1 offers a survey, in chronological order, of dramatists and titles (when recorded). Out of nearly twenty known (or supposed) works, all that survives is the anonymous drama on Nero’s murder of Octavia. In the manuscript tradition, this play has been transmitted as a work of Seneca, but it is today commonly agreed that stylistic, and, above all, historical evidence makes this ascription impossible. Seneca himself had been dead for at least three years by the time the unknown playwright chose to dramatize events in which the great philosopher, as the counsellor of Nero, had indeed played a crucial role. This change of authorship by no means diminishes the work’s importance. In numerous respects an intriguingly unexpected survival, this drama is not, however, a work without parallels, since it seems roughly contemporary with the historical dramas of Curiatius Maternus mentioned above. What remain disputed, however, are the nature of this parallel and the relation between this single survival and earlier such dramas. Here the traditional attitude was that the Octavia—to quote a typical verdict—is a ‘purely literary and artificial treatment of recent history on the lines of Greek tragedy’ and therefore of little or no relevance for the discussion of its republican antecedents.18 This is by no means any longer a mainstream attitude, but the question of how to understand relations, if any, is still very much an open one. This leaves some forty so-called fragments (in fact references, or paraphrases, or more or less exact quotations of lines or single words in contemporary or later writers). In length, these fragments range from mere titles and isolated words or lines to the single most extensive surviving passage, a twenty-two line interchange between King Tarquin and an attendant from the dramatist Accius’ Brutus (late second century BC). Yet, even on the basis of so relatively little, scholars have, from the mid-nineteenth century down to the present day, succeeded in extracting information that by inference and analogy allows a sketchy outline to emerge. As established by one of the pioneers, the German scholar Otto Ribbeck (1827–98) and his numerous successors, some of the items provide indications as to the events described and characters portrayed. As far as the plots are concerned, the clues are few and for the most part fairly basic. In recent years, favoured topics have moved from content to contexts of performance as well as of aristocratic patronage. Based upon the fundamental Oxford edition from 1986 by Otto Zwierlein, his French, Italian, and Canadian colleagues, G. Liberman, François Chaumartin, Rolando Ferri, and John Fitch have produced editions of the Octavia (Ferri with a commentary, 17 18

The fate of Maternus: Ch. 7.6. Notes 3–9 at 131–2 quote further such verdicts.

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Liberman, Chaumartin, and Fitch with translations) that greatly advance the understanding of the text. Mario Erasmo has re-surveyed the history of Roman tragedy (including the praetexta) and from his colleague, A. J. Boyle, there are three ground-breaking surveys: of Seneca’s dramatic afterlife; of the history of Roman tragedy; and finally a commentary (2008) on the Octavia that, along with the above, have put understanding of this play onto a massively improved footing.19 From Germany comes a painstakingly documented monograph on the praetextae by Gesine Manuwald, its bibliography an invaluable guide to discussions of the last two centuries.20 Journals in Norway and New Zealand have edited specialized but wide-ranging debates on the genre and drama.21 Add to this the on-going philological effort dedicated to the dramatists’ fragments, most recently (2006) resulting in a monumental commentary on Pacuvius by Petra Schierl. In short, the evidence has, not least in recent decades, repeatedly been sifted, often with great acumen, thereby providing a sound basis for discussion. These contributions have also laid bare where there is still work to be done. Here, one of the main areas is the interaction between historians, dramatists, and their audiences, and between these genres and history, as it was understood, debated, and indeed contested during the span of roughly 300 years, during which we have reasonably solid evidence about developments. In this area, it seems imperative to take up the challenge presented by Peter Wiseman, who in these last decades, with great vigour and scholarship, has argued that the theatre played an underestimated role in shaping Roman historical consciousness. By combining literary, topographical and archaeological evidence, Wiseman has argued strongly that dramas dealing with Roman myths, history, and legends were far more common and had a far greater impact on Roman historiography than the extant evidence would lead us to assume. In an overwhelmingly illiterate culture, the indications are that this had been a prime source of historical knowledge for the common man. A counter-movement, basing its case on the scanty state of the evidence, raises the crucial question of representativity.22 Are there reasons to believe that the evidence, which has been preserved, in the main reflects what was originally there? Or, alternatively, that the extant set of references is far from being equivalent to the original sum total?

19

Zwierlein (1986); Ferri (2003); Fitch (2004a–b); Boyle (1997), (2006), and (2008). Manuwald (2001) presents all relevant fragments and includes a wide-ranging bibliography; for the fragments of Pacuvius, Schierl (2006) is now standard; for the fragmentary praetextae, Zorzetti (1980), Schmidt (1985), and Boyle (2006) are useful and judicious surveys. 21 Kragelund (2002) and Wilson (2003), the former with contributions from G. Ballaira, F.-R. Chaumartin, R. Ferri, H.I. Flower, H.M. Hine, C.W. Marshall, R. Tarrant, and T.P. Wiseman, the latter by F. Billot, G. Harrisson, G. Manuwald, S.M. Goldberg, and M. Wilson. 22 Individually and cumulatively, Wiseman (1998) and (2008) 84–139 makes a strong case for a pre-literary history of the genre. 20

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Roman Historical Drama

With these questions in mind, Chapter 2 will look critically at the accepted corpus of fragments,23 examining how and why they have been transmitted, whether and to what extent they can be considered representative, and what their modes of survival may tell us. This survey will provide the basis for addressing the history of the genre in the following five chapters (3–7), which will look at key episodes in the various stages of its history, from the beginnings, as we know them, up till the end of the first century AD; then, in the book’s central part, turning to take a close look at the sole surviving specimen, the Octavia. But, it will be objected, is the Octavia a praetexta at all? Did anyone know the genre or was it long obsolete when the dramatist, at some point after the fall of Nero, wrote this so-called ‘purely literary and artificial treatment of recent history on the lines of Greek tragedy’? Given the extreme fragmentation of the evidence, such doubts are legitimate. If the genre had indeed (as is often claimed) ceased being an active literary form with Accius, in c.120 BC, it strains credibility that it would have presented a model for writers active after AD 68, i.e. almost 200 years later. There are, of course, cases like Vergil, unusually reaching back some 200 years to the Hellenistic poet Theocritus and thereby, as it seems, reinventing Bucolics— so if the Octavia is indeed a praetexta, the question is whether or not the genre needed reinvention. When discussing the accepted corpus of fragments, Chapter 2 will therefore also examine whether we should accept the theory of such sudden decline, say after Accius, or, as an alternative, some degree of continuity between the Republican and Imperial praetextae.

23 Helm (1954) 1572–4; Zorzetti (1980) 47 ff. and Flower (1995) 170–1 survey and discuss such suggestions.

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2 Republican Flourishing and Imperial Decline? When dealing with so-called fragments of ancient texts (in fact, as we have seen, snippet quotations, allusions, or paraphrases of uneven length), it is vital, first of all, to determine how and why the evidence has been preserved. Has the process of transmission (or, rather, more or less fortuitous selection) been biased, or can the evidence be considered reasonably representative? Does it, for instance, allow us to speak of developments over time, of a once flourishing genre, which disappears from sight during the late Republic, briefly to resurface in the mid-first century AD, ‘after a break lasting almost two hundred years’—to quote a leading exponent of the school insisting that there was no continuity?1 To assess the merits of such interpretations, a brief look at the chart in Table 2.1 will prove useful. The chart, which combines most of the references in Otto Ribbeck’s classic 1897 edition of the fragments of Roman tragedy Tragicorum Romanorum fragmenta, with a few subsequent additions (highlighted by an added *), focuses on what is generally agreed to be the core evidence. The titles of the dramas are sometimes conjectural, but the details need not bother here.2 In the list there are, moreover, items that should perhaps be discarded (or combined). What matters here, however, is an aspect of the overall distribution that seems incontrovertible. Such as they

1 ‘nach einer Pause von etwa zweihundert Jahren’, Schmidt (1985) 1424; similarly, Manuwald (2011) 141 with n. 42. 2 The present list of fragments is based on Ribbeck in TRF3 (with which Klotz (1953) and Pedroli (1954) are basically in agreement). It adds a few new items (marked with an *): a fragment of Pacuvius’ Paulus (cf. 32 n. 25); a Brutus by Cassius, in addition to the one by Accius (cf. 31 n. 21); and a Nero by Curiatius Maternus (cf. 120 n. 71). Finally, Herennius Gallus (rather than Cornelius Balbus) is suggested as author of the drama concerning Balbus’ secret ‘Embassy’ (the Iter) (cf. 63 n. 11). Commentary on each item: Manuwald (2001).

I c. ad

I c. bc

II c. ad

IV c. ad

V c. ad

VI c. ad

IX c. ad

SOURCES

Praetextae Author

Title

1 = 32 n. 23 Naevius

Clastidium

2 = 31 n. 18

Romulus

3 = 31 n. 18

Lupus

4 = 32 n. 24 Ennius

Ambracia

5 = 32 n. 24

Sabinae

6 = 32 n. 25 Pacuvius

Paulus

7 = 31 n. 20 Accius

Brutus

8 = 53 n. 22

Cicero

Asinius Pollio

Varro

Ovid

Octavia

Tacitus

Vita Persii

Gellius

Festus

Nonius

Donatus Charisius Diomedes

Decius

9 = 63 n. 12

Balbus (?)/Herennius De suo itinere Gallus (?)*

10 = 26 n. 10

Anon.

Nonae

11 = 31 n. 21

Cassius

Brutus*

12 = 9 n. 14

Anon.

Claudia

13 = 101 n. 3

Pomponius Secundus

Aeneas

14 = 103 n. 6

Persius

?

15 = Ch. 8–16

Anon.

Octavia

16 = 120 n. 71

Curiatius Maternus

Nero*

17 = 108 n. 24

Cato

18 = 120 n. 70

Domitius

(Cross references are to the footnotes assembling detailed evidence and references to discussions concerning each entry.)

Julius Victor

Macrobius Priscianus

Remigius from Auxerre

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Table 2.1. The evidence for the known praetextae.

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are, the sources, on which the list of fragments is based, fall clearly into two groups:  one reaching from the Roman statesman Cicero (early first century

BC) down to the anonymous Life of Persius (c.120 AD)  the other from Gellius (a Roman antiquarian from the mid-second century) down to the Carolingian scholar, Remigius from Auxerre (c.841–908).

Of these groups, the first is, as it were, contemporary with events. However selective, this group, which includes Roman authors from the first centuries BC and AD such as Cicero, Asinius Pollio, Varro, Ovid, Pseudo-Seneca, and Tacitus, offers brief, tentative glimpses of historical dramas that were read, performed and recited in Mid- and Late Republican, Julio-Claudian and Flavian Rome. While Cicero, Varro, Ovid, and Tacitus (nos. 7, 10, 12, 16–18) evoke performances and recitations in Rome itself, Pollio (no. 9) takes us to the shores of the Atlantic, in distant Gades (modern Cádiz) in Southwest Spain. In one invaluable instance, this group even provides a full text, that of the anonymous Octavia (no. 15), the only preserved representative of the genre (which scholars, for all their differences on detail, generally agree to postdate the fall of Nero in 68). By contrast, the second group consists of those guardians of language (to use the Senecan expression so appropriately adopted by Robert Kaster) who, from the second century onwards, codified the rules of Latin grammar and, at the same time, promoted an antiquarian interest in exceptional Latin words as found, above all, in Early Republican literature. Gellius may of course have seen a performance or heard a recitation of one or more of these dramas. But what he and his successors3 invariably refer to are texts, or rather bits of texts, which, sometimes, no doubt at several removes, reflect what someone once quoted from what we presume was a praetexta. Faute de mieux, the fact that the evidence is late by no means diminishes its importance. What it preserves is often valuable. It is, for instance, to this group that we owe the classic definitions of the genre.4 The most extensive are those by the fourth-century grammarian, Diomedes (who agrees with other late sources in using the term praetextata). While discussing ‘plays in Roman dress’ (the so-called togatae), Diomedes states that among the togatae, the first type (species) are called praetextatae; they deal with the affairs of generals or those of the res publica and in them Roman kings or

3 In Table 2.1, the suggested chronological order of the grammarians from Late Antiquity is based upon Kaster (1988), who provides ample bibliography and judicious comment on each entry. 4 References to praetextae (Asinius Pollio, Cic. Fam. 10.32.3; 5; Hor. Ars P. 288; Donat. on Ter. Ad. 7) or praetextatae, along with other dramatic genres: Euanthius De fabula 4.1 (17 n. 7); Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.482.28K; Donatianus, 6.274.8K and ‘Caesius Bassus’, 6.312.9K. Byzantine scholars also knew the terminology: 9 n. 13.

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commanders play a part; due to the dignity of the protagonists and the elevated style these dramas resemble tragedies. Yet, they are called praetextatae because this kind of drama as a rule deals with the exploits of kings and magistrates who wear the praetexta.

A few paragraphs later Diomedes returns to the problem of defining the genre in its relation to tragedy proper. To make sense of his statement, I have accepted an admirable emendation (put in brackets) suggested by Friedrich Leo (1851–1914): A togata praetextata differs from a tragedy inasmuch as tragedy puts mythological heroes on show. Thus Pacuvius wrote tragedies with heroic titles, like Orestes, Chryses and the like; and so did Accius. In a praetextata, however as in the one called Brutus or the one called Decius – and likewise with the Marcellus.5

In these comments on the genre’s stylistic properties, everything suggests that Diomedes, at an unknown number of removes, ultimately draws upon the Roman polymath Varro, who, in the first century BC, wrote extensively on drama (works which—sadly—are only known through paraphrases). Apparently, Varro’s definition was, at least on one level, strictly formal, distinguishing between plays in Greek dress (called palliatae) and plays in that most Roman of garments, the toga.6 Referring to all such Roman-style plays as togatae (a label causing some confusion since it had already been used to designate plays on specifically Roman subjects), Varro further subdivided them into four sub-categories (species). First, he identified plays dealing with official subjects and therefore performed in ‘Roman official dress’ (praetextae) as opposed to plays dealing with everyday Roman subjects and therefore performed in informal attire and among low-born people such as ‘shopkeepers’ (tabernarii), whence the label tabernariae. To these were added the farces, Oscan in origin, called Atellanae (the name taken from the Campanian city of Atella, the reputed place of their origin), and finally the plays called mimes, but here in their Roman version, which was played without the comic actor’s characteristic boots, hence the name ‘barefoot’, planipes. The beauty of 5 Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.489.23ff.K, ‘nam prima species est togatarum quae praetextatae dicuntur, in quibus imperatorum negotia agebantur et publica et reges Romani vel duces inducuntur, personarum dignitate et [personarum] sublimitate tragoediis similes. Praetextatae autem dicuntur, quia fere regum vel magistratuum qui praetexta utuntur in eius modi fabulis acta comprehenduntur’; 1.490, 10K ff., ‘togata praetextata a tragoedia differt, quod in tragoedia heroes inducuntur, ut Pacuvius tragoedias nominibus heroicis scripsit, Orestem, Chrysen et his similia, item Attius*; in praetextata autem quae inscribitur Brutus vel Decius, item Marcellus’ (suppl. F. Leo). * As in for instance Marius Victorinus Gramm. Lat. 6.8.11K, the MSS have the spelling ‘Attius’ or ‘Actius’, surely a corruption of ‘Accius’. 6 Diomedes quotes Varro on togatae at Gramm. Lat. 1.489.14 ff.K (= Varro GrRF fr. 306) and the ensuing discussion also seems Varronian: Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.489.27–29K with Lesky (1966b) 583–92 and Daviault (1981) 12.

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Varro’s system was that it provided Rome with a ‘native’ dramatic tradition that, in each of its four sub-categories, mirrored a corresponding Greek genre—tragedy, comedy, satyr play, and mime (as illustrated in the following Table 2.2): Table 2.2. Varro’s system of dramatic genres. GREEK: PALLIATAE

TRAGEDY

ROMAN: TOGATAE

PRAETEXTA

COMEDY

SATYR PLAY

TABERNARIA

ATELLANA

MIME PLANIPES

But for all its beauty, the Varronian system also had its drawbacks. In the present context, the most notable is that it imposed an anachronistic neatness on evidence that clearly was far more complex; and, moreover, it achieved this end by redefining terminology that had already acquired a well-established meaning. To begin with the category praetexta, this was hardly of Varro’s devising. In a letter written in 43 BC, i.e. roughly at the time when Varro was working on the subject, his contemporary Asinius Pollio is clearly taking it for granted that the label (used without further ado) would make perfect sense to his addressee, Cicero. As for Varro’s all-embracing category togatae, this was, however, a label that gave rise to considerable confusion, since the word had already become an accepted designation for a kind of play for which Varro had no separate place in his system. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence showing that the togata throughout Antiquity continued to be regarded as an individual kind of play on a par with, for instance, tragedy and praetexta.7 We shall return to this problem of labels when discussing yet another rival current of early evidence, from Horace and Seneca, which enables us to grasp an alternative view of the so-called togatae. What matters here is that Varro’s system survives in a few scattered references to so-called togatae praetextae—one of them a reference in Varro himself, to which we shall presently return. As for the relation between tragedy and praetexta there are further problems. In Varro’s Roman group, the praetexta occupies the same or a similar position as tragedy in his Greek. Throughout Antiquity there were, however, people who rejected Varro’s system in favour of an essentially rival model 7 A reference from 56 BC (= Cic. Sest. 118) to Afranius’ togata entitled Simulans confirms that Varro redefined existing terminology. The attempt misfired. Julius Victor Ars rhetorica 105 mentions the genres that had contributed to ‘stylistic elegance’ (sermonis elegantiam) as ‘comoediae veteres et togatae et tabernariae et Atellanae fabulae . . .’—thus putting togatae and tabernariae on the same level. Similarly, Donat. on Ter. Adelphoe 7 uses fabula as the allembracing, general (generaliter) term for the whole variety (species) of plays, ranging from ‘tragoedia, comoedia, togata, tabernaria, praetexta, crepidata, Atellana, µEµ, Rhintonica’ thus putting the togata on equal footing with the other genres. So does Euanthius De fabula 4.1, but using togatae instead of Varro’s tabernariae: ‘Latinos multa fabularum genera protulisse, ut togatas ab scaenicis atque argumentis Latinis, praetextatas a dignitate personarum tragicarum ex Latina historia, Atellanas, Rinthonicas . . . tabernarias . . . mimos . . .’

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presenting the praetexta as a sub-species of tragedy. Donatus, the fourthcentury commentator on Terence, for instance, uses fabulae (‘plays’) as the all-embracing term, then proceeding to distinguish between the two basic categories—tragedy and comedy—the former only having the praetexta as its sub-species, whereas comedy musters an impressive array of generic manifestations, among them the togata (which, in Varro’s system, designated all plays set in Rome). That this link between tragedies and praetextae was widely accepted seems confirmed by the repeated crossovers that characterize the later evidence, not only when defining the genre (‘a praetexta is a tragedy that . . .’) but also when the terms praetexta and tragedy are used interchangeably.8 Unfortunately, it is unclear how far Varro would take this analogy with tragedy, but to judge from the one passage in which we have Varro’s direct comment on a togata praetexta, the link would have been stylistic rather than one of content. There is nothing tragic about the burlesque, erotic subject of the togata praetexta on the origins of the religious festival called the Nonae Caprotinae (no. 10), to which he at one point refers, but given the overriding patriotism of its plot, its style, settings, and formats may well have been more akin to more tragic praetextae such as those of Accius (see below) than, for instance, to comedy (played in Greek dress and with Greek settings). In other cases, one can readily see why the parallel with tragedy would suggest itself, whether pre- or post-dating Varro. Cicero quotes a fairly substantial part of a scene from Accius’ Brutus dating from c.130 BC (no. 7). Here, the stylistic parallels with tragedy are unmistakable. Given the Brutus legend’s tragic outcome for Lucretia, some have therefore seen this praetexta as more of a tragedy and therefore no longer properly belonging to the genre. This view is deeply problematic, not only because the evidence we have is utterly consistent in identifying the Brutus as a praetexta, but also because it overlooks the episode’s propitious consequences for Rome. Lucretia would die so that Rome could be free. For the protagonists, the great deeds celebrated in the praetextae sometimes ended tragically, sometimes happily. What mattered

8 Donat. De comoedia 6.1 defines the praetexta as a kind of tragedy: ‘ si Latina argumentatio sit, praetexta dicitur’; so does Acro on Hor. Ars P. 288, ‘Praetextam quidam dicunt tragoediam, togatam comoediam’, but he also claims that others saw both genres as comical; Lydus (9 n. 13) quotes a definition making praetexta a Roman parallel to Greek tragedy; hence definitions of Accius’ Brutus as a ‘tragoedia praetextata’ (schol. Bob. on Cic. Sest. 123); hence Euanthius’ (17 n. 7) emphasis on the personae being tragicae but ex Latina historia and the emphasis on the genres being ‘similes’: Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.489K (quoted 16 n. 5). Terminology was correspondingly fluid: in Tac. Dial. 2.1; 3.4, and 11.2, tragoediae is used of Maternus’ Cato as well as of his Thyestes and Nero—yet there is no sign that his Roman dramas were not regarded as praetextae. On the contrary, Maternus is praised for ‘adding to the dramas of the Greeklings a Domitius and a Cato, histories and names from our own Rome’ (nostras quoque historias et Romana nomina Graeculorum fabulis aggregares, 3.4).

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was that their ‘deeds’ (res gestae) had invariably proved beneficial to the ‘Roman Commonwealth’ (res publica Romanorum). As for the impact of these rival definitions of the genre, it is, for our present purpose, vital that they were of a kind able to provide fairly open-ended, but, as it seems, basically consistent guidelines and parameters for those who, from Cicero down to the early second-century historian Suetonius, embarked upon discussing, writing, or producing such or similar dramas. From all we know, these same parameters also provided the framework for establishing the store of references from which the scholars of Late Antiquity—through channels unknown—drew what not only amounts to a fair amount of secondary references to the early praetextae already attested by some early witnesses (among them the Clastidium (no. 1) by Naevius), but also some valuable references to praetextae not already on the list. Among these latter are Pacuvius’ Paulus and Ennius’ Ambracia and Sabinae. As the table illustrates, the knowledge of all three rests solely on quotations in late sources (nos. 6; 4; 5). This is not the place to reassess the merits of each and every fragment; others have done so with consummate skill. Some problems will no doubt remain the subject of debate. In a few cases, it is, for instance, not entirely certain that we are, in fact, dealing with dramas: while there is clear or indirect evidence for the genre praetex(ta)ta and for the performance or recitation of nos. 1; 2; or 3; and 6 through to 18, the two works by Ennius are commonly— and in my view rightly—assumed to be dramatic; but although the evidence is strong, it is not entirely conclusive. The titles of these dramas are, moreover, not always certain: that of nos. 9, 10, 12, and 14 is unknown; 2 and 3 are perhaps one and the same; so perhaps are 16 and 18. Yet, if God was originally said to be hidden in the detail, so, now, is the Devil. Sometimes it is useful to focus not on minutiae but on the overall picture. In this case it is only then that the problems inherent in the distribution of fragments become apparent. To put it briefly, the fragments are extremely unlikely to be representative. The relative abundance of information about Ennius, Naevius, Pacuvius, and Accius (nos. 3–6 and 8) is, after all, due to the emergence, first, of a literary canon focused on a set of fairly early texts and, second, of an antiquarian activity that, all things being equal, would be more likely to quote a Republican than an Imperial dramatist. The sole exception to this rule is the quotation from the Imperial dramatist, Pomponius Secundus (no. 13)—but then, Pomponius had a faible for choice old words, and so had the early fourth-century grammarian who quoted this item.9 The evidence therefore provides no solid basis for such arguments e silentio that detect ‘a decline of activity’ or ‘a lack of interest’ from, say, the late second

9

Pomponius: 101 n. 3.

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century BC onwards. Such reasoning is vitiated by an unproven and, indeed, implausible assumption that the findings of a group of antiquarians, whose views were never intended to be representative, were in fact so. What they offer is evidence for Early Republican activity, not for Late Republican or Imperial decline. Unwittingly, their zealous efforts played into the hands of a nineteenth-century tradition that, as we shall later see, was inordinately prone to interpret developments within a conceptual framework which distinguishes sharply between a Republican flourishing of real drama on the one hand and an Imperial decline into artificial rhetoric on the other. It is in this context that the evidence from Cicero down to Tacitus becomes crucial. Here, we are after all dealing with contemporary and sometimes firsthand reports, which, in a number of respects, are far more random, varied, and informative than those of the second group. Apart from the hazards of transmission, this is evidence that has been sifted by no principle of preselection. Far from being the result of any more or less systematic effort (as is the case with the antiquarians), it consists in the main of references to dramas these authors happened to have seen, read, or heard about. Notably, none of the latter references suggested that this was rare, unusual, or all there originally was. To be sure, Varro, Cicero, Pollio, Horace, Ovid, and Manilius provide some rare direct glimpses of praetextae being performed—but they nowhere claim that such productions were unusual per se; far from it, their off-hand manner suggests that this was in the natural order of things. The same applies to Tacitus’ casual references to Maternus’ recitation of his Cato (no. 17). This is the sole surviving reference to Maternus’ dramatic oeuvre—one wonders what the output of dramatists such as Turranius, Bassus, or Rutilius Geminus (to quote but a few of those known to have written tragedies in the imperial age)10 was like. If it were not for the grammarians of Late Antiquity, who would have guessed that the lost tragedies of a—today unknown—first-century BC dramatist such as Julius Caesar (not the dictator, but a relative), or Pupius, or Varius Rufus had ever been staged? Pupius famously made spectators cry and Varius Rufus’ Thyestes 10

Authors of tragedies, togatae and praetextae: to the lists in TRF3 (1897) 332 and TrRF I (2012) ii, add Rutilius Geminus, who wrote a tragedy Astyanax as well as studies on pontifical lore: Fulgentius Expositio sermonum antiquorum 7H and 9H; a link with the Severan consul named Q. Lusius Laberius Gemin(i)us Rutilianus, PIR2 L 436 seems plausible. Fronto ad M. Caesarem 3.14.4 further quotes a play (fabula histrionibus celebrata) about Hero and Leander that was popular under Antoninus Pius. Acro on Hor. Ars poetica 288, finally, quotes a list of dramatists who wrote praetextae and togatae: (i) Aelius Lamia; (ii) Antonius Rufus; (iii) Gneus Melissus; (iv) Africanus; and (v) Pomponius. Apart from (iii) and (v), who wrote togatae (Suet. Gramm. 21.4 with Kaster) and praetextae (101 n. 3), the dramatic activities of the others is only mentioned here. If (iv) ‘Africanus’ (as seems plausible) is an error of transmission for the famous author of togatae, L. Afranius, the list leaves us with a member of the aristocratic Aelii Lamiae and one Antonius Rufus (the writer of that name in Quint. 1.5.43?), who wrote praetextae and/or togatae.

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had earned its author an exorbitant fee of a million sesterces.11 Similarly, were it not for the vita Persii (no. 14), who would have guessed that the satirist in his youth had tried his hand at a praetexta? And does such a youthful essay suggest that the genre was obsolete? Is the choice of the aspiring poet not rather to be seen as a sign that this was a form which was still held in esteem? This was undoubtedly the case with Curiatius Maternus. Whatever his fate, Tacitus’ portrayal (Ch. 7. 3–7) represents him as a poet of great, but politically controversial fame (nos. 16–18). To conclude: impressionistic as the evidence is, it also aligns remarkably with information which it seems unwarranted to reduce to a single curve depicting a period of flourishing followed by one of decline. From the sporadic record, all that seems clear is that such activity spans almost 300 years. There may have been ups and downs, but the evidence defies any attempts at producing statistics. The Octavia survived by mere chance but nothing indicates that it stood alone, only that the total output is unverifiable. If it is even possible, it is therefore only with great caution that we can assess the fluctuations in attitudes, popularity, and taste. In such a situation, survival statistics tell us ‘nothing about the theatrical reality of the time’.12 When compared with the number of fragments from early mythological tragedy, it may, however, reasonably be inferred that the Republican praetextae never reached the astonishing number of comedies and tragedies proper; nor are there any signs that they entered the school curricula (a failure that in terms of survival was negative). On key issues such as the early history of the city, as well as of some of the great victories of the res publica in Italy and beyond, there can, however, be little doubt that we are dealing with a potentially impressive, but sadly imponderable factor in shaping Roman historical consciousness. In terms of survival its very topicality—as opposed to the timeless relevance of Greek myth—may well have been a negative factor.13 Therefore to dismiss the genre as marginal is unwarranted. Like family histories and genealogies, speeches, funeral laudationes and the writing of history aimed at foregrounding the merits of a particular family, the survival of such plays would, as a rule, have been closely linked to the fortunes of the family who had commissioned

Caesar: Marius Victorinus Gramm. Lat. 6.8.9K ‘. . . Caesar . . . Tecmessam inscripsit tragoediam suam et in scaena pronuntiari iussit’; Pupius: Acro on Hor. Ep. 1.1.67: ‘Pupius tragoediographus ita adfectus spectantium movit, ut eos compelleret ad lacrimas. Unde distichon fecit: ‘flebunt amici et bene noti mortem meam; nam populus in me vivo lacrimavit satis’. Varius Rufus: Klotz (1953) 309: ‘Lucius Varius cognomento Rufus Thyesten tragoediam magna cura absolutam post Actiacam victoriam Augusto ludis eius in scaena edidit; pro qua fabula sestertium deciens accipit’; its fame: Quint. 10.1.98; Tac. Dial. 12.6; Mart. 8.18.7 f. 12 Wiseman (2005) 65 = (2008) 206. 13 Few plays rarely performed: Flower (1995) 190; topicality a factor, which may have had a negative impact on preservation: Wiseman (1998) 52 and Boyle (2008) li. 11

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their writing. In Rome, no public libraries or archives would automatically have ensured the survival of such works. Indeed, such plays may sometimes have outplayed their role as soon as a triumph had been celebrated, or a temple dedicated. Further survival would depend on chance, the fame of the poet, or the power, fame, and survival of the family involved. Once its power waned and, more generally, once the sun had set not only on the old aristocratic Republic, but also on its memories and family cults, such topical writings became an endangered species.14 Not, however, for want of admirers. In a remarkable passage, no less an authority than the great Augustan poet, Horace, would, in his Art of Poetry (late first century BC) claim that the genre represented a singular Roman achievement: Our own native poets have left nothing untried./ They have often been at their best when they have had the courage to leave the paths of the Greeks/and celebrate home affairs/with plays in Roman dress, be it (vel) in official (praetextas) or (vel) native (togatas) garb.

The passage in question has been taken—also by the present writer—to refer to two distinct genres, one of which ‘celebrated home affairs’ whereas the other dealt with the same in a more comic light. But as C.O. Brink and Peter Wiseman have rightly insisted, it is hard to turn the parallel construction of vel . . . vel into a contrast, with the praetexta being alone in ‘celebrating home affairs’.15 To Horace both types of drama played in Roman dress seemed excellent in ‘leaving the path of the Greeks’ and celebrating patriotic themes. It is hard, therefore, to find trustworthy the approach of Diomedes, who, at a distance of at least three centuries, invoked Varro when dismissing Horace’s evidence for togatae ‘celebrating home affairs’ as a ‘common error’; all the more so, since we have Seneca in the mid-first century likewise describing the togatae not simply as comedy, let alone a Varronian super category embracing all native Roman plays, but as a kind of play ‘mid way between comedy and tragedy’16—a type, be it added, that, to judge from its title, dealt with Romans 14 Aristocratic family archives holding a clan’s ‘quasi ornamenta ac monumenta’: Cic. Brut. 61–2; Plin. HN 35.6–7; in such an archive Coelius Antipater probably saw Marcellus’ laudatio from 208 BC: Livy 27.27.12; family archives also the source of false stories: 8.40.4; in the midsecond century AD Gell. NA 13.20 refers to papers from the family of Cato the Younger which included laudationes funebres and commentarii; Oakley (1997) 28–33 (with bibliography) surveys this evidence. 15 Hor. Ars P. 285–8; ‘nil intemptatum nostri liquere poetae/ nec minimum meruere decus vestigia Graeca/ ausi deserere et celebrare domestica facta/ vel qui praetextas vel qui docuere togatas’; in the tradition influenced by Varro, Horace’s distinction between praetextae and togatae is by a late grammarian (Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.489.20K) decried as a communis error, but Horace seems simply to adhere to common usage, defining the two types of play as dealing with official vs. ordinary Roman topics: Brink (1963–82) ad loc; Daviault (1981) 12–13; Wiseman (2008) 194–5. 16 Sen. Ep. 8.8, ‘non adtingam tragicos nec togatas nostras. habent enim hae quoque aliquid severitatis et sunt inter comoedias ac tragoedias mediae.’

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qua Romans, not necessarily on their best behaviour, but apparently dressed in their symbolic Sunday best, the toga being the official dress of the Roman citizen. In sum, it looks as if such plays might also sometimes celebrate patriotic exploits on a less official level and in a style much less ‘similar to tragedies’—but more of that anon. Here it remains to be emphasized that Quintilian’s silence concerning this genre—or these related genres—is no proof that there was nothing to tell. Such silences are potentially and, sometimes notoriously, misleading.17 In fact, just how patchy our knowledge of Roman literature actually is often goes unacknowledged. A long line of first-century authors, for instance, including the historians Valerius Maximus, Velleius Paterculus, and Curtius Rufus, the poets Manilius, Phaedrus, and Calpurnius Siculus, and Tacitus’ Agricola, Germania, and Dialogus have—quite apart from their actually being there— left absolutely no or, in the case of Phaedrus, Valerius, and Velleius,18 hardly any, discernable trace in the historical record, a fact illustrating the problems in assuming that absence of evidence is automatically proof of non-existence. The only sure evidence for the existence of these works is that, sometimes against all odds, they survived into the age of printing and therefore, undeniably, exist. To look hard at the surviving evidence for an almost lost genre is therefore not as futile as may at first appear. For, above all, it helps to bring what has survived into better perspective, thus, for instance, enabling us to make sense of the esteem with which Horace—himself certainly no theatre buff—speaks of this genre. One thing seems reasonably certain: throughout the period for which we have evidence, many (but not all) dramas of this patriotic type retained a link to tragedy proper. Authors writing the one would also try their hand at the other. This is true of Naevius, Pacuvius, Ennius, and Accius, as well as their Imperial successors, Pomponius Secundus and Curiatius Maternus (whose Cato was followed by a Thyestes). From scattered references, we can compile a tantalizingly long list of tragic poets, now only known by name. This group may therefore well include further authors of praetextae (and so, of course, may a list of those writing togatae)—but, barring the discovery of new papyri or an overlooked palimpsest, we must content ourselves with the available evidence. And here, fortunately, there is still plenty to unravel or reassess. 17 Quintilian stresses that his approach is selective: 10.1.104. Personal bias would sometimes distort the record: Sen. Ad Polybium 8.3 overlooks the five books by Phaedrus when claiming that fables were an unknown genre in Rome. 18 Phaedrus: on its own, Mart. 3.20.5, ‘improbi iocos Phaedri’ would have left no one the wiser. Avianus, praefatio is the first unmistakable reference to the fables. Valerius Maximus: quoted by Pliny the Elder as a source in Book 7 and 32, but the first clear reference is Priscianus Gramm. Lat. 2.195.24K; Paterculus: first mentioned by Priscianus Gramm. Lat. 2.248.4K and Adnotationes super Lucanum 8.663; 9.178.

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3 A Genre and its Uses An ‘aristocratic genre’ or, a ‘genre celebrating a magistrate’s possession of imperium’.1 In recent decades attempts have been made to go beyond the schematic definitions transmitted by Late Antiquity. Stimulating as they are, these suggestions have not, however, proved altogether satisfactory. After all, some of the dramas assumed to be praetextae had female protagonists (without imperium and thus without the right to command) and while some of these plays were certainly intended as praise for a member of a renowned aristocratic gens, it is by no means certain that this was always the case. The Republican ludi were no court theatre. Their audience came from all walks of life and all ranks of society. Down to 195 BC there was, as opposed to the case in Athens, no segregation: men and women, slaves and free sat together. The introduction of a division into ranks, reserving the front fourteen rows for the upper orders, had been heavily contested (testifying to the popularity of the stage and the egalitarian feeling that it belonged to all).2 The games, with programmes offering everything from gladiatorial combats, acrobats, and horse races to theatre proper, averted divine anger and extolled the pact with the gods, the so-called pax deorum from which the res publica as a whole would benefit. Plays on historical and contemporary subjects are in this emphatically communal context likely to have been patriotic spectacles celebrating divine favour and great leadership, as well as the martial prowess of the people (in the second and first centuries BC, audiences are bound to have included men who had themselves seen action). When Cicero, in a crucial passage, extolled the importance of poetry and literature, and defined their task as bestowing glory and, in some cases, immortality on great military leaders, he significantly qualified his statement by reminding his audience that all these truly great personages, from the families of ‘the Maximi, Marcelli and Fulvii’ (who incidentally—we may add—also featured as protagonists in praetextae) ‘receive no honour separate from the honour that embraces us all and sundry’ (non sine communi omnium nostrum laude decorantur). These 1 2

Aristocratic: Dupont (1985) 215–28; imperium: Zorzetti (1980) 53 ff.; Barbera (2000) 11. Division: Livy 34.54.3–4; Val. Max. 4.5.1 with Marshall (2006) 77–9; Boyle (2008) xxviii.

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victories and exploits were, ideally at least, to the lasting glory of all the citizens and allies of the Roman res publica.3

1. RITUALS AND ORIGINS Following the suggestions of Nevio Zorzetti, but giving them a new direction, a re-definition that focuses on the communal values and the cultic, didactic, and aetiological bent of the dramas under review seems worth considering. First, because the writing and performance of such dramas were part of a solemn religious function, the official ludi sollemnes, sanctioned by Senate and People and supervised by such magistrates as the aediles or the praetor urbanus.4 Of course the ludi also featured the performance of other kinds of drama (quite apart from the gladiators, etc.) but what distinguishes the praetexta—and this is the second point—are the unique and sometimes explicit links between the plot and the declared religious intention of the games. Thus it seems revealing that the fragments, despite their scarcity, have a common denominator in attesting to these links and, what is more, exhibit considerable variation in the manner of describing and affirming such links between the gods and the Romans, be they commanders or private soldiers (nos. 1, 6 and 8), slaves (no. 10), or a noble matrona (no. 12). Prayers, augury, miracles, dreams, and sacrifices suggest that these were plays in which the religious element was strongly emphasized. Indeed, the plots are sometimes openly aetiological, dramatizing stories told to explain how cults or ritual practices came about. Take, to begin with, an anonymous play (no. 10), which has often, quite wrongly, been relegated to the side-lines in discussions of the genre: in Book VI of his work on the Latin language, De lingua Latina (c.43 BC), Varro systematically examines the names of the sacred days of the Roman calendar. Here is what he has to say about the festival of the Nonae Caprotinae on 7 July: The Nones (i.e. the seventh day) of July are called the Caprotine Nones because on this day, in Latium, the women offer sacrifice to Juno Caprotina. This they do under a wild fig-tree (caprificus)5 and they use a branch from the fig-tree. Why they do so, the play in Roman official dress (togata praetexta) that was

3 Gruen (1990) 93–4; 114–18 rightly warns against regarding these plays merely as aristocratic self-congratulation: their content was overwhelmingly patriotic. ‘Omnes denique illi Maximi, Marcelli, Fulvii non sine communi omnium nostrum laude decorantur’, Cic. Arch. 22. 4 The ludi: Taylor (1937); Scullard (1981); Beacham (1991), Bernstein (1998) and Marshall (2006) 17–20. 5 Juno’s sacred fig tree was somewhere in the Field of Mars: Hist. Aug., Marcus Aurelius 13.6 with Coarelli (1996a) 120–1.

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presented . . . at the Games of Apollo (ludi Apollinares) enlightened (docuit) the people (or ‘audience’).6

Now, the evidence concerning this ritual, which commemorates the occasion when the slave girls of Rome fooled the Latin enemy by masquerading in the dress of the freeborn, thus apparently saving Rome’s freeborn women and girls from being abducted and raped, is variously problematic, with fascinating ramifications which have recently been brilliantly re-examined by the Italian archaeologist, Filippo Coarelli.7 What matters here, however, is the assumed reference to a drama about the ritual’s origin. To be sure, Varro’s terminology has given rise to debate, but the attempt at solving the problem by reading toga praetexta instead of togata praetexta, thereby turning the play into a toga given to the women of Latium in commemoration of their ancestors’ exploit, surely founders on the tense of the verb docuit. Given Varro’s use, not of the present or the imperfect, but of the perfect, he cannot be referring to an annually repeated ritual. What he evokes is something that had happened at some specific point in the past. So how about the alternative? Can togata praetexta refer to a play? As we have already seen, the answer is affirmative. To judge from the passage (Ch. 2) in which Diomedes quotes Varro’s own definitions of drama, a togata praetex(ta)ta was a ‘Roman drama of the official kind (i.e. played in official dress)’ (in late sources, praetextata is standard for praetexta).8 There can be no reasonable doubt, therefore, that Varro, in the passage in question, is using his own terminology in referring to a didactic, historical or, perhaps rather, aetiological (docuit) drama played in Roman dress (and in Varro’s system therefore a togata) and, moreover, involving men of office (and therefore a praetexta).9 It is unclear when—recently or memorably?—this play 6 SOURCE FOR No. 10, Anon. Nonae: Varro LL 6.18, ‘Nonae Caprotinae, quod eo die in Latio Iunoni Caprotinae mulieres sacrificantur et sub caprifico faciunt; e caprifico adhibent virgam. Cur hoc, togata praetexta data eis Apollinaribus ludis docuit populum.’ The ‘eis’ is problematic: Weinstock (1936) 1552 interprets it as referring to Nonis, Drossart (1974) 63 and Riganti (1978) ad loc. as referring to ‘the women’ (the games were in loro onore), alii alia; Wiseman (1998) 9 and Manuwald (2001) 68 n. 38 may well be right that the text at this point is corrupt. 7 The myth and ritual: Bremmer (1987) 76–88; Coarelli (1997) 17–60; Wiseman (2004) 171–2 (with bibl.). 8 ‘togata praetextata’: Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.490.11K; similarly 1.489.24K; Coarelli (1997) 38 seems mistaken, therefore, when claiming that ‘una togata praetexta non dà senso’; in any case, his alternative reading toga praetexta is not, as he assumes, a manuscript variant, but a conjecture. 9 Lesky (1966b) 586–7; Drossart (1974) 54 ff. and Riganti (1978) 112–13 argue convincingly that Varro (on whom Diomedes relies) had suggested regarding the praetexta as a sub-species of the togata. Alternatively, Kent (1958) and Flobert (1985) ad loc. opt for the conjectural ‘toga[ta] praetexta’, which they and Coarelli (see 26 n. 8) take as referring to a commemorative ‘toge prétexte’ given to Latin maids at the ludi. The gift should, on this reading, refer to the ‘dress of matrons and virgins’, habitu matrum familias et virginum (Macrob. Sat. 1.11.38; similarly, Plut.

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had been performed (data is used for performances), but Varro reports that the performance in question took place during the annual festival in Apollo’s honour, the ludi Apollinares (which in Varro’s time overlapped with Juno’s festival). On that—unique or memorable—occasion, this togata praetexta had taught (docuit) the audience what had happened on this sacred day, the Nones of July, many years ago, and why the old ritual was still observed, year after year, at the goddess’ sacred fig tree in the Field of Mars.10 The Nonae looks very much like a women’s festival, presumably linked to the similarly female festivities at the temple of Fortuna Muliebris on the day before. In any case, these two consecutive days constitute what amounts to a double women’s ticket, each focused on a specific social stratum (first the freeborn, then the slaves and ex-slaves), but both celebrating the influence of the women of Rome and Latium as illustrated by the legends, in the first case, about Coriolanus and his mother and, in the second, about the bravery of Rome’s underclass women. As documented by Rome’s festival calendar, the fasti, in all its historic, poetic, and antiquarian elaborations, such festivals held a treasure house of stories, to be used in epic, history, and didactic poetry, but also of course in the kind of dramas called togatae and praetextae. There is, as Peter Wiseman in his Myths of Rome (2004) has convincingly shown, no sign here of a culture lacking in myth-making imagination. In the present case, the indications are that this was not only a drama involving Romans qua Romans (as did the togatae) but this was—as Varro says himself—a praetexta involving the city’s highest officials, traditionally wearing the toga praetexta. The heroine is, of course, an ex-slave, who in the sources is variously called Tutula, Tutela (‘Protectress’), or Philotis (‘the lovely one’). Her brave and, no doubt, equally lovely associates are likewise servile, but, for their erotic ruse aimed at fooling Rome’s enemies to function, they needed the secret acquiescence of a third, official party, in one source the initially hesitant ‘senators’, in another the ‘magistrates’.11 But whatever the version followed by the playwright, he is unlikely to have dropped the story of Rome’s official reward for the bravery of these girls: liberty for all and sundry. That, one feels, would have been a

Cam. 33.3ff.), which the freed slave girls were allowed to wear after having deceived the enemy; in archaic times women also wore the toga praetexta: Coarelli (1997) 38–9; 55. 10 The genre’s didactic bent: Drossart (1974) 63–4, Wiseman (1998) 8–11. Manuwald (2001) 70 inexplicably dismisses this inference: surely, the term aetiological is apt in characterizing a genre that ‘docuit populum’ (Varro, 26 n. 6) and evoked ‘memory of past exploits’, memoria rerum gestarum (thus Pollio on Balbus’ praetexta, Ch. 5.2). In Varro’s day, the ludi Apollinares (6–13 July) coincided with the nonae: Cic. Att. 16.1.1 with Taylor (1937) 289; Scullard (1981) 159–62; Bernstein (1998) 180 ff. The festival was in remembrance of the day on which the slaves had saved Rome’s matrons and virgins from being raped: Plut. Cam. 33.5. 11 Tutela/Tutula or Philotis plotting with the Senatus and the patres (Macrob. Sat. 1.11.38; 40) or the ‘magistrates’, ¼æå, Plut. Cam. 33.3.

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suitably happy ending to a play to be performed on a slave girls’ and freedwomen’s traditional summer day off. The links to tragedy emphasized in one strand of evidence should clearly not blind us to the very diversity of the patriotic plays to be seen on the Roman stage. What one for convenience may term praetextae, in fact included plays that if defined by other criteria would seem closer to comedy and mime. Over the years, while debating the issue with colleagues such as Peter Wiseman and C.W. Marshall,12 I have come to think that Seneca’s ‘midway between tragedy and comedy’ (Ch. 2) is probably the closest we will get to a demarcation of the range and affiliations of these types of drama. Ovid offers a further glimpse of what in generic terms is the open-ended way the theatre put such Roman stories to use. In Book IV of his great didactic poem on Rome’s sacred calendar, the Fasti, the poet invites his readers to participate in the games of Magna Mater, the ludi Megalenses. These games are of extraordinary interest in the history of Roman (and indeed European) theatre. They were held annually from 194 BC onwards to commemorate the arrival in Rome from Asia Minor of the sacred stone of the Magna Mater (a crucial event in the history of Roman religion). The occasion for some first performances of Plautus and Terence, the ludi scaenici in the Great Goddess’s honour took place in the temple square and later also in a second theatre situated on the slope below the temple of Magna Mater on the Palatine, all of it ‘under the Great Goddess’s own eyes’. An intricate ritual ensured that the presence of the goddess was vividly evoked. Prior to performances, her turreted crown was brought from her temple and placed on her throne in the audience, whom she thus joined in watching the fun.13 In the present context it is therefore noteworthy that, when recounting the myth about the Goddess’s arrival, Ovid evokes something stagey. When the ship carrying the Goddess’s sacred stone arrived at the mouth of the Tiber it ran aground— almost as if refusing to proceed. But a matrona named Quinta Claudia, who was falsely accused of unchastity, proved her virtue by a miraculous feat. In Ovid’s phrase, her prayer ‘moved’ the Goddess (in the circumstances, a highly appropriate double entendre); the ship floated free and proceeded up river to the Great Mother’s new abode (no. 12). To dispel all doubts, Ovid wittily rounds off this section by referring to an apparently familiar drama that had shown what actually had taken place (thereby raising intriguing questions about staging, to be pursued later). However, what matters here is, once again, the cultic, didactic, and aetiological nature of the play. At the games that

12

Wiseman (2002) 82–8 = (2008) 194–9; Marshall (2002) 75–8. The Megalenses: Taylor (1937) 289 f.; Bernstein (1998) 186 ff.; Cic. Har 24, ‘in ipso Matris Magnae conspectu’; on the aediles and her crown, Varro Menippea 150B (Astbury) with Hanson (1959) 81–5 and Wiseman (1974) 159–61; in Varro’s day there were two Palatine theatres: Wiseman (1974) 168–9. 13

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commenced on the anniversary of the Goddess’s arrival, it would only be natural if from time to time it was decided to stage a dramatized version of the events at the banks of the Tiber that had proved central to the history of the cult.14 Ovid’s fleeting reference offers no indication as to the play’s genre. However, ‘the title Megalensia was used by two of the known authors of togatae’. From other sources too, we know of plays, be they mimes or tragedies, dealing with the myth of Magna Mater.15 In any case, there is nothing tragic in Ovid’s summary but, on the contrary, a rich potential for a happy ending. At the same time, however, this was to Ovid a miracle witnessed by all Rome, by the matronae and Vestals, the plebs, knights, and entire Senate, the latter no doubt in full ceremonial garb, with the broad purple border from which the toga praetexta—and the eponymous genre—derives its name.16 So had he known or wished, the grammarian Diomedes would perhaps have called Ovid’s play a praetexta. And even if he hadn’t, this is how it will be considered here, since such a labelling is consistent with some of the most often repeated definitions of such dramas. The features which the available reports found crucial were their patriotic values, their Roman settings and dress (that of officials, but also with room for commoners), and what is sometimes a closeness to tragedy, sometimes (as in Seneca) a more indeterminate position ‘midway between tragedy and comedy’. In addition to these features, there is an aspect (not mentioned by the ancients, but here considered fundamental) that needs underlining: for all their differences the above two plays (and, as we shall see, the rest of their kind) share an emphasis on sacred anniversaries, on days and events that figured prominently in public memory and official Roman Fasti. If I am not mistaken, this is an aspect which it seems fruitful to consider as a defining characteristic of the plays here described as praetextae. After all, Roman calendars would not only register anniversaries like the Nonae Caprotinae and the arrival of Magna Mater (nos. 10; 12; cf. Fig. 3.1). Some such lists also 14 SOURCE FOR No. 12, Anon. Claudia: The miracle of Quinta Claudia was ‘scaena testificata’, Ov. Fasti 4.326. Ovid’s introduction to the tale, ‘scaena sonat, ludique vocant’ (Fasti 4.187) shows that the setting for the performance is the Megalesia: cf. e.g. Boissier (1893) 107; Wiseman (1979) 96; Scullard (1981) 98. Manuwald (2001) 93 implausibly (cf. Wiseman (2002) reviewing Manuwald http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2002/2002-06-13.html) argues that Ovid does not refer to a performance presenting any such scene; contra 167–8 n. 65–9. 15 Wiseman (2008) 210 quotes the togatae called Megale(n)sia mentioned by Non. 829L (L. Afranius, late second century BC) and Serv. Dan. on Verg. Buc. 7.33 (Quinctius Atta, early first century BC); note further the play performed during ludi under Augustus referring to a ‘Gallo Matris Deum tympanizante’, Suet. Aug. 68. 16 Wiseman (2008) 211 stresses the episode’s comic potential, but this does not preclude the assumption of what Pollio (63 n. 12) would have called a praetexta: Ovid’s description of those witnessing Claudia’s feat includes knights, plebs, and Senate (Fasti 4.293) ‘omnis eques mixtaque gravis cum plebe Senatus’.

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Fig. 3.1. The entries for April in a Roman calendar from Praeneste (now Palestrina) referring, on the first, to the birthday of Venus and to her son Aeneas ‘from whom descends the Roman people’ (A QVO P. R), then to the festival of Magna Mater, LVDI M(atri) D(eum) M(agnae) I(daeae). On a slab further down, on the 21st, the calendar records the anniversary of the Foundation of Rome. On all these topics there were praetextae, the two latter reminding the people what had happened on precisely this festival day. Linedrawing from Inscriptiones Italiae XIII, 2 (Roma 1963). © Danish National Art Library.

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recorded the anniversary of great battles and legendary events like the Foundation of Rome, the Rape of the Sabines, and the expulsion of the kings. These events were part of official history and collective memory; each had its own remembrance day (such as the Natalis Romae and the Regifugium), with rituals and sacrifices all its own.17 It should cause no surprise that the magistrates responsible for the public ludi at some point commissioned or acquired a suitable drama dealing with precisely such events (nos. 2; 3; 5; 7; 11). Not that the ludi always coincided with such sacred days of remembrance—what mattered was that the community considered them worth remembering. Naevius wrote (perhaps twice or even thrice)18 on the ever-popular youth of Romulus (commemorated on the sacred day of Parilia), Ennius on the Rape of the Sabine Women (which was believed to have coincided with the day of the festival called Consualia),19 whereas Accius20 and Cassius21 dealt with the great deed of Brutus (commemorated on the Regifugium). The public re-evocation of such events illustrated what the Romans, year after year, confessed to owe to their gods as well as to the great citizens of old. At the annual thanksgivings such events therefore provided suitable subjects for dramas that commemorated one’s origins.

17 Links between the Roman calendar and historical thinking: Rüpke (1995) and Feeney (2007). 18 SOURCES FOR No. 2 and 3, Naevius’ Romulus and Lupus: Varro LL 7.54, ‘in Romulo Naevius . . .’; 7.107, ‘apud Naevium . . . in Romulo’; Donat. on Ter. Ad. 537 refers to a rumour ‘quod dicitur, intervenisse lupum Naevianae fabulae alimonio Remi et Romuli, dum in theatro ageretur’; finally, Festus p. 334,9L ‘Navius in Lupo’. Ribbeck has a second fragment of the so-called Lupus, but it is based on a conjecture of Cic. Sen. 20 that seems unconvincing (cf. J.G.F. Powell ad loc.; similarly Manuwald (2001) 145 n. 31). Apart from Donatus, what remain are three fragments of which the one from Festus refers to an episode in Romulus’ youth, with Amulius still king; clearly, Donatus also refers to such a play (and there is no need to presume that alimonio is part of its title): Marmorale (1950) 155. Which leaves two one-word fragments of a drama called Romulus—be it a different play or one and the same. 19 SOURCE FOR No. 5, Ennius’ Sabinae: Julius Victor Rhetores Latini 402H (‘Sabinis Ennius’); Victor is commonly assumed to refer to a drama, but there is no decisive evidence either way. Links between the Consualia and the Rape: Dion. Hal. 2.30.3; 31.3 (in Augustan Rome, the festival instituted by Romulus was still celebrated). 20 SOURCES FOR No. 7, Accius’ Brutus: Varro LL 5.80, ‘Accius . . . in Bruto’; Cic. Sest. 123, ‘in Bruto’; Schol. Bob. ad loc.: ‘haec . . . tragoedia praetextata Brutus inscribitur’; Cic. Div. 1.43 ff. (‘in Bruto Acci’). Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.490.13K refers to a praetextata entitled Brutus, probably either this or no. 11. 21 SOURCES FOR No. 11, Cassius’ Brutus: Varro LL 6.7, ‘in Bruto Cassii quod dicit Lucretia . . .’; the same verse is quoted at 7.72 with an added ‘apud Cassium’; the conjectural ‘Accii’ and ‘Accium’ is accepted by TRF3 and the recent editors of Varro and Accius, Flobert (1985) 67 and Dangel (1995) 375. But given the existence of Cassius Parmensis (RE Cassius 80) who according to Porphyrio on Hor. Ep. 1.4.3 and Sat. 1.10.62 wrote tragedies, conjecture (at two diverse points) seems extreme: Helm (1954) 1571; Wiseman (1998) 169 n. 22; Erasmo (2004) 109. Contra, Goldberg (2007) 575 n. 15, who doubts that Cassius was a tragic writer at all (the usual one source problem). But I see no reason to throw out the scholiast’s claim and it is an overstatement that Varro in this work rarely quotes contemporary writers: in addition to Hortensius (8.14, 10.78), the LL fr. 68 quotes Caesar and, at 7.50, probably Catullus.

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2 . D A YS O F R E M E M B R A N C E The annual ludi were by no means the only venues available for the performance of such dramas. With due sanction (not always readily given), the Senate also allowed the celebration of a victory (to honour a general’s sacred vow), or, alternatively, the dedication of a temple to a god (likewise, often in response to a vow); such buildings or gifts would commonly by financed ‘by (captured) booty’ (ex manubiis) (Fig. 3.3). The ludi22 marking such events gave the gods and res publica their due, while at the same time allowing the general to celebrate his ‘exploits’, res gestae. The official sanction would commonly ensure that the event obtained a place in public fasti, be it those recording the dates of victory and triumph or those commemorating the foundation dates of specific temples. Given their emphasis on individual merit, these extraordinary ludi are commonly seen as the most plausible setting for the fairly distinct group of praetextae, which, from Naevius onwards, celebrated such near-contemporary events as the victories of M. Claudius Marcellus at Clastidium in Gallia Cisalpina (222 BC),23 of M. Fulvius Nobilior at Ambracia in Epirus (189 24 25 BC), and of Lucius Aemilius Paullus at Pydna in 168 BC (nos. 1; 4; 6). Due to their more ‘historical’ character, these near-contemporary praetextae have often been considered different from the legendary variety, but on closer inspection the difference seems superficial. After all, they too were called praetex(ta)tae and, in so far as the fragments allow us to determine, they too seem to have retained a fairly elevated stylistic idiom. The sharp distinction between myth and history is not, moreover, unproblematic when 22 Flower (1995) 181 sets out the contexts for ludi votivi, rightly stressing that they were not part of the triumph proper; similarly, Bernstein (1998) 97 ff. and Beard (2007) 264. Theatrical games at the dedication of the temples: Ov. Fasti 5.292 ff; Plin. HN 18.286; Vell. Pat. 1.14.8 (Flora in 240 or 238); Livy 36.36.4 (Magna Mater in 191); 36.36.7 (Juventas in 191); 40.52.1–3 (Juno Regina and Diana in 179); 42.10.5 (Fortuna in 173) with Bernstein (1998) 278 ff. The ludi in connection with the dedication of Caesar’s Temple of Venus Genetrix and Pompey’s of Venus Victrix are well documented: Bernstein (1998) 330–5 (with bibl.). 23 SOURCES FOR No. 1, Naevius’ Clastidium: Varro LL 7.107, ‘apud Naevium . . . in Clastidio’; 9.78 (‘apud Naevium in Clastidio’); Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.490.14K mentions a praetextata called Marcellus: if not an otherwise unknown praetexta, it should be identified with Naevius’ drama, which had Marcellus as protagonist. 24 SOURCES FOR No. 4, Ennius’ Ambracia: Non. 125L; 269L; 753L; 756L (‘Ennius Ambracia’); Nonius is commonly assumed to refer to a drama, but there is no decisive evidence either way. 25 SOURCES FOR No. 6, Pacuvius’ Paulus: Gell. NA 9.14.13; Macrob. Sat. 6.5.14; Priscianus Gramm. Lat. 2.196K (‘Pacuvius in Paulo’); Non. 786L; 816L; 820L (‘Pacuvius Paulo’). Alfonsi (1950) 48–52 convincingly adduced a fragment from a Carolingian commentary to Boethius (41 n. 48), overlooked by Pedroli (1954), quoted by Klotz (1953) 189, accepted by d’Anna (1967) as fr. 5; similarly, Manuwald (2001) 180–1 and Schierl (2006) 518–20 (= Pacuvius Paulus fr. 260 (Schierl) with testimonia 70a and 70b).

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applied to the manner in which Romans would have seen the issue. What these dramas share is after all not only the emphasis on things Roman. They also have a strongly aetiological element in common. At the dedication of temples, the praetextae dealing with recent battles and victories would serve as a kind of dramatized elogium, not just describing, but imitating and reenacting the events through which the gods had ‘reminded you (i.e. the Roman people) of the good they had done you’ (commemorare quae bona/ vobis fecissent—to quote a phrase in which the second century playwright Plautus seems to be alluding to such plays).26 Such grateful commemoration was basic to Roman religion—and it is in this context that the praetextae—along with other genres—had a role. In its own day, Pacuvius’ play, for instance, was by no means alone in commemorating Paullus’ victory at Pydna. Historians and memoirs would, then or later, have offered their versions. At the Pan-Greek sanctuary at Delphi, Paullus annexed a monument that had been intended for his opponent King Perseus, demonstratively turning it into an emblem of Roman superiority (Fig. 3.2). In Rome itself, there were also monuments to Paullus’ victory. In the Forum, at the sanctuary and fountain of the water nymph Juturna next to the temple of Castor and Pollux, legend had it that the divine twins had once watered their horses—according to some versions when announcing the victory at Lake Regillus in 493 BC. After Pydna, a rumour took root that the divine messengers also played a role in Paullus’ victory. On the very day of King Perseus’ capture, the twins were said to have announced the glorious events in distant Macedonia to an ordinary citizen on his way up to Rome. In the Senate, this message was initially greeted with scepticism. The modest status of the go-between and the seemingly accidental nature of the epiphany probably raised doubts as to the reliability of it all. But the gods were not unknown to exhibit caprice in choosing their go-betweens;27 and soon the message was corroborated by victory despatches from Paullus confirming that ‘the day’ of the epiphany had indeed been the ‘very day’ of the king’s surrender.28 The affair had no doubt created a stir. And in the heart of Rome it left its mark. At the Fountain of Juturna, where a rumour claimed that the twins had also been sighted, statues of the divine twins commemorated the 26 ‘. . . ut alios in tragoediis/ vidi, Neptunum, Virtutem, Victoriam/ Martem Bellonam commemorare quae bona/ vobis fecissent . . .’, Plautus, in the prologue to Amphitruo 41–4 probably alluding to praetextae: Ribbeck (1875) 75; Wiseman (1998) 19–20. 27 Problems of status in those receiving divine commands in epiphanies or dreams: Kragelund (2001) 75–95. 28 Castor and Pollux announcing the capture of King Perseus on the via Salaria to one Vatinius: Cic. Nat. D. 2.6; 3.11; 13; at 3.13 Cicero quotes a Senate decree from 168 BC concerning the matter; the announcement was on the ‘very day’: illo die and idem dies: 2.6; similarly Val. Max. 1.8.1; in Suet. Nero 1.1 the recipient of the message is upgraded to be a Domitius ‘Red-head’ (of Nero’s ancestry), but in Plut. Aem. 25.1–2 the event is backdated to the legendary battle at Lake Regillus; ramifications of the legend: Steinby (1996) 168–70 (with bibliography).

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Fig. 3.2. The inscription of Paullus’ victory monument in Delphi proudly addressed Apollo and the Greeks in Latin (ILLRP 323 = ILS 8884): L. AIMILIVS L. F. INPERATOR DE REGE PERSE/MACEDONIBVSQVE CEPET, ‘The victorious general L. Aimilius, the son of Lucius, took this (pedestal? trophy? booty?) from King Perseus and the Macedonians’. Here, there was no place for learned politeness. Lest anyone should be in doubt, this was the language of Greece’s new masters, here placing themselves high on a monument originally intended for King Perseus. © École Française d’Athènes. E & A/P Amandry.

victory at Pydna. In the 1980s, Finnish excavations found evidence for a midsecond century BC refurbishment of the fountain. A strong case has been made for dating the statues found on the spot in 1900 to the same period: at roughly the same time, the neighbouring Temple of Castor and Pollux also received a modernizing overhaul; the magistrate responsible may well have been Aemilius Paullus who in 164 held the office of censor, among whose duties was the maintenance of public buildings. In any case, it looks as if these still surviving statues of Castor and Pollux are monuments that, much like Pacuvius’ play, were intended to ‘remind Romans of the good the gods had done them’.29 Scripts being ephemeral and monuments (in principle) everlasting, plays could nevertheless convey a more expansive and immediate version, transforming narrative into a vividly dramatic present and thereby revitalizing memory of the victories: sanctuaries, despite their fulsome inscriptions and rich display of enemy booty, were less articulate markers. In principle, the effect of such performances would not differ fundamentally from those celebrating the arrival of the Magna Mater or the origins of the sacrifice to Juno Caprotina. By sheer mimicry, they explained how it had come about that a 29 Statues of the Dioscuri commemorating the victory at Pydna: Minucius Felix Octavius 7.3; Val. Max. 1.8.1 reports an epiphany at the Fountain after Pydna; the statues excavated on the spot around 1900 seem datable to the mid-second century BC; at the same period the Fountain received a monumental architectural frame: Steinby (1996) 168–70; second-century repairs to the Temple of Castor and Pollux (now with front tribunal): Nielsen & Poulsen (1992) 83–6.

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specific god had received new honours.30 If, alternatively, ludi votivi of victory and triumph were the chosen setting, a praetexta would, on such an occasion, provide a flashback of the danger and hardships from which the aid of the gods, the wisdom of the general, and the bravery of his men had gloriously delivered the army and res publica. When alluding to the way a, presumably typical, praetexta was performed, it is hardly coincidental that Horace31 conjures up images first of a battlefield with cavalry and infantry in hasty flight, then of a triumph with captured kings, with enemy chariots, with spoils and emblems of naval victory, and with looted treasure in ebony and bronze. Pageantry and victory were apparently very much what these performances were about. Horace complains that their emphasis on spectacle appealed to the taste of the multitude (and even, alas, to the better sort), the sheer opulence of the visual eclipsing the verbal, sometimes for hours on end: for four hours or more the stage show goes on (and on), while troops of horses and files of troops are shown in flight; now kings are dragged32 in, once Fortune’s favourites, their hands bound behind them,33 with hurry and scurry come chariots, carriages, wains and ships,34 and born in triumph are spoils of ivory, spoils of Corinthian bronze35

Horace, frustratingly, has nothing to say about the authors responsible for such crowd pleasers. Indeed, his ear for verbal excellence seems in conflict 30 On the religious dimension of the praetextae, Zorzetti (1980) 53–73 is pioneering. Aetiological drama explaining a new cult: Flower (1995) 175; Wiseman (1998) 15. 31 ‘quattuor aut pluris aulaea premuntur in horas,/ dum fugiunt equitum turmae peditumque catervae;/ mox trahitur manibus regum fortuna retortis/ esseda festinant, pilenta, petorrita, naves,/ captivum portatur ebur, captiva Corinthus’, Hor. Ep. 2.1.189 ff. Brink (1963–82) ad loc. rightly compares with Cic. Fam. 7.1.2 on lavish performances of Ennius’ Clytaemestra and the Equus Troianus; Ribbeck (1875) 664–5 and Kiessling/Heinze ad loc. saw that a staged triumph (i.e. in a praetexta) is what Horace evokes. 32 Shackled captives (manibus . . . retortis, Hor. Ep. 2.1.191; cf. Ovid’s parodic Am. 1.2.31, manibus post terga retortis) being dragged (trahitur, Hor. Ep. 2.1.191) was almost synonymous with the triumph spectacle, in art (cf. Fig. 15.1) and literature (cf. Livy 26.13.15, ‘vinctus . . . triumphi spectaculum trahar’; 38.52.4, ‘velut captos trahens triumphum . . . egisset’; Just. Epit. 16.5.5, ‘captivos . . . in trumphi modum per ora civium trahit’): Beard (2007) 107–42; Östenberg (2009) 128–88; the ‘inverted triumph’ in the Octavia: Ch. 15.5. 33 Captive kings in a triumph’s pompa: Plut. Mar. 12.2 (Jugurtha in chains at the triumph of Marius); Florus 1.37.5 (King Bituitus on his silver chariot at the triumph of Allobrogicus); Val. Max. 6.2.3 (Syphax and Perseus with ‘chained necks’, catenae cervices). 34 Porphyrio on Hor. Ep. 2.1.192 links the carriages mentioned by Horace to the triumph; cf. Pers. 6.47 (esseda in a parody on triumphs) with Östenberg (2009) 36–8; ships were also paraded: Plut. Luc. 37.3; Joseph BJ 7.147–48 with Östenberg (2009) 46–57. 35 Ivory as a stable ingredient in a triumph’s war booty: Livy 37.59.3; Diod. Sic. 31.8.11 with Östenberg (2009) 92; to Manuwald (2001) 71 ff., the bold juncture ‘captiva Corinthus’ suggests a reference to a praetexta on the fall of Corinth—not impossible, but neither the Celtic chariots (35 n. 34) nor the kings led in triumph point to Corinth. Horace clearly evokes what is typical; and Mummius’ pan-Italian dedications of Corinthian war booty (cf. ILLRP 327–31) had made his triumph proverbial: Kragelund (2002) 23 n. 53.

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with a genre sometimes apparently indulging in patriotic spectacle. The vagaries of transmission, however, make this grumpy comment one of our chief, but fleeting glimpses of actual performance. Given the paucity of evidence, it should cause no surprise, therefore, that difficulties arise once we attempt to move from the general to the particular, for instance by trying to determine the original performance contexts for these dramas. The problem is that there is no evidence positively linking any of the known triumph praetextae with specific games. And choosing between the available options is only rarely possible. With so few signposts along the road, the goal of establishing the original context for the earliest of the near-contemporary praetextae, Naevius’ drama about the victory of Marcellus at Clastidium in 222 BC, may well prove elusive. But while it is true that there are problems with accepting other settings (such as a triumph or funeral), the dedication of the temple that Marcellus had vowed to the gods at Clastidium is perhaps the most plausible option. According to this reading, Naevius’ play formed part of a large-scale posthumous tribute to the great general, for it was only after Marcellus’ death and much bitter controversy that, in 205 BC, his son could dedicate the Temple of Honos and Virtus (apparently with the proud family tomb or monument as its neighbour) as a tribute to his father’s res gestae. Here, just outside the Porta Capena, those approaching the city could, at its very entrance—as foreign envoys are quoted observing—admire the spolia captured by Marcellus and brought home from Syracuse and doubtless also from Clastidium.36 Honours for the living or only for the dead? In discussions of the praetextae, the issue has been much debated, but before we address the evidence, which allegedly excludes all but posthumous honours, it should be noted that what is known about the other near-contemporary praetextae seems to allow for alternative possibilities. As Ribbeck saw, the original context for the performance of Ennius’ praetexta concerning the capture of Ambracia may well have been the ludi votivi, which Fulvius Nobilior had promised on the day his forces captured the city and, after some controversy, celebrated in 186 in the Circus Flaminius for a total of five days.37 Sadly, Livy does not divulge what was

36

Gruen (1990) 94 would not exclude an early date, close to the victory in 222 BC; Flower (1995) 183 f. argues strongly that the funeral is problematic and opts for dedication, but ordinary ludi cannot be ruled out: Bernstein (1998) 269–70. Better, therefore, to follow Ribbeck (1875) 75 in leaving the question open. The temple: Ziolkowski (1992) 58–9. The statues or family tomb: Sehlmayer (1999) 357. Foreign envoys on the spolia to be seen in vestibulo urbis: Livy 26.32.4. 37 Fulvius’ ludi votivi: Livy 39.5.7. ‘ludos magnos se (sc. Fulvium) Iovi Optimo Maximo eo die quo Ambraciam cepisset vovisse’ with Taylor (1937) 296–8. The Senate voted funds from his booty for the ludi (Livy 39.5.10; 40.44.10), celebrated with great magnificence in 186: Livy 39.22.1–2. Ribbeck (1875) 209 adduced these ludi as the most plausible context for Ennius’ drama; similarly, Flower (1995) 185 and Bernstein (1998) 274.

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Fig. 3.3. A pedestal with the inscription M. FOLVIVS M. F./SER. N. NOBILIOR/COS AMBRACIA CEPIT (‘The consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior/ son of Marcus, grandson of Sergius/ took (this booty) back home from Ambracia’). ILLRP 124 = ILS 16. © Musei Capitolini, Rome. Roma, Musei Capitolini, Archivio Fotografico NCE 2911.

performed during these ludi—but since Livy nowhere specifies what was on the play bill on such occasions, his silence does not really count. However, it seems equally possible that Ennius, who, in his function as ‘war poet in residence’, had accompanied Fulvius on his campaign to Aetolia, wrote the Ambracia for the subsequent dedication of Fulvius’ monument of victory, the Temple of Hercules and the Muses. With its inscriptions recording the Roman Fasti and with its trophies of conquest, the temple illustrated the place of Fulvius’ victory in the grander scheme of Rome’s calendar and history. This pedestal (Fig. 3.3) was found in the vicinity of Fulvius Nobilior’s temple of victory at the Circus Flaminius, Hercules and the Muses. The pedestal would originally have supported a statue, probably a trophy from enemy booty. Among Nobilior’s booty from Ambracia were the statues of Hercules and his entourage of nine Muses, all of them set up in their new

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temple. Nobilior’s triumph in 187 BC was rich in such spoils: the historian Livy (39.5.15) records the triumphal display of a staggering total of 785 bronze and 230 marble statues. The 13 June, the day of the temple’s dedication, had an entry in Roman calendars as ‘the founding day of the (Temple of the) Muses’. Year in and year out, the day’s recurrence would have reminded Romans of the victory. As with Ennius’ epos, something similar, albeit by different means, was surely the aim of his drama.38 Where it was first performed is unattested, but the so-called Circus Flaminius (Fig. 3.4), from which Fulvius’ new temple was approached, seems the most plausible venue. Here, close to where the Theatre of Marcellus was erected almost two centuries later, stood the Temple of Apollo, which, since 212 BC, had been the focal point for the celebration of the ludi Apollinares.39 For these and other ludi it became customary to erect temporary theatres, which saw the first productions of numerous classics. In 169 BC, for instance, this was where Ennius’ Thyestes was first seen and it was probably also on a makeshift stage erected in this area that the praetexta about the Nonae (no. 10), mentioned by Varro, was performed. In the fifties BC, Cicero reports from a riotous performance of Accius’ Brutus. This, in short, was an area where the experience and logistics of erecting a temporary theatre and providing measures to control the crowds were well in hand. For instance, when Fulvius’ colleague and rival M. Aemilius Lepidus in 179 BC celebrated ludi (with performance of drama included) to dedicate the Temples of Juno Regina and Diana (both situated right next to that of Hercules and the Muses.)40 For plays, a third setting was viable. At aristocratic funerals, gladiatorial games were doubtless the most popular fare, but ludi scaenici were also on the programme.41 There are no means for determining whether such 38 Ennius in Aetolia and Fulvius offering manubias Musis (sc. at his temple): Cic. Arch. 27 and Tusc. 1.3. Fasti: Macrob. Sat. 1.12.16; 13.21. The date of dedication is controversial: Viscogliosi (1996) 17–19 and Coarelli (1997) 452 ff. (with bibl.) argue convincingly for construction being terminated ca. 179 BC. Inscriptions: M. FVLVIVS M. F./SER. N. COS/AETOLIA CEPIT, ILS 17 = ILLRP 322 (from Fulvius’ hometown Tusculum) and ILS 16 = ILLRP 124 (Fig. 3.3). The temple’s dedication a possible context of performance: Flower (1995) 186. 13 June the natalis Musarum: Inscriptiones Italiae 13.2 (1963) 471. 39 Livy 40.51.3; 41.27.5 refer to the theatre near Apollo’s temple: Manuwald (2011) 58. Drama was part of the ludi Apollinares from the start: Coarelli (1997) 32 and Wiseman (2004) 171 quoting Festus p. 436, 28ff.L. 40 Ludi at Magna Mater: 38 n. 13; Ennius’ Thyestes at ludi Apollinares in 169 BC: Cic. Brut. 78; Juno Regina and Diana: Livy 40.52.1–3; the ludi seem linked to the dedication of the temples: Bernstein (1998) 278–9 (with further discussion). 41 In addition to the evidence from Aemilius Paullus’ funeral (40 n. 43), Livy 41.28.11 (174 BC) reports from ludi funebres combining gladiatorial games (munera) with ludi scaenic. His report suggests that gladiators were unusual, but the ludi scaenici fairly common: Taylor (1937) 299–300.

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Fig. 3.4. A section of the second-century marble plan of the city of Rome showing the Temple of Hercules and the Muses and the Porticus Octaviae framing temples of Juno and Jupiter: above, a reconstruction drawing; below, the preserved fragments. The still extant gateway to the Porticus, that faced the Circus Flaminius, is clearly visible in the top right. At the top left one sees part of the grounds of the temple of Apollo (focus of the ludi Apollinares). This was the location of one of Rome’s early semi-permanent theatres, later to be replaced by the still extant theatre of Marcellus, which is situated in the area just beyond the top right corner of the uppermost fragment. From H. Jordan, Forma Urbis Romae (Berlin 1874). © Danish National Art Library.

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entertainments were standard, reasonably common, or fairly unusual, but, as argued by Lily Ross Taylor, the indications are that drama was in fact more common than costly gladiators. It is true, of course, that a key witness like Polybius (to whom we owe the renowned description of Roman aristocratic funerals, with the participants, sometimes including real actors,42 parading the imagines, i.e. wax masks portraying the illustrious ancestors of the deceased) says nothing about the use of drama in such contexts. To judge from Livy, however, the Greek historian may well be leaving out what he considered less essential. Compared with drama, shows involving gladiators and animal hunts were prohibitively costly, but also more prestigious. In return they offered their patrons a much more crowd-pleasing means to boost their standing in the community at large and among the electorate in particular. It seems characteristic, therefore, that it is only due to the chance survival of ancient production notes preserving such factual information as the date and circumstances of the first performances of Terence’s comedies, as well as to a fourth-century commentary, that two of these comedies are known to have been performed at the funeral of Lucius Aemilius Paullus in 160. One of these performances—of the Hecyra—fell through. Not because it had displeased, but during performance a crowd had invaded the temporary theatre and forced those watching Terence to leave their seats, all because a rumour had arisen that gladiator fights were to be shown next.43 However, when reporting about this funeral, Polybius sides with the crowd in showing far more interest in the gladiators.44 Polybius’ omission gives cause for reflection. Drama was in some respects clearly much more of a sideshow than scholars of literature care to admit; it was therefore much less likely to be mentioned at all than were the gladiators. There is, moreover, no telling what comments and production notes concerning other dramas might have told us about funerals or otherwise. From Byzantine scholars, there is plenty of information about the staging and acting of Greek tragedy—but from Rome hardly any such evidence has survived.45 In connection with Aemilius Paullus, the question is particularly pertinent, since those organizing his funeral not only had the funds for a makeshift theatre, probably erected in the Forum 42

Actors performing as mask-wearing ancestors at funerals: 43 n. 50. Comedies and gladiators at Aemilius Paullus’ funeral in 160 BC: Donat. on Ter. Ad., praefatio 6; on Ter. Hec., prologus 1; crowd invading and interrupting performance: Ter. Hec., prologue 39–42 with Gilula (1981) and Marshall (2006) 24–6. 44 Polyb. 31.28.4–6 only mentions the gladiators at Paullus’ funeral (40 n. 43); Plut. Aem. 39.6–7 may imply that the whole affair was considered modest. If that is his meaning, what happened on more lavish occasions? 45 Flower (1995) 177 ff. concludes that ludi scaenici at funerals were rare and that the praetexta was ‘no funeral genre’. In exclusive terms, this is clearly true, but I share the reservations of Wiseman (1998) 176 n. 100 about being too categorical. Indeed, the recital at Caesar’s funeral of scenes from Pacuvius’ Armorum iudicium suggests that there was room for considerable variation: Suet. Caes. 84.2. 43

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itself, but it could also double as an arena for gladiators.46 One wonders whether this was also the venue for staging Pacuvius’ praetexta (no. 6) concerning Paullus’ victory at Pydna (Fig. 3.5). With works by Rome’s leading comic and tragic poets, as well as gladiators making a crowd go wild, this ticket would have had all the makings of a funeral to outshine them all. Of course, the suggestion that Pacuvius’ play was shown at Paullus’ funeral is based on analogy.47 But so are the no less plausible alternatives. The situation therefore requires caution. In an area where even a single, completely fortuitous survival may change the overall picture, there is no justification for being categorical (a proviso that it will be sensible to keep in mind also in what follows). It was, for instance, only in 1950 that Pierre Courcelle and Luigi Alfonsi came across the annotation of a Carolingian scholiast, which shows beyond reasonable doubt that Pacuvius’ Paulus featured the tearful Roman general contemplating the fickleness of human fortune when meeting his defeated opposite, King Perseus of Macedonia.48 From Horace it was already known that praetextae would illustrate the reversals of the ‘fortune of kings’ (Fortuna regum) that bring the exalted low, sending them in chains through the streets of Rome in the triumphal train of their conqueror. Historians of the war against King Perseus had, moreover, emphasized the tragic character of the meeting between the victor and the vanquished, the sorrowful king clad in black and the tearful general, Paullus, commenting on Fortuna being unpredictable and unstable—a motif leading the pre-eminent nineteenth-century authority on Roman tragedy, Otto Ribbeck, to speculate whether such a motif did not ultimately stem from a drama.49 Through channels unknown, the Carolingian scholiast seems to confirm that this was indeed so, thereby adding welcome detail to our knowledge of what gave this kind of drama a ‘tragic’ colouring, the scene in question focusing on the unpredictability of the human lot. If written for his funeral (or performed with hindsight), the reference to Fortuna would not only evoke Paullus’ noble restraint in the hour of glory, but it may also have brought aspects of his personal history into focus. Confident in the future of his great house, Paullus had given two of his sons up for adoption, but would later lose 46 Funerals celebrated in the Forum in makeshift theatres sometimes doubling as stages and arena: Marshall (2006) 40–5. 47 The assumption goes back a long way: Ribbeck (1875) 333 (ludi votivi or funeral); similarly, Boissier (1893) 102; Schierl (2006) 520 surveys previous discussions. 48 Alfonsi (1950) 48–51. The new fragment: 32 n. 25 with discussion in Schierl (2006) 518–20; the episode’s setting: 140 n. 23. 49 The meeting and Paullus’ discourse on Fortune: Polyb. 29.20 and Diod. Sic. 30.23; Plut. Aem. 26.8–27 has Paullus in tears discoursing on the unreliability of fortune and Livy 45.7.4; 8.6 the most expansive version, with the meeting, the king ‘clad in black’ (pullo amictu), and Paullus commenting on ‘one’s present fortune’ (praesenti fortunae). The tearful meeting is perhaps a motif from a play: Ribbeck (1875) 331.

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Fig. 3.5. The entry (beginning at the fifth line from the top) concerning the victory at Pydna and subsequent three-day triumph of Lucius Aemilius Paullus in the official list of the triumphs celebrated in Rome. The list was set up in the Forum Romanum during the reign of Augustus. It set out with Romulus and ended with the close friend of the Caesars, Cornelius Balbus (Ch. 5.2–3). Like Paullus, these two triumphators (and many others) were both honoured with praetextae celebrating their exploits. As was customary, the record lists the day of the triumph, in this case 27–29 November, thereby creating a link, sometimes remembered year after year, between event and calendar. From E. Pais Fasti Capitolini (Roma 1920). © Danish National Art Library.

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his remaining heirs, one a few days before and the other a few days after his triumph; when he died, it was, disconcertingly, in relative poverty. In his own day, Rome’s greatest soldier, Paullus would, in short, have embodied a fate, which, like that of King Perseus, went far to illustrating the fickleness of Fortune. Here was a mighty theme that the Imperial Age—at least in one instance—would develop, but more on this later. To summarize: what we have is a kind of drama played in Roman dress and Rome-related settings, re-evoking memories connected with days and events that figured prominently in the annals of the res publica as well as of its leading families, be it days of victory or triumph, the introduction of a new cult, the dedication of a temple, or the solemn ritual of an aristocratic funeral. Between this type of drama and the world it reflected there were therefore numerous crossovers. What was staged would often imitate or evoke the theatrical aspects of numerous rituals. Take, for instance, the aristocratic funeral with its solemn procession of a long line (the longer the better) of mask-wearing ‘ancestors’. Descendants, relatives, and, in some cases, hired actors50 would on such occasions wear the ceremonial robes and play the part of these masked ancestors, written placards declaring what had been their offices and exploits. On arrival in the Forum, the ancestors would formally be seated in ceremonial chairs of office (probably placed on a dais), the rows encircling the bier of the deceased. In order of seniority, each ancestor (in fact, the descendant or actor representing him) would then recount his own greatest deeds, thus outlining for relatives and the watching audience the great accomplishments of the clan. Even in its static manifestation, there is much here that seems an embryonic form of an actual history play: the costumes and mask-wearing impersonations; the use of actors; and the interaction with an audience that learned history and wholesome exempla from such spectacles. While the Roman funeral is a ritual focused on a clan and its great individuals, the triumph focuses more directly on the communal, with the general, soldiers, and captives parading before the lined-up spectators, while choruses, maps, paintings, placards, and objects of plunder, as well, of course, as exotic captives in native dress would illustrate the wonders of the places where Rome had once again triumphed. This was, in Ida Östenberg’s apt phrase, tantamount to ‘staging the world’.51 While drama works by different methods, and is based upon generic rules drawn from a different background, it is surely notable that in some cases 50 The dramatic elements of the funeral ritual: Polyb. 6.53–4 with Flower (1996) 91–127; Erasmo (2004) 75–80; Bartsch (2006) 119–21; actors performing as ancestors: Diod. Sic. 31.25.2 = Flower (1996) T 30 (at Aemilius Paullus’ funeral) and Suet. Vesp. 19.2 = Flower (1996) T 84 (the arcimimus Favor carrying Vespasian’s ‘mask’ (personam) and wittily acting his part); for further actors at funerals: Leppin (1992) 56. 51 Beard (2007) 107–86 and Östenberg (2009) 245–61 rightly stress the profound impact of the visual in audience reactions to the triumph.

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there seems to have been a degree of overlap, the praetextae featuring great ancestors as well as renowned battlefields, all this while integrating aspects of typical Roman rituals and formats (such as the siege and combat with enemies, the prayer, the devotio, the embassy, and the triumph) into its plot. What is of further significance is that all the stated occasions might provide the inspiration and indeed the context for performing a praetexta, but, of the innumerable possibilities, we are, for some reason, only informed about little more than a dozen cases in which commemoration took this specific form. Is this disparity reliable? Can one consider this sample as representative, numerically as well as typologically? The issue is contested, and given the state of the evidence, conclusive answers seem beyond our grasp. However, it seems implausible that this is all there ever was. A model that perceives the surviving evidence as specimens of an originally far more varied and numerous sample is preferable for two reasons. First, because there is clear evidence that the Roman stage was an admittedly imponderable, but according to Varro and Cicero, an important and formative influence on popular attitudes. Indeed, Cicero at one point mentions the stage as being an influence along with such authorities as ‘a parent, a nurse, a teacher and a poet’.52 If this, to a contemporary, was the position of the theatre, it is hard to believe that members of the great families, eager to perpetuate the glory of their ancestors, would have neglected to use such an effective channel, for instance when they obtained one of the magistracies responsible for the annual ludi. Caesar’s assassin Brutus is hardly the only Roman aristocrat who arranged for the revival of a drama on his glorious ancestors; and Cicero’s friends are hardly alone in having mounted a drama that, by association, would further their political aims (cf. Ch. 5.1). Not that all great historic events necessarily resulted in the writing of such plays, but there are—and this is the second point—aspects of the evidence as transmitted that should caution against accepting that this was originally all there was. Its overwhelming focus on praetextae written by poets who later became canonical looks suspiciously like the product of a posterity that in active pursuit of its own agenda has been selecting items now considered worth remembering. The suspicion that the record has been sifted unduly in favour of the demands of the hierarchies of literary history can only be strengthened when one contrasts the later emphasis on the authors now considered canonical with the reports of the contemporary eye witnesses referring to such plays. Of these latter five, only Cicero refers to a play by a known author; of the other four (i.e. Pollio, Varro, Horace, and Ovid), only Pollio seems to name an author (but his meaning is disputed), whereas the other three offer no names at all. This latter attitude may well reflect how

52

The impact of the stage on the ideas of the common man: 65 n. 24.

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contemporaries typically saw things. For them, the history of Roman literature was not the issue: the glory of the exploits and, of course, the patrons who commissioned such plays, not the authors who wrote them, was what truly mattered. So when the fame of events waned or great families died out and their monuments, family histories and collections of documents53 were left without the supportive backing of power, descendants, and clients, only plays by prominent poets stood a chance of surviving or being remembered at all. Those by household or local dramatists of no subsequent standing are, by contrast, likely to have shared in the eclipse, leaving us almost solely, but—as four eye witness reports suggest—hardly accurately, with references to the canonical four: Naevius; Ennius; Pacuvius; and, as we shall see in the following chapter, Accius.

53

Family archives: 22 n. 14.

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4 Accius The praetextae discussed above illustrate what, from Naevius onwards seem to have been the genre’s two main strands, legendary as opposed to nearcontemporary aetiology. However, to understand later developments it is important to realize that, at some point, these strands were combined, so that distant legend fused with contemporary history, the past with ideas of the future.

1 . B R U TU S There may of course have been forerunners, but the first clear instance of this trend is Accius’ Brutus, probably dating from c.130 BC, which dealt with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the foundation of the Republic in 510. The fragments show that the play covered the full time-range of the before and after, one scene featuring the king confiding his sinister dream (on which, more below); other fragments have persons alluding to the development of Roman ‘freedom’ (libertas) and the nature of that emblem of the Republic, the consul’s office.1 It is commonly agreed that Accius’ choice of subject was influenced by the fact that one of his aristocratic patrons,2 Decimus Brutus 1

SOURCES FOR NO. 7: 31 n. 20 = Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1–4R. Manuwald (2001) 224 objects that Cic. Brut. 107; De legibus 2.54 and Arch. 27 describe Accius as Brutus’ ‘very close’ (perfamiliaris) and ‘very dear friend’ (amicissimi sui) rather than client. There was therefore no Klientelverhältnis and Accius did not write his Brutus because of his friendship with Brutus: Manuwald (2011) 217. But in the same speech, Cicero uses similar expressions of closeness and love, such as familiarissimo suo (26), carus (22), diligam (18), and dilexit (20) to describe the relations between Metellus Pius, Africanus, Cicero, and Marius, and the poets Archias, Ennius, Archias, and Plotius—and irrespective of all other feelings, these lowborn poet-friends are in all these cases known to have promised to write or to have actually written poetry in praise of their ‘loving’ friends (and patrons)—as indeed did Accius (47 n. 3). The reference in Val. Max. 8.14.2 depicts the relations similarly, the context suggesting a parallel to the client–patron link between Ennius and Africanus (14.1) and between Theophanes and Pompey (14.3). 2

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Callaicus, claimed descent from Rome’s first consul. Accius had furnished verse inscriptions for the splendid Hellenistic Temple of Mars dedicated by Callaicus after his Spanish victory in the 130s BC. The chronology of Accius’ drama is uncertain, but whether at games connected with Brutus’ triumph or at the dedication of his temple (to name but the most likely occasions), it was doubtless flattering for Brutus Callaicus to have Rome’s leading poet dramatizing the exploits of his great ancestor.3 Given the first Brutus’ close links with the primeval cult of Mars, to whom— legends claim—he dedicated the whole of the Campus thereafter called Campus Martius, the play (and/or the temple) may also have developed this topical aspect—but the fragments leave us without clue.4 What in any case is noteworthy is that flattery in this case was indirect. In a manner adumbrating what Vergil later developed to the full in the Aeneid, Accius solved the problem of dealing with the contemporary by focusing on the legendary. The solution was of course aesthetically attractive. As Aristotle had observed, and experience confirmed (Accius’ Brutus was still in the repertoire in the forties BC), poetic legend is more timeless than historical incident.5 Yet it may well have been the political aspect that really counted. Whether historical or not, a remark, which Cicero ascribes to the great statesman Scipio Aemilianus (c.130 BC) suggests that Romans traditionally ‘disapproved of any living man being either praised or blamed on the stage’.6 This comment has sometimes, quite wrongly it seems, been taken as a reference to a law that (on an extreme reading) would only allow nearcontemporary praetextae to be posthumously performed (be it at funerals or otherwise.)7 Yet, as context and phraseology show, Scipio is not referring to a 3

Accius and Brutus Callaicus (RE Iunius 57): Cic. Arch. 27; Val. Max. 8.14.2; book with verse: schol. on Cic. Arch. 27. On the chronology: Gabba (1969) 379. The play probably written for the dedication of Brutus’ Temple of Mars: Ribbeck (1875) 593; Flower (1995) 176; but contra Manuwald (2001) 224 (cf. 46 n. 2). Since Brutus later opposed C. Gracchus (Ampelius 19.4.37), it has also been suggested Accius’ take on the myth was linked to the Optimate perspective, but sadly, the fragments give no clear clues; the reading, I think, presupposing more than the evidence can support. 4 On the temple: Zevi (1996) 226 ff. and Coarelli (1997) 492 ff. (with bibliography). Zevi and Coarelli rightly point to the links between Brutus and the rededication to the god of the Campus Martius (schol. on Juv. 6.524). The location of Brutus’ temple is a matter of some debate (Ziolkowski (1992) 101–4). While sources locate it in Circo (sc. Flaminio), the location now accepted would strictly speaking be in Campo (sc. Martio) with Wiseman (1993) 220–4. Given the proximity of the two areas, the discrepancy need not matter. Confusing the two toponyms is not unparalleled: Coarelli (1997) 485; Briscoe (2008) ad Livy 40.52.2. 5 Arist. Poet. 9.3 = 1451b; a man of wide interests, Accius’ Didascalica discussed the history of Greek and Roman theatre: the work’s fr. 6 and 15 (Dangel) deal with Euripides and Plautus. 6 Cic. Rep. 4.12 = August. De civ. D. 2.9, ‘veteribus displicuisse Romanis vel laudari quemquam in scaena vivum hominem vel vituperari’. Not a law: Büchner (1984) ad loc.; Gruen (1990) 94; Flower (1995) 176 ff. 7 Thus, e.g. Beare (1964) 42; Della Corte (1960) 353; Zehnacker (1983) 41 ff.; Barbera (2000) 11; other exponents of this view: Zorzetti (1980) 54–5 (with bibliography).

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law (let alone the archaic law of the XII Tables) but to an attitude, which in a society as competitive as the Roman is perfectly understandable. In late second century Rome, individuals such as the poets Lucilius and Accius would sue for libel, after being vilified from the stage.8 Given the fierce rivalry within the aristocratic elite, the opposite may sometimes also have been the case. It is in the nature of panegyric, once let loose, to overreach itself, thus provoking a jealous response from those with rival claims. In Pacuvius’ Paulus, for instance, the eponymous general had not been alone in receiving the praise. A fragment, which sadly has not been completely unambiguously transmitted, is nevertheless clear in alluding to the military prowess of Paullus’ son-in-law, the son of Cato the Censor.9 Later historians provide extensive coverage of young Cato’s valour at Pydna, but it is striking that his efforts had already been described in Pacuvius’ drama, for, in a culture predominantly oral, this was a medium that would have done much to ensure that such praise would reach the broadest possible audience. Given the brief time span commonly assumed to separate the victory in 168 BC and Pacuvius’ drama (dated at the very latest to the death and funeral of Paullus eight years later), Pacuvius may well, indeed, have been highly influential in shaping the ideas of posterity as to what happened at Pydna; the ‘tragic’ scene with the king surrendering and the Roman general discoursing on the fickleness of fortune is the obvious example of the way drama may have pre-empted, and in any case coloured, later historical accounts. For all subsequent historians discussing the surrender more than just in passing, this is invariably the scene in which description turns from third person narrative into a full report, in oratio recta, of what in Pacuvius would have been Paullus’ great monologue. Since Cato’s son died in 152 BC, never advancing beyond the praetorship, it can be assumed that the reason that his prowess at Pydna features so remarkably prominently in subsequent accounts is, to considerable degree, due to Pacuvius.10 A genre with such effective potential for celebrating individual achievement is, in some quarters, bound to have given rise to jealousy. Who knows? Perhaps Ennius, Pacuvius, or a dramatist unknown had taken praise so far that a reaction set in. 8 Lucilius and Accius: Ad Herennium 1.14.24; 2.13.19. Both brought charges of libel (iniuriae)— Lucilius lost, Accius won. 9 ‘nunc te obtestor, celere sancto subveni censoriae’, Pacuvius Paulus fr. 2R, TRF3 = fr. 259 (Schierl); the fragment’s censoriae (sc. domus?) is sometimes emended to censorio, but contra, probably rightly, Schierl ad loc. In any case it seems overwhelmingly certain that the passage alludes to Paullus’ son-in-law, M. Porcius Cato Licinianus (RE Porcius 14). 10 Early sources for Pydna: Paullus may have written the Senate a report; Plut. Aem. 15.4–5 quotes a letter from Cornelius Scipio Nasica, which described initial skirmishes and the battle itself; in his father’s Origines Pydna certainly, and the son’s bravery probably, figured prominently; Cato at Pydna: Val. Max. 3.2.16; Front. Str. 4.5.17: Plut. Cat. Mai. 20.7–8; Aem. 21.2–5; Justinus 33.2.1–4; his early death: Gell. NA 13.20.9.

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In any case, Accius’ model offers an attractive compromise. The plot focuses on a highly dramatic patriotic legend with constitutional implications of enduring relevance; within such a legendary framework, an allusion to, or prophecy about, the descendants of the tyrannicide could easily have indicated for whom Accius was writing. However, the play’s popularity (Ch. 5.1) goes far to suggest that Accius had aimed to accommodate this panegyric function within the wider, overriding aim of celebrating the origins of the Republic. This seems confirmed by what in fact is the single largest portion of a republican praetexta to have come down to us.11 The survival of this scene is due to Cicero, who, in his study on attitudes to prophecy, quotes a section of, all in all, twenty-two lines from a scene with king Tarquin consulting soothsayers about a dream. The scene that probably stems from the early part of the drama is in a genre dealing with ‘the affairs of kings and generals’ and the ‘exploits of the Romans’ (Ch. 1–2) of suitably momentous impact. That such dream scenes are also what tragedy, from Aeschylus onwards, would offer is moreover in complete accordance with the close links between these genres.12 However, when seen in a historical context, this episode is dramatically effective in casting kingship as the constitutional ‘other’. Roman republican grandees would only invoke their personal dreams as a basis for decisions that had public consequences in carefully negotiated circumstances, which were far from always being unchallenged. Traditional and rule-bound public augury was, and remained, the proper method for interpreting the signs of the gods. Kings and dynasts (and later, of course, emperors) would know no such constraints, dreams often being what were claimed to have foretold their victories or, as here, downfall. By contrast, the consultation of dream interpreters is something that in the Republican state cult had but a marginal role—an aspect underlining the alien nature of the tyrant’s court.13 True, this is a scene with a Roman setting, but what goes on is distinctly un-Roman, with ways of interpreting the will of the gods very different from what audiences would have recognized as proper procedure.

11 Tarquin’s dream: Manuwald (2001) 220–33, Erasmo (2004) 59–63; 93–4 and Boyle (2008) xlviii; 244–5 (with previous bibliography). 12 Tragic dream scenes: Walde (2001) and Kragelund (2009) 294–5; the dream in Aeschylus’ Persae may well have influenced Accius (Erasmo (2004) 62; 94; Boyle (2008) xlviii; 244–5) in casting Tarquin as the tyrant ‘other’. In Ezekiel’s roughly contemporary historical drama, the Exagoge (Jacobson (1983) 89–96), the dream of Moses is likewise first told, then interpreted. There too, the cosmic imagery suggests inspiration from typical royal dreams in Greek and Hellenistic historiography: Kragelund (2001) 75–7; 86–8. 13 Dreams defy collective control and therefore had a marginal role in Roman state divination: Wülker (1903) 4; if necessary, traditional augury was often brought in to establish the credibility of such individual prophecy: Kragelund (2001) 75–81; for the charismatic exceptions (L. Marcius, Scipio Africanus) and the scepticism with which such claims were met, ibid. 81–91; only with the emergence of the revolutionary dynasts, from Sulla down to Augustus, did dreams obtain a role in the way dynastic prestige was acquired and upheld: ibid. 92–5.

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But now to the dialogue, where it seems useful to begin with a focus on the diviners’ response to the king’s account. Intriguingly, they first acknowledge that this is not the kind of dream proverbially, and, of course, philosophically, known to be caused by the dreamer’s habits, hopes, and fears: It is not strange, O king, if dreams reflect the day’s desires and thoughts, its sights and deeds, and everything we say or do awake.14

Far from it, the diviner continues, this is a dream to be taken with the utmost seriousness. This response, clad in words of a gnomic, quotable quality, is later taken over, probably directly, by the author of the Octavia (Ch. 14.2), a choice of opening gambit that in Renaissance drama was destined to have a long and glorious afterlife (Ch. 17.3–7). But for all the passage’s epigrammatic quality, it is also dramatically apt in that it effectively affirms the prophetic credentials of Tarquin’s vision, which he describes like this: At night’s approach I sought my quiet couch to soothe my weary limbs with restful sleep. Then in my dreams a shepherd near me drove a fleecy herd whose beauty was extreme. I chose two brother rams from out the flock and sacrificed the comelier of the twain. And then, with lowered horns, the other ram attacked and bore me flat to the ground. While there I lay, wounded and on my back, I saw a great and wondrous miracle in the skies: the haloed flaming ball of the sun reversed its course and glided to the right by pathway new.15

Then follows the dream interpreter’s initial response (quoted above) that there are dreams simply reflecting our daily habits and concerns; he then continues: But in so grave a dream as yours we see a message clearly sent, and thus it warns: Beware of him you deem bereft of wit and rate no higher than a stupid ram, lest he, with wisdom armed, should rise to fame and drive you from your throne. What you were shown happen to the sun means that a great change in the affairs of the people is near.

14 Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2, 1–3R, ‘rex, quae in vita usurpant homines, cogitant, curant, vident,/ quaeque aiunt vigilantes agitantque, ea si cui in somno accidunt,/ minus mirum est’ (W.A. Falconer, Loeb). 15 Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1, 1–12R (W.A. Falconer, Loeb, with adaptions).

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And may that prove propitious for the people! For since the almighty orb from left to right revolved, it is the best of auguries that the Roman Commonwealth will stand supreme.16

While Cicero’s readers knew what then happened, we are less fortunate. However, for all that the dream uses coded imagery (in the original doubtless with clarifying parallels in the plot), it still offers unmistakable clues as to the version of the Brutus legend followed by Accius. Clearly, Tarquin had also here executed Brutus’ brother, Brutus himself only surviving by playing the fool. A play-within-the-play ploy with great dramatic potential (as witnessed by Shakespeare’s Hamlet), this aspect is symbolized in the dream by the ‘brutish’ ram that turns his horns against the king when his elder ‘kinsman’ is slaughtered and, quite literally, ‘bears him to the ground’. Tarquin reports how in the dream he suddenly lay there, ‘flat on the ground’ (prostratum terra), wounded and ‘on his back’ (resupinum) while ‘watching . . . the sky’ (in caelo contueri).17 At this crucial point, the dream’s imagery utterly changes direction, the king, flat on the ground, now becoming the stunned witness to a ‘great and wondrous miracle’ (maximum/mirificum facinus), the heavens ‘showing him’ (ostentum . . . tibi) a cosmic spectacle that reaches out to prefigure the consequences of his own downfall. To bring out the moment’s epoch-making character, Accius has at this point adopted a typically Roman format that would have been familiar to his audience (this is an approach that in fact seems typical of the genre: Ch. 8.2). Imagery of augury is what Accius here latches on to. From his humiliating position on the ground, King Tarquin is now ‘shown’ (ostentum)—the language pointedly ritualistic—what will be, not his own, but the Roman people’s great future. To lend the episode suitable greatness, Accius applies a celestial symbolism that in Roman public divination was invariably linked to events of the greatest magnitude. Legend claims that, at the moment of founding the city of Rome, king Romulus was famously sent the ‘greatest augury’ (augurium maximum) of twelve eagles traversing the sky above the Palatine, in the auspicious direction from left to right.18 For Rome’s last king, Accius offers 16

Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2, 4–10R (W.A. Falconer, Loeb, with adaptions). The sources on Tarquin and Brutus: Mastroncinque (1983–84); Wiseman (2008) 306–19. Tarquin’s murder of Brutus’ brother: Livy 1.56.7–8; Dion. Hal. 4.68.77; hence the emphasis on the rams as ‘consanguineos’, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,5R. The ram striking down Tarquin: ‘ictu me ad casum dari’, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,8R.; prostratum terra: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,9R.; resupinum: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,10R. 18 ostentum est tibi: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2,6R.; ritualistic language: Livy 1.7.1 (a group of twelve eagles ‘showed’ (ostendisset) itself to Romulus); further parallels in ‘Ostendo’ TLL 1126, 43 ff. Mastroncinque (1983) 463–74 outlines possible links between the dream and Etruscan imagery; to Roman audiences, the links with Roman augury and with Romulus would probably 17

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a still grander vision, letting Tarquin report how the ‘haloed flaming ball of the sun’ traversed the sky, here too ‘from left to right’. This cosmic phenomenon unmistakably affirms that Rome and her people now, with the king’s downfall, were set upon a ‘new (and brilliant) course’ (cursu novo).19 A ‘great change in the affairs of the people was near’. With a move creating great dramatic tension, the soothsayer at this point becomes provocatively uncaring about his client’s misfortune. As if overwhelmed by enthusiasm, he instead exclaims: ‘May this all turn out well for the people!’ This is, he continues, ‘a most beautiful augury (auguratum) that the Roman Commonwealth will stand supreme’.20 Such provocative enthusiasm, which in the very presence of the king completely writes him off, would only make the prospect of Rome’s future greatness all the clearer—but, frustratingly, this is where Cicero breaks off. We have no sign, therefore, as to how Accius let Tarquin react. By punishing the interpreters? By going out to sacrifice and pray for the omens to be averted? We cannot tell, but for all its frustrating brevity, the episode is sufficiently substantial to illustrate what seems to have been a key characteristic of this genre, the teleological and aetiological drive with which it, at points, would reach out far beyond the timeframe of the individual drama. This is, indeed, one of the defining aspects that are shared by Accius’ Brutus and the sole surviving praetexta—and in the latter we will encounter further signs that the Imperial dramatist was conscious of being the heir to a tradition that included Accius’ great play (Ch. 14.2).21 But, rather than anticipating, there is, in the evidence concerning Accius’ second praetexta, more to learn about the way he developed his manner of linking past history with its future consequences. have seemed more obvious. In the myth of Romulus’ augurium, the number and direction of Romulus’ eagles were contentious: Wiseman (1995) 6–7 (with bibliography); in Ennius Ann. 1.72–91 (Skutsch) = Cic. Div. 1.107–108 and Luc. 7.437, the direction is left to right; cf. Origo gentis Romanae 23.2: Remus’ six vultures from the left, Romulus’ twelve probably likewise; this direction auspicious: Livy 1.18.7; Plin. HN 2.142. 19 The ‘sun’s flaming orb’ (orbem flammeum/radiatum solis, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,11–12R.); the sun a mighty symbol in Roman public augury: Iulius Obsequens 20 (147 BC: Scipio before the walls of Carthage); ibid. 32 (122 BC: war in Gaul, Gracchan crisis); ibid. 68; Plin. HN 2.98 (44 BC: sun with halo at Octavian’s first entry in Rome); the sun’s course ‘right bound’ (dextrorsum, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 1,11R.); ‘left to right’ (dexterum/ . . . cursum ab laeva, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2,8–9R with Manuwald (2001) 230. 20 ‘populo commutationem rerum portendit fore/ perpropinquam. Haec bene verruncent populo! . . . / . . . pulcherrume/ auguratum est rem Romanam publicam summam fore’, Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2.7–10R. 21 Mickwitz (1928) is an early proponent of a link between the two dream scenes; Boyle (2008) 244–5 convincingly sets out the case for the links between the scenes in Aeschylus, Accius, and the Octavia. While the similar psychological openings (quoted 50 n. 14 and 384 n. 72) might be coincidental, the fact that both dreamers have dreams of falling and then seeing (Ch. 14.2) seems cumulatively to strengthen the inference that the parallels were of a kind Romans would have noted.

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2 . DECIUS OR ‘DEFEATING THE GAU LS ’ Indirect praise was probably also the purpose of Accius’ second praetexta. Its title is, confusingly, both said to be Decius and The Descendants of Aeneas, but what seems clear is that the play known by these titles celebrated the great Roman victory over the Gauls at Sentinum in 295 BC.22 This victory was famously brought about by one of the Roman generals, Publius Decius Mus, using the ritual of devotio to solemnly sacrifice his own life for the prize of bringing defeat to the whole enemy army, but, heroism apart, the motivation for this play has previously seemed obscure. In Accius’ Rome there were apparently no notable descendants of the Decius Mus after whom it is named—so, for whom was the poet writing? And why evoke the story of a devotio in the distant past?23 Was it for the legend’s own sake, simply to celebrate unselfish heroism? This is, to be sure, possible, but it seems to have gone unnoticed that the story has aspects that for Accius and his contemporaries would have been of more immediate relevance. In a devotio, the hero dies, while Rome benefits and a colleague triumphs. The colleague in Decius’ case was the ancestor of one of Rome’s great families, the Fabii Maximi. Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus had returned from Sentinum in triumph, the first of many accorded to his descendants. After a period of absence from the fasti, the family had made a glorious comeback in Accius’ day when Rullianus’ adoptive descendant, Quintus Fabius Maximus, returned from Gaul to celebrate a magnificent triumph that set new standards to posterity. In Gaul, at the strategically crucial confluence of the rivers Rhone and Arar, which later became the site of the Roman provincial capital called Lugdunum (modern Lyon), he had erected marble trophies (then a novelty) and dedicated sanctuaries to Rome’s Mars as well as to Hercules who, hardly fortuitously, was also the mythical ancestor of the Fabii.24 In Rome itself, Allobrogicus (as he was later named after one of the tribes he had defeated) went on to erect a triumphal arch at the entrance to the Forum, the so-called Fornix Fabianus. From scholiasts and inscriptions, the monument is known to have been dynastic, with portraits and inscriptions celebrating and,

22

SOURCES FOR No. 8, Accius’ Decius: Non. 32L; 105L; 183L (‘Accius Aeneadis’); 332L (‘Accius . . . in Aeneadis aut Decio’); 203L (‘Accius in Aeneadis’); 177L; 256L; 272L; 295L; 393L; 811L (‘Accius Aeneadis aut Decio’); 777L (‘Accius Aeneadis vel Decio’); two of Nonius’ quotes (177L and 183L) overlap, thus confirming that the title Aeneadis and Aeneadis aut Decio refer to the same work; Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.490.13K mentions a praetextata called Decius. Rather than yet another drama about Decius, it seems preferable to assume a further reference to Accius. 23 The P. Decius (RE Decius 9), who moved in Gracchan circles and rose to be praetor in 115 BC (when he was publicly disgraced) is perhaps a descendant, but hardly the dedicatee. 24 Fabii and Hercules: Festus p. 77,15L; Ov. Fasti 2.237 ff.; Juv. 8.13–14; Plut. Fabius Maximus 1.1 with Wiseman (1974) 208.

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indeed, inflating the res gestae of Fabius’ ancestors, the Aemilii Pauli, the Fabii Maximi, and the Scipiones Africani. However, the surviving information all relates to a somewhat later phase when, during the mid-first century, the monument was restored. How far the original monument was equally dynastic is not clear, but given the dedicator’s well-documented pride in his trifold ancestry, it seems a fair guess that his original arch also displayed a series of ancestral portraits and inscriptions that included the first Fabius Maximus, the victor of Sentinum.25 What seems crucial is Allobrogicus’ status as Accius’ ‘friend’ (i.e. patron).26 Accius is bound to have known about the links between his noble patron and the victor of Sentinum. It is tempting, therefore, to see his Decius as a parallel to his Brutus. The Decii were popular heroes and the devotio made for impressive drama: its ritual, which at roughly the same period benefited from detailed treatment in an antiquarian study,27 involved solemn prayer and archaic gestures, all of it wonderfully patriotic and theatrical. The play’s alternative (or original?) Greek title is in its erudition typical of Accius: perhaps it alludes to communal effort, the Romans proudly seeing themselves as the ‘Descendants of Aeneas’—but the precise point seems unrecoverable. Given the dramatis personae, the plot could, however, easily be made to feature some flattering references to Accius’ patron; indeed it may well have been Allobrogicus’ Gallic victory in 121 BC, which inspired Accius to write a praetexta celebrating an early victory over the vim Gallicam—as Accius at one point labels the enemy defeated at Sentinum (in fact Rullianus had, as the fasti Capitolini declare, triumphed ‘over Samnites, Etruscans and Gauls’—DE SAMNITIBVS ET ETRVSCEIS GALLEIS). Another fragment, apparently from an anapaestic chorus, describes the ‘menacing’ and ‘loud singing’ of barbarian soldiers on the march, apparently warriors from the Gallic tribe of the Caleti later fought by Caesar.28 It was the left Gallic wing of the army that Decius had attacked in the battle in 295 BC and it was when confronting them that he decided to follow the ancestral example of devotio, promising the gods his own life in exchange for the defeat of the enemy. Two of the fragments,

25 Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus: RE Fabius 114. Trophies in Gaul: Florus 1.37.6; depicted on coins: RRC no. 281,1; temples in Gaul: Strabo 4.1.11. Triumphal arch in Rome: Chioffi (1995) 264–6 (with inscriptions and testimonia). 26 Accius’ admiration for D. Brutus Callaicus and ‘Q. Maxumo L. Pauli nepoti’ (i.e. Q. Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, RE Fabius 110): Cic. Brut. 107. The friendship may explain why Accius wrongly ascribed the honour of having brought Livius Andronicus, the father of Roman literature, to Rome to Allobrogicus’ ancestor, Q. Fabius Maximus Cunctator: Cic. Brut. 72. 27 The learned Lucius Furius Philus (consul 136 BC) wrote on devotio: Macrob. Sat. 3.9.7–11. 28 Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 3R; enemy at Sentinum also including Samnite tribes: Livy 10.29.4; Fasti: Inscriptiones Italiae 13.1 (1947) 73 (295 BC); ‘ Cal[l]eti voce canora/ fremitu peragrant minitabiliter’ Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 8R (with Manuwald (2001) 213–15). The Caleti: Caes. B Gall. 2.4.9; 7.75.4.

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rich in echoes of archaic ritual, stem from this impressive moment, which sealed the fate of both the Gauls and Decius. In the heat of the battle, Fabius Maximus Rullianus had, however, also addressed the gods, vowing to Jupiter Victor a new temple. Once victory was ensured Rullianus sacrificed to the god on the very battlefield. A solemnly alliterative fragment has a speaker worshiping and invoking an invincible godhead with his prayers (te sancte venerans precibus, invicte, invoco). The god has sometimes been identified as Mars. However, none of the Olympians were as frequently described as invictus as Jupiter himself.29 And if we are not dealing with Jupiter, there is another candidate with stronger claims than Mars. The epithet is often used of Hercules, the ancestor of the Fabii.30 In inscriptions, he is likewise often addressed as Sancte.31 So, for all the uncertainty, it is not unreasonable to assume that this is Rullianus addressing either ancestral Hercules, invoking his aid, or even Jupiter, perhaps going so far as swearing to erect the temple that was built from the spoils of this victory and that, from all we know, was situated on the Quirinal, from time immemorial the centre of the ancestral cult of the Fabii.32 A coin (Fig. 4.1) minted by Allobrogicus’ cousin in the 120s BC has plausibly been suggested as alluding to their ancestor’s temple, the foundation date of which coincided with the ludi of the goddess Ceres.33 In 120 BC, the Fabii Maximi had a new victory to celebrate, in ludi and otherwise. To commission a praetexta on their ancestor’s exploits may well have seemed obvious. All the more so, since Allobrogicus was by birth an Aemilius, his grandfather being the Aemilius Paullus whose victory at Pydna Pacuvius had commemorated in Paulus. As we have seen, this play may

29 Jupiter invictus: Cic. Leg. 2.28; Hor. Odes 3.27.73; Sil. Pun. 12.672. In inscriptions there are numerous parallels. 30 ‘invicte’: Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 4R; Mars: suggestion by Imhof, TLL VII.2 (1956) 187.12 quoted by Manuwald (2001) 210 n. 203. Mars invictus: CIL 2.2990; 3.2803; 9.2198; Hercules invictus: Apul. Apol. 22; Macrob. Sat. 3.12.6; cf. Priapea 20.5; from numerous inscriptions note ILLRP 125 and the urban dedications from the Ara Maxima: ILS 3402 (INVICTE); 3403 (INVICTE). 31 Sancte of Hercules invictus and Victor: ILS 3410 = ILLRP 149; ILS 3469; cf. AE (1981) 282; 289 (Hercules Curinus). 32 ‘aedem Iovi Victori spoliaque hostium vovisset (sc. Fabius Maximus)’, Livy 10.29.14; ‘Fabius . . . spolia hostium coniecta in acervum Iovi Victori cremavit’, 10.29.18. 13 April foundation date of Jupiter Victor: Inscriptiones Italiae 13.2 (1963) 440; Ov. Fasti 4.621; the provenance of ILS 2994 = ILLRP 187 suggests that the location was the Esquiline: Ziolkowski (1992) 91–4; Coarelli (1996b) 161; Oakley (1997) ad Livy 10.29.14. Fabian family cult on the Quirinal: Livy 5.46.2–3; 52.3 with Ogilvie ad loc. 33 Aristocratic gentes alluding to their victories and monuments in the coinage of the 130s and 120s BC: Flower (1996) 333–8; possible allusion to the ludi (the Cerialia were scaenici, Bernstein (1998) 164 ff.) and Temple of the Fabii Maximi: RRC no. 265.1 (there dated to 127 BC with Allobrogicus’ cousin Q. Fabius Maximus Eburnus (RE Fabius 111) as the probable mint master); new coin finds (cf. Hersh (1977) 19–36) may have upset the proposed chronology slightly.

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Fig. 4.1. Roman denarius minted by one Q. MAX, probably Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus in the 120s BC. The symbols on the reverse combine Jupiter’s thunderbolt with emblems traditionally linked to the goddess Ceres. RRC no. 265.1. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

in fact have featured at the funeral ludi in Paullus’ honour that further included the performances of two of Terence’s comedies. Fabius’ father had organized these games—and now it was the grandson’s turn to have a play. The assistance of Rome’s leading playwright, Accius (whom Cicero describes as Allobrogicus’ friend), was a factor that would have added lustre to the event. If, moreover, we are correct in assuming that an atmosphere had developed in which unduly direct self-glorification had come to be frowned upon, Accius had with his Brutus shown how to have it both ways. In any case, the emblems chosen by the family mint master go far to suggest that the Fabii Maximi were already in the habit of taking special credit for Rullianus’ exploits. By different means, but no less effectively, the Decius would link the celebration of a new family triumph with memories of the victory that year after year was commemorated during the Cerialia (‘the ludi of Ceres’), on the Ides (13th) of April, the day of the foundation of the Temple of Victorious Jupiter. Seen in this light, Accius’ Decius comes across as a parallel to his Brutus. Both are—it is here suggested—plays celebrating great victories, the anniversaries of which were still remembered more than a century later;34 both are, moreover, plays extolling the prowess of the ancestors of the poet’s closest patrons. Last, but not least, both are at once traditional and innovative in reflecting the historical as well as contemporary implications of great events of the past.

34

The anniversary of Brutus’ victory on 9 June 134 BC: Ov. Fasti 6.461–2; Fabius Maximus’ victory on 8 August 121 BC: Plin. HN 7.166.

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Accius was writing in a period which, to judge from historiography, coinage, and a monument like Fabius Maximus’ arch, witnessed an ever more competitive emphasis on ancestry (legendary and otherwise) among Rome’s aristocrats.35 It stands to reason that one and probably both his historical dramas mirror this trend.

35 Ancestors in Republican coinage from 137 BC onwards: Crawford (1974) 728 ff. Flower (1996) 333–8. Legendary ancestry and the historians: Wiseman (1974) 153 ff.

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5 Romans Fighting Romans From its very beginning, the genre would have reflected political conflict. On the generals and battles celebrated by the early praetextae, views had differed, sometimes violently. The rights to triumphs were contested, merits challenged, exploits invented or denigrated. Naevius’ hero Marcellus had been posthumously defamed and Ennius’ patron Fulvius had needed to fight hard to be granted a triumph at all. On issues of merits (and otherwise), some praetextae had doubtless been partisan, but the details elude us. Such wrangling and debates also influenced views on the true role of the legendary lady receiving Magna Mater in the anonymous drama mentioned by Ovid. Was she a Vestal (Fig. 5.1) or a matrona? And what was her gens? Who was rightfully entitled to exhibit her image in their atrium and parade it at funerals? Was she indeed a Valeria (a view no doubt sponsored by the historian Valerius Antias, who was prone to highlighting the exploits of the Valerii)? Or did the Claudians have the rightful claim?1 By the end of the Republic, she featured prominently in the Claudian family saga, with her own honorary statue standing in the Temple of Magna Mater.2 Since the version of the legend chosen by the dramatist likewise honours her as a member of the gens Claudia, a desire to flatter the, by then, ruling dynasty may well have motivated, if not the writing then at least the spectacular performance seen by Ovid. Are we perhaps in the vicinity of Augustus’ re-dedication of the temple after AD 3? Whether at such or other events, ludi, including a play on the empress’s renowned ancestress, stood every chance of finding favour.3 1 Quinta Claudia (RE Claudius 435) is first mentioned by Cic. Cael. 34; Har. 27 (a matrona); in Diod. Sic. 34.33.2 she is a Valeria; in Sen. De matrimonio fr. 80H, a Vestal named Claudia; as in Seneca, she is represented in the Claudian relief in the Capitoline Museum as a Vestal dragging the ship loose with a cingulum (Fig. 5.1). The evolution of the tradition: Wiseman (1979) 94–9. 2 Claudia’s statue: 58 n. 1; cf. Val. Max. 1.8.11; Tac. Ann. 4.64.3; representations of her miracle were common: Julianus Apostata Orationes 5, 161B. 3 The play is not necessarily Augustan: the dazzle of the ludi Megalenses in 99 and 91 BC (each financed by a Claudius Pulcher) is well attested: Cic. Verr. 2.4.59.133; Har. 26; Val. Max. 2.4.6. Augustus restored the Temple of Magna Mater after a fire in AD 3: Ov. Fasti 4.348; Augustus RG

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Fig. 5.1. A dedication found in Rome ‘to Magna Mater and her ship Salvia’. Dating from the mid-first century it illustrates the legend of the arrival of Magna Mater. The dedicator, named Claudia Synthyche, was probably an imperial ex-slave belonging to the gens Claudia. Her offering is part of a series: all, one must guess, dedicated by people involved in the cult. The relief shows the sacred image of the goddess (in fact originally an aniconic stone) seated on the ship while Claudia Quinta, who pulls the rope to set the ship in motion, is depicted in the guise of a Vestal. ILS 4096. From A. Baumeister Denkmäler des klassischen Altertums ii (Munich/Leipzig 1887) p. 800. © Danish National Art Library.

Accius (or whoever) had provided the model—now others followed suit. And like the dramatists, there can be little doubt that actors and managers who from time to time offered new productions of old praetextae would sometimes be expected to confirm the values and views of the aediles or praetor arranging the ludi. Such magistrates would often aspire to higher office and therefore had an obvious interest in underlining the ways in which their ancestors had brought glory and booty to Rome and its people. For them, the performance of a praetexta directed to suit their purpose would have offered welcome

19. By then the goddess with her Trojan links was deeply integrated into the new dynastic myth: Littlewood (1981) 384 (with bibliography).

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opportunities—but unfortunately we only have fairly limited evidence illustrating such an approach.

1. PARTISAN S TA GINGS In July 57 BC, Rome’s praetor urbanus, Lucius Caecilius Rufus, who was responsible for the festival of the ludi Apollinares, chose to mount a performance of Accius’ Brutus. The year before, the tribune Clodius had successfully mounted a campaign against Cicero, denouncing him as a tyrant, who during the Catilinarian conspiracy had acted unlawfully when, without a proper trial, he had sentenced Roman citizens to death. As a result, Cicero was sent into exile in March 58—and Clodius celebrated this political victory by having his henchmen torch Cicero’s mansion on the Palatine, then dedicating the site as a sanctuary to Liberty, complete with statue and porticoes.4 A year later, a counterattack was mounted. Among those who opposed Clodius and favoured Cicero’s recall from exile, was the very same Caecilius Rufus as well as the star of his cast, the great actor Aesopus—a circumstance that influenced the way they chose to perform Accius’ old play.5 Like other actors who used the stage during this period to demonstrate political sentiment, Aesopus—to the enthusiastic response of the audience—knew how to give the plot a contemporary and topical slant. Accius’ conflict between tyranny and freedom became a means to refute the charges against Cicero. To thundering demands for ‘a thousand encores’ Aesopus made it clear that ‘Tullius’ (i.e. Marcus Tullius Cicero, as opposed to Clodius) had been the true champion of ancient Roman freedom. Like his namesake, good old King Servius Tullius, Cicero had ‘given the citizens firm foundations for their liberty’—a pronouncement with numerous echoes in Ciceronian discourses condemning anarchy as opposed to stability (evertere versus stabilire rem publicam), praising ‘the prowess that had given liberty firm foundations’ (quanta virtute stabilitatam libertatem) and praising the fathers of the Republic, among them Brutus, for giving the ‘commonwealth firm foundations’.6 4 For the background to the performances of Accius’ Brutus in 57 BC, Erasmo (2004) 91–101 provides an incisive survey. Tyrant (crudelem tyrannum): Cic. Dom. 94; tyrannum et ereptorem libertatis: Cic. Sest. 109; regem: Cic. Att. 1.16.10. Sanctuary of Libertas: Cic. Dom. 108 ff.; Plut. Cic. 33.1; Dio Cass. 38.17.6. 5 Caecilius Rufus (RE Caecilius 110) supported Cicero’s recall: Cic. Red. Sen. 22. During famine riots that coincided with the ludi Apollinares, Clodius’ supporters laid siege to Rufus’ house: Cic. Mil. 38 with Asconius ad loc. Cicero’s friendship with Aesopus: Leppin (1992) 195 (with bibl.). 6 ‘Tullius’: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 4R; thousand encores (‘milliens revocatum est’): Cic. Sest. 123 (with schol. dating the event to the ludi Apollinares, which were given by the praetor Caecilius Rufus); Gracchus: Cic. Fin. 4.65, ‘alter stabilire rem publicam studuerit, alter evertere’; ‘stabilitam libertatem’: Cat. 4.19; Sest. 143 ‘imitemur nostros Brutos . . . qui hanc rem publicam stabiliverunt’.

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Fig. 5.2. Obverse of Roman denarius minted by Brutus and his adherents in 43–42 BC, which proclaimed the murder of Caesar to be a deed rooted in ancestral tradition. The obverse shows the bearded portrait of Brutus, the legendary founder of the Republic and ‘champion of liberty’ (vindex libertatis), who was the protagonist of Accius’ praetexta. For the reverse, see Fig. 16.1. RRC no. 508.3. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The younger Brutus (best known for his part in the assassination of Caesar) was another such self-proclaimed champion of Roman liberty. It is natural, therefore, that he would use Accius’ praetexta about his ancestor to present his murder of Caesar as an act rooted in ancestral Roman tradition and justified by adherence to ‘ancestral custom’ (mos maiorum, Fig. 5.2). For the ludi Apollinares in July 44, little more than three months after the Ides of March, a no doubt highly topical production was planned. For these ludi, Brutus is known to have taken considerable trouble to find the right actors (his quest took him to Naples). But the impending political crisis prevented Brutus from returning, and, in his absence, a member of Caesar’s party substituted a mythological tragedy for the Brutus. Whether this new choice also carried a political message is unknown.7 As so much else, the praetextae had been drawn into the turbulent sphere of party politics, with wide-ranging consequences for the genre’s future. Two plays illustrate this new trend. The first is an item from the late fifties or early forties BC when a young senator known as Gaius Cassius from Parma brought out what seems to have been yet another praetexta on the subject of the tyrannicide Brutus (no. 11). We owe this information to Varro, who twice quotes from the work. True, both Varro’s references to Cassius have been claimed to be manuscript errors for Accius, but to argue against two separate entries when we have a

7 Brutus and Accius’ Brutus and Tereus: Cic. Att. 16.2.3; 16.5.1; Plut. Brut. 21.5–6 with Ribbeck (1875) 593; Gelzer (1917) 997–8; riots for and against Brutus at these ludi: Cic. Phil. 1.36; App. B Civ. 3.23–24. Brutus’ use of his ancestral myth: Flower (1996) 89 (with bibl.).

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Cassius known to have written tragedies seems unconvincing.8 Assuming that the reference is indeed to Cassius the poet and tragedian, an interesting scenario unfolds, since this dramatist also played a protagonist’s role in the conspiracy of Brutus and his namesake Cassius to remove Rome’s new tyrant, Julius Caesar. Indeed Cassius of Parma, the libels of whose poetry infuriated Caesar’s heir, Augustus, went on to gain proverbial renown as the last of Caesar’s assassins to fall victim to the Caesarean revenge. Given this high profile political involvement one would dearly like to know when and why Cassius wrote his Brutus and, of course, the nature of such a play—but sadly, and in the circumstances perhaps not surprisingly, Varro’s brief quotation with its reference to the night of the rape of Lucretia is all we have.

2. PHARSALO S— SEEN FROM CÁDIZ Within a year of Brutus’ thwarted efforts to mount Accius’ praetexta on his ancestor’s tyrannicide, a staunch supporter of the Caesarean party decided that he too would employ the genre for his own ends, therefore staging a new praetexta that in a very direct manner deals with the issues of the civil war. We owe this information to a letter to Cicero on 8 June 43 BC, in which Gaius Asinius Pollio, then governor of Spain, describes the misbehaviour and ambition of his subaltern, the young Lucius Cornelius Balbus. Pollio’s allegations range from torture, theft, and murder to Balbus’ insufferable cheek in having used the local theatre in Gades (modern Cádiz) to glorify his own civil war exploits. This had happened during ludi at which young Balbus had presided and at which a praetexta had been performed (Pollio is the first on record to use the term). The young Spaniard had even invoked the example of Julius Caesar, who four years back had held ludi during which he, sensationally, had forced the freeborn dramatist, Decimus Laberius, to perform in one of his own plays. Caesar then sugared the bitter pill by awarding Laberius what amounted to the fortune of a knight (which Laberius was already.)9 In declared imitation of Caesar, Balbus now rewarded the star of his ludi, the actor Herennius Gallus with the gold ring emblem and front seat at the theatre to which the equestrians were entitled,10 but the question is how far 8

Cassius Parmensis and his Brutus: 31 n. 21. At ludi in 47, Caesar gave the poet Laberius half a million sestertii, a gold ring, and a seat in the front fourteen rows, among the equites: Suet. Caes. 39.2; Macrob. Sat. 2.7.8 with Panayotakis (2010) 50–7 (convincingly arguing that Macrobius has conflated the evidence for Laberius’ competition with Syrus in 46 with that for Laberius being forced to go on stage himself in 47). 10 Balbus’ theatre in Cádiz in the New Town of the Balbi: Bernal & Arévalo (2011); the suggestion (p. 246) that the graffito ‘thief ’ (LATRO) refers to Balbus seems a long shot; in any case Balbus made a point of imitating Caesar: ‘. . . haec quoque fecit, ut ipse gloriari solet, eadem 9

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imitation went. Was this, as one reading seems to suggest, merely a token of appreciation for the acting, or had Herennius Gallus not only acted in, but also written, the praetexta for which Balbus paid him so handsomely?11 In any case, Gallus’ (or Balbus’) praetexta dealt with Balbus’ ‘embassy’ five years previously, aimed (abortively) ‘at winning over the proconsul Lentulus’ (de suo itinere ad L. Lentulum procos. sollicitandum). When seeing the play, Balbus had been moved to tears ‘by the memory of his exploits’ (memoria rerum gestarum).12 Of the play, not a single line has been preserved—and modern criticism has uttered no regrets. Balbus’ self-glorification has been considered tasteless and ridiculous, and so have his tears. As in the case of the Octavia, dismissal has led to carelessness. One scholar locates the plot in Spain; others assume that it dealt with a mission that failed and meetings in 49 BC that never took place.13 All of which is mistaken. In 48, when Lentulus (as Pollio says) was proconsul, a series of renowned meetings did take place in the Pompeian camp near Dyrrhachium (Durrës in modern Albania).14 This was, a historian claims, Balbus’ finest hour—no small praise for a man who remained a close and trusted ally of the Caesars. Not only was this upstart provincial the last non-member of the imperial family to celebrate a triumph, but he was also allowed to give his name to a monument in Rome itself, the Theatrum Balbi, which Balbus, in true style, inaugurated with lavish ludi.15 By no means a negligible character, Balbus’ exploits, on and off-stage, merit closer scrutiny. Contemporaries provide, if not the outline, then at least some of the basic elements of the plot. At the onset of civil war, Caesar himself had entrusted quae C. Caesar: ludis, quos Gadibus fecit, Herennium Gallum histrionem . . . anulo aureo donatum in xiiii sessum deduxit . . .’, Cic. Fam. 10.32.2. 11 Balbus (RE Cornelius 70; PIR2 C 1331) the author: thus e.g. Ribbeck (1875) 625 f.; Helm (1954) 1572; OCD3 s.v. ‘Cornelius Balbus’ and Boyle (2008) lii n. 102, perhaps rightly. Yet Pollio never says so (cf. e.g. Boissier (1893) 102; Della Corte (1960) 353)—and the Caesarean parallel may offer an overlooked clue. Nothing else is known of the assumed histrio-poet, Herennius Gallus, but there was plenty of local talent: Cic. Arch. 26 (poets at Cordoba in the 70s BC). 12 SOURCE FOR No. 9, Herennius Gallus’ (?) Iter Balbi: Asinius Pollio apud Cic. Fam. 10.32.3 (‘ludis praetextam de suo itinere ad L. Lentulum procos. sollicitandum posuit [sc. Balbus]’); 10.32.5, ‘praetextam si voles legere, Gallum Cornelium . . . poscito’; the author: 63 n. 11. 13 A meeting ‘en Espagne’: Dupont (1985) 223. Pedroli (1954) 15; 75 makes a mess of chronology, assuming that the drama dealt with events which took place after the drama’s première; travels in 49: Beare (1964) 42, OCD3 s.v. ‘Cornelius Balbus’ and Erasmo (2004) 74, the latter mistakenly claiming that the meeting with Lentulus never took place (cf. 63 n. 14). 14 Balbus’ praetexta dealing with events in 48 BC: Ribbeck (1875) 625f.; Helm (1954) 1572; Shackleton Bailey ad Cic. Fam. 10.32.3. 15 Vell. Pat. 2.51.3, ‘tum Balbus Cornelius, excedente humanam fidem temeritate, ingressus castra hostium saepiusque cum Lentulo conlocutus consule, dubitante quanti se venderet, illis incrementis fecit viam quibus non Hispaniensis natus, sed Hispanus, in triumphum et pontificatum adsurgeret fieretque ex privato consularis’; Velleius’ ‘consule’ is an error for ‘proconsule’.

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Balbus with a secret ‘embassy’ (iter), the aim of which was to bribe one of the leading Pompeians, the consul of 49 BC, Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus and make him change sides.16 Lentulus had from the very first been Caesar’s bitter opponent: in the crucial Senate debate on 1 January 4917 he opposed every compromise with Caesar and his rebel army—but young Balbus had a personal link.18 For the Caesarean party, it would be of immense ideological importance to bring Lentulus over. And rumour said the man had a price. Hence the promises of great bribes of which Cicero had also heard. In 49, attempts to establish contact failed, but in 48, at Dyrrhachium, Balbus showed great courage, repeatedly sneaking into the Pompeian camp. It all came to nothing—allegedly because Lentulus’ price proved too high. After the Battle of Pharsalos, when Lentulus had been hunted down and silenced for ever, Caesar and his allies would loudly insist that he had been a man who might have been bought, an indebted profligate, a ‘New Sulla’, ‘with no hope of safety if the res publica remained safe’—and therefore, Caesar claimed, perhaps the single person most responsible for the outbreak of the civil war. It is a fair guess that such accusations figured prominently in the Balbus praetexta; indeed, Lentulus’ negative posthumous reputation may partly stem from the drama itself.19 With its stark black and white contrasts, the work seems a typical product of civil war. In some of the praetextae of old, the apologetic and even propagandistic element had doubtless been strong. To support their patrons against jealous attacks, poets would have been expected to set the record straight. The difference is that, for all their internal strife, the Romans had, back then, stood united against a common enemy. From the Gracchi onwards, this was no longer always the case. Now, fellow-citizens were sometimes the foe. To make matters worse, leading politicians had, from the late second century onwards, begun to adopt new, ever more aggressive methods of self-promotion, with memoirs and commentarii, epics, dedications, paintings, reliefs, and statues celebrating their res gestae in ways that repeatedly went far beyond what had hitherto been considered appropriate. In a sense, it was therefore merely a sign of the times that a young, ambitious quaestor, with strong connections at the top of his party, would 16 cf. Cic. Att. 8.11.5, ‘iter autem erat eius (sc. Balbi Minoris) ad Lentulum consulem cum litteris Caesaris praemiorumque promissis’; in 8.9A.2 Cicero specifies that the promises included ‘a provincial command’: promissione provinciae, Romam ut redeat. 17 Lentulus’ duplicity and opposition to compromise: Caes. B Civ. 1.1. 18 Münzer suggested that the Cornelii Balbi had obtained Roman citizenship through the good offices of Cornelius Crus: RE Cornelius 69, 1261. 19 Balbus’ attempts in 49: Cic. Att. 8.9A.2; 8.11.5; 9.6.1. Lentulus (RE C 218) was Caesar’s bitter enemy: Hirtius B Gall. 8.50.3; his debts: Caes. B Civ. 1.4.2; a profligate: B Civ. 3.96.1; ‘a new Sulla’: B Civ. 1.4.2. ‘Safe’: Vell. Pat. 2.49.3, ‘Lentulus vero salva re publica salvus esse non posset’. Cicero also knew of stories that confirmed Lentulus’ greed and lust for confiscations (Att. 11.6.6). A positive portrayal of Lentulus: 66 n. 25.

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adopt a genre, which hitherto had been devoted to the praise of legendary heroes and victorious generals, as a means of vilifying a political opponent and broadcasting his glorious services to party and res publica. Posted in an area of Spain where Balbus could count on the loyalty of his uncle’s large local ‘following’ (clientela), his nominal superior, Pollio, probably had no alternative but to acquiesce and grumble. Balbus’ uncle was the local ‘godfather’ and the nephew (who would eventually provide his patria with a New Town, a new theatre, and a new harbour) was his heir apparent.20 Never a man for whom it was easy to acknowledge the merits of others (Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, and Livy are among the writers of whom Pollio was outspokenly critical), he was here facing a very resourceful opponent.21 Aesthetic issues were by no means all that stood between them.22 In the spring of 43, with Caesar murdered and politics in chaos, the question of whom now to follow—the Senate, Mark Antony, or Octavian—must have given many Caesareans sleepless nights. At some point, Balbus and Pollio split, each no doubt insisting that his was the orthodox (or sensible) course. With the Caesarean party dangerously divided, that of Pompey’s sons seemed to gain new strength. In this situation it stands to reason that Balbus would remind his fellow-citizens that the allies of Pompey remained the enemy. To boost local morale, he humiliated a former soldier in Pompey’s army by forcing him to fight as a gladiator. When the desperate fellow, a Roman citizen!, appealed to the audience, Balbus had him dragged off and executed.23 In other ways too, Balbus would profit from the fact that he was responsible for holding public ludi. As contemporaries knew, the arena and the stage exerted a powerful influence.24 Like the gladiator show, Balbus’ play targeted the Pompeians as the enemy. By choosing the secret negotiations on the eve of the Battle of Pharsalos, Balbus gave himself a protagonist’s role in a course of events which, to the Caesareans, proved the contrast between the spineless 20 Old Balbus’ patronage (hospitium publicum): Cic. Balb. 41 with Wiseman (1971) 35; new city: Strabo 3.5.3; uncle or nephew issued coins depicting Hercules, the tutelary god of their patria: PIR2 C 1331. 21 Pollio on Caesar: Suet. Caes. 56.4; on Cicero: Quint. 12.1.22; on Sallust: Suet. Gramm. 10.2; on Livy: Quint. 1.5.56; 8.1.3; with such fellow victims, Balbus could certainly have done worse. 22 Preoccupation with Balbus’ ‘breaches of decorum’ and ‘bad taste’ (Beare (1964) 42) goes back a long way: cf. Boissier (1893) 102, ‘cette praetexta, si ridicule qu’on la suppose’; the claim (Barbera (2000) 15) that the play was badly received by the audience is completely unfounded. Ribbeck (1875) 626 rightly stressed the political context. 23 Cic. Fam. 10.32.3. 24 The impact of the stage on popular religion: 156 n. 34; 239 n. 4; Varro LL 9.11 saw ‘good poets, and above all dramatists’ (boni poetae, maxime scenici) as having great responsibility in teaching the people proper linguistic habits ‘because in this field poets have great influence: it is due to them that some words in common usage are declined correctly, some wrongly’ (quod poetae multum possunt in hoc: propter eos quaedam verba in declinatione melius, quaedam deterius dicuntur). The source of human opiniones is ‘parent, nurse, teacher, poet and stage (scaena)’: Cic. Leg. 1.47 with Wiseman (1987a) 252–6; similarly Flower (1995) 188.

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and egoistical venality of one of the leaders of the Pompeian party and the just and sober claims of the Caesareans who, till the bitter end, had tried to save the res publica from the catastrophe of civil war. It may safely be assumed that a character assassination so relentlessly vicious provoked a backlash; indeed, we still seem to have its echo in the anti-Caesarean epic of Seneca’s nephew Lucan. There, Lentulus is no longer the villain portrayed by Caesar and Balbus. Instead, his character is, in less than two hexameters, given such shining assets as ‘virtue, nobility’ and ‘high status’ (virtus, nobilitas and dignitas). Clearly, the smear campaigns of Caesar and Balbus did not go unchallenged.25

3 . S P A I N , C A E S AR, AND P OM P E Y Among near contemporaries in Gades and Southern Spain in general, however, the drama offered by the colony’s young patron would no doubt have struck a chord. Since the war against Sertorius in the eighties BC, Spain had been a Pompeian stronghold. Caesar had for decades worked hard to change this situation, ultimately with success. In August 49 BC, after his signal victories over the Pompeian armies in Spain, the citizens of Gades responded resolutely to Caesar’s summons, threw off their old allegiance to the res publica and ‘asserted their liberty’, which in Caesar’s dictionary meant joining him. One suspects that the attitude of the city’s first family was a decisive influence. But during his repeated stays (most recently in 45 BC) Caesar himself had clearly done much to increase his local following. In the Roman provinces, this city could boast more wealthy citizens of the equestrian class than any other.26 The trade in slaves and metals made this an emporium of signal importance. Caesar’s reward for the city’s defection was sensational: its inhabitants were granted the coveted Roman citizenship. Small wonder, therefore, that Gades came out strongly for Caesar during the subsequent wars with the sons of its one time patron, Pompey the Great, whose adherents had only recently, in late 44 BC, given up fighting in Spain.27 The alliance with Caesar and the patronage of the Balbi proved a turning point in the history of Gades. That an episode illustrating that alliance was 25

Luc. 8.329–30. Strabo 3.5.3 (outside Rome, Patavium was the only city with more Roman knights than Gades). 27 ‘sese . . . in libertatem vindicavissent (sc. Gaditani)’: Caes. B Civ. 2.21.1; Caesar at Gades in 68 BC: Suet. Caes. 7.1; his beneficia towards the city when propraetor in 61–0: Cic. Balb. 43; Caesar in Gades in 45: BHisp. 39; citizenship in 49: Livy epitome 110 (precise legal situation unclear, but immaterial here). Sextus Pompeius leaving Spain in late 44: Cic. Phil. 5.41. 26

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commemorated with a type of drama, which in Rome itself had been used to re-evoke the great moments of Rome’s past, thus raises a number of interesting questions. Throughout Spain (as well as Gallia Cisalpina and Narbonensis) the period saw cities eagerly adapting the style of the new imperial capital, architecturally and otherwise. Not far from Gades, at Caesar’s new colony of Urso, the colony’s charter, dating from 44 BC, prescribes that the aediles (explicitly told to wear the toga praetexta) should provide, ‘gladiatorial combat and scenic spectacles’ (munus ludos scaenicos) to honour the gods.28 It is truly interesting to see that, in Gades, the Spanish urge to adopt Roman ways went so far as to adopt one of the most public genres, in which Rome had commemorated and dramatized great events in her past. Yet, if it were not for the angry letter of Pollio, who would have guessed that such and similar ludi (attested throughout the Latin-speaking West) might also offer a praetexta? And if such a performance could take place at Gades, what are we, within reason, to imagine that the theatres and ludi of third-, second-, and first-century Italy could present? What happened during these early periods, when the boys and men returned with the spoils of war to the Allied and Latin cities throughout Italy? In addition to their manpower, these communities had given Rome its actors and dramatists, and indeed its very vocabulary for everything theatrical (from scaena (‘scene’ or ‘stage’) and histrio (cf. histrionics) to persona (‘mask’ whence person) and theatrum).29 Surely, they too, every now and then, must have seen a drama of this type, be it in Latin, Oscan, or Etruscan.30 Or are we e silentio to infer that it was only this once, at the extreme western outpost of the Empire, that a praetexta gave expression to the feeling of the locals and their dynasts about events that influenced all and sundry? When offering a drama of this type, Balbus need not have been innovative at all. The dire lack of evidence is in all probability what makes him stand apart. To rejoice in memoria rerum gestarum was after all as it should be— what offended Pollio was clearly that Balbus, a mere quaestor, could so uninhibitedly flaunt his local backing and outshine his superiors, simply because his uncle was so powerful.

28

The lex Coloniae genetivae Iuliae (ILS 6087 = Crawford (1996) no. 25) lxx; lxxi (expenses for ludi); cxxvi–vii (rules for seating). Theatres in the process of Romanization in Spain: Curchin (1990) 108 ff. (with bibliography). 29 Theatrical life in third to first century Rome and Italy: Rawson (1991) 468 ff. (with ample bibliography). Epigraphy attests ludi in Campania between 108–94 BC: ILLRP 708–15; 719. The revolt in 91 BC started at the theatre in Asculum during a performance that involved a popular itinerant actor: Diod. Sic. 37.12.2; Rawson (1991) 470 suggests they were watching a praetexta, but I cannot see why. Wiseman (1994 and 1998) discusses further evidence for a pre-literary as well as literary Latin stage. 30 Volnius’ tragoedias Tuscas: Varro LL 5.55.

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However, in one crucial respect, Balbus’ praetexta represents an avantgarde approach that anticipates what subsequently became more common. Its timing made it a partisan contribution to an on-going debate. In the genre’s history, partisanship had of course been seen before. The real novelty is that this, to our knowledge, is the first praetexta to present Romans facing Romans in mortal conflict. As such this drama (whatever its merits) falls mid-way between two traditions. While it owes much to the tradition of near-contemporary subjects already found in Naevius, Ennius, and Pacuvius, it also foreshadows the praetextae of Pseudo-Seneca and Curiatius Maternus: Cato versus Caesar, Seneca and populus Romanus versus Nero. Now it is no longer Romans against Gauls, but against Romans. Like everything else, the old republican genre was adapting itself to the new imperial realities.

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6 Stages Old and New Before examining the evidence for the imperial praetextae (Ch. 7), it is, as a preliminary, necessary to take a broader look at the place, if any, of such traditional genres as comedy, tragedy, and praetextae on the Roman stage from the first and second centuries down to Late Antiquity. A vast and contentious field, the survey will primarily focus on relevant stage activities (in the broadest sense) from the reign of Augustus down to that of Hadrian. And here, to begin with, it is crucial that the praetexta as a genre clearly succeeded in adapting itself to the changed political and ideological circumstances. In terms of survival, such adaptation proved all important. The very fact that it happened goes far to suggest that this was a genre still held in esteem, and this despite the emergence of new, very popular genres such as the mime and the pantomime. In his astrological poem from just after the death of Augustus in AD 14, Manilius would, for instance, confidently outline the future prospects of those born in the sign of Cepheus. Such people are traditionally characterized as being of a serious cast of mind. It is interesting, therefore, that Manilius envisages a possible future for those born under such stars as either authors or actors of dramas featuring protagonists from Greece (heroas) or Rome (togatos)—in less poetic parlance, Greek-style tragedy or Roman praetextae. The link between being born under Cepheus and acting in tragedy was traditional.1 What counts is that Manilius goes out of his way to make subjects from Roman history part of the foreseeable repertoire of such earnest boys, be it as dramatists or actors. This would surely not have been the case if the genre were long since dead and forgotten.2 Its new lease of life is confirmed by other circumstances. The first is that the named persons known to have written praetextae during the empire came 1 Link between persons born in the sign of Cepheus and tragedy: cf. the Atlas Farnese, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture depicting Atlas shouldering the burden of the universe; on Atlas’ celestial globe, a tragic actor represents the sign of Cepheus. 2 Manilius 5.480a ff. (boys born under Cepheus are likely to become tragic actors); ‘on the stage he will take the part of Romans or the mighty heroes of myth’, scaenisque togatos/aut magnos heroas aget solus per omnis/ibit personas (here adopting the ordering of G.P. Goold, Loeb and Teubner).

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from decidedly higher social strata than their republican predecessors. Professional playwrights selling their dramas to the magistrates responsible for celebrating the ludi were now no longer the only people active in this sphere. In a society that, as we shall presently see (Ch. 6.2–3), looked with a mixture of fascinated horror and disdain on persons actively involved with the theatre, this well-documented upward move is truly remarkable. Along with Cassius of Parma, the poets Pomponius Secundus, Persius, and Curiatius Maternus belonged to the imperial upper class: Persius hailed from local aristocracy in Volaterrae (modern Volterra), Cassius and Maternus were senators, Pomponius a consul and victorious general. In short, they came from groups for whom literature was a serious but ultimately genteel pursuit. There is only tenuous evidence for assessing when this upward move set in. It is first heard of in an anecdote involving old Accius refusing to acknowledge the higher status of one such aristocratic contender in c.100 BC. In the world of poets, it was ‘volumes rather than ancestors’ that mattered—thus the memorable upshot of the conflict, as it was later reported.3 When and how profoundly the balance later shifted is unknown—but nothing indicates that such a shift was uniform. Under the emperor Domitian (81–96), Scaevus Memor, apparently the period’s most celebrated tragic poet, seems, for instance, to have been the son of an ex-slave. Hardly, therefore, a man for whom working for money was not an option, whether he was on the payroll of an impresario or dependent on patrons—or like his contemporary, the poet and dramatist Statius, perhaps a little of both, at least in the early years of his career.4 Whatever the details, one may safely assume that some of the period’s less well-documented dramatists came from backgrounds for which there was nothing dishonourable in working for pay, in more or less direct collaboration with a company of actors (to which some might themselves have belonged). This also applies to the authors of praetextae. The very fact that Varro and Ovid refer to such plays as the Nonae caprotinae and the Claudia without mentioning their authors may well imply that they belonged to lower social strata (not therefore worth mentioning.) As for Balbus, he may of course have followed Cicero’s and Caesar’s examples in doing the job himself; alternatively, the glorification of his res gestae was perhaps the work of the otherwise obscure (but handsomely remunerated) star of his show, the actor Herennius Gallus (Ch. 5.2). In his horoscope for future dramatists and actors, Manilius is clearly not thinking of aristocrats, but of people of more modest backgrounds for whom making money from the ‘sordid’ stage raised no problems of status. 3 Val. Max. 3.7.11 (episode datable to c.100 BC); ‘volumes’: ibi voluminum, non imaginum certamina exercebantur. 4 Scaevus’ brother, the poet Turnus (cf. Mart. 11.9 and 11.10; PIR2 S 240; T 405) was libertini generis: schol. on Juv. 1.20—hence the assumption that the same applies to Scaevus himself; even if the two were only half-brothers, the family was almost certainly from the lower section of society; Statius’ working for money for the stage (prior to c.83 AD): 80 n. 31.

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1. STAGING AND RECITATION However, what matters in the present context is that historical drama at some point also became accepted as a genre by more elitist sections of the period’s literary scene. This resulted in the introduction of new approaches to production. Not that the traditional set-up, with scripts acquired at public expense for the performance at the public ludi, ceased to be an option. As we shall see (Ch. 6.6), there is no evidence to suggest a decrease in demand for all kinds of drama, including so-called serious works, year in and year out, at Rome’s and countless provincial ludi. Roman Imperial legislation identified three kinds of theatre: ‘public, private, or local’.5 For local activities, be it in ‘neighbourhoods’ or in connection with festivals at rural sanctuaries and sacred groves, the literary evidence is scarce, but archaeology confirms that many such outof-the-way places throughout the empire provided space for cultic theatre.6 As for private residences, they sometimes had fully equipped theatres, with seating in one case for a modest 140 spectators, in another for a startling total of more than 1,500; improvised stages, in private houses, peristyles, or gardens are also attested.7 From the late Republic onwards, there is—in addition to public performances—plenty of evidence for activity in such private venues.8 From Naevius in the third century BC down to Hadrian, we have names of close to thirty dramatists who wrote tragedies in Latin, but so far it is only from the Greek East that we have epigraphic evidence for festivals featuring highly awarded new tragedies. What in the present context counts, however, is that recitations, for a variety of reasons, became an option offering welcome new opportunities for many well-born dramatists. The fact that the ludi were no longer a viable venue for unbridled aristocratic self-promotion no doubt prompted this development. With actual power concentrated in the imperial dynasty, the ludi increasingly became a means of reinforcing the ruling family’s pact with the gods and urban plebs. Under this new dispensation, the room for rival claims to glory was limited Dig. 3.2.5, ‘in publico privatove vel in vico’ (the Augustan jurist Labeo). The Digests’ (71 n. 5) reference to vico may either be to local neighbourhoods (Leppin (1992) 49) or to rural festivals; archaeological evidence for cultic theatres, including those in rural areas: Nielsen (2002); Juv. 3.171–83 is a rare glimpse of a festival in such surroundings. 7 Theatres in private residences: Sear (2006) 46–7; 169; 129–30. 120–40 spectators at villa on Planasia; the capacity at the private theatre at the Pausilypum mansion of Vedius Pollio was between 1,425 and 1,785. Quint. 3.6.18 mentions a garden stage: Csapo (2010) 186. 8 Private performances: Csapo (2010) 179–204 (a ground-breaking study). Household actors and performances: Sall. Iug. 85.39; Hist. 2.70; Macrob. Sat. 2.7.17 (Pylades in Augustus’ triclinium); Sen. Q. nat. 7.32.3 (pantomimes performing in private houses); Suet. Nero 21.2; Tac. Ann. 15.39.3 (Nero’s privatis spectaculis and domesticam scaenam); aristocrats owned troups of pantomimes, mimes, and whole companies of actors: Plin. Ep. 7.24.4–5; ILS 5216 (King Juba); ILS 5205 (actors perhaps belonging to Valerius Asiaticus (RE V 106); from a private will, Modestinus (mid-third century) quotes an inheritance including ‘three tragic actors’ (enough to play most tragedies): Dig. 40.5.12. 5 6

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indeed. Such claims might now appear disturbingly challenging and, even, betray ambitions no longer to be countenanced. Once the ludi had offered young ambitious magistrates climbing the first rungs of their career ladder the opportunity to provide plays and entertainments that gave them renown and standing among plebs and electorate. But, all was now refashioned in a manner aimed at avoiding the sometimes bitter competitiveness of earlier times and restricting personal flamboyance; instead obliging all to emphasize concord and devotion to the emperor. These ends were achieved by concentrating responsibility for the ludi in the hands of a single official, the Praetor of the City, who was still expected to shoulder a large part of the financial burden (sometimes helped by friends), but whose room for manoeuvre was apparently somewhat restricted.9 The Early Empire still had aristocrats, who would look back on family tradition and try to outshine ancestors and rivals. Shows offering elephants walking a tightrope (!) would certainly have been crowd pleasers10—but apart from the fleeting honour, what was the point? The crowd was no longer the electorate and building a mob following would smack of treason. Offering a fine show thereby to advance one’s chances for a consulate, province, or prestigious priesthood would now also demand something that pleased the dynasty. By this token, the ludi increasingly became the privileged showcases of the Iulio-Claudians, with their closest friends and allies sometimes, by gracious permission, being allowed to finance games in their emperor’s honour and, in recompense, receive some reflected glory. In a process of gradual, by no means unchallenged, encroachment, imperial images were now increasingly monopolizing the frons scaenae, thus underlining the magnanimity of those who provided the ‘bread and circuses’. Best documented are events in the circus, but the theatre clearly followed suit. To take an episode from the reigns of Caligula or Claudius, during what looks like the performance of a togata or praetexta, the aulaeum would come down to let gods appear amidst the customary roar of stage thunder,11 their solemn words spoken in the traditional style and providing the cue for the chorus to

9 Changed procedures: Dio Cass. 54.2.3–4; 17.4. Friends of the dynasty offering games and plays: 54.25.2 (Balbus at his own theatre, on Augustus’ return in 13 BC); 60.23.6 (the guild of the scaenici, on Claudius’ victorious return from Britain); 63.3.1–2; Tac. Ann. 15.34.2 (Patrobius and Vatinius, in Nero’s honour). Friends helping the praetor: Sen. Ben. 2.21.5 (Julius Graecinus, under Caligula); honour: Tac. Agr. 6.4 (under Nero); Mart. 10.41 (a bankrupt praetor, late first century). 10 Elephants: young Galba was by gracious permission allowed the praetorship at a lower age than stipulated by law: Suet. Galba 6.1; as tit for tat (and by costly, sentimental habit) he would not have been the only young aristocrat to have lived up to the honour granted by the emperor by introducing a spectacular stage novelty. Otherwise a miser, Galba could afford it; but others were ruined. Rather than elephants, another praetor promised young Nero a million if he would star in his ludi, but, even for Nero, there was a limit: 75 n. 17. 11 Stage thunder announced the ‘entrance of gods’ (deorum adventus, Vitr. 5.6.8): Sall. Hist. 2.70; cf. Phaedrus 5.7.23 (quoted 73 n. 12).

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intone and—in acknowledgement of applause—repeat a recently added hymn celebrating the safe homecoming, not of Rome’s victorious army, but of its emperor.12 The stage and the emperor were now intimately linked—but still it is worth noting that aristocratic interest remained strong. In a society as fiercely competitive as the Roman, it is therefore only natural if some of those who took an interest in drama chose now to direct their efforts elsewhere. One solution was to withdraw from the crowded public theatres altogether, eschew the scenic display that some now considered vulgar and beneath their dignity (sour grapes?), and privilege instead the no doubt more elitist gatherings of private performances or recitations.

2. THE F UN (AND SHAME) IN ACTING Performing as a citharoede or actor in such restricted circles was clearly an indulgence pursued by others apart from the Emperor Nero, but it seems clear that elite reactions remained mixed. Referring to a citizen performing in a private garden in the presence of the praetor, Quintilian, an imperial critic of the first order, wonders at one point what the legal position actually is. For members of the higher orders to perform in public was after all a legal offence. But was a private garden somehow ‘in public’?13 While acting was notoriously problematic, even singing might raise serious questions of status and propriety. Despite the approval of lessons in music as part of the cultural curriculum, a feeling seems to have lingered that it was alright for the Greeks (past and present) to sing to the lyre or cithara, but, as a rule, Roman aristocrats seem to have preferred professional hirelings to provide such services. There were exceptions, but when, in the mid-first century AD, a member of the high nobility named Lucius Calpurnius Piso entertained his friends as a citharoede (like the emperor Nero perhaps in full Apollonian gear, Fig. 6.1), this was of course an activity that a young aspiring poet presenting Piso with a handsome panegyric would praise—but his poem’s twice repeated ‘don’t blush’ (ne pudeat) seems inadvertently to acknowledge that his patron’s antics were frowned upon.

12 Phaedrus 5.7.23, ‘Aulaeo misso, devolutis tonitribus/ di sunt locuti more translaticio/ tunc chorus ignotum modo reducto canticum/ insonuit, cuius haec fuit sententia:/ “laetare, incolumis Roma, salvo principe.” ’ The drama in question involves the aulaeum (used for all kinds of plays, including the mime: Cic. Cael. 65), a chorus, thunder, a flute player and gods speaking ‘in the traditional style’ (more translaticio)—the latter perhaps making a togata or a praetexta more plausible than a mime, but options remain open: Wiseman (2002) 87 = (2008) 197. 13 Quint. 3.6.18.

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Fig. 6.1. Coin minted under Nero showing Apollo in the dress that the god’s admirers would don when performing as citharoedes. Given Nero’s own involvement, the coin has, probably incorrectly, been taken as a portrait. What it advertises is official admiration for such pursuits. RIC I2 Nero 211. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Others add that Piso frequently acted in tragedy too (surely in private contexts). Still, when this same Piso later became (as it turned out) the ineffectual figurehead in a conspiracy to bring down Nero, some of the conspirators would whisperingly confess to having second thoughts: ‘What was the point in removing a citharoede (i.e. Nero), if you got a tragic actor instead?’14 This comment is of course from before Nero, horror of horrors, took to the stage himself, because when it came to acting in public, it is clear that attitudes were decidedly stricter, resulting in a determined closing of ranks against those exposing themselves—for pay and among slaves, ex-slaves, and prostitutes—to applause, boos, or ridicule on the public stage. What the great Greeks had done in this field was utterly alien, the brilliant results notwithstanding.15 The learned Varro quite wrongly, but tellingly, saw the word obscenity as etymologically

14 Nero performing as a citharoede ‘in that full scenic gear of his’ (in illo suo scaenico habitu): Suet. Nero 38.2; he also used the dress of tragic actors: ‘saltaret et cantaret (sc. Nero) in scaena in citharoedico habitu vel tragico’, Eutr. 7.14.2. Calpurnius Piso: PIR2 C 284; ‘ne pudeat’: Laus Pisonis 169; 171. Piso declaiming, writing, and acting: Laus Pisonis 84 ff.; 163 ff.; schol. on Juv. 5.109, ‘scaenico habitu tragoedias actitavit (sc. Calpurnius Piso)’; the scholiast’s reference to Piso playing dice confirms the identity with the Piso praised by the anonymous poet: Reeve (1984) 42–4; ‘citharoede or actor’: Tac. Ann. 15.65 (Nero had at that point still not performed in public as an actor). 15 The locus classicus contrasting Greek and Roman attitudes to singing, dancing, and performing is Nep. praefatio 1–5 with Bartsch (2006) 1528: to exhibit one’s Roman self on stage brought ‘disgrace’ (turpitudini); such people lost civic status and were thrown out of their tribus: Cic. Rep. 4.10. During the empire, actors were, in legal terms, infamis: Dig. 3.2.1; 3.2.2.5 with Leppin (1992) 144 ff. Such legislation continued to be infringed: Tac. Hist. 3.62.2 (in his depraved youth Fabius Valens frequently acting in mimes); Dio Cass. 67.13.1 (Domitian expelling a senator-pantomime); Juv. 8.185 (a poor noble taking pay to perform in mimes).

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linked to scaena, the Latin word for a stage; a similar ambivalence characterizes what Seneca (himself a playwright) has to say about the proverbially immoral theatre.16 The joyful or reckless abandon of a Nero, who chose of his own will to enter the theatrical fray of dramatic contests and play acting is clearly the exception that proves the rule. But even for Nero there was a limit: when offered a million sesterces for singing at public ludi, he refused, considering it below his dignity to do something for pay (instead letting one of his cronies pocket the money).17 Given this ambivalence, a compromise was needed badly. Somehow, one needed to balance the desire to show proper deference towards the great classics of drama with a profound and acknowledged social unease, ranging from aversion to contempt, when it came to actually dealing with the stage. Not for the last time in history, compromise was achieved by rigorously separating activities: one could write drama, but one could clearly not be seen to be having anything to do with actually performing it, at least not in public. True, there were exceptions, but these seem to have been carefully negotiated, either with reference to hallowed tradition (as no doubt happened when the senator Thrasea Paetus (‘virtue personified’) performed in local ludi celebrating the founder of his hometown Padua) or to one-off improvisations with a praetor or emperor persuading (or forcing) people of rank to appear on stage (a Saturnalian licence that rarely escaped adverse comments from traditionalists).18 Outside such avowedly exceptional contexts, one could apparently only venture onto the stage, if the venue were private (and even there Quintilian suggests that the situation was not entirely unproblematic). If one wanted to bow to an audience’s verdict and still stay in the clear, this could—as confirmed by the example of a Pomponius Secundus (see below)—only happen indirectly and at several removes. The actual handling of staging and masks, scripts, music,19 sets, and remuneration was, to the best of our knowledge, the duty of the officials responsible for the public games, who in general probably left much of the bother to more menial, now forgotten impresarios, the lofty (untarnished) poetry being what bestowed glory on the dramatist.20

Varro LL 7.96, ‘turpe ideo obscaenum, quod nisi in scaena palam dici non debet’. ‘beneath his dignity’ (IÆØÆ): Dio Cass. 63.21.2; cf. Suet. Nero 21.2. 18 The festival that saw Thrasea Paetus performing was only repeated every thirty years: Dio Cass. 62.26.4; Dig. 3.2.4.1 exempts stage work from infamy when part of a ‘public office’ (ministerium); Nero was seen as humiliating members of the nobility by stretching such rules to breaking point, one of the charges against Thrasea being that had he refused to participate in such performances: Dio Cass. ibid.; others had fewer scruples or less courage: Suet. Nero 11–12; Dio Cass. 57.14.3; 61.17.3–5; 19 (59 AD); Dio mentions their names, but Tacitus makes a charitable point of not naming them: Ann. 14.14.3. 19 Phaedrus 5.7.16 ff. offers a glimpse of a nobilis responsible for holding ludi (probably a praetor urbanus or one of his friends, cf. 72 n. 9) persuading the flute player, Princeps, ‘with prayers and pay’ (perducit pretio precibus . . . ) to perform in a play (cf. 78 n. 28). 20 For touring troupes (greges) of actors hired out through gang leaders or impresarios (locatores), see Leppin (1992) 177 ff. Presumably such impresarios dealt with local authorities 16 17

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The division was probably never completely clear-cut. After all, no true dramatist would consider masks and acting, props and settings wholly insignificant. Addressing the emperor Marcus Aurelius in the mid-second century, a friend reminds him of the famous tragic actor who ‘would don no mask before having for a long while contemplated its aspect to decide which gesture and voice to adopt’21—a type of contemplation also depicted in paintings and reliefs. Something similar would hold true for dramatists. Like actors and ancient literary theorists from Aristotle onwards (see Ch. 9.2–4), they would have been fully aware that the visual (with all it entails) may add significantly to a script’s potential. However, Aristotle famously insisted that the visual (opsis) was alien to tragedy proper, thus offering intellectual backing to the influential logocentric notion that a script is essentially superior to its performance. And although Horace readily admits that the visual is often more powerful than the words themselves, he clearly shares the philosopher’s ambivalence concerning its potential vulgarity. This was, Aristotle observes, an element pertaining to the humble artisan (gr. ‘banausian’) sphere of the ‘mask maker’ rather than to poetry proper. However impressive its impact, it remained problematic that a play’s visuality owed its existence to actors and artisans who—in Seneca’s contemptuous phrase—worked in the ‘money-making trades’ (meritoria artificia). With such people—no matter how gifted—the Greek and, above all, Roman elite were never entirely at ease.22 As with sculpture, even by Phidias and Polyclitus, as well as with most painting (attitudes here being less clear-cut), the results might be admirable, but there was rarely, and only in cases to be painstakingly negotiated, anything admirable in the artists—or rather artisans—themselves. The subjects and disciplines held an undeniable appeal. To them the glory of Greece lent reflected prestige, but to the careers of their practitioners hardly any at all.23

as well as the office of the praetor urbanus when putting together a repertoire for the upcoming ludi. Some troupes were renowned for their acting, others for their verbal delivery: Cic. Off. 1.114. 21 ‘tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso comtemplaret, ut pro personae vultu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem ’, Fronto De eloquentia 17 (Haines); similarly Quint. 11.3.73–5; Fantham (1982) 260 n. 260 surveys relevant visual representations. 22 Opsis unconnected with tragedy proper: Arist. Poet. 6.28 = 1450b; the impact, and vulgarity, of the visual: Hor. Ars P.180 ff.; ‘mask maker’: Arist. Poet. ibid.; meritoria artificia: Sen. Ep. 88.1 (pointedly including painters, sculptors (88.18) and otherwise admirable machinatores working for the stage (88.22)); Seneca’s dismissal of all remunerative activities as beneath his dignity: Roller (2001) 282–5. 23 To refer to but one statement: no noble youth looking at Phidias’ Olympian Zeus or Polyclitus’ Argive Hera would wish to be Phidias or Polyclitus: Plut. Per. 2.1; on Roman ambivalences towards artisans (sculptors worst, painters also problematic, architects admirable, above all if they, like Vitruvius, insisted on not being paid) see Vitr. 6, praefatio 5.

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3. UPPER CLASS ANXIETIES As illustrated by this brief survey, the anxiety that—in order to uphold status and save honour—separates the money-grubbing stage from the lofty script, the visually vulgar from the poetically exclusive, voice and body from genius and inspiration, profoundly informs Roman upper class attitudes—and also, thus, most of our sources—to everything connected with the theatre. One could, with complete respectability, write and recite drama, but getting directly involved with having it performed was a one-way ticket to utter disgrace—to illustrate which, we may begin with a case that became almost proverbial. During ludi in 47 (or 46, the date is contested), Julius Caesar arranged a performance of a mime by one of the leading dramatists of his day, Decimus Laberius. More than that, Caesar also insisted that Laberius should himself appear on stage. For Laberius, a Roman knight, writing plays brought him joy and fame, but actually acting—and for pay too—had never been an option, let alone his ambition. But Caesar was determined to change this (be it to illustrate his power or just for fun) and probably only realized too late that Laberius would know how to get even. Laberius did get even—and this from the very stage on which Caesar had forced him to make his appearance. In a prologue written for the occasion, Laberius alluded pointedly to the loss of Roman freedom, bitterly making it clear that despotic ‘Necessity’ (Necessitas) had forced him to commit what he described as social suicide, leaving him nothing to look forward to but his grave. It helped little that Caesar afterwards paid him handsomely, restoring to him the emblematic golden ring of his knighthood—because his peers in the first fourteen rows (which were reserved for knights) would now taunt him as an outcast inferior, refusing to allow him a seat. When Cicero joined the chorus, shouting (no doubt with mock solicitude) that there really were no available seats, Laberius once again scored a knockout, wittily replying that this was odd since Cicero normally sat between stools.24 Still, the humiliation of Laberius emerges clearly if one compares his shattered self-esteem and bitter attacks on Caesar’s despotic behaviour to the proud monument set up not so many decades later by one of Laberius’ social inferiors, a Roman ex-slave and actor named Fundilius Doctus. He was associated, in some way, with the cult of Diana at Nemi, in whose temple this statue was found. The statue of Fundilius was placed near one of his patron Fundilia, and this imposing ensemble was flanked on either side, and in other rooms, by groups of portrait herms, two of them featuring what one may guess 24 Laberius and Caesar: Suet. Caes. 39.2 and Macrob. Sat. 2.7.2–11; Cicero and Laberius: Sen. Controv. 7.3.9; Panayotakis (2010) 43–57 convincingly argues that Macrobius conflates an episode in 47 (Laberius’ acting) with a drama competition between the playwright Laberius and the playwright-actor Publilius Syrus in 46: 62 n. 9).

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were Fundilius’ fellow actors (or players of his ‘troupe’ (grex)?), who specialized in the so-called second and fourth parts. What matters here is that Fundilius, in his fine toga, looks, deceptively, just like any Roman freeborn of the better sort (which was no doubt the intention).25 But for all this mimicry, he also chose, for some reason, to acknowledge how he had earned his laurels (a kind of private advertisement to which a true freeborn would rarely condescend, their emphasis almost always being upon the enumeration of public honours). Inscriptions not only give his name, but also present him as a member of ‘Apollo’s Guild’ (Apollinis parasitus), thus acknowledging his links with the acting profession.26 Given his, as it seems, emblematic book scroll, as well as his byname, Doctus (‘the Learned’), he may well have been a dramatist rather than an actor (or, of course, both)—but whatever the details, the box with papyrus scrolls standing at his feet is a visual reminder that it was this latter, bookish aspect of his trade by which he wished to be remembered (Fig. 6.2). A ribbon to hold together a scroll lies untied at his feet, so originally he was presumably depicted holding one of these treasured emblems of learning in his hand—perhaps on the point of giving a reading. In any case, his monument declares that this was not just one of those (to use Seneca’s expression) to be seen on stage dressed as a king, pronouncing his lines (and paid a slave’s wages for his efforts), but a free(d) man dedicated to the literary pursuits of the free.27 If Fundilius did in fact write dramas himself, he would—being a manumitted one-time slave—have done so for money, be it alone or as part of a team of writers.28 But, as we have seen, working for money and under a contract, was something that raised problems for upper class sensibilities, since all such contractual relations were considered beneath one’s dignity. The pay often being very generous, some could not resist (or afford to resist) the temptation 25 The statues of Fundilius Doctus (ILS 5275; Leppin (1992) 232) and the herms of C. Norbanus Sorex playing partes secundae (AE (1990) 125; Leppin (1992) 297) and L. Faenius Faustus playing quartae partes (ILS 5200; Leppin (1992) 239); a reconstruction and interpretation of the original setting: Fejfer (2008) 285–305. 26 The parasiti Apollinis: Jory (1970) 237 ff.; CIL 6.37817 is dedicated to a parasitus [Apollinis], who was actor as well as poet, surely of dramas. 27 Book scrolls as an emblem: statue at Beneventum of the Late Republican grammaticus L. Orbilius Pupillus ‘sitting and dressed like a philosopher, with two bookcases at his side’ (sedentis ac palliati, appositis duobus scriniis), Suet. Gramm. 9 (with Kaster ad loc.)—the difference being that the ex-slave Fundilius chose the official dress of the Roman citizen rather than freeborn Orbilius’ Greek philosopher’s outfit. 28 Aediles or, under Augustus, the praetor urbanus buying plays: Ter. Eun., prol. 19 ff. and Ov. Tr. (80 n. 30); Plautus, Pacuvius, Terence had all ‘sold their plays’ (vendere fabulas, Suet. De poetis passim)—as was no doubt the overall rule; the reference from 46 BC to ‘all who then wrote or worked under contract for the stage’ (omnes qui tunc scripta et operas suas in scaenam locaverant, Macrob. Sat. 2.7.7) offers a glimpse into a market also active under the empire: 72 n. 9; 75 n. 19; the Augustan grammarian L. Crassicius ‘started his career behind the stage assisting those who wrote mimes’ (initio circa scenam versatus est, dum mimographos adiuvat), Suet. Gramm. 18; impresarios: 75 n. 20.

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Fig. 6.2. Fundilius Doctus, Apollinis parasitus. Roman life size marble statue (h. 183 cm) found in the sanctuary of Diana at Nemi in 1887. In the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (I.N. 707) since 1888. On the basis and the capsa holding book rolls, the ex-slave is identified as C. FVNDILIVS DOCTVS APOLLINIS PARASIT(VS), ILS 5275. © Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, København. Photo by Ole Haupt.

to hire themselves out as actors or gladiators—a disturbing phenomenon against which the Senate issued stern legislation under Augustus and again under Tiberius. Such legislation did not mention mere writing for pay (always difficult to prove); here, scorn and abuse did their utmost to make too flagrant transgressors think twice.29 29 The so-called Lex Iulia municipalis of Caesarian date (ILS 6085; Crawford (1996) no. 360, 122–3) associates actors with prostitutes, gladiators, and brothel keepers: Lebek (1990) 37–96; Leppin (1992) 71–83; 144 ff.; the S.C. Larinum from 19 AD (= AE (1983) 210) legislates sternly

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Given such prejudice and unease it should not be surprising that the exiled Ovid—already with plenty of troubles on his own plate—is so remarkably eager to emphasize that while his poetry (flatteringly often) was turned into scripts for pantomimes, which were not only performed and applauded but even drew crowds to the theatre, he himself had absolutely no hand in these transactions. As he archly observes, it was in fact Augustus who—through his Praetor of the City—paid ‘not a little’ (non parvo) for such saucy immoral stuff—but the money did not, be it noted, go to Ovid. Indeed, far from being on anyone’s payroll, Ovid had (the emphasis seems deliberate) ‘given’ (dedimus) his Medea to the tragic stage—the verb dare not only denoting performance, but also that the tragedy had been the poet’s to give—thereby distancing himself from the potential stigma of having worked for the ‘lucrative’ (and therefore tempting, but also degrading) public stage.30 Others had fewer qualms—or no solid income allowing them to turn down such offers. Seneca the Elder might sneer that even writing for such people meant polluting one’s talent. At the time of his sudden suicide, his grandson Lucan left fourteen such scripts—but, perhaps significantly, this was not an output on which his admirers would comment. ‘Prostituting himself ’, this was how the poet Juvenal viewed his clearly less well-heeled colleague Statius when he sold the celebrated pantomime, Paris, a libretto. Small wonder, therefore, if such dealings were considered almost unmentionable.31 The ambivalence and unease connected with everything theatrical32 is indirectly, but memorably, expressed by Pliny the Elder when referring to his admired friend and one time superior, the consul, general, and dramatist Pomponius Secundus, of whose life and military exploits, Pliny wrote a (sadly lost) biography. The great man had, of course—Pliny elsewhere avows—been a ‘most excellent citizen’ (clarissimus civis), but also a ‘bard’ (vates) or rather ‘a highly eminent bard and citizen’ (vates civisque clarissimus) and, crowning glory, a ‘consul-poet’ (consularis poeta).33 But it is surely noteworthy that, while Pliny is eager to link civic and poetic honours, he never once associates his idol with the stage—the world in which against those, who ‘against the dignity of their estate showed themselves on the stage’ (contra dignitatem ordinis sui in scaenam ludumv): Lebek (1990) 60. 30 Applause for Ovidian pantomimes: Ov. Tr. 5.7.25, ‘carmina quod pleno saltari nostra theatro,/ versibus et plaudi . . .’; paid by Augustus: 2.508–10, ‘tantaque non parvo crimina praetor emit./ Inspice ludorum sumptus, Auguste, tuorum:/ empta tibi magno talia multa leges.’; not written for the stage: ‘Nil equidem feci (tu scis hoc ipse) theatris’, Tr. 5.7.27; Medea: 2.553 f., ‘et dedimus tragicis scriptum regale coturnis*/ quaeque gravis debet verba coturnus habet’ (*‘tyrannis’ Housman). The stage lucrative: 2.507, ‘. . . scaena est lucrosa poetae’. Economy of the Roman stage: Lebek (1996) 29–48. 31 ‘polluit’: Sen. Suas. 2.19 (on one Abronius Silo); Lucan: vita Lucani 19; Statius: Juv. 7.86–7. 32 The stage so demeaning that an orator should avoid histrionic, actor-like gestures: Bartsch (2006) 152–64. 33 Plin. HN 7.39; 14.56; 13.83; 7.80.

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Pomponius actually earned his poetic laurels. It seems inconceivable that the biography did not somehow remedy this, but in the Naturalis Historia, Pliny is certainly remarkably silent on the subject. The poetry, not the stage, was what counted. Similarly with Seneca. As a dramatist (and theatregoer) he would praise the mimes of a fellow playwright like the ex-slave Publilius Syrus, for the wealth of verbal and philosophical excellence not directed at the cheap seats in ‘the gallery’, but at the intelligent front rows where Seneca himself was sitting—but neither in his few contemptuous references to actual actors nor, indeed, in the rest of his extensive philosophical oeuvre does one find any sign that he himself had ever had even the slightest share in the business.34 In the record of contemporaries, the image is the same: while Quintilian (as a professional literary historian) acknowledges that Seneca did write drama, an oblique reference to his carmina (‘poems’, but in some contexts also ‘tragedies’) is the closest Seneca’s admirer, Tacitus, gets to acknowledging the great man’s involvement, if not with the stage, then at least with drama.35 As for recitations, attitudes seem to have changed during the last years of Augustus. Previously, this had, in the main, been an arena featuring what were often low-born or foreign men of culture, be it philosophers, poets, professional rhetors, or such like. Now, literary-minded members of the upper classes joined the fray—not all and not without initial hesitation. True, some showed no qualms in going public but others insisted on restricting such activities to the private sphere of their own homes—or to the new option of purpose-built auditoria.36 There was, of course, the bother of arranging for a properly equipped venue; add to this the risk of causing displeasure and the indignity and social unease of being judged, or perhaps even being disparaged, by people of sometimes inferior standing (which latter aspect made some Augustan aristocrats refuse to join in).37 But restrictions on access to the right 34 Seneca’s admiration for Syrus when his aim went beyond pleasing ‘the gallery’ (verba ad summam caveam spectantia): De tranquillitate animi 11.8; similarly Ep. 8.8; in the theatre, Seneca’s own seat was of course in the front fourteen: De beneficiis 7.12.3–4. Seneca on actors (hirelings playing kings, but paid the wages of slaves): 88 n. 66. 35 carmina: Tac. Ann. 14.52.3; at Ann. 11.13.1 and Dial. 11.2, 12.1, and 14.2, he likewise calls Pomponius’ and Maternus’ tragedies carmina; Seneca’s poemata: Quint. 10.1.129. 36 In the early first century, the aristocrat Q. Haterius (PIR2 H 24) was noted for having opted for public declamation (Controv. 4, praefatio 7, ‘declamabat autem Haterius admisso populo ex tempore’)—but Haterius was not of the best reputation. By contrast, the much admired rhetor, C. Albucius Silus (PIR2 A 489) used a hall in his home for declamations—presumably for invited groups: Sen. Controv. 7, praefatio 8; he even ‘created auditoria for himself ’ (propria auditoria instituit), Suet. De grammaticis 30.3 (with Kaster ad loc.); see further Tamm (1963) 8–23. 37 Speaking with ‘censorial severity’ (censorium supercilium), a late Augustan senator still considered declamation in public ‘debasing and a sign of frivolous bragging’ (turpe ac frivolae iactationis): Sen. Controv. 10, praefatio 4 (Titus Labienus, PIR2 L 19); in support, Labienus quoted the attitude of Asinius Pollio: ‘ille triumphalis senex IŒæ Ø suas [id est declamationes suas] numquam populo commisit’, Controv. 4, praefatio 2; Sen. (ibid.) agrees that Pollio either

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sort of people would probably have minimized the risk of a flop. A tradition has it that the Augustan statesman and poet Asinius Pollio (who wrote to Cicero about Balbus’ praetexta (Ch. 5.2) was the first to recite his works for a group of invited and, no doubt, carefully selected persons.38 But, while this may well have been a novelty—opinion is divided on this point—it is clearly an oversimplification for modern scholars to present Pollio as being responsible for having introduced recitations as such.39 Peter Wiseman has rightly emphasized that recitations for smaller or larger groups were already a feature of literary life in the Rome of the second century BC. The Greek philosopher, Crates of Mallos, who lectured sensationally on poetry and philosophy in Rome in 168 BC, is mentioned as a pioneer. In fact he had forerunners, but what matters is that the manner caught on. As illustrated by Suetonius’ Lives of the Grammarians and Rhetors (c.120), readings of Ennius’ Annales ‘on fixed days and to a large crowd’, of Lucilius’ satires and of the doctrines of philosophers were part of what the literary scene of the second century BC had to offer. Cicero considered using the procedure (but, probably characteristically, at one remove, with the aid of an ex-slave reader and surely among connoisseurs) to try out the effect of his De Gloria and Vergil’s much admired readings for highly select audiences (at which an imperial lady would faint and he himself sometimes improvise) are well documented. Then, as earlier, it was at such gatherings, often in auditoria during the empire, that the literary set would gather, gossip, and listen.40

had little trust in the crowd’s critical assessment or, more probably, that ‘so great an orator considered such effort beneath his intellectual dignity—so he wanted the practice, but was too proud to accept the praise’ (sive quia parum in illis habuit fiduciam sive—quod magis crediderim—tantus orator inferius id opus ingenio suo duxit et exerceri quidem illo volebat, gloriari fastidiebat). 38 Sen. Controv. 4, praefatio 2, ‘Pollio Asinius numquam admissa multitudine declamavit nec illi ambitio in studiis defuit. primus enim omnium Romanorum advocatis hominibus scripta sua recitavit’. The meaning of the passage is contested; often overlooked, Funaioli (1914) 444 is surely right that Seneca’s main emphasis is on the contrast between admissa multitudine (‘opening the doors for all and sundry’) and advocatis hominibus (‘for persons, who had been invited’). In the context of recitation, advocare means ‘to invite’: Sen. Suas. 6.27, ‘recitaturus . . . Pollionem . . . advocaverat (sc. Sextilius); Plin. Ep. 7.17.12, ‘advocare . . . certos electosque soleo’; 5.12.1, ‘recitaturus . . . advocavi aliquos’. 39 Zwierlein (1966) 156 follows Friedländer (192210) 226 in presenting Pollio as being the first ever to have recited his writings to a larger public. 40 Building on Tamm (1963) 20 Wiseman (1987) 253–4 elucidates the evidence concerning public readings by Crates and Ennius (Suet. Gramm. 2.2 and 2.4), by philosophers in the seventies (Varro Menippea 517B (Astbury), and of Cicero’s De gloria (Att. 16.2.6; 3.1), suggesting that Pollio’s innovation may be linked to the emergence of the literary auditorium. Ennius was recited ‘certis diebus in magna frequentia’: Suet. Gramm. 2.4 with Kaster. Vergil read his own works, ‘in a closed circle, with few present’, privatim paucis praesentibus, Serv. on Verg. Aen. 4.323; Seneca the Elder reported contemporary praise of Vergil’s ‘voice, tone and dramatic delivery’ (vocem . . . os et hypocrisin, Donat. Vit. Verg. 29).

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4. TRAGEDY ON THE ROMAN STAGE, FROM NERO TO TRAJAN As we shall see in the next chapter, this new vogue also provided the praetextae with new venues. Recitations now became an alternative to performance, but it is unwarranted to infer (as commonly happens) that this alternative somehow became the norm, performances the exception. Nor is there (despite assertions to the contrary) evidence to suggest that literary tragedy (or, for that matter, praetextae) ‘had ceased to appear on the public stage well before the time of Nero’ (i.e. prior to 54 AD).41 While this remains a strongly contested issue, those allowing for performance have, in my view rightly, based their case on evidence suggesting a more diversified, open-ended process42 with recitation by no means supplanting, but often preceding, performance, a position that can be strongly reinforced by looking systematically at the evidence concerning Roman tragedy from early in the reign of Nero to the end of Trajan’s (54–117). True, this evidence, which comes from some of the period’s main literary protagonists, such as Seneca and Pomponius Secundus, Quintilian, and Pliny the Younger, does not allow us to posit an outline of the repertoire, let alone determine what precisely the real ratio was. The hazards of transmission as well as aristocratic ambivalenceridden non-involvement in matters practical has only permitted a very limited range of information to slip through. Even so, it can be shown that these four key witnesses all took performance of tragedy for granted, one of them even quoting people still considering good old performance the only proper thing. To begin with this latter view, a letter from Pliny the Younger, published roughly midway through the reign of Trajan (98–117), is of crucial interest.43 As a point of departure, Pliny is indeed very well suited since he himself was an assiduous frequenter of recitations, events about which he reports so often that it has sometimes given rise to the mistaken notion that in Pliny’s Rome public readings were in fact the only medium through which comedy and tragedy were still to be heard.44 It is therefore worthwhile taking a hard look at the letter in question (which in the present context has been strangely neglected). 41 ‘well before the time of Nero’: thus scholars from Friedländer (192210) ii, 119 and Fantham (1996) 151 to Manuwald (2011) 124 (no regular, full scale performances from the early Augustan period onwards). 42 Boyle (2006) 238–9. 43 The letter’s date: Sherwin-White (1966) 37 with Syme (1985) 175–84 = (1988) 478–89. Plin. Ep. 7.17.2–3, ‘fuisse quosdam, qui reprehenderent, quod orationes omnino recitarem . . . a quibus libenter requisierim, cur concedant (si concedunt tamen) historiam debere recitari, quae non ostentationi, sed fidei veritatique componitur; cur tragoediam, quae non auditorium, sed scaenam et actores, cur lyrica, quae non lectorem, sed chorum et lyram poscunt. At horum recitatio usu iam recepta est’. 44 Sherwin-White (1966) ad Plin. Ep. 6.21.2 is clearly mistaken in claiming that Pliny only refers to the recitation of drama.

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In it, Pliny informs a friend of his intention to recite one of his speeches prior to actually delivering it in public. Interestingly, Pliny feels constrained to defend this new approach by asking why it is that those criticizing such a move ‘allow (if indeed they allow)’ (cur concedant (si concedunt tamen)) history (which after all is written for more serious purposes than mere ostentation) to be recited?45 In the same vein, he proceeds to ask why they allow tragedies to be recited. After all, tragedies ‘do not demand an auditorium but a stage and actors’ (quae non auditorium, sed scaenam et actores . . . poscunt). And finally, Pliny asks why they allow lyrics, which require a chorus and the sound of the lyre, to be read out plainly. Insofar as the said critics accept recitation, they do so, Pliny continues, because, ‘recitation of such works has by now become accepted practice’ (at horum recitatio usu iam recepta est)— the implication clearly not being that recitation had replaced performance, but that developments had led to a coexistence of the two modes of representation. If I am not mistaken, neither Pliny nor, for that matter, anyone else can be quoted claiming that the introduction of recitation had altered the status of what was still felt to be proper procedure. For Pliny and his Trajanic readers, history was still about facts (and still published to be read),46 lyrics still lyrics (and still sung to the lyre)47 and the natural place for a tragedy remained the theatre with its ‘stage and actors’ (just as the natural place for a speech remained the law courts and Senate). Recitation had not and, Pliny reassuringly insists, would not alter this. Pliny offers an example by quoting an anecdote about the great Imperial dramatist, Pomponius Secundus, who—like Vergil48 before him—liked using recitations to try out his work on friends and connoisseurs. Quintilian (who in his youth witnessed the proceedings) reports that, at one such event, the rival stars of imperial tragedy, Seneca and Pomponius, had discussed the propriety of a specific phrase.49 Pliny adds that if a friend taking part in such a discussion suggested a change that Pomponius considered unjustified, he was in the habit 45

References in Pliny to recitation: 86 n. 58. History being recited (but also published): Sen. Controv. 10, praefatio 8 (T. Labienus); Plin. Ep. 4.7.2; 9.27. 47 Plin. Ep. 4.19.4: a young lady sings his lyrics; 5.19.3: his lector, the ex-slave Zosimus, knew how to use the cithara; so did Nero and Titus: Suet. Nero 20.1; Tit. 3.2—and countless others: Wille (1967) 350 f. 48 Donat. Vit. Verg. 33: Vergil ‘also recited for larger groups, but not often, and as a rule presenting passages on which he was in doubt so that he could better assess audience reactions’ (recitavit et pluribus, sed neque frequenter et ea fere de quibus ambigebat, quo magis iudicium hominum experiretur); Vergil’s admirer, Silius Italicus, would likewise recite his poetry to test ‘people’s reactions’ (iudicia hominum): Plin. Ep. 3.7.5. 49 Seneca and Pomponius: Quint. 8.3.31 (with Cichorius (1922) 426–9). The episode is datable to between 49 (Seneca’s return from exile) and the mid-fifties (Pomponius’ death—on which cf. 145 n. 4). Tarrant (1995) 222 suggests that Seneca would have objected to the archaism of the expression ‘gradus eliminat’. 46

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of politely deferring the issue, always using the old-fashioned expression ‘I lay my case before the people’ (Ad populum provoco). An old-fashioned formula, traditionally used when invoking the aid of the Roman people against an implacable magistrate or judge,50 it is here, metaphorically, transferred to the world of the theatre. Rather than obeying his stern ‘judge’ (i.e. his critic and friend), Pomponius would appeal to the arbitration of an audience seeing his new play (as in Pomponius’ metaphor, it was standard to describe an audience as the ‘people’).51 True, this designation is sometimes also used of audiences at a reading or declamation,52 but for Pliny’s argument to cohere he needed a case where recitation did not preclude, but was actually known to have gone hand in hand with performance in a theatre—and this is clearly what the anecdote about Pomponius offered. From his populus-audience Pomponius would hear a verdict in the form of ‘either silence or applause’ (vel silentio vel adsensu)53 and then decide whether or not to change his tragedy’s text or plot. Now, adsensus and its synonym consensus are designations for the loud and cheering response of Roman audiences praising what they appreciated, be it in a speech or a play.54 In contrast, disapproving silentium was how an audience would react, when pointedly refusing to give their adsensus.55 Pomponius’ pre-première reading and debate was, in other words, no substitute for real performance (which is why Pliny, eager to stress that recitation did not 50 The formula ‘provoco ad populum’: Livy 2.55.5; 3.56.12; 8.33.7 and 37.51.4; note also Pomponius’ rival Seneca Ep. 117.7, ‘non faciam quod victi solent, ut provocem ad populum’. 51 For populus referring to an audience at ludi and in theatres (cf. Welcker (1839–41) 1458–9): ILS 5213 = ILLRP 803, POPVLO APPARVI; ILS 5221 = ILLRP 804, MIMVS . . . FECIT POPVLO . . . GAVDIA. Cic. Div. 2.104 (85 n. 54); ‘populus . . . lacrimavit’, thus the tragedian Pupius’ epitaph (21 n. 11); similarly, Vitr. 5.9.1; Vell. Pat. 2.79.6; Val. Max. 8.7.7, ‘spectante populo’; similarly, Sen. Ep. 76.31 (87 n. 65); Quint. 11.3.180; Tac. Dial. 13.2; Suet. Aug. 68 (85 n. 54). 52 Declamation: Sen. Controv. 4, praefatio 7 ‘admisso populo’. Recitation: Gell. NA 18.5.2–3, a reading from Ennius’ Annales ‘ad populum’ in the theatre of Puteoli (mid-second century AD). 53 Plin. Ep. 7.17.11, ‘Itaque Pomponius Secundus (hic scriptor tragoediarum), si quid forte familiarior amicus tollendum, ipse retinendum arbitraretur, dicere solebat: ‘Ad populum provoco’ atque ita ex populi vel silentio vel adsensu aut suam aut amici sententiam sequebatur. Tantum ille populo dabat. Recte an secus, nihil ad me. Ego enim non populum advocare, sed certos et electos soleo’. 54 Adsensus in the theatre: Cic. Brut. 290 (‘crebrae adsensiones’ directed at a speaker whose delivery was similar to that of Roscius himself on stage); Div. 2.104, ‘magno plausu . . . assentiente populo’ (a tragedy by Ennius in the theatre); Suet. Aug. 68, ‘sed et populus quondam universus ludorumque die et accepit in contumeliam eius (sc. Augusti) et adsensu maximo conprobavit versum in scaena pronuntiatum’; Tac. Dial. 10.7, ‘ingentis . . . assensus’; Macrob. Sat. 2.7.2, Syrus ‘mimos . . . ingenti adsensu in Italiae oppidis agere coepisset’; consensus in theatres: Cic. Phil. 1.30, ‘recordare, quaeso, Dolabella, consensum illum theatri’ and Sen. Ep. 108.8,’non vides quemadmodum theatra consonent quotiens aliqua dicta sunt quae publice adgnoscimus et consensu vera esse testamur’. 55 Disapproving silentium as opposed to adsensus: Tac. Ann. 2.38.4, ‘haec atque talia, quamquam cum adsensu audita ab iis, quibus omnia principum, honesta atque inhonesta, laudare mos est, plures per silentium aut occultum murmur excepere’; similarly, Ann. 1.34.4; Hist. 3.67.2.

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prevent real performance, would quote this reassuringly traditional example). However, where Pliny himself preferred orderly, decorous recitations (a preference strongly in evidence in his letters), Pomponius clearly made a point of regarding performances as having the greater authority, be it in relation to the wider audience or because it represents the moment when the true potential of a script finally stands revealed. On this latter view, Pomponius did not stand alone. Quintilian, his junior admirer and, more importantly, Rome’s leading literary authority in the last quarter of the first century, discusses theatre along similar lines, at one point evoking the way in which ‘stage actors’ (scaenici actores) can heighten the quality even of the ‘greatest of poets’ (optimis poetarum), so that one gets ‘infinitely greater pleasure from hearing their work than from reading it’ (infinito magis eadem illa audita quam lecta delectent).56 Since Quintilian refers to the enjoyment of listening, one might be tempted to infer that he is thinking of recitation in this passage, but this is unlikely for three reasons. Watching performances clearly involved more than merely watching. Then as now, ‘delivery and voice’ (to quote Seneca) also came into it.57 Not necessarily recitation, therefore. Second, Quintilian is explicitly referring to ‘stage actors’, scaenici actores. But Roman actors did not recite. They acted. Nowadays, we often get actors reading, but, in antiquity, the bonus was for the authors themselves to recite their works.58 Add to this, individual enthusiasts or professionals (be it freeborn, ex-slaves, or slaves) reciting in public or private, at home or in theatres, baths, basilicas or at banquets in their masters’ homes.59 Clearly,

56 Quint. 11.3.4, ‘Documento sunt vel scaenici actores qui et optimis poetarum tantum adiciunt gratiae ut nos infinito magis eadem illa audita quam lecta delectent’; poetae cover numerous genres including drama. 57 Sen. Ep. 108.6, ‘sicut in theatrum voluptatis causa ad delectandas aures oratione vel voce vel fabulis ducimur’ (the way we are drawn to the theatre, for the mere pleasure of enjoying delivery, voice or the plays themselves). 58 At Rome as in Athens (Cic. Brut. 191 (Antimachus); Apul. Flor. 16 (Philemon reading his latest comedy in a theatre) and Alexandria (Vitr. 7. praefatio 4–7) authors commonly recited their own works: Serv. on Verg. Buc. 6.11 (Vergil reciting the 6th of the Bucolics to ‘immense applause’ (ingenti favore)); Ov. Pont. 4.2.37 (his own works); Sen. Suas. 2.19 (Abronius Silo); 6.27 (Sextilius); Controv. 2.4.8 (Latro); 4, praefatio 2 (Pollio); 10, praefatio 8 (Labienus); Suet. Nero 10.2 (Nero); Sen. Ep. 122.11–13 (Julius Montanus); ‘Suetonius’ Vita Persii 6 (Persius); Petron. Sat. 90.1; 90.5; 91.3 (Eumolpus); Mart. 1.63.1; 52 (Martial and another poet); Tac. Dial. 2–3 (Maternus: a praetexta); Plin. Ep. 1.5.2 (Regulus); 1.13.1 (poets); 1.13.3 (Nonianus); 3.7.5 (Silius Italicus); 3.18.4; 5.12.1 and 7.17.1; 6.21.2 (a comedy writer); 7.17.12 (Pliny himself); 4.7.2 (Regulus); 5.17 (a Calpurnius Piso); 7.17 (Pomponius Secundus); 8.12 (Titinius Capito); 9.27 (unidentified historian). 59 Pliny gladly heard comedies at banquets (3.1.9; 9.40.2); such readings involved a reader called a comoedus or his own reader (5.9) Zosimus, who mastered comedy, poetry, oratory and history; Gell. NA 18.5.2–3 reports from a so-called Ennianista reciting Ennius in a theatre; Trimalchio had his own Homeristae at dinner: Petron. Sat. 59.2; local authorities could provide someone ‘very vocal’ (vocalissimus aliquis) to undertake public readings: Plin. Ep. 4.7.2.

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none of this is what Quintilian (rarely at a loss for le mot juste) has in mind when he twice evokes performances involving stage actors. Finally, he locates these performances in theatres. True, theatres were also for recitations, but then the show would be in the hands of an author or rhetor, not ‘stage actors’.60 It seems to follow that what had given rise to Quintilian’s joy were live performances of one of the great classics, sometimes (we all know) better in the theatre than when read. Interestingly, Quintilian had also experienced the opposite, i.e. that scripts that had ‘no place in libraries turned out to be a frequent stage hit’ (quibus nullus est in bibliothecis locus, sit etiam frequens in theatris)—which again was due to the said scaenici actores.61 Sadly, we have no idea which plays these were. It seems clear, however, that Quintilian speaks from experience. Not only was he familiar with the top actors and dramatists of his own day,62 but he had also often himself been backstage (as it were). There, he reports, ‘I have frequently seen’ (vidi ego saepe) actors going off-stage ‘after some emotionally-charged performance’ (ex aliquo graviore actu) and taking off their masks, only to reveal that they too had been moved to tears by what they had been performing (given the nature of their emotions sometimes, surely, tragedy).63 Without ever mentioning his own involvement (one was, after all, a peer of the realm as well as of the world of letters64), Seneca (to quote a third witness) likewise took his readers’ familiarity with the tragic stage for granted, for instance when evoking how actors of tragedy would dress, move, and speak when playing the role of kings.65 At one point, he cites a tragic actor playing Atreus, who defines the expanse of his realm in lines of the iambic kind 60

Authors or professionals reciting in theatres: 86 n. 58 (Philemon); 86 n. 59 (an Ennianista); Petron. Sat. 90.5 (Eumolpus); by contrast the mime Lycoris (immortalized by Gallus as Cytheris) ‘performed’ (cantasset in theatro, Serv. on Verg. Buc. 6.11) Vergil’s Bucolica ‘on stage’; apparently she did so with (or as part of) a troupe of can[ta]tores (Donat. Vit. Verg. 26) and perhaps with the poet himself in the audience: Tac. Dial. 13.2. Close links between cantores and mimes: Hor. Sat. 1.2.2–3; Hist. Aug. 30.16.7. 61 Quint. 11.3.4, ‘et vilissimis etiam quibusdam impetrant aures (sc. scaenici actores) ut quibus nullus est in bibliothecis locus, sit etiam frequens in theatris’. From the character of the emotions (tears, anger, worry) mentioned, it seems clear that Quintilian is referring to dramas identical with or close to tragedy: ‘Quod si in rebus quas fictas esse scimus et inanes, tantum pronuntiatio potest, ut iram, lacrimas, sollicitudinem adferat, quanto plus e.q.s.’. 62 The two greatest Flavian comedians: Quint. 11.3.178; ‘of the writers of tragedy’, Quintilian had seen, ‘Pomponius Secundus was by far the most outstanding’ (eorum quos viderim longe princeps Pomponius Secundus, 10.1.98); the wording suggests that he was thinking of more than just Seneca whose Medea is the only work of Pomponius’ rivals that he quotes: 9.2.8. 63 Quint. 6.2.35, ‘vidi ego saepe histriones atque comoedos cum ex aliquo graviore actu personam deposuissent, flentes adhuc egredi’. 64 Seneca the ‘principe tum eruditorum’: Plin. HN 14.51. 65 Applause in the theatre: 85 n. 54; tragic kings (in reality slaves paid five denarii): Sen. Ep. 76.31, ‘Nemo ex istis . . . felix est, non magis quam ex illis quibus sceptrum et chlamydem in scaena fabulae adsignant; cum praesente populo lati incesserunt et cothurnati’.

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traditionally spoken (evidence in open and, to my knowledge, unacknowledged conflict with the oft-repeated notion that tragedy was no longer performed, tragic actors only singing soli and excerpts).66 True, there is evidence from the following century showing that excerpts of tragedy, including scenes in speech verse, were sometimes set to music, but it is noteworthy that some considered such delivery vulgar. In any case, there is no indication that Seneca is alluding to such a practice here. Far from it, he is in this and a parallel passage unmistakably referring to a spoken delivery (dicit . . . ait).67 Nor is there any reason to assume that Seneca is merely quoting lines from no-longer performed classics. Far from it: he goes out of his way to cast these episodes in the present, carefully contextualizing by describing the mien, movement, and poor pay of the tragic actors actually pronouncing these lines—not an approach suggesting that his readers no longer heard and saw such acting.68 Seneca further reports how audiences would respond to a fine line. He praises Publilius Syrus’ mimes, ‘many of his verses worthy to be pronounced by those wearing the tragic cothurni (i.e. tragic actors)’, a somewhat backhanded compliment if no such actors were active. Speaking of such actors, Seneca elsewhere evokes their eloquent gestures, along with the fearsome aspect of their tragic and comic masks, which proverbially frightened children,69 and acknowledges knowing the pleasure of hearing the delivery and voices of such actors—a pleasure that, along with the ‘plays’ (fabulis) themselves, is sufficient, Seneca insists, to ‘drag us’ (ducimur, a rare, potentially selfinvolving, slip) to the theatre.70 Sen. Ep. 80.7–8 twice refers to what tragic actors would say on stage: the first is a slave performing for pay, but on stage a monarch who haughtily ‘pronounces’ (dicit) three lines of speech verse from an Atreus perhaps also familiar to Cicero (cf. Orator 163) and Quintilian (88 n. 67): ‘En impero Argis, regna mihi liquit Pelops/ qua Ponto ab Helles atque ab Ionio mari/ urgetur Isthmus . . .’ (TRF3 ex incertis incertorum, lv = TrRF i, Adespota fr. 97); addressing a king, Seneca’s second tragic actor (80.8) is likewise a pauper who ‘speaks’ (ait) for pay; and his verse is, again, a speech verse: TRF3ex incertis incertorum, xv = TrRF i, Adespota fr. 98. 67 West (2007) 1–10 surveys the second-century evidence for speech verse set to music; such delivery vulgar: Lucian De saltatione 27; in spoken delivery, the verses quoted by Seneca (88 n. 66) would heighten pathos: Quint. 9.4.140, ‘itaque tragoediae, ubi necesse est, adfectamus etiam tumorem ex spondeis atque iambis quibus maxime continetur: ‘En impero . . . Pelops’). 68 Nilsson (1906) 23 influentially saw Seneca’s report (88 n. 66) from the Neronian stage as referring to conditions in the past. But Seneca uses verbs referring to the present (dicit . . . ait). Surely, the passage refers to what Seneca’s readers would hear spoken from a stage: Ribbeck (1875) 627f. 69 Response: Sen. Ep. 108.8; Syrus: Sen. Ep. 8.8, ‘quam multa Publilii non excalceatis, sed cothurneatis dicenda sunt’ (the tense, notably, being present or future); gestures: Ep. 11.7, ‘artifices scaenici qui imitantur adfectus, qui metum et trepidationem exprimunt, qui tristitiam repraesentant, hoc indicio imitantur verecundiam: deiciunt enim voltum, verba submittunt, figunt in terram oculos et deprimunt’ (given the nature of the feelings, sometimes, surely, in tragedy). Masks (comic and tragic): Sen. De constantia sapientis 5.2; De ira 2.11.2; Ep. 24.13; under the Flavians and Hadrian, Mart. 14.176 and Juv. 3.175 make the same point. 70 Seneca being ‘drawn to the theatre’: 86 n. 57; Seneca on what ‘we’ experience in the theatre: 85 n. 54. 66

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Quintilian is more specific (perhaps because his business is literature and his professorial status less compromised by his involvement), for instance, when referring to the sheer diversity of the way comic and tragic actors would use masks, and how these would amplify their voices. When looking around for a parallel to the majestic voice of a contemporary orator, Quintilian is, like Cicero a century before, in no doubt with what category of talent to compare him. He too lists tragic actors—except that this rhetor stood above ‘all the tragedians’ Quintilian had heard himself (super omnis quos ego quidem audierim tragoedos); indeed, his ‘delivery was equal to the demands of the stages’ (pronuntiatio vel scaenis suffectura)—an appraisal that would be distinctly pointless, if tragic actors were no longer speaking, but only singing. In fact, Quintilian seems remarkably unaware that tragedy proper had long since ‘ceased to be performed on the public stage’.71 He frequently invokes shared knowledge: for instance, of the way actors in comedy move, of the way Greek comedians annoyingly overdo it when mimicking females,72 and of the way tragic actors performing the roles of such diverse characters as Aërope, Medea, Ajax, and Hercules would intensify their scenic presence by means of their masks. When handling masks, Quintilian adds, actors needed to be deeply aware of their impact, since they use ‘many such masks, each differing from the other’ (multis et variis) One suspects that a reason for this was the conventional use of only three actors to play all parts, sometimes leading to frequent changes within the same play.73 True, it has often been claimed that serious drama had by this time long since disintegrated into its constituent parts, with excerpts and soli (sometimes with chorus) being all that was offered.74 On this reading, all the above references are to such brief recitals, be it with soloists, commonly accompanying their performance with the cithara, or with soloists accompanied by others. In short, ‘Vissi d’arte’ but no Tosca, ‘Liebestod’ but no Tristan (as it were).

71 tragoedos: Quint. 12.5.5; scaenis: 10.1.119. Tac. Hist. 1.90.2 confirms the glory of Trachalus’ voice ‘ad implendas populi aures latum et sonans’. 72 Quint. 11.3.112, ‘in fabulis iuvenum, senum, militum, matronarum gravior ingressus est, servi, ancillulae, parasiti, piscatores citatius moventur’ (the cast of characters showing that he is thinking of mime and comedy). Greek comedy: 11.3.91. 73 Quint. 11.1.38, ‘maior in personis observatio est apud tragicos comicosque: multis enim utuntur et variis’; 11.3.74 offers a detailed outline on the use of masks in comedy. Impact on spectators, 6.1.26: ‘ut scaenicis actoribus eadem vox eademque pronuntiatio plus ad movendos adfectus sub persona valet’; 11.3.73, ‘itaque in iis quae ad scaenam componuntur fabulis artifices pronuntiandi a personis quoque adfectus mutuantur ut sit Aërope in tragoedia tristis, atrox Medea, attonitus Aiax, truculentus Hercules’. 74 The hypothesis that imperial tragedy dissolved into its constituent parts gained ground from the mid-nineteenth century onwards: cf. e.g. Nisard (1834) 119ff.; Boissier (1857) 263 and Friedländer (192210) ii, 121 ff.; hence the widely accepted claim that all or most references to performances of plays should be understood accordingly (cf. 91 n. 79; 82; 83; 92 n. 86).

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Often quoted but rarely discussed, the basis upon which this description of the period’s theatre rests is, on closer inspection, problematic. What the evidence suggests is, rather, the coexistence of a multitude of possible venues ranging from private to public theatres, offering everything from recitation and sung soli to the performance of traditional five-act drama; even allowing for ups and downs, this situation seems to hold from the first well into the fourth century AD.75 So, some of the above references are perhaps to soloists, but as I shall argue, the inference that they are all so, is a simplification not supported by the evidence. In the letter discussed above, it is, for instance, hardly a coincidence that Pliny describes the proper venue of tragedy as scaenam et actores, i.e. ‘a stage (in the singular) and actors (in the plural)’. What he envisages is clearly a staged performance, not just with soli, but with actors sharing a stage and interacting with each other. Similarly, to turn to Nero, the Roman first-century tragic actor whose antics—for better and worse—are by far the best documented, such evidence as we have is, I think, incompatible with the notion that tragedy of the period was synonymous with solo singing.76

5. THE E MPEROR-ACTOR In matters theatrical, Nero was a stickler for the rules. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume—as it indeed always has been—that his record offers an, in its totality, extreme, but in its details, fairly representative, glimpse of what was regularly to be seen.77 More wide-ranging than most, Nero would, of course, sometimes appear on stage dressed in a tunic, wearing buskins, and performing solos accompanied by the lyre. But in other cases, he would wear tragic cothurni and masks78 and clearly play opposite others, doing what ‘ordinary actors’ did and—to quote a horrified eyewitness—‘imitate all the situations of mythology by what he said and by what was said to him, by what he submitted to and by what he did’. This report is from a speech in which an early third-century historian outlines what in AD 68 impelled many Romans to throw off their allegiance and join in open revolt, but what matters here is 75

Coexistence of performances of solos and entire dramas: Kelly (1979) 21–44; Dihle (1983) 162–71; Csapo (2010) 194; tragic actors singing excerpts and soli: Hall (2002) 3–38; performance of classical style tragedy till the mid third century: Barnes (1996) 170–3; second to fourth century Roman performances of five-act drama: 94 n. 98–9. 76 Nero’s acting: Lesky (1966a) 335–51; Kelly (1979) 28 ff. and Champlin (2003) 53–83 (the latter laying new foundations). 77 Nero’s respect for what was customarily expected of actors: Suet. Nero 23.2–24. 78 Nero’s singing to the lyre wearing tunic and cothurni versus performing wearing cothurni and masks: Dio Cass. 63.22.4; his Roman ‘triumph’ in late 67, recorded ‘the songs or plays by which he had won’ (quo cantionum quove fabularum argumento vicisset): Suet. Nero 25.1.

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that this and similar reports unmistakably present Nero as an actor in active interaction with other actors rather than a soloist singing excerpts.79 In fact, both Dio and Suetonius distinguish clearly between Nero’s Greek exploits as a lyre player and as a tragic actor.80 Both, moreover, agree that, in tragedy, he was playing opposite others, for instance in the ‘Blind Oedipus’ where he— much as in Sophocles’ Oedipus Colonus—would appear on stage guided, as are the blind, by an attendant, be it Antigone or some other relative.81 Similarly, both mention an episode where Nero lost and picked up his royal sceptre, an error that made him squirm until his co-actor (hypocrita) calmed him down by swearing that no one had noticed.82 In accordance with the idea of Nero as a singing actor only performing in soli, this co-actor has sometimes been interpreted as an ‘accompanist playing the aulos and enacting the silent mime while illustrating the words of Nero’s song’83—but the notion (based upon late and dubious authority) of the flute player playing and at the same time performing a silent mime simply will not stand up. Surely, Suetonius is referring to another ‘actor’, this being the ordinary meaning of hypocrites. To Dio’s readers, finally, there was apparently nothing unusual in ‘ordinary actors . . . speaking and acting and submitting to actions (i.e. of others)’.84 Closer to events, this was also how Suetonius’ early second-century readers would have seen an actor’s metier, the difference for both authors being that this was a Roman emperor demeaning himself and his office by performing in public, by wearing cothurni, masks, and typical stage props, by playing (not reciting) the roles of mythological figures like Oedipus and Orestes,85 by bowing to applause and by accepting that his character was maltreated and Nero behaving like ‘ordinary actors’: 91 n. 84; Vindex’ speech:  Æ ‹Æ ıŁºª E ÆØ ŒÆd º ª Æ ŒÆd IŒ Æ ŒÆd å Æ ŒÆd æH Æ, Dio Cass. 63.22.5. Like Beare (1964) 233–4 and Lesky (1966a) 348; 351, Dihle (1983) 165 does not address this evidence when claiming that Nero—and his Roman contemporaries—mit grösster Wahrscheinlichkeit (169) only performed in soli. More cautiously, Kelly (1979) 36 and Hall (2002) 26–7 agree that the soli came with dialogue and interaction (and, of course, a speech verse, 92 n. 89)—the former (p. 36) acknowledging, ‘that the production of concert tragedy (i.e. the kind in which Nero performed) must have resembled in many ways the most ancient method of staging tragedies’ (italics added). 80 Dio Cass. 63.9; Suet. Nero 20–21.2 (singing); 21.3 (tragic acting); 22–22.2 (chariots), then (22.3–24.2) presenting anecdotes concerning his involvement in all these activities. 81 Suet. Nero 21.3; Dio Cass. 63.9.4; 22.6. 82 Nero’s masks, sceptre (baculum), and fellow actor (hypocrita): Suet. Nero 21.3; 24.1; the ordinary meaning of a hypokrites is ‘actor’, but Lesky (1966a) 351 would go no further than agreeing that Nero went on stage with ‘andere Personen’. 83 Thus Beacham (1991) 148 (following Friedländer (192210) ii, 123, Kierdorf ad 24.1 ‘der den Gesang durch Gesten und Mienenspiel begleitete’ and Lewis & Short translate Suetonius’ ‘hypocrita iuvante’, a rendering rightly rejected by Lesky (1966a) 349 ff.; Kelly (1979) 34. 84 Nero behaving like ‘ordinary actors’: ŒÆd  Æ ‹Æ ƒ ıå  Œæ  ÆØ, ŒIŒ E  ŒÆd º ª ŒÆd æÆ ŒÆd Æå , Dio Cass. 63.9.6; cf. 63.22.5. 85 Nero could rightly be called Thyestes, Oedipus, Alcmaeon, Orestes, ‘because they are the ones he impersonates when acting’:  ı ªaæ Œæ ÆØ, Dio Cass. 63.22.6. 79

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shackled and dragged around (surely by co-actors) ‘according to the demands of the plot’ (sicut argumentum postulabat).86 For one good-hearted soldier, the sight at one point proved too realistic. He rushed onto the stage and liberated his shackled emperor87—an anecdote plainly at odds with ideas of non-staged solo recitals being all that was on offer. But, it has been objected, Nero is described as ‘singing tragedies’ (cantavit tragoedias).88 This, however, does not prove that singing was all he did. Singing was part of the tragic actor’s domain (and, in Greece as well as Rome, often used as a shorthand for the whole), but so of course was speaking, and in the present context, it has commonly gone unnoticed that the only reference to the kind of tragic verse that Nero ‘sang’ (cantasse) is to a speech verse.89 Now, this report may well be pure fabrication. That these were actually Nero’s final words on stage may well be less vero than ben trovato. Still, it is surely noteworthy that Suetonius saw no problems in suggesting that Nero made his final stage exit, not while singing but while speaking. True, iambics could also be sung, but when all we hear of what Nero uttered when acting is a verse typically associated with speaking, the claim that singing was all he did seems overconfident. Above all, because Seneca, when reporting what a tragic actor might say on stage, twice quotes passages in the kind of metre that was traditionally spoken.90 This is also the case with a second-century relief apparently illustrating a scene from a Roman tragedy with Hercules and Mars confronting each other on stage while a divine triad looks down from above: here too, the accompanying speech-tags are in iambics, the implication being that this was what the protagonists of this unknown, but then probably familiar tragedy at one point spoke to each other.91

86 Performance of Hercules insanus involved Nero’s being ‘chained with shackles’ (eum . . . vinciri catenis, Suet. Nero 21.3; in Dio Cass. 63.22.5, Vindex twice emphasizes that he has ‘seen’ ( r  ) Nero being chained and dragged around—surely by a fellow actor. 87 Soldier: Suet. Nero 21.3. 88 ‘tragoedias . . . cantavit’, Suet. Nero 21.3; similarly Juv. 8.220, ‘cantavit Orestem (sc. Nero’; like Dihle (1983) 165; 168, Csapo & Slater (1994) 385 quote the passage in Suetonius as an example of an actor singing ‘tragic solo arias’). The words carmen, carmina, and cantare were used irrespective of whether the relevant passage was sung or spoken, cf. e.g. Cic. Tusc. 3.59 (using carmen when referring to speech verse). From Boissier (1857) 262 to Dihle (1983) 165–7, scholars have adduced such expressions as evidence that imperial tragedians only sang, but this is contradicted by other evidence: 88 n. 66–8. ‘Singing’ a shorthand for tragedy: Hall (2002) 6 ff. 89 A speech verse: Suet. Nero 46.3 (quoted 356 n. 279); Dio Cass. 63.28.5 quotes a (slightly different) tragic trimetre, but as part of an inner monologue. To Friedländer (192210) ii, 123, Beacham (1991) 149, and Champlin (2003) 102, Nero ‘sang’ this verse. Lesky (1966a) 346 acknowledges the use of the trimetre, but does not address the implications. 90 Sen. Ep. 80.7–8 (88 n. 66) presents two contemporary tragic actors, both apparently speaking (dicit; ait) on stage. 91 The appliqué relief with Hercules and Mars is on a Gallic vase in the British Museum (reproduced on the cover of Wiseman (1998)). The speech verse: CIL 12.5687.4 = Klotz (1953) poetae incerti clivB = TrRF i (2012) Adespota fr. 158.

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In sum, such evidence as we have characterizes the actor-emperor as well as the less illustrious fellow actors of his company92 as using masks and cothurni, being addressed and replying, mimicking events and emotions, speaking, singing, and actively playing opposite others—which makes it hard to see on what to base the certitude that all he did was singing soli and excerpts. The evidence concerning Nero is not alone in making it difficult to maintain the notion that tragedy—in a process both inexorable and irreversible—had already by the mid-first century disintegrated into its constituent parts. Quite the reverse, in fact, there is a wealth of epigraphic evidence concerning mid and late second-century festivals in the Eastern part of the empire, with performances of old as well as of new tragedy earning tragic dramatists, chorus leaders, and actors the (almost invariably) highest awards available.93 Now, what went on at each and every one of these occasions is unclear—but the size of these awards suggests that tragedy was still a genre held in the highest esteem. The assumption that audiences would only have wanted to hear excerpts from prize winners in such an esteemed genre therefore seems unreasonable—and is in fact contradicted by other evidence. In his Lives of the Sophists, Philostratus reports an episode involving a tragic actor who, during the reign of Antoninus Pius (ruled 138–61) filed a lawsuit against the president of a festival for forcing him to abandon the stage shortly after ‘the beginning of the drama’.94 To be sure, this was a festival taking place in Asia Minor—but is it reasonable to assume that the imperial capital had significantly less on offer? Quintilian’s familiarity (half a century earlier) with theatre in all its forms, ranging from authors, actors, and stage jugglers95 to masks, voices, dresses, gestures, and audience reactions seems eloquently to give the lie to such notions. His contemporary, the poet Martial, likewise comments on the sheer diversity of the Roman stage, from Philistio’s hilarious mimes to sad tragedy (advising a lady with bad teeth to avoid stuff provoking a good laugh and stick to tearful tragedy).96 Less flippantly, Quintilian will of course sometimes adopt a professorial approach, quoting examples from the classic curriculum rather than from real

Nervegna (2007) 14–42 convincingly defines Nero’s activities as those of a ‘head tragoedus’. Inscriptions from second-century Greek festivals: Csapo & Slater (1994) 189 ff., nos. 158 159a and 159b (all featuring tragedians earning the highest prizes of all contestants) and 169 (tragedians of old and new tragedy and actors of the latter). 94 Iæåa F æ Æ , Philostr. VS 1.25.3, 535. 95 Quint. 10.7.11 refers to the ‘stage wonders’ (miracula illa in scaenis) of the pilarii and ventilatorii: pilarii otherwise only known from ILS 5174; CIL 12.4501. 96 Mime: Mart. 9.28; boring recitation: 3.45.1–4, ‘mensas cenamque Thyestae/ . . . te recitante’; having bad teeth, one should not watch ‘mimos ridiculi Philistionis’, but only give time to the Muses of tragedy, ‘tantum tragicis vacare Musis’ (2.41.15 ff.); the mimes of Philistio (PIR2 P 368) were very popular. 92 93

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life, but these bookish references are by no means all.97 Far from it, Quintilian’s was clearly a world with a varied and active stage life including festivals far from the sophisticated capital not only offering tragedy and comedy but also the full theatrical package ending with the so-called exodia ‘that were introduced at the end of a festival (ludorum) . . . so that the laughter of this kind of joyous spectacle could dry the tearful cheeks and take away the sadness caused by tragic outpourings’.98 There are no signs, indeed, that all this died out after Juvenal. True, our sources are dismal after c.120, but well into the fourth century, there is evidence (scanty but undeniable) for much diverse activity—with ludi and tragic actors, with such new developments as women performing as women in classic comedy, and with new devices to indicate to audiences which act was playing;99 in short, tantalizingly intermittent glimpses of a great tradition only then beginning to go into the hibernation lasting until the early Renaissance (Ch. 17).

6 . THE I MP E RIA L STAGE What, then, can we infer about the place—if any—of serious drama on late first-century and early second-century Roman stages? First and foremost, it needs to be emphasized that such plays were still being written throughout the period in question. True, there was no doubt a fall in demand and output, other genres such as mime and pantomime now surpassing comedy and tragedy in popularity, but as was the case with the praetextae proper (cf. above Table 2.1) there is every reason to assume that the selection of references to Roman tragedy, once again predominantly from Late Antiquity, is grossly and misleadingly biased in favour of the early evidence. For fourthcentury grammarians (to whom we owe most of our evidence), early tragedy

Quintilian on comedians (vidi . . . saepe, 6.2.35), on their handling of masks (11.3.74), on their mimicking (11.3.91) and on the stars of the Flavian comic stage, maximos actores comoediarum, Demetrium et Stratoclea . . . vidimus (continuing to outline their typical roles, 11.3.178). 98 Suet. Dom. 10.4 mentions one such exodium (from c.83 AD), not because it was unique but because Domitian took offence and had the dramatist executed; as for the function of exodia, a schol. on Juv. 3.175 commenting on his depiction of rustic ludi at a theatre with seats of turf observes ‘exodiarius . . . in fine ludorum intrabat . . . ut quicquid lacrimarum atque tristitiae, quae exissent ex tragicis affectibus, huiusque spectaculi risus detergeret’. 99 Dunbabin (2006) 191–212 publishes fourth-century reliefs, mosaics, and a bronze disc surely (cf. Green (2008) 295–6) reflecting procedures to keep track of which of a drama’s five acts was playing; performance of five-act comedy in the mid-fourth century with women playing women where it had previously been men: Donat. on Ter. And. 716 with Kragelund (2012a). 97

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was more or less synonymous with tragedy as such.100 Like the tragedies of Pomponius, those of Seneca are—as it happens—only mentioned in passing by his near-contemporaries. Such silence may well be deceptive of course. A graffito from Pompeii and a recently discovered third-century papyrus from Egypt with a section of Seneca’s Medea (complete with annotation in Greek)101 illustrate how random and potentially mutable the evidence is on which to base our understanding of developments. In terms of long-term survival, it was, however, clearly crucial that Christian enthusiasm at some point took Seneca under its wing, first for his ethics, later also because of the apocryphal but enormously popular exchange of letters with Saint Paul. Such enthusiasm, which is reflected in what, for an Imperial dramatist is a remarkably high number of quotations from third- and fourth- century Church Fathers,102 poets, and grammarians103 no doubt favoured the truly paradoxical survival of his tragedies—otherwise Late Antiquity would have left us with more quotations from a single tragedy by Accius than from all subsequent Roman tragedians put together.104 The extant some twenty quotations from Seneca’s largely unknown fellow imperial tragedians contrast tellingly—and clearly disproportionally—with the staggering total of more than 450 quotations from their great republican predecessor Accius. From such biased distribution, it is methodologically unsound to draw inferences about an eclipse of writing— Seneca’s unpredictable survival confirming that behind what otherwise might have been a mere name and, at its most, a few contemporary references, there was sometimes a rich and varied corpus of writings. As for the question of performance, moreover, it is hard to reconcile the combined, consistent, and first-hand evidence of Pomponius, Seneca, Quintilian, and Pliny the Younger with the claim that performance had ceased ‘well before the reign of Nero’. On this issue, standard works of reference seem to advocate a reading that starkly conflicts with the evidence.105 100 Cameron (2011) 206–30 surveys the evidence for fluctuations in literary taste that strongly influenced the fourth-century grammarians’ choice of literary parallels. 101 CIL 4.6698 = 292 n. 41 (Agamemnon); Quint. 9.2.8 quotes Medea 453; Markus & Schwendner (1997) 73–80 publish a papyrus with Medea 663–704. 102 Seneca and the Church Fathers, Tertullianus, Augustine, and Jerome: Trillitzsch (1971) 120–85; echoes in Prudentius and Claudianus: Cameron (2011) 412. 103 Grammarians and Seneca tragicus: Diomedes Gramm. Lat.1.511.23K; 517.30K (Medea); ‘Probus’ Gramm. Lat. 4.224.22K; 246.19K (Troades); Priscianus Gramm. Lat. 2.253.7; 9K (Phaedra & Agamemnon); Terentianus Maurus Gramm. Lat.6.404; 407K (Hercules furens); Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebais 4.530 (Thyestes); Ennodius, op. ii, 54, 15 Vogel (Medea); Aldhelm of Malmesbury, MGH, auct. ant. xv, p. 194.27 (Agamemnon). The quotation from Oedipus in Serv. Dan. on Verg. Aen. 12.395 seems a Renaissance interpolation: Cameron (2011) 413. 104 TRF3 lists 23 quotations from Accius’ Eurysaches alone; from all later tragedians (except Seneca) down to Pomponius Secundus, Late Antiquity offers a mere 20 quotations. 105 Zwierlein (1966) 159 ff., the leading modern proponent of the hypothesis that Senecan tragedy was meant for recitation only, gives a misleadingly inactive view of the Roman stage.

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If this is correct, it raises the question: why has this reading remained so influential? It is, after all, not as if the evidence to the contrary is new or hitherto unavailable. Far from it, much of it has been widely disseminated since the age of Gutenberg. Still, there has, since the early nineteenth century, been a remarkable determination to interpret these data as a record of decline, a trend that until recently has commonly been combined with remarkable reluctance to acknowledge the problems inherent in this construction. In my view, this asymmetry can best be seen as having been caused by some—rarely questioned—underlying premises. First and foremost, Romantic denigration of Roman literary culture still casts a long shadow, providing premises and valuations surprisingly often taken for granted. Second, and more particularly, this whole issue has traditionally been discussed in a manner characterized by an incautious and, indeed, excessive reliance on inferences based upon arguments e silentio. In an area bedevilled with the problems that often face classicists—accidental and/or single source evidence—the resulting lack of detailed, let alone reasonably representative evidence, calls for caution. In such areas, an approach that equates silence about activity with absence of activity far too easily becomes overconfidently schematic, even dogmatic. This is pre-eminently the case, when discussion, while throwing caution to the winds, is unhesitant in drawing upon the kind of nineteenth-century discourse of decline so memorably and influentially codified in a work like the Königsberg professor, Ludwig Friedländer’s (1824–1909), learned, lively, and frequently reprinted Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms in der Zeit von August bis zum Ausgang der Antonine (Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire). This is a work that with energy, accumulation of detail, and a certain horrified-fascinated relish outlines the literary and moral decadence of imperial Rome. In a style fusing aspects of Gibbon’s panoramic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the meticulous documentation of nineteenth-century German Altertumswissenschaft, this is, deservedly, a work of great and lasting impact (with translations into all major languages). In discussions of, for instance, the Roman stage, where there are no later, similarly copious surveys, it is, to the present day, remarkably often Friedländer who provides the value

From Quintilian he quotes 11.3.73 (89 n. 73) and 11.3.4 (87 n. 61), but not the references to the uses of tragic masks (11.1.38, 89 n. 73), or to the tragic actors of his own day (12.5.5, 89 n. 71), nor to the repeated (saepe, 6.2.35, 87 n. 63) view of tearful actors donning their masks. Similarly, Zwierlein never discusses any of Seneca’s (the alleged author of Rezitationstragödien) references to the actual performances of tragedy or mime (Ep. 8.8; 11.7; 76.31; 80.7–8; 108.6; 108.8, 85 n. 54, 86 n. 57, 88 n. 66, 88 n. 69) and casts Pliny the Younger as being solely in contact with recitation, a reading contradicted by Plin. Ep. 7.17.3–12. Zwierlein and, to an almost identical extent, Kugelmeier (2007) share this imbalance with their chief authority Friedländer (97 n. 106).

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system, framework, and factual background against which to interpret the surviving evidence. That his sample is incomplete and, at points, seriously slanted (the dominant role of recitation in fact being what Friedländer wanted to illustrate) has, amidst such accumulated abundance and determined zeal, commonly gone unnoticed.106 Given such premises—rarely questioned and often quoted as certitudes, even where the original stressed the speculative nature of his argument107— the nature of the sequiturs need not surprise. When translated into cultural history this framework, frequently based upon arguments e silentio, has fostered a seemingly compelling image of imperial Roman tragedy as driven away from the stage by mime and pantomime and only holding onto a shadowy pseudo-life in the reading halls frequented by the dilettantes of a narrow elite (which then, at its most negative, is described as no longer able to appreciate anything but abbreviated sing-song highlights of dramatically impossible, grossly violent and boringly rhetorical closet drama). What remains are the ruins of hundreds of theatres, the fragments of paintings, mosaics, and artefacts as well as inscriptions, reports, and, last but not least, ten surviving scripts—evidence that a growing number of scholars find increasingly difficult to fit into this overall picture. Hence the feeling that it might be the overall picture that is at fault. If tragedy had disappeared from the stage well before the reign of Nero, why is it that Seneca, Quintilian, and Pliny not only seem unaware of its demise, but in fact are consistent in referring to it as still very much in existence? And if tragedy were only about solo singing, how come the sources refer to co-actors? And to actors speaking? This and similar evidence, some of it from a series of key witnesses, which is hard to cast as so-called exceptions that prove the rule, provides glimpses of a reality very different from what is suggested by the, in its origin, nineteenthcentury discourse of Rome’s cultural decline. What seems called for is therefore a readjustment that acknowledges:  that no evidence casts performance and recitation as mutually exclusive;  that no ancient evidence suggests a total eclipse of the performance at

Rome of praetextae, let alone tragedies, between Augustus and Hadrian;

106 Being convinced that imperial tragedy was rarely performed, Friedländer (192210) ii, 121 ff. (as already Boissier (1857)) focused on the evidence for recitation. It is unfortunate, therefore, that modern authorities (cf. 95 n. 105; 146 n. 8) frequently quote Friedländer as if he provided a balanced survey of the relevant evidence; cf. Csapo (2010) 194. 107 Cf. Friedländer (192210) ii, 121 and 122 on performances (italics added) ‘in der Regel geschah es wohl, wenigstens seit dem 2. Jahrhundert, nicht mehr . . .’; and again, when claiming that performances of tragedies ‘immer mehr rhapsodisch geblieben zu sein scheinen’; what Friedländer tentatively surmised, have in modern scholarship become certitudes.

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evidence—quite to the contrary—confirming the continued presence onstage of tragedy till the end of this period (which is where the evidence for activity in the Latin west becomes notably more patchy). Re-assessing the evidence on this new basis means adopting a far less restrictive and far more tentative interpretational model, which not only accepts the extreme limitations of our evidence, but, further, allows for the fact that within the wider spectrum of the more costly, sensational, and, in absolute figures, no doubt more frequent mass entertainments dominating the picture (above all when the pageantry was particularly splendid or the show somehow involved the emperor Nero), there was clearly—then, as now—also room for performing old and new comedies and tragedies. And even where the evidence, whether by accident or, as in Pliny’s case, because of personal preference, dwells upon recitation rather than performance, it should be kept in mind that another of our key witnesses shows that the public reading of tragedy, at least in some cases, had an open-ended workshop character, preparing the way for performance proper. Copyright was unknown and scripts were often produced by people who, for reasons of status, legal injunctions, and prejudice would—one must guess—have no dealings with those working for the stage. Once written and put into circulation, such texts would develop a life of their own, some being discarded, others read and copied. In some cases—the market being so vast and open—they were taken over and adapted by an impresario offering a private patron, or a pair of local magistrates, or even Rome’s Praetor of the City a range of plays to be performed, be it at an upcoming private event or at local or public ludi (to quote the venues known to the laws of Imperial Rome). As Quintilian reports, some of these scripts were successful on stage but never survived to reach the shelves of a library (let alone, posterity). Others, of course, were classics given new life, such as the republican Atreus, familiar to Seneca and his readers, such as ‘Fire’ (Incendium) by Afranius, which was spectacularly restaged under Nero, and such as the modernized Terence with women actors playing the female parts that was reported by Donatus. Ovid’s poems would offer plots for pantomimes, playwrights, and actors, who would at short notice update a script to celebrate imperial exploits—the imperial stage seems to have been open for business, using whatever was there as long as the impresario, praetor, or local aediles thought the script had potential. There is no reason, let alone evidence, for thinking that a field so active and diversified would have shied away from using the actual scripts by, for instance, Varius, Ovid, Pomponius, or Seneca. These were scripts that leading literary authorities described as ‘second to nothing written by any Greek’ (thus Quintilian on Varius’ Thyestes), as ‘showing what he might have achieved had he chosen to control rather than indulge his talent’ (the same on Ovid’s

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Medea), and as works that would ‘ensure his name lived on’ (Tacitus on Pomponius).108 The fact that these dramatists did not—in any contractual, cash-for-script sense—write for the stage does not imply that their works were never put on. We happen to know that the opposite was true of Varius and Pomponius, and Quintilian added that this was the case not only for the greatest dramatists, but also for scripts that had no proper place in the libraries.109 Is it, against this background, reasonable to assume that the scripts of Seneca, an author perhaps even more idolized than Pomponius, were left to moulder on library shelves? Fame and local pride, personal preference, and a famous actor insisting on trying out a role were all factors which we have no reason to doubt could have influenced what happened in that lively and messy real world on which our chief sources looked with such fascinated unease. It is within this open-ended frame, and on the basis of such suggestive, but imprecise, evidence (which of course provides sadly few details, names, and circumstances, no reliable statistics and hardly any dates) that the following chapter, tentatively, will approach the references to historical drama from between c.8 to c.98 that have survived amidst the wreckage of Roman Imperial theatre.

108

Quint. 10.1.98; Tac. Ann. 12.28. Ferri (2008) 498 overlooks Pomponius (101 n. 2) when quoting Seneca’s social status as proof that his tragedies were not intended for public performance. 109

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7 Imperial Praetextae The list of known Imperial praetextae is brief, but, when examined individually as well as cumulatively, the extant references are sometimes highly instructive: 1) Ovid on the performance of an anonymous praetexta about the exploits of Claudia Quinta (c.8 AD); 2) Manilius on the future prospects of young dramatists and actors of tragedies and praetextae (c.15); 3) Quintilian, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and fourth-century grammarians on the recitation and performance of works by Pomponius Secundus (fl. c.41–54); 4) Suetonius on the dramatic essay of Persius (prior to 62); 5–7) Tacitus on the recitation of works by Curiatius Maternus (c.68–74); 8) and, of course, the only surviving exemplar (on which, see Ch. 8–16). Almost a whole century offering seven references to plays that have all been lost may, of course, seem a record too meagre for a genre still to be considered alive—but given the hazards of survival, it seems fair to argue that these scattered items by no means prove that interest was extinct. Far from it, the genre had clearly survived in all its forms: the themes on record deal with legend, with history proper, as well as with near-contemporary issues. However, the range of legends and rituals, as well as families that the Imperial dramatists dealt with, has shrunk drastically. It was once a genre dealing with legends about origins (of Rome and of some of her cults) as well as about the more or less recent exploits of the populus Romanus under the brave leadership of family members of such clans as the Marcelli, Fulvii, Fabii Maximi, Aemilii Paulli, and Junii (not to forget such upstart provincials as the Cornelii Balbi), but the known Imperial praetextae focus almost entirely on members or ancestors of the dynastic group now ruling Rome. In the inexorable process that took control over Rome’s past away from the old aristocracy, the first century AD saw the gradual disappearance of all that had previously contributed to setting out their claims to glory (monuments and funeral laudationes, biographies and family histories). Now the focus was

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fully on the Julii and the Claudii, their one-time rivals no longer having access to centre stage. Interestingly, the praetextae mirror this development. True, the sample is deplorably fragmentary, but such as it is (and I see no reason to assume that it is entirely misleading) it does seem notable that, of the dramas named, one or perhaps two dealt with Nero and/or his ancestors, the Domitii Ahenobarbi (Maternus’ Domitius and/or Nero), two with the Claudii (the anonymous dramas on Claudia Quinta and Claudia Octavia (which was the empress’s full name)), and one with the Trojan ancestor of Julius Caesar and his kin (Pomponius’ Aeneas). Even the drama focusing on Cato is, as we shall see, unlikely to have done so entirely on the old premise of celebrating his great deeds in the service of the res publica. From all we know, Maternus’ Cato saw his hero fighting the advent of the tyranny personified by Caesar and his imperial descendants—but more on these individual plays below. What counts is that the development first documented with the aggressive staging of Accius’ Brutus and Balbus’ Iter in the fifties and forties BC seems to have continued along a trajectory with notable parallels in imperial historiography: the dramatists’ (like the historians’) scope for choosing attractive or suitable topics was now inflexibly dictated by the new political and ideological realities.

1. THE AENEAS B Y P O M P ONI U S S E C U ND U S But now to the individual items: having already discussed the world of actors and acting alluded to by Manilius (Ch. 6.1) and the play about Claudia Quinta mentioned by Ovid, discussion can resume with yet a further praetexta drawing its theme from Roman legend, the Aeneas by Pomponius Secundus, whose works (clearly one of the great losses of Imperial literature) were admired by Quintilian, Tacitus, and both Plinys. From his youth in the early fifties, Quintilian remembered public readings starring Seneca and Pomponius themselves.1 Pomponius’ dramas were also staged (repeatedly, as Tacitus adds in passing). A fragment from an unnamed drama shows that some of his scripts also had a role for a chorus. Not just soli, therefore, but what may well have been the whole ticket.2 For Pomponius’ Aeneas,3 both modes of 1

Pomponius: 101 n. 2–3; recitations with Seneca and Pomponius: 124 n. 84. cf. Tac. Ann. 11.13.1 (47 AD), ‘carmina scaenae dabat (sc. Pomponius Secundus)’; his true glory based upon carmina: 12.28.2; Dial. 13.3. 3 SOURCE FOR No. 13, Pomponius Secundus’ Aeneas: Charisius Gramm. Lat. 1.132.15–16K = 168.29–31B (‘Pomponius Secundus in Aenea’). Aenea is the reading of the codices; contra, Duret (1986) 3166–7, who argues for the coena of the editio princeps and detects a reference to Pomponius’ tragedy Atreus. Yet given the unanimous and comprehensible evidence of the mss, nothing favours conjecture. 2

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performance—public reading and staging—were apparently available. The title, Aeneas, suggests an allegiance to the tradition reaching back to Naevius and Accius; and a letter from Pomponius to Thrasea Paetus, the renowned Stoic senator and victim of Nero, may serve as a reminder that Pomponius was by no means alone in cultivating such subjects. Every thirtieth year, Thrasea’s patria, Patavium (modern Padua), celebrated a festival that, according to local tradition, had been instituted by the city’s legendary founder, Antenor of Troy (Fig. 17.2). Thrasea is known to have performed as an actor during these very ludi.4 Such interests, in myth, as well as archaic ludi, would have served Pomponius well when embarking on a drama concerning the hero from Troy whom the Romans, naturally, regarded as the greatest. Of its plot nothing is known, but, given its subject, it is a fair guess that it more or less overtly alluded to the Imperial dynasty, celebrating Aeneas as its ancestor. Accius and, on a vastly grander scale, Vergil had provided the model. Nor were occasions for the performance of such a drama lacking. In addition to the regular ludi, Claudius, who favoured and trusted the poet and shared his antiquarian interests, decided to celebrate Rome’s 800th anniversary in 47 with ludi saeculares. Within the broad context of ludi scaenici, which tradition prescribed on such occasions, a celebration by Rome’s ‘consul-poet’ of the ‘illustrious blood of Anchises and Venus’ (thus Horace on a similar occasion) would not have come amiss.5 For the ludi saeculares in 17 BC Horace had produced the hymn from which comes the—for his patron Augustus—flattering line about his ancestor Aeneas (the son of Venus and Anchises) quoted above. For Claudius’ ludi, a play on this mighty theme by the period’s most renowned dramatist would have added welcome lustre. In any case, Pomponius’ drama, in its celebration of Aeneas,

4 Pomponius’ letter to Thrasea: Charisius Gramm. Lat. 1.125.23K = 160,3B (should one say cetariis or cetaribus?); Diomedes Gramm. Lat. 1.371.19K; Priscianus Gramm. Lat. 2.538.29K. The Festival: Dio Cass. 62.26.4 and Tac. Ann. 16.21.1, ‘Thrasea Patavi, unde ortus erat, ludis cetastis a Troiano Antenore institutis habitu tragico cecinerat’. Cichorius (1922) 424–5 favoured the conjectural cetariis (Nipp.) for the unique cetastis (which would make the name of Antenor’s ludi one of the subjects discussed by Pomponius); contra, and probably rightly, Koestermann ad loc. In any case, the link between the two senators is suggestive. 5 ‘clarus Anchisae Venerisque sanguis’: Hor. Carm. Saec. 50; the Augustan acta sacrorum saecularium (ILS 5050) of 17 BC repeatedly refer to ludi Latini and ludi scaenici in a wide range of theatres. The fragments relating to Claudius’ ludi (CIL 6.32324–5) are not from a passage dealing with the ludi scaenici, but the acta of Septimius Severus from 204 confirm that they remained a component of subsequent ludi saeculares: CIL 6.32331–32332; cf. Herodian 3.8.10. Claudius discussed previous ludi saeculares ‘in historiis suis’: Suet. Claud. 21.2. Claudius made Pomponius one of his first suffect consuls, issued an edict concerning riots at a performance of one of his dramas and accorded the ‘consular poet’ the ornamenta triumphalia: Tac. Ann. 11.13.1; 12.28. Like his predecessors Claudius stressed Rome’s links with Aeneas and Troy: Suet. Claud. 25.3.

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could not only rival Vergil in a different genre; it also took up a subject already treated by the genre’s precursor, Naevius.

2 . P E R S I U S’ E S S A Y With the next dramatist on record, stylistic ambition would have been a crucial factor. Sadly, nothing can be determined of the subject of the praetexta by the poet Persius (34–62).6 As transmitted, its title is unintelligible but no revision has brought a solution. In the present context, however, it is surely noteworthy that this was a genre that a precocious poet would try out when still in his youth (infantia). This was apparently neither a forgotten, nor an altogether discredited, genre. Perhaps the boy had an admired model—the details are unrecoverable. Given the high profile level of his schooling, it would perhaps have been of some importance that such an authority as Horace had taken a benign view of the efforts of those who had ‘had the courage/ to leave the paths of the Greeks and celebrate home affairs/ with plays in Roman dress . . .’ (cf. p. 22). Add to this that Persius—at least later—held strong views on the proper style of tragedy. Not for him the inflated bombast of those who imitated Accius and Pacuvius. Glyco, reputedly the greatest tragic actor on the Neronian stage, did not impress Persius.7 Given such views, one would like to know whether, and to what extent, Persius’ praetexta was an attempt to write drama in a style freer from the defects of the contemporary stage. However that may be, he soon (and in terms of survival, wisely) abandoned the project in favour of a genre that in Quintilian’s phrase was ‘wholly ours’, namely satire. After Persius’ untimely death, literary legend has it that his tutor and executor, Cornutus, himself an author of tragedies, saw to it that his pupil’s drama was destroyed. Whether rightly or wrongly, who knows?

3. TACITUS AND MATERNUS In addition to the Octavia, itself a chance survival, the two, or perhaps three, final additions to our knowledge of the genre’s history are once again known through purely accidental survival, in casu of Tacitus’ Dialogus on the causes of the decline of Roman oratory. This is a text whose precarious lifeline 6 SOURCE FOR No. 14, praetexta by Persius: ‘Suetonius’ Vita Persii 8, ‘scripserat in pueritia etiam praetextam Vescio (?)’; the title: Helm (1954) 1574; Zorzetti (1980) 105 n. 11 (with bibl.). 7 Glyco: Pers. 5.9 (with schol. and Leppin (1992) 246).

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consisted by 1425 in a single Carolingian manuscript that in the 1450s miraculously survived being transported all the way from Central Germany to Italy, there to be copied and eventually printed. Had the sole manuscript not survived, the Dialogus would have left no identifiable trace—a sobering fact on which one does well to reflect before claiming that absence of evidence somehow proves absence of activity. Our discussion of the evidence from the Dialogus will commence with the final praetexta (no. 17) in the list: the Cato of the dramatist Curiatius Maternus. After a fresh look at the questions concerning Maternus’ identity and fate, discussion will then examine what is known of his first praetexta, the Nero (no. 16). To begin with, it should, however, be emphasized that Maternus’ career as a playwright offers an unexpectedly vivid glimpse of a highly informative episode in the history of Imperial historical drama. Were it not for this single testimony, who would have suspected that the mid-seventies could offer an episode involving a praetexta that became the talk of all Rome and the bugbear of the ‘mighty’ (potentes, 2.1), i.e. persons close to the Imperial court?8 The play thus had much less in common with the world of Manilius, Pomponius Secundus, and Persius, living through the Imperial peace, than with Rome of the civil wars, with Accius’ Brutus performed as militant agitprop and with the partisan praetexta of Cornelius Balbus denigrating his Pompeian opponents. Moreover, the backdrop for the event is, in itself, intriguing since it involves Tacitus, the greatest historian of Imperial Rome, who, in his youth, in c.74, witnessed a debate between the dramatist and his mentors. On the day the Dialogus takes place, young Tacitus (who plays a mute part in the proceedings) was following in the footsteps of his patrons, Marcus Aper and Julius Secundus (‘then the most famous men of genius at our bar’),9 when they chose to pay a visit to the dramatist. Previously Maternus’ chosen field had been ‘the Forum and law courts’ (forum et . . . causas), now it was ‘reading halls and theatres’ (auditoriis et theatris, 10.5)—the double venue suggesting that his plays, like those of Pomponius, were recited as well as performed.10 Here again, it will be objected that there is no evidence for these works being performed—and here again it needs to be repeated that in a situation where the written testimony focuses almost exclusively on the riotous, bizarre, and extravagant (with the antics of the emperor Nero as a frontrunner) and only very 8 Tac. Ann. 6.48.1; 16.19.3 uses potentes to designate unnamed persons close to the emperor; Quint. 9.2.68 warns against provoking personae potentes: Bartsch (1994) 99; Gallia (2009) 169–206. 9 Julius Secundus: Quint. 10.1.120; 3.12–13; 12.10.11. Marcus Aper is only known from Tacitus. 10 In addition to performances, theatres were also used for recitations: 86 n. 58; Mayer (2001) ad loc. concludes that both Tacitus’ references are to recitations, his premise being that there were no performances of Maternus’ works. But do we know that?

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occasionally provides a glimpse of the ordinary, everyday, year-in-year-out activity in Rome’s and the Empire’s hundreds of theatres, it is methodologically unsound to invoke absence of evidence as in itself conclusive. One should, after all, never insist on a greater degree of accuracy than the evidence permits. While Rome certainly cultivated recitation as an attractive alternative, nothing suggests that such arrangements excluded performance. On the contrary, in one of the few well-documented instances, that of Pomponius Secundus, recitation was a prelude to performance proper. What the Dialogus episode illustrates is therefore not the separation of serious drama and the stage, but rather a step in a process in which the author still controlled a script that, in the hands of others, eventually might be performed. At a similar juncture, Pliny mentions a historian whose friends were successful in persuading him to cancel a scheduled second recitation of a history they considered too controversial.11 The episode in Tacitus is very different. Where Pliny’s historian gave in to his friends’ entreaties and Pomponius referred his friends’ suggestions to the verdict of future audiences, Maternus flatly refuses even to consider such alterations and—to make matters worse—he openly avows his intention to be even more outspoken in his next play. Tacitus most probably brought out his Dialogus not long after the fall of the emperor Domitian in September 96, perhaps during the short reign of Nerva (96–early 98).12 What seems crucial, however, is that Tacitus sees no reason to introduce his headstrong dramatist-protagonist—and this some twenty years after the event. Indeed, his narrative comes across as concerning an episode still familiar to everyone (a fair guess being that its memory had been revived after Domitian’s downfall—but more on that below). In any case, it is with a remarkable degree of implied familiarity that Tacitus’ first sentence introduces Maternus and the event that induced his friends (and their young admirer) to pay him a visit. It was, ‘The day after Curiatius Maternus had recited his Cato . . .’.

4. CATO THE YO UNGER In view of the play’s title and the hostile reactions to its content, it seems clear that Maternus had dramatized some crucial episode in the life of the forever provocative Stoic martyr, who on the eve of the fall of the Republic had

Plin. Ep. 9.27; the work in question offended by being ‘too truthful’ (verissimum). Mayer (2001) 22–7 surveys discussions, arguing that the traditional date c.100 is the best we can do; Murgia (1980), Barnes (1986), and Bartsch (1994) 122–3 argue strongly, I think, for the reign of Nerva (96–8). 11 12

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famously chosen to take his own life, preferring freedom and death to the pseudo-life and clementia (‘pardon’) offered by the tyrant Caesar.13 Under the emperors, Cato remained a byword for Stoic liberty, praised, and admired by philosophers, schoolboys being taught to declaim his dying words from memory.14 What matters here is that Cato became a rallying point of sorts for those who held principles that brought them into conflict with what they saw as Caesarean (be it Neronian or Flavian) despotism. Less than ten years prior to Maternus’ recitation, Cato had in fact been honoured by three of Nero’s most renowned victims. Openly challenging Nero, the senator Thrasea Paetus was not only rumoured to observe the birthdays of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, but he also wrote Cato’s biography. In 66, Nero’s cronies launched a lethal attack in the Senate, openly comparing the conflict between Nero and Thrasea to that between Caesar and Cato. When their attack forced Thrasea to kill himself, he famously responded in kind by imitating the lofty philosophical calm of Cato’s suicide.15 In Seneca, Cato’s suicide is a recurrent exemplum of man’s quest for spiritual freedom, even in extreme circumstances, a quest that Seneca in his own suicide emulated. From the same circles and the same hectic period comes the epic on the civil wars by Seneca’s nephew, Lucan (his poem was famously banned, while the poet became another of Nero’s suicide victims). After Nero’s fall in 68, Lucan’s epic, which depicts Cato as a godlike hero of tragic grandeur, was re-issued to sensational acclaim, instantly becoming a modern classic—and characteristically praised as a poetic ‘sanctuary’ (sacrarium, 20.5) on the level of Horace and Vergil by one of Maternus’ friends.16 What further matters is that Cato, in addition to his literary renown, continued to remain politically controversial. In some cases, admiration was of course politically innocent. But, however difficult to draw, there clearly was a line beyond which such worship started to smack of treason. After the Flavian seizure of power in late 69, the senator Eprius Marcellus who, as Tacitus is careful to record, was despised and detested by Maternus, would, for instance, attack one of his fellow senators who bravely (or stubbornly) had insisted that the principate should be defined by law, for being an admirer of Brutus and Cato.17 The object of Eprius Marcellus’ attack, the senator 13 Maternus’ Cato is Cato Uticensis: Helm (1954) 1574; Syme (1958) 110 and Goar (1987) 60; OCD3 s.v. ‘Curiatius Maternus’ opts, implausibly, for Cato the Censor. 14 Schoolboys: Pers. 3.45; cf. Sen. Ep. 24.6. 15 Thrasea’s Cato: Plut. Cat. Min. 25; 37; honouring Brutus’ and Cassius’ birthday: Juv. 5.36 (cum schol.); Thrasea versus Nero like Cato versus Caesar: Tac. Ann. 16.22.2; a latter-day Brutus: 16.22.5; his suicide modelled on that of Cato: 16.34 (with Edwards (2007) 144–60). 16 Seneca and Cato: Griffin (1976) 190–4; Ker (2009) passim; Cato godlike: Luc. 9.601–04 (with Goar (1987) 46–8. 17 In a renowned (cf. Tac. Dial. 5.7) speech delivered in the Senate in January 70, Eprius Marcellus compared Thrasea’s in-law Helvidius Priscus with Brutus and Cato: Tac. Hist. 4.8.3 with Bartsch (1994) 109; Maternus’ hatred for Eprius: Ch. 7.7. Helvidius repeatedly clashed with

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Helvidius Priscus, was the devoted son-in-law of none other than Thrasea Paetus. In the wake of Thrasea’s suicide in 66, Helvidius had been exiled by Nero, but two years later, he had, after Nero’s downfall, been recalled and promoted by Nero’s successor Galba. Clearly more radical than Thrasea, Helvidius had, in the Senate of the early seventies, represented an uncompromising stance against the absolutist tendencies of the re-established monarchy, repeatedly challenging its status vis-à-vis the Senate and insisting on the inalienable right of free speech.18 This attitude, which in the manner of the great Cato fused political and philosophical principle, had ultimately led to Helvidius’ downfall, an initial verdict of exile eventually leading to his execution, probably soon after the episode described in the Dialogus.

5. MATERNUS ’ CATO Timing is all. With his Cato, Maternus had clearly entered a potential minefield, across which, undeterred, he persisted in advancing. And this despite the offended feelings of the powerful and the ‘hectic talk’ of the city—and, of course, despite the worries of his friends, the declared aim of their visit being to make him see reason—or, at least, show more caution. Catching him with the very ‘book in his hands’ (librum inter manus habentem, 3.1) they ask him—no doubt with feigned satisfaction—if this meant that he was already taking on board the (hostile and worried) reactions to his recitation. Had he taken up the book, they wonder, to revise it more carefully and remove what might otherwise provide ‘material for adverse inferences’ (praevae interpretationi materiam)? And, following such revision, would he not then publish, ‘if not a better then certainly a safer Cato’ (Catonem non quidem meliorem, sed tamen securiorem, 3.2)? They point to the dangers he might otherwise incur since, ‘forgetting himself, and thinking only of Cato’ (sui oblitus tantum Catonem cogitasset), he would seem to have ‘deliberately’ (meditatus) chosen the ‘mask of a figure of renown that was apt for making authoritative statements’ (personam notabilem et cum auctoritate dicturam, 10.6).19 Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 15; Dio Cass. 66.12.1; schol. on Juv. 5.36), was then exiled and finally executed in c.74 AD: Suet. Vesp. 15; Plin. Ep. 7.19.4 (with Malitz (1985) and Levick (1999) 79 ff.). 18 Helvidius and Vitellius in the Senate, the latter elegantly easing tension by describing this altercation as one between two senators: Tac. Hist. 2.91.3; Dio Cass. 65.7.2; Helvidius imitating his late in-law Thrasea’s ‘freedom of speech’ (ÆææÅÆ, 66.12.1), but unwilling to ‘lay off attacking (in casu Vespasian), in public or in private’ (ŒÆd h’ NÆ fi h K fiH ŒØ fiH ÆPF Iå, 66.12.3). 19 Tac. Dial. 10.6, ‘meditatus videris elegisse personam notabilem et cum auctoritate dicturam’; cf. Cicero ‘putting on the stern mask’ of Claudius Caecus (gravem personam induxi, Cael. 35) to shame Claudius’ descendant, Clodia.

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Since Maternus had read out his play in a manner suggesting that he wholly identified with its protagonist, the reference to the latter’s persona (in Latin ‘character’ but also ‘mask’) comes across as a deliberate theatre metaphor connoting the well-known fact that a mask would sometimes make audiences identify the actor with the person portrayed. Elsewhere, Tacitus only uses the word persona once—and there to similar effect.20 It looks, in short, as if Maternus, during the recitation of his play, had been perceived as having impersonated Cato, his words thereby gaining notably in authority. This was not an approach without serious risks. During precisely this period, the Flavian dynasty was in deep conflict with a group of Stoics, who had openly and provocatively ‘courted the commoners, denounced monarchy and praised democracy’. These are, whatever the precise meaning of ‘democracy’ in this context, highly inflammable issues and a drama about none other than the ultimate Stoic hero-martyr could, in such a climate, hardly avoid being associated with these burning issues. Indeed, it may well have been intended to be just that, the right of free speech so strongly asserted by Maternus also being a key issue for Helvidius Priscus.21 But, whatever Maternus’ intentions and affiliations, his friends had, in such a climate, reason to be worried. His play was raising a ghost that was widely felt to challenge established order. To be sure, Maternus’ friends are in no doubt that it would be triply honoured, not only with ‘immense applause’ (in the theatre?), but also with praise in the reading halls (in ipsis auditoriis, 10.7) as well as universal comment,22 but this, too, would come at a cost, since it dangerously involved taking on ‘an adversary of higher (and of course, more powerful) standing’ (adversarium superiorem).23 Yet, the poet would delete nothing. His intention was to publish the very words they had heard (Helvidius would have approved). This was, he insists, ‘what Maternus owed himself ’ (quid Maternus sibi debuerit, 3.3). And his next tragedy, on Thyestes, would be even more outspoken.24

20 Tac. Agr. 9.3 (transl. Ogilvie, Loeb), ‘when he (sc. Agricola) had fulfilled the demands of office he dropped the official mask’ (nulla ultra potestatis persona). 21 For the conflict (cf. 106–7 n. 17–18), the main evidence is Suet. Vesp. 15; Dio Cass. 66.12.1–3; 13.1a–3; Helvidius’ praise of democracy: 66.12.2 fiH Zåºø fi æ ŒØ, ÆغÆ  Id ŒÆŪ æØ ŒÆd ÅŒæÆÆ Kfi Ø. Epictetus Discourses 1.2.19–21 vividly illustrates Helvidius’ dedication to the ideal of free speech. 22 Tac. Dial. 10.7, ‘hinc ingentis exis assensus, haec in ipsis auditoriis praecipue laudari et mox omnium sermonibus ferri’. It is not clear whether Aper’s tricolon refers to different venues or simply different kinds of praise. 23 Tac. Dial. 3.2; 10.6, ‘quod periculosius est, pro Catone offendis’; 10.7, ‘tibi sumas adversarium superiorem’. 24 SOURCES FOR No. 17, Maternus’ Cato: ‘Nam postero die quam Curiatius Maternus Catonem recitaverat, cum offendisse potentium animos diceretur, tamquam in eo tragoediae argumento sui oblitus tantum Catonem cogitasset, eaque de re per urbem frequens sermo haberetur . . .’, Tac. Dial. 2.1; ‘Catonem non quidem meliorem sed tamen securiorem’, 3.2.

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In short it is with something of a jolt that, with this praetexta, more reminiscent of Balbus’ civil war Iter than with the praetextae of old, we run out of evidence for the old genre. But there is of course a crucial difference: where Balbus’ play had applauded what Lucan—in one of his epic’s most celebrated lines, victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni (‘the gods favoured the triumphant side, Cato the losing’)—had called the victrix causa (the ‘triumphant side’) of the Caesareans, Maternus seems—like Lucan’s Cato— to have taken sides with the gloriously vanquished. Yet Maternus may well have applied the twist that, ‘True, they had lost then, but now the victrix causa had also experienced defeat’. In any case Maternus’ friends had reason to be worried. With a praetexta on such inflammable issues, Maternus was— deliberately it would seem—stepping into the shoes of three senators who within recent memory had been fatally linked with Cato. Seneca, Thrasea Paetus, and Lucan only escaped condemnation by suicide and, from all we know, Helvidius Priscus had, by the time of Maternus’ recitation, already been exiled, his execution soon to follow. Unfortunately, there are no means of determining whether Maternus had adopted the model of Accius in giving historical drama a teleological dimension (for instance by letting the dying Cato utter a prophetic curse). However, his Cato had clearly made no secret of its contemporary relevance. From the prosecutor’s bench such an approach could easily be construed as representing a challenge to the autocratic system Caesar had founded—and as everyone knew this was the very system that Rome’s new dynasty now did its best to re-establish (names, titles, ritual, and all).

6 . THE F ATE OF M ATE RNUS It is at this point that the question of Maternus’ fate and identity comes in. This is a much debated problem, but, since it has important implications for our understanding of the political profile of this genre, it will prove worthwhile to reopen the case; above all, because there is evidence of crucial significance that has not previously been properly assessed. Briefly put, we not only have Tacitus’, but also Dio’s depiction of a controversial late first-century author named Maternus. But are they one and the same or, alternatively, two men of very different status and with nothing in common but their (by no means uncommon) name? As for their status,

Tacitus’ use of tragoedia is no proof that Cato was no praetexta. Terminology was fluid: 17–18 n. 7–8; contra, Schmidt (1985) 1425 ff.

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Tacitus’ Maternus is a senator seemingly heading for trouble,25 whereas Dio’s is a so-called sophist, who was executed by Domitian in c.91. His crime: he had spoken ‘against tyrants’.26 From early on, the shared name and not dissimilar political attitude has made identification an attractive option, with the reference in Dio showing how, years later, it ended for Tacitus’ hero. This reading, of course, adds considerably to the historical interest of the episode evoked in the Dialogus. But is it tenable? More than a century of intense debate has, by and by, laid bare four areas, where many see cause for objecting to identification. They do so because: (i) Tacitus offers no positive evidence of Maternus coming to grief; (ii) Tacitus’ Maternus was a senator, Dio’s a sophist; (iii) the death of Dio’s Maternus is more than a decade too late for it to be identified with the death of the Maternus in Tacitus; (iv) and, finally, the nature of their offence differs too markedly to admit identification. In short, two men with little more in common than a name. These objections have, above all with reference to the first objection, elicited strong responses in favour of them being the same man, but since the other three have been less thoroughly examined, a kind of stalemate has established itself, with the oftrepeated arguments of either side seemingly incapable of supporting anything more than the, on balance, most plausible conclusion. Commonly ignored, there is, however, evidence strongly favouring identification that in relation to points ii, iii, and iv has not previously been properly acknowledged. (i) It is, to begin with Tacitus, true that there is no positive evidence for identifying the two men as the same, but although the case in favour is largely circumstantial, it is not easily dismissed.27 The aspect to emphasize first is the striking degree of implied familiarity with which Tacitus opens his narrative, on ‘[t]he day after Curiatius Maternus had recited his Cato . . .’.28 It is assumed that the reader knows who he was, what play he had written and, indeed, what had then happened. It is a reasonable inference, therefore, that the incident had consequences still remembered some 25 Rules of genre confirm that Maternus (PIR2 C 1604) is a historical figure, probably related to the eminent Flavian ex-consul (PIR2 C 1407) M. Cornelius Nigrinus Curiatius Maternus (cos. AD 83); Barnes (1986) 243 argues for identification, but I cannot see Tacitus’ outspoken protagonist as Domitian’s governor of Syria (a key military appointment); rather an adoptive son (Alföldy & Halfmann (1973) 345) or a nephew, his name form either suggesting a Cornelius adopting a Maternus or a Cornelius acknowledging a maternal link, Tacitus’ Maternus perhaps a maternal uncle: Syme (1991a) 464–5. 26 Dio Cass. 67.12.5. 27 Recent proponents of identification include Matthiessen (1970) 168–77, Barnes (1986) 243, Sailor (2008) 289 n. 88 and Kragelund (2012b)—the latter summarized here. 28 ‘Nam postero die quam Curiatius Maternus Catonem recitaverat . . .’, Tac. Dial. 2.1.

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twenty years later (the publication of the Dialogus is commonly assumed to lie somewhere between the fall of Domitian in September 96 and c.100). And, what is more, the conventions of the genre chosen by Tacitus suggest that these consequences were grave. As Plato and Cicero had shown, a dialogue played out on the eve of political crisis and/or featuring a protagonist soon to meet his end, lent special weight to his words. Tacitus seems to have provided his Dialogus with an equally sombre setting, contrasting the seemingly carefree attitude of the protagonist with his interlocutors’ worried remonstrations and what seems an implied awareness of subsequent disaster.29 Like Cicero’s mentor, Crassus, the protagonist of the De oratore, Maternus, may of course have been fortunate in his death, but his harsh comments on two of the pillars of the new Flavian establishment suggest a different scenario. One of them, be it noted, had brought down Thrasea Paetus in the final years of Nero and both of them, more recently, had thwarted the attempts of Helvidius Priscus to bring Nero’s cronies to justice.30 When one of Maternus’ friends, soberingly, points to their influence,31 Maternus dismisses the argument, claiming that their ‘sycophantic behaviour’ (adulatio, 13.4) makes them no better than slaves or ex-slaves. Why, he asks, should one wish to be like them? ‘Because they live in fear or because they are feared?’ (quod timent, an quod timentur? 13.4).32 Openly taunting such powerful and deadly enemies, whose most recent challenger, Helvidius Priscus, had at this point probably already been exiled and, perhaps, even executed,33 Maternus looks very much like a man who might one day come under heavy fire. (ii) Add to this Dio’s comment on the ‘sophist’ Maternus. Here too, there are two schools of thought but, despite long debate, there are still aspects that deserve closer scrutiny. To begin with, it should, however, be acknowledged that what Dio reports looks very much akin to what Tacitus’ Maternus had done, and despite his friends’ warnings would continue to do. Reciting a drama about Cato, whose suicide—to quote the first of his ancient hagiographers—stemmed from a decision ‘rather to die than have to endure the sight of the tyrant’s face any longer’34 is, after all, an activity that might well 29

Ciceronian and Platonic parallels: Cameron (1967) 258–61; Matthiessen (1970) 172–4 and Hass-von Reitzenstein (1970) 37 (with bibliography). Maternus heading for trouble, his death probably imminent: Syme (1958) 110–11; Alföldy & Halfmann (1973) 346 n. 52; Murgia (1980) 122 and Bartsch (1994) 105 ff. (with excellent summary of debate); Levick (1999) 89 concludes e silentio that nothing drastic happened. 30 Tac. Dial. 5.7; Hist. 4.6–8; 4.42–3 (Helvidius Priscus vainly trying to avenge Thrasea Paetus by bringing charges against Vibius Crispus and Eprius Marcellus in 68 and 70 AD). 31 Aper on the eminence of Vibius Crispus and Eprius Marcellus: Tac. Dial. 5.7; 8.1; 8.3. 32 Juv. 4.81 ff. quotes a similarly hostile view of Vibius Crispus. 33 The exile and subsequent execution of Helvidius Priscus (108 n. 21) datable to 71 and c.74–5 respectively: Levick (1999) 86–90; 234–5; Malitz (1985) 231–46. The offhand reference to Helvidius in Dial. 5.7 may indicate that the worst was still to come. 34 For Cato, ‘moriendum potius quam tyranni vultus aspiciendus fuit’, Cic. Off. 1.112.

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be labelled speaking ‘against tyrants’. From the period, moreover, there is no reference to other Materni being active in literature. But—so it has been objected—Tacitus’ Maternus was a senator, Dio’s, by contrast, a ‘declaimer pure and simple’ (reiner Deklamationsredner), or a schoolmaster sophist teaching the young.35 Often repeated, there is, however, an unacknowledged problem with this objection. While fully in accordance with, for instance, Ciceronian and subsequent usage,36 the question is whether this is also Dio’s own view of sophists. The answer is negative. As a roll call will illustrate, to Dio sophists are by no means mere declaimers or lowly schoolmasters. Even Cicero is at one point called a ‘sophist and poet and philosopher and orator and historian’;37 this, to be sure, is in a piece of invective, but the attack does not imply that these pursuits are reprehensible per se, only that Cicero’s pretence of having mastered them all betrays extreme vanity. As for the Indian sage on an embassy to Augustus, who is labelled a sophist, this is no indication of a profession, but rather of his role as an envoy (the use of sophists as ambassadors was common).38 Next in line, are two Flavian sophists, this time Cynic philosophers who publicly abused Titus and Berenice, one of them in a packed theatre, the other in typical Cynic manner (probably in the street). The pair were punished accordingly: one was flogged; the other beheaded. Neither their behaviour nor their fate suggests that they were insignificant schoolmasters, let alone declaimers pure and simple.39 Then follows Maternus (likewise executed). After him, there are two more references, both to men of learning, social eminence, and with close, but sometimes strained, relations to those in power.40 In Dio’s own day, finally, the embattled empress Julia Domna found 35

Following Gudeman (19142) 38 n. 1 (in Dio’s day sophists were low-status schoolmasters or declaimers ex professo), Stroux (1931) 338–68 at 338 n. 1 influentially saw Tacitus’ Maternus as ‘Redner . . . nicht Rhetor’; by contrast, Dio’s sophist is a ‘gewerbsmässiger Rhetor’ (ibid.); similarly Bartsch (1994) 248 n. 8, Mayer (2001) 44 n. 102 and Manuwald (2001) 84 n. 64 (Dio’s Maternus a ‘reiner Deklamationsredner’). 36 Cf. e.g. Cic. Acad. Post. 72 (sophists involved with philosophy ‘either for ostentation or profit’, ostentationis aut quaestus causa); Or. 42 (their eloquence better suited for pompae quam pugnae); second-century usage often of a chameleon nature: Swain (1996) 97–100. 37 Cicero: Dio Cass. 46.21.4, Øc ŒÆd ØÅc ŒÆd çغ ç ŒÆd Þøæ ŒÆd ıªªæÆçf ; note that the term sophist leads off the quotation. 38 A sophist from India on an embassy to Augustus in 20 BC: Dio Cass. 54.9.10; cf. Augustus RG 31.1; Strabo 15.1.4; 72–3 also uses this label, his description confirming that he was neither a schoolmaster nor declaimer, but a sage. 39 Apart from Dio Cass. 66.15.5 nothing is known of the Cynics Diogenes (PIR2 D 97) and Heras (PIR2 H 91). Conflict between the Flavians and philosophers: Crook (1951) 162–75, Malitz (1985) 231–46 and Levick (1999) 79–94. 40 The sophist (thus Philostr. VS 1.22, 522 and Dio Cass. 69.3.4) Dionysius from Miletus (PIR2 D 105) combined literary brilliance with high posts in the imperial administration. According to Dio, Dionysius at some point fell out with Hadrian. To Gell. (NA 6.3.34), a sophist ranked lower than a philosopher; his hero Favorinus (PIR2 F 123) was a true philosophus: 1.3.27, 1.10.1 and passim; in Philostr. VS 1.8, 489 Favorinus is a philosopher and sophist, in Dio Cass. 69.3.4 a

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refuge among a group of sophists, which included Philostratus, the leading biographer of the movement identified as the Second Sophistic.41 In sum: it seems unlikely that Dio’s label ‘sophist’ is actually an obstacle to identification. For him, as indeed for leading exponents of the so-called Second Sophistic, rhetorical excellence and a wide variety of scholarly, literary, and philosophical activities were what sophists (as he saw them) had in common.42 In Dio’s own day, such competences had long since started opening doors to careers in the Senate and in the imperial administration.43 It is difficult to see, therefore, why Dio could not include a senator and man of letters of a similarly sophistic disposition under this rubric. As documented by the careers of Maternus’ Greek coevals, Nicetes of Smyrna and Scopelianus (the former in fact mentioned by Maternus’ friends during their debate), sophists also wrote and, one presumes, recited serious drama.44 Neither is it irrelevant that some of Dio’s sophists clearly lived dangerous lives: above all when they, like Maternus and at least two of his sophist colleagues, criticized tyrants. (iii) But even allowing that the label sophist seems no serious obstacle, the timing has often been claimed to be utterly wrong. Offence under Vespasian is not easy to reconcile with execution under Domitian.45 While agreeing that Tacitus portrays his Maternus as heading for serious trouble, this time gap has

‘sophist’ tout court (and no less excellent for that). Debate concerning his exile continues: Bowersock (1969) 51–3 and Amato (2000) 43–50 (exile); Swain (1989) 150–8 (only a quarrel). 41 Sophists—including L. Flavius Philostratus (PIR2 F 332) and Philiscus (PIR2 P 367)—and Julia Domna: Dio Cass. 75.15.7 with Bowersock (1969) 101–9. 42 A sophist was, in Dio’s day, often seen as an artist, sometimes of the highest social eminence, who had reached ‘the peak of rhetorical skill’: Bowersock (1969) 14; similarly, focusing on definitions in Philostratus, Swain (1991) 148–63. 43 Sophists in high office: L. Statius Quadratus (PIR2 S 883), consul in 142 AD; Tiberius Claudius Aristocles (PIR2 C 789), consul under Marcus Aurelius and Aelius Antipater (PIR2 A 137) made consul by Severus. Per litteras Matthäus Heil at PIR in Berlin kindly refers me to the studies by Puech (2002) and Salomies (2005) and adds a host of further eminent second- and third-century sophists becoming consuls: Ti. Claudius Atticus Herodes, PIR2 C 802, cos. 143; M’. Acilius Glabrio Cn. Cornelius Severus, PIR2 A 73, cos. 152; C. Sallius Aristaenetus, PIR2S 78, senator under the Severans and Valerius Apsines, PIR2 A 978 with Hesperia 10 (1941) 260–1, a friend of Philostratus made consul by Maximinus Thrax. Sophists working as ab epistulis are also notable: L. Iulius Vestinus, PIR2 I 623 (under Hadrian); Alexander Peloplaton, PIR2 A 503 (under Marcus); Aspasius, PIR2 A 1262 (under Alexander Severus). 44 Nicetes (PIR2 N 83): Tac. Dial. 15.3; Pliny the Younger had in his youth probably attended his readings: Ep. 6.6.3; tragedies of Nicetes and Scopelianus (PIR2 S 252): Philostr. VS 1.21, 518 in fine with Bowie (1989) 255; Jones (2000) 453–62. 45 Chronology arguing against identification: Syme (1958) 110–11; 799; (1981) 138; (1991a) 465 and (1991c) 531 (doubting that Tacitus’ and Dio’s Maternus are identical); so do Cameron (1967) 260–1; Alföldy & Halfmann (1973) 346 n. 52; Martin (1981) 63; Bo (1986) 54; Duret (1986) 3206; Bartsch (1994) 105 ff. and Leal (2007) 25. The problem disappears, however, if Maternus, as here suggested, had been punished in 91 for an ‘offence’ committed back in the mid-seventies: 114 n. 48.

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led a notable group of scholars to conclude that he was probably condemned at some point in the seventies, under Vespasian,46 not some sixteen years later, under Domitian. On this inference, Dio is either in error about the date or referring to someone altogether different. If I am not mistaken, there is, however, evidence suggesting that Dio was neither confused nor in error. Instead, this looks very much like a case that had been slow to develop, inexorably moving from bad to worse, perhaps through several stages. Such delays in prosecution were by no means uncommon. Under Nero, one of the charges brought against Thrasea Paetus in 66 dated all the way back to the aftermath of Agrippina’s murder seven years before.47 In the present context, it is crucial that a remarkable number of high officials in the last years of Domitian were prosecuted on the basis of actions committed or, tellingly, words uttered and texts written years or even decades before. Indeed, the historians of the period report a total of seven or, including Maternus, eight such high-profile Domitianic cases all leading to execution. Without going into cumbersome detail (all to be found in the footnotes) concerning the eight offenders (for easy reference numbered i–viii) and the date and nature of their offences,48 there are, to summarize, four aspects that seem crucial. First, rank and social eminence. Apart from our ‘sophist’ of unknown status (iii), the victims were a high-ranking imperial ex-slave (viii), a senator (vi) and five ex-consuls (i, ii, iv, v, and vii). What an alleged schoolmaster or pure declaimer is doing in this august company is a mystery. Second, the gap between time of alleged offence and final conviction. Leaving apart what happened to Maternus, the remaining seven cases all reach back years, some a decade or more, from Domitian back to the early years of

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Maternus in trouble (or dead) already under Vespasian (and therefore not Dio’s Maternus): Syme (1958) 110–11; Cameron (1967) 260–1; Alföldy & Halfmann (1973) 346 n. 552, Murgia (1980) 122, Martin (1981) 63, Bartsch (1994) 105 ff., Bo (1986) 54 and Levick (1999) 89. 47 Tac. Ann. 14.12.1 (Thrasea refusing to vote for the condemnation of the murdered Agrippina). 48 Eight old cases leading to death verdicts under Domitian: (i) Between 81–96: the charge against Aelius Lamia (PIR2 A 205) i.a. based upon his ‘old and harmless jokes’ (veteres et innoxios iocos) at Domitian’s expense dating back to c.70: Suet. Dom. 10.2. (ii) 91: the charge against Mettius Pompusianus (PIR2 M 570) was based upon astrology, maps, written excerpts, etc. and reached back to the reign of Vespasian: Suet. Vesp. 14; Dom. 10.3; Dio Cass. 67.12.2–4. (iii) 91: the charge against the sophist Maternus quoted his writing/speaking ‘against tyrants’, Dio 67.12.5 not indicating when. (iv) 93: the charge against Helvidius Priscus the Younger (PIR2 H 60) mentioned a play alluding to events in c.83: Suet. Dom. 10.4. (v–vi) 93: the biographies by Junius Arulenus Rusticus (PIR2 I 730) and Herennius Senecio (PIR2 H 128) praising Thrasea Paetus and Helvidius Priscus were probably published years before the authors were convicted and their books publicly burnt: Suet. Dom. 10.3; Tac. Agr. 2.1; 45.1. (vii) 95: the charge against Acilius Glabrio (PIR2 A 67 for conspiracy i.a. quoted his exploits as a gladiator four years previously: Suet. Dom. 10.2; Dio Cass. 67.14.3. (viii) 95: the charge against the imperial ex-slave Epaphroditus (PIR2 E 69) cited his having let down Nero in 68: Suet. Dom. 14.4; Dio Cass. 67.14.4.

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Vespasian, for instance. What triggered the individual cases, apart from suspicions of conspiracy,49 is generally unclear but the well-documented understanding that sometimes very old grievances played a significant part in such Domitianic treason trials is surely relevant when assessing what happened to Maternus. Third, context. In Dio, Maternus’ case is listed in close conjunction with a high-level settling of old scores reaching all the way back to the principate of Vespasian, this parallel case having first resulted in exile then execution.50 Again, the juxtaposition sits uneasily with the assumption that Maternus was a low-grade schoolmaster or insignificant rhetor; and again, it goes far in suggesting what might have happened. Fourth, the charges. Of the eight cases, a total of six (i, ii, iii, iv, v-vi) refer not to deeds, but to words uttered and texts written, these latter including historical excerpts, biographies of Stoic martyrs, one of whom was considered a latterday Cato,51 and finally, a drama offending an emperor—surely not irrelevant when trying to sort out what happened to the author of a provocative historical drama on the Stoic martyr Cato. Given these parallels, the objection that Maternus’ ‘shadow of death’ could not have ‘reached back over fifteen years, from 91 to 75’ is clearly untenable.52 The gap in chronology is no argument against identification, but rather the opposite. Such gaps were standard. In sum, what the Dialogus reports has a highly suggestive similarity to the typical overture of other such Domitianic causes célèbres, with charges based upon old offences that years later resulted in death sentences or, alternatively, in a verdict of exile later converted to one of death.53 When the offence, as in this case, was literary, book burnings are also heard of.54 There is no positive evidence as to what happened to Maternus’ dramas. However, given the legal background one begins to understand better why his friends

49 Suet. Dom. 10.2 (cf. Dio Cass. 67.14.3) quotes conspiracy (i.e. maiestas) as the common denominator in many such cases. 50 Both Dio’s epitomes of 67.12.2–5 report the case of Maternus immediately after that of Mettius Pompusianus; Dio’s date for the trial of Mettius seems confirmed by parallel evidence for relatives of Mettius also running into trouble in c.91: Jones (2000) 87; Roche (2003) 319–22. 51 Thrasea wrote Cato’s biography: 106 n. 15; his conflict with Nero compared to Cato’s with Caesar: ibid.; his suicide modelled on that of Cato: ibid. 52 ‘the shadow of death’: Mayer (2001) 44 n. 102 (not addressing the evidence quoted in 114 n. 48). 53 Like Mettius Pompusianus, the ex-slave Epaphroditus (Dio Cass. 67.14.4) and the exconsuls (Ser. Cornelius Scipio) Salvidienus Orfitus (PIR2 C 1445) and Acilius Glabrio were first exiled, then executed (Suet. Dom. 10.2). 54 Public book burnings: Tac. Agr. 2.1 (the biographies by Arulenus Rusticus and Herennius Senecio in AD 93); the latter preserved and re-edited by family members returning from exile after the fall of Domitian: Plin. Ep. 7.19.6.

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were so anxious that he should make his Cato, ‘if not better, then at least safer’.55 (iv) But, one might ask, are the offences of the two Materni at all comparable? In Tacitus, Maternus’ offence is of a kind that in other cases are known to have resulted in conviction and death. From Dio the evidence is less clear-cut, since his narrative of this period is lost. Our knowledge of what he wrote is, for this section, based entirely upon two Byzantine epitomes, one by Xiphilinus (often the only authority quoted in discussions of the episode), the other by the slightly younger Zonaras.56 Careful scrutiny has long since demonstrated that both had independently read the relevant sections of Dio in the original. For this section Zonaras is therefore a valuable supplement to Xiphilinus.57 It is only Xiphilinus who names Maternus (Zonaras was in general more prone to anonymizing), but, like the former, Zonaras calls him ‘a sophist’, and likewise says that he had uttered something critical ‘against tyrants’. But where Xiphilinus says that Maternus had spoken, Zonaras reports that he had written. Both, however, agree that this had been done IŒH , apparently meaning that presentation had been a preliminary to publication. The difference between spoken and written is, as we shall presently see, probably crucial. Dio, who understood the legal consequences, seems to have been careful to specify the nature of such literary offences.58 As for Maternus’ delivery being IŒH (‘when training, practising or trying out (something)’), this has variously been interpreted as referring to ‘a practice speech’ or ‘school declamation’ (Schuldeklamation).59 However, rather than jumping to conclusions about genre or context (the rhetor school once again!), Richard Tarrant has rightly observed that we might be dealing with ‘a garbled reference to a

Tac. Dial. 3.2, ‘Catonem non quidem meliorem sed tamen securiorem’. As evidence for Dio Cass. 67.12.5, Cary (19141) viii, 345, Veh (1987) v, 183 and Manuwald (2001) 84 n. 64 follow the usus of only quoting Xiphilinus’ version, æ  b çØ , ‹Ø ŒÆa ıæ ø r Ø IŒH , I ŒØ ; in the main manuscripts (cf. Boissevain (1895–1926) i, ii–vi), Zonaras’ reference (11.19, p. 59, Dindorf) is transmitted in two, slightly diverging versions: ŒÆd çØ Ø Æ ‹Ø IŒH º Å ŒÆa ıæ ø ı ªæłÆ, ŁÆ ø fi KŒ ºÆ (B; CC) and ŒÆd çØ Ø Æ ‹Ø IŒH Ø Æ ŒÆa ıæ ø º Å ı ªæłÆ, ŁÆ ø fi KŒ ºÆ (A; E). The words shared by the two epitomes are underlined. 57 Zonaras’ account based upon that of Dio himself until Nerva and Trajan: Boissevain (1891) 451–2; similarly in his edition’s (116 n. 56) iii, 187. Zonaras may have used Xiphilinus’ epitome as an aid, but ‘it is clear that he also read Dio in the original and can be used as a supplement to Xiphilinus . . . up to the reign of Trajan’: Millar (1964) 3. 58 When charges involved literary activities, Dio seems consistent in reporting whether the offence was written or verbal: 56.27.1 (pamphlets burnt); 57.20.3 (a poem); 57.23.3 (offensive utterances); 57.22.5 (verses recited); 57.24.2–4 (the history Cremutius had written); 58.24.4 (the tragedy Mamercus Aemilius Scaurus had written); 59.20.6 (a speech recited by a rhetor). 59 ‘in a practice speech’: thus Cary (1914) 345 (translating Dio Cass. 67.12.5); similarly Veh (1987) 183; ‘Schuldeklamation’: Gudeman (19142) 37; ‘in einer Übungsrede gesagt habe’: Manuwald (2001) 84 n. 64 (italics added). 55 56

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recited tragedy’,60 such recitation often being the preferred pre-publication manner in which to present what one had written.61 Zonaras further identifies the work written by Maternus as a º Å, a word commonly denoting a sophist’s ‘declamation’, often on a historical theme, but perhaps applicable to any kind of draft or work or piece that they would declaim. On this assumption, the designation is not necessarily in conflict with a recitation of, for instance, drama, but I have found no parallels. In view of Xiphilinus’ non-committal reference to what Maternus had recited (his ti (‘something’) does not take us far), one may, however, wonder, whether Zonaras’ º Å actually comes from Dio. Or is Zonaras here, as indeed elsewhere, misrepresenting the original? His sentence reporting what Maternus had written is of course in need of an object—and even where Dio did not specify, Zonaras can elsewhere be shown to have guessed, not always being fortunate in hitting the mark.62 Alternatively (and, I think, more plausibly) we may be dealing with an error of transmission. While the manuscripts of Zonaras agree that Maternus had written a º Å, they, interestingly, diverge as to where in the sentence the word belongs. Such confusion often indicates that the text has been tampered with. In the present case it may indicate that a marginal gloss explaining what is referred to has been mistaken for an original component that scribes at some point decided to put back in, perhaps to replace an original Ø (‘something’). In any case, it seems telling that later scribes faithfully perpetuate an initial uncertainty as to the proper position within the sentence of º Å. Here, textual criticism will suggest, is an element that might not originally belong. So whether we are dealing with a guess of Zonaras’ or some early scribe’s (as seems more likely), it is doubtful how much one can, with confidence, rely on this label. Given Dio’s preoccupation with the issue of the medium, it is, on the other hand, crucial that the two epitomes in their reports concerning the fate of Maternus have four identical words in common, but diverge startlingly as to whether his offence had been oral or written. Since this is a detail that Dio is otherwise careful to register, this disagreement looks too deliberate to be an error. Surely, we are dealing with two not quite identical reports ultimately reflecting separate parts of what Dio appears to have written about the twofold 60

Tarrant (2002) 81. Recitation a preliminary to publication: Tac. Dial. 1–3, Plin. Ep. 9.27 (unidentified historian); 7.17.11 (the tragedian Pomponius Secundus); the method already used by Vergil and later by Silius Italicus: 84 n. 48. 62 Abbreviating Dio’s report of the Tiberian trial of the historian Cremutius Cordus, Zonaras claims that Cremutius had written ‘the history of Caesar and Augustus’, a F ˚ÆÆæ ŒÆd a F `Pªı ƒ æÅ: Zonar. 11.2, p. 7 (Dindorf ). This, however, is hardly correct, Dio apparently only saying that Cremutius Cordus’ ‘references to Caesar and Augustus’ had been devoid of flattery: Dio Cass. 57.24.3 (Xiphilinus),   ˚ÆÆæÆ ŒÆd e `hªı . He is of course bound to have mentioned Caesar, but there is no sign that Cremutius’ history went further back than his murder and the ensuing terror: Sen. Ad Marciam 26.1. 61

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nature of Maternus’ offence. Independently of each other, the epitomes report that the offence had been oral, but also written. Which is where it seems crucial that Tacitus’ Maternus had offended by ‘reciting’ (recitaverat, 2.1) the ‘book’ (librum, 3.1; 2; 3) he had written and now insisted on ‘publishing’ (emitteres, 3.2; editionem, 3.3).63 Such overlap is unlikely to be fortuitous. In sum: building (i) on readings using parallels in genre to lay bare similarities between the doomed Maternus described by Tacitus and Dio (the former apparently foreshadowing deadly danger, the latter reporting the final result), it looks as if there is no basis for using (ii) the label sophist or (iii) the chronological distance between original offence and final punishment as a means of disproving identity. Far from it: in Dio’s early third-century Greek, the use of this label is consistent in evoking activities not dissimilar to those of Tacitus’ first-century author. The time gap between offence and punishment, moreover, corresponds precisely with a deadly pattern also otherwise characterizing the final years of Domitian’s tyranny. As for the evidence (iv) of the two epitomes, they do, when actually seen together, furnish new parallels to the account of Tacitus, in whose outline Maternus’ offence had also been twofold, involving a recitation as well as a script. On this reading, it is only Zonaras’ designation of Maternus’ work as a º Å that, perhaps, is in conflict with these findings. Given the strong possibility that the label is not Dio’s at all, but stems from a guess or a gloss, this does not seem a solid foundation on which to base a theory of two entirely different Flavian Materni who, independently of each other, had offended the powerful with such a pre-publication recitation of a script. To round up, there are far stronger reasons than have often been acknowledged for regarding Maternus as one of Tacitus’ author-martyrs, rehabilitated once the tyrant had fallen. It might, of course, be objected that Quintilian never mentions Maternus and his Cato, but if he had indeed been condemned, it is, as parallels suggest, extremely unlikely that Quintilian would have mentioned him at all. Take for instance Maternus’ two bêtes noires, otherwise known as the shining glories of Flavian eloquence, Vibius Crispus and Eprius Marcellus. In the Dialogus (its dramatic date being c.74), the two are still a celebrated pair, and two decades later, in the last years of Domitian, Quintilian is still full of praise for Vibius Crispus. But now, Eprius Marcellus has completely disappeared (his memory only to re-emerge once the Flavians have fallen from power). It is not hard to see why. In Vespasian’s last year, Eprius Marcellus somehow ran into trouble. He was prosecuted in the 63 The variants in the text of Zonaras: 116 n. 56. Kohn (2013) 7 mistakenly claims that Maternus’ editionem (3.3) might refer to a performance; the same paragraph’s libri huius (‘of this book’) and the preceding emitteres (3.2—precisely the word for publishing a book: Suet. Claud. 33.2)—show clearly what is meant.

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Senate and committed suicide rather than await the verdict. For all and sundry, and above all for an imperial employee like Quintilian, a reference to such a criminal was best avoided.64 If Maternus were likewise condemned, this would not only account for Quintilian’s silence but also for Maternus’ sudden re-emergence to re-acknowledged fame soon after the downfall of his arch-foe Domitian. If we assume that Tacitus’ portrait of Maternus belongs to a process witnessing the rehabilitation of those who had been executed as enemies of the state, there are, finally, aspects of Maternus’ first oration that seem to make better sense. When extolling the blissful peace of his new secluded existence dedicated to the sacred pursuits of poetry, Maternus is optimistic in predicting that he would ‘not one day be speaking in the defence of himself rather than a client’.65 Many readers have felt that this is a statement loaded with tragic irony, since the context seems to imply the very opposite, that he would in fact one day do so. This feeling can, I think, only be strengthened when one sees how Tacitus lets Maternus finish his praise of poetry in an ‘agitated and almost inspired’ (concitatus et velut instinctus, 14) manner that deeply impresses his visiting friends. The passage offers a sanguine forecast as to how Maternus felt confident that his life would end. His would not be a death followed by confiscations of property (the lot of the condemned); his tomb would not feature a grim and downcast statue, but one that was serene and garlanded. There would be ‘no proposing a motion’ (i.e. to the Senate) or ‘addressing a petition’ (i.e. to the emperor) on behalf of his memory66—which was normally what happened when people who had been subjected to damnatio memoriae by official decree had their previous honours restored.67 It is hard not to see this remarkably detailed series of denials as reflecting in the negative what

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Rhetorical renown and power of Eprius Marcellus and Vibius Crispus: Syme (1991c) 521–40 with Tac. Dial. 8.1; 8.3; 13.4. Quintilian mentions Crispus, repeatedly praising his elegance (5.13.48; 8.5.15; 17; 10.1.119; 12.10.11), but never Marcellus. Suicide of the latter in c.78: Dio Cass. 66.16.3. 65 Tac. Dial. 11.4, ‘nec vereor ne mihi umquam verba in senatu nisi pro alterius discrimine facienda sint’; alternatively, Syme (1991c) 531 suggests a reference to the kind of misfortunes Maternus may have avoided, such as the trial before the Senate of Eprius Marcellus: Dio Cass. 66.16.3f. 66 Tac. Dial. 13.6, ‘et pro memoria mei nec consulat quisquam nec roget’; the procedures: Tac. Ann. 11.35.1; Hist. 1.78.2; 4.40.1 (show of images banned or re-permitted by Senatus consultum); Dio Cass. 59.3.5–6; Tac. Ann. 14.12.4 (loss of right to burial revoked); Sen. Controv. 10, praefatio 8; Suet. Cal. 16.1; Tac. Agr. 2.1–2; Plin. Ep. 7.19.6 (books banned and ban on books revoked by decree of Senate or ruling of emperor); assuming that the rest of Maternus’ life was plain sailing, Mayer (2001) ad loc. only quotes a decree of the Senate (Tac. Ann. 2.83.3) voting the late Germanicus a portrait to be put up in the Senate. But surely, a Flavian author receiving such extraordinary honours would have been mentioned by Quintilian. 67 Galban and Flavian rehabilitations: Zimmermann (1995) 56–82 and Kragelund (1998) 152–93.

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soon after Domitian’s fall had in fact taken place in the Senate of which Tacitus was a member with respect to the memoria of Curiatius Maternus.68 Perhaps this is as far as this case can be taken on this evidence, but we should in any case not forget that Maternus was a person who seems to have deeply impressed Tacitus. Something about his career and historical drama may well have inspired the historian. Not politically constrained oratory but the more poetic—and dramatic—medium of history.69 A kind of history, moreover, that, like Maternus’ dramas, carried the hallmark of personal commitment.

7. MATERNUS ’ N E R O: DATE AND CONTEXT Amongst Maternus’ output, which included a Medea and perhaps also an Agamemnon, his previous historical dramas are therefore of particular interest. Unfortunately, nothing can be made of the enigmatic Domitius70 (no. 18) to which one of his interlocutors refers. Was it a drama about Nero (commonly nicknamed Domitius by his enemies in order to brand his rule as illegitimate) or one of his republican ancestors? Without further evidence the question must be left open, thus leaving us with the references to his dramatic beginnings, which in the present context are of particular interest.71 To be sure, the meaning of the passage in question is contested; as for the date of the episode, there is, however little doubt. Postponing the textual problems, it seems reasonable, therefore, to begin with the aspects for which the evidence seems unambiguous. 68

Barnes (1986) 243; Bartsch (1994) 104. The parallels between Maternus and Tacitus: Syme (1958) 110–11. 70 Medea and Agamemnon: Tac. Dial. 3.4; 9.2. SOURCE FOR No. 18, Maternus’ Domitius: Tac. Dial. 3.4 (‘Domitium et Catonem, id est nostras quoque historias et Romana nomina Graeculorum fabulis aggregares’). The identity of the Domitius in question is a riddle: a long tradition (cf. Syme (1958) 110 with bibliography) would opt either for the Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was consul in 54 BC or the one from 32 BC. The modern family historian Carlsen (2006) 73–4 rightly points to the tragic potential of the latter. But for all that they were Nero’s ancestors, it is difficult to see how such remote and relatively marginal persons might appeal to a Flavian dramatist and his audience; add to this that there is a third, much simpler option: 125 n. 87. 71 SOURCE FOR No. 16, Maternus’ Nero: Tac. Dial. 11.1–2, ‘parantem . . . me non minus diu accusare oratores, quam Aper laudaverat (fore enim arbitrabar ut a laudatione eorum digressus detrectaret poetas atque carminum studium prosterneret) arte quadam mitigavit (sc. Aper) concedendo iis qui causas agere non possent, ut versus facerent. ego autem sicut in causis agendis efficere aliquid et eniti fortasse possum, ita recitatione tragoediarum et ingredi famam auspicatus sum, cum quidem in Nerone improbam et studiorum quoque sacra profanantem Vatinii potentiam fregi, hodie si quid in nobis notitiae ac nominis est, magis arbitror carminum quam orationum gloria partum’. The conjectural ‘Vatinii’ (for ‘Vaticinii’) is commonly accepted. 69

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The episode involves events that through the intervention of Maternus led to the downfall of a certain Vatinius. Somehow Maternus had, he says, broken his ‘evil power’ (improbam . . . potentiam, 11.2). Now, this Vatinius happens to be known. Indeed his memory was so odious it survived for decades.72 When first introducing Vatinius, as he in AD 64 basked in the glory of Nero’s protection, Tacitus offers a detailed portrait worth quoting in full: This Vatinius ranked as one of the foulest prodigies of that court, the product of a shoemaker’s shop. Deformed in body and scurrilous in wit, he had first been taken up as a target for buffoonery. But then, by calumniating every man of decency, he acquired a power, which made him pre-eminent even among villains in influence, in wealth, and in capacity for harm.73

After this overture, the extant portion of Tacitus’ Annals has nothing further to add; Dio however provides a glimpse of Vatinius making death-threat jokes about senators, while entertaining Nero in Greece (late 66—late 67).74 From Tacitus, we do not have the parallel section covering Nero’s final years, but when his narrative resumes, in early 69, it emerges that the evil court jester actually survived the fall of Nero in June 68—but not for long. While many of Nero’s more eminent friends (among whom, Eprius Marcellus and Vibius Crispus were the objects of Maternus’ disgust) managed the turbulent transition without incurring serious harm, the anti-Neronian purges under Nero’s successor, Galba, found many victims among Nero’s low-born favourites. Gladiators and actors, ex-slaves and informers—now their victims could finally obtain revenge. Vatinius was caught up by his crimes at some point between the fall of Nero in June 68 and January 69, when Tacitus quotes a speech claiming that the crimes of Galba’s all-powerful ex-slave Icelus were worse than those of Nero’s favourites, such as ‘the likes of Polyclitus, Vatinius, and Aegialus’. The speaker then urges that Icelus should share their fate. As indeed he did: he was crucified later that day—which of course spells out clearly what happened to the three others. Nothing is known of an Aegialus (the name may well be wrongly transmitted), but, sure enough, Polyclitus, who had lorded it over senators and plundered their wealth,75 was executed right after Nero’s death. So there can be little doubt of the general drift of the passage: Icelus would soon share the fate that right

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Mart. 10.3.4; 14.96.1; Juv. 5.46 (cum schol.). Tac. Ann. 15.34.2, ‘Vatinius inter foedissima eius aulae ostenta fuit, sutrinae tabernae alumnus, corpore detorto, facetiis scurrilibus; primo in contumelias adsumptus, dehinc optimi cuiusque criminatione eo usque valuit, ut gratia, pecunia, vi nocendi etiam malos praemineret’. 74 Dio Cass. 63.15.1. 75 The crimes of Polyclitus: Tac. Ann. 14.39.1 and Dio Cass. 63.12.3; his evil reputation: Plin. Ep. 6.31.9. 73

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after the fall of Nero had been meted out to Vatinius, Polyclitus, and their crony unknown (Helius?).76 Crucially, this reference to Vatinius gives our episode a date. It belongs to the reign of Galba—a circumstance that, incidentally, removes all basis for the numerous attempts at changing the text’s allegedly ‘impossible’ in Nerone (‘in Nero’) into a date (for instance imperante Nerone, ‘during the reign of Nero’).77 The reason being that such a date is in conflict with Tacitus, who shows that it was not under, but after Nero’s downfall that Vatinius came to grief. This is a fact no conjecture can alter and no editor should ignore. In view of Nero’s attitude to independent senators, the whole idea that he, at the very end of his reign, should have sacrificed Vatinius to a senatorial prosecutor like Maternus is in any case utterly implausible. This was a period when ‘oppression made all literary pursuits of a free and independent character dangerous’ (to quote Pliny the Younger, explaining why his uncle in Nero’s last years had preferred safe philology to risky history). Pliny’s experience was by no means unique78—a further reason why Nero’s last years seem an utterly implausible context for this episode. A Galban date being the best we can do, it is now time to take a hard look at Maternus’ narrative of events. First, the context. Challenging Maternus’ decision to abandon rhetoric in favour of poetry, his friend Aper ironically grants that Maternus was not one of those who had abandoned rhetoric and chosen poetry simply because he had no talent for public speaking. So why not abandon the thankless, povertyridden realm of poetry and instead return to the truly profitable and careerfriendly world of public speaking? In his rejoinder Maternus counters paradox with paradox when describing the circumstances that caused him to turn from oratory to poetry (by which he means drama). Admitting that he had expected Aper to disparage poetry, Maternus continues: 76 Tac. Hist. 1.37.5, ‘septem a Neronis fine menses sunt et iam plus rapuit Icelus quam Polycliti et Vatinii et Aegiali perdiderunt’. Like his partner in crime and extortion, Helius, Polyclitus was executed under Galba (June 68–Jan. 69): 355 n. 273. Icelus executed on the day Galba was murdered: ibid. 1.46.5. Whatever the identity of Aegialus (Helius?), the configuration shows that he and Vatinius were doomed the moment Nero fell from power: Kragelund (1987) 198; Zwierlein (2003) 111–16 (surveying previous discussions). Mattingly (1959) 105 n. 6 insists that Vatinius survived Galba, but without meeting the objections. 77 Without addressing the inherent chronological problem (cf. 122 n. 76), Stroux (1931) 342–3, Winterbottom in the Loeb (1970), Duret (1986) 3208–9 and Mayer (2001) ad Tac. Dial. 11.2 favour the conjectural imperante Nerone for in Nerone. 78 ‘ “Dubii sermonis octo” scripsit (sc. Plinius) sub Nerone novissimis annis, cum omne studiorum genus paulo liberius et erectius periculosum servitus fecisset’, Plin. Ep. 3.5.5; similarly, Galba kept a low profile in Nero’s last years ‘not to give Nero any excuse (i.e. for an attack)’, ne quid materiae praeberet Neroni (Suet. Galba 9.1); when editing Persius, his mentor Cornutus is said to have changed a verse, ‘fearing that Nero might consider it to allude to himself ’ (veritus ne Nero in se dictum putaret, schol. on Pers. 1.121); people fled a latrine when Lucan joked about Nero’s poetry: Vita Lucani 4.

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. . . but he quite cleverly disarmed me by yielding the point that verse composition may be indulged by anyone who would not make a good lawyer. Now while I might possibly accomplish something, though not without effort, as a barrister, yet on the other hand it was the public reading of tragedies that brought me auspicious promise of future fame, namely when in Nero I broke the evil power of Vatinius . . . by whom even the sanctity of letters was being profaned. And any reputation or renown I may possess today is due, I suspect, to the fame of my poetry rather than to my speeches. And now I have determined to throw off the yoke of my practice at the bar.79

Carefully balancing the conflicting literary forces in his life (on the one hand oratory, on the other drama) this passage brilliantly outlines stages in a development from the one to the other. His opponent’s admission that Maternus did not belong to the group of ‘bad speakers but good poets’ offers Maternus a welcome point of departure, because he had, in his previous literary career, in a sense, been equally efficient as an orator and as a dramatist. To prove his point, he quotes an incident that not only brought him auspicious promises of future fame (famam) but which also allowed him to break the power of a scoundrel. These promises had subsequently been fulfilled: now his gloria rested more on his carmina (‘plays’) than on his speeches. What happened at the initial stage was therefore clearly something that belonged to his career as a dramatist. This, as it turned out, successful and indeed effective result of a public recitation had encouraged him to abandon rhetoric (at which he was good) and dedicate himself completely to drama.80 The alternative reading sees the reference to initial fame as a leap backwards, contrasting Maternus’ early rhetorical fame with his present situation as a celebrated poet. But in the text as it stands there is no indication of such a contrast—and no call for conjectures giving it substance. Quite the contrary: the reasons for upholding the reading outlined above seem overwhelming. First, Maternus describes his initial success in precisely the kind of religious language that he is consistent in reserving for the august world of poetry. This was the realm of that ‘more sacred and august eloquence’ (sanctiorem illam et augustiorem eloquentiam, 4.2), ‘chaste and unblemished by vice’ (casta et nullis contacta vitiis, 12.2) and rooted in a ‘Golden Age’ (aureum saeculum, 12.3) when poets were the companions of gods, their words ‘oracles’ and ‘the most august of honours’ (augustior honor, 12.4) their reward.81 79

Tac. Dial. 11.2 (cf. 120 n. 71). A speech: Stroux (1931) 342 f.; Manuwald (2001) 86 n. 68; Tarrant (2002) 80; Zwierlein (2003) 113 and Mayer (2001) ad loc. (the latter neither mentions nor meets the objections). A drama: Dessau, PIR1 V 207; Barwick (1954) 42; Mattingly (1959) 105–5; Bartsch (1994) 103–4; 119; 200–2; Kragelund (1987) 197 ff. (summarized here) and Levene (2004) 169–71. 81 Poetry a sacred place of purity and innocence: Tac. Dial. 12.1, ‘loca pura atque innocentia . . . sedibus sacris’; 12.3, in the ‘aureum saeculum’ poets lived with the gods and proffered ‘oracula’ (12.2); no one received ‘gloria maior aut augustior honor’ (12.4). 80

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Rhetoric, by contrast, he now saw as tainted by ‘greed and blood’ (lucrosae . . . et sanguinantis eloquentiae, 12.2), ‘born of evil ways . . . invented as a substitute for weapons’ (ex malis moribus natus . . . in locum teli repertus, 12.2). For all that ‘its conflicts and dangers might bring its practitioners coveted consulates’ (certamina et pericula sua ad consulatus, 13, the latter suitably in the plural since the scoundrels Crispus and Marcellus had already notched up four consulates between them), rhetors were inevitably doomed to live ‘a life of anxiety and fear’ (inquieta et anxia oratorum vita, 13). Maternus’ sustained use of such metaphors is revealing. The episode that brought him—as he solemnly phrases it—‘auspicious promise of future fame’ clearly belonged to his career as a poet. The word auspicatus is also otherwise used to denote a poet’s recitation debut.82 In the present case it had brought down a villain who had ‘profaned the sanctity of letters’ (studiorum . . . sacra profanantem, 11.2). Such is the power of poetry! Syntax confirms that Maternus is referring to his success as a dramatist and not as a rhetor.83 And while it has sometimes been argued that to break someone’s power is a feat characteristic of rhetoric, it is surely crucial that Maternus here makes a point of turning Aper’s argument on its head, proudly acknowledging that his brilliance in rhetoric was equalled (if no more) by what he could accomplish as a poet. For Maternus, this success had clearly been a turning point. The text gives the drama’s title as Nero (no. 16).84 A drama with such a title has been deemed ‘unthinkable’, the very reading therefore to be discarded, but with a Cato, Domitius, and Octavia in its immediate proximity, such categorical dismissal seems ill founded (to put it mildly).85 Others suspect the passage to be corrupt beyond repair—which would leave us with a drama without a secure title, but perhaps with some reference to Nero in it. Yet, as transmitted, the sentence works, so it seems an over-reaction to despair.

82 Cf. Petron. Sat. 90.5 ‘non hodie primum auspicatus sum’ (the poet Eumolpus on his recitation debut). 83 Stroux (1931) 342 f. influentially argued for a full stop, but Solodow (1978) 136–7 shows that the cum quidem clause presupposes a reference to a specific date or occasion (the recitation), which it then expands and amplifies (I owe this point to discussions with M.D. Reeve); similarly, Levene (2004) 170. 84 Tac. Dial. 11.2, in Nerone YE; in Neronem X; Winterbottom in the OCT 1975 and Heubner in the Teubner (1983) print in Nerone with a crux or in brackets; others (in my view rightly) accept in Nerone. Bo (1986) ad loc. argues for in Neronem (sc. Vatinii potentiam) adducing passages like Cic. Rep. 2.49, ‘in populos perpetuam potentiam’—but I agree with Mattingly (1959) 106 that the syntax does not work. Chronology (not discussed by Bo) raises further problems: when ‘the power of Vatinius’ was broken, Nero was no longer around: Kragelund (1987) 197–9 and 122 n. 77. No need, therefore, ‘to break Vatinius’ power over Nero’ (which is how Bo construes the passage). 85 ‘undenkbar’: thus, categorically, Helm (1954) 1575.

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The title Nero evokes a play dealing with events in recent memory. Its recitation had—in this oeuvre, once again—clearly caused a stir, be it that it was the representation of the evils of Nero’s reign in general, or the crimes of Vatinius in particular that led to audience reaction causing the latter’s downfall. The parallel with the Balbus praetexta is suggestive. Once again, we are dealing with a praetexta presenting Romans in deadly conflict. And since it is Nero and his followers who are under attack, the old suggestion that Maternus’ Nero is identical with his otherwise mysterious Domitius (no. 18) merits serious consideration.86 In the decade after Nero’s fall, it was clearly common to denigrate Nero by using his paternal name. The re-naming cast him as an illegitimate usurper, who had appropriated what rightly belonged to others.87 Rather than an altogether different drama, it seems simpler to assume that Maternus’ Domitius is identical with his Nero. But whatever the truth, it is, to conclude, suggestive that the Octavia was by no means alone in using drama to put tyranny in the dock (Ch. 16). But this, of course, is to anticipate what otherwise would have ended here. Indeed, even the story of what had gone before would, as we shall presently see, for the most part have been impossible to decipher, were it not that someone, when copying a manuscript comprising nine mythological tragedies by Seneca, rounded off the selection by adding a tenth drama to the group. This intervention, at a date unknown, but certainly not later than the eleventh century,88 was perhaps made in the belief that the drama was actually by Seneca himself; alternatively, it may simply have been seen as relevant to an understanding of his oeuvre.89 In terms of survival, however, the inclusion of the Octavia in the Senecan corpus was crucial, since the text of this combined manuscript tradition (in modern scholarship referred to as the manuscripts belonging to group A) became extremely popular and frequently copied. While the other independent textual testimony to the Senecan tragedies survives in only a single manuscript (which significantly does not have the Octavia), the A group survives in more than 500 copies, one of which furnished the text for the first edition of Seneca’s tragedies, now known to have been printed in Ferrara in the autumn of 1478.90 86

Maternus’ Domitius: 120 n. 70. Rebels calling Nero, Domitius: 308 n. 39; Nero buried not as a Julio-Claudian, but as a Domitius: 352 n. 262. Pliny the Elder’s hybrid ‘Domitius Nero’: 308 n. 39. Maternus’ Domitius identical with his Nero: thus already F.G. Welcker. 88 Zwierlein (1987) argues strongly for awareness of an A-text (with the Octavia) in eleventh century France. 89 Herington (1958) publishes the Exeter mss. originally belonging to Bishop John de Grandisson (1292–369) which holds the Octavia along with some of Seneca’s prose writings. 90 The traditional date c.1484 (Flodr (1973) 282 no. 115 and, most recently, Billerbeck & Somazzi (2009) vi) is suspiciously late. Peverada (1994) 183 shows that the printer Andrea Beaufort or Belfort brought out 500 copies between September and December 1478; cf. Petrini 87

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At this point we leave the trail, for the time being, to examine instead why there can be little doubt that the anonymous scribe who linked the Octavia with Seneca’s mythological tragedies ensured the unique survival of a drama that Romans would have regarded as a praetexta.

(1999) 142; De Robertis & Resta (2004) no. 29 (Simona Periti); the new date is accepted by the British Library’s online Incunabula Short Title Catalogue; chronology of Belfort’s printings: Shaw (2003).

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Part II The Octavia

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8 A Praetexta? It is increasingly and, as I shall presently argue, rightly assumed that, in style as well as structure, the Octavia is a drama carrying salient hallmarks of its genre. To Romans, it would have proclaimed itself a praetexta from page one—or from the curtain being drawn—with closer links to the Brutus of Accius and the Cato of Maternus than to mythological tragedy.1

1. GENRE CONTINUITY? As opposed to what has often been asserted, the above survey has, I think, shown that it is wrong to deny the very possibility of such continuity. There was no ‘break of almost two hundred years’, and therefore no reason to assume that time had confined to oblivion what had characterized the genre. Quite the contrary, in fact: such evidence as we have gives us reason to believe that, in the Empire, praetextae were still read and written, recited and probably also performed. Due to the biased channels of transmission, which for vital stretches of time favoured the Republican over the Imperial, the archaic over the modern, the limited extent of our evidence provides no basis for arguing that there was a Republican flowering as opposed to an almost total Imperial eclipse.

1 The earliest commentary on the Octavia, by Nicholas Trevet, dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century (edited by Junge (1999)). With ups and downs, discussion has continued ever since. A number of modern line-by-line commentaries, by Ballaira (1974), Ferri (2003), and Boyle (2008) provide abundant references to contested issues; so does Manuwald (2001). Rather than attempting to acknowledge all predecessors, the primary focus of these footnotes is also in this section on the relevant primary evidence and on discussions that seem helpful. However, a consistent attempt has been made to engage fully or sufficiently with readings that challenge the views and inferences presented here. If not otherwise stated, all translations are my own. Previous discussions of the relation between the Octavia and the Republican praetextae are well surveyed by Zorzetti (1980), Schmidt (1985), Manuwald (2001), Wiseman (2008) 200–9 and Boyle (2008). Like the present writer, the two latter see clear signs of a direct continuity.

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As with elegy, satire, epos, and tragedy, posterity is, in short, in the not unfamiliar situation of dealing with a Roman genre of which we only have reasonably coherent evidence from a fairly late stage. To corroborate this view, which, if accepted, would influence how this drama is discussed, it seems useful to look more closely at the other main objections to the idea of such continuity. Of these objections, the most common consists in claiming that this is more a tragedy than a praetexta, or, more elegantly put, une prétexte devenue tragédie—but, in any case, of no relevance to discussions of the praetextae proper.2 Now, it is of course correct that this drama exhibits typically tragic traits. Not only are there allusions to tragedies by Seneca and Sophocles, but a tragic framework is everywhere present. It is written in verse (its anapaests and iambics, however, also being among the metres employed in other praetextae), its language is at points elevated, and it uses such basic tragic forms as the monologue, dialogue, and choral song. Among the dramatis personae are such stock figures as chorus, messenger, nurses, and ghost; and its set pieces include the dirge, the curse, the monologue addressed to a godhead, the narration of prophetic dreams, the stirring account of a messenger, and dialogue between protagonist and chorus. In the apparatus that the setting presupposes, there are likewise traits which are familiar from tragedy, such as the central scene outside the Imperial Palace and the ghostly fury making her entrance from the Underworld. Those who— often with a dismissive slur—have spoken of a play which, were it not for the Roman names, would be taken for a Greek tragedy, are therefore in a (very, very) limited sense correct. There is much here, which is ‘similar to tragedies’ (tragoediis similes), but as we have seen in Chapter 2, this is precisely one of the ways in which praetextae were defined. This was, moreover, a play in which a tragic actor would feel at home, a circumstance that, once again, is consistent with what is known of the genre. In the traditional repertoire, actors tended to focus either on comedy or tragedy. But Aesopus, one of the stars of Republican tragedy, also performed in Accius’ Brutus: in the early first century AD, acting in tragedy is seen as parallel to acting in praetextae. More specifically, it has been objected that there is a fundamental difference between the historical dramas of the Republic and the Empire, in so far as the 2 The Octavia exactly like other tragedies: cf. e.g. Boissier (1857) 102 ‘l’Octavie, attribuée à Sénèque, ne diffère en rien des autres tragédies du même poëte’; the view is still current: Dupont (1985) 227 (‘l’Octavie emprunte à la tragédie non seulement ses categories mais aussi sa structure narrative et ses scènes essentielles’) and Baier (2002) 744: ‘Ihre (i.e. Octavia’s) Form entspricht ganz derjenigen der griech. T.’ (emphasis added); Schubert (2012) 425 (more tragedy than praetexta). Similarly, but more cautiously: Schmidt (1985) 1425–6 (apart from names, personal and geographic, hardly any aspects show this to be a play with a Roman subject); contra e.g. 251– 5 n. 44–56; 263 n. 13–14; 276–7 n. 6–9.

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latter are emphatically ‘anti-panegyrical’ (and therefore unrelated to the early praetextae, some of which celebrated the res gestae of victorious generals).3 Such a view fails to take into account changes in the attitude to heroism. Octavia is, after all, cast as a heroic latter-day Electra, Antigone, or Cassandra; as we shall see, her final exit shows her in triumph over blind Fortuna. Similarly, Seneca is shown to have opposed the tyrant and defended the rights of the people. In the history of the genre, moreover, the tragic end of Octavia is by no means unprecedented. Both Lucretia and Decius die, whether by suicide or self-sacrifice for the good of the populus Romanus. From Lucretia’s death would follow the fall of the monarchy, from Decius’ the defeat of enemy tribes, from Octavia’s the fall of Nero.4 Similarly with Maternus: the fact that his Cato had offended those in power suggests a portrayal of the kind familiar from Lucan. Caesar’s triumph was merely apparent, Cato’s eternal. To survive, genres must adapt. Rather than denying continuity, it is a natural assumption that this is also what has happened here. Under the emperors, conditions for heroism changed dramatically. An Imperial historian also had virtus to praise, but it manifested itself differently than during the Republic. While his Republican predecessors had subjects like ‘great wars, cities stormed, kings . . . captured’, the field of an Imperial historian was (as Tacitus famously phrased it) ‘circumscribed and inglorious’, but not, be it added, without its acts of heroism.5 Like Maternus, our dramatist would, one feels, have agreed. In sum, the undeniable similarities between mythological tragedy and the sole surviving praetexta are only what one, given the genre, would expect. This leaves the final objection: since this was a drama solely meant for recitation, it can—so runs the argument—reveal nothing about dramas meant for performance.6 This conclusion is deeply problematic; first, because much is assumed but nothing known about the performance or otherwise of the Octavia. That Maternus recited his dramas happens to be known, but nothing in the sources excludes performance, for instance after the fall of Domitian. Seneca’s rival, Pomponius Secundus, wrote mythological tragedy as well as historical drama. His plays were performed as well as recited in the forties and fifties AD and, given his fame, probably also later. Before that, there are, as we have seen (Ch. 3–6) references to Tiberian, Augustan, and Republican performances of praetextae. Scanty as it is, the evidence seems indisputable in confirming that

3 Due to its ‘antipanegyrisches Geschichtsbild’, the Octavia is no praetexta: Schmidt (1985) 1425 (with bibliography); similarly Zorzetti (1980) 98. 4 Zorzetti (1980) 93 ff. sees Accius’ Decius as the first in a series of increasingly tragic praetextae; with the Octavia all links to the archaic genre have been lost: ibid. 98. 5 ‘circumscribed, inglorious’ (nobis in arto): Tac. Ann. 4.32.2 (transl. M. Grant, Penguin). 6 cf. e.g. Dupont (1985) 215.

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activity was varied. It therefore seems overconfident to rule out the possibility that the Octavia likewise might have been performed. But even assuming that it was only recited, the argument against its relevance is vitiated by an inherent weakness. In view of the importance which Roman poets attached to rules of genre it seems a priori implausible that a playwright dealing with a topic which has far less in common with mythological drama than with the praetextae, would be uninfluenced by a genre that numbered such illustrious forebears as Naevius, Ennius, and Accius. This, moreover, was not a genre without near-contemporary practitioners, such as Pomponius Secundus, Persius, and Curiatius Maternus (nos. 13; 14; 16–18). Of course, the Republican dramatists had dealt with the res gestae of kings, generals, and brave women, and at least one of their Imperial colleagues dealt with an emperor, empresses, and courtiers—but as is the case with historiography, this may simply reflect the changing political realities. Therefore to deny that there are links between Republican and Imperial praetextae seems extreme. Even those who insist that Seneca’s tragedies are Rezitationsdramen, admit that they are recognizably tragedies. Why should a Rezitationspraetexta be any different? A major obstacle to accepting such a link seems to be that the Octavia is (allegedly) written ‘regardless of stage requirements’.7 Now, there are, admittedly, features of this text that differ entirely from ancient drama, as we otherwise know it. The reactions to these deviations have confirmed what scholars like John Fitch, Michael von Albrecht, and Marcus Wilson have rightly identified as a major problem in discussions of the Senecan corpus. What commonly characterizes this debate is a strong element of normative aesthetics: of ideas about rules from which it has been conceived unthinkable that the ancients would depart.8 Wherever the Octavia departs from these socalled rules (more on which later), it has been decried as signs of carelessness (although the departures make perfect dramatic sense) or as proof that the drama could never have been performed (although there are antecedents in a praetexta known to have been performed). A more sympathetic approach has detected signs that the unknown dramatist was an ‘innovator’9 but, to me, the antecedents would rather suggest that this is someone writing within the framework of a fairly well-defined tradition. 7 Beare (1964) 236; similarly Ferri (2003) ad 690–91 and passim concludes ‘that the poet . . . did not try to visualize his play in dramatic terms’. 8 Albrecht (1992) 937: either ‘unterschätzt man die Möglichkeiten der antiken Bühne, oder man verabsolutiert ein zeitgebundenes Geschmacksurteil’; similarly Wilson (2003) 63 on the tendency to ‘impugn the author’s dramaturgy rather than question [one’s] . . . own expectations’; the idea of unperformability based upon aesthetic prejudice rather than evidence: Fitch (2000) 1–12. 9 Sutton (1983) 4–5.

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Far from merely relying on the models employed by Seneca, this—to quote Friedrich Leo, one of the great nineteenth-century authorities on Senecan tragedy—looks more like someone drawing upon a ‘richer repertoire of dramatic writings and more varied manifestations of the genre’s potential’ than did Seneca. In what follows, I shall argue that this ‘richer repertoire of dramatic writings’ included other praetextae.10 If this seems plausible, it means that the Octavia, far from being a ‘purely literary and artificial treatment of recent history on the lines of Greek tragedy’, may in fact indicate what characterized this particular genre. Indeed the aspects of this drama that sometimes make it almost deceptively ‘similar to tragedies’ should not divert attention from a number of no less remarkable differences—these latter being all the more notable since they, by and large, constitute what the Octavia seems to have exclusively in common with other praetextae.

2. TRADITIONAL A SPECTS First, there is the subject. Its focus on Nero’s wedding to Poppaea and murder of Octavia (events datable to early June 62) is emphatically historical. So are the main protagonists. The toga praetexta from which the genre was named was in fact what Seneca and Nero in official capacities would wear. The Empresses Agrippina, Octavia, and Poppaea, and the Imperial Guard Prefect are of course equally historical. Finally, the settings—Rome, its Imperial Palace, and, in the final scene, a harbour, probably in Campania (Ch. 10.3)—were familiar to all. Roman history, Roman characters, and Roman settings are what praetextae since Naevius had offered. Second, there is language and the world it connotes. This too is emphatically Roman. Even the name of the genre is Roman, without a corresponding Greek term. Which explains why a person writing in Greek would not translate, but simply transcribe the name when referring to the genre (Ch. 1). The emphasis on things Roman is indeed fundamental to this play. Words and toponyms not otherwise found in tragedy are prominent here. They provide a symbolic outline of the topography, social hierarchy, and value systems of Imperial Rome. Here are references to outposts of the empire (Britain, Armenia, and Egypt) as well as to the rostra in the Forum, the Praetorian Camp and the Imperial Palace; in short, to key features of the urbs et orbis of the Romans. The praetextae of old were probably no different, but all we have are titles and fragments evoking battles in and outside the Italian peninsula, in the 10 cf. Leo (1897) 51, ‘Es ist offenbar, dass die Octavia nicht einzig von Seneca abhängig ist, sondern auf einen reicheren Vorrath an dramatischen Produkten und mannigfaltigere Abstufungen der Kunstform hinweist, als die Schablone Senecas erkennen lässt’.

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Balkans, Macedonia, Spain, and Gaul. Even from the scanty traces, it seems clear, however, that the plays, at least by association, would have alluded to key locations in the sacred topography of Rome: the temples and monuments dedicated because of victories at Sentinum, Clastidium, Ambracia, Pydna, in Lusitania, and in Gaul; and the sanctuaries associated with the birth and finding of Romulus, with the Rape of the Sabine Women (commemorated in the Circus Maximus), the bravery of Roman slave girls (celebrated at the Sanctuary of Juno Caprotina), and the arrival of Magna Mater (annually remembered at the great ludi in her honour). Moreover, the dramatist clearly outlines the social hierarchy of Imperial Rome: the mob (vulgus), the people (populus), and citizens (cives); the higher orders, including the knights (equites), the Senate, and the nobility; the Praetorian Guard with its soldiers, cohorts, prefects (at the time two, and therefore mentioned in the plural)11 and, of course, the Imperial Court (aula) with the emperor (princeps, imperator, dux, Caesar, Augustus), his late mother, the Augusta, and his sister-wife, the daughter of the divus (i.e. Claudius). At the other end of the social ladder, the dramatist gives pride of place to a ‘Chorus of Romans’ (chorus Romanorum), which, in its three successive appearances, evokes the people’s role in the long span of Roman history, from the fall of the monarchy and the heyday of the free Republic down to the age of civil strife and the defeat of its most renowned champions, the Gracchi and Livius Drusus. This remarkably positive portrayal of the aspirations and champions of the Roman people may well be closely linked to the dramatist’s time of writing (Ch. 16.3), but, beyond that, Peter Wiseman has plausibly suggested that the dramatist’s endeavour to give the Chorus Romanorum a protagonist’s role is an element rooted in the traditions of a genre that from its earliest days had celebrated ‘the exploits of the Romans’ (res gestae Romanorum), when, for instance, it, apparently typically, brought the plot to an end with a staged version of the triumph that marked the successful end of its protagonist’s military campaign.12 Siege and triumph, hierarchy and politics—even from the scanty fragments of the Republican praetextae, it emerges that such a panoramic unfolding of the social hierarchy and such a focus on civic value systems were part of what characterized the genre. The early praetextae had, of course, not only dealt with warfare. As in the Octavia, questions concerning the welfare of the patria, the populus, and the cives were crucial. The dramas concerning the Nonae Caprotinae and Magna Mater gave star roles to heroic slave girls and freeborn matronae, but, at the same time, war-like themes would not only have shown kings kneeling in 11 12

The dramatist, the Guard and its Prefects: Ch. 16.6. Wiseman (1998) 57; Kragelund (2002) 45; Boyle (2008) lxiii.

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submission to Roman arms, and foreign envoys expounding their case, but there would also have been space for praising the bravery of consuls, officers, and common soldiers. Evoking what he clearly saw as a typical scene of a praetexta, Horace conjures up the image of a triumphal procession, complete with jubilant soldiers, sensational loot, and kings in chains dragged across the stage. All of which would have celebrated great moments in what a foreign envoy addressing Romans in one of these fragments solemnly describes as rem vestram publicam (‘your commonwealth’).13 Such use of characteristically Roman formats (the terminology is that of the British dramatist, David Edgar) ‘of ceremonies and rituals, which audiences recognise from the real world, bringing that knowledge with them into the playhouse’14 seems to have characterized this genre from early on. Invoking the gods, using augury, consulting interpreters of dreams, receiving foreign envoys, or giving a hearing to a king begging for mercy, these were rituals with pre-defined roles and gestures, words and apparel—formats that were easily translatable to the stage. With mass rituals such as the triumph, choreography became more complex, and so did the performance of such intricate rituals as a devotio, the prayer of the priest demanding precise knowledge of the archaic ritual—but given the ritual’s local connotations, such scenes also had the makings of great patriotic theatre.15 Here too, the Octavia seems conscious of its past, the dramatist laying great emphasis on employing elements of such typically Roman household rituals as weddings and funerals to give coherence and resonance to individual scenes. In the scenes played out in public, he likewise adopts traditional elements to create spectacles that, to Romans, would have borne deep significance. Such loans not only provide the implied scenario with its props and settings, but also with a protocol for the imagery used, movements expected, and words pronounced. This holds true for the scenes evoking the rituals of publicly honouring or, during revolts, overturning and desecrating Imperial statues, as well as for the rituals associated with the enforced departure of Roman exiles. Clients, no less than masters, would know what happened when, for the last time, exiles took leave of their home and city, or when they boarded a ship destined to take them to their place of confinement and death. Here again,

13

rem vestram publicam: Naevius Lupus, TRF3 fr. 2R; regno and rem Romanam publicam: Accius Brutus,TRF3 fr. 2, 6 and 10R; populo: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2, 7R; Decius, TRF3 fr. 4R; civibus: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 4R; patria(e/m): Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 4 and 10R. 14 Edgar (2009) 130; similarly Hornby (2006) 47 ff. Hall (2006) surveys the wide ranging discussion of ways in which Attic tragedy draws upon rituals and formats familiar to Greek audiences. 15 Augury: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2.6R; gods: Pacuvius Paulus TRF3 fr. 1R; Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 4R and 5R; embassy: Naevius Lupus, TRF3 fr. 1R; a speech to an assembly: Naevius Lupus, TRF3 fr. 2R; receiving a king’s submission: Pacuvius Paulus fr. 5 (d’Anna) = fr. 260 (Schierl); devotio: Accius Decius, TRF3 fr. 11R.

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there was a commonly accepted protocol that suggested what would be the interaction of the protagonist, her captors, and those loyal to her, as well as how such interaction should be choreographed, be it in one’s mind or on stage. Here, however, traditional reading strategies casting this as a script which, in the most unimaginative manner, does nothing but imitate Attic fifth-century tragedy, have to a remarkable degree succeeded in obfuscating what could hardly be more emphatically Roman. The early praetextae had also dealt with politics, evoking the contrast between ‘tyranny’ (regnum) and ‘the Roman commonwealth’ (rem Romanam publicam); fragments refer to two of the offices defining the constitutional framework of the Republic, the censor and the consul, etymology defining the proper role of the latter. The consul being a magistrate whose ‘glory was to take right council’, the contrast with despotic monarchy is clearly outlined.16 A line in Accius, which drew thundering applause in Cicero’s day, celebrated Roman ‘civic freedom’ (libertas).17 In their partisan manner, Balbus’ Iter and Maternus’ Cato would also have emphasized the importance of liberty—but it is a sign of the times that the message of the former was challenged by Pollio whereas the latter caused serious offence. The Octavia also contains pointed references to Roman liberty, the chorus extolling the heyday of the free Republic as well as some of its symbolic figureheads, Lucretia and Virginia, Livius Drusus, and the Gracchi (the latter is one of the few positive references in extant Imperial literature). When Nero, finally, compares the enemies of his tyranny with Brutus, he once again brings back memories of the spectre of freedom. In short, politics, sometimes confrontational, was from early on central to the genre. Balbus and Maternus no doubt continued this tradition, the one, one may guess, confronting Pompeian corruption and arrogance with Caesarean rectitude and populism, the other probably contrasting Cato’s heroism and Caesar’s tyranny. However, it is only in the Octavia that we can see an example of how such themes were dramatized. Its central scene focuses on the differences between despotic tyranny and the ideal principate. As in Tacitus’ famous scene at Augustus’ funeral, the dramatist’s confrontation of Seneca and Nero outlines two conflicting views of the principate—the drama foreshadowing the consequences of Nero’s decision to opt for tyranny rather than the rule of law. In the dramatist’s approach to recapturing such discourses of the past, two aspects seem worthy of note. First, his endeavour to adopt and integrate concepts and phrases that had, as it were, been in the air then, thus giving the plot and its characters an authentic quality. This kind of allusive mimesis 16 censorio/ae: Pacuvius Paulus, TRF3 fr. 2R = fr. 259 (Schierl); ‘qui recte consulat, consul cluat’: Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 3R. 17 Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 4R, ‘Tullius qui libertatem civibus stabiliverat’.

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(in ancient rhetorical theory described as sermocinatio) was used in all genres, including history, to provide fictitious or historical persons with a suitable style of speaking.18 It is a fair guess that the ploy (which later became a hallmark of historical drama) was also used in other praetextae, but, again, it is only in the Octavia we can see such methods deployed. Like her nurse, Claudius’ daughter will, for instance, describe her parent’s finest hour with the very words and phrases, which everyone, including Claudius himself, had used when celebrating his conquest of Britain (Ch. 11.1). Similarly, the dramatist repeatedly alludes to the young Nero’s welladvertised devotion to clementia, to his official abhorrence of murder and punishment, and to his claim to have ‘saved the life of citizens’, an ambition illustrated in his early coinage—and no doubt also in monuments dedicated to the emperor—with the honorary oak wreath given to those who had ‘saved the life of citizens’ (Fig. 8.1).19 In Seneca’s famous ‘Mirror of Princes’, the De clementia, these slogans and honours served as a mirror in which the young princeps could ponder and, as it were, familiarize himself with his good conscience—and, thus fortified, turn his lofty gaze upon the mundane tasks of his high station. In the Octavia, the mirror is still there, but here it serves to bring out the true—and hideous— image of a tyrant who had betrayed this very policy, the basic tenets of which he now mockingly rejects. Second, there is the approach to recreating a character through his style of speech. Of Nero’s writings, too little survives, but it is no doubt intentional that he repeatedly speaks as emperors (and their chanceries) from Augustus onwards customarily did, with self-confident emphasis on the possessives, as in ‘our city’ (urbe nostra, 468), ‘our era’ (saeculi nostri, 834), ‘our mildness’ (clementiam/ . . . nostram, 835–6), ‘our military (militis nostri, 820), and ‘my military camp’ (castris . . . meis, 845).20 In references to the legendary Prince Paris and to the exalted role of love, there are traits that might bear a specifically Neronian stamp (Ch. 15.1), but on the available evidence, it is when turning to the portrayal of Seneca that one can clearly see allusive mimesis put to use. Here the dramatist deftly uses a web of quotations to

18

Sermocinatio: Quint. 9.2.29–37 (a detailed discussion). Nero’s official clementia: Griffin (1984) 76–8; Braund (2009) 11–16. The OB CIVES SERVATOS symbolism in Nero’s coinage: Fig. 8.1; Table 16.4. 20 urbe nostra (468); cf. urbis nostrae; civitati nostrae, ILS 212 (the emperor Claudius); saeculi nostri (834); clementiam . . . nostram (835–6), cf. clementiae meae, Dig. 48.22.1 (Trajan); militis nostri (820) and castris . . . meis (845); cf. legatis meis and leg[ato] meo in AE (2001) 1214 (Augustus); procuratoribus meis; praetorio meo, ILS 206 (Claudius) and pax mea (Nero, ‘quoted’ by Sen. Clem. 1.1.2). When reporting emperors’ speeches, Tacitus uses similar expressions: mea liberalitas and adulescentulae nostrae, Ann. 14.56.1 (Nero); cf. KB ªÆºçæÅ, ILS 8794 = SIG3 814 (Nero’s speech to the Greeks in late 67). 19

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Fig. 8.1. A Roman gold coin from the first months of Nero’s rule in autumn 54. Its reverse carries the inscription ‘To the Emperor and People’s Tribune Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, son of the God (Claudius)’, NERONI CLAVD DIVI F CAES AVG GERM IMP TR. P and features the kind of oak wreath evoking Nero’s much emphasized clementia (for the obverse see Fig. 13.1). In the De clementia (1.26.5), Seneca proclaims that ‘no other distinction is more worthy and more of an ornament for the emperor’s majesty than this wreath conferred ‘on account of the safeguarding of citizens’ lives’, OB CIVES SERVATOS (cf. Fig. 13.1). This symbolism was a permanent feature of Nero’s coinage down to 61, shortly after his mother’s murder. RIC I2 Nero 1. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

create an illusion of actually hearing Seneca himself (Ch. 12.1–3). It is a paradoxical measure of the dramatist’s success that there still are scholars insisting that this is Seneca’s own authentic voice, so well has his style been imitated. Again, we would dearly like to know whether there were parallels. With characters like Aeneas, Tarquin, or Brutus, a judicious use of archaisms may have done the trick. But what of more recent historical figures? The example of Seneca makes one wonder what Maternus did to make Cato sound right. Did he borrow from Sallust? From the famous dying words familiar to all Roman schoolboys? Or did he draw on the recent biography by Thrasea Paetus, another Stoic martyr executed by Nero, thus giving Caesar’s adversary a more immediate relevance? Although it is a single survival, the numerous links between the genre’s fragments and the Octavia render such questions meaningful. In its handling of the genre’s most basic element, language, it suggests a deliberate adherence to a tradition reaching back to the second century BC. Much had of course changed: in the praetextae of old, the fickleness of Fortuna had apparently

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been a central motif. In Pacuvius’ Paulus, the Roman general had commiserated with King Perseus when seeing him fallen from glory. Horace, when outlining what bored him in the typical praetexta, also alludes to the motif of ‘the fortune of kings’ (Fortuna regum) as it was illustrated by the sight of defeated monarchs being dragged in chains across the stage, in processions mimicking a Roman triumph. In the Octavia, such grim reversals of fortune are very prominent, but, in what A.J. Boyle has aptly labelled ‘an inversion of the triumph imagery’, the victim is no longer a foreign monarch but the Empress of Rome who in the play’s final scene is dragged in captivity across the stage. As the Chorus observes, ‘Rome revels in a citizen’s (or: “citizen”) blood’ (civis gaudet Roma cruore, 982)—an epigram concluding the play by summarizing what, since Balbus, had become a tragic subject of praetextae.

3. PLOTS AND STRUCTURES From language, we should finally turn to structure, because here too there are elements for which there seem to have been parallels in other praetextae, but none—or fewer—in mythological tragedy. Chief among these are the frequent changes of setting, ranging from an indoor scene to scenes in front of the palace and, finally, a scene located in a harbour with a ship moored at its quay. For this latter scene, Ovid provides a parallel. But while the play in question, dealing with the arrival of Magna Mater, bears all the hallmarks of historical drama, nothing indicates that such a setting was specific to this genre. The lexicographer, Julius Pollux, who in the mid-second century compiled a dictionary with a section on technical terms used by stage hands, mentions mountains, river, and sea as part of what the tragic stage could offer (Ch. 9.4). Hence the doubts whether the Octavia’s frequent changes of setting can be considered genre specific. Indeed, it has sometimes been claimed that the fragments can tell us nothing about the way other praetextae handled this aspect, the overriding impression being that they would have respected the so-called unities of time and place.21 Using the notion of the unities as a yardstick is a deeply problematic concept (on which more later), which seems to create more difficulties than it resolves. After all, we here have a genre that often featured a scene of triumph—but over what? As Peter Wiseman has acutely observed, such a 21 Republican praetextae observed the unities of time and place: thus Manuwald (2001) 253, taking insufficient account of the arguments to the contrary: 140 n. 22–4; 157 n. 37; 159 n. 44–5; 160 n. 46; 167 n. 65–6, 168 n. 67–8; similarly, Smith (2011) 245 finds it unclear whether the Octavia’s ‘violations of dramatic unity’ are a sign of ineptness or experimentation.

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typical scene presupposes, not the staying in one place on one day, but sometimes fairly marked changes of setting, with a tripartite trajectory, for instance, taking events from Rome to a distant battlefield and then back to Rome; or in shorter versions, from battlefield back to triumph. A suggestive comment by Pomponius Porphyrio, who in the second or third century wrote a commentary on Horace, seems to corroborate this inference. Whatever the basis for his knowledge, there seems no reason to dismiss Porphyrio’s report of what was shown at such a typical praetexta performance, sometimes for hours on end. As outlined by Horace, there were, Porphyrio summarizes, ‘the spectacle of battles’ (bellorum simulacrum)—no doubt during the campaign— and then, ‘at the end’ (postremum), the pompa . . . triumphalis itself.22 With such marked changes of setting there would also have been changes of time—which in fact is also what the extant fragments suggest. Take, for instance, Pacuvius’ Paulus. While one of the fragments undoubtedly refers to events on the battlefield at Pydna, another apparently takes us some eighty kilometres to the north-west, to Paullus’ camp near Sirra (or Siris, now Serres) in eastern Macedonia, where, weeks later, King Perseus surrendered himself. From all we know it was in the Roman camp near that city that Paullus finally received King Perseus’ surrender and memorably shed tears at the sight of Fortuna’s caprice. Like their predecessors, the two most recent in-depth commentaries do not confront this geographical difficulty: the unexpressed assumption apparently being that Pacuvius arranged his text so that it all happened at Pydna. But surely, there is an unacknowledged problem here: it was, after all, an essential, and controversial, part of the story that the king had ignominiously fled the battlefield, finally seeking refuge on Samothrace, whence he was brought in captivity across Macedonia to his final surrender. This was an aspect that the proud victors would have been unwilling to do without. Perseus’ capture was, Paullus is quoted proclaiming, a ‘second victory’.23 There is no reason, therefore, to assume that Pacuvius had left this new, separate victory out, all the more since there are further indications that such fairly extensive changes of time and/or setting were an accepted component in plots of this genre. Take, to quote another instance, Accius’ Brutus. If based upon a traditional version of the legend contrasting the events in besieged 22 Wiseman (2008) 36–8 (a ground-breaking discussion); the pompa . . . triumphalis at the end of such plays: Porphyrio on Hor. Epistles 2.1.190, ‘hoc est dum populo bellorum simulacrum monstratur et ad postremum pompa ducitur triumphalis’. 23 Flight of King Perseus from Pydna to Samothrace: Livy 45.4.2–6; Plut. Aem. 26 ff.; his surrender to Paullus, apparently at Sir(r)a, but certainly not at Pydna: Livy 45.4.2; 45.7; neither d’Anna (1967) ad fr. 5, Manuwald (2001) 185, nor Schierl (2006) 516–20 on fr. 260 comment on the problem of the passage of time and change of location in connection with the episode featuring in Pacuvius’ Paulus fr. 5 (d’Anna) = fr. 260 (Schierl); the capture and surrender a ‘secundam . . . victoriam’: Livy 45.7.1.

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Ardea with those in Rome, the storyline would of necessity have involved fairly extensive changes of setting. True, Accius may have opted for another, more uni-linear version. The only problem is that for all that the tale is well attested, there is not a single source suggesting that the events were confined to Rome.24 Take, finally, Balbus’ ‘Embassy’ or ‘Travel’ (Iter). Tradition tells us of secret negotiations between the embattled army of Pompey and the besieging forces of Caesar at Dyrrhachium (now Durres in Albania). At the heart of the story is the extreme daring of Balbus in sneaking into the Pompeian camp and, of course, getting back out alive. It is difficult to imagine a Balbus plot not featuring changes of setting, from without to within and, surely, back out. In short, since there is no reason to believe that the observance of the so-called unities was considered obligatory, the burden of proof lies elsewhere, a sometimes more open-ended, dramatically contrasted domi-foris-domi (‘at home-abroad-at home’) structure being what it seems natural to suggest. As for the dramatist’s handling of time, the evidence all points in a similar direction. First, the plot of the Octavia resembles its known predecessors in so far as it deals with events of a day which was inscribed in the annals of Roman history, in casu the wedding day of Nero and Poppaea. In Imperial Rome, days and even months which related to great dynastic events, entered the sacred calendar to be variously commemorated. Imperial birthdays, weddings, and adoptions were now in a sense as historical as the Natalis Romae. Augustus had provided the model. Like his birthday, the day of his wedding to Livia and adoption of Tiberius were marked as days of great import for the future of Rome.25 When Nero, in the Octavia (530–2) announces his intention to marry Poppaea the following day,26 he likewise stresses the future implications of this historic step. Like his great ancestor, he too aimed to wipe out his rivals and found a dynasty, with successors whose piety would one day bestow divinity upon their parent. The dramatist shows that Nero failed; indeed, the reasons why he failed are central to the drama’s message. By employing the model used, and perhaps 24 Ribbeck (1875) 586, ‘der Schauplatz (s.c. in Brutus) . . . war nothwending ein doppelter’; similarly Herington (1961) 25 and Junge (1999) 167–8; sources and traditions concerning the fall of Tarquin: 51 n. 17. 25 The dynasty and the calendar: Rüpke (1995) 396–416 and Feeney (2007) 167–212 and passim; feriae commemorated Augustus’ birthday and Tiberius’ adoption. Livia’s official birthday (30 January) celebrated with priestly banquets while she was still alive: Tac. Ann. 6.5.1; chosen as the day of inauguration for the Ara Pacis: PIR2 L 301. Claudius reconsecrated the Temple of Augustus and Livia on the day which was the first of the ludi Palatini instituted by Livia (Dio Cass. 56.46.5) as well as the anniversary of her wedding day to the divus whose temple she now shared: Dio Cass. 60.5.2; AFA (Henzen) 55 = Scheid (1998) 17, 16, XVI K(alendas) FEBR(uarias): [OB CONSECR]ATIONEM DIVAE AVG(ustae) [I]N TEM[PLO] [NOVO?] . . . with Barrett (2002) 222–3; Gradel (2002) 180. Such events continued to be celebrated: AFA (Henzen) 78 = Scheid (1998) 29, i, 18–20 (birth of Poppaea’s and Nero’s daughter). 26 Neronian emphasis on notable days: 242 n. 21 (day of his mother’s death); 230 n. 38 (suppression of Pisonian conspiracy); 260 n. 7 (dedication of temple of Venus-Poppaea).

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introduced, by Accius, it is made clear that the measure which should have secured the dynasty’s future would in fact prove its undoing. As in Accius’ Brutus and probably also his Decius, history is here seen as teleological, with the events of the plot initiating a sequence that reaches far beyond the temporal framework of the drama itself. As we have seen (Ch. 4.1), Tarquin’s dream foreshadows his downfall as well as Rome’s future greatness. The structure of the Octavia is strikingly similar: here, a series of prophecies (first Agrippina’s ghost scene, then the wedding-night dream of Poppaea) anticipate what, years later, would become the sinister consequences of Nero’s criminal wedding. The employment of such dual temporality, which operates on a historical as well as prophetic level, thereby outlining aetiological causes and ensuing consequences, seems to be yet another traditional feature of this play. While this feature can be shown to have parallels in previous praetextae, for instance in the anonymous plays about the Nonae and the arrival of Magna Mater, as well as in Accius’ Brutus and Decius, the structure of Greek and Roman tragedy, at least in its known manifestations, is fundamentally different.27 From all we know, the same applies to the fact that the drama’s action is stretched over three consecutive days, with the pivotal wedding day at the centre. Here too, the fragments (as well as the playwright’s self-assurance) suggest that the employment of a timeline extending beyond a single day is rooted in well-established tradition. In Accius’ Brutus, two of the fragments presuppose that Tarquin is still king, the advent of the Republic ‘very soon to come’ (perpropinquam) but yet to arrive. A third fragment then speaks of traditional freedom (libertas) granted by good King Servius (and, of course, violated by Tarquin), with a fourth fragment showing the true colours of the new Republic as epitomized in its crucial new magistracy, the consulate. In sum, there can be no reasonable doubt that the drama dealt with the legendary ‘expulsion of the kings’ as well as its momentous political consequences. As we have seen, Pacuvius would probably have been prompted to allow for a similar temporal range, at least spanning the period from Perseus’ defeat at Pydna to his surrender some weeks later. And even if the fragment concerning Lucretia seems to belong to a different drama on the same subject by Cassius, it is hard to see how Accius could have managed without the fatal night of tyrannical rape to set the stage for the subsequent overturn of the monarchy. So here too one must assume that there were notable changes of time.28 27 In Greek tragedy, there are sometimes references to cults and institutions familiar to the audience, but the main focus is not to the same degree aetiological. The King Mausolus by Theodectes written for the dedication of Mausolus’ Mausoleum in Halicarnassus (9 n. 13) and the lost cultic dramas presumably performed at the sites studied by Nielsen (2002) are in this respect probably more relevant. 28 In Accius’ Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2, 1R the ‘Rex’ is present whereas the ‘rem Romanam publicam’ (2, 10R) is ‘perpropinquam’ (2, 8R), but still a thing of the future; fr. 3R ‘qui recte consulat, consul

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In sum, the individual fragments as well as the character of the known plots suggest a kind of drama often operating with a rather episodic storyline, in terms of time as well as place—a circumstance making it easier to understand the easy confidence with which our anonymous playwright deals with these aspects. While his style is fairly plain and his verse often prosaic, the transitions from day to day and from scene to scene are—as we shall see— remarkably well handled, with elaborate use of symmetry, contrasts, and visual parallels, and with a firm grasp upon movement, tempo, and trajectories propelling the action forwards. Much of this is similar, but some of it very different from Senecan and, indeed, Attic tragedy. What it presupposes (I submit) are the traditions of its own genre.

cluat’ evokes Republican conditions. The fragment quoting a narrative by Lucretia (fr. 5R) (apparently on the night of her rape) is probably from the Brutus by Cassius (31 n. 21) rather than Accius. Accius’ fragments 1–4R confirm beyond reasonable doubt that his Brutus ‘embraced a series of events, which would have fitted only with difficulty into a single day’, Herington (1961) 25; cf. 141 n. 24.

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9 Time and Place When turning from the tradition—or rather what the fragments allow us to infer—to the sole surviving praetexta, with its 982 verses, nine different roles (easily managed by a traditional three-actor team),1 two choruses (easily managed by one) and a number of so-called extras, some crucial choices have to be made concerning how best to proceed.2 For a number of reasons, it has seemed preferable here to approach this drama along the lines suggested by its most illustrious Imperial practitioner, Pomponius Secundus. Laying the case ‘before the audience’ will in this context mean adopting reading strategies that enable us to approach this text as it presents itself, namely as a script intended for a full-bodied performance with props, sets, actors, and all.

1 . T H E ANONYMUS This means sidestepping a number of futile discussions and self-defeating problems such as the author’s (clearly unrecoverable) identity. Not that a name would not be extremely interesting to have, but when dealing with evidence transmitted by accident, arguing for either this or that candidate simply because they, sometimes by pure coincidence, happen to be known to have lived in close proximity to the play’s assumed time of writing, is little better than grasping at straws. More seriously, it often stands in the way of 1

Possible scenarios for a three-actor performance: Boyle (2008) 93; in my own experience (247 n. 35) it worked well to let the first nurse play Poppaea and vice versa. 2 Discussion of the plot and scenography of the Octavia traditionally committed to the idea of the unities: 139 n. 21. The possible relations between the stagecraft of Roman imperial theatre and the Octavia were first examined by Wiseman (2001) = (2004); Kragelund (2005) 86–98 and Boyle (2008) xxxii–xlii follow and further develop this line of argument. Building on these contributions, an attempt at systematic cross-referencing to previous discussions has here, and in what follows, been abandoned in favour of presenting the basic evidence. Not to leave discussion in mid-air, it is, however, made clear, where, and why the views presented here sometimes differ fundamentally from those endorsed by others.

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solid advances in understanding, since it distracts attention from evidence of a less accidental and isolated character.3 The two best known of the suggested candidates, Seneca and Pomponius Secundus, had, most probably, died too early to be at all relevant.4 Not so the Stoic, Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, the mentor of the poet Persius and a tragic poet in his own right. Cornutus was exiled by Nero and would have had a strong motive for denouncing his despotism and praising his opponents. Whether he in fact outlived Nero is, however, unknown. But even if he did, his stylistic ideals make him an unlikely candidate. If one ventured to condemn Vergil as sometimes prosaic, one is, at least in my book, unlikely to be the creator of a script commonly agreed to be characterized by a style sometimes brilliant, but not infrequently somewhat pedestrian and repetitious.5 Finally, there is of course Maternus, who wrote and recited a Nero in what seems to be the relevant period (Ch. 7.7). But to hazard a guess that this is identical with the Octavia can be no more than just that.6 Again, he is certainly a candidate, but it takes more than a parallel in activity to prove identity. To me he seems too senatorial wholly to convince.7 This leaves all those unrecorded others, for whom we neither have evidence that would suggest them, nor evidence that would rule them out. In view of the uncertainty, it is, in my view, preferable to abstain from any further such circular reasoning and focus on aspects for which the evidence is infinitely better, first concerning the outlook of the anonymous playwright and, second, concerning the date, ideological background, and plausible 3

Discussions of authorship including Lucan’s and Seneca’s: Boyle (2008) xiii–xvi; Goldberg (2003) 13–36 interestingly looks at the conceptual frames for such debates. 4 For the candidature of Seneca, the most recent proponent is Barbera (2000); unfortunately, this resumption of old tenets is based upon a dated, narrow, and for its argument very unchallenging bibliography, which may explain the commentary’s failure at all to address the basic objections: Ch. 14.3. Galimberti (2001) 93–9 and Sordi (2002) 66 argue for Pomponius Secundus; neither addresses the basic objection that Secundus, from all we know, was already dead by c.55, at least seven years before the drama’s central events actually took place: PIR2 P 754; Syme (1991b) 499–500. 5 Sullivan (1985) 73 favoured Cornutus (PIR2 A 609), but one misses clear evidence that he actually survived Nero: Takács (2004) 35–46. Still, he might have. Cornutus on Vergil’s infelicities: Serv. Dan. on Verg. Aen. 10.547 reports Cornutus’ harsh verdict on the, admittedly, prosaic and colloquial Dixerat ille aliquid (‘He had said something’): ‘Cornutus condemns it as base’ (Cornutus ut sordidum condemnat); Cornutus’ other such verdicts: Gell. NA 2.6.1–4; 9.10.5–6; schol. Veronensia on Verg. Aen. 3.691; 5.488. Such stylistic ideals (cf. Pers. 5.23–5) seem at variance with what we get in the Octavia: scholars from Lipsius (418 n. 184) down to Boyle (2008) xiv (quoting Goldberg) rightly point to its sometimes pedestrian style. 6 Maternus (see Ch. 7.3–7) the author of Octavia (in the Dialogus called Domitius): thus (among others) Mattingly (1959). 7 Vatinius, the victim, be it coincidental or direct, of Maternus’ Nero, had been the enemy of ‘every man of decency’ (optimi cuiusque, Tac. Ann. 15.34.2)—in Tacitus’ book most often from the top of the hierarchy; Dio 63.15.1 quotes Vatinius’ hateful jokes about senators; Maternus’ hero Cato held a stronger appeal for such upper class people than for the less elevated ‘populus’ playing such a prominent role in the Octavia: Ch. 16.7.

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context of his play. However, the discussion of such issues can, with profit, be postponed until the text itself has been properly examined, first in terms of its overall structure and dramatic form, then by discussing the potential dramatic impact of its sequence of scenes as they are stretched out across the plot’s three consecutive days.

2 . I M P L I E D S ET T I N G S This approach, with its sustained focus on the relation between this text and Imperial theatrical resources, will not, of course, bring us decisively nearer to solving some of the questions for which it is unlikely that there will ever be definitive answers, such as whether and, if so, where, and how, and by whom, and for whom this play in its own day came to be performed. All one can say is that a priori there is nothing in the evidence, let alone in its absence, that indicates a lack of available venues for a script of this kind. Neither is there any lack of plausible ideological and historical contexts. The focus chosen here is on the text as a script. This choice has three advantages. First, it can benefit from the vibrant field of performance studies that has done much to transform perceptions of Greek and, above all in this last decade, also of Roman drama. In Senecan scholarship, performance studies has up till now found its most notable, but negative formulation in the study from 1966 by Otto Zwierlein, who argued for unperformability. This was a hugely influential reading characterized by a very literal approach to dramatic poetry and by a rigorous logic in its handling of plots and scripts; these strengths were also a prime methodological weakness. By the criteria adopted, Shakespeare’s Hamlet could also be proved unperformable, but such imbalances between premise, method, and inference are nowhere acknowledged, let alone resolved. The evidence upon which it is decided what could and could not be handled by the Roman stage is, moreover, unrepresentative and, at points, quite simply wrong.8 To redress these imbalances and reestablish a proper idea as to the available Roman stage resources are the principal aims of this and the following chapter. Second, the sustained focus on the text as script allows attention to be redirected away from what has been irretrievably lost, to looking hard instead at the primary evidence that is still preserved, and that still might yield 8 Zwierlein and Hamlet: Kragelund (1999) = (2008); evidence incomplete and unrepresentative: 96 n. 105; this imbalance shared by those accepting Zwierlein’s basic premises, such as Schmidt (1985), Schubert (1998), Junge (1999), Manuwald (2001 and 2011), Ferri (2003) and Kugelmeier (2007). For performance studies and Seneca, Harrison (2000) is a welcome, new departure; for the Octavia, Sutton (1983) promises, but does not deliver; Kragelund (2005) 86–98 and Boyle (2008) are systematic attempts at relating script and relevant evidence.

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valuable information and meaningful answers. And, third, this approach allows an examination of what this text, when seen as a script, might tell us about the links between, on the one hand, the imagined or, if one prefers, virtual frames of dramatic time and place within which its plot unfolds and, on the other, the dramatic resources known to have been at the disposal of Imperial scaenici. They, given the opportunity, would have entered into negotiations about presenting a production of this drama, be it with a private patron with his own theatre or, in the public domain, with the praetor or, in communities outside Rome, the aediles or duumviri responsible for the ludi. Adopting this approach means that discussion at points will engage in a sort of stage archaeology, recovering material conditions for producing a play that are no longer familiar (not even to classicists) and that, to various degrees, would have influenced the way the playwright and his readers would have imagined the layout of its scenes. While it has traditionally9 been asserted that this is a script written by a dramatist who failed to ‘visualize the setting of the action and the movement of its characters’ (a feat of imaginative thinking that Roman critics agreed with Aristotle10 in considering among a dramatist’s prime duties), the following chapters will lay bare the elements showing that this in fact is a play written ‘in accordance with the custom of those associated with the stage’ (secundum consuetudinem scaenicorum). What the play reflects, however, is by no means always in accordance with the kind of stage procedures made familiar by standard handbooks on ancient theatre, the reason being that, until recently, such handbooks tended to focus almost exclusively on Attic procedures of the fifth century BC, thereby creating an impression that these procedures are the sole valid framework for judging later developments.11 Indeed, one of the aspects that makes this drama a document 9 The view that the alleged imperfections of Senecan drama is proof that it was ‘never meant’ to move ‘from the schools of rhetoric onto the stage’ was most influentially formulated by the German Romantic critic A.W. von Schlegel in 1809 (quoted and endorsed by Zwierlein (1966) 9). A purely aesthetic verdict (Fitch (2000) 1–12), it is in tune with key elements in the Romantic adulation of Greece at the cost of Rome: Habinek (1998) 1–33. The view has received strong, succinctly argued support from the hugely influential Zwierlein (1966) now closely followed by Kugelmeier (2007): 159 n. 44. 10 Arist. Poet. 17.1 = 1455a; cf. Donat. on Ter. Phorm. 35, ‘it is part of (dramatic) poetry to ensure that while endeavouring to provide the exposition, the action seems to move ahead and a comedy to be beheld’ (id enim est artis poeticae, ut cum narrationi argumenti detur opera, iam tamen res agi et comoedia spectari videatur); similarly, on Andria 28, ‘the virtue of this scene is that while it outlines the plot, one sees action on stage’ (in hac scaena haec virtus est, ut argumenti narratione actio scaenica videatur). In this respect, the author of the Octavia allegedly failed: Beare (1964) 236; Ferri (2003) 60 (both paraphrasing Aristotle). 11 A recent survey in Lustrum (= Manuwald (2001 [2004]) 47) calls for more discussion of the Roman stage. Rightly so. Commenting on the Octavia, Manuwald (2001) and Ferri (2003) hardly offer anything on the subject, but Manuwald (2011) 70 seems to claim that the Roman Republican stage operated without sets (although painted and revolvable boards seem attested from 99 and 74 BC: Plin. HN 35.23; Val. Max. 2.4.6 with Sear (2006) 55) and further omits reference to the exostra (attested by Cicero: 158 n. 40); given the Hellenistic use of skenographia

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of unique value is precisely the lavish profusion with which it illustrates later, be they Hellenistic, Republican, or Imperial developments in the history of ancient drama, the text thereby preserving an imprint, whether direct or otherwise, of a stage culture in crucial respects very different from what one usually associates with Greece and Rome. Turning to the actual script, it should, first of all, be noted that there is no reason to assume that the original would have presented itself very differently from how we have it. A so-called subscriptio giving the dramatist’s name is probably lost; perhaps there was once also additional annotation, such as production notes concerning the date and circumstances of the first performance. Punctuation and indication as to what was sung and what spoken were sometimes also provided. In the mid-eighties, the poet Martial reports that playwrights further furnished ‘tragedies and comedies . . . that cannot speak for themselves’ with a written preface.12 Who knows, perhaps some such prefaces included dedications as well as plot summaries and lists of the dramatis personae—but if the Octavia were ever so provided nothing has survived. No evidence suggests the use of further, let alone more detailed stage directions, so ancient and modern readers are not alone in having to use their imagination in order to fill in the background. An ancient impresario wishing to produce a performance would likewise have needed to examine the script closely, not only when having to determine the number of choruses, the individual roles to be learnt and the extras to be hired, but also when drawing up a list of such props and sets, masks and costumes ‘as the plot demanded’ (sicut argumentum postulabat). This latter expression comes from an anecdote about Nero (without whose theatre craze we would truly be ill informed, even about the most ordinary, day-to-day procedures of the Roman stage), the scaenici in the said case providing chains with which to shackle mad Hercules ‘as the plot demanded’.13 Mutatis mutandis one may safely assume that they ‘it would be surprising, if it had never been employed in (Republican) Rome’: Marshall (2006) 49 n. 122. However, whenever their introduction, the painted, drawable, and revolvable sets described by Varro, Suetonius (159–60 n. 44–6), and Vitruvius (159 n. 45) were clearly in operation during the Empire, for which Beacham (1991) and (2013) remain the general introduction most in tune with the theatrical realities. On the Roman side, the evidence collected and discussed in this book’s Ch. 6, 8–10 not infrequently supplements the excellent survey by Csapo & Slater (1994). 12 A fourth-century papyrus with a section of Seneca’s Medea has punctuation, and a rubric with speech tag: Markus & Schwendner (1997) 75. Annotation indicating sung and spoken parts: Donat. De comoedia 8.9; on Ter. Ad., praefatio 7. Prefaces: Mart. 2, praefatio, ‘video quare tragoedia et comedia epistulam accipiant, quibus pro se loqui non licet’. 13 argumentum postulabat: Suet. Nero 21.3. Scaenici would provide masks, garments, fake weapons (Petron. Sat. 95), liquids figuring as blood (Suet. Cal. 57.4; Joseph AJ 19.94), timber for houses to be burnt on stage (Suet. Nero 11.2), and crucifixes to be erected: Juv. 8.187 ff. Such effects were stored in what was called a choragium (Festus p. 45,19L) and handled by a choragus: Gilula (1996) 479–92; Marshall (2006) 26–8. In preparing the budget for a performance, some such items were apparently acquired at the expense of the praetor; at one point, Nero showed his

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would have handled a script like the present in like manner—but they would doubtless do so (to quote a scholiast) ‘according to their custom’ (secundum consuetudinem) and ‘as they usually do’ (ut solent). With ancient readers, the case is similar. As illustrated by line-by-line comments on Terence’s comedies, many of which go back to Saint Jerome’s famous mid-fourth-century teacher Aelius Donatus, the ancient reading public would have had no problem in drawing upon what they knew about traditional, generally accepted stage conventions when imagining how the script they were reading either had been or might be performed. ‘This is said so that the spectator, but not Simo hears it’.14 ‘He notices the baby lying before him not by seeing but by actually stumbling over it’. ‘He speaks like someone coming from the forum (i.e. entering through the gate reserved for those coming from the forum)’.15 ‘For a while he stands still, regarding the spectators as he talks to himself ’.16 ‘From the lay-out of this speech it emerges that it was begun off-stage’.17

Whether directly, or at removes unknown, these comments to Terence may of course mirror the practice of actual performance—but what matters here is that they, when seen as a whole, exemplify a well-established reading strategy aimed at making sense of a script by referring to its implied visuality. For such purposes even fourth-century readers would, be it from stage or page, know a set of basic scenographic possibilities and conventions; all would know—and schoolboys be reminded—how to imagine a scene, inferring for instance what the script implied and on that basis supplying the imaginary props and settings required to make the drama come across. For ancient scaenici, as well as readers, it was, in other words, ultimately the script itself that offered the signposts, signals or, if one prefers, implicit stage directions that make a drama work.18 In linguistic terms, these signposts are constituted by the text’s so-called deictic features, the here and generosity by letting scaenici keep the props (Suetonius l.c.). ‘secundum consuetudinem scaenicorum’ and ‘ut solent’: Schol. Bob. on Cic. Sest. 126. 14 ‘hoc dixit, non ut Simo sed ut spectator audiat’, Donat. on Ter. And. 498; similarly, on And. 759, ‘hic versus clare dicitur, sequens, ne senex audiat, presse’; on Eun. 431.1, ‘de ipso loquitur, non audiente’; on Eunuchus 394.2, ‘tertia persona venit in scaenam, sed separatim loquitur et secum’; Csapo & Slater (1994) 29, nos. 59a–f cite parallels. 15 Donat. on Ter. And. 741.2, ‘ut appareat eum non oculis prius quam corporis offensu sensisse puerum iacentem’; similarly, on Andria 745, ‘haec verba sunt venientis de foro’. 16 Donat. on Ter. Eun. 232.1, ‘in hac scaena non stans sed quasi ambulans persona inducitur; constitit tamen aliquantum intuens spectatores, dum secum loquitur’. 17 Donat. on Ter. Eun. 391.1, ‘hic sermo sic prodit, ut post scaenam incohatus esse noscatur’. 18 Taplin (1978) 16–21 acutely stresses the differences between reading, say, Ibsen or Tennessee Williams (both furnishing their scripts with extensive annotation as to settings and movement) and ancient drama where readers and scaenici are always left with the task of combining the data of the script with the ruling stage conventions and available resources.

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now, there and then, I and you, he and her that in the final resort define a drama’s time and place, props and settings, costumes and personae. These features are, crucially, intrinsic to the text. They are there, whether it was ever performed or not.19 A drama’s visual dimension is therefore never extraneous to the reading experience. Far from it, it is always potentially there. True, the theatre is in a sense for the here and now, its actors mortal, its props perishable and the magical moment all too soon an unrecoverable thing of the past. However, as with music and written notation, there are, deeply imbedded in the script, features providing a basis from which to recover at least part of the drama’s visual dimension. In fact one cannot properly read a dramatic script without taking this, in the broadest sense, visual level into account. At the roots of all dramaturgy (be it virtual or real) lie questions like: Who is speaking? When and where? To whom and referring to what? It is the answers to such questions that provide the links between the script and the visual, the latter being the potential sphere of the here and now, where changes of time, of settings, and props would occur and where real or imagined actors would don the masks, wear the garments, embody the movements, and perform the roles of the dramatis personae. To keep track of this implied dimension, the reader of drama—whether ancient or otherwise—is therefore, to different degrees but almost always actively, engaged in imagining the visual equivalents to what the script suggests. Such visuality or opsis (to use Aristotle’s terminology) is, as Horace famously observed, the very aspect of a script that sometimes makes by far the greatest impact: What the mind takes in through the ears stimulates it less vigorously than those things, which are set before the eyes and which the spectator can see and believe for himself.20

So, for all that the original opsis is lost for ever, we are surely obliged to focus on what is still, by implication, there, and examine what it tells us, first, about the drama’s relation—if any—to the contemporary stage, and second, how to imagine the implied settings and interaction, and how these aspects influence our understanding of the actual play.

19 On deixis, Jakobson (1971) 130–47 and Benveniste (1966) 225–66 are fundamental; deixis in drama: Elam (1980) 138 ff. 20 ‘segnius inritant animos demissa per aurem/ quam quae sunt oculis subiecta fidelibus et quae/ ipse sibi tradit spectator’, Hor. Ars P. 180 ff. cf. Quint. 6.1.31 (the sight of Caesar’s bloodstained toga).

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3. DRAMATIC TIME Time (historical and dramatic) being of the essence, this is where to start. The script’s first lines place the play’s beginning at the ‘resplendent daybreak’ (fulgens/aurora, 1–2) of what turns out to be its first day. From other sources we know this to be a day somewhere between late April and mid May 62. But, moving on, a reader soon realizes that this is not a plot adhering to any Aristotelian recommendation21 of letting it run out its course between dawn and dusk. The reason for this is that, after some 500 lines, it signals a new departure, marking the coming of its second day. After a change of setting (to which we shall presently return), the day of the wedding—that is the drama’s new and, indeed, pivotal second day— commences, the characters appearing in both the ensuing scenes cursing its advent. Then, even more striking, follows a third morning, emphatically similar to the first, in so far as it once again takes up the action with a nurse waiting upon an empress against the backdrop of the entrance to the imperial bedchamber.22 What emerges from this interplay of cross-referential repetitions and contrasts, verbal as well as visual, is a drama that at one level clearly—indeed, emphatically—is divided into three main sections, consisting of the ‘Day Before the Wedding’, the ‘Wedding Day’, and the ‘Day After’. In ancient theatre as extant, such a close-knit temporal sequence is something unique. In Attic and Hellenistic tragedy there are, to be sure, plots encompassing more than one day,23 but never in such an interlocked sequence as here, where the full emphasis is on each day as a meaningful unit conditioning the one following. What has gone unnoticed is, moreover, that in Rome, such an emphatically tripartite structure was considered a defining characteristic of tragedy. This notion is transmitted by Donatus and has had an impact in the history of drama almost equal to that of the five-act structure; indeed, it greatly Arist. Poet. 5.8 = 1449b mentions plots running their course ‘from sunrise to sunset or less’ (e Æ æ  ºı . . . j ØŒæe)—a reference (not a rule) with enormous impact on normative Renaissance poetics: Ebner (1898). 22 Smith (2003) 404 returns to the old argument (cf. Schmidt (1985) 1445) for a two day structure, but I cannot see it working; on the reading followed here, day one (Day Before) begins at Oct. 1; day two (Wedding Day) at 593, day three (Day After) at 690: Marek (1909) 43; Herington (1961) 21–5; Schmidt (1985) 1444 f. (with detailed bibliography); Junge (1999) 167; Manuwald (2001) 268; Ferri (2003) 67–8; Fitch (2004a) 508 and Boyle (2008) lxi. Gentili (1979) 48 suggests Hellenistic models, but does not consider the possibility of parallels in early praetextae (cf. Ch. 8.3). 23 Changes of time and setting in Attic tragedy: Taplin (1977) 291–4; 377–9; Di Marco (20092) 162–6; Ezekiel’s Exagoge has sudden changes of settings and lengthy intervals of time between its episodes (Jacobson (1983) 28–36), but nothing as close-knit as the Octavia. 21

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influenced Renaissance drama and for a long time held its place in Iberian theatre.24 With Gustav Freytag’s classic Die Technik des Dramas (first edited 1863, but repeatedly reprinted and translated), this notion, which Freytag memorably compared to a pyramid, re-entered mainstream reflection on the ideal trajectory of a dramatic plot. A brief look at the ancient evidence therefore seems in order. The idea of a peculiarly ‘tragic’ tripartite structure is probably rooted in the influential Aristotelian emphasis on a plot’s ‘beginning, middle, and conclusion’. In any case, we first hear of it from Cicero who, in a letter to his brother Quintus, uses a dramatic metaphor to describe the excellence of Quintus’ conduct of affairs in Gaul, advising his brother to see to it that he, much ‘like good poets (i.e. dramatists) and diligent stage actors’, made this his third and final year of office into the ‘third most perfect and splendid . . .’—the conjectural ‘act’ (actus) being what many editors have felt reason to add. But even if one does not accept this clarifying conjecture, the implied allusion to a notion of three as a number characterizing a successful plot seems indisputable.25 In an equally off-hand manner Donatus would, centuries later, describe such tripartition as the typical ‘layout of tragedy . . . because a tragedy has three parts’ (ordinem tragoediae . . . nam tragoedia in tria dividitur), its initial phase focusing on ‘Anticipation’ (expectationem), the middle on the ‘Deed’ (gestum), and the final on the (in this case lethal) ‘Outcome’ (exitum)26—a notion that, whatever its age, basis, and general applicability, certainly corresponds to the way this dramatist’s ‘Day Before’ and ‘Day After’ on the one hand prepares and, on the other, outlines the consequences of the criminal wedding that in this play constitutes the ‘Deed’. In short, its structure seems further to confirm the close links between tragedy and this specimen of its sister genre. Since the tradition of tripartition reaches all the way back to Cicero’s Rome (and probably beyond), we may here have further evidence of the links between the stage of the Roman Republic and this single survival.

24

Donatus’ tripartition and Hispanic theatre: Pütz (1970) 169. ‘Illud te ad extremum . . . hortor ut, tamquam poetae boni et actores industrii solent, sic tu in extrema parte et conclusione muneris ac negoti tui diligentissimus sis, ut hic tertius annus imperi tui tamquam tertius perfectissimus atque ornamentissimus fuisse videatur’, Cic. Q. fr. 1.1.46 with Ribbeck (1875) 641. Despite Cicero’s ‘actores industrii’ Beare (1964) 214 claims that he is not referring to a partition of drama; contra Brink (1963–82) ad Hor. Ars P. 189–90: tripartition may well have co-existed with the Hellenistic five-act division; alternatively, Shackleton Bailey obelizes tamquam tertius, conjecturing that the original had ‘tamquam ultimus actus’, i.e. ‘as if in the final act’. 26 Donat. on Ter. Ad. 288, ‘haec scaena tragoediae ordinem servat, nam tragoedia in tria dividitur: expectationem, gestum, exitum’, Donatus then specifying what in the said scene is expectatio, gestum (the mss have gestus, which the editor Wessner, implausibly, altered to gesta) and exitus. Aristotle’s tripartition: Poet. 7.3–7 = 1450b; Donat. De comoedia 7.4 summarizes a Greek tripartite division of comedies with interesting parallels to the above: first æ Æ Ø (aimed at keeping expectationem high), then K Æ Ø and finally ŒÆ Æ æç (leading to eventus). 25

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But, to return to the plot, this tripartite division, which coincides with parallel changes of setting (presently to be examined) in focusing on the central, indeed, pivotal wedding day is crucial in investing this drama with a highly distinctive dramatic form, its most notable characteristic being its symmetries and mirror scenes. As memorably pointed out by John Herington, this dramatist ‘shapes his material with extraordinary cunning and with a symmetry of design that is paralleled in no other ancient play’.27 It being in the nature of symmetry to create focus on what is central as well as on what frames it, this means in practice that the play’s beginning, middle, and end are almost equally prominent. As illustrated by the data in Table 10.1 (the details of which will be discussed in what follows), the tripartition creates a structure that far from letting the ‘Day Before’ and ‘Day After’ recede into the background gives them shared prominence, much like the unicorns framing the shield. As if to make these parallels more readily perceptible to readers as well as spectators, such auditive and visual elements as metre, setting, and dramatic configuration are further brought into play. Within this clear grid of symmetries, there are some minor, but significant variations to be discussed below (Ch. 10.1). The crucial difference, however, is one of duration. While the scenes of the ‘Day Before’ are of considerable length, those of the ‘Day After’ are notably shorter, with a far more hectic staccato rhythm of entrances and exits, as a result of which the action is propelled forward through a series of brief, but closely interlocked mirror scenes culminating in the drama’s final scene that provides the drama with suitable closure, in terms of time as well as place—this latter a dimension to which we shall now address ourselves.

4. DRAMATIC PLACE Until fairly recently, it was an eccentric minority approach (best ignored) that even discussed dramatic place in relation to this drama, discussion apparently being deemed irrelevant since ‘the play was not meant for performance’. Whatever the motive, such approach is utterly misguided. After all, no one would argue that the setting of Troy is irrelevant to reading the second song of Vergil’s Aeneid. Yet in the present case, when the issue was at all addressed, the setting was confidently identified as being in front of the Imperial Palace in Rome28—an assumption, which in vital respects makes nonsense of all that the 27 Herington (1961) 21; cf. Schmidt (1985) 1447–8, Junge (1999) 215–20 and, comprehensively, Boyle (2008) lix–lxiii. 28 The setting of the Octavia is through and through ‘vor dem kaiserlichen Palast auf Palatin’: Schmidt (1985) 1444 and Ferri (2003) 60; ‘vor und im’: Manuwald (2001) 269; except for the

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dramatist has endeavoured to do. The reason for the pervasiveness of this knee-jerk reaction is not based upon the script and, remarkably, one is never told whence it derives its certitude. What lurks in the background seems, however, to be the treatise (c.25 BC) by the Roman master builder Vitruvius, entitled De Architectura, who at one point offers a celebrated definition of the typical tragic setting as a place characterized by ‘columns, pediments, statues and other regal apparatus’29—a description that often, but quite wrongly, has been taken as an indication that it was against such a fixed, unalterable backdrop that Roman tragedy was invariably played (Fig. 9.1). True, this is a backdrop that would frequently work, but tragedies and praetextae were also played in settings such as a battlefield, a soldiers’ camp, a forest, a beach, and the banks of a river or a harbour. Moreover, tragic place was not confined to exteriors—interiors were part of what the scaenici could provide. Moving beyond Vitruvius, a systematic and comprehensive survey of the evidence concerning the Roman stage will indeed reveal that this was furnished with apparatus that, even within a single play, enabled the scaenici to move from an exterior adorned with ‘columns, pediments, statues and other regal apparatus’ to an interior, in some cases presumably similarly adorned— then perhaps moving on to, for instance, a forest or a harbour. To talk of the unity of place as a ‘rule’ applicable to a substantial part of the Roman evidence is a common, but deeply anachronistic mistake, which turns a Renaissance misinterpretation of Aristotle, which became Italian and, above all, French seventeenth-century aesthetic doctrine, into a rule invariably observed by ancient playwrights. Reality was different. Within a single lost tragedy by Aeschylus, the setting is known to have changed six times—but, on the whole, such changes in the extant Attic tragedies are less frequent; Aeschylus and Sophocles offer the two most notable instances of change from one location to another entirely different one within the same plot.30 In at least one instance, Seneca followed suit, but this is—more, it seems, from habit than reason—considered debatable.31 It is in any case noteworthy that in the harbour scene (167 n. 65) the setting is ‘before Nero’s palace’: Smith (2011) 247 ff. (to quote but the most recent). 29 Vitr. 5.6.9, ‘genera autem sunt scaenarum tria: unum quod dicitur tragicum, alterum comicum, tertium satyricum. Horum autem ornatus sunt inter se dissimili disparique ratione, quod tragicae deformantur columnis et fastigiis et signis reliquisque regalibus rebus’; these settings are typical, not obligatory. 30 Six settings in Aeschylus: Csapo & Slater (1994) 26, no. 46; three in Aesch. Eum 235 ff. (from Delphi to Athens); 566 (from sancturary of Athena to Areopagus) and three in Soph. Aj 348–595 (an interior) and 815 ff. (lonely spot on the sea shore) with 151 n. 23. 31 Gradual changes of setting in Troades: Marshall (2000) 27–51; at Sen. Phaed. 406 ff. Phaedra dresses for the hunt and declares herself to be leaving for the forests; the chorus has its final say, the scene or act changes and the nurse now stands before the sanctuary of Diana, surely in the forests. There, she is joined by a surprised Hippolytus (‘why has she, old as she is, come out here (huc)?’) and, eventually, Phaedra: Kragelund (1999) 235–47 = (2008) 181–94

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Fig. 9.1. A Renaissance illustration of the typical tragic stage as it is suggestively described by the Roman architect Vitruvius. In the history of theatre, such illustrations, which reflect the Renaissance obsession with the use of perspective in designing stage sets, have strongly influenced ideas about the ways to imagine the kind of sets presupposed by Roman dramatists. From Il secondo libro di Perspettiva di Sebastiano Serlio Bolognese (Paris 1545) 69. © Danish National Art Library.

surviving ancient corpus no single script goes as far as the Octavia in employing such a range of changes. While reflecting what probably was a feature characteristic of its own genre (Ch. 8.3), a—sadly unquantifiable—influence from other contemporary dramatic genres such as the mime should probably also be reckoned with. To facilitate changes of sets, the Romans used movable curtains. Of these, there were two, fundamentally different types. By far the best documented is the sometimes richly embroidered aulaeum, which, in contrast to modern usage, was originally fastened beneath the front of the stage, lowered at (with bibliography); similarly, Smith (2011) 119 and Fitch (per litteras); contra, but unconvincingly, Kohn (2013) 67; 70–3, who omits quoting, let alone addressing the textual basis for this inference; Mayer (2002) 102–3 objects that the nurse’s addressing the queen’s entourage as ‘Athenians’ (725) suggests that this is where we still are. But is this cogent? In Sen. Agam. 660 Cassandra addresses the ‘Troades’—but they are all at Mycenae. Phaedra’s nurse would surely call the entourage Athenians, also when outside the city.

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the beginning of a performance, and hauled up again when the play was at an end or a change of setting needed. At some point, this traditional mechanism was then supplemented by the introduction of a, presumably lighter, ‘sail’ or ‘curtain’ (velum or siparium) that could be used independently or in conjunction with the aulaeum. This type of curtain could be folded upwards, like the sails of a ship.32 The velum, and probably also the siparium, were i.a. used to ‘obstruct the view of the spectators while acts of dramas (fabularum actus) were changed’.33 Elsewhere, emphasis is on changes being quick, impressive, and comprehensive, and on whole sets changing in one go, when the plot made such intervention necessary. Such changes could apparently also occur within scenes, for instance at ‘the entrance of godheads’ (deorum adventus), be it direct or in the form of a descent from above: this latter option was made possible by the use of a stage crane that in Roman sources is on record from the early first century 34 BC, down to the mid-fourth century. Being frequently used in mimes (where changes seem to have been common), the velum was also called the ‘curtain of the mimes’ (velum mimicum) but there is no evidence that the use of such mechanisms was similarly restricted. Whatever the inspiration and actual procedures, there is, in short, no sign that the changes of scenery presupposed by the Octavia were foreign to the theatre as Romans knew it. What is notable, however, is the assurance with which the dramatist knew how to use these means to give his plot dynamic direction.

32 Aulaeum, siparium and velum: discussion in Beare (1964) 267–74 and Beacham (1991) 169–81; Sear (2006) 90 lists evidence from all over the empire for the position of the masts used to hoist the aulaeum. From archaeological evidence Ducaroy & Audin (1960) offer a reconstruction of the intricate use of counterweights, blocks, and tackles to raise the aulaeum at Lyon and elsewhere in Roman Gaul. Cic. Cael. 65; Apul. Met. 1.8; 10.29 confirm the upwardsdownward movement of the aulaeum and the folding together (like the sails of a ship) of the siparium. In Apuleius the two types of curtain seem to work in tandem, but later the aulaeum was sometimes called a siparium: Donat. De comoedia 8.8, ‘aulaea . . . pro quibus siparia aetas posterior accepit’. 33 Donat. De comoedia 8.8 reports that the mimicum velum was used to ‘obstruct the spectators from seeing when there was a change of acts’ (mimicum velum, quod populo obstitit, dum fabularum actus commutantur). Schol. on Juv. 8.186 refers to the velum ‘under (behind?) which mime actors hide, when entering the stage’ (velum sub quo latent paradoxi, cum in scaenam prodeunt); siparium is quoted as a synonym to velum: Festus p. 459,4L, ‘Siparium: genus ueli mimicum’; sadly, the evidence is bedevilled by semantic confusion, since not only velum and siparium, but even aulaeum (cf. Cic. Cael. 65) are used in connection with mimes; all that seems clear is that curtains were used to hide transactions while sets were changed. 34 Stage epiphanies: Sallust (164 n. 59, Victoria); Cic. Har. 62, ‘nolite enim id putare accidere posse quod in fabulis saepe videtis fieri, ut deus aliqui delapsus de caelo coetus hominum adeat’; Vitruvius reports that such epiphanies involved changes of settings: 159 n. 45; Poll. 4.131, Phaedrus and Claudianus (n. 445) report on actors and musicians flying on the crane, August. Conf. 3.6 on Medea flying in her chariot.

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The settings of the opening scenes of the first and third day are, for instance, clearly laid out so as to mirror each other. Here one meets the first, most conspicuous example of the way this dramatist favours establishing or reinforcing semantic parallels by means of visual parallels, one setting serving as a cross-reference to the other.35 Both feature an empress attended by her nurse and for both the setting is emphatically said to be in or just outside36 the Empress’ bedchamber, which in crucial respects ‘stands for’ the central issue of the plot—Nero’s vital need to produce a legitimate heir, thereby ensuring the survival of his house. It is the script itself, which by diverse means, by what is said as well as shown (or imagined), makes the ‘bedchamber’ (thalamus) and its couch a symbol of this crucial issue. In Latin, thalamus not only means bedchamber, but also wedding, a slippage that the dramatist exploits again and again to make the setting connote the ritual and vice versa. Like ritual, dramaturgy overwhelmingly favours such metonymics as a means of investing the spatial and inanimate with a meaning that transcends the ordinary. As the protagonists repeatedly emphasize, it is in the bedchamber that the rightful empress resides. This is the station that defines her power; this is where she will eventually give birth to the offspring ensuring the survival of the dynasty.37 In sum, the choice of this setting for the parallel opening scenes of the drama’s first and third day is effective in alerting readers—and spectators—to the central issue of the plot, the murderous eviction of Octavia and her replacement by Poppaea. True, this indoor setting—be it virtual or real—contrasts so strongly with the supposedly universal validity of a Vitruvian in-front-of-the-palace tragic stage set that it has often been either ignored or rejected out of hand, scholars translating the unmistakable Latin references to the empresses being in or leaving their thalamus (‘bedchamber’) as if the text were referring to the ‘Palace’ or even das Haus.38 35 For the visual and verbal working in tandem, Meisel (2007) 43–73 offers a rich sample from the whole range of world drama; to quote but one, Taplin (1978) 77–121 is good on such an overlap in Greek tragedy. 36 ‘in or outside the imperial thalamus’: discussing the parallel setting of the two empressnutrix scenes, Ferri (2008) 500 mistakenly assumes that both scenes have been claimed to take place within the thalamus, where both empresses ‘lament with their nurse and from whence both then exit’. In what follows, he then disproves what in fact is his own misapprehension. 37 The opening thalamus scene set in an interior: Ballaira (1974) ad 1–31; Tarrant (1978) 239 n. 113; the accursed chamber the drama’s ‘symbolic centre’: Kragelund (1982) 58–9; (2002) 45–7; (2005) 87–91; Smith (2003) 412–14; Fitch (2004a) 510; Boyle (2008) lxii. 38 Zwierlein (1966) 44 n. 10 influentially ruled out an interior setting as ‘unerhört’ (with no reference to the ekkyklema/exostra: 158 n. 40). Schmidt (1985) 1444 ignores the problem. Manuwald (2001) 270 n. 19 seems to allow for an interior, but sees no significance in the location; this is a ‘natural place’ for women to meet. Despite the repeated thalamis (690 and 755) which Poppaea flees and refuses to re-enter, Ferri (2003) ad 690–91 sees ‘no need to imagine a precise location of the scene’, further arguing that ‘thalamis is little more than a synonym for tectis’; Ferri

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However, such emendation, or rather obfuscation, is completely unwarranted, since ancient readers would have had no difficulty imagining such an indoor setting. It seems clear, moreover, that the ancient stage was well-versed in handling the transition from exteriors to interiors even within the same scene in the latter cases39 using a device called the ekkyklema or exostra to roll out onto the stage a platform representing an interior, probably complete with relevant props and actors.40 Similarly, such devices would, at the end of a scene, roll back, with the aulaeum, velum, or siparium that facilitated ‘the changes of acts’41 presumably used to briefly obstruct the view, while the devices used to change the settings were put in motion, thus giving way to a new scene, with a Chorus of Romans, who seem to be standing outside the Palace. The text is at this point not explicit, but this is expressis verbis where the Chorus makes its appearance on the play’s second day, so scaenici wishing to stress coherence—or, of course, economize—could do so by also choosing this setting for its first appearance, thereby casting its companion as yet more strongly a mirror stage set: not of the static variety, but dramatically changed by the entrance of the now-expelled Octavia, as well as by some significant additions to the setting (more on which later). To understand the impact of the Chorus’s first entrance it is crucial to keep in mind that Roman choruses—as opposed to Attic—would step out on the same stage as the actors. This allowed for a very direct interaction between Chorus and protagonist and is certainly in tune with Horace’s demand that they should ‘perform an actor’s role and robustly defend its part’. Visibly, this body shared the space of the other actors; potentially, it would therefore be more fully integrated in the stage action than would their Greek predecessors. Like their Senecan counterpart, the Octavia choruses clearly do not remain on stage from beginning to end. Instead they are—like the other actors— assumed to walk on and off, as implied by the script. In the Octavia, finally, choruses are loyal to the ideal, as formulated by Horace, of singing only ‘what advances and blends in well with the plot’, but at a significant point, the present Chorus departs from the more passive, advisory role (2008) 500–2 likewise upholds an in-front-of-the-palace setting for the entire play; in the same spirit Junge (1999) 167 translates thalamis as ‘das Haus’. 39 Challenging the inference that the drama’s opening scene calls for the use of an ekklyklema/exostra, Ferri (2008) 500–1 mistakenly claims that such machinery would be necessary for all the scenes in this drama that are set in interiors. But this is incorrect. Such machinery would only be in demand, when such changes of setting happen within the same scene: 158 n. 40. 40 Csapo & Slater (1994) iv 78a–k and 79 a–e list the evidence for the use of ekkyklema and exostra. Like Polybius (11.5.8) before him, the procedure was sufficiently familiar in late republican Rome for Cicero (De provinciis consularibus 14) to use a stage metaphor stressing that insider deals previously took place ‘behind the curtain’ (post siparium), but now on the exostra, for all to see. 41 Donat. De comoedia 8.8 (quoted 156 n. 33).

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recommended by Horace to take instead a more active stand.42 In a genre once featuring soldiers in battle and citizens rising against tyrants, it seems a fair guess that the active profile of this Chorus is part of what traditionally characterized the genre.43 For changes of setting, a scaenicus would use painted, ‘drawable’ (ductiles)44 or ‘revolvable’ (in Greek periaktoi, in Latin vers(at)iles)45 backdrops. Their precise working is deplorably ill attested; neither is the evidence always consistent, whether because it is faulty or reflects variation over time and from region to region. It seems a reasonable inference, however, that the revolvable sets (which in Vitruvius’ day, and perhaps usually, had three different faces) provided the range of relevant settings (in this particular case, for instance, first the ‘interior of the Palace’, then the ‘square in front of the Palace’ and finally ‘a harbour’) at the two angles of the stage area. If working in tandem (as seems plausible), one assumes that the corresponding, similarly decorated, drawable sets or flats were placed behind the actors in front of the proscaenium back wall, leaving open the apertures necessary for the entrances and exits prescribed by the script. Crucially, both these types of set allowed for the ‘sudden’ (subito) change from one to a range of other settings, the revolvables being turned and the drawables being ‘pulled to one side and the other’ (tractatis tabulatis hac atque illac) thus ‘disclosing the appearance of a posterior set of sets’ (species picturae nudabatur interior). Ideally, this machinery allowed ‘the whole stage set to be changed at one go’ (subito tota (sc. scaena) machinis quibusdam convertebatur), replacing the ‘appearance of the painted sets on display’ (mutent . . . speciem ornationis in

42 Contrasting positions of Attic and Roman choruses (the latter having a place on stage from 194 BC): Vitr. 5.6.2 with Boyle (2008) 151–3; ‘the role of an actor’: actoris partis chorus officiumque virile/defendat . . . Hor. Ars P. 193–4. The chorus in Seneca and the Octavia: Tarrant (1978) 221–8 and Boyle (2008) 151–3; 234–5. ‘quod . . . proposito conducat et haereat apte’, Hor. Ars P. 195; advisory role: 196–201. 43 The Octavia Chorus’s active role is likely to mirror what happened in the early praetextae: Wiseman (1998) 57; Kragelund (2002) 45; Boyle (2008) xii–xiii. 44 Paraphrasing Varro (= GrRF fr. 315) and Suetonius (= Deperditorum librorum reliquiae (Roth) p. 279–80), Serv. on Verg. G. 3.24 describes the scaenae ductiles as ‘panels being pulled to one side and the other thus revealing a painted scene behind’ (ductilis . . . (sc. scaena), cum tractis tabulatis hac atque illac species picturae nudabatur interior). The aulaeum, velum or siparium possibly used to conceal this procedure: Beacham (1991) 172 ff. Kugelmeier (2007) 30; 84–5 finds changes of settings on the Roman stage ‘unimaginable’ (unvorstellbar), but, strangely, does not address this or similar (159–60 n. 45–6) evidence to the contrary; Sear (2006) 8; 90 sees no evidence for changes of settings (except for the periaktoi), but does not account for the references to the use of the exostra (158 n. 40) or flats in this and other passages. 45 Val. Max. 2.4.6 dates the Roman introduction of the versatilem (sc. scaenam) to 74 BC; using both its Latin and Greek name, Vitr. 5.6.8 defines the versatiles/periaktoi as triangular decorated panels, which could turn when, ‘a change in dramatic action [or play to perform?] or the arrivals of gods’ (cum aut fabularum mutationes sunt futurae seu deorum adventus) demanded it, thus, ‘changing the decoration pointing outwards’ (mutent . . . speciem ornationis in frontes (i.e. towards the audience).

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frontes) by revealing posterior sets with ‘a different depiction’ (aliam picturae faciem).46 I here quote fairly extensively from our chief authorities, Varro and/or Suetonius (as summarized by Servius, the fourth-century commentator on Vergil), because it needs emphasizing, above all to readers brought up to consider the so-called unities of time and place the true measure of things, that, in the theatre known to our dramatist, changes of setting were in no way exotic, but a feature that was, literally, an integral part of what it meant to have a stage, if not at one’s disposal, then at least as an imagined option. The indications are, of course, that such sets would only have covered the lowest tier of the often richly decorated, imposing frons scaenae, just as the aulaeum covering changes only could be raised to the height of 3–5 metres,47 so they would hardly have satisfied the demands for illusion on the Baroque, Romantic, or Naturalistic stage—but as every modern theatregoer knows, less is sometimes more, and the codes according to which an audience accepts a set as representing a specific setting are, in any case, subject to great cultural variation. Sadly, there is, as one would expect, frustratingly little archaeological evidence to illustrate the actual workings of such ephemeral flats: grooves for the aulaeum and its wooden masts, wall paintings apparently showing siparia, and perhaps also an exostra, but nothing more.48 What remains are the frustratingly vague, but unanimous snippets of evidence from Varro, Vitruvius, Suetonius, and Pollux, which individually or cumulatively affirm that the Roman dramatic tradition did dispose of machinery, which allowed settings to change within the same play. If this is correct, scaenici and audiences would have had no problems with the fact that, with the exit of the Chorus on the first day, the setting again needed changing, now from outside to a location within the Palace, where Nero and his counsellors are shown discussing affairs of state. Once again the text is, at 46 Paraphrasing Varro (= GrRF fr. 315) and Suetonius (= Deperditorum librorum reliquiae (Roth) p. 279–80), Serv. on Verg. G. 3.24 reports that the effect of the ‘revolvable scenery’ (versilis (sc.scaena) was that ‘by means of some machines the whole stage all at once was turned and displayed another form of picture’ (versilis (sc. scaena) tunc erat, cum subito tota machinis quibusdam convertebatur et aliam picturae faciem ostendebat)—that is, it changed stage sets. Poll. 4.131 specifies that the periaktoi could show, for instance, ‘a mountain, the sea or a river’ (Zæ . . . j ŁºÆ Æ j  Æe)—one of which would be needed here. Fiechter (1914) 116 would only allow the use of such procedures in Greek and Hellenistic theatre; on the Roman stage they would be unthinkable. His thorough listing of evidence seemingly to the contrary (p. 115–26) makes the inference problematic. 47 The aulaeum raised to 3–5 metres (depending on the depth of its slot): Sear (2006) 90; there is no evidence for the coverage of the velum or siparium. 48 The evidence for the use of stage curtains and flats from literature, archaeology, and Campanian wall painting: Beacham (1991) 169–83; Beacham (2013); following Bulle (1937), Waywell & Wilkes (1999) 449 quote, but rightly qualify, the use of the designation scaena ductilis for describing their fascinating finds at Sparta.

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this point, not explicit, but in a context where Seneca—when alone—deplores the dangers of his high station at court and then has a bitter quarrel with Nero, no sensible reader, let alone scaenicus, would imagine them doing so in front of the Imperial Palace. Why should they, when dramatic convention offered a far more attractive alternative? Moreover, when on the play’s third day, Nero and his counsellor reappear in what is in other respects just a mirror stage set, it is expressis verbis within the Palace, under its ‘roof ’ (tectis, 780). So once again the script allows for the reuse of similar backdrops, thereby underlining the eerie parallels between these ultimately lethal debates. This being a dramatist fond of concluding scenes with epigrammatic cliffhangers, thereby propelling the action forward, the first day is effectively brought to an end with a memorable one-liner literally setting the scene for the wedding of the central second day. ‘Why should we not’, says Nero, ‘celebrate the wedding already tomorrow?’ (592)—a punch line that in the theatre, and in the mind of the reader, effectively marks the end of the ‘Day Before’. In the theatre it would then be further emphasized by the curtain, be it the aulaeum, velum, or siparium, concealing the ensuing change of setting. At this point, the dramatist plays his trump card: he offers what would have been a true coup de théâtre, using traditional resources to surprising effect. The wedding is not shown. A scaenicus might of course have felt the need to do so, for instance in mute pantomime, but in the script there is in my view (controversial as it perhaps is) no indication that this was implied.49 Instead, the wedding is announced and cursed, in a ghost scene of a type that in ancient (and, of course, Renaissance) theatre often took place at the dawn,50 usually of the first but here of the second day, with Nero’s murdered mother making her startling entrance as a ghostly bridesmaid. Her death scene’s bitter imprecations are quoted, in direct speech, by the chorus of the first day. Now her voice takes on a bodily shape and she stands before the readers’ and spectators’ eyes as a visual embodiment of Nero’s crimes—as well as of the revenge now catching up with the culprit. 49 In Sen. Med. 116 the wedding is heard being celebrated off-stage; Wiseman (2001) 19–20 = (2004) 270 and (2002) 87 argues interestingly that Nero’s wedding is shown as a dumb show after 646 ff., thus filling in a presumed chronological 24-hour gap. I am not convinced there is a gap. As in Suet. Caes. 81.3 (ea . . . nocte, cui illuxit dies caedis), the Chorus’s illuxit . . . / . . . dies (669–70) does not show that a day has gone, but that ‘the [accursed wedding] day has dawned’. No need, therefore, to postulate such a scene; similarly Boyle (2008) 230–1. 50 Ghost scenes introduce Euripides’ Hecuba and—in imitation thereof—Pacuvius’ Iliona TRF3 fr. 4R. Seneca uses the model twice, in Agamemnon 1–56 and Thyestes 1–121 (ghost and fury). In all the above, the ghosts wake the dreamer (Euripides’ Hecuba and Pacuvius’ Iliona) or leave at daylight: Sen. Thyest. 105–7; 120–1; Agamemnon 56; cf. Hercules furens 123–4; afterlife of these generic conventions: Hickman (1938) 210; Boyle (2008) 218–19 and Ch. 13.1; 17.3–4.

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Luckily, we possess a fairly detailed description of the way such ghost scenes were staged. The author cannot be dated more precisely, but he is certainly Imperial, his note based upon the familiarity of a contemporary. Ghosts would, he says, emerge from beneath the curtain (aulaeum) ‘in the manner the dead traditionally are shown on stage, dressed in the filthy rags denoting mourning’, their entrance accompanied ‘by the sound of sorrowful tunes’.51 During performances the aulaeum was sometimes concealed in a ditch behind the low front wall of the proscaenium supporting the stage pulpit. From here, probably partly hidden from the audience, some kind of access, sometimes called the ‘stairwell from Hades’, led up to the stage, with the ghost’s upward movement being mirrored in the typical incipit of such scenes, ‘Lo! The earth is riven and I rise from the infernal abodes below’ (or something of the kind). Sometimes stage thunder was used to heighten the effect.52 In the present case, the ghost is an avenging fury. Here too the stage—and the readers’ imagination—had a fixed visual repertoire on which to draw. Perhaps already on the Attic stage of the fifth century, but certainly on Hellenistic and Roman stages, furies would carry blazing torches with hissing snakes as a further attribute. From the second century BC down to the third century AD (and no doubt beyond), this is how one would imagine such a figure. To illustrate the pervasive character of this imagery, a Roman sarcophagus in the Vatican will prove helpful (Fig. 9.2). In the tripartite manner much favoured by artists decorating sarcophagi, this virtuoso relief illustrates the story of Orestes. On the left it first shows a typical ‘tragic’ opening with a ghost scene featuring the spectre of Agamemnon appearing to Orestes and Pylades; at their feet lies a sleeping fury holding a double axe (doubtless alluding to the murder now to be avenged). In the centre, Orestes and Pylades murder Aegisthus and Clytemnestra while already being pursued by furies threatening the culprits with the typical stage attributes of snakes and flaming torches. To the right, finally, Orestes has taken sanctuary in Delphi, a fury lying powerless at his feet, a torch and snake in her lap. It has recently been suggested that this relief represents scenes from an Orestes pantomime—an interpretation certainly corroborated by the

51 Schol. Bob. ad Cic. Sest. 126, ‘In ea (sc. Pacuvii Iliona) est quippe argumentum ita dispositum, ut Polydori umbra secundum consuetudinem scaenicorum ab inferiore aulaeparte procedat et utatur hac invocatione matris suae, quam sordidatus et lugubri habitu, ut solent qui pro mortuis inducuntur, filius implorabat’; the ghost scene accompanied by ‘subdued and tearful music’ (cum pressis et flebilibus modis, Cic. Tusc. 1.106); along with Poll. 4.132, the scholiast’s secundum consuetudinem scaenicorum and ut solent confirm that such stagecraft was traditional. Courtois (1989) 92 ff. and Sear (2006) survey the evidence for the Late Republican introduction of the aulaeum. 52 Ghosts: Ribbeck (1875) 417 on Accius Troades, TRF3 fr. 2R.

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Fig. 9.2. Roman sarcophagus from c.135–40 illustrating the story of Orestes in the Museo Gregoriano Profano, the Vatican, Rome. On the sarcophagus’ lid, the likewise tripartite relief represents the concomitant myth of Orestes and Iphigenia at Tauris. Illustration in C. Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs II (Berlin 1890) tab. liv. © Danish National Art Library.

pantomime masks placed on the angles of the sarcophagus’ lid.53 In any case, it is, given the pervasive nature of this imagery, no coincidence that our dramatist equips his Agrippina with precisely the same attributes, in the ghost scene as well as in the dream.54 This is no innovator, but someone dramatizing recent events by means of stage conventions familiar to readers and stagehands throughout the Roman Empire. As for the setting of the ghost scene, the text has no indications. But given the brevity of the play’s second day, a scaenicus would do well to let the setting for the whole day be in front of the Imperial Palace, the ghost scene just prior to dawn and the following scene at the (clearly marked) advent of the accursed

53

An Orestes pantomime: Giraud (1997) 134–41; pantomime masks: Green (2008) 295. Furies with blazing torches on Hellenistic (Aeschines Against Timarchus 190) and Roman stages; a tragic scene (by Pacuvius?) quoted by Serv. and Serv. Dan. on Verg. Aen. 4.473; Cic. Pis. 46 (‘in scaena videtis’); cf. Rosc. Am. 67 (‘in fabulis saepenumero videtis’); Leg. 1.40; similarly, Verg. Aen. 4.472 and Oct. 594, Stygiam . . . facem; his flammis, 595; sparsam cruore . . . / . . . quatiebat facem (sc. Agrippina), 722–3; cf. 748. 54

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wedding day. In terms of dramatic setting, ghost scenes are also otherwise prone to establish a visual link between the spectre and the cursed, be it the doomed residents of the Palace of Agamemnon or, as here, the Palace of the Caesars.55 Following the ghost scene, the new day is first announced by Octavia, who admonishes her indignant attendants to refrain from crying on this ‘festive and happy day’ (festo/laetoque die, 646–7), then by the Chorus of Romans who in response point (‘Look!’, En, 669) to the sad fact that ‘the day long feared and frequently rumoured had now dawned’(En, illuxit suspecta diu/fama totiens iactata dies, 669–70), the day that would force them to witness Octavia being expelled to make room for Nero’s beloved Poppaea. To visualize the changed circumstances, Poppaea’s ‘glittering’ (fulget, 683) statues joined with those of Nero are already in place at what is now the entrance to Nero’s and her residence.56 This change of setting, signalled expressis verbis (‘See . . . !’, en, 682) by the indignant Chorus of Romans, creates a compelling visual contrast to the humiliating departure of Octavia, whom readers would imagine, and a scaenicus, to underline the contrast, might well have dressed, in mournful black (a usage well documented from the tragic stage and, in any case, what a Roman in such circumstances would have chosen to wear).57 How these statues standing at the very entrance to the Imperial Palace (where such statues were indeed to be seen)58 would be represented on stage (if at all) no doubt depended on the resources available. One scaenicus might opt for having them painted on the backdrops, be it the versatiles or the ductiles, that made it possible ‘suddenly’ (subito) to change ‘the aspect of the whole scene’; another to have them shown in the round, perhaps lowered onto the stage by the stage crane,59 whether prior to the entrance of the ghost or before Octavia makes her entrance. Whichever option is chosen (or envisaged), it is of course crucial to have the statues in place when Octavia makes her stage entrance, which in fact is her enforced exit from the Palace,

55 The visible link between ghosts and accursed residences in Sen. Agam. 6–11; Thyest. 101–5: Marek (1909) 44 and Boyle (2008) 217. 56 Statues on stage: Bieber (1961) figs. 488a–b; 494; Amm. Marc. 26.6.15; Soph. El. 1376 ff. (Apollo’s, outside the Palace); Sen. Phaed. 406 ff. (Diana’s, in a forest: Kragelund (1999) 235–47 = (2008) 181–94); tragic scene paintings included, ‘columns, pediments and statues and other such regal features’, columnis et fastigiis et signis reliquisque regalibus rebus, Vitr. 5.6.9; in scaenis pictis there were signorum figurae prominentes, 6.2.2; similarly, 7.5.5. Ovid mentions theatre statues of gilded wood (i.e. cheaper and more easily handled): AA 3.231–2, ‘aurea quae splendent ornato signa theatro/ inspice, contemnes: brattea ligna tegit’ (splendent Burmann: pendent codices). 57 Costume indicating tragic mourning: Poll. 4.117 (male) and 118 (female). 58 Statues on the route up to or at the Imperial Palace: Mart. 1.70.6; Tac. Ann. 15.72.1; AE (1982) 268 (Volusius Saturninus’ statue ‘IN ARIA (sic) APOLLINIS’, i.e. right in front of the Palace). 59 A crane lowering a statue of Victory: Sall. Hist. 2.70, ‘demissum Victoriae simulacrum cum machinato strepitu tonitruum . . .’; similarly, Plut. Sert. 22.2; cranes lifting actors and musicians into the air: Phaedrus 5.7.7; Juv. 4.122; Poll. 4.131; Claud. Panegyricus Mallio Theodoro 320 ff.

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which is hers by birthright but has now been usurped by Nero’s dazzling mistress. It is a telling example of the willful, not to say dogmatic, refusal even to acknowledge that there might have been a link between this script and the contemporary Roman stage that studies avowedly dealing with the issue have consistently failed to discuss the presence of these props.60 This is all the more strange, since the statues representing Poppaea are not only undeniably there, but they also play a mute yet crucial part in developments, their provocative presence being what triggers the revolt that—as a messenger in one of the subsequent scenes vividly reports—leads to the people overturning precisely these statues. In fact, it is at the sight of them that the Chorus, then and there, calls for these ‘all too lifelike’ (similes nimium, 686) icons of the unworthy new empress to be violently hurled down and the Palace attacked in order to reinstate Octavia in her rightful place. The dynamics of this implied stage movement, from outside the Palace to its interior, carry directly over into the first scene of the ‘Day After’, a scene eerily echoing the beginning of the ‘Day Before’, but now, of course, featuring a new nurse standing in attendance at the entrance to what is now the bedchamber of Nero’s new empress. This, however, is not the only contrast. Instead of being shown occupying her new, long-coveted position, Poppaea is at the very outset of the scene shown leaving or, more accurately, fleeing what now turns out to be an accursed chamber in abject fear, driven out by nightmares featuring the vengeful ghost of Agrippina. It is in vain that Poppaea’s nurse tries to calm her mistress, who, after a brief discussion sticks to her resolve not to return to the bedchamber, instead choosing to approach the sanctuaries of the gods to propitiate their anger. Unaware of Poppaea’s plight, a chorus, clearly of courtiers (Ch. 10.1), offers the departing empress an—in the circumstances—jarringly optimistic hymn praising her beauty. At the end of their hymn’s first strophe, a messenger from the Prefects of the Imperial Guard enters the Palace to alert the sentinels ‘under its roof ’ (tectis, 780) that the Palace is under siege. Outside its walls, the

60

Poppaea’s statues on stage: Kragelund (1982) 59–60; (2005) 91–3; no comments on these props in Sutton (1983), Manuwald (2001) 267–84, and Ferri (2003); challenging the reading advocated here, Ferri (2008) 502–3 concludes that there would have been no time to bring such statues onto the stage (as if this objection somehow would make the statues (as later (168 n. 67) the ship) ‘go away’). Statues are what the Chorus refers to, what a reader will imagine and a scaenicus visualize; and from all we know, nothing stood in the way. Indeed, Roman scaenici took pride in being quick and effective when handling changes of setting (cf. 160 n. 46; 171 n. 72): Amm. Marc. 26.6.15 uses a stage metaphor describing the sudden (subito) appearance from beneath the aulaeum of a splendid statue: ut in theatrali scaena simulacrum quoddam insigne per aulaeum . . . subito putares emersum.

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people are overturning Poppaea’s statues, ‘preparing to besiege the Palace’ (saepire . . . principis sedem parant, 801), and angrily voicing their demands that Poppaea be expelled and Octavia reinstalled in the bedchamber, which here again is emphatically described as the space denoting Octavia’s rightful status. This is the very chamber that a reader has just imagined and spectators just seen Poppaea flee—a fine example of the way the dramatist allows the visual to highlight key issues of the plot that now, with the Palace under siege and the arrival of the messenger underlining the tense contrast between within and without, has reached a decisive turn. The scaenici might develop what is already, demonstrably, in the script by the use of off-stage noises (of crowds protesting, soldiers shouting). The sense of panic, of a palace under siege, could be heightened by the use of uniformed extras (what the Greeks called spear bearers) running to their posts, shouting their commands. In praetextae the use of such extras was not unprecedented61—and in the play’s final scene it is, in any case, essential that they are at hand. Having informed the Chorus of the revolt, the messenger hastens to move on to inform the emperor himself—leaving the troubled Chorus to resume its hymn, which, in a discordant mixture of panegyric and fear, builds up ominously to announcing Nero’s second and final entrance. This and the following scene are likewise set within the Palace, a sequence clearly laid out to echo the first day configuration of Seneca, the Prefect, and Nero. First Nero, in his soliloquy, reveals his determination to have Octavia atone with her life and to chastise the people by burning down Rome. Then he is joined by the Prefect, who in soldierly fashion gives a brief report reassuring the emperor that the riots have been quelled with an appropriately moderate show of force. To the Prefect’s horror, Nero’s anger is not so easily appeased. While keeping his actual plans for punishing the people a secret, Nero insists that Octavia should pay with her life. Overruling the Prefect’s protests, the latter now taking over where Seneca left off, Nero’s final lines spell out his orders: a spate of imperatives insisting that Octavia be taken on board a ship and brought to a distant coast, there to be executed; thus concluding the scene where Nero on his entrance on the first day started—issuing orders for the murder of his closest kin. In a very literal sense, this final command provides the cue for a complete change of setting, the last in the play. Precise time is no longer indicated; it is probably no longer essential, whether one imagines the scene taking place later that day or, as seems more likely, a few days later, but the setting is—as Nero’s orders prescribe—unmistakably a harbour, the Chorus’s maritime imagery sustaining this dramatist’s persistent interaction between script and setting, the verbal and the visual.

61

Extras in praetextae: Hor. Ep. 2.1.190 ff.

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In this harbour, a ship lies at the wharf awaiting Octavia. When guards drag the ex-empress on stage, it is—as always in ancient theatre—the words of the actors that provide the implicit stage directions as to what we should imagine. First, the Chorus describes how she is dragged (trahi, 894) along, wretched and in tears, then Octavia asks her captors, ‘Where are you dragging me?’ (quo me trahitis? 899), the repeated use of the verb trahi being more than sufficient to tell readers as well as scaenici what to imagine: a group of armed soldiers (for which the scaenici would need extras) are dragging the probably shackled ex-empress to her death (hence a need for chains ‘as the plot demands’, sicut argumentum postulat)—much as Roman soldiers at a triumph would drag (same verb) foreign captives to their death (cf. Fig. 15.1).62 The association with a Roman triumph is reinforced by Octavia’s final address to the soldiers as ‘You whom Fortune has given power over me’ ( quis ius in nos/ Fortuna dedit, 961)—the fickleness of Fortune being a concept intimately connected with such triumphalist spectacles, not only in real life, but also in praetextae. Horace describes an apparently typical scene as involving a staged triumph: ‘then kings are dragged on, once Fortune’s favourites, now with their hands bound behind them’ (mox trahitur manibus regum fortuna retortis).63 This is clear evidence that this genre had come a long way, from typically offering a spectacle of triumph over Rome’s enemies to, as here, dramatizing the murder of a Roman empress.64 But, to continue, the words of the actors not only show that the scene is set in a harbour, but also that the setting features a ship: Octavia twice points to this ship as proof that Nero has ordered her execution.65 Also here, anachronistic insistence on unity of place has resulted in some truly bizarre attempts66 to cast this as a scene in front of the Palace, with Octavia merely hallucinating (or the dramatist revealing his lack of geographical

At triumphs, defeated opponents would be ‘dragged’ along in shackles: cf. e.g. Livy 26.13.15, ‘vinctus . . . triumphi spectaculum trahar’ and 35 n. 32 listing parallels to Horace’s glimpse from a praetexta’s staged triumph, mox trahitur manibus regum fortuna retortis (‘then kings are dragged on, once Fortune’s favourites, now with their hands bound behind them’), Hor. Ep. 2.1.191. 63 Octavia’s reference to Fortuna (961) emphasizes that her captors—in Stoic terms—have no real power: Wilson (2003) 67–70. On stage, royalty in shackles was to Horace an image of fortuna regum (167 n. 62); to judge from Boethius Consolatio Philosophiae 2.2.12, the notion of Fortuna was central to the scene in Pacuvius’ Paulus (41 n. 49) featuring Aemilius Paullus and the captive King Perseus: Kragelund (2002) 22 n. 51; 44. 64 Inversion of triumph: Boyle (2008) 276; lxiv. 65 A harbour with a ship: Cloetta (1890) ii, 217; Marek (1909) 44; Kragelund (1982) 60; Sullivan (1985) 61 (his view misrepresented by Manuwald (2001) 271 n. 21); Junge (1999) 169–70; Wiseman (2001) 22 = (2004) 272; Kragelund (2002) 48; Smith (2003) 423–4; Fitch (2004a) 510; Boyle (2008) lxiv and Smith (2011) 277. 66 Ferri (2003) ad 271 acknowledges that ‘a change of setting (i.e. at 876–7) may be assumed’ but ad 892–5 he finds the setting of the final scene ‘undecipherable’; similarly ad 907 ‘the playwright seems to have intentionally blurred the issue of location’ (italics added); to Ferri (2008) 503–4, however, a harbour scene was possible to stage, but irrelevant here. 62

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precision or utter incompetence).67 Such readings stand contradicted by Octavia’s insistent—and well-motivated—references not only to the ship, at which she points (ecce, 959), but to its sailors (whom she addresses), as well as to its sails, which she orders to be set.68 This is what Nero, expressis verbis, had ordered and the Chorus is in no doubt whatsoever as to the outcome: sadly bidding its champion farewell it brings the drama to an end by vainly praying the winds to carry Octavia to a utopian safety on a barbaric coast across the seas, far from Nero’s far more barbaric Rome.69 As confirmed by early Renaissance illustrations (Figs. 9.3–4), for instance by Nicolò di Giacomo da Bologna,70 no unbiased reader (let alone scaenicus) would imagine this to be a scene set against a backdrop representing the Imperial Palace in Rome. Such readings are only credible if one feels obliged to pay more attention to so-called Aristotelian rules of unity than to the text itself. As it has repeatedly

67 The ship a hallucination: Giancotti (1954) 190–1; Ballaira (1974) ad 907; Ferri (1998) 347; Grazzini (1998) 92; Schubert (1998) 282 n. 111 and, as it seems, Ferri (2008) 504; others find proof that the play was not meant for performance (thus already Ritter (1843) ad 908) and/or the dramatist geographically inexact: Münscher (1922) 210; similarly Schmidt (1985) 1444. Ignoring Pollux (171 n. 72) and insisting that Ov. Fasti 4.325 ff. (171 n. 71) is not referring to a ship shown on stage, Manuwald (2001) 93 and 270–1 lists a number of seemingly insurmountable difficulties with even imagining, let alone staging a scene in a harbour. Instead, the final scene of the Octavia also adheres to the precept of unity of place: ibid. 271. 68 Nero orders ‘a ship to take her away’ (devectam rate, 874), Octavia ‘sees the ship’ (cerno . . . ratem, 907), knows it ‘will sail me away’ (vehar, 910), points to it (ecce, 959) and orders the soldiers, sailors and ‘pilot of the ship’ (puppis rector, 970—the correct technical term) to ‘haul her to her death’ (rapite ad letum, 961) to ‘fit out the ship’ (armate ratem, 969) ‘set sails’ date vela, 969—again the terminus technicus) and ‘set the course’ (petat, 970) across ‘the sea’ (fretis, 969) for Pandataria; the Chorus, finally, prays the ‘winds’ (aurae, 972) to ‘carry’ (portate, 977) her away to a safer shore—a clear sign that Octavia is not alone in seeing a ship. 69 Curiously, none of those arguing that Octavia is alone in seeing the ship, whether because she hallucinates (168 n. 67) or because the dramatist is careless (ibid.) or because he has ‘intentionally’ ‘blurred the issue of location’ (167 n. 66), account for the fact that the Chorus is also under the impression that the protagonist is on the point of embarking on a ship (hence its prayers for safe winds and a safe destination across the seas: 168 n. 68). 70 Nicolò di Giacomo da Bologna’s Venice miniatures: D’Arcais (1984) 273–82 sees three depictions of Octavia (top right, bottom left, and right); I find it more plausible that the bluedressed empress depicted top left and right is Poppaea, and the likewise blue-dressed empress below is Octavia; a parallel, with blue-dressed Poppaea next to enthroned Nero in the top register and shackled blue-dressed Octavia on the ship in the lower: Robertis & Resta (2004) 105 (= Siena, Biblioteca Communale degli Intronati, K.V.10, c. 145v.). Robertis & Resta (2004) 102 and 103 have fine illustrations from Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, plut. 37.5, 120v and Napoli, Biblioteca Nazionale, IV. D. 40, c. 147r (Octavia on ship and Nero enthroned, surrounded by Seneca and Prefect and a lady, surely Agrippina, at the point of drowning). In illuminated manuscripts, the scene with Octavia and the ship is recurrent: Visone (2006) with e.g. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 1645 s. XIV–XV f. 107, Vat. Lat. 7319 f. 142 and Fig. 9.4; this is also how the popular commentary by Trevet from c.1315 told the owners and illustrators of such manuscripts that the play ends: Junge (1999) 46.20; 49.17.

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Fig. 9.3. Illustrations of scenes of the Octavia from a manuscript in the Biblioteca Marciana (MS Lat. XII, 26 (= 3906) fol. 120 r.). The manuscript, which carries the date 1395, was made for the professor of canon law at Padua (later bishop and cardinal of Florence), Francesco Zabarèlla (c.1339–1417). The cardinal was a friend of Gasparino Barzizza (1360–1431), one of the period’s great Seneca scholars. The illustrations are by the renowned Nicolò di Giacomo da Bologna. The symmetry of the composition framing the drama’s first letter ‘I’ shows Nero and Poppaea occupying its upper tiers, and the humiliated Octavia in both its lower tiers, an effect underlined by the chiastic use of colour: the empresses in the three corners are in blue; the green of Poppaea’s nurse (top right) is mirrored by the green of the soldier guarding the captive Octavia (bottom left). Similarly, the blood red of the cruel Nero (top left) is mirrored by the blood red of the henchman (note the drawn sword) escorting the shackled Octavia to her island of death (bottom right). © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. Su concessione del MiBACT. Divieto di riproduzione.

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Fig. 9.4. The final scene of the Octavia in a fourteenth century manuscript in the Biblioteca Marciana (MS Lat. XII, 223 (= 4514) fol. 169 v.). The miniature shows Octavia dressed in the blue of innocence, but as opposed to Fig. 9.3 she is here unchained, her hands piously folded (much like a martyr) while crossing the seas, a helmsman holding the course. © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. Su concessione del MiBACT. Divieto di riproduzione.

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been shown, it is utterly mistaken in the period in question to attribute to such rules anything like universal validity. Moreover, as shown by the praetexta about the arrival of Magna Mater71 (as well as by other evidence72), Romans did not need to hallucinate to see a ship and a harbour on stage. Also, in historical drama, Roman theatre audiences had seen such settings before.

71 In Ovid, the parallel use of testificata at Fasti 4.325 ff., ‘dixit et exiguo funem conamine traxit/ (mira sed et scaena testificata loquar):/ mota dea est sequiturque ducem laudatque sequendo’ and Fasti 4.218 (lions would accompany Cybele)—‘id curru testificata suo est’ confirms that Ovid refers to something, which was shown on stage: Wiseman (1998) 23; Kragelund (2002) 51; Boyle (2008) 273. 72 Poll. 4.131 lists settings showing the sea or a river (quoted 160 n. 46) as well as a set (132) with ‘people swimming in the sea’, ‘people drowning’ or ‘crossing a river’; discussing the workings of the so-called pegmata (cf. Sen. Ep. 88.22) managed by the machinatores working for the stage in late fourth-century Rome, Claud. Panegyricus Mallio Theodoro 331–2 describes ludi featuring staged meetings of ships manned by oarsmen in the foaming sea. What Pollux refers to are clearly sets, not water inundations—with Claudianus it is less certain.

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10 Plot and Historical Background Having examined the elements that constitute the drama’s plot, i.e. the words, personae, and metres, the dimensions of time and place as well as the formal properties and concatenation of scenes, it is time to look closer at its overall characteristics. The accompanying table may serve as a point of reference (Table 10.1). First, however, a proviso: discussions of the structure of the Octavia commonly proceed from an idea of finding some kind of five-act structure. This was the structure memorably recommended by Horace, and sometimes adopted by Seneca. It is, moreover, one commonly associated with comedy as well as tragedy. According to the classic definition, this structure calls for chorus scenes marking the transition from one act to the next. However, in the present case, such an approach creates divisions where few will find them helpful, while at the same time failing to highlight divisions that seem blindingly obvious.1 Take, for instance, the ghost scene: at the beginning of the drama’s second day, with the concomitant change of setting further offset by the entrance of a ghost (usually marking a beginning), it is hard not to see a new act or section (or whatever the label preferred) beginning precisely here. But, by traditional criteria, this would be a scene concluding an Act II and, again by these criteria, it would end in the middle of the second day.2 In terms of understanding, such muddled or faint-hearted divisions seem a high price to pay, even if the status of Horace’s five-act structure were anything like canonical—and, of course, Donatus’ tripartite alternative may

1 Hellenistic origin of the five act disposition: Brink (1963–82) on Hor. Ars P. 189. Schmidt (1985) 1445–7 surveys previous, sometimes highly divergent attempts to establish a five-act structure; Boyle (2008) lxi; Ferri (2003) 67–9 and Smith (2011) 247 ff. argue respectively for six, seven, or eight act models. Herington (1961) 21–2 generated an increased awareness of symmetries and contrasts within the plot (on which Schmidt (1985) 1446–8 and above all Boyle (2008) lx–lxvi have perceptive comments). 2 No clear signs of a five-act structure: Bruckner (1976) 10; Sutton (1983) 11; Manuwald (2001) 275; Fitch (2004a) 509.

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be less famous but it does suggest that there are other possibilities.3 So the tendency to insist on the indispensable relevance of the five-act structure seems counterproductive, often resulting in failure to reflect on what this, in many ways unparalleled text, itself suggests. To make it conform often seems to have been more important than to meet it on its own ground.

1 . ‘A T R A G E D Y H A S TH R E E P A R T S’ If a tripartite structure were considered suitable for tragedy, there is no reason to rule out its possible relevance to plays ‘similar to tragedies’, above all when one sees how well such a structure fits in with the sequence of days, settings, scenes, and configurations found in this drama. As illustrated by Table 10.1, Table 10.1. The tripartition of Octavia’s plot. Time

Place

Persons and generic form

Metres

1 “Day before”

In the Palace, in the empress’s bedchamber and at its entrance

Monologues: Empress and nurse

anapaests/iambic trimetres/anapaests

2 “Day before”

In the empress’s bedchamber

Dialogue: Empress and nurse

iambic trimetres/anapaests

3 “Day before”

Outside the Imperial Palace

Chorus of Romans/‘voice’ of Agrippina/Chorus

anapaests

4 “Day before”

In the Imperial Palace

Monologue: Emperor’s counsellor

iambic trimetres

5 “Day before”

In the Imperial Palace

Dialogue: Emperor and counsellor

iambic trimetres

6 Wedding day

At steps from Hades, in front of Imperial Palace

Monologue: ghost of Agrippina, later joined by ghost of Claudius

iambic trimetres

7 Wedding day

Outside the Imperial Palace

Chorus of Romans and Empress

anapaests

8 “Day after”

In the Palace, at the entrance to the empress’s bedchamber

Dialogue: Empress and nurse

iambic trimetres

9 “Day after”

Same

Chorus of courtiers/messenger/Chorus

anapaests/iambic trimetres/anapaests

10 “Day after”

In the Palace

Monologue: Emperor

iambic trimetres

Same

Dialogue: Emperor and counsellor

iambic trimetres

A harbour in Campania

Chorus of Romans and Empress

anapaests

11 “Day after” “Day (or “Some days …) after”

12

3

Probable Hellenistic origins of the tragic tripartition: 152 n. 25–6; 172 n. 1.

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this plot in fact breaks down comfortably into twelve clearly delimited individual scenes, each defined in relation to a grid listing such basic dramatic properties as time, place, metre, and generic form, as well as number, status, and gender of the dramatis personae. This division has the obvious heuristic advantage of clearly articulating the action’s distribution over three days; the second, central, day being Nero’s wedding to Poppaea (6–7). This fatal wedding day not only occupies the very centre of the play, but it is framed by a ‘Day Before’ versus a ‘Day After’, which are both divided into sections of an emphatically similar, symmetrical layout (1–5; 8–11). What A.J. Boyle aptly labels the drama’s ‘cyclicity’ is here clearly displayed. These two days may, of course, be further subdivided, each into two sections: 1–3, 4–5//8–11, 12; or 1–2, 3–5//8–11; 12. This provides a sort of fiveact structure—but the tripartition is more strongly emphasized. In any case, the dramatist’s fondness for symmetry and mirror scenes is clearly in evidence. As we have seen, ‘Day Before’ and ‘Day After’ are, for instance, similarly introduced, both beginning at dawn with empress and nurse in or at the Imperial bedchamber (1–2; 8). In either case, this scene is followed by scenes (3–5; 9–11) that, with minor variations, repeat a pattern beginning with Choruses (in 3 probably alternating with an actor speaking the lines of Nero’s mother Agrippina and in 9 with a dialogue with a messenger), but in either case followed by soliloquies (4; 10), succeeded by dialogues (5; 11), both the latter featuring the emperor Nero trying to overcome a counsellor’s resistance to his criminal plans, and the last of these scenes leading directly to the finale (12) with the Chorus taking leave of the condemned Octavia. In terms of dramatic impact, the tripartition of the plot creates an immediately recognizable frame, consisting of the ‘Before’ and the ‘After’, a symmetry that effectively highlights the central wedding day as the plot’s climactic turning point. This is where the ‘Deed’ (gestum) or (to use the classic Aristotelian concept) the ‘dramatic reversal’ (peripatia) occurs, this is where a series of inauspicious echoes and uncanny recurrences start investing the action of the ‘After’ with a presentiment grimly foreshadowing the ‘lethal consequences’ (exitum) of the ‘deed’ (gestum), not only for Octavia but also for Nero and his new consort. What the table further highlights is the pre-eminence and centrality of the protagonist Octavia. Nero is suitably her only rival, with two appearances in the flesh (5; 10–11), one as a statue (7). However, as befits her title role (the manuscripts invariably name the play after her), Octavia is, along with the Chorus of Romans, the only protagonist actively to appear on each of the play’s three days, each appearance being crucial in driving the action forward in so far as she invariably features in a different setting that in tableau-fashion illustrates the inexorable forward dynamics of her stage trajectory: • from Roman empress still residing in the imperial bedchamber, in Junolike fashion sharing its couch with the emperor (1–2);

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• to dispossessed divorcee driven from her ancestral palace (7);4 • to exiled ex-empress chained like a prisoner and dragged by soldiers to the ship destined to bring her to the island of her death (12). In the words of A.J. Boyle, Octavia’s three ‘appearances on stage structure the play’.5 However, the role of the ‘Chorus of Romans’ (Chorus Romanorum is how manuscripts label it on its first appearance) is, significantly, almost equally prominent. In the plot, it moves along a markedly parallel trajectory, initially (3) being outside the Palace, still the residence of Nero and Octavia; in its two following appearances it is the bitterly indignant witness to her expulsion from the Palace, which is now the residence of Nero and Poppaea (7); and finally, in a harbour, it witnesses her utter humiliation as she is dragged in chains to her deportation and death (12). Contact between Chorus and Empress becomes closer at each stage: first (3) it comments with emphatic sympathy on her sad prospects (but from the ‘outside’, as it were); then (7) it actually witnesses and deplores her enforced exit and she addresses them, thankful for their loyalty; finally (12) they address her directly, offering their compassion and consolation and she, in turn, fearlessly replies. This Roman Chorus is consistent in quoting episodes from Roman history (whereas the Chorus of Nero and Poppaea’s courtiers characteristically opt for sexy Greek mythology, 762–77; 806–17).6 As if to strengthen the feeling of a forward, ever more death-bound movement, these references are, on their first appearance, drawn from Rome’s regal period and the heroic early years of the Republic (291–303); on their second appearance, from the heyday of the free Republic with the Populus Romanus as Rome’s sovereign master (676–81); and, on their third appearance, from the years of deadly civil strife 4 Schmidt (1985) 1444 and Manuwald (2001) 269 n. 18 find it unlikely that Octavia ‘actually’ (wirklich) leaves the Palace at Oct. 667 ff. Hence no challenge to the unity of place. But like the protagonist (‘be quick now to walk out from this abode, leave . . . this court’, propera tectis efferre gradus/linque . . . aulam, 667–8), the Chorus expresses no doubt whatsoever that ‘Octavia . . . has left’ (cessit . . . Claudia, 671); cf. 249 n. 41. 5 The tripartite trajectory of Octavia: Herington (1961) 22; Kragelund (2005) 93–4; ‘structures the play’: Boyle (2008) lx; 87. 6 The shared attitude to Nero, to Rome, to Roman history, and to Octavia confirm the identity of the Chorus Romanorum on its three appearances (Oct. 273 ff.; 669 ff.; 877 ff.); similarly, the sexy Greek mythology and hostile attitude to Octavia’s supporters set the Chorus of Poppaea’s courtiers (762 ff.) apart: Cloetta (1890) ii, 144–5; Zwierlein (1966) 86; Kragelund (1982) 78 n. 155; (2005) 110 n. 139; Junge (1999) 216–17; Wiseman (2001) 21; Smith (2003) 419; Fitch (2004a) 515; and Boyle (2008) 273. The attempt by Schmidt (1985) 1431–2; Schubert (1998) 282; Manuwald (2001) 292–331 (with extensive bibliography); Ferri (2003) ad 877; Ferri (2008) 504; and Smith (2011) 277 to identify the Poppaea Chorus with the Chorus in the harbour scene founders on these clear and consistently drawn contrasts. Poppaea’s courtiers would hardly lament the Gracchi (no comment on their role in Manuwald (2001) 300 and Ferri (2003) ad 882) or describe Nero as Agrippina’s ‘cruel . . . son’ (saevi . . . nati, 957, again, no comment), let alone lament Poppaea’s innocent rival.

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leading to the fall of the Republic (882–90). The procedure enables the drama to evoke the long and glorious span of the history of the Roman people, thus highlighting its role as a once brave and powerful body that had liberated Rome, then to become the master and lawgiver of the Republic, but now—for how long?—subdued by tyrannical terror and violence. These parallel, tripartite stage trajectories are, as it were, the very backbone of the plot. What makes this structure dramatically effective is—and again a close look at the table will prove useful—that it is contrasted and crossed by the (partly imagined) reverse trajectory of Poppaea, who on the first day is said still to be hovering menacingly outside the coveted imperial bedchamber (131–3) that she, on the second day, enters in off-stage triumph, a visible token of her victory being the ‘all too lifelike’ (similes nimium, 686) glittering statues now standing in front of the Palace that Octavia, to the crowd’s sorrow and anger, is forced to leave (7). Finally, Poppaea is, in the third day’s first scene (8)—a beginning mirroring that of the first day (1)—actually shown emerging from the coveted bedchamber, now the symbol of her dynastic preeminence as the consort of Nero, but her triumph now mixed with fear and premonitions that she will pay with her life for these criminal gains. Further to underline this contrast, the Palace Chorus of Poppaea’s courtiers (a modern, but apt label) is effectively contrasted with that of the true Romans. Where the former inhabits a lustful, but doomed world of Greek mythology, the Chorus of Romans is, in its imagery, Roman, through and through. It is consistent in speaking of ‘us’ and ‘our city’ (276; 288; 674; 978); and while its attitude to the protagonist is characterized by love and sympathy (amor; favor), the chorus of courtiers favouring Poppaea is quite the opposite. It addresses the chorus that riots in an aggressively repeated plural (806–12) and with stern reproof.

2. HISTORICA L BACKGROUND: P ARALLELS AND CONTRASTS It is this dynamic intersection of contrasted trajectories, with its marked emphasis on the climactic wedding day as the plot’s turning point that constitutes the basic structure of the plot. A close look at the play’s historical background7 (many aspects of which were no doubt familiar to those for 7 On Nero, Griffin (1984) and Champlin (2003) are where to start and return. Boyle (2008) 88–92 is lucid on the versions given by the Octavia compared to other ancient reports. Ferri (1998) argues for Tacitus’ direct dependence, Lucarini (2005) vice versa; both are at crucial points overconfident (cf. 181 n. 21); Billot (2003) and Hurley (2013) 35–7 make a strong case for Tacitus being in dialogue with a broader tradition of which the drama probably was a component.

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Table 10.2. Stemma of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty Focusing on Persons mentioned or figuring in the Octavia C. IULIUS CÆSAR

AUGUSTUS (3) ~ (2) LIVIA ~ (1) ~ TIBERIUS CLAUDIUS NERO Adoptive son of Cæsar Sole ruler from 31 BC–14 AD

JULIA ~ AGRIPPA Augustus’ daughter from his second marriage

OCTAVIA ~ (2) ~ MARK ANTONY Augustus’ sister

DRUSUS ~ ANTONIA

TIBERIUS Emperor 14–37 Livia’s son from her first marriage; adopted by Augustus in 4 AD

AGRIPPINA MAJOR ~ GERMANICUS LIVIA CALIGULA Emperor 37–41

AGRIPPINA MINOR (3) Claudius’ fourth wife. Executed in 59

(4) CLAUDIUS (3) ~ (1) MESSALINA Emperor 41–54

SULLA Messalina’s half-brother. Executed in 62

CRISPINUS ~ (1) ~ POPPAEA ~ (2) ~ (2) NERO (1) ~ OCTAVIA Died in 65

DRUSUS

Claudius’ third wife Executed in 48

SILANUS Comitted suicide in 49

Comitted suicide in 66

~

JULIA

Emperor Executed in 62 54–68 suicide in 68

BRITANNICUS Murdered in 55

PLAUTUS Executed in 62

A son. CLAUDIA AUGUSTA Died in 63 Died c.67

whom the dramatist wrote (Ch. 16)) will illustrate how the playwright, by means of changes and omissions, adjustments and additions, took advantage of this clear structure in giving shape and coherence to a complex, multilayered storyline, thus turning it into drama. The background is fundamentally twofold: on the one hand, there are the events, i.e. the divorce, wedding, and murders that constitute the immediate conflict. But behind these events looms a long, hereditary conflict that (at the risk of simplifying) can be defined by reference to a Julio-Claudian family stemma (Table 10.2) illustrating how all the dramatis personae (except, of course, the nurses and messenger, Seneca, and the Guard Prefect) were directly implicated (willingly or otherwise) in a deadly struggle for supreme power. Being descendants of one of the founders of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Augustus or Livia (or through crisscross adoption of both), they were all The attempts to prove the dramatist’s dependence on Flavian (or other) historians has produced nothing solid: Kragelund (2005) 69–86; Wiseman (2008) 200–9 and Ch. 16.1.

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members of the family group from which Rome’s emperors, for close to a century, had been selected. At critical junctures (such as Caligula’s and Claudius’ accessions), the very paucity of suitably eminent candidates (from within the family, that is) had been an advantage for the main contestant— but by the time of Nero’s succession, the number of eligible male JulioClaudians had increased alarmingly, a circumstance making his accession correspondingly murderous. In 62, some seven years later, this situation had not fundamentally changed. By the age of 25 (and after nine years of marriage) Nero was still without an heir. The situation was insecure and the appearance of an ill-boding comet sometimes all it took to start people whispering about who—given the opportunity—might succeed. Such insecurity created fertile ground for potential conspiracies. As in Shakespeare’s dramas on the Wars of the Roses, this tense dynastic instability lies at the root of the plot.8 What sets the plot in motion is Nero’s growing infatuation with his longtime mistress, Poppaea Sabina.9 A striking beauty of rich, but new nobility, this divorcee was, in terms of ancestry, morals, and prestige, no match for Claudia Octavia (to put it mildly)—but Nero loved her madly. The affair had angered Nero’s mother Agrippina—and Poppaea had (as the dramatist agrees) done her utmost to aggravate tensions, emphasizing murder as the only solution. In 59, an attempt to cover up assassination as an accident misfired disastrously—the scandal only being exacerbated by Nero’s ordering his mother’s prompt execution on what were patently trumped-up charges of treason. The murder was his first step on an increasingly bloody path. Poppaea remained the maîtresse en titre (as it were) but the problem of succession was still unresolved. This is where the dramatist has his plot commence. By her previous marriage, Poppaea had proved herself to be fertile (an area in which Nero, according to some sources, but, significantly, not to the dramatist, would claim that Octavia lagged behind).10 Hence the plan, which the dramatist agrees was eagerly endorsed by Poppaea herself: that Nero should divorce and remarry, thus founding his own dynasty. The plan had its risks. From those backing the claims of his dynastic rivals, it would encounter strong opposition. By 62 (the play’s dramatic date), there were three such claimants who, in the case of a divorce, might pose a serious challenge. First, of course, Octavia herself, whose age, popularity, and dynastic eminence would make her an ideal wife for anyone wishing to overthrow Nero. Like the dramatist, Tacitus is emphatic in underlining the high esteem

8 Nero’s problems of succession: Griffin (1984) 189–96; rumours focusing on the succession of Plautus: Tac. Ann. 13.19.3; 14.22.1–3. 9 Poppaea: PIR2 P 850 and Holztrattner (1995); her temple and divine status as Venus-Poppaea: Dio Cass. 63.26.3 with Kragelund (2010) 559–68 and 260 n. 7; 297 n. 4. 10 Octavia’s alleged infertility: Suet. Nero 35.2; Tac. Ann. 14.60.1.

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in which she was held.11 ‘Then give her back her dowry (i.e. Imperial power)’ is how one of Nero’s closest advisers had warned that a divorce was not an option—a warning (be it apocryphal or otherwise) that explains why divorce was eventually coupled with murder. There was no way Octavia could be allowed to survive as a single, free agent.12 To forestall a putsch and leave the discontented without alternative candidates, Nero’s advisers13 insisted that two further executions were necessary. The ‘offenders’ had long since been exiled: now their very survival was considered a risk no longer to be countenanced. First in line was Nero’s paternal cousin, Faustus Cornelius Sulla (whose historic name added Republican lustre to his descent from Augustus’s sister Octavia and his status as Claudius’ brother- as well as son-in-law);14 and second was Rubellius Plautus, ‘linked with Augustus across the same generation span as Nero’ and on top of that, a great-grandson of the emperor Tiberius. Counting two emperors his direct ancestors, Plautus was, in short, a very serious rival. Here, moreover, was a man with strong links to senatorial and philosophical groups of great prestige. Sulla could not be ignored; and Plautus looked suspiciously like the ideal figurehead for armed revolt.15 It was this eventuality that Nero forestalled when, in early 62, he had both these exiled rivals executed—precisely when is unknown, but certainly prior to the murder of Octavia and perhaps as late as by late April.16 Their severed 11 Tac. Ann. 14.59.3, ‘Octaviam . . . nomine patris et studiis populi gravem’; similarly, at 14.61.2 on the ‘inclinatione populi’ in her favour; Suet. Nero 35.2 reports of loud popular protest against the divorce: ‘improbante divortium populo nec parcente conviciis’. 12 PŒF ŒÆd c æEŒÆ ÆPfiB . . . I, thus Burrus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, to Nero: Dio Cass. 62.13.2; Tac. Ann. 14.61.4 has Poppaea warn Nero that the people might plan to overthrow him, giving Octavia a new husband. 13 Tac. Ann. 14.57 has the Prefect Tigellinus playing on Nero’s fears of Plautus and Sulla and suggesting their executions; in Oct. 133; 827–30; 861–76 the initiative for the murders is Nero’s and Poppaea’s alone, the Prefect merely obeys (cf. the discussion of the Prefect’s identity in Ch. 16.6). 14 Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix (PIR2 C 1464). Through his maternal grandmother Octavia, Nero’s father could—and did—claim Augustus as his ‘(great) uncle’ (aviam Octaviam et per eam Augustum avunculum praeferebat, Tac. Ann. 4.75). Domitius’ sister Domitia Lepida (PIR2 D 180) was the mother of Sulla; through her, Sulla had a similarly strong Augustan link. 15 (Serg.?) Rubellius Plautus (PIR2 R 115): ‘per maternam originem pari ac Nero gradu a divo Augusto’ Tac. Ann. 13.19.3 (Tacitus’ reckoning acknowledges Augustus’ adoption of Plautus’ great-grandfather Tiberius). Plautus’ friends: 309 n. 45. 16 Key dates of the events dramatized: Poppaea gave birth prior to 20 January 63 (AFA (Henzen) 78 = Scheid (1998) 29, i, 18–20), so by mid- or late April 62, Nero probably knew that she could give him an heir; hence a motive to go for divorce. As for the murders of Plautus (in Ephesus) and Sulla (in Marseille), chronology and travel time suggest that orders were sent out not long after 15 March (cf. Rogers (1964) 217–22) or, on an emergency, perhaps as late as by mid-April. By mid-May (at the latest) the Senate learnt of the two murders. Then the divorce was hastened through, only eleven days separating it from the wedding: Suet. Nero 35.3, ‘Poppaeam duodecimo die post divortium Octaviae in matrimonium acceptam’. During the eleven-day interval, Octavia was first turned out of the Palace and installed in other Roman residences, then banished to Campania, where she was put under military custody: Tac. Ann. 14.60.4. For

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Fig. 10.1. Roman soldiers presenting the amputated heads of defeated Dacians to Trajan. Relief on the column of Trajan in his Forum in Rome. Ca. 120. Scene 183 (Cichorius). Nero’s orders for treating his executed cousins and wife degraded Plautus, Sulla, and Octavia to the level of alien ‘enemies’ (hostes) of Rome herself. From C. Cichorius Die Reliefs der Trajansäule (Berlin 1896–1900). © Danish National Art Library.

heads (Fig. 10.1) were ignominiously dispatched to Rome where the Senate duly applauded the fait accompli by declaring the victims ‘enemies of the state’ (hostes).17 Thus reassured, Nero could now turn his attention to his plan’s part B, the divorce and beheading of Octavia.18 It is at this point that the events start unfolding which the playwright, with considerable daring, but also success, has endeavoured to telescope into the taut, brief timespan of three days—a move suggesting strong awareness that, in drama, tempo and coherence is at a premium. Another report suggests, however, that contemporaries had in fact been struck by the brevity of the timespan within which the final half of this dynastic crisis now unfolded.19

weddings, May was commonly considered inauspicious (or less auspicious: Plut. Quaest. Rom. 86)). But between 1 June and the Vestalica (7 to 15 June) nothing stood in the way: Ov. Fasti 5.487–8; 6.227 ff., so Nero probably married Poppaea in early June. By this reckoning, the divorce was around 20 May. The June wedding unleashed the city riots and Octavia’s transfer from Campania to Pandataria, there to die, ‘a few days’ (paucis . . . interiectis diebus) after arrival (Tac. Ann. 14.64.1) on 9 or 11 June (351 n. 256). 17 The Senate condemning Plautus and Sulla as hostes and voting thanksgivings after learning of their executions: 295 n. 48. 18 Octavia inherited Plautus’ confiscated property: Tac. Ann. 14.60.4. 19 Brevity of timespan dividing divorce and wedding: 179 n. 16.

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Briefly to summarize the main points of convergence (or difference) between the versions offered by the drama and other sources, the dramatist shows keen political awareness in focusing on what triggered the crisis: his play begins on the very day when Nero acknowledged that his mistress Poppaea was expecting his child.20 As in the drama, this recognition in fact led to a speedy divorce, the dramatist agreeing with Tacitus that it had at first been an ordinary ‘parting of ways’, Octavia leaving her husband’s residence and becoming the ‘unwed sister’ rather than ‘consort’.21 That Poppaea was a driving force in ensuring that divorce became murder, is a view the dramatist shares with others. At the same time, it is (as we shall later see (Ch. 16.7)) significant that it is only in an oblique and indirect manner that the dramatist acknowledges his awareness of the unprecedentedly vicious smear campaign with which Nero tried to justify not only divorce, but execution (as punishment for conspiracy and adultery). As we shall presently see (Ch. 10.3), he was fully aware (but only indirectly acknowledges) that Nero banished his ex-wife soon after the divorce to Campania, where she was held in custody, before her final deportation.22 Again, as in the drama, the plans for the divorce were unpopular (dramatist and historians repeatedly referring to popular discontent), but, as Suetonius notes, the divorce was rushed through and the wedding to Poppaea followed a mere eleven days later. Since the whole of May was considered unsuitable for weddings, one of the very first days in June, the sacred month of Jupiter’s consort, Queen Juno, is a reasonable guess at its date.23 In any case, the dramatist further reports that the wedding day led to popular protest and, in the end, riots on the streets of Rome. The people (or ‘the clients and servile dependants of Octavia parading under the name of the people’, as Tacitus has Poppaea sneer) marched on the Palace, toppling the statues of Poppaea and demanding that Octavia be reinstated. As to these riots, the dramatist differs significantly from Tacitus, who apparently (there is 20 On the crucial significance of the pregnancy and child: Oct. 188; 532; 591 (cum portet (sc. Poppaea) utero pignus et partem mei); strangely, Tacitus alludes to the pregnancy at 14.61.4 but does not stress its importance: Griffin (1984) 99. 21 Ordinary parting of ways: ‘primo civilis discidii specie’, Tac. Ann. 14.60.4; cf. Oct. 658, ‘soror Augusti, non uxor ero’; similarly, Tacitus quoting Octavia herself: ‘viduam se et tantum sororem’, 14.64.1. Ferri (1998) 351 and Lucarini (2005) 279–82 quote Tacitus’ and the dramatist’s agreement in calling Octavia the ‘sister-wife’ as proof of one depending on the other. But such parallels prove nothing: soror is precisely the word for describing her status; and from Plutarch (the contemporary of both the dramatist and Tacitus) down to the schol. on Juv. 8.217, Octavia was known to have been Nero’s ‘wife and sister’: ªıÆEŒÆ ŒÆd I ºçc (Otho 19.5) and ‘uxorem . . . eandemque sororem adoptivam’. 22 Poppaea instigating the divorce: Oct. 131–3; Tac. Ann. 14.60.2; the murder: Oct. 131–3; 901–5; Tac. Ann. 14.61.2; Dio Cass. 62.13.4; smear campaign (adultery with an Egyptian slave): 14.60.2–3; conspiracy and adultery with Anicetus: 14.62; in Oct. 107 only a brief allusion to a fearfully anticipated ‘charge’ (crimen); armed custody: Oct. 894–5; 961; Tac. Ann. 14.60.4. 23 1st—6th June auspicious wedding-days: 179 n. 16; Poppaea as Juno: 300 n. 11.

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a problem with the text)24 described riots motivated by rumours that Octavia had actually been recalled, her garlanded images therefore being paraded around the city in a short-lived joyful triumph, while those of her rival Poppaea were torn down. When reaching and actually entering the Palace, the crowd had then been dispersed by armed force (but actual bloodshed is only indirectly acknowledged). The dramatist likewise has the crowd demanding that Poppaea be ousted and Octavia reinstated, but there is no misguided optimism or garlanded images. In a variant that underlines their hatred of Poppaea, it is their violence against her statues that is brought to the fore. And where Tacitus belittles the crowd’s motivation (such people, he affirms, can easily be demonstrative since they have little to lose), the dramatist emphasizes its determination and loyalty and makes a point of stressing that lives had actually been lost. In the drama, Nero’s response to the riots is immediate: he summarily orders Octavia’s execution. In Tacitus, the reaction is less direct, with Poppaea brought in to egg him on and a legal pretext to be invented,25 but the outcome is, according to both the historian and the dramatist, similar. Octavia is taken from her detention in Campania and, under armed guard, deported from a harbour, probably nearby—a scene vividly depicted in the drama’s finale—to the island of Pandataria, there to be executed (9 or 11 June 62).26 As Tacitus reports, and the dramatist implies, her severed head was then brought to Rome, there to be inspected by Poppaea; this latter gesture emphasizing that a ‘public enemy’ had been eliminated.27 In a dynastic context, such bodily mutilation—till then ‘normally’ reserved for fallen enemies or rebels, but certainly not family members—represented a horrifying new low. The beheading constituted a Roman extreme in degradation, leading to the utter loss of personal and civic identity, here and in the hereafter.28 As with Plautus and 24 At Tac. Ann. 14.60.5 Koestermann (1960) 109–10 is with Nipperdey probably right in suspecting a lacuna reporting a false rumour that Nero had regretted and recalled Octavia: his tamquam Nero paenitentia flagitii coniugem revocarit Octaviam; this then kindled the people’s false joy. In the dramatist there is no sign of false joy, only of indignation and anger. 25 The Senate condemning Octavia as a hostis (182 n. 27) and voting thanksgivings after her execution: 295 n. 48. 26 Popular apprehension, then anger, riots, and overturning of statues: Oct. 273–81; 685–9; 780–805; Tac. Ann. 14.60.1–5; 14.61; eleven days: 179 n. 16. Poppaea’s sneer, ‘clientelis et servitiis Octaviae quae plebis sibi nomen indiderint’, Tac. Ann. 14.61.2. 9th or 11 June 62 (cf. 351 n. 256): date inferred from Suet. Nero 57.1. 27 Severed heads of Sulla, Plautus, and Octavia brought to Rome: Tac. Ann. 14.57.4; 59.3; 64.2; cf. Dio Cass. 62.14.1 (Plautus’); Oct. 437–8 (Plautus’ and Sulla’s); 133 (Octavia’s); all three, correctly, called hostes (443; 469; 864, cf. Vittinghoff (1936) 10). 28 Ambivalent Roman attitudes to decapitation: Richlin (1999); Varner (2004) 100–1 and (2005); Fields (2005); such treatment of Romans, even of the Gracchi (cf. 286 n. 28), was utterly unacceptable: Vell. Pat. 2.6.5. Yet Claudius punished traitors this way: Dio Cass. 60.16.1 (revolt of Camillus Scribonianus in AD 42); 60.32.4 (Lollia Paulina); the latter was embarrassingly ‘family’ (once married to Caligula), a fact that Claudius did his best to downplay: Tac. Ann.

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Sulla, the Senate by cruel paradox responded to this grim news by voting a festive public thanksgiving. In sum, the dramatist has in the main respected the order of the core events, but the sequence29 has been resolutely shortened and streamlined. Nero’s decision to marry the pregnant Poppaea (‘Day Before’) leads, for instance, directly to the divorce, which, unhistorically, is presented as coinciding with the wedding (‘Day of the deed’), a fusion, be it noted, resulting in a scene of great dramatic potential, with the wedding celebrated off-stage, as it were, whereas the drama foregrounds the misery of the ex-empress expelled from the Palace now taken over by her triumphant rival. On the ‘Day After’ follow the riots and overturning of statues that the Chorus has already called for on the day of the wedding. Then the drama comes to its end with Octavia’s final deportation.

3 . T H E IM P L I E D GE OG RAP HY As for the setting of this final deportation scene, two problems need addressing. First, where are they taking her? And, second, where from? In Tacitus she is banished to the island of Pandataria, some 40 kilometres from the seaboard of Campania,30 but in the Octavia her destination is, if the manuscripts were to be trusted, ‘the shores of the land of the Pharos’ (i.e. Egypt).31 But, it has long since been recognized that this is highly unlikely to be what the dramatist wrote: not only because of Tacitus (although his evidence is difficult to challenge), but also because the alternative seems historically implausible. Egypt was not a regular place of exile for Romans— and, in any case, a far too risky place for the confinement of such a high profile

12.22.2. Nero, in contrast, openly mocked the amputated heads of his dead relatives: 182 n. 27 (Tacitus and Dio). Hence his final fears that he would himself be decapitated: Suet. Nero 49.4. He was spared the indignity, his successors not. 29 The sequence (1) divorce, (2) wedding, (3) banishment to Campania, (4) riots in Rome, and (5) deportation to Pandataria, execution, and public celebrations is chronicled by Tac. Ann. 14.60.1 (1–2); 60.4 (3); 60.5–61 (4) and 63–4 (5). 30 Pandataria Octavia’s place of exile: Tac. Ann. 14.63.1, his comparisons with Agrippina and Julia Livilla (the former certainly, the latter probably executed on the island) strengthening its candidature. 31 The mss have ‘tandem Phariae litora terrae’ (971); this is accepted by Whitman (1978) and Boyle (2008) ad 971; in its support Whitman (1978) ad loc. quotes evidence (Dig. 48.22.7.5) that Egypt’s inland Oasis in terms of exile could be considered a substitute for a real island. But the passage deals with the way authorities in Egypt solved the problem of lacking suitable islands, not with what was general practice; cf. Ferri (2003) ad 971; Oasis exile was on the orders of the prefect in Egypt and concerned locals: Schwartz (1966) 1483; Stini (2011) 40 n. 73.

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victim.32 Moreover, the dramatist twice speaks of her destination in terms that—whatever its name—suggests an island or a sea board.33 Finally and crucially, the geography is wrong. Wishing to save Octavia’s life, the Chorus in its final ode prays the west winds (Zephyri, 972) to take her far away from her deadly destination. But one sails east on west winds, so if Egypt were the destination, the Chorus would be praying for winds that would ultimately be taking her precisely there—and this is the opposite of what it wants.34 All of which indicates that textual emendation is called for, palaeography agreeing that ‘Pandataria’ is in all likelihood what the dramatist wrote.35 As for her departure, there is a further, and this time unacknowledged, difficulty. E silentio, it is often assumed that her ship leaves from Ostia, or even Rome’s Tiber harbour (the latter providing a kind of fig-leaf link to an in-front-of the-palace setting).36 But—as a glance at a map (Fig. 10.2) will confirm—it is only if Octavia is imagined departing from a more southern harbour that the Chorus’s final prayer for ‘mild breezes and light western winds’ (lenes aurae Zephyrique leves, 972)37 would ensure, as is the Chorus’s wish, that her ship steers clear of the island of death. Departing from Ostia, such side winds would without fail bring her straight there.

32

Even for ordinary senators, Egypt was, without Imperial permit, off limits. By 62, Nero feared local support for Sulla and Plautus exiled to Gaul and Asia Minor: Tac. Ann. 14.57.1. In Egypt, with Syria nearby, a potential kingmaker like Octavia would represent an even greater risk. 33 Octavia’s destination is a remotum litus (875) or litora (971), i.e. a ‘seaboard/shore/coast/ beach’. Both expressions suggest islands, not an inland oasis (183 n. 31): Zwierlein (1986) 479–80. Boyle (2008) ad 875 sees Pandataria as too close for the usage remotum (‘distant’), but such usages are elastic; Vergil’s Circaeae . . . litora terrae (Aen. 7.10) of the neighbouring island of Kirke, probably inspired the dramatist’s Pandatariae litora terrae (971). 34 The Chorus’s prayer: 168 n. 68; west winds would take a ship to Egypt: Luc. 9.1004–05 (Caesar leaving Rhodes en route to Egypt; after nine days and with ‘the west wind never slowing down’ (Zephyro numquam laxante) he saw the fire of the Pharos); for the wind giving similar directions, Smith (2003) 424 n. 61 aptly quotes Stat. Silv. 3.2.28, especially 42–9 (wrongly, I think, concluding that this shows Egypt to be Octavia’s place of exile). 35 In the manuscripts, odd names suffered: A has pristinus for Crispinus (731, corr. Avantius); levi for Livi (887, Delrius); Lipsius conjectured that the transmitted ‘tandem Phariae’ (Oct. 971) mirrors an original pANDatARIAE (or Pandateriae as in ILS 7433 and Tacitus). The conjecture has been widely accepted. By some it is deemed unmetrical (Boyle (2008) ad loc.), but the scansion of geographical names is notoriously variable and that of the island uncertain: Zwierlein (1986) 480. 36 Ostia: Marek (1909) 44–5; Zwierlein (1966) 44 n. 10; Junge (1999) 168; a place on the banks of the Tiber that could be seen from the Palace on the Palatine: Münscher (1922) 210; Manuwald (2001) 270–1; ‘Rome’s docks’: Smith (2011) 277. 37 For the phrase ‘Lenes aurae Zephyrique leves’ (Oct. 972), cf. Sen. Oed. 37–8 ‘non aura . . . lenis . . . / . . . non Zephyri leves’; the dramatist’s favourite Ov. Pont. 3.2.63 further offers ‘quam (sc. Iphigeniam) levibus ventis sub nube per aethera* vectam’ (* or aequora or aëra) which is remarkably close to Oct. 972–5, ‘Lenes aurae Zephyrique leves/ tectam quondam nube aetheria/ qui vexistis . . . / . . . Iphigeniam’). But such loans are no proof that the dramatist did not care about geography or travel routes.

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Fig. 10.2. Map showing the relative position of Ostia, Pandataria (modern Ventotene), and Campania.

Now, from Tacitus, we know that, prior to being sent to Pandataria, Octavia had been conveyed to Campania where she stayed under armed guard—and there is no sign and, indeed, no likelihood that she ever returned to Rome. It seems to follow that it would have been from a local harbour, hardly populous Puteoli (present day Pozzuoli), but rather the naval base at Misenum or some mooring close to her Campanian confinement, that she had been deported. This, of course, is where the Chorus’s prayer for her miraculous delivery comes in. While entirely unsuitable, if the departure were from Ostia, a prayer for the west winds to take her far away from Pandataria is, on the other hand completely in keeping with the evidence suggesting that it was from Campania that Octavia set out for her final destination. Interestingly, this implied change of location fits in well with something the Chorus has previously said. While this is a body that, as good Romans clearly would, shares the attitude of those who had brought things to a head during the riots in Rome, there is one aspect suggesting that it is not, to a man, identical with the urban rioters: when seeing Octavia dragged along it describes what the ‘citizens’ (in the third person) had attempted, but failed to do. Though not without parallel, this shift from first to third person has been seen

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as sufficiently awkward to make some scholars identify this Chorus with Poppaea’s courtiers. This identification is, however, wholly and intrinsically implausible, but the shift from ‘we’ to ‘them’ is certainly in keeping with the inferred shift of setting, from Rome to Campania, with new, like-minded sympathizers turning up to demonstrate their support.38 In any case, the setting of the drama’s finale is, for the reasons stated, here assumed to be a harbour in Campania. The dynamics of trajectory are also clearly emphasized in this final section, as in Tacitus, with ‘onlookers’39 expressing their sympathy. If the division is taken literally, the drama’s ‘Day After’ is of course on a tightly packed timescale, so it is perhaps implied that the final scene is happening not only ‘in a Campanian harbour’, but also ‘a few days later’. In any case, it must again be acknowledged that brevity makes for good drama: the third day’s so-called liaison des scènes (the method of linking individual scenes by having the continued presence of one actor (first the Chorus, then Nero)) links the five consecutive scenes, making cause lead directly to merciless effect, each new entrance moving the action forward towards its lethal conclusion.

4. ADJUSTING AND RESHAPING TRADITI ON While the plot is effective in underlining the centrality of a storyline that contrasts Octavia and Poppaea and leads from divorce and wedding to riots and death, it is, as we shall see (Ch. 16.3), highly significant that the playwright has provided such ample space for letting the people give vent to their daily increasing anger and frustration, an attitude that Tacitus seems remarkably keen to deprive of all the nobility with which the dramatist endows it. Without upsetting the framework suggested by the basic chain of events, it should, moreover, be noted that the dramatist has significantly enlivened the plot by introducing characters and events that belong to an earlier stage in the historical chronology. First, and in dramatic terms most emphatically, he resorts to the timehonoured device of using a ghost to give renewed immediacy to painful past issues. The appearance of the ghost of Agrippina is a coup de théâtre deftly prepared by the Chorus’s vivid narrative of her murder, a sequence once again illustrating the playwright’s firm grasp on linking the verbal and the visual.

38 Oct. 892–5, ‘cives . . . cernere possunt (sc. Octaviam)’; however, Kragelund (1982) 79 n. 155 and Boyle (2008) ad 892–5 quote instances where the Chorus objectifies itself, for emphasis and effect (nostra, but then Romani . . . populi, 676). The evidence should not be pressed, therefore. 39 ‘visentium’, Tac. Ann. 14.63.1; cf. Oct. 892–5, ‘cives . . . cernere possunt (sc. Octaviam)’.

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Second, the playwright has manipulated the historical record. Although there is no evidence available for comparison, this is hardly the first and certainly not the last historical drama to have recourse to such creative rewriting. Schiller’s Mary Stuart meets Queen Elizabeth, the originals never. Similarly, our dramatist has the day of Octavia’s banishment coincide with that of the wedding—in fact these events were separated by a timespan of eleven days. In a vital aspect, he, in fact, goes further, thereby acknowledging that the spring of 62 was marked, by not one but three dynastic murders closely resembling each other: first of Plautus and Sulla, then of Octavia. As already outlined, these murders were very similar, the severed heads of the exiled victims were all brought to Rome, there to be inspected by Nero and, in Octavia’s case, Poppaea. By manipulating chronology, the dramatist brings this whole triple horror into play—not on stage, where he (as opposed to his idol Seneca) shuns showing such cruelty. Instead, he makes the three deaths coincide by having Nero make his stage entrance on the drama’s ‘Day Before’ while issuing the orders for the beheading of Plautus and Sulla—‘Cut off their heads and bring them back to me . . .’. This order is then, in mirrorlike fashion, repeated at the very end of his final appearance in the drama; this latter command, now for the execution of Octavia, leading directly to the scene actually showing the chained Octavia being sent off to her death. As for the actual murders of Plautus and Sulla, in fact they preceded that of Octavia by several weeks at least.40 By shortening the timespan and allocating these murders to the drama’s ‘Day Before’, the plot has gained immensely in coherence and political resonance. Nero’s murderous command immediately defines his character and provides the cue for a long and heated debate with Seneca (a scene that has always been considered a high point of the drama). It was probably of further importance that, in this way, the dramatist could portray his idol Seneca as a brilliantly outspoken and uncompromising critic of Nero’s policies—and that he could substantiate this claim by borrowing much of the dialogue’s argumentative armoury from Seneca’s ‘prophetic’ treatise, De Clementia, on the dangers of pursuing a policy of such relentless cruelty. This was something Seneca himself had publicly proclaimed, not something the dramatist had made up. Given the dramatist’s admiration for Seneca, it may further have counted that, in this manner, the drama could remind posterity that Seneca and Nero had split irrevocably at roughly this time,41 years before the latter forced his old mentor to commit suicide—an outcome that seems ominously adumbrated in Seneca’s soliloquy with its pessimistic anticipation of his own downfall. 40

Murders of Plautus and Sulla: Oct. 437–9; Tac. Ann. 14.57–9; the chronology: 179 n. 16; 182 n. 27. In Tac. Ann. 14.51 the death of Burrus and appointment of Tigellinus as Prefect of the Guard (shortly before the divorce from Octavia) mark the end of Seneca’s influence. Nero did not accept a resignation—but this was the reality: Griffin (1976) 81–2. 41

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Despite such alterations, the dramatist can be seen to be in reasonably overall harmony with the chain of events known from other sources. Where he departs from it, the reasons seem intimately connected with what genre and dramatic drive would, if not necessitate, then certainly make advisable. It is obviously better to have a plot not covering a long stretch of time, but including as much as possible of the relevant ‘Before’ in the plot itself. Similarly, with the handling of character. If Tacitus is to be trusted, Octavia was timid and fearful; in the end in abject panic. The dramatist builds her up, granting her an exit of tragic grandeur (Ch. 15.5)—and, whatever the truth, this is only what one would expect in someone clearly writing to honour her memory. In sum, the dramatist reshapes and dramatizes, but not excessively so. In two vital instances, however, he seems to go much further. First, and most importantly, his Nero is, as opposed to how other traditions present his tyranny, shown to be a strong-willed and determined ruler who moves entirely in accordance with his own plans and brooks no defiance.42 This is in itself an arrestingly different image—things becoming odder still since the dramatist at the same time absolves the Prefect of all personal responsibility for Nero’s murders. All are on Nero’s (and no one else’s) express orders. Here, the dramatist is not merely abbreviating or overemphasizing. Instead he seems to be actually rewriting history—or at least to be offering a version totally unknown to other sources. It has plausibly been suggested that these alternative versions concerning the relative guilt of Nero and his advisers may well carry the revealing imprint of the dramatist’s time of writing—but more on that in Chapter 16. To summarize: for want of evidence, the exact relation between the plot and the story or stories known to the dramatist and his audience cannot be fully determined. Thanks to parallel reports, it is, however, possible to arrive in broad outline at an idea as to how the dramatist proceeded. In dramatic terms, the choice of narrative focus, of what to leave out, what to include, and where to begin, is always crucial. In this respect, the unknown playwright shows a firm grasp. For an audience familiar with the story’s appalling consequences, here was an episode with a conflict that, with a little manipulation, could be made to involve all the main players: Nero, his mother, his two wives, his exiled rivals, his counsellors, Seneca and the Prefect, and, crucially, the Roman people. In terms of politics, the decision to focus on the succession crisis is also spot on. Without offspring and obvious successors, Nero’s dynastic position was, at best, precarious. ‘No matter how many you murder, you cannot murder your

42

The dramatist’s strong-willed Nero: Ch. 16.6.

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successor’, Seneca is said to have insisted.43 The murders, divorce, and wedding were meant to solve the problem. The drama suggests that the very remedy proved Nero’s undoing. In accordance with this overall aim, the plot represents a resolute and competent attempt to telescope what was clearly unwieldy material into a suitably tragic, tripartite structure. This is done by drawing upon wellestablished scenographic conventions and traditional Roman stage resources, by manipulating chronology, and by joining events that were originally separated either by days (the divorce and the wedding), weeks (the murders of Plautus, Sulla, and Octavia) or even years (the murder of Agrippina and the wedding). By these ploys, the plot has gained coherence, which an extensive use of symmetry and parallels, as well as frequent, but well calibrated, changes of setting have then invested with dynamic direction. The following chapters (11–15) will examine how all this translates into drama.

‘ . . . you can’t kill your successor’: Dio Cass. 61.18.3, ‹ ı i I ç Å fi , P  Æ ÆØ e Ø å ı IŒ EÆØ. 43

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11 Octavia and the People In the history of Western drama, the single most arresting scenes of this play are probably those providing the exposition, the reason being that, unusually, they feature two characters who, initially at separate locations and unaware of each other, introduce the plot. Such a beginning, with such sustained simultaneity of two characters, at first separate, is unparalleled in ancient drama (as we know it). Due to the neglect suffered by this play, the scene’s existence has commonly gone unnoticed. It seems worth the effort, therefore, to take a hard look at the way it has been construed. And here, it is, to begin with, crucial that the initial simultaneity of two characters, each being presented as inhabiting her own separate world, was made imaginable and, in practical terms feasible, by two well-established Roman dramatic conventions. One is the mechanism of the ekkyklema/exostra, the movable platform making it possible to represent an interior on an open stage, thus allowing the reader and spectator to imagine Octavia as being where she, expressis verbis, is said to be, alone, and in her thalamus.1 The other aspect of relevance is the, in its origin probably Hellenistic, tragic convention, frequently adopted by Seneca and brilliantly elucidated by Richard Tarrant, of having actors standing on the same stage temporarily inhabit separate worlds, thus allowing them to speak in brief or extensive asides, completely unaware of what is being said by the person placed right next to them. This so-called split-focus2 allows the dramatist to present the fall of the Claudian House as seen from two complementary positions. The primary one is that of Octavia, who as a family member sees events from the ‘inside’, a circumstance emphasized by the fact that this is also 1 Stagecraft of the opening scene: 157–8 n. 36–40; Wiseman (2001) 10–11 = (2004) 265 and Boyle (2008) 95 prefer an ‘aloft’ scene (quoting Sen. Phaed. 384), but to me the evidence seems too tenuous to introduce a new category of stage interior. 2 Suspension of time in Seneca: Tarrant (1978) 231–40 (there, as opposed to here, used to secretly plot mischief); Boyle (2008) xxxix. Use of split-focus in Plautus: Marshall (2006) 166; in the footsteps of Zwierlein (1966), Kugelmeier (2007) 43–71 dismisses the relevance of such parallels for Senecan drama. For aesthetic reasons, such rupture of the tragic illusion would be inadmissible: ibid. 53. That a different aesthetic might be at work is not taken into consideration: cf. 132 n. 8.

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where, from the scene’s beginning to its end, she should be either seen or imagined to be placed. As for the nurse’s position, it is, until she joins Octavia, at first ‘outside’, but within earshot. How one should imagine her precise position has puzzled modern readers, but no Roman, whether reader or scaenicus, would have had any difficulty in figuring out what to imagine: the nurse is, of course, positioned where a faithful nurse would be expected to be at daybreak: just outside the doors of her mistress’s chambers,3 probably still sleeping against the threshold, as her mistress, by saluting ‘resplendent dawn’ (fulgens/aurora, 1–2), marks the beginning of yet another day of lament and worry.

1. NURSE AN D EMPRESS [Dawn, the first day. Octavia in her bedchamber, the nurse in attendance at its doorway.]

Octavia is the first to speak or, in fact, sing (the conventional use of the anapaestic metre). Her first verse acknowledges the sunrise and its life-giving daylight—which to her is sadder than the darkness of death. Her song then moves backwards in time, becoming a dirge that records the key dates in her story of death and loss, an account opening the exposition with the murder of her mother (as it will eventually conclude it), then moving on to her enforced wedding to her odious husband, and finally reaching the murder of her father. Her mother, stepmother, husband, and father—in this initial section none of them are named.4 All are simply defined as family, the intimacy underlined by the repeated use of vocatives (10; 25; 31) as well as ‘you’s and ‘your’s (16; 25; 32–3). In short, this is, from the very outset, emphatically an insider’s view, an account in which Messalina is a mother rather than empress. By framing the exposition in this manner, the dramatist pointedly allows for the fact that no daughter, while staying in her private chambers and there performing a lonely memorial office, perhaps addressed to a group of cherished images, would resort to the pedantic mode of a prologue. This is not a lament addressed to an audience that needs to be filled in on the background; indeed, it does not even acknowledge the presence of any such audience. Instead, it starts almost selfabsorbed, but in medias res, with the mournful account of murders and loss.

3 Nurses and faithful servants during the night outside the bedroom doors of their mistress: Plaut. Curc. 76 ff.; Ov. Met. 10.382–3 ‘fidas nutricis ad aures/ . . . limen servantis alumnae’; similarly, Fasti 6.143–7; Ars Am. 2.259 ‘. . . et thalami qui iacet ante fores’. 4 The dramatist’s avoidance or deferral of names: Kragelund (2005) 99 n. 9; Boyle (2008) 96 and Ch. 16.2.

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From the outset, her tale invests the family history with an aura borrowed from tragedy. The clear allusions to a similar passage in Sophocles’ Electra are one of the means by which the plot’s repeated emphasis on the baneful consequences of accursed dynastic weddings is given tragic grandeur.5 Taking the personal dirge up to a meta-theatrical level and linking the historic and tragic is a procedure that from the very outset confirms the links between the two genres. Yet, for all the mythological allusion and tragic colouring, the events are unmistakably Roman, the allusions to the speaker’s unnamed father being phrased in such a manner that no Roman audience of the Early Empire could be in doubt as to his Imperial identity. It is at this point that the nurse, who (be it on stage or in the reader’s imagination) is situated at a nurse’s customary post at the threshold outside her mistress’s thalamus and who clearly has not heard her mistress, embarks on an emphatically unpoetical, iambic (i.e. spoken) soliloquy. Its repeated references to an interested third party, a ‘whoever’ (quisquis, 35) told to ‘look’ (cernat, 37), ‘see’, and ‘behold’ (ecce, 36; en, 41) has a clearly deliberate similarity to a traditional prologue.6 In this so-called delayed prologue, spectators and readers are—with a dramatically deft, but doubtless traditional7 move—informed about the history of a ‘House’ (domum, 37) brought low by Fortune.8 The House now in ruins is that of the Emperor Claudius (Claudi, 38), here named for the first time. Once again, the reader/spectator is, though now from the outside as it were, reminded of the triumph that was once Claudius’ pride and, indeed, the theme of the ornamentation of his palace’s splendid facade, adorned as it was with the ship’s prows celebrating his conquest of Britain and mastery of the Ocean. In a brisk, but precise outline echoing the triumphalist slogans of inscriptions, coin legends, rhetoric, and poetry that to every contemporary would have evoked Claudius’ British victories (Fig. 11.1),9 the nurse brings back the memories of his triumph, 5 For the links to Soph. El., Ladek (1909) 189–99 is the classic statement; cf. Vozza (1990) 126–7 and the detailed outline in Boyle (2008) ad 6, 78, 43–4, 58–64, and 914–23. 6 ‘quisquis’, Oct. 35; cf. ‘quicumque’, Sen. Troad. 1; ‘quisquamne’, Sen. Oed. 6; Boyle (2008) ad 34–56 stresses the prologue character of the nurse’s speech, further pointing to Sen. Troad. 4, videat (‘let him look’), the effect aptly being compared to creating a group of spectators regarding a spectacle. 7 Delayed prologues in comedy: Marshall (2006) 195 (quoting Plaut. Mil. 76 ff.; Cist. 149 ff. and Menander Perikeiromene); contemporary and later tragic parallels seem plausible. 8 Pervasive role of the Fortuna motif in the Octavia: Wilson (2003) 67–70; Boyle (2008) ad 36. 9 cf. Oct. 27 ‘ultra Oceanum’ and ILS 212 (Claudius’ speech in Lyon), PROLATI IMPERI VLTRA OCEANVM; Sen. Apocol. 12.3.10–18 ‘ille (sc. Claudius) Britannos ultra noti/ litora ponti . . . tremere Oceanum’; note also ‘Oceanus . . . ultra’ and ‘citra . . . Oceanum’ in the panegyrical epigrams (Anth. Lat. 419.3; 423.4) praising Claudius’ British victories; in such contexts VLTRA had triumphalist connotations: ILS 8995 (Gallus in Egypt); 986 (tomb of Plautius Silvanus at Tivoli); so has Oct. 41, ‘primus’ (cf. ILS 216, PRIMVS IN DICI[ONEM] . . . likewise of Claudius) and Oct. 41, ‘iugum’ and 29 ‘ignoti’ (cf. ‘iugo’ and ‘ignotos’ in the panegyrical epigrams Anth. Lat. 426.8; 424.3).

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Fig. 11.1. The fragments and restored reading of the inscription (ILS 216) once adorning the Emperor Claudius’ triumphal arch from c.51–52 AD. The arch originally spanned what is now Rome’s Via del corso. The inscription’s huge, left side fragment is on permanent display in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The original would have measured c. 3  6 metres. The Octavia at various points echoes the panegyric language in which contemporaries in this and similar monuments celebrated Claudius’ British conquest (cf. Fig. 15.1). In the second line from the bottom, a case can be made (thus already Raffaello Fabretti) for replacing TRANS OCEANVM (‘across the Ocean’) with VLTRA OCEANVM (‘beyond the Ocean’), this latter more mytho-poetic expression frequently used by Claudius and his contemporaries to celebrate his naval feat (cf. 192 n. 9). The reconstruction is reproduced from Bollettino Communale 70 (1942) 71. © Danish National Art Library.

only to let a series of paradoxes (in what becomes apparent is her habitual style, ignoring chronological sequence) remind the spectator of the plots and scheming, crimes and murders that have brought down this house. The nurse concludes in a manner evoking numerous tragic prologues with a prayer that the gods will protect her mistress from harm—a prayer that, once uttered, leaves no drama-conscious audience in doubt as to the real outcome.10 Our attention is now redirected to Octavia. In the eyes of the audience, and the mind of the reader, she is already cast as not only the endangered, but also the doomed Electra-like daughter of Claudius—a mythological framework evoking the great House of Atreus, which the concluding section of her anapaestic dirge develops to the full. Resuming the lament that started with images of resplendent dawn (1–2) and will end in the sombre realm of

10

Eur. Med. 1–45 is the classic example of a prologue voicing a nurse’s fear and anxiety.

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‘shadow’ (umbra, 71 being its final word),11 she now addresses Electra, thus connecting directly with her meta-theatrical ‘double’, in characteristic Senecan manner using this ploy to step into a role that might have been hers.12 Octavia then contrasts her losses with those of her tragic double, who could openly mourn her murdered parent (i.e. at his grave and not, like Octavia, only in her chambers). Moreover, she had succeeded in saving the life of her brother and avenger, whereas Octavia has lost her Orestes. Her murdered (still unnamed) brother Britannicus turned out to be ‘the all too brief hope’ (68–9) for her revenge and restitution. Unlike her ‘double’, Octavia has thus been denied all existence apart from that of mourning, remaining but ‘a shadow of a great name’. It is at this point that the nurse—again as nurses often did—acknowledges hearing the voice (vox, en . . . , 72) of her mistress, thus providing the implied stage-direction as to the position and movements of Octavia and herself. Readers and scaenici would now infer that they move from being separate to becoming united—but the question is: where do they meet? Thoroughly conditioned by a tradition casting this as a drama with an inalterable in-front-of-the-palace setting, it is out there that they are now commonly assumed to meet. Clearly this is an assumption based upon an unproven and, indeed, fatuous premise, which has only served to confirm the dramatist’s bad reputation, since it implies a scenario in which Octavia repeatedly runs on and off stage, or appears and disappears from a window in the course of the play’s initial 71 lines. The dramatist says nothing about an in-front-of-the-palace setting. Indeed, his words are unequivocal: it is from within the thalamus that the nurse says she hears Octavia’s lament and it is into that chamber that she now, expressis verbis, says she will ‘direct her steps’ (inferre gradus, 73). It is there that they are henceforth joined for the rest of the scene. On her entrance, directly acknowledged by Octavia (excipe . . . nutrix/ . . . fida, ‘Listen, faithful nurse . . .’, 75–6), the two embark on a face-to-face discussion that takes up the rest of the exposition. Insisting on the idea of unity of place, a clumsy alternative has been suggested—the clumsiness of course only confirming the already established view of that author’s incompetence—namely that while the nurse declares her intention to enter, Octavia has, in the meantime, come out from the Palace to join her. However, in the parallels quoted for such stage movements, it is

11 Leo (1908) 93 convincingly sees Octavia’s opening dirge as a continuous whole, first lamenting her mother and father, then, after the nurse’s prologue, her brother and herself. Beginning in ‘light’ with fulgens/aurora (Oct. 1–2) it ends, pointedly, in ‘shadow’ (umbra (71) its last word); contra, but unconvincingly, Ferri (2003) 67; 120; 144. 12 Meta-theatre: Hornby (2006) 32–5 (a lucid outline); nothing as pronounced in Attic tragedy: Taplin (1986); Hall (2006) 106; Marshall (2014) 820–2, however, makes a strong case for more extensive Attic metatheatricality; the Senecan approach: Fitch & McElduff (2002).

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stated explicitly that this is what happens.13 Here there is not a word indicating such reversals of direction. And as we shall see, the scene that follows offers ample confirmation that there is every reason for attentive readers to imagine, and for a professional scaenicus to bring the two together in Octavia’s thalamus.

2. THE CURSED CHA MBER [Octavia and nurse in the thalamus]

With the nurse joining her mistress, the plot takes a new direction, moving from longer traditional formats like the dirge (1–33; 57–71) and ‘prologue’ (34–56) to a series of brief comments, which abandon the sustained focus on the past in favour of a series of desperate forecasts about Octavia’s marriage to Nero as a bond inexorably leading to her death. Nothing the nurse says alters anything. Out of a clearly deeply felt loyalty, she professes an optimism that she does not herself believe. Her mistress unfailingly sees through it, their conflict and bond memorably expressed in the chiastic contrast (A-b-a-B) between the wishful thinking and stern fate of this much admired couplet: non vota meos tua nunc casus sed fata regunt (‘No prayers of yours now rule my life—/ the fates do’).14

On this bitterly despondent note, the space defining Octavia’s eminent status now becomes the backdrop for what is, at points, an almost claustrophobically repetitive litany of frustration and anger, in which the prevailing impression is one of a person being literally trapped, doomed by birth and status, gender and fate to become Nero’s next victim, her murder the almost ritual sacrifice that would mark the festive celebration of Nero’s upcoming wedding. In the face of the nurse’s feeble attempts to calm and comfort (but what can she say?), Octavia finally seems to draw a deep breath before embarking on a long and detailed speech, now for the first time changing from lyric anapaests to a markedly more expansive format in prosaic iambic trimetres, a speech that is then paralleled by a similar iambic riposte from the nurse of precisely the same 13 Ferri (2003) ad 73–4 and (2008) 500 bases his assumption of an in-front-of-the-palace setting on passages like Ter. Heaut. 410; 426, ‘cesso pulsare ostium/ vicini . . . // sed ipsum foras egressum video’ (‘Do I proceed to knock on the neighbour’s door? . . . / But there he is, coming out here’). But the explicit reference to the ‘coming out here’ undermines rather than supports Ferri’s argument. Here, there is no reference to the protagonist ‘coming out’. Instead the nurse joins her. 14 A Renaissance borrowing: 392 n. 103. Translation: A.J. Boyle.

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length. The parallel is underlined by the fact that both speeches, in increasingly agitated mode, build up to highly emotive final invocations to the dead. While Octavia ends by imploring her dead ‘father’ (genitor, 135) to return from Hades and avenge her wrongs, or else take her down there with him, the nurse evokes the funeral of Britannicus and tearfully apostrophizes her lost darling (Britannice, 169)—here named for the first time—bitterly acknowledging that the last scion of the Claudian House has gone forever, never to return. This symmetrical structure15 clearly sets these central and emphatically parallel, but also contrasted, speeches apart from what precedes and what follows. Now, the exposition reaches its central phase, which is characterized by Octavia’s focus on the deadly threat posed by Nero’s new mistress, Poppaea, whom she now mentions for the first time, without, however, deigning to properly name that odious, ‘arrogant mistress’ (superbam paelicem, 125). In answer to this, the nurse offers an outline of the dismal prospects for the House of Claudius, with its men both dead—her father through his blind credulity, her brother through the scheming of Nero—the only hope for the Claudian cause, she implies, is Octavia herself. On a superficial, oft-repeated, view, this is a scene characterized by Octavia and her nurse ‘saying the same’.16 In fact, each sticks to her own, very different, and well-motivated outlook: the nurse sees things from without (much as would other Romans), whereas Octavia continues to present an insider’s view of what now turns out to be her trapped and imperilled position in the imperial bedchamber, her monologue gaining in urgency by projecting the deadly drama onto the setting closing her in. At first plunging into what is a clearly familiar, and therefore staccato, enumeration of woes and murders, Octavia becomes more expansive as she reaches the heart of the matter: the fearful dreams repeatedly haunting her sad nights that, with brutal immediacy, foreshadow what she knows will be her fate. A favoured device of ancient tragedy, a dream narrative alerting spectators to what lies in store, is also, as we have seen (Ch. 4.1), employed by Accius in his Brutus. In the Octavia the device is, uniquely in ancient drama, employed twice over; its second occurrence being on the morning of the ‘Day After’ when Nero’s new empress is also compelled to tell her nurse of a

15 Ferri (2003) ad 100–73 mistakenly describes the two central and parallel speeches of 2  37 verses (100–36; 137–73) as ‘roughly equivalent in length’ (italics added) and ignores the dramatist’s use of parallelism, numerical symmetry, and tripartition to give concentric structure to the exposition—to the Seneca-Nero scenes (231 n. 41) as well as to the Poppaea-nutrix scene (262 n. 8); the structural aspects: Kragelund (1982) 55–7; Fitch (2004a) 509; Boyle (2008) 95 and 205 n. 28. 16 Cf. Ferri (2003) ad 100–73, ‘Apart from 127, everything else the Nutrix says might as well be said by Octavia’.

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dream—this being one of the elements underlining the lethal parallel between these two scenes. What Octavia has repeatedly dreamt is, however, uniquely linked to her own Electra-like predicament, Her dreams at first allow her the comforting— but illusory—prospect of revenge on Nero at the hands of her own Orestes, her murdered brother Britannicus, whose ghost, in the guise of an avenging fury, pursues his murderer with the torches that traditionally would strike culprits with fear and torment. The imagery of revenge that is here introduced, eventually to unfold and finally to pervade the drama, is, however, on this, its first appearance, soon shown to be an all too feeble illusion. The dreams of Octavia reveal themselves, in structure as well as detail, to be of the kind familiar to both modern and ancient audiences, in which the wishes, prospects, and endeavours of the dreamer are utterly frustrated—limbs turning numb, words impossible to utter, and goals impossible to achieve. ‘All humans’, an ancient commentary on Vergil reports, ‘have had the kind of dream in which they in their sleep wish to do what they cannot accomplish’. The commentary goes on to exemplify how projects pursued with great effort in such dreams come to nothing, how the tongue refuses to bring forth words and how everything of substance reveals itself to be unstable and void.17 As shown by parallels18 from other such dream narratives, the reiterated—and in metrical terms singular—use of the anaphoric modo . . . modo (‘first . . . then’) in fact serves to highlight the contrasted sections of the dream, its first part showing the ‘sad ghost’ (tristis umbra, 115) of her beloved brother pursuing the culprit Nero, as ghostly avengers should, brandishing smoking torches and seeking to mutilate the culprit’s face. But this, as the modo signals, is ‘first’: the 17

The notion familiar to writers from Homer down to Late Antiquity: cf. Tiberius Claudius Donatus’ late fourth century Interpretationes Vergilianae 12 908 ff. commenting on a simile that Vergil (Aen. 12.908–12) took over from Hom. Il. 22.199–201: ‘datur parabola ex qua unusquisque ex se intellegat quemadmodum in Turno omnia . . . hebuissent; nam omnibus hominibus per somnum talia consverunt accidere, ut dormientes videantur velle quae inplere non possunt: nonnumquam nituntur aliquid viribus et eorum conatus ante effectum rerum debilitati succumbunt, si voluerint loqui, nec lingua inplet officium suum nec intentionem volentis explicant verba, totum vacuum est quicquid videbitur geri, totum infirmum, utpote quod habere videtur a dormiente substantiam’; 197 n. 18; 384 n. 72–3 list further evidence for such proverbial insight. The link between Octavia’s dream and this type of frustration dream: Kragelund (1982) 22–4 and Walde (2001) 376. Harris (2009) 229–78 surveys the recurrent patterns of ancient naturalistic explanations of dreams. 18 Dreams contrasting hopes and fears: 384 n. 72; Kragelund (1989) 440–50; parallel anaphoric adverbs in dreams: Stat. Theb. 7.463–5, ‘Si tenuis demisit lumina somnus/ bella gerunt; modo lucra morae, modo taedia vitae/ attonitis, lucemque timent lucemque precantur’ and Hor. Odes 4.1.38, ‘iam captum teneo, iam volucrem sequor’ with Porphyrio commenting ‘dicit se Ligyrinum ex desiderio semper somniare et, ut fit, terrore* quodam mentis imaginari quasi cum diu quaesitum tandem invenerit . . . ex ipsis manibus amitteret’; *terrore is well documented in the MSS of Porphyrio and Acro, but the editor Holder opted for the variant errore; however, it was traditional to relate the contrast between finding and losing to feelings of hope versus fear (i.e. ‘terrore’): Kragelund (1989) 443; Harris (2009) 16–17; 247; 261–5.

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dream’s tidal wave of hope for revenge is already on the point of losing its momentum. Not only are the hands of the sad ghost tellingly described as ‘without power’ (infirmas, 118), but, to Roman ears, the second modo (‘then’) is a clear signal that the dream’s imagined tide is losing out to an ebb, which in a deeply frustrating reverse, turns happy illusion into a fearful certitude that there will be no revenge. The pursued culprit will once again emerge triumphant as the unrepentant criminal who, sword in hand, and in hot pursuit, drives Britannicus into flight, the ‘terrified’ (trepidus, 120) boy finally taking refuge in his sister’s bedchamber, in her very arms. But now, as the dream approaches its nightmarish climax, events suddenly take a startling turn. The very position of this reversal at the narrative’s culmination underlines its crucial importance. Because, when Nero, a second time round, is on the point of killing his kid brother, this symbolic reenactment of the past takes on a prophetic quality. Octavia’s fearful vision of Nero driving his sword through Britannicus ambiguously takes on a form suggesting that his sword is driven through her ‘own side’ (latus nostrum, 122). By this semantic slippage her narrative comes close to casting her ghostly avenger as little more than her alter ego, his death first standing in for, and in the end becoming, her own. A passage of impressive—and, for the poetry of the period—characteristic ambiguity,19 this open-ended nightmare conclusion brilliantly captures the essence of Octavia’s predicament, her lonely longing for an avenger whose figure evaporates when the re-enactment of past crimes turns into a fearful presentiment that she herself will be the murderer’s next victim. An actor or reader would, one imagines, pause at this point, with the kind of thoughtful silence that later, when hearing the eerily similar conclusion of the drama’s second dream narrative, would create an echo highlighting the thought-provoking parallels between these narratives. But, whichever way this is to be imagined or actually staged, there is an aspect of Octavia’s narrative that is crucial. When Nero rushes in, killing her brother and—or is it in fact only?—herself, the setting is, as she says, in ‘my own chambers’ (thalamos meos, 120), that is, the murder takes place in the very chambers where a reader would imagine her and a scaenicus would place her, at any moment, as it were, waiting for her murderer to rush in. By this token, the visual not only enforces the narrative, but, in return, the narrative invests the dramatic setting with meaning, the dream becoming a socalled mise-en-abyme, an image within an image, its ‘dream setting’ mirroring and, in return, colouring perceptions of the actual stage setting. This is a ploy (we shall later see) that poignantly recurs in the drama’s parallel dream 19 The ambiguity: Ballaira (1974) ad 121; Kragelund (1982) 25–6 and Boyle (2008) ad 121–2; contemporary parallels: Bartsch (1997) 22–9 (the Pharsalia’s deliberate ‘confusion of subjectobject relations’).

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narrative, that of Poppaea. There, in mirror-like, symmetrical fashion, we will also hear of a dream located in the bedchamber of a terror-stricken empress, and, there too, Nero makes his entry, his murderous sword in his hand.20 As if to foreshadow this crucial parallel, Octavia now, for the first time, acknowledges the threat to her position that Poppaea represents. What adds to the never-ceasing sense of fear caused by these nightmares is the fact that when she is awake she is forced to act the humiliated witness to the triumph of Poppaea, ‘glittering in the spoils stolen from our imperial house’ (nostrae domus/spoliis nitentem, 125—6) and constantly urging Nero to present her with her coveted ‘whore’s wages’ (pretium stupri, 132): the severed head of Octavia (this, of course, grimly presages what will soon actually happen).21 The menacing insistence of that adulterous, ‘triumphant fiend’ (inimica victrix, 131) is vividly evoked by yet another metaphor of dramatic immediacy: Octavia claiming that, ‘that woman’ (again, no name) is in fact ‘threateningly hovering over my chambers’ (imminet thalamis meis, 131), the ‘whore’ insistently claiming the position now occupied by the empress. As in the dream narrative, this evocation of Octavia’s threatened entrapment and imperilled status is of course a dramatic godsend, investing the very setting of the heroine with an atmosphere of encroaching, murderous menace. In her chambers she must, day and night, fearfully await the irruption of her future murderer Nero, while Poppaea, out there on the threshold, urges him on so that she may soon usurp the Empress’s position. It is out of this threatened captivity that Octavia, at the very culmination of her speech, finally declares her intention to break free. Defiantly, she now summons the ghost of her emperor ‘father’ (genitor! 135), urging him to open a chasm, there, in the ground before her (an actor, one imagines, would point), and through this chasm rise from below to come to her aid—or allow her to flee her entrapment by letting her fall, head first, into the Underworld, there to join him. Here again, spatial metaphors and virtual setting are brought into potential interaction, her words embracing the fantasy—that in the stage world was a possibility—of a chasm being opened (in the theatre, a kind of trap door) and letting an avenger emerge, or at least providing the imperilled empress with an escape. This is a prayer that, the statement once uttered, throws up a spectrum of possibilities—until the nurse briskly breaks the spell and puts an end to such flights of escapist fancy by sharply insisting that Octavia be realistic: ‘In vain you summon your father’s ghost . . .’ (Frustra parentis invocas manes tui, 137). 20 Octavia’s dream narrative in dramatic ‘counterpoint’ to that of Poppaea: 258 n. 1 and Boyle (2008) ad 115–24; their shared motifs and parallel layout: Kragelund (1982) 22–37. Junge (1999) 181 inexplicably sees parallels as all too few to allow comparison; similarly, the parallels elicit little or no comment from Ferri (2003) and Manuwald (2001). 21 Poppaea inspecting Octavia’s severed head: Tac. Ann. 14.64.2.

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‘In vain . . .’—or rather, ‘Still in vain . . .’—because in a play so rich in the use of symmetry and recurrent motifs, it is, of course, crucial that this and similar calls for ‘Revenge!’ will in fact eventually be heard, when, on the play’s second day, the celebration of Nero’s wedding to Poppaea commences, not with a festive pageant, but with the earth actually opening a chasm (note the ghost’s pointed reuse, at the very outset of her speech, of Octavia’s actual words, tellure rupta, 136; 593). The spectre of Nero’s mother, Agrippina, at the insistence of the murdered Claudius, finally rises from below, revealing herself as the long awaited avenger from Hell.22 This, however, is the—at this stage—still undreamt of complete reversal of Nero’s fortunes. Even to hope for such an outcome, for justice ultimately to prevail, is—as the nurse sees it and as Octavia’s dreams seem to confirm—to indulge in a kind of naïve wishful thinking, which Octavia can ill afford. Fearful of the evil closing in on her mistress, a sense of realism is what the nurse is eager to encourage. It is in Octavia’s best interest to let go completely of all such futile illusions about assistance from the beyond, be it in the ghostly guise of Britannicus or her father. Acknowledging the here and now is the only means available for saving the last of the Claudians. As the nurse bluntly observes, it is in vain to expect aid from a dead father who, when alive, so blindly neglected the interests of his own house in favour of those of his scheming new wife. With evocative use of ominous imagery (later to be examined) the nurse then outlines the crimes paving the way to the incestuous wedding of Claudius to his fraternal niece Agrippina, as well as the deadly results of this union for Claudius’ closest family: Octavia’s betrothed Silanus becoming the suicide victim of the inauspicious wedding and Britannicus’ place in the succession being seriously weakened by Claudius’ adoption of Nero—whose claim to the succession was then decisively strengthened by his marriage to Octavia. The nurse relates how, as soon as Nero’s mother was in an unassailable position, poison first removed Claudius, then Britannicus, in whose fate the nurse betrays deep emotional involvement. In a direct invocation (Britannice, 169), closely mirroring but also contrasting with that of Octavia when addressing her father, the nurse pointedly insists that her darling is irreparably gone, never to return. This is no summons for an avenging Orestes to emerge, but a cry of anguish for a beloved child forever lost. The nurse’s emphatic dwelling on his funeral, which she sarcastically observes even elicited a rare tear from his evil stepmother Agrippina, links mourning with the characteristic determination to convince her mistress to give up hoping for alternatives to the fate of being Nero’s wedded wife (and instead of fighting, making the best of it).

22

Effect of the repeated tellure rupta at 136 and 593: Boyle (2008) ad loc.

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But Octavia, determined to have none of this, draws a very different conclusion. To show her impatience, the dramatist at this point uses a socalled drop line, whereby a long, often repetitive and bombastic speech, is punctured by a simple, contrasting line. Octavia, now bitterly undeterred, briskly declares her readiness to follow her brother in death (as is indeed foreshadowed in her dreams)—a declaration that, in one go, deflates the nurse’s heartfelt plea. In some manuscripts there are indications, however, that the drop line is not intentional; instead it looks as if a passage of thirty lines has gone missing precisely here. In support of this not altogether unambiguous evidence, the abruptness of the transition has sometimes been seen as further evidence for such a break.23 To my mind, however, it seems that the emphatic drop line, coming after the two most extensive speeches in the whole exposition, creates a logical link between the nurse’s address to the dead Britannicus and his sister’s new determination to follow his lead. At the same time, the drop line effectively signals a change of tack, the playwright now abandoning the model of sustained emotional rhetoric in favour of rapid, brief, and often brilliant exchanges mainly consisting of half- or one-liners that, in poignant contrast to the two central speeches with their focus on woes past and present, rapidly move on to the deeply disturbing prospect of the odious mistress becoming empress the moment she gets pregnant. In what we shall see as a characteristic, but to judge from Donatus (Ch. 9.3), also a traditional, tripartite sequence, we have now moved on from the preliminaries (the opening scene) and the present (the central scene with its two matching speeches) to the fearful consequences of Nero’s affair, this being where, for the very first time, we hear about the prospect of a child. This, as it turns out, realistic forecast, which Octavia sees as the logical next development, provides the cue for energetic protests from the nurse, insisting that the rightful role of dynastic child-bearer belongs to Octavia herself—that this, indeed, is her one and only possibility of saving her own life, the birth of a Claudian heir being what would restore the glory of her father’s house. With desperate, sometimes angry, urgency, these opposed views now clash in minimalist exchanges of tense precision. As in any authentic and intense quarrel (here with the added bonus of drawing upon a long tradition of

23 Drop line: Edgar (2009) 162; just prior to the drop line (174) , two early manuscripts (C and S) leave a space of 30 lines, one (P) of 26 lines whereas others preserve no indication that anything is missing; given the place of these manuscripts in the transmission, this error probably reflects what the archetypus offered: Fitch (2004b) 238–9; the latter argues for a real lacuna, but coherence seems established by Octavia’s extinguat (174) picking up the nurse’s extinctus (166). Add to this, the emphatically symmetrical layout of the sections framing the two central speeches (205 n. 28). In short: the disruptive quality of the drop line seems deliberate; the lacuna is therefore more likely to have been caused by scribal errors in jumping a page than by what the original offered: Leo (1878–79) 45–6; Ferri (2003) ad 173 and Boyle (2008) ad 173–4.

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ancient dramatic excellence), words and phrases are picked up by either side and dextrously returned with a tricky spin. The approach is here given stylistic vigour through sustained brevity, elliptical sentences, and by means of the suggestive use of patterns, sometimes chiastic (A B B A), sometimes sequential (A B A B), which in memorable, lapidary exchanges highlight the central issues of the conflict. Unlike Seneca,24 the unknown dramatist is consistent in preferring to deploy such terse repartee in larger, continuous groups, always at points of highly dramatic tension and always, again in contrast to Seneca, at points where the plot takes a radically new direction. Here, for instance, is how the dramatist, within the brief space of eight splendidly chiastic half-liners, brings into play the drama’s four central players: the people, the Emperor, the Empress, and the mistress or empress to be; then, all of a sudden, adds the last’s coveted (or dreaded) offspring, thus, for the first time giving the future heir a determinate shape as the element that will completely unsettle, not only the rules of the game, but the game itself. NUTRIX Vis magna populi est. OCTAVIA Principis maior tamen. NUTRIX Respiciet ipse coniugem. OCTAVIA Paelex vetat. NUTRIX Invisa cunctis nempe. OCTAVIA Sed cara est viro. NUTRIX Nondum uxor est. OCTAVIA Iam fiet, et genetrix simul. NURSE The people’s power is great. OCTAVIA The emperor’s greater. NURSE He will respect his wife. OCTAVIA His whore won’t let him. NURSE She is loathed by all. OCTAVIA But loved by her—‘man’. NURSE She’s not ‘wife’ yet. OCTAVIA Soon will be—and ‘mother’.25

This mistress is no temporary sideshow—once pregnant she will become empress. Octavia speaks with such clear-headed finality, that the nurse now acknowledges this deadly threat, but with unflinching loyalty, she refuses to give way, bringing up instead what turns out to be—in the play’s overall structure—an ever more central theme: the impermanent status and durability of bonds based upon the alluring and deceptive power of the goddess Venus. A motif that in its allegorical and mythological versions will eventually turn out to be crucial, it is here, by way of introduction, given a narrative form. The nurse first alludes to Nero’s early affair with a ‘slave’ (the name and details of Nero’s affair with the ex-slave, Claudia Acte, are, probably significantly (Ch. 16.2; 6), assumed to be familiar). Then the nurse moves on to cast Poppaea (still unnamed) as a similar, briefly alluring, but equally short-lived, paramour.

24 Seneca’s (but not the Octavia’s) stichomythia: Seidensticker (1969) 37–44; Stärk (2000) usefully comments on the latter; Boyle (2008) 174–8 and at individual passages gives precise analysis. 25 Oct. 185–8 (A. J. Boyle).

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Octavia at first merely objects to this version in passing, a reticence which apparently emboldens the nurse to embark on a more expansive, lyric interlude, in anapaests and complete with figures from love poetry, Greek and Roman. Readers and spectators will later encounter what is at points an almost exact replica of this song, which a scaenicus wishing to stress the parallel could easily provide with a similar tune in order to stress the lustful world it is meant to evoke. The world of this song is that of Poppaea in her manifold permutations as Jupiter’s mistresses, as Leda, Europa, and Danae. All of them are eventually ousted, and in the nurse’s optimistic version, cede the place of honour to Juno, the uncontested Queen of Heaven and the only true wife of Jupiter—just as Octavia is and will always be the true Juno of Earth (such are the heights of wishful fancy to which the nurse finally works herself up).

3. THE CURSE [Time and place as above]

Once again, Octavia must counter wishful thinking with realism. To burst the lyrical bubble, she changes the tune to prosaic iambics and emphatically dismisses the very idea of herself ever going to play Juno to her so-called Jupiter. In a highly charged tirade, which is heavy at the outset with contrasted metaphors of utterly unbridgeable incompatibility, Octavia turns to angrily challenging the true Jupiter, bitterly blaming the injustice of his protracted forbearance towards Nero, this pest upon earth. At this point, her language, already echoing that of the Roman ritual for the punishment of parricides, gradually takes on the stylistic characteristics of a formal curse, stipulating that due punishment should be meted out to Nero—whose name the playwright, significantly, uses for the first time in this play as part of a curse formula proper. The impression is that Nero’s was not a name to be employed in any neutral sense—it was a name itself accursed. The importance of the curse is emphasized by its position, precisely at the centre of the exposition’s final section.26 It culminates with Octavia categorically ruling out any coexistence with this criminal usurper, solemnly laying a spell on this son of Domitius, who masks as Augustus but in fact defiles the great name of that first emperor. From such words, definitive and unconditional, nothing can of course follow but the coda, the nurse now meekly granting that Nero is indeed ‘unworthy’ of her mistress, her almost timorous advice now consisting in begging Octavia to avoid provoking his violent anger. Perhaps, she muses, ‘polluitur’: Oct. 236; Nero’s accursed name first used in a curse: Kragelund (2005) 73; Boyle (2008) ad 249. The central position of the curse: 205 n. 28. 26

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some ‘avenger god’ (vindex deus, 255) will one fine day come to the rescue—a post-Neronian audience knowing full well who the ‘avenger’ is to whom the playwright is alluding (Ch. 13.2–3).27 Not to be drawn, but instead bringing the coda to its conclusion, Octavia picks up the motif of revenge and returns to where she began earlier that morning, with the death of her mother. But now, she adds new details that, far from merely restating issues, offer new explanations for how it all started. In answer to this question, the exposition, now for the third and final time, evokes an ill-fated dynastic wedding as a defining moment in the history of the Imperial House—a wedding at which the vengeful anger of the gods and, above all, of Venus, became apparent. Here the exposition comes full circle, returning to a motif that has already been introduced twice, on each occasion with increasing insistence. It is Octavia, herself, who, at the very outset, mentions the most recent of these inauspicious weddings, that of Nero and herself. Moving backwards in time, the nurse then describes the second of these ill-fated and, in this case, incestuous unions: that of Claudius and Agrippina, from which sprang plots and murders and the catastrophic adoption of Nero, followed by his wedding to Octavia. Finally, Octavia returns to the issue, recalling the most painful of all incidents (which the nurse, tellingly, has refrained from mentioning), the ill-fated bigamous ‘wedding’ of her ‘miserable mother’ (miserae . . . genetricis, 259) to her paramour Silius—a crime that provoked the unrestrained anger of her father and led to her mother’s execution. Seduced by evil lust and misled by Venus, her mother’s transgression was—Octavia now acknowledges—the fatal deed that unleashed her father’s blind vindictive anger, thereby triggering the precipitous course of events that brought down himself, his son, and their entire house. This, the third and ultimately most destructive of these weddings, was, in short, where it all started—and as if to round off the series with due emphasis, the ill-omened Fury, which is described as officiating at all these events, is not merely, as previously, outlined at this third ceremony, but depicted in illboding detail with all her sinister, snake-hissing, blood-drenched and torchbearing accoutrements, making this, her final appearance in the exposition, a herald of all the misfortune and death that will follow in her train. [Curtain. Exeunt. Change of setting]

Looking back upon the exposition with its long line of weddings and funerals —as the playwright comes close to suggesting that we do when, to round off the scene, he lets the nurse beg her mistress ‘not to begin enumerating her sorrows again’—there is a structural aspect that seems immediately striking. 27

For Romans surviving Nero, the vindex deus would have seemed a clear allusion: Boyle (2008) ad 252–6.

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Often criticized as being rambling and aimless, this scene is only the first instance of the way this dramatist, in almost a trademark manner, uses numerical and structural tripartition to give shape and progression, not only to his play as a whole, but also to its single sets of briefer and longer scenes. In the exposition, two closely paralleled speeches (each of 37 lines) are at the very centre. They are framed by sections of roughly equal length and identical numerical subdivision. The first section of 99 lines (or 100 or 101, depending on the reading of the metres) provides the preliminaries, the central pair of speeches then outline the present situation, and the concluding section (of 99 lines) anticipates the consequences: the pregnancy, the wedding, and the murderous elimination of Octavia. The clear-cut, numerical subdivision of the framing sections confirms that this tripartite layout is a tool that serves to emphasize the tragic trajectory from fearful anticipation forward to the deed, and then hastily on to its consequences.28 The second striking element is the way this exposition uses the contrast between the sung and the spoken parts, as well as the transition from one to the other, to dramatize the shifts in emotional responses: from sorrow to frustrated anger, and from escapist flights of fantasy to prosaic insistence on facing reality. In a manner reminiscent of Roman elegy, the dramatist (who knew his Ovid inside and out) uses these eruptions of wishful searching for a route of escape as a means of introducing motifs and themes that will later unfold and achieve scenic substance as props, settings, and narratives, in parallel or by contrast. The thalamus setting, the rituals of the accursed weddings, the protagonist’s dreams, the calls for revenge and, of course, the 28

In the two framing sections, symmetry further emphasizes the initial change of scene, the nurse entering the thalamus at 72; in the final section, the shift of metre from iambic to anapaestic at 201 opens a 72 verses long sequence with Octavia’s curse (222–51) precisely in the middle (Kragelund (1982) 57; Boyle (2008) 95): First section Octavia’s dirge 1–33 Nurse’s ‘prologue’ 34–56 71 99 Octavia’s dirge 57–71 Dialogue 72–99 Central section Octavia 100–36 2  37 Nurse 137–73 Final section Dialogue 174–200 Nurse’s song 201–21 (= 21) Octavia’s curse 222–51 (= 30) 72 99 Dialogue 252–72 (= 21)

g

g

g

g

g

Such tripartition further characterizes the Seneca-Nero scene, the Poppaea-nutrix scene as well, of course, as the whole plot: Ch. 9.3 and 231 n. 41 and 262 n. 8; Junge (1999) 218 n. 621 is reluctant to accept these findings; others simply ignore them. On what basis is unclear.

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looming presence of the evil mistress soon to oust Octavia from her marriage and position as the lawful occupant of the imperial thalamus, all these are motifs that form the backbone of the plot and demarcate the fateful first stages of a trajectory leading to banishment and death. Last, but not least, the exposition is a good example of the way this dramatist uses the temporal and visual to strengthen the impact of ideas otherwise developed by discourse. Again and again, he succeeds in dramatizing the implied setting by using metaphors that in their inherent semantics give time and place a unique significance. For the protagonist greeting the light of day this is, for instance, not just any dawn but the bringer of a light now more unbearable than the night of death (18–20). In terms of time, this is not just any day, but, as it turns out, the fearfully anticipated ‘Day Before’. In accordance with the exposition’s settings and movement, its two actors are first separated and then brought together, face to tearful face. The place where they come together is not just anywhere (let alone a place dictated by (nonexistent) dramatic rules). Words and movement are unequivocal in defining this place as the imperial thalamus, in which the protagonist resides and at the threshold of which the nurse utters her initial soliloquy before entering to join her mistress. The playwright is emphatic in underlining and even dramatizing the fact that the setting for this narrative exposition is the very thalamus where, with increasingly oppressive horror, one murderous wedding has followed the other. It is shown to be an accursed place from which no occupant, once introduced, can escape alive. In sum, the exposition has done as Horace, with his in medias res (‘straight to the core!’),29 insisted it should: it has been designed to commence at the final, most tense point in the story leading up to the crisis. Still unseen, and only hovering in the background as menacing off-stage characters, Nero and Poppaea are now on the very point of making their decisive move for divorce, wedding, and murder. The following scenes will focus on those who still stand in their way, the People and Seneca.

4. THE F IRST SONG OF THE CHORUS ROMANORUM [Later, the first day. In front of the Imperial Palace. The Chorus of Romans standing at its gates]

Following the exposition highlighting Octavia’s endangered position, the drama’s co-protagonist now enters. The ‘Chorus of Romans’ (as it is labelled 29

Hor. Ars P. 148.

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in the manuscripts on this its first appearance) is, its first line declares, deeply upset by a rumour (fama, 273) concerning Nero’s plans for divorcing Octavia and ‘letting a new wife enter the thalamus’ (276). This is clearly not the first such rumour. And neither previously nor now are they to the Chorus’s liking. Far from it, this is a Chorus that defines itself from the outset as being a voice with a citizen’s body, endowed with a place and role in the social order and historical events on which it comments and in which it, eventually, takes an active part. What it offers is always closely in tune with what happens in the play, in harmony with the recommendations of Aristotle and Horace. However, whereas Horace recommended that a chorus keep a certain distance and not involve itself in the action as such, this is, as we shall see, a body that eventually breaks free from such restraints, itself becoming an active agent in bringing about the play’s true crisis. To be sure, its role in developments is marginal on this, its first appearance. Rumours are ultimately for those not in the know, so from the outset—as indeed throughout the play—there is, as has rightly been observed by Marcus Wilson,30 a marked difference between inside the Palace, where plots are hatched and decisions taken, and the basically uninformed world of the Chorus of Romans, which, on its own sad admission, is deprived of political influence and only allowed to observe and obey. So, for all that the setting on the Chorus’s first entrance is strictly speaking undefined, readers and scaenici would hardly be in conflict with the author if they opted for a setting that was not within, but in front of the Palace; the emphasis being on the fact that they—in every sense—witness events from the outside. This setting not only makes excellent dramatic sense, but is also where the Chorus will make its appearance on the second day. In any case, the Chorus is here, as later, unequivocal in declaring itself in favour of Octavia. Her descent from divus Claudius, her morals and almost virginal sanctity are what recommend her. It is from this empress (and not from some ‘new wife’ (nova coniunx, 276)) that the people, now adopting the alliterative language of official Julio-Claudian panegyric, expect ‘the birth of peace-ensuring offspring’ (partu pignora pacis, 279)—peace-ensuring because in a dynastic system, heirs present a guarantee against the unrest that threatens an empire without a stable and undisputed line of succession.31 In a passage with strong parallels in

30

Wilson (2003) 88. Imperial panegyric applauding females as mothers, with a ‘womb’ (uterus), with ‘births’ (partus cf. Consolatio Liviae 82 and 472) and with ‘offspring’ (pignora) guaranteeing peace; cf. Vell. Pat. 2.93.1 (Julia’s ‘womb’ (uterus) neither beneficial for her or the res publica); SC de Pisone 115–16 (Livia a lady of great merit, for the ‘birth’ (partu) of Tiberius; 139 Agrippina similarly, for the ‘most fruitful results of her labours’ (PIGNORA EDITA PARTV FELICISSIMO); in the ‘new’ fragment from Perugia (in fact found in the 1970s) published by Cipollone (2012), the passage (lin. 9) [FELICI]SSIMO REI PVBLICAE PARTV surely refers to the birth of Julia Livilla on Lesbos in c.18: PIR2 I 674. Octavia closely parallels such panegyrical phraseology: 591 ‘portet 31

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official documents of the Early Empire, it is here, uniquely the Roman people itself (as it were) that defines its expectations of the Imperial Dynasty.32 Octavia, this Juno on earth (another echo of contemporary panegyric) should keep the position in the thalamos (282) which is rightly hers, sharing the bed of her Jupiter and provide the offspring that guarantee peace and prosperity for all. Why, the Chorus asks—the very asking by implication acknowledging the outcome—should a person of her moral standing suffer ousting from the Palace that shelters her household gods? Part of the answer lies in the changed role of the populus Romanus, which has long since ‘forgotten its true self ’ (nostri . . . immemores, 288), and now betrays the daughter of their one-time leader because of abject fear. As the ensuing passage recalls, the situation had once been very different. To bridge the gap between present and past, between the contemporary and the historical, the dramatist uses the Chorus’s emphasis on the saintly personal qualities of Octavia—her ‘unstained goodness . . . her maidenhood, her chastity’ (sancta . . . pietas, 286; virginitas castusque pudor, 287)—to prepare for the ensuing historical exempla. On this first appearance, the Chorus draws its historical exempla from the earliest of the three periods in the history of the Roman people with which the Chorus compares and contrasts the tragic trajectory of the protagonist and those who support her. At this initial stage, the image of the innocent virgin provides the point of departure for a historical survey that significantly—as was the case with the weddings evoked in the exposition—moves backwards33 in time, to the days when the Roman people—as opposed to now—twice reacted courageously and decisively against the unlawful acts of oppressors and tyrants. Then they had displayed ‘true Roman valour’ (vera . . . virtus . . . /Romana, 291–2), proving themselves to be the ‘true descent and blood of Mars’ (verum . . . genus/ Martis . . . sanguis, 292–3), taking it upon themselves to ‘drive tyrannical kings out of Rome’ and ‘avenge your dead spirits’. Then it recalls, first, how Virginia, the classic instance of an innocent virgin becoming victim at the hands of a tyrant, had provoked the Roman people to drive out the tyrannical magistrates that had caused her death; and then how the rape of Lucretia, the famous utero pignus et partem mei (sc. Poppaea)’; 937 (of Agrippina), utero . . . enixa . . . /pignora pacis and 949 (of Messalina), partu potens. 32 Dynastic births would, according to the SC de Pisone 13, ensure tranquillitatem praesentis status r(ei) p(ublicae) with Eck et al. (1996) 142; similarly, Tiberius’ being adopted as heir ensured the spem . . . perpetuae securitatis aeternitatisque Romani imperi (Vell. Pat. 2.103.4); again, close parallels in Oct. 280–1, qua tranquillus gaudeat orbis/servetque decus Roma aeternum’; such prospects ensured the dynasty its popular backing: Rowe (2002) 85–101; Levick (2010) 191–2. 33 Zwierlein (1986) 459–60 suspects the retrograde movement to be an error of transmission and accordingly rearranges the text; contra, convincingly, Ferri (2003) ad 294–303, Fitch (2004b) ad 294–308, and Boyle (2008) ad 296–303. The last-named rightly objects that Zwierlein’s order creates new and graver inconsistencies, whereas the retrograde order makes perfect sense.

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virgin victim of an earlier tyranny, had been avenged by the people. This retrograde series evokes events that in Roman history were key episodes in defining the freedom of the citizen body from the cruel arbitrariness of tyranny. This was the world of Accius’ and Cassius’ Brutus; these were events that in the classic narratives of Livy went far in defining the notion of libertas, at the same time providing blueprints for heroically asserting liberty and avenging the misdeeds of tyranny. But rather than continuing with this heroic and optimistic note, it is significant that the Chorus sticks to the retrograde movement, now focusing on crimes of the last of Rome’s royal couples, Tarquin and his queen Tullia, who, in an act of impiety never to be forgotten, murdered her royal father, Servius Tullius, and drove her heavy carriage over his maimed body, subsequently denying him (like Nero later with Agrippina) the right to a proper burial.34 Then, ‘a daughter’ (nata, 308) had been the culprit, who ultimately paid for her parricide crimes, but, the Chorus continues, the present age has also witnessed unspeakable acts, in this case committed by ‘a son’ (nati, 309). The parallel suggests (what is still left unsaid) that here, at the helm of present day Rome, is a son with parental blood on his hands, who will one day pay for his crimes. As will appear, the Chorus’s choice of parallels is of great import, with a strong potential influence on the way the role of the drama’s protagonists is seen. All the more so, since this positive portrayal of the aspirations of the Roman people is an unparalleled phenomenon in Imperial literature. Here, the dramatic conflict acquires a more than merely dynastic character. Octavia, the daughter of the divus, is at the same time cast as a latter-day Virginia/ Lucretia, with her would-be champions as potentially latter-day defenders and restorers of the freedoms of old. First by implication, and then directly, Nero and Poppaea are, by contrast, aligned with the figureheads of early Roman tyranny—a comparison that then, in the final two-thirds of the interlude, is given substance by the Chorus focusing on a deed from ‘this our own age’ as infamous as that of Tullia murdering her parent. To bring out the horror of the way Nero murdered his mother, the Chorus now abandons a fairly laconic style in favour of a more expansive, messengerlike format. This murder would, in due course, challenge the great historian Tacitus to bring out his best. The dramatist also displays an ambition to give the narrative drive and urgency, and, if the result sits somewhat uneasily with the calmer opening section, the murder story is, when taken by itself, energetically told, with pathos and life like details strongly in evidence. The impact

34 Agrippina’s only receiving a proper burial after Nero’s downfall: Tac. Ann. 14.9.1; clearly a raw issue: Galba made sure to give Nero’s victims within the Imperial family proper burials and restored their statues: 350 n. 255.

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is reinforced by the adoption of stylistic ploys ‘making visible what one hears’ (to paraphrase the recommendations of ancient critics).35 The Chorus, for instance, directly addresses the victim-to-be as if she were present. This approach allows us to hear the voice and speech of the victim herself, and this at moments of the highest tension. A scaenicus wishing to enliven delivery could do so by having the actor who in a following scene will play Agrippina speak her lines (as would a chorus leader), thereby audibly preparing the audience for the actual entrance of ‘her’ ghost on the play’s second day. In any case, the choice of a brisk narrative tempo sets the tone from the start, Agrippina’s fabled ‘death ship’ (rate ferali, 311) being introduced in line 1. At this early stage, the ship is still only heard of—later it obtains its highly visible place in the plot (Ch. 15.5). As for the shipwreck (already alluded to by Octavia), the ruse to let his mother drown was allegedly inspired by a device Nero had seen at the games.36 Here, it, in a sense, returns to the theatre to provide the setting for a lament in which ‘Agrippina’—from her sinking vessel and in direct speech—invokes the ghost of Claudius to rise from below and witness her punishment. Splendidly implausible, this dramatic showpiece (332–44), which is delivered by a near-drowning woman facing her death, is of course a device that—much like King Lear in the storm and Verdi’s Gilda breathing her last— requires that we consent to follow where the drama takes us, in casu to the imagined spectacle of the ‘shipwreck’ of Agrippina’s ambitions, with her son rewarding her ‘mad’ (amens, 337) efforts to secure him absolute power by murdering her—as she now confesses she has deserved. This is her punishment for the murders of Claudius and his son. This unmitigated confession of guilt seems designed to set the record straight and leave room for compassion for the murderess who, moments later, will turn victim—an effect of course reinforced by the increasing horror of what follows. By a twist of fate, the Augusta survives: faithful servants swim to her aid and bring her safely back to her residence. But—as the Chorus acknowledges in impassioned direct apostrophe—all to no avail, for she was destined to become the victim of a second assassination attempt, now neither feigned nor dressed up as an accident but perpetrated on Nero’s direct orders. At this emotional climax, with the outcome still (as it were) in the balance, the Chorus switches from third person narrative and directly addresses the late Augusta, thereby adding substance to her fictive presence. An audience has just heard, and a reader read, her desperate confession of guilt, in her own words, as it were. Now the Chorus, in deft manipulation of chronology, brings time to a 35 Cic. Part. Or. 20, ‘est enim haec pars orationis, quae rem constituat paene ante oculos; is enim maxime sensus attingitur’; similarly Quint. 9.2.40, ‘sub oculos subiectio’; Longinus On the Sublime 15.2. 36 Dio Cass. 61.12.2.

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standstill and then addresses her directly, as if in ‘our’ presence, to commiserate with her on her dismal prospects: But what was the good of making your escape from the cruel sea’s waves? You are doomed to die by the sword of your son whose deed posterity will scarcely believe and every age will be slow to credit.37

Emotive question leads to still more disturbing answer (note the metrical emphasis on ‘your son’s’ (nati))—an answer which posterity, for centuries to come, will be unwilling to believe. Resuming the narrative, the Chorus then reaches the episode’s grim climax: Agrippina’s proud and desperate plea to Nero’s executioner (once again in her own words) to bury the heinous sword in her womb ‘This is what you must stab,’ she said, ‘with the steel: it brought forth such a monster!’38

An approach of remarkable urgency, this ploy of letting us actually hear Agrippina’s last (in themselves suitably tragic) words from herself, as it were, is of great potential impact. The tragic parallels are not only part of the genre’s traditional ambit but also lend the scene an almost iconic quality. ‘Famous last words’ is a feature that characterized the narratives of those murdered by Nero. The prevailing ethos encouraged the victims of tyranny to die with a memorable line on their lips.39 The sense of tragic echo in this case increases the horror of the episode. As in Octavia’s no less iconic dream narrative, this is once again an episode illustrating Nero’s murderous use of ‘the sword’. Indeed, the very weapon is mentioned in this brief passage four times over (ferro, 358; 367; 372; ensem, 370), thereby creating a very direct, immediate link between murderer, weapon, and victim. Once again, we hear a victim’s horror when facing death by Nero’s sword, and once again we hear a victim cursing this monster. The ploy of letting Nero’s mother pronounce her curse in direct speech effectively suspends the time gap by transforming narrative past into performance present—and this at a pivotal point in the plot, just prior to the change of scene that will finally bring Nero himself onto the stage. [Curtain. Exeunt. Change of setting] 37 Oct. 356 ff., ‘Quid tibi saevi fugisse maris/ profuit undas?/ Ferro es nati moritura tui,/ cuius facinus vix posteritas,/tarde semper saecula credent’ (translation, Fitch, Loeb). 38 Oct. 370–2, ‘utero dirum condat ut ensem:/ “Hic est, hic est fodiendus” ait/ “ferro monstrum qui tale tulit” ’ (translation, Fitch, Loeb); Boyle (2008) 368–72 is good on the sustained tragic parallel. 39 On such Neronian execution/suicide narratives, the classic discussion is Marx (1937); cf. Edwards (2007) 144–60.

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To recapture: it is this trajectory, from Agrippina’s murder to the longanticipated entrance of Nero himself that inspires the retrograde layout of the chorus scene. Rather than moving ‘forward’, from its initial evocation of key episodes in Rome’s early history that gloriously established the freedom of the Roman people, Rome’s history is instead presented as having moved inexorably backwards: from bravely defended liberty back into the parricidal horror of an unrestrained, but ultimately doomed tyranny that then, with an abrupt move forwards is brought into line with the conditions here and now, under Nero’s criminal rule. The parallel conjures up the still unanswered question. How long before these crimes are avenged? How long before the people will revolt to regain liberty?

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12 Seneca and Nero When he was ordered to commit suicide, but denied the right to make a will, Seneca turned to his friends, bequeathing them ‘the image of his life’.1 One would like to think that it was someone close to this group—perhaps a member, but doubtless an admirer—who, after the tyrant’s fall, brought the master ‘back to life’, creating what is, incidentally, one of the earliest dramatic portraits of a cultural hero to have survived. Unlike the play’s other historical personae, the challenge in representing Seneca was not only to make him seem plausible, but also to make him speak in a characteristic manner. This was no mean feat when dealing with a person whose writings were pre-eminently familiar to the Roman reading public, not only in his own day but also in the decades after his death. Quintilian, no admirer and therefore all the more reliable, would tersely observe that in the years following Nero’s fall, Seneca’s ‘writings were almost alone in being in the hands of the young’.2 As the historian Sallust did when portraying Caesar and Cato (to mention but the most daunting Roman precedents), the answer to this challenge was to create a facsimile that was recognizably based upon idioms which were distinctively lifelike. Previous praetextae may also have offered hints as to how to proceed: a crucial, much employed trick was to be very precise at the outset, and then, when the identification had registered, to move more freely, eventually, for instance, allowing Seneca to hold views never to be found in his own writings. The result is a set of scenes—first a soliloquy, then a dialogue with Nero—which were already among this drama’s most admired by the early fourteenth century (Ch. 17.1).

Tac. Ann. 15.60.2–65; 15.62.1, ‘imaginem vitae suae’. ‘tum autem solus hic (sc. Seneca) fere in manibus adulescentium fuit’, Quint. 10.1.125 (firsthand evidence since it was just after Nero’s fall that Quintilian in the entourage of Galba returned to Rome to be appointed professor by Vespasian in the early 70s). 1 2

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1. SENECA’ S MONO LO GUE [Later the same day. Seneca somewhere in the Palace]

Suitably, the opening scene belongs to Seneca alone. It is the longest speech in the play,3 and here, proportion serves to add weight to the voice of the great man, who, according to a fellow Roman, would, undoubtedly, have become emperor, ‘had there in Rome been free elections’. In accordance with such a high evaluation, Seneca’s stage prominence is here established in significant contrast to the way such ‘tyrant-counsellor’ scenes are handled in his own tragedies. There, the tyrant is undoubtedly the protagonist, duly provided with his own entrance monologue—here the tyrant comes second.4 In a manner highly reminiscent of Seneca himself, the opening piece is set out in three consecutive movements, each fusing the personal and cosmic, and each leading inexorably and, at first, abruptly, from a vertiginous height to the furthest depths. With a phrase of unmistakably Senecan stamp, the dramatist’s Seneca first addresses ‘Outrageous Fortune’ (thus A.J. Boyle, aptly quoting Seneca’s admirer Shakespeare), which has led him upwards to such dizzying heights that he now feels he is standing on a towering summit, from which he can, fearfully, foresee only his imminent fall. In characteristic manner, this vision leads by abrupt, paradoxical association to its opposite, to memories of a truly blissful period, far from the heights of power, when, years before, in his Corsican exile, he could pursue his studies of the nocturnal splendours of the starry sky. It is at this point that words5 from the real Seneca are deftly brought in, thus ensuring that even without seeing an actor performing as Seneca, an audience familiar with his writings would, much as those listening to Maternus’ recitation of his Cato (Ch. 7.4–5), feel that a mask was here becoming a face. The vivid impersonation of the real Seneca gives personal urgency to this depiction of the philosopher as he recalls beatific moments of pure intellectual bliss.6 But this imagery of joy is then, in characteristic 3 Influentially, Zwierlein (1966) 119; 123 n. 8 censured this monologue as an instance of the way monologues in Roman closet drama just grew and grew (Überhandnehmen der Monologue). 4 Free elections: Juv. 8.211–12; counsellor before tyrant: Manuwald (2002) 48; Boyle (2008) lxvi; 168. 5 cf. Oct. 383, ‘ubi liber animus et sui iuris mihi/ semper vacabat studia recolenti mea’ and Sen. Ep. 124.12, liber animus; Ben. 3.20.1, ‘mens quidem sui iuris . . . libera et vaga’; Sen. Q. Nat. 3, praefatio 2, ‘sibi totus animus vacet’. 6 cf. Oct. 385–90, ‘o quam iuvabat, quo nihil maius parens/ natura genuit, operis immensi artifex,/ caelum intueri solis et currus sacros/ [mundique motus, noctis alternas vices]*/ orbemque Phoebes, astra quam cingunt vaga,/ lateque fulgens aetheris magni decus’ (* secl. Ritter) and Sen. Helv. 8.4, ‘mundus hic, quo nihil neque maius neque ornatius rerum natura genuit’; 8.6, ‘dum mihi solem lunamque intueri liceat, dum ceteris inhaerere sideribus, dum ortus . . .’; Seneca’s focus in Ad Helviam on the sun and then moon recommends accepting Ritter’s seclusion of 388; contra Ferri (2003) ad loc.

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associative manner, abruptly darkened by fears that this cosmic order is now on the brink of disintegrating into dark chaos. Here again, the words of the real Seneca, which, in fact, he wrote during his own exile, add to the immediate impact of the thought of a fearful apocalypse—and once more the train of thought veers sharply away from the brink of these horrors, back into the alluring visions of a once (and future) world’s ensuing ‘rebirth’ (renascens, 395), as in the Golden Age when the virgin Goddess of Justice ruled supreme. This is the third instance of this dramatist casting a virgin as an emblem of the age of virtuous innocence. Here, however, the Virgo is not historical, as were Lucretia and Virginia, but a figure of cosmic pre-eminence, ‘that virgingoddess of great might’ (illa virgo, numinis magni dea, 397). Seneca then outlines the bliss of Astraea’s reign in a series of emblematic Golden Age images, with notable parallels in panegyric poems lauding the blessings of Nero’s early reign.7 Prime among these, is a poem from Seneca’s own hand, denigrating Claudius and praising his teenage successor as a harbinger of a new golden era.8 It is as if ‘Seneca’ here—as indeed later in this scene—returns to his early optimism, just to bring out the contrast between hopeful beginnings and the grim result. Of course, the sad topicality of this contrast adopts imagery made famous by Ovid and Hesiod, but the dramatist has in significant ways recast these hallowed schemes, for instance by consistently exchanging the references to gold, silver, and bronze for a strong emphasis on the generations.9 Seneca in rapt prescience prophesies that one will follow the other until finally the world meets its ‘mortal day’ (dies/supremus, 392–3), with apocalyptic extinction of the ‘impious (i.e. Neronian) race’ (genus impium, 393) in its train. This extinction will then, Seneca proceeds, lead on to a better world that is ‘reborn’ (renascens, 395) and which in turn will breed a ‘new generation’ (stirpem novam, 394)—a rephrasing of the myth with probably telling links to the dramatist’s time of writing (Ch. 16.4). The wistful imagery of the reign of the Virgo, of an age of no war, no property divisions, and no toil, of the earth generously providing its devout inhabitants a safe and blessed existence, is efficient in setting off this section from what follows. In fact, it serves as an integral part of the monologue’s gradually more expansive and increasingly impressive build-up to the scene’s dramatic climax, when Nero—the self-proclaimed emperor of a 7 The Octavia gives unusual emphasis to the importance of Astraea; contrast Hes. Erga 197, Ov. Met. 1.149–50, ‘. . . virgo caede madentes/ ultima caelestum, terras Astraea reliquit’, Germanicus Caesar Aratus 134 ‘iustissima virgo’ and Calp. Ecl. 1.43–4 ‘et redit ad terras . . . / alma Themis . . .’; similarly, Einsiedeln eclogues 2.23, ‘Astraeaque virgo’ (the two poets are here and in what follows (229 n. 33) accepted as Neronian: Wiseman (1982); Griffin (1984) 146–55; Braund (2009) 12–13 (with extensive bibliography). Boyle (2008) ad 422–4 aptly describes the fate of Octavia ‘as a microcosmic version of that of Astraea’. 8 9 Sen. Apocol. 4 v. 9. No metallic associations: Boyle (2008) ad 397–428.

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Golden Age—makes his actual entrance as the incarnation of all the evils of an impious Iron Age. Yet if the general drift seems clear and well calibrated, the more detailed treatment of the second and third age (406–15) is not this dramatist at his best. The progression flags, examples are not always relevant, and proportions strikingly uneven: there are only two lines for the so-called Silver Age, followed by ten on the more enterprising Age of Bronze. None of these ages are identified as such, but the latter is emphatically characterized by a more aggressive handling of nature that, in consequence, leads on to the fourth, ‘Iron’ Age. This is where the monologue gets back into its stride, with a series of negative mirror images of the Golden Age giving it impetus and direction. There is clear focus here on the violent abuse of nature, the emergence of arms for defence and aggression, and the partition of property leading to greed and strife. In response to this disintegration of the social fabric, the Virgin Astraea, who in the Golden Age had reigned supreme, now flees the barbarous, bloodstained earth, on which the destructive evils of a perverted civilization gain increasingly in strength. As in the Chorus’s exposition of legendary Roman history, the myth of increasing decline is here linked, with repeated and, to my knowledge, unprecedented emphasis, to images of the suffering of a virgin, who symbolizes the lost innocence of an entire social order. No other source gives the sacred virgin such prominence, first in three lines on her role as regent of the Golden Age, then again in three lines, as she flees the Iron Age bloodshed. This doubled emphasis serves to suggest a parallel: the images of Lucretia, Virginia, and Astraea fuse with those of the drama’s virgin-like protagonist. This parallel is, of course, further reinforced when Seneca explicitly links the myth of the periodically recurrent with the historical here and now, affirming that these evils are now inundating ‘us’ (nos, 430), that ‘we’ (in the present) are now crushingly ‘weighed down’ (premimur, 430) by the evils of an age. Seneca portrays this, with a rising crescendo, as a sinister procession of ever more deadly evils marching triumphantly forward and, as it were, inundating the present with their overpowering presence. This is a rhetorical build-up that then, with a deft shift from the additive to the visual, reaches its culmination in Seneca’s apprehensive announcement of the advent of Nero. Carefully choreographed, this entrance brings to a spectacular conclusion a long sequence of allegorical heralds of evil. As if in a great allegorical frieze, the stately progress of Parricidal Murder, Criminal Rule, Unlawful Lust and, last but most prominently, ‘Triumphant’ (victrix, 433) Robbery and Profligacy serve as lictors paving the way for the entrance cum epiphany of Nero, here presented as the incarnation of all the evils of a social order soon to disintegrate into apocalyptic chaos.

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2. SENECA-NERO: THE FIRST P ART OF THE DIALOGUE [Seneca. Enter Nero, the Guard Prefect in attendance. Time and setting as above]

From such—characteristically Senecan—heights, the ensuing dialogue commences with words of a brutally direct and deadly tenor. True, we have encountered such use of a drop line before, but here it may well be all the more directly confrontational because it also serves to clearly separate the initial allegorical section from one of the single most renowned scenes in the Senecan corpus, even centuries later: the ‘Machiavellian’ debate between Seneca and Nero (Fig. 12.1). In this debate of dazzling verbal pyrotechnics concerning the true nature of the Augustan principate, it is once again the historical Seneca who provides much of the intertext. Many of the dialogue’s concepts, phrases, and metaphors are lifted, more or less directly, from his De clementia, a treatise that had originally been dedicated to Nero, but which here the tyrant, in the drama’s fictitious confidentiality, debunks with ready wit and disrespectful mischief as a naïve utopian fiction unsupported by grim reality. In Seneca’s own tragedies, there is no scene with a series of stichomythic quick-fire exchanges of such sustained brilliance,10 and, in historiographical terms, the contrasted statements of this dramatized dialectic, ascribed to two of the central figures of the Early Empire, is of uncommon interest. In addition, as we shall see, they also create good drama, well rooted in objective antagonism and with clear indications as to what personally motivates the two contestants. This Nero is no cardboard tyrant and has lines that repeatedly give him the stronger, but—this the cruel irony—ultimately suicidal hand. The debate begins with Nero’s matter-of-fact order for the execution of his two closest male relatives, Plautus and Sulla. His laconic military style is echoed by the Guard Prefect, who responds by acknowledging the task as ‘orders’ (imperata, iussa, 437; 439) that will see the return to Rome of each victim’s severed head. The deadly process is thus set in motion, the playwright leaving it open whether Seneca’s immediate protest is heard by both, or only by Nero. In any event, prior to Seneca’s intervention, the Prefect has already declared his intention to depart with all haste. It is, moreover, only Nero who replies. Given the nature of the ensuing debate, attentive readers would surely

10 Stärk (2000) 223 rightly contrasts this scene’s 15 one-liners (439–54) and 7 half-liners 455–61) with Sen. Troad. 327–36 (10 verses) and Agam.145–7 (13 verses); Seneca’s more mixed practice: Seidensticker (1969) 36. Stärk (2000) 223 finds the approach in the Octavia more ‘schoolmasterly’ (which of course is what one would expect of an epigone). But it is certainly no less dramatic (which is what matters).

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Fig. 12.1. An enthusiastic early Renaissance reader of the dialogue between Nero and Seneca has adorned the margins with a total of six pointing hands reminding him to ‘Note!’ (Nota) these brilliant lines on might versus right (Oct. 447–61). In the whole manuscript, no other passage has elicited a similar response. From a mid-fourteenth-century manuscript in Florence with Seneca’s tragedies and a commentary influenced by that of Trevet. (Laur. Plut. 37.1) fol. 159–60. ©Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. At the age of thirteen, another Florentine reader, Tommaso Baldinotti (1451–1511) would at this point exhort himself to ‘Bear in mind these beautiful precepts!’ (Nota pulchra precepta): Laur. Acq. e doni 76 from 1464.

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be joined by scaenici in imagining that the former mentor and his now Imperial master are fighting it out alone, surrounded by the irksome memories now defining the character of their deeply troubled relationship. These tensions are from the outset well captured. In dialogue, the use or avoidance of personal pronouns, such as ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘yours’ is one of the basic ways in which to create either connection or distance. During the opening skirmishes of this dialogue, both Nero and Seneca are careful to shun all such personal markers, their lines thus achieving a gnomic, but also distanced and watchful quality, much like swordsmen measuring up their opponents. Nero is, at first, caught off guard, acknowledging that Seneca stands for justice—but says that it is easy to be fair if you are not haunted by the threat and ‘fear’ of assassination (metu, 441). Nero’s implicit admission that he acts, in fact, out of fear allows Seneca to lift the debate up on to a moral high ground that—he now, hope against hope, insists—represents their common policy. This was of course the policy for which Seneca had written the blueprint, the De clementia (c.54).11 To understand the scene it is therefore useful to recapitulate briefly how awareness of this treatise is relevant to an understanding of this scene. The first ‘Mirror for Princes’ in the Western political tradition to have been preserved, the De clementia outlines an autocratic policy of pardoning and thereby appeasing discontented aristocrats. In a novelistic insert into this treatise, Seneca had summoned the authoritative backing of the dynasty’s founders, Livia and Augustus: pardons and trust (rather than terror, executions, and mistrust) would—so runs the argument—establish a climate of mutual acceptance and free the emperor from the nagging fear of potential plotters. So Seneca now opens a debate for which, in a sense, he knows all the arguments and all the answers. In its first rounds, Nero is therefore clearly at a disadvantage. Initially keeping it impersonal, Seneca pointedly quotes his own claim that the great remedy against fear is clementia, against which Nero overconfidently plays a trump card, insisting that a commander’s greatest virtue is to bring down the enemy. Not to be cornered, Seneca observes that for a ‘father of the country’ (as was Nero), it is greater still to preserve the lives of citizens. Here the former pupil rashly, be it he is impatient or slightly rattled, plays the age card, saying that old men should stick to lecturing kids. Nero’s youth was widely rumoured to have been a raw issue, but here Seneca has no time for evasive politeness.12 Undeterred, he retorts that hot-headed

11 Otherwise very comprehensive, Dowling (2006) does not discuss clementia in the Octavia, but is fine on background and contexts. On De clementia and the Octavia, I have found discussions in Bruckner (1976), Ballaira (1974), Manuwald (2002), and Braund (2009) and the commentaries by Ferri (2003) and Boyle (2008) helpful and stimulating. 12 Tac. Ann. 14.52.4 quotes slanderers working on Nero’s feeling of inferiority; the issue of his age and (im-)maturity is central to the debate at Seneca’s farewell audience (14.53–6).

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adolescence is more in need of control—which Nero (somewhat meekly) counters with his personal belief that he is old enough as it is. This personal note offers Seneca a new cue, allowing him to abandon the gnomic and abstract in favour of more directly personal appeals. But, when he brings in the gods and expresses his hope that they will approve ‘your’ (tua, 448) deeds, Nero proves utterly unresponsive to the idea of anyone or anything approving or, indeed, restraining his acts, flippantly dismissing the power of gods (‘I make them myself ’). The flagrant blasphemy is not the only problem here. The very notion that, all on his own, Nero could turn mortals into gods betrays a hubris that flies in the face of Roman constitutional thinking and ignores the crucial importance of consensus, saying: ‘they are gods, not because we are ordered to believe it, but because we agree’ as Seneca had himself formulated the common view.13 The drama’s Seneca therefore rightly counters by warning that ‘You should fear all the more because you have so much power’ (450). When Nero dismisses these warnings (‘Fortune has granted me everything’) Seneca again makes a direct appeal, but in his reply to Seneca’s ‘Do not trust too much in your present luck’ (452), Nero returns to taking refuge in the abstract, claiming that ‘It would be spineless not to use one’s power to the utmost’. This, of course, is an approach Seneca also masters, both now holding on to the impersonal style of high principle, as if the gnomic could somehow invest their arguments with an authority beyond their opponent’s reach. First, Seneca appeals to the dictates of moral restraint, but in Nero’s worldview, such spineless self-restraint would only expose the ruler to the mob’s contempt. This is where the debate takes a surprising turn. Seneca now suddenly abandons arguments from philosophical principle. In an arresting shift of pace, from rapid one-liners to even brisker half-liners, Seneca instead turns political (in the process becoming the advocate of views, which in their emphasis on the importance of social consensus and of the citizens’ right to be heard, go way beyond the political views advocated by the real Seneca): if ethics and religion will not restrain Nero, then surely political considerations must. Interrupting Nero’s observation that the ‘mob’ (vulgus, 455) would trample on a weak ruler, he pointedly objects that they would bring down someone they hated (455). Not to be swayed, Nero counters this threat with the threat of more violence: ‘The emperor’s sword will be his shield’. Seneca tries to defuse this unsettling declaration of intent by pointing to ‘Loyalty’ as a better shield, but Nero persists: ‘A Caesar must be feared’. In response Seneca now re-launches a slogan from his own De clementia by 13 ‘Deum esse (sc. Augustum) non tamquam iussi credimus’, Sen. Clem. 1.10.3 with Braund (2009) ad loc.; similarly, Val. Max. 1, praefatio, ‘Reliquos enim deos accepimus, Caesares dedimus (sc. caelo)’; sanctity was conferred on the authority of people and Senate, by law, or Senatorial decree: ILS 72 = ILLRP 410; Gai. Inst. 2.5; cf. Dig. 1.8.6.3.

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alluding to the safety arising from the amor civium, from the ‘Love of the citizens’. But Nero stands firm and, with deliberate emphasis, quotes the infamous Roman slogan of naked tyranny Oderint dum metuant (‘Let them hate, provided they fear’) when asserting that ‘It is necessary that they fear’ (metuant necesse est, 458).14 To bring home this statement’s utter rejection of Senecan policy, Nero’s reply is in fact a deftly inverted quotation from the De clementia. ‘A tyrant’, Seneca had claimed, ‘must by necessity fear as much as he wishes to be feared’ (necesse est timeat quantum timeri voluit). Crudely insisting on the benefits arising from the citizens’ fear, Nero now turns Seneca’s dire warning upon its head, in the process transforming this memorable tag into a statement making terror the very bulwark of tyranny (metuant necesse est).15 Startled, Seneca tries to interrupt, but Nero beats him down and completes his statement by insisting ‘. . . and it is necessary that they obey my orders’ (iussisque nostris pareant, 459). Which is where Seneca, now clearly desperate, memorably strikes back by commanding (!) the Emperor to issue just commands: Iusta impera! (459). This command, with its punning on the etymological root of the Latin for ‘emperor’ (impera/imperator), brilliantly encapsulates Seneca’s basic view of a ruler’s duty, but at the same time it also creates a moment of great dramatic urgency. Here, one feels, the counsellor oversteps the line. A subject commanding the Supreme Commander to rule well is a challenge so unexpectedly direct that it clearly rattles Nero, who now abandons the intellectually more demanding ground of high principle, and falls back upon the rights of his ego, simply stressing that ‘I myself decide (i.e. what is just)’ (statuam ipse, 460). This of course is the autocrat’s ultimate preserve. But Seneca, back into his stride, perseveres by insisting on a model of political consensus as opposed to unbridled autocracy. Such consensus, he now insists, is a prerequisite for turning commands into action deemed just (460).16 This is a radically 14 Instead of the manuscripts’ metuant (458), Ferri (2003) ad 458 and Fitch (2004b) ad 458 suggest reading laudent (‘they have to praise me’)—but I see no advantage in questioning what was transmitted. 15 Oderint dum metuant (‘Let them hate, provided they fear’): this tragic verse, allegedly the motto of tyrants like Sulla and Tiberius, is quoted by Sen. Clem. 1.12.4; 2.2.2; the dramatist’s metuant necesse est, 458 (‘It is necessary that they fear’) a punning inversion of Clem. 1.19.5, necesse est timeat quantum timeri voluit (‘it is necessary that the tyrant fears as much as he wishes to be feared’). 16 The dramatist’s notion of consensus (and the real Seneca’s far more absolutist view of the Roman monarchy): Grimal (1991); Manuwald (2002) 121–3; Ferri (2003) 73–5; Fitch (2004a) 507; and Boyle (2008) ad 460; 485–90 (the latter convincingly establishing the links with prevailing Augustan ideals). As for Seneca’s own attitude, the closest one gets is Clem. 1.3.4 on the consensus of the subjects in upholding monarchy for their own good and 1.13.4 with its praise of an emperor ‘using his power in a calm and beneficial manner, wishing his rule to be seen with approval by his citizens’ (potentiam suam placide ac salutariter exercet adprobare inperia sua civibus cupiens, with Braund (2009) ad loc.). This is a far cry from the demand for outright consensus in relation to decision making.

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far-reaching claim, with strongly constitutionalist overtones. In his On the Laws, Cicero, for instance, outlines the proper constitutional framework for governing ‘free peoples’ (liberis populis). The most basic is that ‘Official commands should be just’.17 Echoing such sentiments, the dramatist’s ‘Seneca’ is here turned into the advocate of political views that have no clear parallel in Seneca’s own writings. Instead, they reflect an idealized, less absolutist view of the Roman emperor’s legal and political standing. This view is rooted in what might be termed the classic Augustan settlement, with its definition of the emperor as occupying a station he has obtained because of his merits and has been granted by the consensus of all. In a defining—and, as always, well choreographed—moment of his rule, when Augustus was hailed as pater patriae by a unanimous Senate, knights and people, he had, with tears in his eyes, prayed to the gods to be allowed to preserve this blessed consensus to the end of his life. This was a key concept of a quasi-legal nature for successive reigns and a model that, while it acknowledged the need for a contrat social of kinds, also committed the emperor to remain ‘the person whom the consensus of gods and men agreed should be the ruler by land and sea’ (to quote a parallel definition from the Early Empire).18 Where the real Seneca had no qualms about describing Nero’s position as that of a ‘monarch’ (just four generations earlier rex had been synonymous with ‘tyrant’), it is noteworthy (and probably reflects the dramatist’s time of writing, Ch. 16.3–7) that here he is advocating a view of the principate that comes remarkably close to the original Augustan ideals of what Barbara Levick has aptly termed a ‘minimal’ principate, the avowed aim of which was to uphold ‘the rights and laws of the Roman People’ (as an Augustan coin from 28 BC solemnly defined the issue (Fig. 12.2).19 Nero, however, who on his accession had indeed pledged himself to rule in accordance with Augustan precedent, now brushes all such ‘constitutional’ rules aside, openly threatening to use force and violence to have his way: ‘The sword, once drawn, will make them obey’ (destrictus ensis faciet, 461). With his resources exhausted, and with right by necessity swayed by might, Seneca can at this point only rejoin by expressing his wish that such a monstrous abomination will not occur, hoc absit nefas, 461. ‘liberis’ and ‘iusta imperia sunto’, Cic. Leg. 3.4; 6. ‘Te (sc. Tiberium) . . . penes quem hominum deorumque consensus maris ac terrae regimen esse voluit’, Val. Max. 1, praefatio; Augustus RG 34 proudly stresses that in 28 BC he ‘by the agreement of all was all-powerful’, per consensum universorum potens rerum omnium (Cooley (2009) ad loc. and Levick (2010) 103 n. 1 (with bibliography) are good on the new reading of this crucial passage). 19 Augustan coin: Rich & Williams (1999) 169–213; Levick (2010) 68–80 (all with lucid discussion of ideological implications); Abdy & Harling (2005), publish a cast confirming that the coin is genuine; ‘minimal’ principate: Levick (2010) 77. 17 18

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Fig. 12.2. A recently discovered gold coin marking the first phase of the Augustan resettlement of the res publica in 28–27 BC. The obverse shows the laureate head of Octavian (the honorary name Augustus was only given to him in January 27) with the inscription ‘Imperator Caesar, son of the God (Caesar), Consul for the sixth time’, IMP. CAESAR DIVI F. COS VI, which gives the date 28 BC of this rare, but undoubtedly genuine emission. The reverse shows Octavianus (soon to be hailed as Augustus) seated on a curule stool on a podium and holding out a scroll, a scroll box placed on the ground at the left. The inscription LEGES ET IVRA P. R. RESTITVIT either means ‘He has restored the laws and rights of the Roman People’ or, more likely, ‘He has restored their laws and their rights to the Roman People’. British Museum no. 1995, 0401.1. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The debate having reached an impasse (in fact the first of three), the dramatist signals a new departure by abandoning the series of increasingly angry one-liners and then half-liners in favour of three gradually more expansive speeches (462–532), each outlining the pros and cons of what Nero now so openly declares to be his new policy. Pursuing his advantage, Nero opens this part of the debate by quoting the despondent speech that Seneca in the De clementia attributed to Nero’s ancestor Augustus. In Seneca’s edifying episode, the old emperor asked ‘why he should endure’ (ego . . . patiar . . . ?) the threat of yet another conspiracy (with Livia responding that perhaps he should try to meet this challenge with a show of clementia). With mocking sarcasm, Nero now borrows this expression, but draws a very different conclusion. ‘Should I endure’20 (An patiar . . . ?) conspiracies brewing and openly threatening my life? Should one pardon exiles and inspire a never-tiring urban opposition to lie in ambush plotting one’s murder? Exile had not broken their resolve. Hence the imperative need to use 20 Cf. Oct. 462–3, ‘An patiar ultra sanguinem nostrum peti,/ inultus et contemptus ut subito opprimar?’ (Nero speaking) and Sen. Clem. 1.9.4 ‘ego percussorem meum securum ambulare patiar me sollicito?’ (Augustus speaking) with Braund (2009) ad loc. Boyle (2008) ad 461; 503–22 speaks aptly of Nero’s ‘rhetoric of sarcasm’.

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Fig. 12.3. A brass coin from the reign of Caligula linking apotheosis and the Augustan ideal of consensus. On the obverse is the head of Augustus, radiate, and with the legend DIVVS AVGVSTVS in the arch above, the abbreviated S(enatus) C(onsulto) (i.e. ‘by decree of the Senate’) left and right probably stating the constitutional basis for the apotheosis. On the reverse, the social orders, ‘the Senate, Equestrians and Roman People’, supporting and applauding this decree, are assembled in consensus: CONSENSV SENAT(us) ET EQ(estris) ORDIN(is) P(opuli) Q(ue) R(omani). RIC I2 Caligula 56. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

the ‘sword’ (ense, 469) against his enemies and to let his odious wife share the fate of her brother—indeed, to let all standing high be brought low. Horrified by these prospects of open war against citizens, one imagines Seneca taking a deep breath before embarking on a speech double (ten lines twice over) the length of Nero’s (as if sheer length would make it more emphatic). The speech has been variously estimated (some going as far as to call it a ‘monotonous ramble’), but seen in context it is a masterly statement of some of the guiding ideals of the Augustan settlement.21 This is achieved in an intricate tripartite layout of two seven-line periods (472–8; 485–91), which frame two markedly contrasting events that are described in two times three lines, both with the goddess Fortuna as agens (479–81; 482–4). The former deals with the painful issue of Augustus’ (‘Illum . . .’ 479) accession; the latter with Nero’s (‘Tibi . . .’ 482). Seneca is, however, emphatic, in terms that at points echo the De clementia, that both reigns shared a set of ideal performance standards (Fig. 12.3). ‘ramble’: Ferri (2003) ad 472–5; ‘a brilliant oratorical tour de force’: Boyle (2008) ad 472–91 (an analysis to which I stand indebted). 21

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Deftly pretending that Nero still subscribes to these standards, Seneca aims from the outset to defuse Nero’s anger and side-track the whole issue of new executions by subtly changing the debate’s direction away from the female particular to the more generalized, but emphatically male, pinnacle of the splendid social hierarchy of ‘eminent men’, among whom Nero (as once Augustus) stands out as the unchallenged leader. The intensity of Seneca’s worries comes across vividly when one contrasts the flattery with which he now depicts the emperor’s exalted status with the bitter directness of what went before. Seneca now knows that the killings cannot be averted and that a new victim has already been selected. Now he must do his all—including flatter—to save Octavia. But his second aim is equally clear: confronted by Nero’s declared intention to abandon the rule of law and consensus, he once again stresses its merits. To achieve this end, Seneca offers a startlingly rosy picture of the emperor’s task— and in the process he, revealingly, shovels on the flattery a couple of layers too thick. Again echoing how ‘he’ had described events in the De clementia, an attempt is made to whitewash the historical origins of the principate by discreetly acknowledging that there had indeed been problems with war and violence before Nero’s ancestor, Augustus (in alliterative solemnity here called the ‘First Father of the Fatherland’, patriae primus . . . parens, 477), could emerge in his true colours—champion of piety, clementia, and justice, his merits and virtus ensuring that eventually, and by the consent of all, he was proclaimed a divinity and voted an apotheosis. Nero, by contrast, (Seneca’s eulogy beginning precisely half way through the speech) had been fortunate to achieve power by unbloody and peaceful means (Seneca diplomatically sidesteps a host of nasty events in connection with Nero’s accession). All Rome’s orders, from the pinnacle of the social hierarchy downwards, live happily under his rule, its citizens in ‘loyal consensus’ (consensu pio, 485) beseeching and—this being the emotive climax—the goddess Roma herself imploring him to remain the caring ‘father of the fatherland’ (patriae parens, 490)22 as well as of its citizens (cives, 491)—a role of course incompatible with his order for executions. Notably, it is at what seems to be the very centre of the drama,23 that Roma herself, with Seneca as her spokesman, entreats Nero to live up to the Augustan policy of paternal care and pursuit of consensus.24 As emphasized

22 Augustus and Nero paternal guardians of their citizens/children: Sen. Clem. 1.10.3; 14.2 bis; 14.3. 23 The goddess Roma in the play’s ‘linear centre’ (491) and then again in its final line: Wilson (2003) 64–5; Boyle (2008) ad 982. 24 Augustus’ reply to the motion to proclaim him pater patriae ‘quid habeo aliud deos immortales precari, quam ut hunc consensum vestrum ad ultimum finem vitae mihi perferre licuit?’, Suet. Aug. 58.2; importance of the title and of the ideal of consensus: Instinsky (1940) 265–78; Ando (2000) 145–52; Rowe (2002) 60–2; 173–5; 109–10; Lobur (2008) 21–6 and Boyle (2008) ad 460; 485–90.

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by the structure as well as the emphatic voice-over, Seneca is here playing his political trump card, but Nero arrogantly dismisses these entreaties. Instead, he embarks on an unflatteringly direct tutorial on the Roman political and historical realities, as he now sees them. He kicks off with outright blasphemy, as with punning scorn he dismisses the goddess Roma’s prayer (as mimicked by Seneca). He observes that ‘A gift of the gods has made Roma herself as well as her citizens my slaves’ (polemically contrasting ut serves petit/ . . . Roma, 490–1 with ipsa . . . servit mihi/Roma, 492–3). His mocking sarcasm is effective in dismissing the Augustan ideal of an emperor paternally devoted to ‘saving’ (servare, 444; 495) the lives of citizens (Fig. 8.1).25 Instead, he proclaims his role to be that of a master enslaving Rome and her citizens (servit, 492), their abject fear (rather than devoted love) being what dictates their every prayer. This, again, is an image of the emperor in stark contrast to that of the De clementia, the dramatist’s Nero showing no hesitation in defining himself as a tyrant.26 To bring home this utter reversal, he now sarcastically renounces his mentor’s program of clementia as demented (dementia, 496), a pun so arresting that it is still echoed in one of the classics of historical drama, Schiller’s Don Carlos.27 To prove his point, Nero summons history, not of the edifying kind with which Seneca has just tried to box him in. Instead we are offered an alternative version, which—no doubt deliberately—echoes the kind of arguments justifying cruel despotism that were already integral to one of the crucial documents in the early history of the principate: the edict of the triumvirs concerning the proscription and execution of Caesar’s murderers and opponents in December 43 BC. In this document, the triumvirs, a junta of three that included Augustus, as he later became, presented Caesar’s failed policy of clementia towards his defeated opponents as the justification for a complete redefinition of strategy. The persistent ingratitude of Caesar’s assassins making a policy of unsparing terror—thus the claim—a logical and indeed legitimate response. The edict outlawed some two thousand opponents, confiscated their property, and declared them ‘public enemies’ (hostes), offering ransoms for their murder and stipulating that the victims’ severed heads were to be put on public display in the Forum Romanum.28 25 The ideal of servare and of the emperor as a guardian of citizens’ lives: Sen. Clem. 1.1.2; 1.3 (Nero himself, in direct speech); 1.5.2; 1.26.5 and 1.5.7 servare proprium est excellentis fortunae (‘to save life is the prerogative of exalted rank’) with Braund (2009) ad loc. 26 Sen. Clem. 1.18.1–3 stresses the contrast between paternally (tutela) ruling citizens as citizens or as slaves (servitus); the latter is tyranny: Roller (2001) 220–30. 27 King Philip’s Erbarmung hiesse Wahnsinn (‘Mercy would be madness’) in Don Carlos II ii 1625 seems a clear echo: Kragelund (2000) 503 n. 56; Boyle (2008) ad 495–6. 28 Sen. Clem. 1.9.3 refers to the edict; App. B Civ. 4.8–10 quotes what seems an authentic version: Hinard (1985) 277–80; Osgood (2006) 62–88. Some key points of parallel from the beginning of the edict are that the fact that Caesar had been slain by those whom he saved by his clemency was used as an excuse for a pre-emptive strike against the enemies of the triumvirs. In

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By echoing the arguments ‘justifying’ this carnage, the dramatist adds considerably to the power of the debate over the fate of Nero’s rivals. He gives it a basis not in abstract principle, but in the historical world, with named players and real issues over which Romans had actually murdered or been murdered. The shrewd and balanced, but also over-optimistic, utopia of Seneca’s treatise is here confronted with the kind of counter arguments that might ‘justify’ the strategy of the real Nero. To a dramatist wishing to portray a despot basking in the unlimited expansion of his power and, at the same time, haunted by fears of plots and conspiracies, real or imagined, the kind of arguments offered by the triumviral edict could be seen as the blueprint for a reign of terror that had proved a success. The fiction that such arguments were fundamental to Nero’s new strategy gives his quarrel with Seneca its remarkable urgency. The frame is of course artificial and confrontation between tyrants and their advisers is a mainstay of mythological tragedy; but here, the dilemmas and issues are emphatically real, the memories of these events being forever a controversial part of Augustus’ reign.29 From the mouth, not of Augustus’ critics and opponents, but of a dramatic character impersonating Augustus’ last descendant, this is, in short, a fascinating lesson in real as opposed to official history. From the outset it raises ghosts that Nero claims had never been laid to rest. What good did clementia do Caesar? Nero asks. His pardoned but ungrateful assassin, Brutus, brought the invincible Caesar down, a murder that in retaliation unleashed massacres by Augustus. Seneca has so flatteringly outlined Augustus’ virtuous path to divinity only to have his flattery thrown back at him when Nero, clearly with sadistic joy, enumerates his great-great-grandfather’s innumerable murders of nobles, young as well as old, the rostra in the Roman Forum becoming the pedestal for the pitiless exhibition of severed ‘heads’ (capita, 510) rotting in the sun. It is a measure of the infamy attached to these beheadings that Seneca in the De clementia politely stresses the contrast between the young Augustus’ cruelty and the leniency and constitutional propriety of his later years. Here, by contrast, Nero uses no excuses, but praises his ancestor’s wisdom in perpetrating such atrocities, until all resistance had finally been put down. Here, he seems proudly to boast, is the august precedent for ordering the beheading of Plautus, Sulla, and soon also Octavia.30 Gleefully dwelling upon the bloodshed after the Republican defeat at Philippi, Nero outlines how his ‘virtuous’ model ancestor continued these massacres for many years, with the blood of naval battles colouring the waves of the Oct. 498–502 Nero likewise justifies his pre-emptive use of violence with reference to Caesar’s murder. 29 The parallels with e.g. Sen. Thyest. 204–335 illustrate how the Octavia infuses such passages with the historical and political: Manuwald (2002). 30 Ambivalent Roman attitudes to ‘headhunting’ and decapitation: 182 n. 28.

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Mediterranean until Egypt, which had previously witnessed the murder of Pompey, finally saw the defeat and suicide of Mark Antony. In a passage deliberately echoing a key passage in the De clementia, Nero, with sardonic wit, brings his lesson to an end and concludes that it was there, in Egypt, that the victor finally ‘sheathed’ his blood-stained sword, not owing to clementia (as in Seneca’s treatise) but to the sheer lack of profit in further killings. Fear now sufficed to hold the empire under his sway. Finally feeling secure and well protected by the loyal arms of his soldiers, Nero’s ancestor could now carry on ruling unchallenged. His crimes and murders ensured that he eventually obtained his ultimate reward: the divinity voted him through the calculating piety of his devoted successor (and not, as Seneca politely claimed, through his virtue). Pointedly returning to the murderous imagery of the sword, Nero now reaches the climax of his speech, declaring his conviction, in a magnificent three-liner, that The stars will be my destiny too, if I use the cruel sword to strike pre-emptively at all that is hostile to me and make my house secure through worthy offspring.31

This hubristic declaration—of memorable, almost graphic clarity—is a definitive statement of Nero’s new strategy. By exterminating his rivals and founding his own dynasty, Nero would—like Augustus before him—one day obtain his final apotheosis and permanent, starry abode among the gods above. This declaration arrogantly flies in the face of all moral and constitutional restraint. With deliberate emphasis, it draws upon the war-like imagery that in this drama brings out the murderous Iron Age quality of Nero’s so-called Golden Age. Ruthlessly using his sword is how Nero has already vividly been presented in Octavia’s dream narrative and in the account of Agrippina’s murder. Returning to this imagery, the dialogue enhances its status as symbolic of Nero’s new policy of open war against his own citizens. Already at this point it anticipates how, to haunting effect, it will recur in the pivotal finale of Poppaea’s account of her nightmare (Ch.14.2). The imagery is all the more arresting, since it stands in explicit and, no doubt, deliberate contrast to official depictions of Nero. The sword was of course a standard symbol of Roman Imperial power, of the ‘right to determine the life and death of citizens’ (ius necis vitaeque civium),32 but Nero’s reign had initially been celebrated as a return of the Golden Age, a period of ‘peace that did not know the drawn sword’ (stricti . . . ferri), with the goddess Clementia

31 Oct. 530–2, ‘nos quoque manebunt astra, si saevo prior/ ense occuparo, quidquid infestum est mihi,/ dignaque nostram subole fundaro domum’ (translation, Fitch, Loeb). 32 Sword symbolism: Mommsen, Röm. Staatsrecht I, 434; ‘ius necis vitaeque’: Tac. Hist. 3.68.2; cf. Sen. Clem. 1.1.2, Nero as ‘the master of life and death’ (vitae necisque . . . arbiter).

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herself ‘shattering mad swords (enses) to pieces’.33 Nero himself would proudly declare that ‘his sword (ferrum) was sheathed, nay even tied and fastened, the shedding of even the most worthless blood truly exceptional’. No one, Seneca affirmed, had been entrusted with the sword so early in life as Nero, and still he could boast of not having shed a single drop of blood. And this despite the fact, again to quote Nero ‘himself ’ that ‘thousands of swords, which my peace restrains and holds back, will at my nod be drawn’.34 But things had changed. In the Octavia, Nero will no longer show clemency. He now feels that he must kill or be killed (462 ff.). Thus he insists on using his ‘sword’ (ferrum/ense/ensis) ruthlessly to protect himself (456), to make the people obey (461), and to rid himself of hostile rivals (469; 531). Like Plautus and Sulla, Octavia must die that he may be safe (469–71). What motivates this policy is—Nero admits—fear. He cannot abstain from violence for fear of what might happen. Others must fear so that he may be safe. Caesar had paid for his clementia towards Brutus with his life. Augustus had been wiser, only sheathing his sword (524–5) when all his rivals had been killed and ‘fear could hold his power secure’ (continuit imperium metus, 526), an heir ensuring him that final apotheosis which Nero by the same token, by terror and the sword, is now determined to achieve. In this portrayal of a militant Nero, the dramatist is no longer drawing upon the De clementia.35 There are elements here that are remarkably and, I will argue, deliberately similar to what the biographer of Seneca and Nero, Miriam Griffin, has aptly labelled the military image that Nero, in the wake of the Pisonian Conspiracy in 65, chose to adopt. The murders of his mother, cousins, and sister-wife had of course already been justified as the execution of ‘enemies’ (hostes) secretly plotting against the Emperor. By 65 this imagery was, however, developed to the full, and the suppression of the conspiracy was now described ‘as if they were exploits of war’. Now Nero’s aides in the hunting down of conspirators were awarded the highest military and civic honours, the Emperor himself apparently receiving an imperatorial

33 Nero’s a Golden Age: Sen. Clem. 2.1.3–4; Apocol. 4; Calp. Ecl. 1.42; 64; Einsiedeln eclogues 2.22–3; Tac. Ann. 16.2.2 (quoting panegyrics from AD 65). Champlin (2003) 126 f. is excellent on the background and ramifications of this ‘golden’ imagery. ‘Drawn sword’: plena quies . . . quae stricti nescia ferri, Calp. Ecl. 1.63; ‘shatter mad swords’: . . . et insanos Clementia contudit enses, Calp. Ecl. 1.59; a Neronian date of Calpurnius and the Einsiedeln: 215 n. 7 (pace Champlin and Horsfall (1997)—the latter rightly agreeing that whatever their date, these poems are steeped in Neronian imagery, which is what matters here. 34 ‘sword sheathed’: conditum, immo constrictum apud me (sc. Neronem) ferrum est, summa parsimonia etiam vilissimi sanguinis, Sen. Clem. 1.1.3; ‘no one has been entrusted with the sword (i.e. imperial power) so early in life’ (nulli umquam citius gladius conmissus est, 1.11.3); ‘my peace’, haec tot milia gladiorum, quae pax mea conprimit, ad nutum meum stringentur, 1.1.2. 35 The contrast dux-hostis (‘general-enemy’) that is central to the dramatist’s portrayal (443) does not figure in the De clementia; preferably treating enemies with clementia is what the wise ruler does: Clem. 2.7.2.

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acclamation for this splendid ‘victory’.36 On top of this debasement of the most hallowed public awards (scandalously handed out ‘for no military reasons’),37 came the decree that the very month during which all this had happened should to be forever remembered not as April but as Neroneus.38 Whereas the Roman month Sextilis in 8 BC had been renamed August (as it is still called) to honour such truly signal anniversaries as Augustus’ triple triumph, conquest of Egypt, and the end of the civil wars,39 Nero was now likewise honoured, but the difference in motivation is startling: his ‘victory’ was that of suppressing a conspiracy, with the execution of citizens celebrated as the results of a successful war. Seneca’s protests had been in vain. Nero’s fear that his exiled rivals plotted his assassination and that they enjoyed ‘strong support’ (ingens favor, 467) among the capital’s population, ‘steadfast in its sympathy for the aspirations of those in exile’ (qui fovet spes exulum, 468) are presented as the causes which justified Nero’s new policy (a justification that is probably linked to the dramatist’s time of writing: Ch. 16.2).40

3. SENECA-NERO: THE FINAL P ART OF THE DIALOGUE [Time and setting as above]

The debate has reached yet another impasse, and Seneca tacitly acknowledges defeat by, then and there, abandoning the clearly futile opposition to Nero’s new strategy in favour of a more limited objective, that of saving Octavia. An heir being what Nero wants (532), Seneca tries to profit from the fact by observing that Octavia’s august lineage and Juno-like status would make her the ideal mother of such dynastic offspring. This claim launches a new debate, its length mirroring that of Seneca’s initial soliloquy. The sequence of an initial

36 Nero’s ex-slave Epaphroditus received military honours: ILS 9505 with Eck (1976) 381–4; unprecedented military and civic honours (triumphal dignity, consular honours, statues) conferred on other fairly low-status allies of Nero: Tac. Ann. 15.72.1 and Suet. Nero 15.2; Griffin (1984) 232 n. 69 convincingly concludes that these celebrations resulted in Nero’s tenth imperatorial acclamation; Eck (1999) 224; Champlin (2003) 217. 37 ‘nec utique de causa militari’, Suet. Nero 15.2. 38 ‘quasi gesta bello’: Tac. Ann. 15.72.1; renaming of April: 15.74.1; 16.12.2; Suet. Nero 55; CIL 4.8092; 8078a. 39 Macrob. Sat. 1.12.35 quotes the Senatus consultum giving the Senate’s honorific reasons for renaming the month August. 40 Exile in the Octavia: Kragelund (1982) 50; 86 n. 226; (2005) 97; Wiseman (2001) 16 = (2004) 267 and Ch. 16.2; by 62, their number was insignificant and Nero’s claim therefore anachronistic, but after the great purges in 65 onwards, the group became a political factor, eagerly joining the revolt and with notable backing in Rome itself: Ch. 16.2.

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monologue (originally probably 60 rather than 61 verses),41 followed by debate pro et contra clementia (96 verses), and, finally, debate pro et contra divorce and wedding (60 verses) conform to this dramatist’s almost trademark fondness for symmetry and tripartition. The three sections once again correspond to Donatus’ definition of the typical tragic layout (Ch. 9.3), with the initial section emphatically focused on anticipation (building up to Nero’s entrance) followed by a central section focused on the deed (Nero’s order for murders) and a final section addressing the consequences (the divorce and wedding). As in the drama’s exposition (Ch. 11.1–3), each of these sections is characterized by clear differences in layout and structure: Seneca’s initial monologue effectively contrasts with the ensuing dialogue, which starts in a quarrel with a series of aggressive one-liners and half-liners, then gives way to speeches of increasing length, and concludes with Nero’s cynical declaration of his new commitment to a policy of terror. Changing his tactics, Seneca now gives the debate a new direction. The layout of this final section follows a pattern suggesting mounting tension, with an initially calmer alternation of briefer and longer speeches, which draw their arguments from myth and philosophy, gradually being supplanted by an increasing number of angry one-liners and, in the end, snappy half-liners, which add to the pace and inexorably lead to the final rupture. The issue is now no longer the rights or wrongs of the murders, but the planned outcome of these deeds, the divorce from Octavia and wedding to Poppaea. The promptness with which Seneca opposes this plan, at first only implicitly outlined and without naming the bride-to-be, shows that he, too, has heard the upsetting rumours. Now he uses Nero’s declared need for an heir as a cue to get his objection in first, thereby attempting to establish a new line of defence. But Nero proves equally determined, claiming that Octavia’s scandalous mother and hostile attitude rule her out as a mother for his children. It is in vain that Seneca presents her attitude as the result of timid modesty. Nero rejects her as intolerable—and has in any case found a better candidate. Casting himself as a latter-day Prince Paris, he is convinced that the three goddesses present at the fabled beauty contest on Mount Ida would have applauded his choice. Seneca takes up this erotic imagery, invoking philosophy to reject its inherent hedonism, but Nero now mischievously presents himself as the devout upholder of the idea of divine approbation, presenting his affair with the (still unnamed) Poppaea as willed by gods and fate. This is a theology that Seneca attempts to deflate, first in an aside. But when Nero waxes eloquent and holds up an image of Love’s universal omnipotence, Seneca replies by refuting the idea of love as a god having powers beyond human control. 41

The scene’s tripartition: Kragelund (1982) 55–7; Ritter’s deletion of 388 (214 n. 6) restores the monologue to its probably original length of 60 lines.

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In the dramatist’s continued endeavour to make his Seneca lifelike, he now has recourse to a meta-theatrical approach, to which we, almost two millennia later, have become accustomed. He lets his ‘Seneca’ quote a passage from a tragedy by the real Seneca. While it seems exaggerated to argue that such meta-theatricality is entirely foreign to Greek tragedy, none of the Greeks are as prone to adopt such an approach as Seneca and our dramatist.42 In his comedies Aristophanes had, of course, revelled in overt allusions to the stage as stage, for instance when sending in Socrates, Aeschylus, and Euripides. To the joy and applause of their audiences, Roman stage writers had followed such leads when parodying dramatists and philosophers. But here, the aim in casting Seneca as a dramatis persona springs from devotion—whatever the parallels, this is, in the extant tradition, a first.43 The dramatist who in his own life distanced himself from the real stage, is here, as it were, acknowledging his links with the theatre by quoting some arguments of sinister relevance, not from ‘his’ dialogues or letters, but from his tragedies. In a sense he takes on a role—or persona, as Romans would say—of his own making, the allusions being to a scene in his Phaedra where the nurse vainly attempts to persuade her mistress to abandon the self-destructive, ultimately suicidal course of her passion. However, love-struck Nero is as impervious to reason as was Phaedra.44 This subtle meta-theatrical exercise, again with the first lines unmistakably imitating and the argument then becoming more vaguely evocative of a specific Senecan tragedy, puts a fascinating gloss on a question that has been much debated. Is there a link between the conditions of Nero’s reign of terror and what seems to be the growing darkness of Seneca’s tragic vision? Often ignored, here is a near-contemporary making a point of arguing that one could, and did, read these tragedies as scripts with a powerful and immediate relevance. Like Maternus, who, when reading out his Cato could be perceived as impersonating the hero himself, our dramatist is, with this move, granting words from the master’s tragedies the added moral authority of being

42 Limited use of meta-theatre in Attic tragedy: 194 n. 12; 293 n. 43, but note Marshall (2014); Hall (2006) 110 is right that the Senecan approach in for instance Troades 1120–6 is strikingly different. 43 Ar. Nub. 222 ff. (Socrates); Ran. 830 ff. (Aeschylus and Euripides); much applauded Roman plays with staged dinner parties featuring Euripides debating with Menander, Socrates with Epicurus: Cic. Pro Gallio fr. 2 (Puccioni) = Jerome Ad Nepotianum 52.8 with Wiseman (2008) 214; in modern histories of Western theatre, the passage with Seneca playing Seneca as well as one of his personae has gone unacknowledged, the undeclared reason no doubt being that this is not ‘true’ drama; Octavia and meta-theatre: 232 n. 42 and Ch. 13.5; 16.7. 44 Cf. Oct. 557 ‘Volucrem esse Amorem fingit immitem deum’ and Sen. Phaed. 195–6 deum esse Amorem turpis et vitio fauens/finxit (both at the beginning of a speech); further echoes, such as Phaed. 334, ‘puer immitis’ (of Amor), are carefully discussed in Ballaira (1974) ad loc. Ferri (2003) ad 557–8 sees the passage as illustrating ‘the poet’s limited skills in the technical aspects of verse composition’.

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pronounced by ‘himself ’. Beyond playing himself, Seneca here also plays a figure from his ‘own’ oeuvre, and the brief shift of identity adds moral weight to an allusion, which, on top of condemning Nero’s criminal project, also foreshadows what, in historical terms, will be the suicidal consequences of his reckless abandon. As in the Phaedra, however, these warnings fall on deaf ears. In his reply, Nero turns personal, proclaiming an unwavering hedonist belief that Love, born of Venus and fathered by fiery Vulcan, is the mainspring of all existence, the source of lust, the cause of life overcoming death, thereby ensuring the re-creation of mankind—in its triumphant progress even appeasing hostile beasts. This, he declares, is the godly power that will carry the nuptial torches leading his beloved—now the secret comes out— Poppaea to their wedding couch. The first reference to Poppaea’s actual name is in two respects notable. Her inclusion in this hedonist paean with its patently Epicurean overtones is no doubt a polemical echo of the lifestyle that has already, in her years as maîtresse en titre, made her a byword for voluptuous self-abandon. She is a vulgar reincarnation of Jupiter’s mythological paramours (thus Octavia’s nurse), a manifestation of base erotic lust (thus Seneca, in his Iron Age vision), but this third figuration casts her as a latter-day Helen—the alluring harbinger of war and ruin for ancient Troy (Rome’s ancestral double) and the protegée of Love, the son of Venus, who will lead her to the bed of the self-proclaimed Paris/Nero (another ominous parallel, Paris having been the firebrand bane of ancient Troy). Again and again, Poppaea is emphatically linked to a set of lustful and destructive tenets, which in the drama’s value system are anathema—not because they are considered (in our sense of the word) ‘immoral’, but because (as the parallels from myth emphasize) they are, in the most deadly sense, evil, spreading a cancer throughout the whole bodypolitic. Merely hearing of the planned wedding to this ensnaring embodiment of evil lust is therefore sufficient to make Seneca abandon all appeals to reason. Instead, he rejoins with a brisk and uncompromising drop line that in a remarkably direct manner foregrounds the two powers that ‘could hardly bear’ (vix sustinere possit, 572), and then—as Seneca forces himself to be bolder—‘would not allow’ (nec . . . sinat, 573) this union to take place: the people; and pietas (‘rightful conduct’) itself. The debate now suddenly intensifies, visibly on the page and audibly for an audience. Seneca’s uncompromising drop lines introduce a final barrage of snappy one-liners and the encounter ends as it began, with the Emperor and his counsellor at loggerheads. It is a clearly startled Nero, who leads off with a brief attempt at deflating Seneca’s objection (‘Others can divorce, why not I?’), but Seneca now takes heart, repeating that the people simply will not accept it. This makes Nero lose patience, openly threatening direct violence if the people

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will not comply. Now that Seneca has drawn him out he can adhere to his strategy by reminding the Emperor of his obligations towards his ‘citizens’ and his ‘people’ (cives and populus), but Nero, officially the people’s devoted friend, is, in this confidential quarrel, without qualms in calling them a ‘mob’ (vulgus, 455; 579) with no legal standing in relation to its slave master.45 Without questioning a monarch’s rights, Seneca strikes back, once again voicing the ideal of consensus and reminding Nero of the wisdom of restraint, of making the people see that its grievances are heard. However, Nero persists in insisting on his totally unlimited rights as an autocrat, in the process turning Seneca into an ardent advocate for the political rights of the citizens—views that, in this emphatic form, have no parallel in his own writings, where he does not, in fact, hesitate to describe the populus Romanus as a body in need of reins, of a yoke, and even of subjugation.46 As we shall presently see (Ch. 16.3), this ideological volte-face is probably yet another aspect that bears a clear stamp of the dramatist’s time of writing, but what matters here is that it is also good drama, with the dialectics of a heated debate inexorably leading to an impasse, and the temperature noticeably rising when the debate at the end gears up in pace by shifting from one-liners to a volley of angrily unconditional half-liners (582–5). Seneca unflinchingly holds on to his fundamental tenets that Nero must listen to the objections of the Roman people and not proceed with his plans for divorce. In four renewed attempts, Nero tries to obtain assent—but to no avail. Seneca does not budge, his persistent stonewalling finally forcing Nero to lose face when, with crude and vulgar directness, he commands Seneca to ‘lay off!’ (desiste tandem . . . / instare, 588–9). In its directness, Nero’s command is all the more arresting, since this is the first and only time that he actually addresses his old mentor by using the intimate ‘you’. Up to this final point in the dialogue’s continual to and fro of verbs connecting or disconnecting, of statements attempting to create a common ground or, by contrast, outlining positions that are diametrically opposed, it has only been Seneca, who has attempted to reach out, with suggestions, urgent commands,47 and once, quoting the prayers of personified 45 Like the other protagonists, Nero uses plebs, cives, and populus, but he is alone in describing the people with the offensive and denigrating vulgus, Oct. 455; 579, be it in contrast to Seneca’s cives (444; 491) or in contrast to Seneca’s populi, populus, civibus (573; 575; 578). Again, Nero’s turba (‘mob’, 835; 851) contrasts strikingly with the Prefect’s populi (846) and cives, 856: Kragelund (2002) 101; Boyle (2008) ad 572–92; Yavetz (1969) 141–4 is good on the semantic range; on turba, 281 n. 15; Ferri (2003) who repeatedly downplays the dramatist’s emphasis on the conflict between Nero and the people, never comments on this striking usage. 46 The people in need of reins, yoke, and subjugation: Sen. Clem. 1.1.1; 4.2 and 10.2 with Braund (2009) ad loc. 47 Seneca’s appeals to decency: Oct. 440; 457b (decet); 446 (regenda); 454 (decet, non . . . licet); his exhortations and wishes: 448; 460; 461; 548; 553; 583; 587; his commands in the imperative: 450; 452; 459; 578 (the latter qualified by ‘rather’ (potius))—and, by contrast, Nero’s single and

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Roma herself, with direct and repeated appeals to the Imperial ‘you’ ( . . . serves . . . / . . . tibi, 490–1). Nero, by contrast, makes a point of staying haughtily aloof, only acknowledging his counsellor’s presence in questions with no explicit addressee (463; 556; 574; 581). His sole direct address is held back until, with maximum effect, it signals the end of the ‘dialogue’ in a manner so abrupt that one senses that the rupture is definitive. Here the directness of the ‘you’ is not aimed at confirming a bond or establishing some common ground, but rather at completely severing the links to a counsellor whom Nero, heaping insult upon insult, now dismisses as being ‘all too tiresome’ for him (iam gravis nimium mihi, 588). Letting his pubescent obstinacy slip through, he says, ‘It will please me to do what Seneca disapproves’, and then finally reveals that Poppaea is with child! Combining mockery with insult, Nero now expresses confidence that an heir will satisfy ‘the people’s prayers’ (populi vota, 590), the sarcasm underlined by pretended deference to those whom up to this point he has been consistent in dismissing as a ‘mob’. True, they want an heir, to ensure peace and stability (Ch. 11.4; 279–81), but like Seneca, Nero knows full well that it is not Poppaea they want as the mother. Now, he is determined to force the issue and if necessary break their opposition ‘with my power’ (viribus fractus meis, 576), with belligerent daring even rushing it through: ‘Why not make tomorrow the wedding day?’ This flippant and seemingly innocent question (which he has forbidden his counsellor to reply to) closes the scene in ominous silence. This is how tyrants ask, refusing others the very right to answer. But answered he will be, in the act now to follow. [Curtain. Exeunt. Change of setting]

Looking back upon this compelling scene, the adroit and persistent opposition of Seneca (and the dramatist’s gift for conveying this) seem remarkable. In contrast, Nero’s initial and final orders, couched in brutally naked imperatives (perage imperata . . . mitte, 437 and desiste, 588), frame the whole dialogue, and characterize his consistently aggressive stand. Flattery and admonition, appeals and commands follow each other, but in Seneca’s stance the tenor is uniform. This is no ineffectual philosopher failing to confront his one-time ward, now opponent; neither is it the typical tragic counsellor, first opposing, then yielding, and sometimes even conniving with the tyrant’s plans.48 This is, in its circumspect but unflinching integrity, probably how Seneca’s admirers remembered—or wished to imagine—his steady opposition.

final imperative: desiste 588. Nero’s dialogue with the Guard Prefect is shorter, but the message similar. 48 ‘Seneca’s’ stance against the background of genre and history: Wilson (2003) 84–8 and Boyle (2008) 168–9 and ad 435–592.

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Tacitus’ account of his final hours includes an anecdote telling a similar story. It reports how Nero’s death-messenger opens an interrogation in a seemingly off-hand manner, which is aimed at proving Seneca’s guilt. Flattery is used to set a trap. Had Seneca really been as impolite to the conspiracy’s leader? But Seneca parries adroitly, reminding the officer that a sycophantic style had never been one he willingly adopted. Indeed, ‘Nero himself had experienced more of Seneca’s freedom (libertatem) than of servility (servitutem)’.49 The dramatist’s portrait is fashioned accordingly, with strong emphasis on the revered master speaking his mind. Where it stands alone is in linking Seneca’s freedom of thought with advocacy of the people’s rights, which, again and again, are held up as the yardstick by which Nero’s performance is measured and found wanting.

49 Tac. Ann. 15.61.1, ‘Neroni qui saepius libertatem Senecae quam servitutem expertus esset’.

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13 The Ghost, the Divorce, and the Wedding Ghosts allow dramatists to link performance present to a time zone that is without clear demarcations between the past that the spectre evokes, and the future that it forecasts. In many ways, the ghost scene of the Octavia observes the generic rules of such scenes. The opening lines of the entrance and the garb of the ghost are as one would expect, and the fact that she enters before dawn gives the scene its proper prelude character. There are, however, two crucial differences. The first arises from the scene’s place in the plot, the second from its links to real history.

1. S T A G I N G GH O S TS As for its place within the plot, it is, in ancient drama as we know it, unparalleled.1 Such scenes were usually positioned at the beginning of a drama—for example, in two of Seneca’s plays—but here the scene has, as it were, been deferred from its customary place at the dawn of the drama’s first day to the beginning of the pivotal second day, which thus acquires the status of the first day in a new, no less sinister plot, which outlines the disastrous consequences of Nero’s new policy. What is further remarkable is the care with which this deferral from beginning to centre has been prepared, thus investing a type of scene that from repeated use may well have become trite and conventional with a new kind of urgency. Rather than having the ghost offering a prologue at great, potentially undramatic length, outlining what had gone before, the exposition’s repeated use of fury imagery now emerges as part of a gradual build up to the truly dramatic moment when verbal imagery takes on visual form, as the ghostly bridesmaid suddenly makes her entrance. In other ways too, this entrance has been carefully prepared. In vivid detail, the Chorus, at its first appearance, recapitulates the story of Agrippina’s 1

Conventions of ghost scenes: 161–4 n. 50–5; the deferral something unique in ancient drama: Herington (1961) 23.

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murder. In consequence, this is not a ghost that suddenly appears out of nowhere. Far from it. The audience and/or readers have in a sense already heard Agrippina ‘herself ’ as, in her death throes, she curses the womb that gave birth to her matricide son. Her outcry, in direct speech and in her ‘own’ voice, is emphatically heard at the very end of the first chorus, thereby creating great dramatic immediacy. This is an effect immensely reinforced when her ghost then makes its actual (be it real or imagined) appearance, now not just as a voice being heard, but in persona; and now no longer wishing that the life she has given be taken back, but solemnly affirming that this will soon happen. To add to the effect, one suspects that a competent scaenicus or reciter would ensure that the voice now being heard a second time, not in death throes, but from the beyond, as it were, would link Agrippina’s two stage appearances, first, on the brink of death, second, when returning from the beyond to demand revenge. But whatever the approach adopted, this is the moment when Agrippina’s tragic curse (closely paralleled in Seneca’s parricide tragedy Oedipus)2 is historically fulfilled (an example of the close links between the two genres). The ghost marks the wedding as a reversal, now no longer just for Octavia, but also for its triumphant pair of newlyweds. A message of strong resonance, with deep roots in the drama’s previous scenes, this is, moreover, a scene that carries strong associations with tragedy’s almost proverbial ghosts, who pursue mythological matricides. Mainstays of the Roman stage and standard instances of the kind of dramatic scene that people ‘would see with their own eyes’ when hearing it told,3 such furies were widely accepted to have an allegorical significance, and their pursuit of the guilty was taken to represent the inner demons of a tormented bad conscience. This supernatural and, at the same time, nightmarishly personal aspect is strongly emphasized in this case. This is Nero’s mother, her ghost retaining her living alter ego’s ancestral pride and vindictive rage, feelings interspersed with sudden glimpses of compassion and remorse. But at the same time this is also, as Roman writers alluding to such stage ghosts never tired of stressing, the visual embodiment of the culprits’ innermost feelings of guilt and regret, feelings often taking the form of the fearful presentiments of revenge and punishment now haunting the thoughts of her murderers, day and night. ‘For you must not’, as Cicero in a celebrated passage admonished his audience, think, as you often see in plays in the theatre, that those who have committed any impious and criminal act are harassed and terrified by the blazing torches of the furies. It is their own evil deed, their own terror that torments them more than 2 Cf. Sen. Phoen. 447, ‘hunc petite ventrem, qui dedit fratres viro . . .’; Oed. 1038, ‘hunc, dextra, hunc pete/ uterum capacem, qui virum et gnatos tulit’. 3 A poet’s powerful description of a fury makes people see what they hear: Longinus On the Sublime 15.2.

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anything else; each of them is harassed and driven to madness by his own crime; his own evil thoughts and the stings of conscience terrify him. These are the furies, which never leave the wicked, which dwell in their hearts, which, night and day exact expiation for parents from sons stained by guilt.4

The keyword here is conscientia, the bad conscience that pursues parricides, day and night. This is the word providing the associative framework for a contemporary reflection on the import of this spectacle, which poignantly unites the historical with the tragic, the personal with the generic, the time that was with the time to come. By her very entrance, the ghost of Agrippina marks the point in time when her two murderers, the wedding’s groom and bride, turn from being the unopposed criminals allowed to terrorize and hunt down their fearful victims, to be, themselves, marked out as victims soon to be overtaken, first by frightening presentiments of punishment, and in the end by death.

2. A GHOST COME REAL What adds further to the impact of this ghost scene is its intimate links with real, still remembered history. After all, here is a ghost that Romans could not possibly regard as a conventional stage prop. On the contrary, this spectre was in a sense as real as it could possibly be. According to rumours without parallel in the annals of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, it was in such sinister shape that Nero’s murdered mother during her son’s lifetime had frequently returned from the dead.5 Being denied a proper burial and posthumous divinity, it was as if this domineering lady, the one-time Augusta and the sister, wife, and mother of three successive emperors, in an act of vengeance, lived on instead as a ghost demanding justice, in dreams and visions pursuing her criminal son as a vengeful fury. And not only had Agrippina in this manner already acquired a legendary life of her own, but even prior to the fall of her son, her ghost had also obtained its own, clearly sensational, theatrical début. True, the sources do not allow us to pursue the stunning development, from rumour to stage, as it were, of this ghost story in day-to-day detail, but a pasquinade identifying Nero as a latter-day incarnation of the legendary Greek 4 Cic. Rosc. Am. 67, ‘Nolite enim putare, quem ad modum in fabulis saepenumero videtis, eos, qui aliquid impie scelerateque commiserint, agitari et perterreri furiarum taedis ardentibus. Sua quemque fraus et suus terror maxime vexat, suumquemque scelus agitat amentiaque adfecit, suae malae cogitationes conscientiaeque animi terrent: hae sunt impiis adsiduae domesticaeque furiae, quae dies noctesque parentium poenas a consceleratissimis filiis repetant’; the (slightly modified) translation is that of J.H. Freese, Loeb 1930. 5 Agrippina is the best documented, but not the only ghost in the family: her brother Caligula only made his peace when properly buried and when the house of his murder burnt down: Suet. Cal. 59 with Flower (2006) 149–50.

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matricides, Orestes and Alcmaeon, both at one point famously pursued by vengeful furies, is known to have become current immediately after Agrippina’s murder.6 Such pasquinades, in Greek as well as Latin, were widely circulated, but Nero, Suetonius avers, did little to apprehend the authors. Instead he attempted to disprove their claims. As shown by Edward Champlin, there can be little doubt that it was in an attempt to refute such and similar prophetic7 and mythological innuendos that Nero during his Greek performance tour in 66–7 often chose to perform in the roles of the very matricide heroes with whom he stood compared.8 To make identification explicit he even performed wearing masks bearing his own features, thereby leaving no doubt as to what he saw as the righteousness of his own cause.9 Unfortunately for Nero, this was apparently a response that seriously backfired. First, no doubt, because everyone could see that the implied comparison was seriously flawed. There was nothing divinely ordained in what Nero had done. As a satirist would later object, Orestes did not proceed to murder his sister and wife—and, worst of all (the satirist wittily adds), neither was he such a lousy actor nor such an awful poet.10 Second, there is an aspect that the philhellenic Nero may have underestimated. In Greek tragedy, Orestes was of course absolved of his murder. This had been his tragic duty; this was what the gods had wanted. So Nero had, in a sense, Greek tragedy on his side—and it was after all primarily in Greece that he went on stage playing these roles. In Nero’s own day, however, the case of Orestes was clearly viewed with ambivalence. As confirmed by Imperial sarcophagi (Fig. 9.2), the myth could be interpreted in a positive light, but in the present context, it is noteworthy that from the early first century BC onwards, Roman students of rhetoric would argue the pros and cons of Orestes’ case—because cases used in such exercises were always chosen from the corners of history, philosophy, and mythology where the issues were sufficiently rich in moral dilemma never to permit a clear-cut verdict.11 Similarly, Ovid sees it as ‘doubtful’ (dubium) whether

6 Nero Orestes: Suet. Nero 39.2; Dio Cass. 61.16.22 (epigram published soon after Agrippina’s murder). Champlin (2003) 294 n. 13 rightly insists that the epigram’s final word matricide is in the singular (as part of Nero’s nick name). 7 Sibylline oracle in 64 warning against a matricide: Dio Cass. 62.18.4. 8 Nero playing Orestes and Alcmaeon in Greece: Dio Cass. 63.9.4; 22.6; Oresten matricidam: Suet. Nero 21.3; his choice of roles: Champlin (2003) 96–111. 9 Nero performing ‘with masks made to look like his own face’ (personis effectis ad similitudinem oris sui): Suet. Nero 21.3; Dio Cass. 63.9.4–6 adds that in other roles he wore masks featuring the portrait of his late wife Poppaea; cf. Champlin (2003) 56; 71; 105 (an illuminating discussion). 10 Juv. 8.215 ff. with Champlin (2003) 99–100; cf. ‘Lucian’ Nero 10; Philostr. VA 4.38. 11 Orestes in rhetorical exercises: Ad Herennium 1.10.17; 1.16.26; Cic. Inv. 1.18–19; Quint. 3.11.4–12. Greek ambivalence: Nep. Epam. 6.2–3 (Argos singled out as the patria of matricides— and Athens as the city that condoned such crimes).

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Orestes, the ‘questionable avenger’ (malus ultor), had acted ‘criminally or out of duty’ (pius an sceleratus)—but then, Ovid’s generation had seen many crimes perpetrated and justified by avengers invoking ‘sacred duty’ (pietas). In Ovid’s youth this was indeed the way Caesar’s heir, Augustus, no less than his opponents, had repeatedly justified their criminal deeds.12 Third and perhaps most seriously, Nero’s performance in these tragedies would—from all we know about ancient tragedy—have involved resurrecting the furies of the dead. Horribly armed with sizzling snakes and blazing torches, such stage furies (real or imagined) would have confronted the actor-emperor with their sinister demands for revenge on behalf of what in the context could only be understood to be the ghost of his mother.13 This was, literally, playing with fire. Far from laying the ghost, Nero’s playacting merely gave it voice and substance. Not only would such charades have prompted people to talk of the scandal of the emperor turned actor, but his choice of roles (matricides pursued by furies!) would not have dampened, but only added fuel to disturbing rumours (probably already circulating) about Agrippina’s ‘dead spirits’ (manes) still being denied a proper burial,14 and about visions in which he had actually seen what he was enacting in Greece. In impressive detail, later historians quote the wealth of colourful rumours either arising from, or reinforced by, this public relations disaster. They claimed, for instance, that Nero suffered acutely from a bad conscience,15 that he had heard loud moans and the ill-omened fury trumpets from Agrippina’s grave,16 that he had attempted to lay her ghost with magic and incantations,17 that his guilt had deterred him from visiting Athens (famously associated with the Furies) and Eleusis (the initiation involved a curse on parricides),18 and, finally, that he confessed often to dreaming that his mother’s ghost pursued him in the guise of a fury, complete with snakes and flaming torches.19 These adverse rumours would of course only have increased in volume when, in March 68, the tyranny of Nero was finally successfully challenged. 12 Orestes sarcophagi: Fig. 9.2 and Bielfeldt (2005). Ov. Am. 1.7.9, ‘malus ultor Orestes’; Tr. 4.4b.15–16, ‘dubium pius an sceleratus Orestes/ exactus furiis venerat ipse suis’; political uses of pietas-slogans in Ovid’s day: 328 n. 153. 13 Nero may, in some cases, have performed solo (Champlin (2003) 79), but in others he clearly played opposite other actors: above Ch. 6.5 with Suet. Nero 24.1; Dio Cass. 63.9.6; 22.5. 14 Agrippina only received a proper (but humiliatingly modest) tomb after Nero’s fall: Tac. Ann. 14.9.1. 15 Suet. Nero 34.4 ‘conscientiam sceleris’; cf. Dio Cass. 61.14.4. 16 Moans and trumpets from her grave (‘erant qui crederent’): Tac. Ann. 14.10.3; frightening Nero: Dio Cass. 61.14.4. 17 Suet. Nero 34.4 ‘quin et facto per magos sacro evocare manes (sc. Agrippinae) et exorare temptavit’. 18 Athens: Dio Cass. 63.14.3; Eleusis: Suet. Nero 34.4; similarly, Adnotationes super Lucanum 5.113 ‘Nero . . . cum consuluisset oraculum respondit huic numen “Parricidis non respondeo” ’. 19 Suet. Nero 34.4 ‘saepe confessus exagitari se materna specie verberibusque Furiarum ac taedis ardentibus’; the iconography: 163 n. 54.

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The revolt’s initial stage found its charismatic leader in a Roman official called Julius Vindex (his byname Vindex, probably of Celtic origin, meant in Latin ‘The Avenger’). Given the Roman belief in the fateful power of speaking names (nomen as omen) here was a name that said out loud what many had hoped.20 When, moreover, it was observed (or claimed) that the news of ‘The Avenger’s’ revolt reached Nero on the very anniversary of his mother’s execution, the notion that his downfall was his mother’s revenge may well have begun taking root. In Rome, people would now voice their opposition by loudly calling out for an ‘avenger’ (pretending the context was domestic rather than political);21 and, perhaps most revealingly, the slogan-like quality of Vindex’s name was exploited to its utmost in the coinage minted to pay those joining the armies of revolt against Nero. In these coin legends, the gods and men challenging the tyrant are hailed as Ultores and Adsertores, both meaning ‘champions’, ‘avengers’, and ‘liberators’ of the people and commonwealth (Ch. 16.3). Revenge, long overdue was now catching up with the culprit.22

3. A NEW BEGINNING [Second day. Before dawn. In front of the Palace of the Caesars. Enter (from below) the ghost of Nero’s mother, to be joined by the ghost of Claudius]

These being the salient elements (and sometimes, doubtless, also the details) of the myth and imagery that had already taken root prior to and just after Nero’s fall, it is, whatever the dramatist’s actual time of writing, instructive to see how he chose to present the case. His approach is markedly direct. At a performance (and in the mind of every Roman reader), the ghost of Agrippina would (Ch. 9.4) have made her entry from below stage,23 through the ‘chasm in the earth’ (tellure rupta, 593) that in theatres represented the doorway to Hades. Her entry would have been accompanied either by the sound of sad flutes or sinister trumpets. And, if rigged out in full gear, the ghost would have been 20

Vindex’ name as an omen: Fig. 5.2; 204 n. 27; 242 n. 21–2; 272 n. 38. Suet. Nero 40.4 ‘Nero learnt of the revolt in Gaul in Naples, on the very day on which he had murdered his mother’ (Neapoli de motu Galliarum cognovit die ipso quo matrem occiderat); the chronology seems plausible: 315 n. 69. The anniversary a public festival: Tac. Ann. 14.12.1. Vindex an old Gallic name: Syme (1958) 621 n. 5; in Latin the word is associated with the legal process of manumitting slaves: Donat. on Ter. Ad. 194 ‘those, who restore the liberty of others are said to be their champions’ (assertores dicuntur vindices alienae libertatis). Vindex and his allies exploited his name’s propaganda value to the utmost: Ch. 13.2; 16.3. 22 Vindex motif in coinage of revolt: Kraay (1949); Martin (1974); Kragelund (1982) 38–48 and Ch. 16.3. 23 Implied stagecraft: Ch. 9.4. 21

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wearing the characteristic outfit of an avenging fury, as she herself says, brandishing a blazing wedding ‘torch in my blood-stained right’ (cruenta praeferens dextra facem, 594). Neither a scaenicus or reader alert to what the text implies would hesitate to respond to this cue for (stage) blood dripping from her hand.24 This was blood from a mother’s womb, now no longer merely described, but actually seen (the very sight crying out for revenge). As Agrippina proceeds to prophesy: an ‘avenger hand’ (vindex manus, 596) and a ‘mother’s sorrow’ (dolor matris, 597) would soon turn these wedding torches into funeral pyres.25 In Latin, the expression vindex manus is by no means straightforward. By sticking to the (slightly stilted) nominative, the expression, to everyone knowing the outcome, effectively conjures up images of what now combined to prove Nero’s undoing: the ‘avenger’ (vindex) and his ‘mother’s sorrow’. Crime and punishment, the ghost and her avenger: fusing the two strands illustrates how this dramatist knew the way to latch onto issues, formats, and discourses that were (or had been) in the air, then turning such burning issues into drama. This link between drama and actual history is further strengthened by Agrippina’s bitter enumeration of Nero’s actual crimes against herself, beginning with his abortive assassination attempt, and followed by the actual murder (which the Chorus has, in a sense, allowed the audience itself to witness). Her ghost then proceeds to relate how Nero, after her death, with hateful insistence, deprived her of all her official honours, denying her a proper burial. Instead he instigated the cruel ‘savaging of her name’ (saevit in nomen, 609) and destruction of her ‘monuments and honorary inscriptions’ (simulacra, titulos, 611) throughout ‘the world (orbem) that my baneful love gave my boy to rule—all to my own harm’ (totum per orbem quem dedit poenam in meam/puero regendum noster infelix amor, 612–13). As a brief roll call will illustrate, this was in fact a conferring of power over the ‘world’ (orbem) that had been celebrated in public monuments. In the first year after his (or was it not also her?) accession, coins had, for instance, shown her in an entirely unprecedented manner as Nero’s partner in power, facing him on the obverse as would a consort, her proud name and titles encircling them both, while the name of her son-emperor, again unprecedentedly, is relegated to the reverse where it, again without parallel, is rendered in the dative, thereby making Nero the recipient (Fig. 13.1). Statues would show Agrippina proudly wearing the diadem (hitherto an honour only granted to the deceased and deified). In startling manner, a recently discovered monument (Fig. 13.2) combines these features when 24

Roman use of stage blood: 148 n. 13. Pyres: Oct. 597 ‘tristes rogos’; Poppaea was of course embalmed, not cremated (Tac. Ann. 16.6.2), but surely, the ghost scene’s main focus is on Nero and the wages of his sins—and Nero was cremated: Suet. Nero 49.4.; 50; Plut. Galba 9.3 (with Tschiedel (1995) 409). 25

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Fig. 13.1. Gold coin from AD 54 featuring Nero and Agrippina facing each other. The seeming parity is undermined by the legend framing their portrait. In the nominative, the proud emphasis on Agrippina’s twin roles as empress and mother spells out her eminence: AGRIPP(ina) AVG(usta) DIVI CLAVD(i uxor) NERONIS CAES(aris) MATER. The reference to her son-emperor is, uniquely, relegated to the reverse: Fig. 8.1. RIC I2 Nero 1. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

showing her ‘crowning’ Nero with a laurel wreath (as if the crown were hers to give).26 Slim and diademed and holding a horn of plenty in her left, Agrippina faces her short and stocky, teenage son, who holds the ‘orb’ (orbem, 612), which ‘she, in her love,’ (thus her ghost and no doubt she herself, when alive would say) ‘had given him’. Dress suitably symbolizes the combined military and civilian roles in which her son had now been ‘invested’, his military cloak, the so-called paludamentum, casting him as supreme commander, the characteristic senatorial boots (to be worn when wearing the praetexta) as chief senator—Mummy, of course (this the reassuring implied message), supervising it all.27 This was the proudly domineering eminence that inscriptions and monuments had proclaimed to be hers, these were the heights from which she had fallen, or rather, been brutally cast down. Her monuments, she bitterly

26 Roman emperors were not crowned, but the symbolism of the crown or wreath was central to the idea of victory and powerful eminence: Smith (1987) 129. 27 Vandalizing Agrippina’s monuments and inscriptions: Varner (2004) 97–9 and Kragelund (2007) 27–30 (with bibliography); Agrippina in the coinage: Gradel (2007) 19–25 (stressing the unprecedented emphasis on her share in the Empire); unprecedented use of diadem: Ginsburg (2006) 89; Moltesen (2007) 142 (reconstructing the headgear of a costly, clearly high-official statue of Agrippina); Trillmich (2007) 52 (two new diademed Agrippinas from Spain); iconography of the Aphrodisias relief and Nero’s boots: Smith (1987) passim and 129.

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Fig. 13.2. Agrippina crowning Nero. Relief found in Aphrodisias (Geyre in modern Turkey) in the ruins of a complex that in antiquity gave access to the Sebasteion, the Temple of Venus-Aphrodite and the Julio-Claudian House. The relief, which is datable to ca. 54, was dismantled in antiquity, either following the fall of Nero in 68 or, more plausibly, after the murder of Agrippina in 59, its back humiliatingly reused as a paving stone (thus by paradox preserving the relief for posterity). © New York University Excavations at Aphrodisias.

complains, had partaken in her downfall. Her son had deprived her of all that to a Roman ensured some semblance of status in the hereafter: name and images, monuments and even a tomb. This (remarkably lifelike) expression of keenly felt violence against her alter ego images (that in typical Roman manner are perceived as somehow being identical with herself) was what, even beyond the grave, continued to hurt.28

28 Dio Cass. 61.16.4 and 17.2; in standard translations of these passages into English, Italian, French, and German, they are claimed to show that Agrippina was rehabilitated during Nero’s reign and that games were held ‘in her honour’. Champlin (2003) 70; 287 n. 53 shows

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Having enumerated the wrongs causing her to haunt the present (as stage ghosts were expected to do), Agrippina soon moves beyond this personal perspective to acknowledge that she also has guilt to confess. This, in fact, explains why she now, at this crucial point, finally makes her fatal appearance. As acutely spotted by A.J. Boyle, Agrippina’s initial words, ‘The earth ripped apart’ (Tellure rupta, 593) precisely repeat those of Octavia (136), desperately summoning the avenging ghost of her father. The echo, in a sense, portrays Agrippina’s return as the belated response of Claudius, whose murder still haunts her. And, indeed, haunts her for real: while her ghost pursues her criminal son, she herself is pursued by the spectre of her murdered husband. As in two of Seneca’s tragedies, this second ghost is to be imagined, or actually positioned, in her vicinity, as a mute and darkly menacing, insistent presence, he too holding torches of revenge. In agitated lines, with three urgent verbs in a row (instat, minatur, imputat, 616) stressing how her pursuer actually ‘haunts, threatens, blames’ her for the murders of himself and his son, Agrippina addresses Claudius’ ghost with words of desolate prayer, begging for time, but at the same time promising definitive action, in the not too distant future. ‘I am not asking for long’, she tells Claudius, who in the threatening, but mute role of aggressive, ultimate avenger uses his menacing ‘torches’ (flammis, 615) to demand and finally extract the prophecy culminating in the promise of Nero’s downfall.29 In a twofold movement, first outlining what was being prepared in Hades and then turning to the unfolding events of history, Agrippina now grants Claudius the revenge he insists on. In the realm of the dead, she declares, an avenging fury is already preparing the infernal torment that will surpass that of the great mythological sufferers in Hades: Tantalus, Sisyphus, Tityus, and Ixion. Then, resuming the movement’s direction, but now from an earthly perspective, Agrippina outlines (624–8) some of the stations on the route that over the timespan of six years will lead to the inexorable catastrophe. She pleads for his acceptance (licet, 624), saying that appearances for a short while will be different, her list enumerating seemingly propitious events in 64, 65, 66 and 66–8, thereby establishing a temporal range that from the fourteenth century onwards has rightly led readers to suspect that the prophecy here exceeds what Seneca (who was forced to commit suicide in 65) could possibly have foreseen (but more on that in Ch. 14.3). What matters here is that even such seemingly triumphant manifestations of power (in due chronological order) as the Golden House (64),30 the massively strengthened protection from the

convincingly that this is a misinterpretation: the games in question were in Nero’s honour, celebrating his survival of his mother’s ‘plot’. 29 Initial scenes with ghost or fury uttering prophecy: Sen. Agam. 43–52; Thyest. 23–67; Herc. Fur. 116–22; see further 161–4 n. 50–5. 30 The chronological implications of Agrippina’s reference to the Golden House, the Parthian embassy, and Nero’s downfall: Carbone (1977) 56, Ferri (2003), and Boyle (2008) ad 624–30

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Imperial Guard after 65,31 the Parthian visit to Rome (66),32 and the support from Eastern monarchs during the revolt in Palestine (66–8)33—which seem to be what verses 624–8 refer to—were, in fact, only milestones along the road inexorably leading to Nero’s receiving due punishment, paying with his life for his crimes when finally, in June 68, he would die, deserted, destroyed—utterly destitute.34

Her prophecy at its end, her words change direction, perhaps to be indicated by a pause, during which the Emperor-Avenger withdraws to leave her alone to reflect on the scale of the verdict she has just been pronouncing, in the grip of her frenzied trance. In any case, her monologue takes an unexpected, but psychologically convincing turn at this point, abandoning the gleeful frenzy of triumphant revenge in favour of a moment of introspective withdrawal that gives voice to a parent’s sorrow and frustration—a move that in modern performances has proved dramatically effective.35 It is as if Agrippina, her (with extensive bibliography); a terminus post after the fall of Nero seems beyond doubt; the evidence quoted in 247 n. 31–3 seems to be further confirmation. 31 The chronological implications of Agrippina’s emphasis on cohortes (Oct. 626)—in the plural—guarding the Palace: up until AD 65, the palace was guarded by a single praetorian cohort commanded by a single tribune: Tac. Ann. 12.69.1; Suet. Nero 9 with Durry (1938) 275; after the Pisonian conspiracy, further cohorts were added (multiplicatis excubiis, Tac. Ann. 15.58.1; at the very end Suet. Nero 47.1 has Nero’s residence guarded by ‘praetorian tribunes (in the plural!) and centurions’ (tribunos centurionesque praetorii), presumably from the ‘unit on guard’ (stationem militum, 47.3) that later abandoned him to his fate. The plurals suggest that the strengthening of the palace guard was resumed or remained in place until the end. Agrippina’s emphasis on this aspect underlines the heights from which the ‘abandoned’ (desertus, Oct. 631) Nero was soon to fall. 32 Ballaira (1974) and Whitman (1978) ad 624–8 see the expression supplices dextram petant (Oct. 627) as referring to a ceremony in AD 63 (Tac. Ann. 15.29.1; Dio Cass. 62.23.4) when a Parthian prince humbled himself before a statue of Nero at Rhandia. But the dramatist has Parthians (in the plural: supplices) making obeisance to the Emperor in person (this being what dextram petere invariably denotes: Kragelund (2000) 505–6). Clearly the reference is to the great ceremony in AD 66, when Tiridates and his royal entourage, including the King of Parthia (Dio Cass. 63.1.2; 4.3), took part in the ceremony, and Tiridates kissed Nero’s dextram (Suet. Nero 13.2); contra, Whitman (1978) ad loc. invoking Dio’s claim (62.23.4) that Rhandia earned Nero a triumph and imperatorial acclamation. But epigraphy has long since proved Dio wrong—there was no triumph, Nero’s ninth acclamation is too early (61–2), and what was probably his Pisonian tenth (late 65–early 66) too late for Rhandia: Griffin (1984) 232; Kragelund (2000) 507–8; similarly, Ferri (2003) ad 627–8. 33 Editors have taken Parthi as subject for regna, divitias ferant, Oct. 628 (with regna, divitias as objects); historically implausible (the Parthi in fact took away staggeringly rich gifts: Suet. Nero 30.2; Plin. HN 30.16; Dio Cass. 63.2.2; 6.5), the syntax is not good either: Boyle (2008) ad 627–8; much better to assume a reference to the well documented, massive financial aid (Kragelund (2000) 508–9 with notes 81–91) from Rome’s royal allies (regna i.e. as subject) during the Jewish revolt (AD 66–8). 34 Oct. 631 ‘desertus ac destructus et cunctis egens’ (translation, A.J. Boyle). 35 I write from experience: with Marianne Alenius, I translated the Octavia into Danish for successful performances in October–November 1984 in the Boldhusteatret in Copenhagen. The translation Octavia, kejser Neros hustru was re-edited in Copenhagen 2000. Boyle (2008) ad 632–45 rightly stresses how the stereotype vengeful-ghost image is hereby given new dimensions.

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task now fulfilled, for a brief remorseful moment, steps out of her role as a fury revelling in the prospect of revenge, to indulge instead in a fantasy that turns out to be a striking variation of her death scene’s plea to the soldier. This plea now becomes an ‘if only . . . ’ wish (utinam, 636) never to be fulfilled—that her boy had never been born, but that wild animals before his birth had devoured her pregnant womb thus allowing him to have died in pure innocence, along with herself. Theirs would then have been a shared bliss in the hereafter, never having caused the shame and eternal sorrow now felt by his ancestors. This assertion, that poignantly echoes epitaphs in which aristocrats of old had taken pride in lives lived very differently,36 she then expands in bitter self-reproach, reminding herself that she too had brought the glory of her ancestors low, their feeling of perpetual shame arising from you, vile thing, and me who bore you, monster as you are.37

On the Roman (as on the Renaissance) stage, ghosts often leave at dawn, but once again, this playwright gives what seems to have been a dramatic convention an unexpected twist, ascribing her urge to depart not to the advent of morn, but to her wish to hide in remorse. Her final exit line becomes the memorable epitaph, in the negative, as it were, of a woman no longer assured in the pride of her ancestors, consort, and offspring, but ashamed that she had been as stepmother, wife and mother, the bane of my kin.38

4. EXIT OCTAVIA [Second day, early morning, at the entrance of the Imperial Palace. Enter Octavia, Chorus in attendance]

Agrippina’s exit marks the dawning of the wedding day itself—but what follows is a scene so brief that logistics would make it preferable to link it with the preceding by means of a shared setting (whether imagined or ‘real’). All the more so, since such a setting for the ghost scene harmonizes well with the Senecan practice of letting the accursed residence, be it of Agamemnon or 36 The classic formulation of the aristocratic ethos, with the ancestors ‘rejoicing’ (LAETENTVR) in their descendant, is from the Scipionic tomb: ILS 6 = ILLRP 316; ‘pain’ (dolorem) felt by ancestors: Cic. Cael. 33; the chapter in Val. Max. 3.5 on degenerate descendants of famous ancestors confirms that such failure had personal as well as corporate consequences; ancestral imagines shaming or praising descendants: Flower (1996) 14; Bartsch (2006) 124–5. 37 Oct. 643, ‘ex te, nefande, meque quae talem tuli’ (translation, A.J. Boyle, slightly modified). 38 Oct. 645, ‘noverca, coniunx, mater infelix meis’ in his Britannicus (I.ii), Racine brilliantly responded: ‘Moi, fille, femme, soeur, et mère de vos maîtres!’.

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Atreus, stand for its doomed residents.39 In the symbolic universe of this play, it is as fatal to reside in Rome’s Imperial Palace, as, in the world of tragedy, it was to be the proud masters of the palace in Mycenae. To adopt a setting in front of the palace for the two scenes has the further advantage of bringing out clearly the links between them. While the ghost scene signals the utter reversal of Nero’s and Poppaea’s fortunes, the following scene returns to the fate of Octavia, and here the setting is crucial in giving the plot dynamic direction. In her first scene (1–2), Octavia was within the palace that was once her father’s. From there, she is now being cast out and is, on this her second appearance, to be seen or imagined as leaving her ancestral residence by stepping onto the stage through the palace gateway (on a Roman stage, the so-called porta regia). Thus the conventional palatial setting is reinvested with significance, dramatic place becoming an integral part of the narrative. It is against this august palatial backdrop that one must imagine Octavia, at the point of crossing the threshold to her lethal future, briefly pausing to salute her loyal adherents (addressed in the plural, parcite, 646; vobis, 650), who are assembled to witness and lament her enforced departure. This configuration stresses what is emphasized in all our sources—the popularity of Octavia. She is the only one of the play’s protagonists actually to engage with the citizens and express her concern for their well-being, as they do for hers. To be sure, the identity of her adherents has been doubted. Wrongly, I think. Rather than to a group of mute extras representing Octavia’s ladies in waiting,40 her words are clearly directed at people whose reaction might potentially lead to disturbances. Who else could they be but the Chorus, in sorrowful indignation awaiting her at the palace gateway? For what it is worth, it is also with the Chorus that the manuscripts declare she shares this scene.41

39

Ghost scene in front of the palace: 164 n. 55. To Schmidt (1985) 1447, Ferri (2003), and Boyle (2008) ad 646, the tears and tragic convention suggest that Octavia addresses a group of mute women; on balance, so does Fitch (2004a) 575 n. 38: Octavia ‘is addressing her attendants, or (less probably) the citizens who speak at 669’; at Oct. 744–7, the tearful followers mourning her ejection are likewise female. But while much suggests that this Chorus is male, its imitation of the voice of Agrippina, in oratio recta (332–44; 371–2), allows an inference that it also has a female component; Romans had no problems with depicting the people in tears: Sen. Ad Marciam 15.3.1, flente populo Romano; in Livy 6.3.4 the women provide the tears; a similarly inclusive Chorus seems to be what is suggested here. 41 Manuscripts have the scene heading ‘Octavia. chorus’ at 646 (i.e. the two share the stage); contra, for instance, Barbera (2000) 207–9, Ferri (2003) 308, and Boyle (2008) 230–1, who separate the first scene from the second, Boyle suggesting that the former plays in a courtyard within the Palace, the latter outside the Palace. But Octavia ‘looks back’ (respicis, 666) upon the Palace and commands herself to leave it (propera . . . efferre . . . /linque, 667–8); the Chorus then reports to have seen (en, 669) her ‘having left’ (cessit . . . Claudia, 671). As already argued by Marek (1909) 44, protagonist and Chorus share this scene, its setting being in front of the palace; similarly Fitch (2004a) 575; Smith (2011) 268–9. 40

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Such a shared setting effectively underscores the second day’s utter reversal. Octavia’s entry is in fact her final enforced exit from the palace of her ancestors, and on the day, as it is twice (646–7; 669–70) stated, of the accursed wedding that marks her utter loss of status. As was probably customary, the entrance to the ‘imperial palace’ is in the script and, if a scaenicus were involved, would also be on stage, framed by dazzling sculpture depicting the masters and allies of the imperial domus. But to throw the abject misery of Octavia further into relief, Nero’s statues are here (as the Chorus will presently report) already accompanied, side by side, with the ‘everywhere’ visible ‘glittering effigy of Poppaea’ (undique . . . / . . . Poppaeae fulget imago, 682–4). This stark, iconic interchange poignantly illustrates the scene’s dramatic reversal, with an empress turned divorcee and a harlot turned empress, the latter’s gleaming image hovering high above her evicted predecessor. To underline the contrast, Romans would doubtless imagine and scaenici dress, Octavia and probably also the Chorus in the black garments of mourning: this was the dress donned by the adherents of citizens in hardship, when, for the final time, they crossed the threshold of their previous residence, never to return.42 Whichever the options chosen, this scene, with its built-in potential for a stark, almost operatic contrast between groups in sorrowful black flanked by the shining icons of evil is clearly not envisioned by someone incapable of imagining and visualizing ‘the setting of the action and the movements of its characters’. A format of leave-taking has been adopted, with a protocol of specific movements, gestures, and words familiar to his contemporaries. This is, moreover, not just another tragic-protagonist-cum-Chorus-scene, but a spectacle that, by expanding and adjusting an existing generic framework, is strongly evocative of one of the most burning political issues of Neronian Rome. When the verdict was exile (as Octavia’s would soon be), the departure on the ordained day often became a great emotional affair, with tears and rituals of demonstrative sorrow. So the dramatist knows how to cast, his characters how to perform, and his audience how to respond. As was sometimes imposed by law, Octavia admonishes her loyal adherents not to give cause for provocation by expressing their grief. Her misfortune should not, she declares, bring her adherents harm (or, of course, provoke riots and trouble). To soothe and calm, she bravely plays down the seriousness of her predicament by stressing that she has experienced worse and that she, ultimately, is to benefit by no longer having to see her cruel husband on a daily basis. Her use of the formulaic ‘sister, not consort’ (soror . . . non uxor, 658) acknowledges 42 Dress of mourning used on stage: 164 n. 57. Exiles dressed in sorrow: Ov. Tr. 1.3.89–90; adherents wearing mourning to honour an exile: Cic. Dom. 55; 99; Planc. 98; ban on wearing mourning in sympathy with an exile: Plut. Cic. 31.1; Dio Cass. 38.16.3; Tac. Ann. 6.10.1; 13.32.3. SC de Pisone 73–5; Kelly (2006) 75–7 quotes similar incidents.

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that at first the divorce had been a legally ordinary ‘parting of ways’—but Octavia (and the spectators) know that worse is to come. Already, sinister premonitions start creeping in, the thoughts of deadly dangers by no means avoided lead to the recognition, perhaps in an agitated aside, that no one knowing Nero’s past crimes could entertain such hopes for a safe and quiet withdrawal. In direct self-apostrophe, she asks herself, Oh, you deplorable wreck! Knowing your cursed husband’s past crimes how can you be so mad as to have such hopes? 43

Instead, she bluntly describes herself as the sacrificial victim that for a long time has been set aside and is now destined to mark the festive occasion by being slaughtered. In suggestive contrast to the traditional imagery of exile, she proceeds by upbraiding herself for looking back ‘repeatedly’ (saepe, 665),44 tears in her eyes at the sight of her father’s house (the visual once again serving as complementary to the verbal). The sight, one imagines, makes her hesitate (as it once did Ovid), but then again, she commands herself to be firm and ‘hurry to get out of this house, leave’ (propera tectis efferre gradus/ linque . . . 667–8) what she, in a final line, which is closely paralleled by the way the Chorus will end its song of response, now condemns as the ‘emperor’s bloody palace’ (cruentam principis aulam, 668).

5. THE S ECO ND S ONG OF THE CHO R US RO MANORUM It will surprise no one by this stage that the Chorus’s response (as it is here taken to be) mirrors Octavia’s farewell in length as well as layout, with notable verbal parallels at beginning and end (die/dies 647/670 and principis aulam, 668/689), much like an antistrophe following a strophe in Greek tragedy. As at its first appearance, the Chorus commences by quoting a ‘rumour’ (fama, 273; 670) that has now proved to have real substance, and then turns to comment on the spectacle before its eyes (en, 669). ‘The day’ (dies, 670) had now dawned for Octavia to be cast out: the Chorus once again defining the divorce with reference to space. Now, Claudius’ daughter has indeed ‘left’ (cessit, 671) her ‘chambers’ (thalamis, 671), ousted by ‘cruel Nero’ (diri/ . . . Neronis, 671–2). The chambers have now been taken over by triumphant Poppaea—a fact which the citizens, slow to react and constrained by fear, ‘fail’ (cessat, 674) to oppose. The

Oct. 661–2, ‘Scelerum diri, miseranda, viri/ potes hoc demens sperare memor?’. Oct. 666, ‘respicis’; cf. Ov. Tr. 1.3.60, ‘respiciens’ (Ovid in his doorway tearfully looking back upon family when leaving his house to go into exile). 43 44

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anaphoric rhyming (cessit . . . Claudia . . . cessat) underlines the enforced link between ejection and passivity. This despondent recognition offers the cue for a sad moment of reflection on the not dissimilar fall from power of the ‘Roman people’ (Romani . . . populi, 676). It too once held a position now lost. In the plot this loss of influence matters deeply, because, as emphasized by Octavia and her nurse, and then by Seneca, it is the people—and not, for instance, the Senate—who is represented as the ultimate bulwark of resistance to the threat of Poppaea’s unlawful elevation and the infringement of all that is just and right. By its very admission that it is unable to live up to what it sees as its own obligations, the people clearly share this view. Its admission of failure is reinforced by the evocation of its one-time power—a power, be it noted, that had once been celebrated in the very genre in which the Chorus here, in sadly diminished circumstances, acknowledges its fall from the status of a free agent to that of an onlooker with no role to play but that of humiliating passivity. This meta-theatrical emphasis on the genre’s, and its one-time principal, the people’s, changed circumstances is in crucial respects similar to the historical vision of Tacitus. Years later, he would unmask the autocratic realities of Roman Imperial history by narrating events in a jarringly anachronistic, annalistic format that suited the description of a Republic governed by annually elected magistrates (but not an empire ruled by monarchs). It is by a comparable move that the Chorus here is cast as a shadow of its former self. Where its ancestors no doubt had starred in plays celebrating the ‘exploits of the Romans’ (res gestae Romanorum), this Chorus Romanorum is, by contrast, sadly conscious of its marginalized role, now only able to look back in sad wonder upon its former self, asking (676–81): ubi Romani vis est populi, fregit claros quae saepe duces, dedit invictae leges patriae, fasces dignis civibus olim, iussit bellum pacemque, feras gentes domuit, captos reges carcere clausit? Where is the Roman people’s power now? Often, in olden times, it crushed famous generals, gave laws to an unconquered nation, gave office to citizens deemed worthy, decided for war and for peace, subdued wild peoples and incarcerated captive kings.

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of the Roman people, to which the satirist Juvenal, decades later, gave such memorable expression. The people, Juvenal wrote, that ‘once gave command, office, armies, everything’ now only craved two things, the ‘games and the dole’: . . . dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat panem et circenses.45

In contrast, the dramatist shows a people not only sadly conscious of its present humiliation, but also on the brink of no longer accepting its marginal role, its growing indignation being effectively highlighted by the generic echoes of the old Republican genre. Once, its role had, no doubt also on stage, been manly and active, as befitted the (to use its own, solemnly alliterative words) ‘true Roman manly valour . . . of men of the true mould and blood of Mars’ (vera . . . virtus . . . / Romana . . . verum . . . genus/Martis in illis sanguisque viris, 291–3). As in its first ode, the Chorus now returns to its glorious past, not the heroic age of revolt against tyranny and dawn of liberty, but the more recent heyday of the Republic,46 which, in a brief, but unmistakable allusion, it succeeds in evoking, thus spotlighting the stark contrast with present circumstances. This is achieved by means of words and concepts creating associations with times long past when the Roman people had actual ‘might’ (vis, 676). Back then, in public assembly, it was memorably the custom for a consul to lower his fasces ‘in acknowledgement of the people’s superior majesty and power (vis)’.47 In the times of the classic Republic, citizens had, moreover, petitioned for and, if ‘deserving’ (dignis, 679),48 obtained high office as a gift 45 Juv. 10.78–81; Joseph AJ 19.130 quotes a similar verdict on the bread-and-circuses basis of Caligula’s popularity with Rome’s women and the younger generation. Wiseman (2009) sets out the evidence for traditions contrasting such disparagement with a positive, popularis view of the Roman people. 46 Manuwald (2001) 326 inexplicably finds it unclear whether the Chorus refers to conditions under the Monarchy or the Republic. Surely the latter: under the monarchy there was no popular legislation (Dig. 1.2.2; contrast Oct. 678) and no elections bestowing office and fasces (679) on citizens (cf. 253 n. 48). Ferri (2003) 6–8 and ad 676 consistently waters down the distinct profile of this and parallel passages, seeing them as typical of a ‘republican nostalgia’ often to be found in early Imperial literature. The ‘often’ is completely unwarranted, the nostalgia otherwise recorded having an optimate rather than popularis bend: Wiseman (2008) 204; and the positive portrayal of the Gracchi is unique: 286 n. 28. 47 The consul lowering his fasces: Cic. Rep. 2.53; Livy 2.7.7; Val. Max. 4.1.1 (in respect for the people’s maiestas); parallels to the expression ‘Romani vis . . . populi’: Cic. Dom. 86 on the ‘populi incitati vim iracundiamque’ that once sent Camillus into exile; Livy 26.24.7, ‘vim maiestatemque populi Romani’ (foreigners accepting the terms of a treaty with Rome). 48 The ‘worthy’ and ‘deserving’ receiving Republican office from the people: Cicero Comment. 13; Cic. Mur. 23; the locus classicus is Livy 4.3.7 (Canuleius insisting that the people be given right of free suffrage, even of a Plebeian, provided he is dignus).

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from the people (not just from Emperor and Senate). Then, the people (not just Senate and Emperor) ‘gave laws’ (678). Back then, adherence to the archaic so-called Fetialis ritual highlighted the power over war and peace held by the Roman people—the ritual’s established formula using the unmistakable phrase (pointedly quoted by the dramatist) of the Roman people having ‘ordered war’ (iussit bellum, 680).49 Similarly with the Chorus’s declaration that the people of old had ‘subdued peoples/ and incarcerated captured kings (gentes domuit/ captos reges carcere clausit, 680–1). Again and again since the great days of the Republic, reports of victory and triumph had spoken in precisely such terms of ‘peoples subdued and kings captured’ (domitae gentes, capti reges).50 It is a fair guess that such triumphalist slogans likewise figured prominently in the praetextae of old. Indeed, the fragments suggest, and Horace affirms,51 that these were core characteristics. Now, all of this has long since slipped away, the meta-theatrical contrast showing the once sovereign populus Romanus now performing as Chorus in a play illustrating its humiliated misery, reduced by terror to passive acquiescence. As if further to underline the extent of its humiliation, the dramatist has in fact overstated what had once been the people’s power, giving its one-time corporate might increased weight. True, it had, until Caesar, been described honorifically as having ‘power’;52 it had once ‘given laws’ (678),53 ‘bestowed . . . office’ (dedit . . . fasces, 678–9),54 et cetera, even though the practice, also 49 Cf. Oct. 676–80, ‘Romani vis . . . populi/ quae . . . /iussit bellum pacemque . . .’ and L. Cincius De re militari quoted by Gell. NA 16.4.1, ‘. . . quodque populus Romanus . . . bellum iussit’; similarly, Livy 1.32.13 ‘. . . quod populus Romanus Quiritium bellum cum Priscis Latinis iussit esse’; Livy 37.55.3 has the variant ‘pacem . . . populus iussit’; a pseudo-archaic inscription from the Palatine (ILS 61 = ILLRP 447) reports that the ritual originated with Fertor Resius: INDE P(opulus) R(omanus). DISCIPLEINAM EXCEPIT; cf. Livy 1.32 (with Ogilvie ad loc.). 50 ‘domitae gentes, capti reges’, Tac. Agr. 13.3. In republican elogia, such use of domitae is first attested in ILS 57 (probably a copy of an earlier monument); historians use ‘captos reges’ almost as a formula for victory: Livy 30.17.4; 30.30.14; ‘regem . . . captum’: Cic. Nat. D. 2.6; Val. Max. 1.8.1 (after Pydna). 51 cf. Hor. Ep. 2.1.193 using the repeated captivum . . . captiva to evoke the staged triumph’s emphasis on martial success; in dedications celebrating victory, forms of capt . . . are strongly in evidence: cf. e.g. ILLRP 331 = ILS 21d ([COR]INTHO CAPTA). 52 Republican dedications of foreign cities and dynasts to the Populus Romanus: ILLRP 174–80 = ILS 30–34 (probably the 80’s BC). 53 The expression ‘legem dare’ is rare, but note Cicero (at his most popularis) In Verrem 2.2.49.121, ‘leges . . . ab Senatu quidem populoque Romano datas’; inscriptions demonstratively recording the active role as lawgiver of the populus Romanus: ILS 15 = ILLRP 514, DVM POP(u) LVS SENATVSQVE ROMANVS VELLET (189 BC); 862 = 357, SENATVS CONSVLTO POPVLIQUE IVSSV (c.209 BC); 73 = 409add, IVSSV POPVLI ROMANI (44 BC). It all ended with Caesar. 54 In the Republic the populus had, through elections, bestowed office: in ILS 57 (an Augustan elogium perhaps echoing a second-century original) Aemilius Paullus was was made consul ‘by the people’ (A P[OPVLO F]ACTVS EST (suppl. Mommsen)); Cic. Verr. 2.5.63.163 (again at his most popularis) sees the fasces as the generous gift of the Roman people (‘qui beneficio populi Romani fasces . . . habebat’); cf. Lucr. 3.996, ‘petere a populo fascis’ and Sall. Iug. 85.37, ‘honores non ex merito, sed quasi debitos a vobis repetit (sc. nobilitas)’; with Tiberius, eligibility to be part

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during the Republic, had been to let its elected magistrates and generals take the glory.55 But here the glory is, unusually, fully restored to the people (and in a manner that seems revealingly to reflect the attitudes of the dramatist’s time of writing, Ch. 16.3). At this point, the classic approach of the stern and principled old Republican, Cato the Elder (second century BC), comes to mind. His History of Rome had famously focused on the exploits, not of individuals, but of the people, not of the chosen aristocratic few, but of the many. This emphasis was underscored by his deliberate insistence on referring to generals and consuls by their public office rather than by their family name (thereby no doubt annoying his proud aristocratic peers who, to Cato’s indignation, took poets like Ennius with them to war, thus ensuring a suitable panegyric, be it an epos or praetexta, when they returned).56 A comparable emphasis on the communal and constitutional, on the people driving out tyrants and wielding the powers of liberty, is at work in these choral interludes. The resulting image (some would say, fiction) of a bygone supremacy of the populus Romanus is all the more striking, since it contrasts so violently with the Chorus’s actual condition. They are now the mouthpiece of a people humiliatingly forced to witness its popular favourite unjustly deprived of her status and driven out of her ancestral residence, instead to be occupied by Nero’s unworthy mistress, whose shining statues, jointly positioned next to those of her groom, stand all around them. It has often been claimed that Poppaea only makes a single, brief appearance in this play.57 But with a move that betrays acute awareness of the sophisticated processes of viewing and of vision that characterizes much Imperial literature,58 the dramatist in fact grants her two distinct appearances, of the electorate was severely reduced (Tac. Ann. 1.81.1; Vell. Pat. 2.124.3), the end result being that the Senate and Emperor became the ‘electorates’ bestowing fasces on those co-opted into the Senate. The gradual abolition of popular participation in elections: Levick (2010) 121–5. 55 The people ‘gave laws’, but in practice magistrates took the honour and gave laws their names: cf. LEGES . . . DEDIT, AE (1996) 685 (T. Annius); the people ‘subdued’ its enemies, but the historians almost invariably ascribe the honour for having done so to individual generals: cf. e.g. Cic. Sest. 67, ‘Pompeius . . . gentes feras . . . domuisset’; Livy Periochae 93, ‘P. Seruilius . . . Isauros domuit’; GENTEM . . . DOMVIT, ILS 264 (triumphal arch of the emperor Titus). 56 The ‘nameless’ history of Cato the Censor: Nep. Cato 3.4, ‘bellorum duces non nominavit (sc. Cato), sed sine nominibus res notavit’; still seen as characteristic by Seneca’s coevals: Plin. HN 8.11 (Cato mentioning the name of a brave war elephant, but not of the army’s commander). Kienast (1954) 109–10 aptly quotes Cic. Rep. 2.2, Cato regarding the excellence of the Roman constitution as due, ‘not to the genius . . . of a single man, but of many’ (non unius . . . ingenio, sed multorum). 57 Poppaea only makes a single appearance: Schmidt (1985) 1441; Junge (1999) 205; Seita (2001) 70; Manuwald (2001) 314 ff. (with bibliography); Holztrattner (1995) 117 is among the few to acknowledge that her actual appearance is preceded by that of her statue: Kragelund (2005) 91–3; Boyle (2008) ad 234. 58 Elsner (2007) is an incisive overall introduction (with ample bibliography) to this vibrant field.

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the first in public, the second in private. First, we see her out there in the open, in the mute guise of a statue standing haughtily high (as the dramatist stresses)59 above the commoners. Then, when the setting has changed from the public square to her private chambers, we see Poppaea in the flesh, as it were, now no longer proudly resplendent, but reduced by a nightmare to tears and full of fearful presentiments. Often overlooked60 (the attitude apparently being that the settings and props of a presumed closet drama are of no significance), this twin epiphany creates a startlingly well-calculated crossover between two types of visuality, here her mute, provocatively life like icon, there her real, bodily self, the setting in both cases illustrating her new eminence, while at the same time prefiguring her impending downfall. This effect is achieved head-on. At the sight of her statue high above them, Poppaea’s new subjects suddenly react in revulsion against this all too invasive and ‘oppressive’ (gravis, 682) symbol of its own impotence, calling out for decisive action. Pointing (en, 682) to the ‘all too lifelike’ (similes nimium, 686) statues, the similitude clearly making them more odious, they openly declare their hatred of Poppaea and call for the use of force. In a cry echoing what down through Imperial history was heard when provincials, soldiers, or Roman commoners rose against their masters and tore down statues otherwise entitled to homage and sacrifice—thus manifesting their determination to put an end to the power of an oppressor—the Chorus now calls for Poppaea’s images to be violently toppled and humiliatingly brought low. Once again, the dramatist shows his gift for drawing upon formats familiar from Roman life, in casu the highly ritualized dialogue between Roman commoners and Imperial statues, the latter being the almost ubiquitous token of the ruler and his dynasty’s power. Indeed, such mute marbles and bronzes not only represented, but in certain ways ‘were’ the august persons depicted. The recipients of cult and prayers, these icons inhabited a sphere of interaction where the borderline separating the inanimate from the animate became blurred to the extent of making them vicarious embodiments of the dynast’s active self. The very intention of committing oneself to an attack on Imperial statues was, as Roman law insisted, therefore tantamount to high treason.61 What the Chorus cries out should be done to Poppaea’s statues 59 Poppaea’s statues are ‘heavy on the eyes’ (gravis . . . oculis, 682); the sacrilegious people had, Nero says, ‘raised its gaze’ (attollere oculos, 842) against Poppaea’s sacred face; for the metaphor cf. 280 n. 14. 60 Schmidt (1985) 1444, Schubert (1998) 254–98 and Manuwald (2001) 267–84 discuss the scenography as if the statues were non-existent; Ferri (2003) ad 682 neither comments on the en (‘behold’), the undique (‘everywhere’) nor the gravis . . . oculis (‘heavy on the eyes’), all in that verse; hence, of course, the claim that this is a dramatist, who ‘did not try to visualize his play in dramatic terms’ (132 n. 7). 61 The legal positions quoted in Dig. 48.4.4–6 illustrate the ambiguous role of Imperial images ranging from ‘real to symbolic presence’ (an analogy I owe to the lucid outline by Squire (2011) 162–74); Gregory (1994) 96–9 and Stewart (2003) 261–99 survey manners in which Romans

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stands vicariously for what it proposes to do to her herself. And—what is more serious—these threats are not mumbled in secret, under the breath as it were, but loudly and publicly as if in her august presence, the Chorus angrily pointing (en, 682) at her ‘all too lifelike’ double. Throwing caution to the winds, it will no longer stand idly by. Poppaea has usurped the position rightly belonging to their favourite Octavia. The refusal to acknowledge her elevation illustrates how Nero’s single-minded policy of confrontation has led to the disruption of consensus. Instead of acclamation (under the Empire, the accepted form of popular ratification), a revolt, with its typical symbolic focus on Imperial statues, is now on the point of breaking out.62 Her statues, so runs the popular demand, should be brought low and she herself torn out of the Imperial bed. The Chorus then proceeds to call for the people to take up arms and torches and attack ‘the cruel emperor’s palace’, a demand that, in refrain-like manner, counters the exit of Octavia’s departure with an opposed movement:63 not away from, but aggressively onwards towards ‘the Emperor’s palace’ (principis aulam, 668; 689). There, in the following scene and after a change of setting from outside the Palace to within it, the plot, finally features the much-awaited entrance of the real Poppaea. [Curtain. Exeunt. Change of setting]

Looking back at the two brief scenes of less than a hundred verses that constitute the drama’s central day (the ‘Day of the Wedding’, or ‘. . . Deed’), the plot’s ‘pedimental’ quality (thus John Herington) comes clearly across. Here, at the play’s centre, both scenes share the same backdrop, the Palace facade evoking the glory of the House, whose downfall is here foreshadowed. With compelling power, dramatic setting has here been made the focal point of dramatic action, first when the ghost curses the Palace’s residents, then when Octavia leaves it, looking back in tears, but also horror, and, finally, when the Chorus calls for their fellow-citizens to lay siege to it. The storyline, setting, and props at this point allow the otherwise distinct, but parallel trajectories of Octavia, the bride, and the groom to come together, in direct interaction with the Roman people, one as the object of their compassion, the two others as targets of their indignation and anger. Here, at long last, the avenging powers from below unite with the power of the people in rising against the criminal couple savagely oppressing Rome.

interacted with such images, from garlanding and kissing to mutilation and toppling; Vittinghoff (1936) 13–18 and Varner (2004) focus on the latter aspect. 62 Popular acclamation versus protest: Ando (2000) 145–9; Rowe (2002) 85–101. 63 Smith (2003) 415 is good on the dialectic between Octavia’s flight from and the Chorus attacking the aulam (668; 689).

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14 What Poppaea Saw [Third day, at dawn, at the entrance to the imperial bedchamber. Nurse in attendance. Enter Poppaea, in panic and tears]

In the history of Western drama, this is the single most influential scene of the whole play. The time-honoured device of a dream narrative has here been given a mesmerizing format that came to have a deep impact on Renaissance tragedy (Ch. 17.3–7). What further singles out this scene is the stunning assurance with which the dramatist handles the much-awaited entrance of Poppaea herself. The bright statues (‘all too lifelike’), Nero’s praise, Seneca’s protests, and Octavia’s bitter remarks—none of these has prepared the audience for the manner in which the entrance of Poppaea herself, now, as it were, in the flesh, is turned into a spectacle that from the outset prefigures her meteoric rise and sudden end.

1 . E M P R E S S JO I N S N U RS E Again, this is an effect achieved head-on. First, by visual parallel. The setting is demonstrably—but also eerily—reminiscent of the scene that opened the play’s first day. It is morning; a nurse is in attendance at the doors of the Imperial thalamus—the parallels in setting recall the curse that has already brought down Octavia.1 But once established—in the reader’s imagination or by the setting of a scaenicus—this flashback parallel is swiftly suspended, the nurse’s first line making it clear that the direction of stage movement here is the reverse. This nurse does not join her mistress in her chambers. Instead, it is the nurse’s Imperial ‘charge’ (alumna, 691), who suddenly joins her, not in the stately manner befitting a Roman empress, but rushing out of the bedchamber 1 The parallels between the two dream scenes: 199 n. 20 and Herington (1961) 22; Kragelund (1982) 18; Walde (2001) 374 ff.; Smith (2003) 405 and Harrisson (2013) 151–3; Boyle (2008) 238–40 gives a lucid outline; contra: 199 n. 20.

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in tears and stricken with ‘fear’ (trepida, 690), as if haunted.2 In a sense, Poppaea’s much-awaited first entrance has thereby, from the outset, become a fearful, only briefly arrested exit, which, in its centrifugal direction, more driven than willing, conjures up a trajectory very different from what had been happily anticipated. Commonly unnoticed, this impression is accentuated by local colour. The scene in fact draws its format from a Roman household ritual, the nurse doing what Roman nurses apparently would do on the day following their charges’ wedding. They would wait, probably at the door of the thalamus, to greet their one-time child when making her first appearance as the married mistress of her new household.3 Crucially, such greetings also involved the nurse taking the omens concerning the prospects of the marriage. This rite de passage aspect, with the bride literally—and, for an audience, actually—standing at the real but also symbolic threshold between her past and future, is apparently what would have conditioned Roman responses to this scene. They would have expected the nurse to announce now what the omens were. These omens were drawn from the physical appearance of the bride—and here, they unmistakably presage disaster. Fearful flight is what the nurse immediately sees, her first three words (690) with their expressions for movement (Quo . . . gressum, ‘Whither . . . your step?’) framing the keyword of the entire passage, trepida. It is a ‘fearful’ Poppaea who flees her nuptial chambers. Clearly, the curse is working: the time when others had to fear is now suddenly past. As for Poppaea’s appearance—her expression troubled, tears running down her cheeks—the nurse’s initial barrage of questions is effective in telling the reader what to imagine, and the actor playing Poppaea what to project, not in speech but in eloquent gestures. This is apparently the longest entrance followed by continued silence in extant ancient drama.4 For the impressive duration of twenty-two lines, the nurse keeps asking while Poppaea just stands there, weeping. Again, this is a dramatist who knows how to integrate the verbal and the visual: Poppaea’s gestures and silence here say more than a speech of many words.5 The effect is arresting, and this singular aspect of the 2 Oct. 690–1, ‘quo trepida gressum coniugis thalamis tui/ effers . . .’; ‘. . . redde te thalamis tuis’, 755; these unmistakable references to the implied setting are traditionally ignored: 157 n. 38; most recently by Smith (2011) 270: ‘POPPAEA enters from the palace, followed by her NURSE’ (italics mine). 3 Nurse’s bride ritual performed at ‘daybreak’ (orienti luce) on the day following a wedding: Catull. 64.376–7, ‘non illam nutrix orienti luce revisens,/ hesterno collum poterit circumdare filo’. 4 Mute entrances in ancient tragedy: Ferri (2003) ad 690–1; the conclusion that the nurse’s ‘lengthy description of the marriage (supposedly familiar to Poppaea) reveals a poet whose interest in the dramatic tension is underdeveloped’ seems illogical. By this device dramatic tension is surely increased. 5 Ignoring the visual, Ferri (2003) has no comment on vultu (692), vultus (710), pallor iste and lacrimae (711); in corroboration, Ferri (2008) 502 insists that in the Octavia ‘the use of gestures

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scene likewise made a lasting impact on the theatre of the Renaissance and after (Ch. 17.5). It is the nurse who does the talking, repeatedly asking what is the meaning of the fear, the tears, and the pallor, but when she receives no answers, she changes tack, either because she is going into denial (this cannot, must not be true) or because she decides to keep her head clear. Perhaps, of course, it is a mixture of both. In any case, she now adopts the typical faux-optimistic tone of a classical drama nurse comforting her charge, whom one imagines she now embraces while recapturing the happy moments of the previous day, which had finally witnessed the much prayed-for ceremony confirming that Poppaea had now completely enslaved her love-struck Nero with the aid of her divine sponsor, the ‘most sacred godhead Venus, the mother of Love’ (genetrix Amoris, maximum numen, Venus, 697). The emphasis on Venus seems revealing. The sands of Egypt have recently yielded a third-century papyrus with fair portions of a Greek hexameter poem probably datable to within years of Poppaea’s death and divinization in AD 65. In this panegyric, Venus and Cupid solemnly seek out the dying Poppaea in her chambers in the Palace to assist her in leaving mortality to assume divinity. Her apotheosis takes the form of a chariot flight that takes off from the palace roof and drives upwards, beyond the planets, to her new celestial abode, where Venus then enthrones Poppaea and her divine baby among the stars.6 The dramatist’s pointed use of the language of love poetry probably echoes and affirms this and similar panegyric comparisons, which in Poppaea’s own day, were made publicly explicit by Nero’s decision to build a memorial temple to his late wife in her new identity as Venus-Poppaea. As if to bring home the message, this temple was dedicated by the Emperor himself, not just on any day, but probably on the first of April AD 68, which at the time was the first of the month called Neroneus. On this reckoning, the dedication on Venus’ festive day (1st April is her birthday) symbolically united Nero with his Diva, Venus-Poppaea, officially for ever, but, as posterity is aware, in fact only until early June of that same year, when Nero’s downfall abruptly nullified Poppaea’s divine honours along with Nero’s chances of ever obtaining them.7

and the emotive reference to scenic props are non-existent’ (la gestualità e il ricorso ad oggetti di scena con funzione patetica è inessistente); this is quite simply wrong: Kragelund (2005) 91–3; Boyle (2008) 238–40. 6 Poppaea’s apotheosis: Schubert (2011) (who generously provided an offprint of his editio princeps). The original is of unknown length, but 84 lines have been preserved. The editor rightly observes that historical detail and specific aim (praise for a diva and her diva daughter, who both lost and never recovered their positions on the Roman Olympus after June 68) points to a date between 65 and 68. Prima facie, a later date (the papyrus is third century) seems implausible. 7 Elegy and panegyric: Ferri (2003) and Boyle (2008) ad 695–7; Poppaea’s life of love and abandon: Holztrattner (1995) passim; Kragelund (2005) 78–86; a link between empresses and

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The dramatist’s emphasis on the links between Poppaea and the Goddess of Love and Fertility is, in short, deeply integrated with actual history. However, what was panegyric, and apotheosis even, is here replaced by its opposite. After all, behind and beyond the nurse’s flattering emphasis on Poppaea’s divine backing, no attentive reader or audience can ignore the fact that this link is an aspect that from the outset casts Poppaea as a harbinger of misfortune and death. This is, uniquely, what Venus and her son in all the drama’s previous and ensuing references bring with them: fleeting lust and ensuing doom. In a wedding brokered with such backing (this is the implicit message), the Goddess of Love no longer creates life—she destroys it. But the nurse, deaf to these sinister overtones and now talking herself up into a crescendo of imagined bliss, clings to the happy memories of yesterday’s wedding (as if enumerating them would make the present crisis pass). In a telling contrast to the scene with the statues when the people acknowledged seeing Poppaea ‘paired with’ (iuncta, 684) Nero, the nurse in her pride claims that Senate and people had seen Nero ‘paired with’ (iunctus, 703) Poppaea, an inversion whose pointed hyperbole casts Nero as being utterly besotted with the nurse’s darling. The bride’s startling beauty, the festive arrival of the groom, the ‘omens of future happiness’ (laeta omina, 704), all of it, the nurse concludes, constitutes a clear parallel to the legendary wedding of weddings, in the Golden Age of old, when the gods had joined man in celebrating the union of Peleus and Thetis. But the more the nurse dwells upon yesterday’s happiness, the greater is the contrast with present misery. In the end, she finally acknowledges that all is not well. Her long enumeration of yesterday’s nuptial joys having made no impression, but only highlighted Poppaea’s misery, she finally abandons her frantic and obstinate optimism and asks what has caused her charge’s pallor and tears. Poppaea’s reply constitutes the central part of this brief scene, which now reveals itself to be laid out in the dramatist’s by now familiar tripartite manner. Once again, numerical symmetry emphasizes the divisions: the nurse’s initial speech and queries (22 lines) elicit Poppaea’s central narrative (28 lines), which is then followed by the nurse’s reply and Poppaea’s farewell (16 plus 6 lines making 22 lines). The central passage may be further subdivided, the central dream narrative (16 lines) being framed by two blocks of 6 lines (or, if counting the whole scene, 28 lines). These symmetries and balances emphasize Venus was traditional, but in Venus-Poppaea it reached new heights, with a specific temple dedicated to the cult (oddly, this evidence is commonly ignored (no reference in Holztrattner)); Kragelund (2010) discusses the temple, its Campanian location and the first of Neroneus 68 as its natalis; in a forthcoming paper, Caitlin Gillespie acutely observes that locating the trial of Thrasea Paetus in the Temple of Venus Genetrix (Tac. Ann. 16.27) corroborates the identification; Thrasea was i.a. charged with having denied Poppaea’s divinity: ‘Poppaeam divam non credere’ (sc. Thraseam), 16.22.3.

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the precision and care with which this brief but compelling scene has been laid out.8

2 . E XIT PO PP AE A [Time and setting as before]

Without responding at all to the nurse’s false optimism, Poppaea confesses to being still stricken with fear. Lying in the arms of her groom, she had been visited by a vivid nightmare that, as in an ambiguous and distorted flashback, ‘celebrated’9 her wedding in the guise of a funeral. Not that the memory of her wedding had entirely slipped away: elements of its ritual still blend with the dream’s funerary imagery, thus turning the memory of nuptials into a deadly presentiment. In the nightmare, for instance, her maids of honour were dressed as mourners, their joyful chant replaced by ritual lament. And, instead of the festive sound of wedding flutes (tibiae), she heard the terrifying blasts of funeral trumpets, the alliterative inter tubarum . . . terribilem (721) stressing the sinister, implied contrast. Here, moreover, proceedings were not, as in the nurse’s fancy, witnessed by celestial visitors, but by a ghost from Hades. Poppaea describes how the spectre of Agrippina, with threatening mien, had brandished a blood-drenched ‘wedding’ torch, sheer panic forcing Poppaea to follow this sinister bridesmaid. The link between dream and ghost scene, both having Agrippina in the role of infernal bridesmaid, here becomes explicit, the parallel showing how the ghostly fury was now already at work striking her guilty victims with fear and inner torment. At this point in the narrative, the dramatist, arrestingly, allows the actual setting (in front of which Poppaea stands) to seem to merge with the setting of her wedding night nightmare. As in the dream of Octavia (Ch. 11.2), this effect is achieved by adopting a mise-en-abyme technique that turns the dream into a mirror image of the actual setting.10 The dream thus becomes a spectacle within a spectacle, her vision of this eerie dumb show played out in the space ‘before our very eyes’. It is while standing there, right in front of the bedchamber’s entrance, that Poppaea narrates how she, in her nightmare, imagined seeing her ‘fearful self being forcibly drawn’ (sequor coacta praesenti metu, 724) hither.

8

Numerical symmetry: 205 n. 28; 230–1 with n. 41 and Kragelund (1982) 18. With deft ambiguity, Poppaea’s ‘celebrare’ (719) picks up the nurse’s jubilant ‘celebrasse’ (708), only to deny it. 10 Commenting on what here is called a mise-en-abyme-technique, Smith (2003) 413–15 writes perceptively of ‘gaze penetration’, of laying bare what happens ‘inside’. 9

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Such terror and constraint foreshadow misfortune.11 At Roman weddings, the ritual of escorting the bride to the bedchamber normally reached its joyful climax at the very doorway in front of which the bride-empress is now positioned.12 Drawing strength from the location, which spectators would feel (and readers imagine) would still reverberate with the merry noise of the jubilant group that had escorted Poppaea the day before, her narrative now reaches the crucial point that describes her actual crossing of the chamber’s threshold, a rite de passage that, traditionally, was carefully monitored lest the bride should stumble.13 Such a mishap was considered a bad omen, marring the smooth symbolic transition from one status to another, from maiden to wife, or, as here, from commoner to empress. Here, however, no such helpful support is offered. Instead, the ghostly bridesmaid has prepared a lethal trap. The terrified Poppaea relates how the ground suddenly opened in a yawning abyss before her very feet (an actor would, one imagines, point). Into this threshold-abyss, there, before her feet, she then fell, ‘head first’ (praeceps, 726). Odder still, down there, to her surprise, she sees (cerno, 727) her actual ‘wedding couch’ (toros/ . . . iugales, 726–7). In masterly fashion her narrative here mirrors a rational mind’s ‘surprise’ (miror, 726) at such a bewildering flow of images. Now, finally, they seem to come to a standstill as Poppaea sees herself sitting down, exhausted, on her wedding couch. But worse is to come. The nightmare is not over. It involves the bride, but also the groom. The ghostly bridesmaid has now fulfilled her traditional role by placing the bride on the wedding couch, where Poppaea, as Roman brides should, sits waiting for her husband to enter.14 Here, half way through Poppaea’s narrative, it suddenly changes focus, away from herself and onto her husband. This change of focus has been carefully prepared. It has been perspicaciously noted15 that Poppaea has, up to this point, been observed and described from different angles, but always from the outside: first by Octavia, by her nurse, and by Nero, then, moving closer, by the Chorus commenting on the oppressive sight of her statues, and finally, by her nurse whose long drawn-out take on her entry/exit moves from shock to denial, until she too gives in, asking what has happened. At first she

11

For pursuing or dragging in dreams, cf. Verg. Aen. 4.465–6 (Dido by grim Aeneas); Suet. Nero 46.1 (Nero dragged to his death). 12 Walde (2001) 373–85 highlights parallels with Greek tragedy, but ignores the aspects of stage setting and Roman ritual (263 n. 13–14; 267 n. 26) crucial to the narrative. Boyle (2008) ad 712–39 deftly balances these two dimensions. 13 Bride at doorstep: Catull. 61.166–7 with Kroll ad loc.; Luc. 2.359; pronuba leaving bride seated on the wedding couch: Donat. on Ter. Eun. 594. 14 Bride awaiting groom in the thalamus: Catull. 61.184ff; cf. Petron. Sat. 26 with Hersch (2010) 180–2. 15 Visual framing of Poppaea: Boyle (2008) ad 593–645 and p. 252.

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talks about what she, passively, has seen happen to herself, but then, at the very centre of this great scene, she turns from being the observed to become the observer, through whose gaze we see what she then saw. In the dream’s dense sequence of sixteen verses, three verbs for seeing are used to stress the overpowering impact of this vision, first of her ghostly wedding procession, then, at the point where the verbs of her narrative shift from passive to active and from past to dramatic present, of her abrupt fall into the abyss of death and her surprise at ‘seeing’ (cerno, 727) her chambers and couch down there, in Hades. The direction of her gaze now determines ours as, at the centre of her narrative’s mise-en-abyme, we see what the bride saw, when sitting on the couch, awaiting the entrance of her groom. True enough, he now enters—but it is only when Poppaea reaches the end of the long, drawn-out sentence describing his entry (a verbal deferral offering an actor wonderful possibilities for building up suspense) that it becomes clear that the person she now ‘sees’ (intuor, 728) entering is her former husband, Crispinus. This, of course, is nightmarishly wrong. First, memories of her wedding had been overlaid by fearful presentiments of her funeral. And now, when what she sees is finally beginning to take on a properly nuptial form, she seems recast as the bride of a different, long-abandoned groom (her former husband, Crispinus), who enters with child and friends in his train and then and there starts embracing and kissing her, as in days long past. Only moments later, however, the real groom rushes in, his ‘cruel sword’ (ensem . . . saevum, 733)16 in hand, this potent symbolism seemingly serving to reassert his rightful position as the master in charge. Indeed, this is the dramatist’s fourth such presentation of Nero using his sword, be it by proxy, as when he murdered his mother; figuratively, as when he, in his dialogue with Seneca, repeatedly casts himself as the ruthless user of his (same words!) ‘cruel sword’ (saevo . . . /ense, 530–1); or personally, as when, in the drama’s parallel dream scene, he entered Octavia’s bedchamber and, in a moment of telling ambiguity, ‘violently’ drove his ‘sword’ (violentus ensem, 122) through the side of Britannicus and (or only?) herself. Here, however, there is a crucial difference. Hitherto, Nero’s sword has invariably spread fear and brought death. This, indeed, is its proclaimed merit; this is the aim of the live-by-the-sword policy that Nero was certain would ensure his future apotheosis and the survival of his house (530–1). So here, in this nightmare bridal chamber, where the union ensuring the future of his house is to be consummated, the reappearance of this potent symbolism confirms that all is at risk. The fear others should feel, the fear that Britannicus 16 To Junge (1999) 177, saevum at 733 has no aggressive meaning, a word used so often (statistics in Herington (1961) 26) only being ‘decorative’. The approach is methodologically unsound. In a drama about Nero’s tyranny, words like saevus or saevitia (cf. 331 n. 169) are naturally prominent, but not therefore devoid of meaning.

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in the parallel dream narrative had felt, has here taken hold of Nero himself, the pointed re-use of the word ‘fearful’ trepidus (used at 120 of Britannicus, and at 732 of Nero) suggests that he is no longer the pursuer, but himself pursued; as was Poppaea, when she, at the very opening of the scene, fearfully rushed out of her chambers. The keyword trepida (690) was what the nurse, in her opening line, uses to describe Poppaea’s appearance. Clearly, the curse is now working, the ghost fulfilling her mission. The fear this couple had induced is now what they must feel themselves. As Seneca had warned Nero, in the De clementia and, just recently, to his face: ‘A tyrant must by necessity fear as much as he wishes to be feared’. The deadly dialectic of terror eventually recoiling upon its author is what the dramatist, with a deft move, allows the dream’s intricate two-faced imagery to project. Remembering that the dream has summoned up Poppaea’s former husband, the ambiguity only becomes even more pronounced when Nero, to reassert his power, plunges his sword into his throat—at which point the dream abruptly ends, and utter panic awakens Poppaea. ‘Whose throat?’ readers are bound to ask; and so of course would audiences, as for the second time in this play, they are presented with an engrossing dream account that in its final lines becomes a prophetic riddle. Is it the throat of Poppaea’s former husband, Crispinus (who in fact died on Nero’s orders some years later)? Or that of Nero (whose suicide took a similar form)? More broadly put, does the dream show Nero using his ‘cruel’ (saevum, 733) sword against an enemy? (In addition to being a rival, Crispinus was also accused of having championed the rights of Britannicus17 against those of Nero.) Or does it, as Nero’s fear (trepidus, 732) seems to indicate, show the suicidal consequences of this very policy? The debate concerning this issue goes all the way back to the rediscovery of the text. In manuscripts from the fourteenth century, marginalia illustrate the resulting bewilderment.18 Debate has continued, from the early printed commentaries and translations19 down to the present day.20 It is generally agreed 17 Crispinus’ pro-Claudian political stance in the strife between Claudius’ children and Agrippina’s son: Tac. Ann. 12.42.1. 18 Beginning with Trevet (1315) ad 733 and 751 (= Junge (1999) 39,13; 40,2), manuscripts often have marginalia like ‘suo’, ‘suo proprio’, ‘suomet’, and ‘Neronis’, all serving to spell out who is intended: Kragelund (1982) 72 n. 31 (quoting MSS from Venice, Paris, and London); add Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Laur. plut. 37.6 and 37.10: ‘suo’ (sc. ‘iugulo’); as in the early commentary by Ascensius (1514), the murder of Crispinus also had manuscript advocates: ibid. n. 29. 19 Kragelund (1982) 63–4 lists translations and bilingual editions from Dolce (1560) down to Watling (Penguin, 1966); of these one opts for ambiguity, four for a conjectural version (266 n. 21) making Poppaea the victim, thirteen for the murder of Crispinus, and five for the suicide of Nero; the latter is also the option chosen by J.W. Rose (Ansbach 1777–81), Chaumartin (Budé 1999), and Conte (2004); Smith (2011) 303 n. 44 and Harrisson (2013) 151 reopen the case for the murder of Crispinus. 20 Surveys of the debate (all with copious annotation) in Kragelund (1982) 9–37 and Liberman (1998) xxi; Boyle (2008) ad 732–3 (ambiguous); Schmidt (1985) 1441 and Erasmo

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that there is no sign that this passage has been badly transmitted: the text’s numerical symmetry seems to affirm that nothing is missing.21 The problem, therefore, is seemingly straightforward. Should iugulo (‘throat’, 733) be understood as implying a suo (‘his own’, i.e. Nero’s) or an eius/illius (i.e. Crispinus’)?22 In an author who, with notable frequency, has recourse to using a pronoun to round off a verse (in the dream alone, note: meos, 718; mei, 722; mihi, 725; meos, 727; meum, 729; meos, 730; mea, 732)23 this uncertainty, at one of the rare points where clarification is absolutely crucial, is in itself arresting. All the more so when one recalls that this is the second time the dramatist has used final and meaningful ambiguity to conclude a dream narrative (Ch. 11.2). This parallel is underlined by the fact that both these dream narratives have a last-line-culmination showing Nero using his ‘sword’ (ensem 122; 733), which has thereby almost become his defining attribute. How he uses the sword in the present case is not, however, indicated only once, but— as we shall presently see—a total of five times, each and every time with phrases that in deftly sustained ambiguity continue to present this episode in a manner that makes it impossible to settle the issue, one way or the other. From such sustained emphasis, the overpowering impression is that we are meant to see (and continue to see) this episode in a sinister dual perspective, neither of them ever to monopolize our view; one is intrinsically interwoven with the other.24 The first to corroborate this impression is Poppaea herself. At first speechless with terror, her loving nurse enables her to speak of her nightmare. (2004) 63 (murder of Crispinus); Junge (1999) 176–82 and Walde (2001) 382 (Nero’s suicide); Manuwald (2001) 282 n. 51 reopens the case (266 n. 21) for Poppaea being the victim, whereas Ferri (2003) ad 733 and 752–3 sees Nero’s suicide as ‘the more reasonable ’). A common feature of such debates is acknowledgement that the question is thorny, and individual scholars are therefore constrained to weigh the pros and cons before opting for the solution deemed ‘most probable’. In recent years, the conclusion that the uncertainty effect is deliberate is increasingly gaining ground: 266 n. 24. 21 From Lipsius onwards various sixteenth- and seventeenth- century scholars (listed by Kragelund (1982) 74 n. 53–62; Billerbeck & Somazzi (2009) ad loc.) tried to dispel the ambiguity by means of a conjecture making Poppaea the victim, but the fact that no single conjectural change could provide a uniform solution to all five of the ambiguous passages in question resulted in the project being abandoned from Gronovius onwards. The idea of a lacuna has also been launched, but the strict numerical symmetry argues against this. 22 Curt. 6.7.12 is a close parallel, likewise with adjectives in chiastic order, but with duly clarifying pronouns: ‘Strictum deinde gladium modo illius, modo suo admovens iugulo, supplex idem et infestus, expressit tandem . . .’ (‘Drawing his sword and pointing it now at his lover’s throat, now at his own, now begging and now threatening, he finally . . .’). 23 Preponderance of pronouns in the dramatist’s line ends: Helm (1934) 317; Herington (1961) 26; Hahlbrock (1968) 191 has illuminating statistics: Phaedra has 4.8%, Hercules Oetaeus 13.2%, the Octavia a staggering 22.5%; Carbone (1977) 59 sees such stylistic ineptitude as explaining why the dream may seem ambiguous; but surely, the dramatist’s arresting departure from this otherwise (over-)clarifying practice goes far in confirming that the uncertainty is deliberate: Kragelund (1982) 13. 24 Ambiguity deliberate and based upon ex eventu knowledge: Kragelund (1982) 36–7; Fitch (2004a) 581 n. 42; Boyle (2008) ad 732–3.

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Summing up (as classical dreamers frequently do)25 which aspects she felt most disturbing, she first asks ‘What had the ghosts of the dead threatened?’ No Roman would be in doubt. Roman wedding days were chosen to avoid those days when the ‘ghosts of the dead’ were free to return26—but here, the ghost of Agrippina has officiated as bridesmaid, leading Poppaea directly to the symbolic threshold at which she had fallen, head first,27 down into her infernal bedchamber. Here, there is, in contrast to the papyrus from Egypt, no apotheosis on offer. As in other Imperial dreams, death is what this inverted apotheosis imagery betokens.28 Her second question, however, is arresting in its ambiguity: ‘What was this blood of my husband’s (coniugis . . . mei, 739) that I saw?’. As Roman readers and audiences well knew, dreaming of wounds and blood29 was another clear sign of future misfortune and death, but, whether because of bewilderment or the afterglow of prophetic trance, Poppaea’s cautious choice of the word ‘husband’s’ (where ‘Crispinus’ or ‘Nero’s’ would have settled the matter, once and for all) once again leaves open whose blood she had seen (in the previous lines, she has used precisely the same words for both of them: coniugis . . . mei, 722 (of Nero) and coniugem . . . meum, 729 (of Crispinus).30 25 Cf. Poppaea’s ‘Heu quid minantur inferum manes mihi/ aut quem cruorem coniugis vidi mei’ (738–9) with Stat. Theb. 9.622 (likewise of a dream) ‘quid trepidae noctes somnusque minantur?’; similarly, 8.633 and Ov. Met. 9.495 ‘quid mihi significant ergo mea visa?’; like Poppaea, dreamers are sometimes specific, asking the meaning of particular signs: Verg. Aen. 2.286 ‘. . . cur haec vulnera cerno?’; Ov. Her. 13.107–8, ‘Sed tua cur nobis pallens occurrit imago/ Cur venit a verbis multa querela tuis?’; for parallel uses of wounds (i), paleness (ii), and laments (iii) as signs of misfortune in Roman literary dreams, see e.g. (i) 267 n. 29; (ii) Verg. G. 1.477–8; Aen. 1.354; Ov. Met. 11.691; Valerius Flaccus 3.59; and (iii) Pacuvius Iliona, TRF3 fr. 4R; Cic. Div. 1.59; Tib. 2.6.38; Verg. Aen. 2.270; Sen. Troad. 449; Luc. 3.10; Stat. Theb. 9.599 and Achil. 1.132. 26 Days unsuited for weddings because visited by ghosts: Ov. Fasti 2.553 ff.; 5.419–92; in how far such injunctions were respected is debatable (Hersch (2010) 46–51 with good summary), but the feeling apparently remained influential. 27 Parallels in other Roman dreams to Poppaea’s falling, ‘head first’ (praeceps, 726): Accius Brutus, TRF3 1.8–9R; Cic. Div. 1.58; Stat. Theb. 9.576; Suet. Cal. 57.3 (praecipitatum); Dio Cass. 67.16.1; Hist. Aug., Severus 22.2 (praeceps). 28 Successful emperors dream of full-blown apotheosis (i), the unsuccessful dream of apotheosis denied (ii): (i) Suet. Caes. 81.3; Dio Cass. 44.17.2 (Caesar flying to heaven, joining Jupiter); Hist. Aug., Severus 22.2 (Severus flying to heaven on an eagle-drawn jewelled chariot); (ii) Suet. Cal. 57.3 (Jupiter casts Caligula down from heaven); Dio Cass. 67.16.1 (Domitian’s patron goddess Minerva on a chariot hurling herself into an abyss); Hist. Aug., Severus 22.2 (on arrival in heaven, Severus is briefly fearful ‘that he will fall down, head first’ (ne praeceps rueret); Weber (2000) 435 ff; 461 ff. and 445 ff. unfolds the implications of this imagery. 29 In dreams in Roman literature, the appearance of a wounded person presages misfortune for others (references in Kragelund (1982) 71 n. 5), or it announces the misfortune (Accius Brutus, TRF3fr. 1.9R ‘saucium’), or death of the person who appears bearing such wounds: Verg. Aen. 1.353 ff.; Val. Max. 1.7.8; Oct. 122; Valerius Flaccus 1.47 ff. and 5.340; Suet. Caes. 81.3; Apul. Met. 4.27 and 8.8. 30 To Ferri (2003) ad 733 ‘quem cruorem coniugis, at 739, can only be referred to Nero’ (italics mine). Unfortunately, Ferri neither argues his case nor meets the objections: coniugem is the word Poppaea uses for both her husbands. So how can this refer solely to Nero?

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To be sure, scholars have until the present day insisted that Poppaea must mean one or the other—but in their impatience they fail, I think, to wonder, let alone explain why she, as well as her nurse, is so consistent in not telling who it was. Here, as indeed elsewhere, following the text where it attempts to take us seems imperative. Roman audiences had a keen ear for poetic imagery and prophetic ambiguity, above all in contexts like the present where the uncertainty is deeply embedded in a recurrent and, for the drama’s message, crucial type of imagery asserting that ‘he who lives by the sword will die by the sword’. This is what the drama’s appropriation of this characteristically Senecan political imagery has carefully prepared, the repeated use of parallels and contrasts deftly building up to this emblematic dream scene that brings the motif of Nero using his sword to its sinister, double-edged culmination. As if to anchor this solidly and bring home the fearful dialectics of this forecast, the dream of Poppaea is not left without comment. Far from it, Poppaea’s questions lead to answers, the nurse now resuming her traditional task of offering her prognosis for the future of bride and groom. True to form, this prognosis is not just positive, but almost grotesquely optimistic. However, the crude panegyric repeatedly affirms what even the most insistent denial cannot blot out, and the nurse’s efforts only make it even more painfully clear what seems truly worrying about the prospects of Poppaea and her ‘husband’. With what is probably a bow to the genre’s Republican past (and as we shall see, with enormous impact on its Renaissance future: Ch. 17.3), the nurse sets her understanding out in a manner echoing that of the dream interpreters in Accius’ Brutus (Ch. 4.1). This, in fact, is not the only echo: the arresting sequence of the dreamer first falling, then seeing what will happen is, I think, a further, deliberate cross-reference back to the Republican classic. In any case, the psychology is here not used in contrast to the prophetic. In the nurse’s spin, Poppaea’s dream has aspects that are caused by preoccupations, fears, or longings, but it also holds real prophecy. First the somatic aspects: Small wonder, she says, that Poppaea dreamt of ‘husband’ (coniugem, 742—there that word again!), wedding, and wedding couch, when lying in the arms of her ‘new spouse’ (novi/ . . . mariti, 743–4). The nurse’s reference to the dream’s ‘husband’ is pointedly cautious, saying neither more nor less than did her mistress; in fact, in a sense, the nurse says less, since she never directly admits that Poppaea had dreamt of both her husbands. And of the bloodshed, not a word. This is not an interpretation aimed at clarifying, but at prevaricating. The nurse does, however, acknowledge the tears of the mourners, shrewdly insisting that they mourned Octavia’s divorce, not Poppaea’s wedding. Moving on to prophecy, the nurse first picks out the torch carried before Poppaea by ‘the Augusta’ (as she euphemistically calls the grim ghost). A ‘shining’ future (i.e. as a new Augusta, a title Poppaea received after the birth of her child in January 63) is what she claims the torch

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betokens (its blood-stained quality making prospects ‘shining’ indeed). Poppaea’s infernal wedding chambers are in the nurse’s dizzying spin (that deftly leaves out all reference to her fall) an unmistakable sign that her couch will be solidly anchored within its ‘eternal abode’ (aeternae domus, 751). The overblown optimism here, by prophetic mishap becomes unintentionally sinister, since the expression chosen to vouch for the dynasty’s eternity was commonly used to denote a tomb of the dead.31 The shrillness of the nurse’s optimism reaches its peak when she comes to the scene with Nero ‘sheathing’ his sword in a—his own?—Crispinus’?—‘throat’ (iugulo, 752). For the second time, iugulo stands unspecified, the nurse remaining as uncommitted about identity as was her mistress, but once again putting a perversely optimistic spin on the episode (and this time deftly bringing a flattering echo of the De clementia into the exegesis):32 ‘Nero will fight no wars, but sheathe his sword in peace’ (sardonic laughter probably being how near-contemporaries would greet this forecast: peace indeed). Returning to the here-and-now, the nurse, seemingly to her own satisfaction, concludes that Poppaea has reason to calm down and cheer up. With such shining prospects there is, she insists, no reason at all why Poppaea should not ‘return herself to her wedding chambers’ (redde te thalamis tuis, 755). But Poppaea pays no heed to these insistent entreaties.33 Instead of returning there, she will leave to visit the sanctuaries and pray the gods avert the evil threatened by her nightmare, letting it befall her enemies rather than herself. Also the nurse should pray for the permanence of Poppaea’s present status—a prayer that by its very nature signals deep unease. Putting actions to her words, one assumes that Poppaea, leaving her nurse behind, now resumes her briefly arrested exit, her movements confirming how the chamber, from which, at the scene’s beginning, she came running out, and that she now refuses to re-enter, has acquired an accursed quality, her dream revealing it to be a chamber of death. Indeed, Poppaea’s whole brief stage presence has, in a sense, been nothing but a prolonged exit that, step by step, shows her being driven out of her thalamus. This centrifugal movement is only arrested by her nurse for a brief while, her eagerness to bring comfort

Domus aeterna is, in Boyle’s phrase, ‘brilliantly ambiguous’: Liberman (1998) 116; Ferri (2003) 750–1; Boyle (2008) ad 750–1; sometimes used of the imperial house (ILS 6049 PACI AETERNAE DOMVS (Flavian)), it is a standard designation for a tomb, from the Republic onwards: ILS 8341 and 5213 = ILLRP 798; 803 (both Republican); ILS 8077 (first century AD); 7814; 8079; 8081; 8240; 8246; et passim. 32 Nero’s peaceful sheathing of the sword: conditum, immo constrictum apud me ferrum est e.q.s., Sen. Clem. 1.1.3 (229 n. 34); by contrast, the dramatist’s Nero claims that Augustus only ‘sheathed’ (condidit) his sword, when fear sufficed to hold the empire in check: Oct. 526. 33 Smith (2003) 418 is good on the way the nurse’s insistent re . . . re . . . re . . . (recollige . . . recipe . . . / . . . redde, 754–5) betrays her fear that the clock cannot be turned back. 31

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merely serving to spell out even more clearly the deadly prospects for the occupants of that chamber. Is this a dramatist unable to ‘visualize the setting of the action and the movement of its characters’? Not at all. In this tense scene, he has in fact succeeded brilliantly in forging setting, movement, and the dream narrative’s mise-en-abyme into a stunningly vivid tableau that, in its ensemble, reaches out to forecast the very end of Nero’s life. Since this latter prediction has crucial implications for our understanding of the dramatist’s time of writing, analysis of the script will in the following pages briefly be suspended in favour of contemplating, first, what Poppaea, in historical terms, actually ‘saw’ and, second, what this reveals about the historical outlook of the play’s original audience.

3. A P ROPHECY F ITTING THE F ACTS Abandoned and in a panic, Nero committed suicide on 9 or 11 June AD 68 in a hideout on the outskirts of Rome. The poison kept in store for this emergency was not to hand, so when captors were approaching, he ‘put his sword to his throat’ (ferrum iugulo adegit).34 Since the early fourteenth century, the dramatist’s repeated references to Nero’s (thus his mother) or her ‘husband’s’ (thus Poppaea) dying by having his ‘throat’ (iugulum/-o, 630; 733, 752) cut has rightly, if not unanimously, been taken as proof that these scenes imply knowledge of what really happened. As a consequence, it has, by and by, become a matter of dispute whether Seneca, who died in April 65, was actually the author. This was, after all, something Seneca could not possibly have foreseen. Or could he? For centuries, this narrow issue of authorship came to dictate most scholarly (as opposed to artistic: Ch. 17) approaches to this drama, its lost title page (as it were) considered more interesting than the play itself. In defence of Seneca’s authorship, it has been objected that neither of the above references are sufficiently ‘accurate’ to prove first-hand knowledge. In Agrippina’s prophecy, Nero pays for his crimes by offering his ‘throat to his enemies’ (iugulum hostibus, 630); and in Poppaea’s narrative, an elaborate never-ever setting involving not just Nero, but herself, her former husband, and their child takes us a great distance away from the classic death scene familiar from Suetonius. Even the murder of Crispinus has to some seemed wrong: he died by his own hand (but, of course, on Nero’s orders). However, objections cast in this mould fail to acknowledge that in this type of narrative a ‘the throat’: Suet. Nero 49.3; the allusion clearly based upon ex eventu knowledge: thus already Collucio Salutati in 1371, 369 n. 16. 34

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one-to-one photographic accuracy is neither what is intended nor what can be expected. Nero did not, for instance, murder Octavia in the manner shown in her dream—but still, its meaning is unmistakable. This is a symbolic way of prefiguring her death and, at the same time, a deft strategy aimed at introducing and highlighting a group of recurrent dramatic symbols that the dream of Poppaea, in sustained parallel and contrast, then resumes and brings to deadly culmination. Reading techniques failing to take into account this symbolic and dramatic dimension have derailed much of the authorship debate. What such a realist fallacy ignores is that literary prophecy works by its own stylistic rules, and its elaborate and well-established world of symbols35 brought in line here with some of the drama’s central themes: a dynasty defended by the use of the sword and by terror—and, beneath it all, the fear of a backlash and revenge. Hence, Agrippina’s detailed list of all the successes that led up to the catastrophe: the Golden House, the visit of the Parthian royals in 66, and the generous support of Eastern monarchs for Nero’s armies attempting to quell the rebellion in Judea (66–8). The emphasis is on the reversal and, incidentally, some of the successes to which she refers are too late for Seneca to have seen, let alone foreseen. In Poppaea’s dream narrative, an artistic ambition is clearly at work to create a mise-en-abyme with a sequence of ambiguous images that link dramatic setting with future catastrophe. The dense array of symbols makes this a scene of stunning artifice. Here, the dramatist brings together a significant number of his plot’s main themes: the wedding as symbol of the dynastic future; the sword as symbol of its fear-inspiring might. However, these symbols are deftly, as it were, merged with those of revenge and fear-inspiring retribution. The merger at no point allows one aspect completely to overshadow another. Poppaea’s funeral, for instance, still vaguely resembles a wedding and Nero’s suicide a murder. By this nightmarish transformation, unresolvedly hovering midway between the positive and the negative, what had been ‘the symbols of the imperial couple’s future’ are here at the same time ‘the symbols of their undoing’.36 In Antiquity, such prophetic ambiguity oscillating between a seemingly pleasing obverse and a fearful reverse has numerous parallels.37 In the present context it is noteworthy that some of the more notable stem precisely from the period when Nero was toppled. To mark his ‘victory’ over the Pisonian conspirators, Nero had, for instance, dedicated the dagger intended for himself 35 Conventional symbols used in Roman dream narratives: 267 n. 25; 27–9 and Kragelund (1982) 71 n. 3–21. 36 Kragelund (1982) 30. 37 Puns (i) and ambiguities (ii) in ancient dream narratives: (i) Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2,4R; Apuleius Metamorphoses 11.20; 11.27, Dio Cass. 75.8.2 (from a Latin source); (ii) Soph. El. 410 ff.; Eur. IT 42 ff; Ov. Her. 16.43–50; 17.239–42; Curt. 3.3.4; App. B. Civ. 2.68.

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to Jupiter Vindex (‘the Avenger’). Later, when the revolt broke out, which, tellingly, it would have seemed, was spearheaded by Iulius Vindex (‘the Avenger’, Ch. 13.2), the true import of this dedication suddenly stood revealed, its wording not just a reference to Nero’s revenge, but also to revenge on Nero himself. Similarly, when Nero in early 68 had a speech read out to the Senate affirming that Vindex and his followers would soon be punished and meet their death, the Senate, by prophetic mishap, responded ‘You will do so yourself, Master’ meaning, of course, that Nero would see to it. But sinisterly, the expression also means that it was he himself who soon would get his deserts!38 In neither of these prophetic anecdotes is there a single correct meaning that unequivocally excludes its opposite. Strikingly, both are at the same time valid, the duality illustrating hubris and its punishment, and this with memorable linguistic brilliance. Whether in parallel or otherwise, the dramatist aimed for a similar effect when choosing a kind of dream that has ambiguity built into it, as it were. Happy memories that alternate with fearful anticipation, wishes that are granted and then denied—as an ancient commentary on Vergil affirms, this is ‘a kind of dream familiar to all mankind’.39 Developing the dream sequence by casting it as Poppaea’s memories of her wedding ceremony, this choice of model allows the dramatist first to let us hear of her wedding-funeral cortège with its clear-cut role for the ghost of Agrippina, then deftly introduce the arrival of her ‘husband’—in a nightmarish progression, first her former one, Crispinus, and, then, in seeming resolution, her new husband Nero—her horrified awakening leaving it open whom the bloodshed involved. As for the presence of Poppaea’s son by Crispinus, it stands in chilling contrast to the outcome of her wedding with Nero: their first-born died within four months, and Poppaea’s second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage that also proved fatal for the mother, her final parturition only breeding death. The boy’s presence is, moreover, an integral part of the prophetic forecast for all those entering Poppaea’s ‘chamber of death’. As confirmed by numerous dream parallels, the order40 in which these wedding-spectres make their appearance is in fact significant: Poppaea only briefly outlived Seneca and died in early summer 65; her former husband had by then been exiled and died at Nero’s bidding in 66; apparently, there then followed the death by drowning (on Nero’s orders, rumours said) of their teenage son.41 As in the dream, Vindex: Tac. Ann. 15.74.2; ‘Tu facies, Auguste’: Suet. Nero 46.3. ‘a kind of dream familiar to all mankind’: 197 n. 17. 40 Order of the dream narrative’s events mirroring the actual outcome: Chickering (1910) 74; similarly in other Roman dream narratives: Kragelund (1982) 36 quoting Accius Brutus, TRF3 fr. 2.5R ff.; Ov. Fasti 3.27 ff. Amores 3.5; Valerius Flaccus 5.334 ff.; Curt. 3.3.4; similarly, Boyle (2008) ad 732–3. 41 Crispinus’ exile and death: Tac. Ann. 15.71.4; 16.17.2; death of Nero’s stepson, the son of Crispinus and Poppaea: Suet. Nero 35.5; Tacitus’ not mentioning such a signal family death prior 38 39

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Nero’s crimes then finally caught up with him (June 68), his suicide suggestively shown to be the inevitable consequence of his policy of terror. The narrative’s pointed last-line reference to the ‘throat’ probably sending a jolt of recognition through the audience hearing what Poppaea (fore)saw. The deaths, in that order, first of Poppaea, then Crispinus, then their boy, and finally Nero: this is something Seneca, whose own death preceded them all, could not possibly have foreseen. Far from it, this sequence is framed in a manner that with the insight that benefits from hindsight, probably of a nearcontemporary (Ch. 16), has reconfigured the historically fortuitous into a new and utterly compelling dramatic whole.

to the break-off of his text in mid-66 may well point to a death date for the boy after that of his father, i.e. after mid-66, but prior to June 68: Griffin (1984) 196; 289 n. 40.

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15 The Revolt, the Fire, and the Ship of Death Following the reflections at the end of the previous chapter on the historical and chronological implications of the splendid bedchamber scene, it is time to resume the plot where we left off, at the point when Poppaea insists on leaving the stage. In this final third of the play, the poignant and repeated emphasis on movement will be crucial.

1. CHORUS OF COURTIERS AND MESSENGER [In the Palace]

The sinister implications of Poppaea’s fearful exit (or rather, eviction) from the very chambers symbolizing her Imperial elevation are accentuated by a hymn, in lyric anapaests intoned by a Chorus of courtiers. This is perhaps a solemn wedding-morning tribute to their new mistress and presumably it is to be chanted while she, accompanied by her entourage (Roman grandees rarely went unescorted), leaves the stage. In Senecan tragedy, it is not uncommon for tragic heroines to have a mute entourage as well as their own chorus of attendants or even intimates. In the present scene, this is probably the convention at work.1 In dramatic terms, the advantage is that even after Poppaea’s exit, the stage is occupied by a body of people who are seeing and interpreting events in a manner favourable to her. Still unfamiliar with the events threatening the present order, their tune is therefore suitably festive, richly decked out with Greek myth and choice Greek word forms (note Europen, Sparte, Tyndaridos, Atriden 766, 773, 775, 816).2 Keen on drawing parallels, the dramatist has made its licentious imagery re-evoke the brief lyric canticum (201–21) with which Octavia’s nurse, in what now emerges as deliberate contrast, had outlined the solid, moral values of her mistress as 1 2

Second chorus: Smith (2003) 419. Indirect characterization through Greek spelling: Boyle (2008) ad 766 ff.

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opposed to the transient world of insubstantial, brothel-like pleasure repeatedly associated with Poppaea. Like its counterpart, the People’s Chorus, this Palace Chorus (a modern, but apt label (Ch. 10.1)) reports what rumour (fama, 762) relates; not, however, about chaste virgins and past heroism, but about Jupiter’s erotic exploits: seducing Leda, abducting Europa, and now, the Chorus feels certain, strongly tempted to leave his starry abode and seek ‘your embrace, Poppaea!’ The second half of the hymn expands this parallel, insisting that Jupiter would in fact prefer Poppaea’s alluring embrace to those of Leda and Danae. Further developing the theme, the Chorus brings in Leda’s daughter, Helen of Troy, the beauty of Prince Paris’ bride now eclipsed. Poppaea’s ‘face’ (vultus, 775) is more beautiful than Helen’s, a comparison that brings in a discordant note since the aspect of Poppaea and the words of the nurse have just let us see her tearful and frightened true face. And the hymn becomes even more jarringly sinister when the Chorus, whether by inadvertence or oracular force, brings the panegyric to an inauspicious but logical conclusion, reminding us how such beauty as Helen’s provoked a war and brought down Troy. Helen and Paris, Troy and Rome. The hymn evokes analogies to which the dramatist has already alluded—Nero challenging Seneca by casting himself as more fortunate than Paris, the beauty of his bride surpassing Helen. For a near-contemporary audience (which it probably was (Ch. 16)) such recurrent imagery may well have had a strongly topical element. In a verse, which, as, doubtless, all the literary minded would have known, had earned the praise of Seneca, Nero had evoked the beauty of Venus’ own doves.3 In his epic Troica, on the legend of Troy, Nero had, in contrast to standard traditions, at a significant point recast Paris as a hero surpassing Hector. In his praise of Poppaea’s beauty, Nero is, moreover, known to have gone to great lengths.4 In a context focusing on the exitum, on the consequences of past deeds, this web of analogies gives rise to other thoughts. The mere mention of Rome’s ancestral double, Troy, being enough to remind audiences of all the misfortune that sprang from such fateful beauty. These sinister forebodings are then, as it were, confirmed by the noisy entrance of a messenger whose very aspect, as outlined by the Chorus, tells 3 Imp. Nero fr. 2, FPL (Morel/Büchner) = Sen. Q. Nat. 1.5.6: ‘colla Cytheriacae splendent agitata columbae’; Seneca compliments Nero’s verse as ‘disertissime’. 4 Nero’s Prince Paris stronger than Hector: ‘sane hic Paris secundum Troica Neronis fortissimus fuit, adeo ut in Troiae agonali certamine superaret omnes, ipsum etiam Hectorem. qui cum iratus in eum stringeret gladium, dixit se esse germanum; quod adlatis crepundiis probavit qui habitu rustici adhuc latebat’, Imp. Nero, fr. 10, FPL (Morel/Büchner) = Serv. on Verg. Aen. 5.370 with comments by Sullivan (1985) 91–2; Schubert (1998) 95–100; Ripoll (2000) 92–8 and Champlin (2003) 82–3; Troy as Rome’s ‘other’: Erskine (2001) 17–42 (with bibliography); at Poppaea’s funeral, Nero had put unconventional emphasis on her ‘beauty’ (forma) and other such (impermanent) gifts of Fortune: ‘laudavitque ipse (sc. Nero) apud rostra formam eius’, Tac. Ann. 16.6.2.

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of crisis and imminent alarm. Bursting the lyrical bubble, the metre once again changes to prosaic iambics, as the messenger from the Prefects of the Imperial Guard brings orders to the Praetorians guarding the Palace to man all posts and prepare the defence of the imperial residence against ‘the people’s rage’ (furor populi, 781). In the streets of Rome, a revolt has broken out. Fearful of the consequences, the Prefects have mobilized the praetorians, but the rage does not diminish, it only gains in force. In rapid exchanges, the Chorus asks for, and the messenger gives, an account of the cause and objectives of the revolt: the people support Octavia and insist on her being reinstated in her ancestral residence and her ‘brother’s bed’ (toros . . . fratris, 790), this being her ‘rightful share in the empire’ (debitam partem imperi, 790). This use of imagery, of the spatial connoting the status rightfully belonging to Octavia but now usurped by Poppaea, invests the very setting of this scene, be it imagined or otherwise, with an aura of doom. Clearly, this is a house threatened from within and without, by the infernal powers that demand revenge, which have already driven Poppaea out of her new thalamus, and by the people now demanding justice for Octavia. A scaenicus wishing to add to the sense of urgency could do so by means of offstage shouts and soldiers running to and fro. In any case, the dramatist’s gift for linking setting and plot is once again made strikingly evident when the messenger, in his reply to the Chorus’s indignant objection that Poppaea now occupies the thalamus previously epitomizing Octavia’s position, suddenly becomes more expansive, now offering the Chorus a detailed report of what has actually taken place on the streets of Rome. In a narrative of unique historical interest (this apparently being the earliest detailed description of a Roman street riot resulting in the toppling of the statues of a hated dynast), the dramatist once again draws upon a typically Roman format, at the same time creating a powerful parallel and contrast to the scene on the wedding day, where Poppaea’s lifelike statues, in marble and resplendent bronze, were still standing high above the heads of the commoners. This is, to rephrase Alfred Hitchcock’s renowned recommendation, a dramatist using his props and settings one hundred per cent.5 Far from just being there, they constitute an integral part of the narrative itself. When first seen and discussed, the People’s Chorus had angrily called for the images of the stone queen (as it were) to be toppled, and this is now, the messenger relates, what is actually taking place. Throughout Rome, Poppaea’s statues have been cast down, brutally dismembered (as in a lynching), dragged about,6 5

Alfred Hitchcock quoted from Jacobs (2007) 11. Oct. 797–8, trahunt/diducta laqueis (sc. cives), ‘they pull the (statue’s) limbs apart and drag them around with ropes’; cf. Juv. 10.58 ff. and Dio Cass. 58.11.3 (Seianus’ statues ‘dragged’ (ŒÆıæ) away); Plut. Galba 8.5 (Nero’s overturned statues ‘dragged’ across the Forum); Suet. 6

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trampled upon and defiled with excrement.7 True to form, words of scorn and incantation (so offensive that the messenger dares not repeat them) have accompanied this ritual of utter degradation.8 Such rituals of mutilation were often seen as having voodoo-like magic power, the images feeling the pain and humiliation as vividly as if they were the subject herself. Indeed, it seems characteristic that Agrippina, in her ghost scene, complains almost as much about the damage to her statues as to ‘herself ’. Nero likewise acknowledges the magic merging of symbolic and real presence, when referring to the people’s street violence as if it had savaged Poppaea herself.9 In short, it is with admirable dramatic economy that the glittering props, which spectators would have seen and readers imagined as tokens of Poppaea’s new status, are evoked again here, but now as part of a trajectory that on Poppaea’s first day as empress already prefigures her ultimate downfall.10 The messenger rounds off his narrative with a brief summary of the people’s demands. They are now preparing to blockade the Palace, force the Emperor to hand over his new wife to the people’s anger, and reinstate Octavia in her rightful place. This is what he now exits to tell Nero (his exit, probably through the central porta regia, provides a means of indicating where, in a brief while, Nero will make his final entrance). The Palace Chorus, now left alone, takes sides emphatically in the conflict, directly reproving the rioters and, correctly, foreseeing what Nero’s response will be. Returning to the lyrical format, it resumes the Greek erotic imagery of its interrupted song, but tales of female beauty are now replaced by images of males in the grip of aggressive passion, jealousy, and self-destructive anger. Imagery of fire, revenge, and bloodshed is used to prefigure Nero’s actual response, the song once again returning to Troy, now anticipating the havoc of

Nero 24.1 (statues ‘dragged with the (henchman’s) hook’ (unco trahi) as were those executed); while dragging the emperor Vitellius to his death, his ‘statues’ (IæØ ) were treated likewise: Dio Cass. 65.21.2. 7 ‘caeno’ (799) also means ‘dirt’ and ‘mud’, but ‘excrement’ seems to have been a treasured component in such rituals: Suet. Nero 24.1 (the statues of rival singers toppled and thrown into ‘the latrines’ (in latrinas); Juv. 10.64 (metal from Seianus’ statues used for piss-pots); Suet. Vit. 17.2 (the mob pelting the dying Vitellius with ‘dung and excrement’, stercore et caeno); cf. Eutr. 18.5. 8 Damnatio with deeds matched by ‘offensive words’ (verba, 799; voce dira, 855): Dio Cass. 65.21.2: ‘many words of insult, many words of scorn’ ( ººH b ª º ø, ººH b ŒÆd ÆNåæH K غ ª ø ç Ø) were pronounced over Vitellius’ toppled statues on the day of his downfall. 9 Physical affront to Poppaea’s statues equal to an affront to ‘herself ’ (‘coniugem caram . . . / violare . . . incesta manu/ et voce dira’, 853–5): Vittinghoff (1936) 13; Varner (2004) 3 quoting e.g. Plin. Pan. 52.4–5 (Domitian); Dio Cass. 58.11.3 (Seianus); John of Antioch fr. 120, Mariev (Nero); modern parallels abound, above all from cultures also otherwise venerating images: Luzzatto (1998) passim (the images and corpse of Mussolini, from 1943 onwards). 10 Poppaea’s statues were thrice overturned, after her wedding in 62, after Nero’s fall in 68, and at some point after the fall of her old paramour Otho: Tac. Ann. 14.61.1; Hist. 1.78.2.

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anger and bloodshed that Cupid will cause. In a deft shift from past to present, from Troy of old to Troy reborn as it were, the Chorus then concludes by confessing that it now fears what powerful violence the un-gentle god will bring with him—a question providing the frame and cue for Nero’s second, this time unaccompanied, entrance. As if to mark the transition from the description of an anger of celestial proportions seizing the Emperor to Nero’s actual entrance, the choral interlude of fourteen verses is symmetrically highlighted at the centre of a sequence framed by two anapaestic sections (2  26). The preparatory dialogue between messenger and Chorus of Courtiers is the same length as Nero’s matching monologue, whereas the length of the messenger’s account is mirrored in the length of the Chorus’s final ode (2  14). There is symmetry and balance but, at the same time, there is a structure underlining the dynamics of this hectic interlude which leads directly to the exitum.

2. NERO AND THE FIRE OF ROME [Time and setting as before. Enter Nero, alone]

Like exits, entrances are part of drama’s syntax, sometimes working by means of contrasts (as in the entrances of Poppaea and the messenger) or, as here, as the climax of a sustained crescendo. Nero’s second entrance is, once again, an announced epiphany of evil, the God of Love here literally transformed into a sinister ‘arsonist’ (incendiarius), his burning passion justifying the fact that Amor sometimes was called thus.11 But the passion here burning is of a harmful, deadly nature. Now reverting to the Senecan manner of a tyrant’s monologue preparing for an ensuing debate with a counsellor, the initial soliloquy allows Nero to reveal his secret plans for future revenge—just as, on the drama’s first day, it allowed Seneca to prophesy the impending collapse of the entire civic fabric. To people who knew their Seneca, clear and deliberate echoes from the monologue of Atreus in the Thyestes would colour the impact of this scene. In Imperial discourse, Atreus was the proverbial ruler-turned-tyrant, a role Nero here plays to the full. Mad with rage, his anger (ira . . . mea, 821) is now what dictates policy. Like the angry God of Love, he will exact cruel revenge on those who challenge his power and humiliate his wife. Civilian bloodshed shall make Rome, guilty of having reared such men, soak in the ‘blood of her citizens’ (cruor civilis, 822). As for ‘that woman’ (illa, 827), whom he, The link between Amor and flames was commonplace, Amor sometimes called an incendiarius: CAG (1969) 2; so was Nero, to his face: Tac. Ann. 15.67.2. 11

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scornfully, never mentions by name, the people’s mad attempt to make him bow to their demands will cost Octavia her life. For the time being, her blood will soothe his anger. ‘Soon’ (mox, 831), however, the people will also receive its punishment. With a move that singles out this portrait of Nero and gives it, in the extant tradition, a wholly unique status, the dramatist at this point presents Nero as the declared enemy of the Roman people. His arrogance and contempt when referring to them as a ‘mob’ and ‘crowd’ has already revealed his true attitude. Now he ‘openly’, i.e. in a soliloquy only the audience hears, discloses his secret plans for their punishment. Becoming an arsonist himself, he will burn down their city. This disclosure is of course arresting. That Nero was considered responsible for Rome’s Great Fire in 64 is nothing new. Rumours of his involvement had apparently arisen straightaway. The charge was deemed so serious that a scapegoat had to be found: the choice famously being Jews and Christians, among them, so is it claimed, the apostle Peter. The pogrom had not, however, been able to still the rumour that Nero was the incendiarius himself. This rumour is repeated by all ancient historians, save Tacitus, as undisputed fact. Where the dramatist differs, and indeed stands alone, is in his attribution of motive.12 Others saw the cause in Nero’s depravity or his wish to refashion Rome and make room for his new palace, but the dramatist, uniquely, presents the fire as Nero’s belated, but deliberate revenge for the uprising in June 62.13 This was why Rome’s dwellings had to fall victim to ‘my flames’ ( flammis . . . meis, 831), this was why ‘ruin, bitter want, sorrow and evil famine’ should befall this ‘guilty people’ (noxium populum, 832). This is a peak in the drama’s gradual build-up of what, at this point, becomes a declared state of war between Nero and the People. Nero’s plans are, of course, still secret, but the dramatist has been careful to delineate the stages of mounting tension, from the first Chorus’s insistent loyalty to Nero and Octavia as a couple (but also its horrified account of the murder of Agrippina) to Seneca’s repeated warnings that the people will not tolerate the divorce and, more seriously, that in the long run it will not tolerate the kind of tyranny that Nero outlines as his chosen course. Nero high-handedly

12

The dramatist alone in presenting Nero’s motive as vindictive hatred of the Roman people: Kragelund (1982) 40; 80 n. 162 (quoting Nordmeyer (1893)); Wiseman (2008) 203; this crucial divergence is not acknowledged by Ferri (2003) ad 831. 13 The motive for the fire aesthetic: Suet. Nero 38.1; the city needed renovation (Tac. Ann. 15.40.2 quotes similar rumours); sheer destructive caprice: Dio Cass. 62.16.1; despite Nero’s attempts to use scapegoats to divert the blame (Tac. Ann. 15.44.2) as well as his support for the homeless (15.39.2–3), rumours of his singing of Troy, while Rome burnt (15.39.3) and the provocative project of building the Domus Aurea at a time of such economic stress (Kragelund (2000) 498–506) combined with apocalyptic rumours (Dio Cass. 62.18.2–4) to damage his public standing, for many probably beyond repair.

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brushes these objections aside, is markedly scornful and unhesitant in his readiness to use force and ‘break’ (cf. fractus, 576) their will, if it comes to opposition. The wedding day then proves the turning point: the Chorus expressis verbis refuses to give its assent, instead insisting on ousting odious Poppaea and reinstating Octavia. True to his word, Nero responds by opting for full-scale punitive violence. With striking petulance, Nero now blames the ‘corrupted rabble’ (corrupta turba, 835) for being ungrateful for his ‘peace’ and ‘clemency’ (ideals he himself has secretly mocked). Now punishments and a heavy yoke of terror will be applied to ensure that the people never again raises its gaze and looks with disrespect at his wife’s ‘sacred face’ (sanctos . . . vultus, 841), a vivid image that, for parallel and contrast, harks back to Poppaea’s first appearance, or rather epiphany, in the dazzling guise of a statue. Once again linking the visual and verbal, the dramatist resorts to a familiar format, in casu contrasting the behaviour of the Chorus with what Romans in interaction with the visual representations of power were ordinarily expected to do. In such encounters, be it direct or in effigy, the Roman gaze was, unless permission was given, expected to lower itself humbly.14 True enough, the Chorus had acknowledged the obligation, the sight of Poppaea literally being described as ‘heavy on the eyes’ (gravis . . . oculis, 682). But now, the Chorus has, in defiant response, ‘raised its gaze’ (attollere . . . oculos, 842), thereby attempting to assert its rights against its oppressor. To bring them ‘forever back under the yoke’ (thus Nero) and reinstate the status quo ante, a punishment never to be forgotten is called for. But while Nero, with this oppressive move, once and for all attempts to put the clock back, readers and audiences have already seen the ‘sacred face’ of Poppaea reveal what is the true state of affairs: first when, terrorized, she fled her thalamus, her ‘face’ (vultu, 692; vultus, 710) a mirror of her fear and foreknowledge of death; and, second, when the Chorus of courtiers, in panegyric excess, ominously praises her ‘face’ (vultus, 775) as more handsome than that of Helen of Troy, who was the cause of utter misfortune for her lover and his city. It is the wedding to this latter-day Helen, the alluring harbinger of misfortune, that has kindled the flames and caused the anger, which now—to remain with the dramatist’s imagery—is on the point of erupting into a war-like conflagration that will bring harm to the people and lay waste its city as revenge for its opposition to Nero’s criminal plans.

14 As in Mafioso gang culture, Romans were expected respectfully to lower their gaze in the presence of superiors: Lucr. 1.62–71 (mankind in fear of gods); Ov. Met. 14.840 (Hersilia, in shy respect); Fasti 1.148 (the poet in a god’s presence); Livy 6.16.3 (the people fearing the dictatoriam vim); Tac. Hist. 4.14.4 (rebels in fear of Roman legions); Suet. Aug. 79.2 (Augustus feeling pleased if a sharp look from himself made people look down ‘as if to avoid the rays of the sun’).

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3. THE P REFECT AND N ERO [Time and setting as before. Enter Prefect to report to Nero]

Nero now awaits the man who will wage this war for him. On cue, he arrives, fresh from suppressing the riots and still, one may guess, in full military gear. The concatenation of scenes, first the tyrant alone, then the entry of his deputy, would suggest a parallel to similar meetings between tyrant and anonymous satelles (‘attendant’) in Senecan tragedy. Much, perhaps too much, has been made of such parallels. What first of all comes to mind is, after all, the Seneca-Nero dialogue. True, the order has been reversed. The counsellor here comes in second and the lines of speech are notably shorter: the fireworks of one-liners and half-liners here occupy more than half this head-to-head confrontation. But here, as there, the counsellor shows no intention of conniving in or accepting Nero’s criminal schemes. Indeed, he protests from first to last, when Nero, once again, loses his patience and overrules a close adviser. This, moreover, is no satelles borrowed from some dusty deposit of dated dramatic convention, but an officer who, as Nero is careful to specify, had a very distinct profile in the Roman military hierarchy. Not just any prefect, but one of the Prefects, whose command of the Praetorian Guard made him and his colleague the second highest commanders of the Roman army, only eclipsed by the Emperor himself. Nero’s introduction underlines his unique ‘loyalty’ (fides, 845) and ‘dedication’ (pietas, 844). These shining qualities have put him in charge of the Emperor’s bodyguard but his audience with Nero will, significantly, test this loyalty almost to breaking point, this dramatically striking encounter ending, as did Seneca’s, with the tyrant revealing himself as impervious to reason. Moderation in the face of a crisis is what the Prefect proudly reports: riots have been subdued by the killing of the few most obdurate. But moderation is not what Nero wants. With a barrage of questions (four in two lines), he angrily responds: is this ‘enough’ (sat, 848)? Is this how a ‘soldier’ (miles) obeys his ‘leader’ (ducem, 848)? Is this (a tyrant’s line that became proverbial) the ‘revenge’ (vindicta, 849) owed to Nero? In a laconic attempt to reassert his case, the Prefect affirms that the ‘disloyal . . . leaders’ (impii . . . duces, 850) of the riot had fallen to the sword, but Nero angrily replies with new questions and accusations, pointing to the survival of the ‘mob’ (turba, 851)15 as proof of culpable negligence. Executing the ringleaders is not enough. A crowd that has attacked his residence,

15 The contrast between the Prefect’s populi (846) and cives (856) and Nero’s turba (851) stresses the tyrant’s disdain for the people’s constitutional rights: Cic. Rep. 1.69; further emphasis on Nero’s contempt: 234 n. 45.

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threatened his dear wife and violated her images—is there no fitting punishment for them? Nero’s persistence puts the Prefect at a disadvantage. To gain time, he responds with his own questions, now joining forces with Seneca in defending the citizens against their emperor. Should the Emperor’s ‘pain’ (dolor, 856) really dictate how to punish ‘your citizens’ (cives tuos, 856)? The emphatic ‘your’ is of course a clear allusion to the emperor’s paternal responsibility, but Nero does not hesitate to affirm that they will indeed be punished—and this in a manner that will never be forgotten. The Prefect wisely steers clear of asking for details, instead pretending not to have understood whether Nero’s ‘anger’ (ira, 857) will indeed be allowed to dictate policy? Is it not sufficient to let ‘(respectful) fear’ (857) hold the citizens in awe?16 But Nero refuses to acknowledge the need for restraint, instead affirming that anger is indeed what will dictate his strategy, its first victim being the person (in the singular) who had provoked it. Faced with this option, either a massacre or the execution of an individual, the Prefect does not hesitate, but goes for what would seem the lesser evil, the single rather than the many, only to be told that the execution of Octavia is what is demanded. His response, in a horrified aside, marks the linear centre of the scene, which now drastically changes tempo to become a bravura exchange of heated rejoinders. For a moment (whether long or short is for an actor or reader to decide) the Prefect stands ‘frozen with horror’ (as he, surely in an aside, says himself)—then Nero impatiently breaks the spell, his opening halfline provocatively returning to the issue of the Prefect’s loyalty. In an attempt to win time, the Prefect stonewalls by demanding to know what justifies such doubts. The reason is promptly given: ‘Because you spare the enemy’ (hosti, 864). In response, the Prefect persists with the tactic of questioning: Can a woman truly be labelled thus? For Nero, her crimes are proof enough, but for the Prefect, who now goes by the book, a name is necessary. Who has charged her? (865), he asks, now pointedly insisting on proper legal procedures: real charges rather than hearsay and, of course, the right to a defence. Nero is now caught off-balance, with nothing to invoke but the ‘People’s madness’ (Populi furor, 866), and the Prefect pursues his advantage by adopting a technique already used by Seneca (Ch. 12.2): ‘Who’ (among males that is) ‘can control such a mob’? he asks. Nero seemingly accepts the bait when he replies that this is the work of the (once again male) person who can ‘stir’ (concitare, 867) them 16 Understanding Oct. 858 ‘Tua temperet nos ira, non noster timor?’ as a question (thus Frassinetti (1973); Alenius & Kragelund (1988), but contra Junge (1999) 207), is a view gaining ground: Boyle (2008) ad loc.; Ferri (2003) ad loc. and Fitch (2004b) 257–8; the latter, however, finds the idea that social restraint would be imposed by the subjects’ fear rather than the ruler’s anger awkward; yet it has the backing of Sen. Clem. 1.12.4 who recommends the use of ‘moderate fear’ to keep the subjects in awe (‘temperatus enim timor cohibet animos’); the parallel is surely relevant here.

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to revolt (Nero, hardly by coincidence, using a verb denoting sedition that, in legal phraseology, constituted an act punishable by beheading).17 The Prefect now, finally, ventures a polite, but still uncompromising rebuttal,18 unequivocally stating his conviction that ‘No one, I think, can wield such powers’ (again pretending that the discussion concerns a male ‘no one’).19 The debate has now come to a head, the Prefect no longer merely questioning Nero’s reasons, but openly stating that he disagrees. But Nero will have no contradiction, his abrupt directness mirrors the anger with which he, as the first word, spits out who in fact is capable of such villainy: ‘A woman . . .’ (Mulier . . . 868). The spiteful choice of word20 is then underpinned with a dose of anthropology, ‘proving’ that Nature has made womanhood an expert in perpetrating precisely such bitchy villainy. At this point there is uncertainty as to who says what, with the manuscripts ascribing the rest of the scene (868–76) to Nero alone. This, however, seems utterly implausible, since a fair number of these lines contain arguments not in Nero’s, but in the Prefect’s favour. Surely, the objections belong to the Prefect. As it has rightly been conjectured, he first (870a) stonewalls by pointedly objecting that Nature (writ large) has denied womanhood the power necessary to bring about such results.21 Then editors wish to persuade us that Nero, in an asymmetrical sequence (a half verse followed by a series of whole verses, 870b–76) suddenly starts 17 Two legal points: (i) The ‘Estne qui sontem arguat?’ (Oct. 865) uses the legally proper arguat (‘who has brought charges?’, cf. e.g. Dig. 37.15.4) to pull the ground away from under Nero’s ‘case’; cf. Burrus, at a similar juncture, reminding Nero of his mother’s legally sanctioned right to a ‘defence’ (defensionem), above all in a case with no proper accusations (nec accusatores adesse), but only ‘a hearsay charge’ (vocem): Tac. Ann. 13.20.3. (ii) Beheading as punishment for treason: Dig. 48.4.3, ‘lex duodecim tabularum iubet eum, qui hostem concitaverit, . . . capite puniri’; Crawford (1996) ii, 703 makes a strong case against a XII tables origin; in any case, the parallel would carry resonance. 18 The MSS give the verse beginning with Mulier . . . (868) to Nero; following Zwierlein, Junge (1999) 209–10 sees the Prefect’s rebuttal in the previous line (867b) as in need of the ‘mulier’ (i.e.‘haud quemquam, reor,/ mulier’ (867b–868a) in order not to become ‘eine platte Antiklimax’. Yet 867b is by no means a redundant anticlimax: it is the Prefect’s first direct rejoinder after four stalling questions in a row (863b, 864b, 865b, 866b) Here, at the sequel’s climax, he finally asserts his utter disbelief in Nero’s reading of the situation. 19 In this author, reor otherwise takes acc. cum inf.: Oct. 447; 566; in straightforward manner, this allows Nero’s ‘potuit’ to be picked up as the implied verb of the Prefect’s brief rejoinder: ‘Nero: ‘Qui concitare potuit’. Prf: ‘haud quemquam reor’ (867). Zwierlein reconfigures, so that the first word of Nero’s rejoinder goes to the Prefect: ‘haud quemquam , reor,/ mulier.’ (867b–868a). The solution is distinctly unappealing: (i) the syntax, with parenthetical reor, is awkward; (ii) the resulting abrupt division after the first iambus (868a–b) is unparalleled in this author: 284 n. 22; (iii) the Prefect would never remind Nero of Octavia, his overall strategy being to side-track the issue of her involvement. Clearly, the angry, pejorative (cf. 283 n. 20) ‘Mulier . . .’ is Nero’s. 20 ‘Mulier’ pejorative and in contrast to the Prefect’s ‘femina’ (864): Ferri (2003) ad 867–8. 21 Ferri (2003), Boyle (2008) ad 868–9 and Fitch (2004b) 258–9 question Zwierlein’s distribution of lines 867b–76; Peiper & Richter were surely right in letting the Prefect interrupt Nero with 870a ‘Sed vim negavit’—but the Prefect’s objection does not seem to stop there: 284 n. 22.

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granting that the Prefect has a point, fear being enough to keep weak women in check, only then correcting himself by adding that punishment might also do the trick. However, such weighing of the pros and cons is not only bad drama, but also singularly uncharacteristic of Nero. This author, moreover, differs from Seneca in never otherwise using the kind of mid-verse opening of a speech (870b–876) that has been suggested here.22 Far better, therefore, to let the Prefect continue for the two whole lines (870–1) that mirror and contradict Nero’s 868–9 and expand on the nature-given weakness of women, whose fear would make them incapable of such mischief, before finally letting Nero interrupt with his lethal alternative, ‘Or punishment . . .’ (vel poena . . . , 872), an interruption that with the brutal swiftness of an executioner’s sword brings discussion to an end.23 As happened on his first appearance, Nero’s final lines (872–6) highlight a new rupture, this time with his military adviser. Once again, it is with a concluding five-liner that Nero brings the scene to an end. And once again imperatives are used to illustrate the breakdown of consensus. At their first encounter, orders had been orders, the Prefect briskly acknowledging assent (439). Here, the Prefect has, from beginning to end, dug in his heels and insisted on moderation and justice. In the end, Nero must therefore overrule his protests—not, as with Seneca, just with the arrogant desiste (588), but with a (probably telling, Ch. 16.6) barrage of three imperatives, now commanding his second-in-command to ‘Stop advising and begging—and do as ordered’ (Tolle consilium ac preces/et imperata perage, 873–4). With its inverted word order, this final command pointedly mirrors Nero’s initial, almost identical order (cf. perage imperata, 437 and imperata perage, 874), here, as there for the cutting off the ‘head’ (caput, 438; 861) of exiles, that he, for the third time in this play, demands and now, ‘long overdue’ (iam sera, 872), insists on getting. The Prefect shall arrange for Octavia to be ‘shipped off ’ (devectam rate, 874) to a secluded shore where he (the final, characteristically delegating imperative deferred to the very end), shall ‘order her to be killed’ (interimi iube, 875). The chilling command, equally tellingly, goes unanswered. This is Nero’s—and no one else’s—doing.24 22 In support of Zwierlein’s suggestion to let Nero’s final speech begin at 870b, Junge (1999) 210 points to Senecan parallels for such asymmetrical shifts. What seems crucial, is the lack of parallels in the Octavia: like the often ignored, but no less telling difference in his handling of stichomythia (217 n. 10), the dramatist clearly had his own stylistic ideals with which Zwierlein’s conjecture is in conflict; as it is, in my view, with his sense: 284 n. 23. 23 The present reading builds on the suggestion by Lipsius (1588) 111, Ritter (1843), and Alenius-Kragelund (2000)—none of us listed by Billerbeck & Somazzi (2009)—to give lines 870–1 to the Prefect, then letting Nero take over with his ‘Vel poena . . .’ (872–6): Kragelund (1988) 492–8. Contra, Junge (1999) 209 (cf. 284 n. 22) and Ferri (2003) ad loc.; neither meet the objection that the arguments are in Nero’s disfavour (and therefore unlikely to be his). 24 Boyle (2008) ad 268–9 rightly points to the dramatist’s fondness for ‘the closural use of the imperative’, further quoting 667–8; 760–1; 873–6 and, almost at the end, 969–71.

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In what looks like an aside, Nero then professes his hope that this will bring quiet to ‘his heart’s turmoil’ (tumor, 876)—an effect well documented, where anger has raged. At this final point there is, however, an alternative reading that merits serious consideration. Given the dramatist’s sustained preference for mirroring Nero’s initial and final orders for beheadings, a further cross reference, in casu to the ‘fear’ (timor rather than tumor at 876),25 which, from the very first (cf. metu, 441), Nero has confessed has taken hold of his ‘heart’ (pectoris nostri, 876; cf. pectus, 441), and which is the true reason for his murders, seems a far more Senecan and—in terms of politics no less than psychology—far more compelling exit for the dramatist to have intended for his Nero. As Poppaea before him, also Nero must now, in his final aside, own up to the fears that dictate his murderous antics.

4. THE THIRD SONG OF THE CHORUS ROMANORUM [Later, that day (or a few days later?), a harbour, apparently in Campania, with a ship moored at the quay. Chorus of Romans]

In telling parallel, Nero’s final commands, in his first as well as in his final appearance, are what set the stage for the scene that follows: there (592) for the wedding; here for Octavia’s deportation to the island of death. The repeated crossover enhances the feeling of despotic power, while at the same time creating dramatic coherence. When the curtain is drawn, we are—as Nero (once again the dramaturge, as it were, in his own drama) had ordered—in a harbour, where a crowd is assembled to witness Octavia’s embarkation. Also, here, the dramatist draws his imagery from a typically Roman format. Romans naturally associated exile with the sea, with ships leaving for barren islands.26 In his exile, Ovid gave classic formulation to the misery of departing, the ordeals of sea travel, and the fear of never returning. Customs and rituals had evolved with faithful wives, relatives, or friends holding the home fort or sharing the hardship of sea travel and lonely islands; with friends and 25

Peiper & Richter (1902) and Giardina (1966) list manuscript support for timor rather than tumor at 876, but we now know that the archetype of A had tumor (Herington (1958) 361; Zwierlein (1986) ad loc.); the timor (with tumor in the margin) of, for instance, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 24 sin. cod. 4 (dated 1371) = Zwierlein ‘l’ is therefore most probably conjectural—but not, therefore, easy to dismiss. Not only is confusion between timor and tumor common; like tumor, timor dwells in the breast: Sen. Ep. 74.3; Thyest. 334 et passim; in Seneca, fear also ‘resides’: Q. nat. 6.1.4. 26 ‘plenum exiliis mare’: Tac. Hist. 1.2.2; barren islands: Suet. Cal. 29.1; exiles sent to ‘the islands’: Cohen (2008) 206–17 (with further references illustrating the associative and real link between exile and islands).

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adherents escorting the condemned to the city gates or turning up to give support (or opponents to gloat) at the harbour of embarkation.27 While painting and poetry could commemorate such junctures, the drama in a sense combines these media by turning the location of this new scene with its (imagined or painted) backdrop of harbour, ship, and open horizon into the mute, but meaningful props that set the tone for a finale that, in characteristic mode, exploits the links between words and image. The Chorus’s opening song matches this setting closely by adopting nautical imagery. It compares popular favour to the winds of the sea filling the sails of a ship and taking the vessel far away across the sea; then the winds subside and abandon the ship to its fate. As examples of popular favour bringing such fateful results, the Chorus returns for the third time to the topic of the people’s role in Rome’s history, now quoting instances where that active role, rather than being beneficial had a deadly effect. The story leads off with a vignette representing Sempronia, the mother of the Gracchi, lamenting her two dead sons, to whom the people’s great love had brought misfortune and death. The Chorus’s praise for the two People’s Tribunes, against the background of almost uniform Imperial hostility, is striking. Once again, the dramatist surprises by letting the Chorus describe Roman history from an avowedly popularis perspective, in marked opposition to the overwhelmingly senatorial viewpoint that, during the Empire, never tired of casting the two reformers as brigands deserving a place in that part of Hades reserved for social outlaws and revolutionaries of the worst sort.28 No one would disagree that the Gracchi were men of social eminence and great eloquence,29 but to describe their courage in terms (pectore fortes, 885) used for great heroes of legend,30 to acknowledge their ‘loyalty’ (fide, 884)

27

A wife holding the fort and saving her exiled husband: ILS 8393 (the so-called laudatio Turiae); an exile’s friends bidding goodbye at home: Ov. Tr. 1.3; at city gate: Plut. Cor. 21.3; conversely, crowds applauding the returning exile at Porta Capena: Cic. Att. 4.1.5; a painting at Minturnae commemorating the exiled Marius boarding a ship: Plut. Mar. 40.1; opponents at the harbour applauding the deportation of exiled informers: Plin. Pan. 34–5. 28 Negative verdicts on the Gracchi: Val. Max. 3.2.17; 4.7.1; 5.3.2e; 6.3.1d; 8.10.1; Vell. Pat. 2.2.3; 3.2; 6.1–3; 7 and 182 n. 28; Quint. 3.7.21; Vell. Pat. 2.13–14, who wrote while Drusus’ granddaughter Livia, the widow of Augustus, was still alive, acquits Livius Drusus of any bad intentions, but the negative verdict prevails: Sen. De brevitate vitae 6; Plin. HN 7.69; 33.34.2; negatively, tout court, on the Gracchi and Livius Drusus: Sen. Ad Marciam 16.3–4; Ben. 6.34.2; Tac. Ann. 3.27.2, Luc. 6.792–6 (rejoicing with Catiline in Hades at the outbreak of the civil war). The dramatist’s attitude is strikingly different: Kragelund (1982) 40 (following Nordmeyer (1893)); Wiseman (2008) 204 (reviewing Ferri (2003)); Boyle (2008) ad 882–90. 29 Harmful eloquence of the Gracchi: Tac. Dial. 40.4. 30 The closest parallels, but in the singular, are forti pectore, Catull. 64.339; Verg. Aen. 4.11 (Achilles, Aeneas) and pectore forti, Sen. Herc. Fur. 186 (Hercules); Boyle (2008) ad 882–6 documents how the dramatist transforms elements used to denigrate the reformers into the opposite viewpoint.

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and to mention, without condemning, the ‘sharp direction of their laws’ (legibus acres, 886)—this is, in Imperial literature, as we know it, unique. The Chorus’s second example is equally surprising since it honours the memory of yet another deeply controversial People’s Tribune, to whom popular favour likewise brought ruin. Neither his office nor the sanctity of his home could protect Livius Drusus against the assassin who brought his reforms to an end. Once again, the Chorus shows its sympathy for a historical figure who in the Imperial Age was almost invariably vilified as a populist outlaw. What seems additionally surprising is the underlying logic of the Chorus’s outlook. In its first song, it sides with Lucretia and Virginia, the innocent victims of tyrannical abuse. Then, in its second song, it sides with an idealized view of the people’s sovereign position in the classic res publica that comes unusually close to a ‘popularis’ view of the constitution and it then concludes with praise for three martyrs to the populist cause of political reform—all of these episodes, so runs the underlying claim, being somehow comparable to what was happening now. Omitting any further such examples of the popular favour failing to shield its champions, this choral ode now reverts to the well-established pattern of moving abruptly from past to present (cf. 309 ff.; 682 ff.). Popular favour has also proved fatal for Octavia, who is now, in the sight of the citizens, the Chorus reports, is being dragged away to her death. The very suggestion of a parallel between the Republic’s great martyrs to social reform and a daughter and wife of emperors, and descendant of divi, is at first arresting, not to say puzzling. In the dramatist’s eyes, it is popular favour that unites the four, its expectations making Octavia no less an embodiment of deeply felt political aspirations than were the Gracchi and Drusus of old. During the Republic, such expectations had focused on the promise of political reform, while, during the Early Empire, they often centred on the dazzling ‘heirs to be’ as well as on the imperial princesses. It was hoped that through their offspring they would ensure the dynastic stability so vital to the security of all (expectations given emphatic expression in the first ode of the Chorus Romanorum, 273–81). It is Nero’s high-handed refusal even to acknowledge these expectations that has caused the conflict now leading to Octavia’s execution. Resuming the metaphors of storm, the Chorus closes with the despondent recognition that poverty, lying low, lives more safely than those inhabiting high palaces, easily shaken by storms and brought down by Fortune. In affirmation of this concluding statement, there now follows the finale which, in its sustained lyrical, not to say ‘operatic’ (thus, acutely, A.J. Boyle) format is unique in extant Roman drama. What it most resembles is the lyrical kommos sometimes used to close a Greek tragedy, for instance the Antigone (which it also recalls in other aspects). However, the range of intertextual allusion is remarkably wide, reaching from the ritual dirge and consolation to

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the proemptikon (the send-off-poem). Beneath it all, however, are two very traditional Roman formats: the triumph’s procession of captives and the ritualized farewell to banished exiles.31

5. OCTAVIA TRIUMPHANT [Setting as before. Enter Octavia, in shackles and dragged by a group of soldiers]

The finale opens, arrestingly, with a spectacle that, in the form of a perverted triumph, turns the genre’s traditional moment of glory (Ch. 3.2; 8.3) completely upside down. Here, it is not a King Perseus who, his hands tied and his power broken, passes before the spectators as an image of the caprice of Fortune and, of course, the success of Roman arms (Fig. 15.1). Instead, it is the people’s favourite, Rome’s own Empress, who, as if she were the defeated enemy, is dragged onto stage by her military guard. Visually striking, this configuration of captors and captive provides the cue for her first query: Where do you drag me . . .? (Quo me trahitis, 899). Then she asks what the tyrant and his queen (the pointed regina (900), no doubt sarcastic) have decided shall be her fate. Again echoing traditional discourse, Octavia outlines exile’s bitter alternatives: death in one’s homeland is preferable to that in exile. Her uncertainty as to her still-undisclosed future destination creates a moment of deep tragic irony. Like the Chorus, her captors are of course fully aware where she is to be taken and what will be her fate. But—one assumes from a range of motives (compassion, cruelty, orders)—no one replies. Again, the dramatist’s gift for using the visual comes to the fore. Because Octavia, whose queries are met with such poignant silence, now—a reader will imagine and a scaenicus infer—turns to look for herself and suddenly ‘sees’ (cerno, 907) where they are actually taking her, the mute, but telling presence of the ship at the quay disclosing what her destination is. Death in exile, this is the message of the stage backdrop (be it real or imagined).32 In horrified frenzy, the protagonist now realizes what it all means, adding pathos to horror when, in Cassandra-like manner, she identifies the evil before her eyes with evil remembered. While Cassandra (in Seneca’s Agamemnon) identifies Mycenae (where she is) with Troy (where she was), Octavia identifies the ship before her eyes with the one that had taken Agrippina to her death.

31

Boyle (2008) 277–8 gives a circumspect survey of these allusions. Discarding the visual, Ferri (2003) ad 971 wonders how Octavia suddenly knows about her destination. The sight of the ship tells her. 32

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Fig. 15.1. Roman marble relief datable to the mid-first century AD showing a trophy with weapons and anchors lying at its foot and with barbarians shackled to its trunk. The anchors suggest a victory involving the navy, probably Claudius’ conquest of Britain in 43. As is traditional, the triumph iconography focuses on the chains used to drag the captives along in the procession or, as here, to tie them to a trophy. © Museo Civico Archeologico di Fiesole, Italy inv. no. 2540.

Again, the build-up to this climax is well calibrated, the use of the longest continuous stretch of anapaests in ancient drama creating a link back to Octavia’s initial dirge as well as to the wedding day scene at the Palace entrance, now bringing closure to the tragic trajectory of the doomed empress. A scene in this metre would probably have been accompanied by the sound of sorrowful flutes. Moreover, readers and scaenici knew how adherents of a departing exile would dress, crowds sometimes making a point of turning up, all rigged out in dark sorrow.33 Of potentially great emotive impact this range of effects, aural, verbal, visual, is here reinforced by the extensive use of echoes from Greek and Roman tragedy, the parallels underlining the protagonist’s status as a brave but doomed captive, as defiant as Sophocles’ Antigone34 and her Roman counterpoint, Seneca’s Cassandra.

33

Sorrow: cf. 250 n. 42. Parallels with Soph. Ant.: Ballaira (1974), Grazzini (1998), and Ferri (1998) 344–6; those with Seneca’s Agamemnon have, strangely, elicited little comment: Kragelund (2005) 111 n. 146; Boyle (2008) ad 914–23. 34

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The objection that Octavia could not possibly see a ship on stage is, as we have seen, invalid (Ch. 9.4).35 Quite to the contrary, it is, whichever way one encounters this script, crucial to acknowledge that a ship is what we should imagine and a scaenicus supply. Throughout the scene, it is there for all to see—and now Octavia also acknowledges its presence. The use of this dramatic device is effective in creating a crossover to what the Chorus, in its first narrative, made ‘visible before our eyes’. For a brief, dramatic moment, Octavia’s (mis-)identification allows the ‘death ship’s’ looming presence to foster a link between past and present, its very aspect being a prophetic confirmation of Nero’s murderous intentions. The sight leaves no room for hope. ‘Rightful conduct’ (Pietas, 911) has now no power, Octavia proclaims; no gods are above, an evil fury rules supreme. At this shocking recognition, one suspects that a pause is intended, with the stage in tableau-like fashion framing the three protagonists, the captive Empress, the Chorus, and the ship of death, the latter’s mute presence signalling what will be the end of her journey. Then Octavia resumes, now in simple lyrics of resigned beauty, an allusive loan from Seneca’s Agamemnon reaffirming the parallel with Octavia’s new double, the blind, but ‘seeing’ Cassandra lamented by the sonorous nightingale. Moving towards dramatic closure, the motif of the lamenting bird links this scene with Octavia’s likewise anapaestic opening dirge, now confirming that her life of sorrow is at its inescapable end. Her wish for wings on which to flee and find refuge elsewhere pointedly recalls Seneca’s images of Heavenly Justice fleeing earthly bloodshed.36 In response, the Chorus now finally addresses the Empress directly (tuum . . . vestra . . . tibi, 929–31) and embarks on a consolation that draws its format from two sources: from ancient tracts addressed to the bereaved, when examples of past suffering were traditionally used to instil fortitude in adversity. As was probably customary, the examples used here are all taken from ‘your own house’ (domus . . . vestra, 930),37 a designation that in fact is pointedly precise. In a dynasty rich in female victims of exile and murder, this is a roll call that leaves out those who, seen from a Claudian—and, as we shall see, near-contemporary—perspective, would be marginal. Instead it locates Octavia at the very end of a line, not of Julio-Claudians in general, but of women of her immediate Claudian family. The layout is, once again, emphatically symmetrical with three mothers and their three daughters, all in order of strict chronology: first three murdered princesses and then three murdered

Misguided attempts to make the ship ‘go away’: Ch. 9.4. Song of the ‘aedon’: cf. Sen. Agam. 671 (only occurrence in Seneca) and Oct. 915; birds of sorrow in first dirge: ‘Alcyonas/ . . . Pandionias’, Oct. 7–8 with Vozza (1990); Boyle (2008) ad loc. In Seneca’s monologue, Astraea ‘fugit . . . mores feros/ hominum cruenta caede’; Octavia wishes to flee (‘fugerem’, 918) ‘coetus/ hominum tristes caedemque feram’: Oct. 422–3; 919–20. 37 cf. the very similar Consolatio Liviae 473–4 ‘vestram/ . . . domum’. 35 36

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Table 15.1. Stemma showing the relations between the executed Claudian women in Octavia 932–59 evoked by the Chorus (their names in bold, the adjoined number indicating their order of death). The stemma sets off with the Empress Livia and her two Claudian sons followed by their offspring. LIVIA (later JULIA AUGUSTA, then DIVA AUGUSTA)

TIBERIUS

DRUSUS ~ ANTONIA

DRUSUS ~ LIVIA JULIA (ii) TIBERIUS GEMELLUS

CLAUDIUS ~ MESSALINA (iv) GERMANICUS ~ AGRIPPINA (i)

JULIA (iii)

RUBELLIUS PLAUTUS

AGRIPPINA (v) CLAUDIA OCTAVIA (vi)

NERO

empresses, with Octavia rounding off the list (Table 15.1) by abruptly adding herself (‘I too’, me quoque, 958) to this sinister death row. Frances Billot has rightly, I think, pointed to the Roman aristocratic funeral as the format framing this scene. An inversion of the traditional elogium, there is, moreover, something like an epitaph about this parade, the laconic style summarizing what in brief official tituli would have been reported about the lives of these ladies. In a genre often dealing with the exploits of members of the Roman nobility, this is, as A.J. Boyle adds, hardly the first time a dramatist has outlined the salient points of a principal’s ancestry.38 As if in a funeral cortège, or a laudatio at the rostra, the wives and sister of Octavia’s father and his brother and, in the next generation, three of their daughters are, as it were, summoned and pass by, in order of seniority, each entry in the catalogue recording what seems an unstoppable process. The list begins with Octavia’s aunt, Agrippina the Elder (the only of these doomed ladies to have been subsequently rehabilitated (at least at that point: Ch. 16.7). The Chorus precisely summarizes her dynastic position (as would for instance the caption of her ancestral image) with reference to her men-folk, her father Agrippa, her father-in-law, the emperor Tiberius, her husband the young Caesar Germanicus and then, glory of glories, her numerous offspring. Then the catastrophe: exile to Pandataria (now also Octavia’s destination), torture, and death. Next in line is Octavia’s paternal aunt, Livia Julia, she too was blessed with numerous offspring and great prospects, but, rushing into illicit love and crime, she was executed, a fate that also befell her innocent daughter (and Octavia’s cousin) Julia. This last rubric is, probably tellingly (cf. Ch. 16.2), 38 Inversion of elogium: Billot (2003) 138–9; Boyle (2008) ad 932–57 acutely compares ‘Livia Drusi’ (941) to LIVIA DRVSI (ILS 1751, 1828, 1843; CIL 6.5226); the ‘nurus Augusti, Caesaris uxor’ (934) likewise has an ‘epitaphic ring’.

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short and almost offhand, familiarity with Julia, the mother of Plautus, apparently being taken for granted. After the princesses, three empresses. First Octavia’s mother, her ‘position of power qua child-rearer’ (partu . . . potens, 949) being the pinnacle of eminence from which transgression led to her abrupt downfall and humiliating death at the hands of an ex-slave.39 This self-destructive pattern then repeats itself in the case of the late Augusta. For long assured of her ultimate posthumous elevation to divine status, she too met a miserable death—a fate now also to be Octavia’s who, in brief reply now points (ecce, 959) to the ship as proof of what will ‘also’ (quoque, 958) be her destination. Then, rousing herself with stirring suddenness, Octavia proudly breaks the pattern, transforming her role as passive victim into that of a defiant harbinger of revenge and justice, boldly embracing what she now recognizes as her destiny.40 To bring out her new commitment, she associates herself further with Seneca’s Cassandra, who at the very end of the Agamemnon prophesies what punishment awaits her murderers. This choice of model seems telling. During the late first century, and certainly prior to AD 79, Cassandra’s mad scene was, we happen to know, sufficiently familiar and, probably, admired for someone to quote her frenzied identification of Troy and Mycenae in a graffito scribbled on a wall in provincial Pompeii.41 This is not irrelevant when one observes how the dramatist in taut, precise outline acknowledges his debt and develops the mad scene’s fundamental idea that ‘Where I stand, you too will soon be standing!’. Bravely insisting that there is ‘no reason to tarry’ (nihil moramur), Cassandra, on the threshold of her death, orders her captors to ‘haul her off ’ (rapite). As if to highlight her new determination to follow in these footsteps, Octavia now quotes Cassandra by adopting the same verbs, in the same order (quid . . . moror? Rapite, 960–1), thereby emphatically identifying herself with the Senecan priestess once prophesying to Mycenae’s adulterous masters their impending doom.42 In a culture deeply concerned with the question of how to meet one’s death, the adoption of the meta-theatrical approach of letting Octavia chose a tragic double with whom to identify allows her, here on the brink of death, to finally break through to what ultimately is her identity. This 39 The famulo . . . suo (950) is probably the ex-slave, Euodus, present at Messalina’s execution (Tac. Ann. 11.37.2). 40 Final heroic acceptance of death in tragedies: Fitch (2004b) 260–1; Boyle (2008) ad 961–2. 41 CIL 4.6698 (found at Reg. 5, ins. 3 in a chamber to the east of the garden), IDAI CERNV NEMVRA = Sen. Agam. 730, Idaea cerno nemora; Zwierlein (1966) 105–7 and Tarrant (1976) 18 and 317–18 condemn Seneca’s splendid scene as a model example of ‘the performative infelicities (if not impossibilities) of Senecan drama’ (thus, elegantly, Edith Hall). I doubt these objections can survive closer scrutiny: for a protagonist belatedly entering the scene (as does Agamemnon) it is reasonable first to focus on the panoramic whole, then on particulars, in casu first on the long missed royal residence, then on Cassandra who has fallen into a trance at the Chorus’s feet. 42 Nihil moramur, rapite: Sen. Agam. 1010; quid . . . moror? Rapite . . . : Oct. 960–1.

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(as memorably outlined in Karen Blixen’s Tale of the Stork) is the moment when true self becomes apparent. Such courage, insisting on pre-empting what should have been the feared destination, has, of course, numerous tragic parallels, but it is Seneca, who is echoed here.43 Where Octavia in the exposition found her meta-theatrical double in Sophocles’ Electra, it seems fitting that now, at this final stage, she adopts a Senecan persona and speaks condescendingly of the so-called power of Fortuna, thereby giving her exitus a Stoic profile much indebted to the outlook of the master. This is a death scene that proudly asserts its place among the long list of Neronian ‘staged’ or ‘semi-staged’ suicides and bravely endured executions so memorably reported by Tacitus.44 Now undeterred from embracing her fate, Octavia completes her transformation into a latter-day Cassandra by calling for the gods to witness—and then, in a movement with telling contrasts with the pious praetextae of old,45 she upbraids herself for appealing to the gods above, who display only indifference. In the finale’s endgame, Octavia clearly takes it for granted that she is abandoned and even spurned by the gods. Instead Octavia summons the powers of darkness, now no longer praying them to open an abyss and swallow her up, but to rise from below and bring her their—What? Unfortunately, there is a problem with the text46 precisely here, where Octavia summons ‘Hades, goddesses of Darkness, avengers of crimes and you, my father . . .’ (Tartara testor/Erebique deas scelerumque ultrices/et te, Genitor . . . , 964–6). As it stands, syntax casts the ‘you, Father’ (te, Genitor 966) as the one who in the following verse is said to ‘deserve’ (dignum, 967) being cursed, but this seems impossible. Surely, a latter-day Cassandra would at this juncture not curse her emperor father, whom she, along with the other avengers from below, had just summoned. Given the overall drift of her speech, which has moved from Cassandra-like acceptance of fate through appeal to the powers above and then to the avengers below, a pledge for a vengeance that in exchange for her own death will eventually lead to that of 43 Limited use of meta-theatre (as defined by Hornby (2006) 32–5) in Greek tragedy: 194 n. 12; identifying totally with the modern, naturalistic tradition, Wilamovitz-Moellendorph (and numerous admiring followers) famously derided the principal of Seneca’s Medea as someone ‘who had read her Euripides’. Hall (2006) 106 n. 27 and, more comprehensively, Fitch & McElduff (2002) instance the difference in aesthetic and dramatic aims. 44 Accounts of the ‘Deaths of those murdered or exiled by Nero’ (exitus occisorum aut relegatorum a Nerone): Plin. Ep. 8.12.4–5 (Titinius Capito); 5.5.3 (one C. Fannius (probably a relative of Fannia, the daughter of Thrasea Paetus: PIR2 F 116) editing a collection of three such books; Tacitus probably drew on such accounts for the long series of death scenes (from Agrippina’s onwards) in Ann. books 14–16: Marx (1937). 45 Principals of Republican praetextae invoking the gods: 55 n. 30–1; for the contrast, Boyle (2008) ad 962–5. 46 Among editors detecting a lacuna after 967 are Leo (1878–79); Zwierlein (1986) 477–8, Liberman (1998) 121 and Fitch (2004b) 260–1 (a lucid statement); contra, Ballaira (1974), Barbera (2000), Ferri (2003), and Boyle (2008) ad 967 (Octavia curses her father).

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Nero, so fully ‘deserving such death and punishment’ (dignum tali morte et poena, 967) is, I shall argue, what the text originally offered. Three aspects seem decisive. First, Claudius’ role as one of the avengers fits in excellently with what has gone before. In a trajectory of clearly outlined progress this is indeed the drama’s third such summoning of Claudius’ ghost. His daughter’s and then his wife’s invocations (134–6; 338–44) prepare his actual appearance in the ghost scene (613–31) in the role of avenging enforcer, compelling Agrippina to confirm that Nero’s punishment is already being prepared. In the lost section of this final summons, Octavia then probably states how her readiness for death and self-sacrifice will ultimately redeem Rome and re-establish justice. Nero, whose ‘punishment’ Octavia, Agrippina and, finally, Claudius have been urging, is, second, the logical object of this imprecation, which in final prophetic satisfaction concludes that ‘such a death . . .’ (mors ista, 968)—the pointed use of ista (‘such’) surely pointing back to what Octavia in the lost section had detailed—‘would not be unwelcome . . . to me’ (non invisa est . . . mihi, 968). Third and final, ‘punishments’ (poenas, 248) of Nero are what Octavia called for in her initial curse and, in her ghost scene, Agrippina discloses that ‘punishments’ (poenas, 621) are indeed what Hades is preparing. In what a group of editors since Friedrich Leo have identified as Octavia’s final demand for ‘punishment’ (poena, 967), everything indicates that in the original she proclaimed her certainty that her death would pave the way for that of Nero. Popular legend claims it actually had, and that revenge in the form of suicide tellingly caught up with Nero on the very day that, six years before, saw Octavia’s murder. Small wonder, therefore, that she welcomes ‘such death’. Here, for the final time, the dramatist reverts to the old genre’s aetiological roots: this was why Nero fell. With a prophetic certainty of this ultimate vindication of her suffering, Octavia, as if with new strength, now turns to the jailers who supposedly have her in their power. With a striking sequence of three direct imperatives in a row, the shackled empress then and there reasserts her freedom, by ordering them—as if fully in charge—to ‘prepare the ship’ (armate ratem, 969), to ‘hoist the sails’ (date vela, 969)—an actor might at this point lift her shackled hands and point—and to let ‘the ship’s pilot’ (puppis rector, 970) steer with ‘the winds’ (ventis, 970) for Pandataria, the island of exile and death. Moving for closure, this, her final solo, pointedly reaches its conclusion by returning to where the Chorus’s death list started, with an exile dying on that island. This is a scene firmly rooted in traditional stagecraft (Ch. 9.4), and the dramatist—to his credit—has entirely understood how to combine it with a major theme of his plot. Exile, be it of nobles, of Seneca, of Plautus and Sulla and, finally, of Octavia is an issue that comes close to defining the nature of the tyranny against which the people have now risen in protest (a notion that, as

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we shall see, may well have links to the dramatist’s time of writing: Ch. 16.2). Moreover, the scene is deeply in harmony with what is best in this plot: the careful planning and dynamic movement of its trajectories; movements briefly arrested at symbolic ‘thresholds’ (such as the palace gate, the entrance to the thalamus and, as here, a harbour); the movement resumed and led onwards to a point that cancels out the option of ever turning back. Here, at the very end, the people, however, still strive to save their favourite. Returning to the maritime imagery of its initial ode, it therefore reverts to myth, praying the ‘Mild breezes and light Western Winds’ (Lenes aurae Zephyrique leves, 972) that once, in another harbour, had saved the life of innocent Iphigenia by ‘carrying her away’ (vexistis, 974) across the seas to distant Tauris, also to ‘carry’ (portate, 977) Octavia away from impending death to the safety of that distant, barbaric shore. This latter paradox, presenting bloodthirsty Tauris as a haven of safety is then contrasted with an epigram that provides suitable closure for a drama dealing with an emperor waging murderous war on his own citizens: while Tauris was content to slaughter foreigners, Nero’s ‘Rome revels in a citizen’s (or “citizen”) blood’ (civis gaudet Roma cruore, 982). True, this final epigram has been taken as an (oddly brief and isolated) reference to evoke the horrors of civil war which, less than seven months after Nero’s fall, almost pulled Rome and her empire down with him.47 However, in the perspective suggested by the dramatist, the focus is sharper. What is evoked is, surely, the war waged by Nero against the citizens. In fear (441) of ‘citizens’ (cives, 495; cf. 464–8) plotting his murder (as ‘citizens’ (502) had once plotted Caesar’s), he is throughout the play presented as plunging head-long into the evil circle of forestalling such fears by exiling cives (242), by treating them like ‘enemies’ (hostes, 443–4; cf. 469), by ordering their murder (495, 856), and by planning to burn down their city and homes (857); thus, finally, provoking a ‘citizens’ revolt’ (civium motus, 804). This is the conflict that the drama’s final line turns into a memorable epigram. As for Rome’s ‘joy’ (gaudet, 982), it seems relevant, finally, that there was in fact grotesque rejoicing after Octavia’s murder, the Senate ‘celebrating’ by voting a public thanksgiving. Indeed, this had, Tacitus is careful to register, become a nauseating habit of Nero’s Senate, likewise greeting the murders of Plautus, Sulla, and Agrippina with expressions of joy, as if the tidings were auspicious.48 Such grotesque reactions, later repeated when the suppression of 47 Civil war: Smith (2003) 423; Boyle (2008) ad loc.; war against citizens: Wilson (2003) 64–6 (acutely outlining the role of Roma in the play). 48 The ‘suicide’ of Agrippina was celebrated with SVPPLICATIONES INDICTAS PRO SALVTE NERONIS (AFA (Henzen) 74, 10 ff. = Scheid (1998) 28a–c, 12); cities showed feigned ‘joy’ (laetitiam, Tac. Ann. 14.10.2), the Senate greeted Nero in ‘festive dress’ (festo cultu, 14.13.2); ludi pro aeternitate imperii celebrated Nero’s ‘survival’: Suet. Nero 11.2; Dio Cass. 61.15.1–2; 17.2 with Champlin (2003) 69–71 and 245 n. 28; supplicationes after the executions of Plautus and Sulla: Tac. Ann. 14.59.4; and again after the murder of Octavia as if the tidings were of ‘positive

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the Pisonian Conspiracy was celebrated as an unprecedented victory, a triumph even,49 over citizen-enemies (Ch. 12.2) is surely what this bitter, final epigram encapsulates. Rome had, because of Nero, been turned into an evil parody of herself—but for how long? [Curtain. Then applause? Cries for political action? Calls for ‘Author! Author!’?] * * * The reading presented above has deliberately aimed at meeting this script on its own terms, by reading it as a drama with actors, props, settings, and all. This approach makes no a priori assumptions about the script’s original relations (if any) with the actual stage, but its sustained focus has, interestingly, created a much-improved basis for assessing its stage viability as well as its audience impact. Viability seems clear and impact potentially strong—results which in vital respects may clear away prejudice and misunderstandings and open up the possibility of a more adequate understanding of this intriguing document. First, it could do so by refuting widespread ideas about this being a drama written without consideration of dramatic resources and therefore unperformable and, indeed, irrelevant to theatre history. That it was never intended for the stage is clearly a totally unwarranted conclusion. And second, by throwing new light on the remarkable range of dramatic conventions which are here brought into play and of which awareness has previously been limited. Indeed, the drama represents a cornucopia of dramatic sophistication in the handling of plot and scenery that we are quite unused to associating with the stage of Imperial Rome: the importance of the tripartition; the active role of the Chorus; the open and at the same time close-knit episodic structure, which frequently changes from one time and setting to another; the teleological perspective characteristic of such aetiological drama; and, finally, the assurance with which the dramatist handles a wide range of scenographic devices, from meta-theatrical allusion at one end to the use of formats from Roman history and society at the other—all of this represents aspects that it seems reasonable to assume came with the genre in which he was writing as well as with the world of drama in which he moved. Who he was will probably remain unknown. Laurels must go to an ignotus. But in his manner of dramatizing this story there are, as we shall presently see, numerous indications as to when and why and for whom he was writing.

events’ (rerum secundarum), Tacitus specifying that such celebrations under Nero were the ordinary response: 14.64.3. 49 ‘Roma gaudet . . .’ has clear triumphalist connotations: ‘Romanis . . . laeta victoria’: Liv. 10.36; cf. 31.22.1; Phaedrus 5.7.25 (quoted 73 n. 12); Ov. Pont. 2.1.57–8; ‘gaudium ingens’: Sall. Iug. 55.1 (Metellus’ victory).

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16 The Time of Writing Our dramatist was not alone in reacting to the fate of Octavia. In Pompeii, the eruption of Vesuvius (August 79) has preserved a poignant comment scribbled on the facade of the so-called House of the Menander.1 Enough remains to allow this graffito to be dated more accurately. From all we know, it stems from late May or early June 62, after Octavia’s banishment to Campania (i.e. the actual region of Pompeii)—and before the news of her death became publicly known. The well-wisher made no secret of where his sympathy lay: ‘ Lady Octavia, the emperor’s consort, may you have favourable 2 on your side . . .’ [< . . . > marks reasonably certain conjectures, judging from syntax and space].

If the House of the Menander actually was owned by one Quintus Poppaeus Eros,3 a relative or, more plausibly, an ex-slave of the Roman family best known for its most notorious member, the mistress of Nero now turned empress,4 the graffiti-writer had certainly chosen the appropriate facade on which to declare his now controversial loyalty and protest. In any case, the fragment suggests that indignation was by no means confined to the streets of Rome. 1 The graffiti placed to the left of the north entrance to the House of the Menander (Reg. 1, ins. 10, 4): OCTAVIA AVGVSTI [VALE, H]ABIAS [PR]OPIT . . . SA[?], NSc 1929, 462 no. 183 (a reference to the banished Octavia); similarly CIL 4.8277; Diehl (1930) 861; PIR2 C 1110. 2 The verb habere linked with the adjective propitius commonly refers to a god or gods (in Octavia’s case for instance propitios deos) who one wishes to take care of a person: Petron. Sat. 57.2 (tutelam); 74.14 (genium); similarly, in Pompeian epigraphy: CIL 4.1679 (HABEAS PROPITEOS DEOS TVOS); 4.4007 (SIC VALIIAS SIC HABIAS VIINIIRII (:Venere(m)) PROPYTIA (m) (II indicates letters no longer decipherable); and from Rome: ILS 1967, HABEATIS DEOS PROPITIOS. 3 Ling (1997) 142–3 surveys the suggestive, but, as I agree, far from cogent evidence (a now lost bronze seal found in room 43) for accepting Q. Poppaeus Eros as the owner or procurator of the House of the Menander; alii alia. 4 Poppaei and Campania: evidence surveyed in Griffin (1984) 102; Champlin (2003) 297 n. 48; Kragelund (2010) 564–5; her grandfather’s property and slaves in Stabiae: AE (1999) 431–9; the Temple of Diva Venus-Poppaea (neither discussed by Rome’s and Campania’s topographers, nor by Holztrattner (1995)): Dio Cass. 63.26.3 with Kragelund (2010) 559–68.

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From graffiti to a praetexta there is of course a jump—but is there a parallel? Is this drama likewise a reaction to what happened? Can it indeed be shown to have a specific, well-articulated place in the Neronian post-mortem (the post June 68 date already firmly established (Ch.14.3))? Or is the play devoid of connection to any specific time and nothing but a fairly aimless rhetorical exercise (to name but the extremes of purpose between which it has been claimed to belong)?

1. LOOKING F OR TERMINI POST To answer these questions there are two parameters to consider: first, whether internal evidence can bring us closer to a more precisely demarcated time of writing. Nero’s death as a terminus post (Ch. 14.3) is of course helpful, but are there elements allowing us to go beyond that date, by establishing a new terminus post or even a terminus ante? Are there, for instance, specific events or publications which can be shown to have influenced the dramatist? Or, in the absence of such specific markers, is there, second, evidence that can contribute in terms of context to locating the script more firmly in relation to developments in attitudes to Nero? On both accounts there are old and new arguments to assess. The extreme (and easily falsifiable) such attempt saw this as a text written in the Renaissance, but of the options worth considering, the following three have, in ascending order, found notable support. Each agrees that the play is postNeronian but argues for a specific, somewhat later terminus post, whether it comes (i) after the publication of Tacitus’ books on Nero (c.118); (ii) after the publication of the poet Statius’ Silvae (c.89–90); or (iii) after the publication of one or other of the (now lost) Flavian historical studies on the rule and downfall of Nero (c.70–5). In view of this playwright’s marked tendency to borrow from, or allude to, a wide number of identifiable texts, ranging from Sophocles and Ovid to Lucan and Seneca, an approach focusing on such datable intertextual relations is prima facie sensible. In a script that so often draws upon the texts of others, it would be odd if it did not at some point reveal its dependence on other, for instance Flavian, authors, thus providing a new terminus post. However, once put to the test, the approach seems to run into difficulties when it comes to identifying aspects that betray awareness of anything written—or indeed happening—much later than the fall of Nero. As is commonly acknowledged, Tacitus seems more likely to rely on the Octavia—or perhaps rather on a tradition that included the Octavia—than the

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other way round. It is the historian who seems to know and abbreviate and, at points, contradicts the dramatist’s accounts of such matters as the people’s heroism (Ch. 10.2) or her final bravery when facing death (Ch. 10.4)—the opposite seems nowhere the case.5 It is not therefore a solid ground upon which to base a terminus post. As for Statius,6 there are, to be sure, correspondences, but on closer inspection they are of a kind so trivial and so much a part of standard poetic usage,7 that it seems foolhardy to infer that the dramatist, or for that matter Statius, would need to rely on anyone specific to come up with the expression in question. The similarity seems based upon poetic and indeed pictorial8 langue rather than the paroles of anyone specific. A date during the reign of Domitian is also otherwise problematic: with an emperor nicknamed ‘the bald Nero’, who was in conflict with Stoic senators and executed the author of a mythological drama seemingly alluding to his marital problems, this is not, all things being equal, a plausible context for a drama of Stoic leanings on the divorce of Domitian’s Imperial ‘other’.9 5 Tacitus’ awareness of the Octavia or of a tradition of which it was part; 176 n. 7; the principal overlaps and divergencies are discussed in Ch. 10.2 and 179 n. 11; n. 13; 181 n. 21; n. 22; 182 n. 24; n. 26–7; 183 n. 30; 345 n. 243; 348 n. 251. The attempts by Ferri (1998) and Lucarini (2005) to detect a unique link between the Octavia and Tacitus, thus proving that one depends directly on the other, overlook crucial evidence to the contrary: 181 n. 21; for another non-link with Tacitus, see 309 n. 42. 6 References at 204–7; 764–72 to Leda, Europa, Danae are inspired by Statius Silvae 1.2.135–6 (with Jupiter’s lovers in the same order): thus Helm (1934) 343; contra Junge (1999) 281 n. 904 (the parallels too common to prove anything). Ferri (2003) 18–27 relaunched the idea, without, however, acknowledging that along with Ganymede (unsuitable here) these three are the canonical group, mentioned again and again. Kragelund (2005) 104 n. 64 lists ten parallels, one of them in a pre-79 AD papyrus from Herculaneum, with the three in the same order. It is implausible, therefore, that the dramatist would have needed to consult Statius (or Statius the dramatist) in order to fashion so predictable a list. 7 Ferri (2003) 19 sees it as significant that the vocabulary of Statius and the dramatist overlap when describing Jupiter’s erotic escapades. But the words used are integral parts of this specific imagery, repeated by school authors, memorized by kids and familiar to every Roman versifier: to quote but one of the dramatist’s favourite authors: Europa’s bull has cornua (thrice in Ovid); Leda’s swan has pennae and plumae and is pluma tectus (again thrice in Ovid), and Danae’s lover is gold(en): thrice in Ovid; that the Octavia has cornua (206); pennas (205); tectum plumis pennisque (765); aureus (207) and auro (772) and Statius pennas, cornua and auro and a few other more vaguely similar expressions is therefore no proof of an exclusive link: Kragelund (2005) 78–9 with parallels listed in notes 60; 62–8; on alleged further correspondences to Statius (very flimsy), see ibid. 79–86. 8 In LIMC’s survey (F. Canciani) of depictions of Jupiter’s love affairs, Ganymede with eagle has a record 230 entries closely followed by his three closest rivals, Europa (213), then Leda (163) and finally Danae (24 (+ 12 probables)). 9 Domitian the ‘bald Nero’: Juv. 4.38; Domitian sensitive to comments about Nero as if they were made about himself: Plin. Pan. 53.4; such comparisons were now the non plus ultra in defamation of an emperor (cf. Suet. Tit. 7 on Titus as an ‘alium Neronem’); marital problems were in Domitian’s case yet a sensitive issue: Suet. Dom. 10.4 (a dramatist executed for allegedly alluding to Domitian’s divorce); so were politicized Stoics: Syme (1991d); late Domitianic Rome (for which also Schubert (1998) 289 argues) therefore an unlikely context for producing a play with this profile: Junge (1999) 200 n. 533; Fitch (2004a) 512; Kragelund (2005) 79; Boyle (2008)

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If it is true that these parallels offer little in terms of a firm terminus post, it seems potentially more promising to focus on aspects suggesting that the dramatist saw things in a manner revealing the impact of more widespread developments in the historiographical traditions concerning the reign of Nero. Scholars, for instance, invoke evidence suggesting that the portrayal of Agrippina as a vindictive fury-ghost is a development that sets in with the Flavian historians (i.e. from c.70 onwards). But as we have seen (Ch. 13.2), this development in fact sets in then and there. Immediately after her death, the story of her ghostly returns is part of what was told or whispered about Nero long before his downfall.10 So there is no solid basis for a Flavian terminus post there. Similarly with the dramatist’s frequent parallels between Nero and Jupiter. This again is, allegedly, typically Flavian, with Nero being Apollo, and Vespasian often Jupiter. The argument overlooks a Greek birthday poem to Poppaea from between 63 and 65. The Empress is there addressed as ‘the Spouse of Zeus’, the role of Nero thereby clearly defined. In art there are likewise depictions of Nero as Jupiter.11 Such imagery was, moreover, as old as the Julio-Claudian principate.12 They are not therefore, a solid foundation on which to build a case. Finally, it has been argued that the drama reflects the positive Flavian attitude to the good and worthy among their Augustan predecessors, among them the Emperor Claudius and his son Britannicus.13 This would suggest a date following Vespasian’s accession in 70. But almost from the start, Nero’s immediate successor, Galba (June 68–January 69), likewise made a point of continuing not only the Augustan principate (calling himself Augustus, his successor Caesar), but also the imperial cult of Augustus, of Livia (who had patronized Galba), and of Claudius14 (by whom Galba—like Vespasian—had xv–xvi; contra, but unconvincingly, Ferri (2003) 27 (perhaps a play deliberately targeting Domitian). 10 Agrippina’s ghost an invention of Flavian historiography: Helm (1934) 344; Schubert (1998) 442 (imagery ‘spezifisch flavisch’); Beck (20072) 13 (more cautiously); the imagery in fact pre-Flavian: Champlin (2003) 96–111, Kragelund (2007) 27–44 and Ch. 13.2. 11 Nero = Jupiter a Flavian imprint: Schubert (1998) 287 ff.; 424; Beck (20072) 14 (again, more cautiously); neither take the evidence to the contrary into account: Nero = Jupiter in Calp. Ecl. 4.142–3 (c.60 AD); Poppaea Augusta = ‘Spouse of Zeus’ (˜Øe sØ): Leonides of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.355, 3 (63–5 AD) with Cichorius (1922) 365–8; a cameo from c.54–9 shows Agrippina crowning Jupiter-Nero: Megow (1987) 213 no. A 98; Gradel (2007) 23 fig. 7. 12 Augustan and Tiberian panegyric compared the Empress’s bed to that of Juno: Ov. Fasti 1.650 (‘sola (sc. Livia) toro magni digna reperta Iovis’); similarly Pont. 3.1.118; cf. Val. Max. 6.1.1 on Livia’s sanctissimum . . . genialem torum and the Consolatio Liviae 380 on her marriage to ‘Jupiter’ (magno consociata (sc. Liuia) Iovi). 13 Vespasian upheld the cult of Divus Claudius: Suet. Vesp. 9.1; Titus honoured the memory of his school-mate Britannicus: Suet. Tit. 2; note also the Flavian restoration coins honouring the memory of Galba and the good Julio-Claudians, but omitting Caligula, Nero, Otho, and Vitellius: RIC II2 Titus 399–497; such demonstrations of respect might suggest a Flavian date: Griffin (1984) 260 n. 2; Ferri (2003) 16; Smith (2003) 428 and Boyle (2008) xvi. 14 On 3 January 69 Galba and the Arvals sacrificed to Augustus, Livia, and a third divus whose name is lost; however, the order of the three divi and the space left open make the conjecture

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been extravagantly honoured).15 Anticipating the Flavians, Galba also emphasized his pietas towards Nero’s victims among the ill-fated, but, as it was now emphasized, legitimate heirs of Augustus (among them no doubt Octavia and Britannicus). Statues were re-erected and their mortal remains granted the full honours of a burial in the Augustan Mausoleum (Ch. 16.7). While ensuring that their enemies were punished, Galba further saw to it that the poisoner of Claudius and Britannicus was publicly executed (Ch. 16.7).16 With such gestures, Galba deftly placed himself in a relative’s place, fulfilling the role of a true and pious successor, avenging wrongs and restoring rights. In sum, there is nothing specifically Flavian about honouring Claudius and his children. Such attitudes are rather what the Flavians share with Galba, an ideological continuity that, with reference to this particular issue, leaves no basis for giving the drama a Flavian rather than, for instance, a Galban date. Lacunose as our knowledge is, this and similar aspects are not, of course, by themselves sufficient to rule out a later date. The future may bring finds that might alter the picture. On the known record, however, there remain but two arguments to consider. Both see the dramatist as dependent on a historiographical tradition: the first invokes specific aspects which it is claimed reveal such dependence; the second takes an a priori stance when insisting that such dependence is a necessary postulate. The focus of the first position is on so-called tell-tale signs that the dramatist created his plot by relying heavily, sometimes excessively so, on one or more historians of the reign of Nero. These historians had created a historical vulgata on which the dramatist allegedly depends.17 There are, however, two problems with this claim. First, since none of the works of these historians have been preserved, there is no saying how far the dramatist actually depended on any specific narratives. And second, the dramatist’s Nero is in many respects so uniquely fashioned that the notion of a historical vulgata here seems stretched to breaking point. This, in fact, is not a Nero that in any meaningful way can be described as standard (Ch. 16.3; 6). That the origin of the portrayal is to be found in some historians is however often considered axiomatic. To prove the point, instances are quoted where the assumed source contained material that the dramatist failed to jettison, even though it is dramatically irrelevant. The result is a text with tell-tale traces D[IVO CLAVDIO B(ovem) M(arem). IN COLL]EGIO . . . virtually certain: AFA (Henzen) 90 = Scheid (1998) 40, i, 15–16. 15 Galba honoured by Claudius: Suet. Galba 7.1 (‘gratissimus Claudio’); 8.1 (ornamenta triumphalia; three top priesthoods); Vespasian ditto: Suet. Vesp. 4.1–2 (ornamenta triumphalia, two top priesthoods, the consulate). 16 Burial at Mausoleum and Lucusta: 350 n. 255; 354 n. 272. 17 The dramatist ‘working from written sources’ (whence a terminus post): Helm (1934) 326; Ferri (2003) 9 et passim; Beck (2007) 15; Smith (2011) 243; 245; a vulgata: Ferri (2003) 5; similarly Beck (2007) 15; a problematic concept: Wiseman (2008) 202–3.

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of the pre-existing versions used by the dramatist. This, of course, looks substantial. Although little is known about these Flavian historians, there were certainly many, and from early on. In his Jewish War (the Greek version of which seems datable to AD 75–9), Josephus refers to Nero’s fall and the Year of the Four Emperors—but refrains from going into any detail, since ‘so many historians had already dealt with these matters, in Greek as well as in Latin’.18 The search for so-called ‘intertextual residues jutting out of the receiving text’19 has, moreover, highlighted elements that it is reasonable to assume would have figured prominently in such histories. As for Nero’s dynastic purge in 62, it has, for instance, been observed that the dramatist mentions the murders of that year in correct order: first the executions of Plautus and Sulla, then of Octavia (for dramatic effect all squeezed into the drama’s three-day time span). Behind this sequence—thus the argument— stands a Flavian historian, whom the dramatist has excerpted, ‘chapter after chapter’.20 This should explain what is seen as the basically irrelevant inclusion of the murders of Plautus and Sulla, events that, allegedly, have no logical link with the drama’s real subject, the murder of Octavia.21 The proposed reading is deeply problematic. To see the inclusion of these murders and the ensuing debate between Nero and Seneca as dictated by what the dramatist by sheer accident hit upon in some historians overlooks the fact that the inclusion of this episode is one of his single most brilliant moves, offering the cue for one of the sharpest political confrontations in Western theatre. In the symmetries of the plot, the episode is, moreover, so well integrated that its absence seems almost unthinkable: Ch. 12.2–3. It is by no means, therefore, an element that seems to be ‘jutting out from the receiving text’, let alone something that looks like it has been taken on board simply because the dramatist was mindlessly copying the account of some historian, chapter and verse. As for the order of these murderous events—first the two male cousins, then Octavia—this was, moreover, the actual order of events.22 That condemned persons were proclaimed public ‘enemies’ (hostes, cf. 443; 469; 864) was shocking, but nothing new—but the beheadings, this was, within a family context, bestial brutality of an appallingly new kind.23 His mother had at least 18 Joseph BJ 4.496; similarly, 2.250. Date of the The Jewish War: Bilde (1988) 79 (with bibliography). 19 Ferri (2003) 13. 20 ‘Chapter after chapter’ (Kapitelweise): thus Helm (1934) 326 relaunched by Ferri (2003) 12 (‘a likely possibility’) and Beck (2007) 14; 23; Smith (2011) 245 detects ‘heavy dependence on written historical documents’; contra, Kragelund (2005) 69–78. 21 The episode with Plautus and Sulla has, ‘thematically . . . little point’: Ferri (2003) 12; similarly Beck (2007) 15; to Smith (2011) 245 ‘the Octavia is full of dramatically unmotivated historical details’. 22 Order of the three murders: 180 n. 17–18. 23 Edicts, thanksgivings and unprecedented beheadings of three family members: 182 n. 27; 295 n. 48.

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been spared such indignity, but his cousins and now his sister-wife—where would it end? Each atrocity had further been followed by nauseating thanksgivings, ‘Rome rejoicing in a citizen’s death’.24 No thinking witness to tyranny, past or present, can doubt that the whole affair made a deep, unforgettable mark. It is not, therefore, the kind of episode for which Quellenforschung, properly conducted, would attempt to postulate a specific, datable Urtext. Shockingly, this was something that had actually happened, not something that historians, years or decades later, had committed to paper. The further suggestion that the dramatist’s focus on Nero’s plans for the Fire of Rome ‘is a clear sign that the author was composing from written sources’ is, once again, a deeply problematic instance of Quellenforschung run amok. Surely no first- (let alone second- or third-) century Roman author25 would have needed to consult a book to know about the rumours of Nero’s involvement. They had arisen spontaneously, then and there, and they had already been used during the early revolt—and later by the Flavians—to blacken his name. Until the end of Antiquity, and beyond, this is what every schoolchild knew about Nero, Tacitus famously being the only ancient historian to register any doubt at all. On the known evidence there is, I think, no clear or plausible indication, be it stylistic, intertextual, or ideological, that this is a text relying on other texts written years or decades after the fall of Nero. In the absence of any such, the numerous indications to the contrary have made a steadily growing number of scholars turn their critical attention to indications that this is a text written fairly soon after the fall of Nero, be it during the openly anti-Neronian reign of Galba (June 68–15 January 69) or, in the first years of his successful successor, Vespasian (69–79) (Table 16.1). Within this early time span between June 68 and c.71, there are two periods that can safely be ruled out. In the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Galba, his two immediate successors, Otho (15 January till 16 April 69), and, Vitellius (January–December 69), both made a point of honouring the memory of Nero and Poppaea, and even posed as their successors.26 During such revisionist reigns, a violently anti-Neronian drama 24

Beheadings used to verify and advertise death (and preclude the emergence of pretenders returning to cause trouble): Luc. 9.1037 (the amputated head of Pompey brings Caesar ‘proof of the crime’ (fidem . . . sceleris); Dio Cass. 60.32.3 (Agrippina inspecting the teeth of the beheaded Lollia Paulina to ensure identity) with Myrup Kristensen (2013) 5; the Senate officially rejoicing: 295 n. 48. 25 The reference to Rome’s fire ‘a clear sign that the author was composing from written sources’: Ferri (2003) 15 (italics mine); but people had heard and believed such rumours even prior to Nero’s fall: Tactus Ann. 15.67.2 (a tribune of the Guard calling Nero an arsonist, to his face, in 65); his responsibility for the fire still believed and remembered in Late Antiquity (and beyond): Jakob-Sonnabend (1990) 104–20 (quoting i.a. ‘Seneca’s’ 11th letter to Saint Paul). 26 ‘Nero Otho’ (thus he sometimes signed edicts: Cluvius Rufus quoted by Plut. Otho 3.2); cf. Plut. Otho 3.1; Tac. Hist. 1.13.2; 78.2; Suet. Otho 7.1; 10.2; Dio Cass. 64.8.21; cf. 8.3; Vitellius honouring Nero’s memory: Tac. Hist. 2.71.1; 95.1–2; Suet. Vit. 11.2; Dio Cass. 65.4.1; 7.3; Eutr.

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like the Octavia is an unlikely product (to put it mildly). Interest therefore concentrates on the reigns of the two anti-Neronian emperors. But before looking more closely at the aspects favouring such an early timeframe, there is a final objection to take into account. The theory, based upon nothing specific, builds its case upon a deeply ingrained assumption that a dependence on a historiographical tradition is a necessary postulate. For a drama of this type to be written ‘one needs to give the historians time to write’, so runs the argument.27 But is this argument reasonable, let alone verifiable? As an alternative scenario one might, for instance, argue that the dramatist’s undoubted familiarity with the events of the period could just as well—not to say more plausibly—be based upon stories people told (as opposed to histories they wrote). During Nero’s reign much had no doubt been whispered about the bravery and fate of his most illustrious victims. The murders of his mother, sister-wife, cousins, and mentor (merely to list the victims mentioned in the drama) had clearly attracted much comment—and some of the stories no doubt grew in the telling.28 Nero’s own playing of Orestes the Matricide would, for instance, almost automatically have added fuel to the rumours about the ghost of his mother demanding revenge (rumours which this dramatist ultimately ‘put on stage’ (Ch. 13.1–2). But, it has been objected, the drama deals with events known only to insiders with privileged access to the court itself; for non-initiates these events would have been ‘shrouded in obscurity’. To illuminate what had happened, historians are therefore a necessary postulate.29 To judge by what is known, this is, however, demonstrably wrong. Quite the contrary, these events had been played out in the open, for all to see and debate. Letters and edicts, public thanksgivings and the overturning of statues had broadcast the murders.30

7.18.4; these gestures were sometimes emphasized by Flavian propaganda: 353 n. 264; Ferrill (1964–65) 267–9; Kragelund (2000) 512–13 (luxuria; Domus aurea); in any case, a date for the play under either Otho or Vitellius seems utterly implausible: Kragelund (1982) 45–6 (Otho and Vitellius’ positive attitudes to Nero); (2000) 498; 513 (their positive attitudes to Nero’s economic policy). 27 ‘time to write’: thus e.g. Helm (1934) 329; Junge (1999) 199–200. 28 On stage and in anonymous invective Nero was repeatedly declared a matricide: 240 n. 6–8 with Champlin (2003) 96 ff. In Nero’s omina mortis, allusions to the revenge of his mother and sister-wife are prominent: Suet. Nero 34.4; 39.2; 40.4; 46.3; 46.1; 57.1; along with the fire, these are the crimes that contemporaries are reported mentioning with horror: Tac. Ann. 15.67.2 (a tribune calling him parricida matris et uxoris to his face); 62.2 (similarly Seneca, when ordered to die); Plut. Galba 14.2 (similarly a tribune of the guard); Joseph BJ 2.250 (quoting numerous early historians, in Greek and Latin). 29 Events ‘shrouded in obscurity’: Ferri (2003) 10; 16; contra, Kragelund (2005) 71–2; Wiseman (2008) 202. 30 Nero’s letter to the Senate on the ‘suicide’ of Agrippina (reputedly ghost-written by Seneca): Quint. 8.5.18; cf. Tac. Ann. 14.10.3; Dio Cass. 61.14.3; 15.2; the letter read out, Thrasea Paetus sensationally left the Senate in silent protest: Dio Cass. ibid.; Tac. Ann. 14.12.1; letters and

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The Senate invariably applauded, but protest is also on record. Throughout the Empire, damnatio would ensure that people knew what had happened to Nero’s mother and sister-wife; among provincials and the military, some would also have read the official daily reports. Rumours did the rest.31 The divorce from Octavia had sensationally provoked riots of an unprecedented nature, with the statues of a living member of the dynasty being toppled and the Palace besieged; the protest was of such strength that it had taken the use of force to quell it. Octavia’s final departure for her island of death had, again, been fully in the public eye, with onlookers present, no doubt commenting and remembering. The graffiti writer in Pompeii had not been alone in seeing what happened as wrong. During the hectic months prior to, and soon after, Nero’s fall, stories about such injustice would have surfaced, truth mingled with myth and deliberate slander. At this juncture, one hears much of rumours, songs, and stories about Nero and his crimes. Now, his enemies returned from exile;32 now statues of his victims were re-erected (and Nero’s and Poppaea’s came down); now their dedications were re-inscribed (and Nero’s obliterated);33 and now, finally, answers to the great question, ‘Why did it happen?’ began to take shape. In Rome (as indeed elsewhere in history), the fall of a tyrant gives rise to hectic literary activity. Parallels from AD 37, 54, 68, 96, and 193 (fall or death of the Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Domitian, and Commodus) illustrate how literature became closely involved with the process of re-evaluating the immediate past. Histories were written ‘on the basis of still-burning hatred’ edict on the murders of Plautus, Sulla, and Octavia: 14.59.4; 63.1; cf. Suet. Nero 35.2 (protests on behalf of Octavia). 31 Thrasea’s silent protests (114 n. 47; 261 n. 7; 304 n. 30) made their impact on readers of official reports (acta diurna) ‘throughout provinces and army’ (per provincias per exercitus): Tac. Ann. 16.22.3 (quoting an exchange in the Senate); even those unable to read might hear circulatores recite ‘the edict of the consul or emperor’ (edictum consulis vel imperatoris): schol. on Pers. 1.134. 32 Pro- and anti-Neronian ballads, during and after the revolt: Suet. Nero 42.2; Plut. Galba 4.1. Anonymous invective: Suet. Nero 45.2; Vindex’s edicts against Nero: ibid. 41; the Prefect of Egypt denouncing previous abuses in July 68: OGIS ii.669; attacks in the Senate after Nero’s fall: Plut. Galba 8.5; Tac. Hist. 2.10.1; 4.6.2; under Vitellius: 2.53.1; under Vespasian: 4.43 ff. Tac. Ann. 15.73.2 quotes accounts of exiles who returned to Rome, ‘after the fall of Nero’ (post interitum Neronis) concerning the Pisonian Conspiracy; their return provoked heated debates, in the Senate and the law courts: Hist. 1.4.3; 2.92.2–3; 4.42; their importance in the Octavia: 312–13 n. 59–65. 33 Suet. Galba 10.1 (Galba calling for revolt from a platform adorned with images of Nero’s victims); in Dalmatia a titulus of P. Anteius Rufus was deleted after his execution in 66 and reinscribed, probably soon after Nero’s fall: PIR2 A 731 (E. Groag); Dalmatia came out early for Galba (ILS 237 is a dedication still uncertain what to call him) and in Rome, Anteius’ friends soon ensured that the informer who caused his death was exiled (Tac. Hist. 4.44.2): Kragelund (1988) 507 n. 71. In Rome, statues of Nero’s murdered relatives were re-erected after his fall: 350 n. 255. Nero’s damnatio: Eck (2002) 285–95; Champlin (2003) 29 ff.; Varner (2004) 46–85, all rightly stressing that this was a complex, non-linear process, but Champlin probably underestimating the degree of intense aversion (cf. K. Coleman reviewing Champlin (2003) in JRA 18 (2005) 275–7 and Griffin (2013) 468–9).

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(recentibus odiis); drama, pamphlets, poetry, satire, biography, oratory, and reissues of banned or politically controversial writings soon came into circulation.34 On this showing, the argument for post-dating the play until historians have had ‘time to write’ seems neither cogent nor verifiable. On the contrary, it is, to quote three parallels, notable that while there is no clear sign that Pacuvius depended on any historian for his Paulus, it looks, on the other hand, as if historians might have been influenced by the ‘tragic’ way Pacuvius’ praetexta presented things (Ch. 3.2; 4.1). Second, Cicero and Caesar certainly did not wait for historians to have their say before writing their highly influential biographies pro et anti Cato. The first edited his biography within four months, the second within a year of Cato’s suicide.35 Third, Maternus’ Nero, which is also a praetexta, is clearly dateable to the period soon after Nero’s fall (Ch. 7.7). An early date for the surviving praetexta, which also deals with Nero’s legacy, is therefore by no means unthinkable. All things being equal it is, on the contrary, very much what one might expect. In Antiquity, as later on, times of violent transition rapidly produce new truths and a new framework within which to interpret the past. This sometimes happens overnight, and with wide-ranging effect. Then as now, historians are by no means alone in passing on such re-evaluations. In the case of the Octavia, its dependence on historical accounts is, to be sure, possible—but it takes more than a priori assumptions to prove that this is necessarily so.

2. A DATE S OON A FTER NERO’ S F ALL? In the seeming absence of clear or, at least, plausible signs that this is a script postdating the fall of Nero by years or even decades, we shall in this section look hard at the alternative scenario suggesting that this absence is significant 34 recentibus odiis: Tac. Ann. 1.1.2; texts written or edited within months of the death of a tyrant, in 37, 54, 68, 96, and 193: Seneca’s Ad Marciam (soon after Caligula’s accession, Abel (1985) 705 or around 39, Griffin (1976) 397; Seneca’s Apocolocynthosis (a few months after Claudius’ death in 54: P.T. Eden’s edition (Oxford, 1984) 5); Curiatius Maternus’ attack on Vatinius (Tac. Dial. 11.2), apparently in a praetexta called Nero, is datable to the reign of Galba: Ch. 7.7; Martial’s rehabilitation of Paris (11.13) to shortly after Nerva’s accession: Weinreich (1940) 5; Fannia’s re-edition of Senecio’s biography of her husband and Pliny’s De ultione Helvidii Prisci are datable to the same reign: Plin. Ep. 7.19.6; 9.13.1); so is Tacitus’ Agricola. Dio’s pamphlet concerning Severus’ dreams (Dio Cass. 73.23.1–2) was out within three months of Severus’ accession in 193: Millar (1964) 29. 35 Cato’s suicide: April 46 BC; Cicero’s Cato commenced in April or May 46 (i.e. within a month later): Att. 12.4 and out by July, within four months after the event; Caesar’s Anticato commenced in March 45 and reached Cicero by August 45: ibid. 13.50.1 with Tschiedel (1981) 7–11 and Goar (1987) 14–18 on the evidence for the dates and for other such early publications on Cato.

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and that the script is, in fact, very close to the events dramatized.36 The following four sections (Ch. 16.3–6) then broaden out to focus on evidence that in diverse ways not only corroborates the idea of an early date, but further seems to allow narrowing down the time of writing to the brief reign of Nero’s immediate successor, the Emperor Galba (June 68–January 69). As for aspects that might indicate closeness to events, there is, first, a remarkable familiarity not only with the official discourse of the Claudian and Neronian period, but also with Seneca’s writings, the tracts written during exile, the De clementia, and the tragedies.37 Moreover, Claudius’ conquest of Britain, Nero’s ‘allegiance’ to the ideals of clementia, his mother’s pre-damnatio imagery, and, finally, his ‘military’ image—all of this is evoked in phraseology with clear or suggestive parallels in the official discourse of the time. All the above might of course be the product of an ambition to ‘get it right’, but then again, it is certainly not in conflict with the assumption that we are dealing with someone writing when events and slogans were still remembered and when Quintilian, somewhat to his dismay, had found Seneca to be ‘almost the sole author in the hands of the young’ (Ch. 12.1). Second, there is the dramatist’s remarkable familiarity with the period’s Who’s Who? Even Tacitus sometimes gets it wrong, the dramatist never. Not in an emphatic, learned way, but seemingly as a matter of course. His handling of the Campanian geography and final whereabouts of Octavia is the same: this is just something he and his audience knew (Ch. 10.3). True, some would explain such knowledge as the product of learning, of writing perhaps decades (or even centuries) later for a group of specialists who liked historical drama to get it right.38 Granted that this were actually the case, there seems no denying 36

Seita (2001) and Wilson (2003) 5 f. provide all-round summary of views concerning date (Galban; Flavian; Domitianic; post-Tacitean). The playwright’s anti-Neronian attitude has not infrequently been regarded as a possible indication of an early date: cf. e.g. Grassl (1973) passim; Manuwald (2001) 337, Champlin (2003) 9 and Erasmo (2004) 59. An early Flavian terminus ante: Zwierlein (1986) 445; Holztrattner (1995) 106; Liberman (1998) vii; Junge (1999) 169 f.; 199; Smith (2003) 425 ff.; Boyle (2008) xvi. Fitch (2004a) 512–13 lists elements ‘which would point to composition between mid-68 and 70’; similarly Ramage (1983) 210 n. 32 (Galban or Flavian); Barnes (1982) 215–17; Kragelund (1982) 52; (1988) 508; (2005) 69–78; Sullivan (1985) 72; Habinek (2000) 265, Flower (2002) 71; (2006) 202–3 and Wiseman (2004) 265 are among those arguing for a Galban date. 37 Seneca’s fame endured: Tac. Ann. 15.60.2–65 (his death scene widely known); Juv. 8.211–12 (free elections would have made him emperor; cf. Tac. Ann. 15.65), but was probably at its zenith under Nero and Galba and in the first years of the Flavians: Quint. 10.1.125 (quoted 213 n. 2); links between the dramatist and Seneca: Ch. 12.1; 16.7. 38 Dramatist’s onomastic strategy indicative of an early date: Junge (1999) 198–9; Smith (2003) 397; Kragelund (2005) 99 n. 9; Boyle (2008) xvi; contra, Ferri (2003) ad 950 (indicative of the bookish profile of the intended audience); Beck (2007) 21; 23 suggests that the dramatist was perhaps an Antonine antiquarian recreating a lost world, but does not explain how such imitation of Seneca squares with the attitudes of the Antonine antiquarians, Fronto and Gellius, who both were very critical of Seneca. Smith (2011) 244 goes way too far when claiming that the play ‘could have been written any time before the thirteenth century’. Who between the fifth and

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that the learning these specialists appreciated is quite remarkably constituted. Indeed, this dramatist seems to wear his learning so lightly that one could easily mistake him for a contemporary. Not for him the historian’s cumbersome annotation of new entries. Instead, he simply presumes that his personae are as familiar as are present day royalty, politicians, and day-to-day celebrities. Here, one finds no acknowledgement that such names are soon forgotten once substance, power, or sheer scandal will no longer ensure recognition. Far from it, formal, let alone systematic introduction is entirely absent. His protagonist, for instance, frequently mentions, but never names her mother, father, and brother—even her odious husband goes unnamed until she formally curses him. The requirements of magic explain—and of course cast an ominous shadow over—this first named reference to ‘Nero the Usurper, the son of Domitius’ (Nero insitivus, Domitio genitus patre, 249). This is exactly what the rebels in 68 scornfully called him.39 In a dramatic context, this lack of bookish precision is of course appropriate (Ch. 11.1), but years or even decades after the event, when memories of the lesser figures in the JulioClaudian Dynasty had begun to fade, readers and audiences might well have started to find this maze a challenge. Eventually, the nurse does of course get around to actually naming Claudius and Britannicus (38; 169), but for noninitiates such postponement lays bare how much the dramatist assumes will be known.40 Apart from the initial tag—or, of course, the sight of his mask— Seneca is, for more than 200 lines, (from 377 till 589) only identified by a reference to exile on Corsica (382), to his role as Nero’s mentor (445), and through echoes of his style and writing. It is not helpful, either, that the name of the protagonist is used sparingly, and sometimes in the solemn, but unusual form Claudia (671; 789; 803).41 Others, including Nero’s beloved Acte and the Empresses Messalina and Agrippina are mentioned, but never named (although the latter is correctly styled, Augusta), so the expert audience is certainly put to the test. Similarly with Poppaea: all one gets are circumlocutions thirteenth century would have known at all about the intricate stemma of these dramatis personae? Let alone have been able to provide so intricate a web of allusions to mid-first century panegyric and literature: 192 n. 9; 207 n. 31; 214 n. 5–6; 232 n. 44? 39 In edicts from March 68, Vindex exposed Nero as a usurper by calling him ‘(Domitius) Ahenobarbus’: Suet. Nero 41.1; others had done so before, to their peril: id. 7.1; Tac. Ann. 12.41.3 (Britannicus); cf. 13.14.2 (Agrippina provocatively calling Britannicus, Claudius’ ‘true and worthy offspring’ (veram dignamque stirpem), Nero insitus et adoptivus). In the decade after the so-called Nero-Domitius’ death, the nickname stressing his adoptive status clearly caught on: prior to 79 Plin. HN offers seven instances: 2.92; 4.10; 4.22; 7.45; 7.71; 11.238, 37.50. 40 Ferri (2003) 58 points to similar vagueness in the handling of names in Senecan tragedy. But there, knowledge of myth and social hierarchies helps in identifying, at first, unidentified speakers; here one has to know the period’s history and Who’s Who remarkably well. 41 Her official name had no doubt been Claudia Octavia (PIR2 C 1110), but so far there is no confirmation, epigraphically or otherwise; a recent find has confirmed that her half-sister Antonia was Claudia Antonia: AE (1996) 419; AE (2009) 225 refers to one of Claudius’ two daughters, be it [CL]AVDIAE [OCTAV]IAE or [CL]AVDIAE [ANTON]IAE.

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such as the ‘whore’ (125; 186), the ‘new wife’ (276), and, in an allegorical key, the ‘cheap Venus’ (432). Only when Nero decides to acknowledge that Poppaea expects his child, will he finally name her (571). By contrast, other references are remarkably, not to say confusingly, offhand. The relevance of Octavia’s one-time betrothed Silanus (148) and Poppaea’s former husband Crispinus (731) is very summarily indicated; that of ‘Plautus and Sulla’ (437–8) hardly at all. All receive—and merit—full length introductions from Tacitus (who wrote some fifty years after they were murdered). Here, their role and fate is, in effect, presupposed to be known. Other abrupt entries are ‘Drusus’ Livia’ and her daughter Julia in the catalogue of Julio-Claudian women (cf. Table 15.1). Modern works of reference have, tellingly, made a mess of identifying the latter, admittedly a fairly obscure Imperial princess—but the dramatist clearly knows where she fits in.42 One might of course wonder why these two are mentioned at all, instead, for instance, of Augustus’ far more glamorous two Julias, the daughter and granddaughter— the former was the first to be exiled to Pandataria; the second famously caused the exile of Ovid.43 But then, fame is a relative thing. For the dramatist and his experts ‘Drusus’ Livia’ and Julia, for some reason, mattered more. Is this because his expert audience liked its drama littered with riddles?44 Or is it because we are dealing with experts of a different, less bookish kind, people simply knowing the ins and outs of the Julio-Claudian Who’s Who, not because they liked genealogy, but because these were people who still mattered? In post-Neronian Rome, the memory of Tiberius’ granddaughter and her son Plautus (the would-be emperor murdered by Nero just prior to Octavia (Ch. 10.2)) was still fresh: their one-time close sympathizers were persons, who, under Galba and in the first years of the Flavians, came very much to the fore (hence, perhaps, why the dramatist sees no point in spelling out why he found it natural to include Plautus’ mother in his catalogue of eminent Claudian daughters and mothers).45 42 Dramatist’s genealogical knowledge: Silanus (Oct. 148) is Claudius’ ‘son in law’ (gener, 145): deemed a ‘poetical prolepsis’ by Ferri (2003) ad loc., since he was only Octavia’s betrothed; but [ . . . GENER/TI. CLAVDI C]AESARIS (ILS 957, suppl. Mommsen) is apparently also how Silanus’ relatives titled him on his tombstone. Plautus and Sulla are presupposed known: not so by Tacitus: 179 n. 14–15; 309 n. 45. Julia, the daughter of Drusus, mentioned in Oct. 944 is in RE ‘Julia’ 552 (Fitzler) mistaken for Julia Livilla, the youngest daughter of Germanicus (PIR2 I 674); the mistake persists in Der neue Pauly 7 (Stuttgart 1999) 368 and Hurley (2013) 36 (wrongly comparing with Tacitus’ reference to that lady in Ann. 14.63.2). The dramatist knew better. 43 Augustus’ exiled daughter Julia (PIR2 I 634) on Pandataria: Tac. Ann. 1.53.1; Dio Cass. 55.10.14. With a list beginning with the first Julia (PIR2 I 634), then her daughters Julia (PIR2 I 635) and Agrippina, then Messalina, Agrippina, and finally Octavia, the catalogue would likewise have had three princesses, three empresses, again with Pandataria at beginning and end. 44 Ferri (2003) ad 950 sees the allusion as presupposing an audience well acquainted with later historians of the period; alternatives are not considered. 45 For contemporaries, the inclusion of the mother and grandmother of Nero’s closest rival, (Tac. Ann. 13.19.3) Plautus (executed just prior to Octavia, cf. Oct. 437; 443; 469), would be easy

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Leaving this latter question open, one may, provisionally, conclude that these are aspects that are certainly consistent with the assumption of a nearcontemporary panorama. This does not, of course, automatically preclude the choices of persons to be mentioned in the drama from being part of a later attempt to ‘get it right’. But with no firm or direct indications that the text is as late as it has sometimes been assumed, it does begin to look as if this scenario stands in serious need of some solid support, all the more so, when one turns to contemporary issues, which, even without being explicitly mentioned, are indeed colouring, distorting, or informing the dramatist’s depiction of the past. With his gift for polemical contrast, the dramatist is, for instance, strong on criticizing what Nero had presented as merits. Here, there is no place for Nero’s Golden Age imagery, but only for its opposite, Nero epitomizing the Iron Age. That contemporary panegyric had talked with such fervour about the golden alternative seems to be taken as known (Ch. 12.1). Now criticism of this glittering facade no longer had to be indirect (as it had been in Seneca’s final letters).46 Unmasking its Iron Age quality was all that was called for. Here, moreover, Nero’s sustained efforts to represent the late Poppaea as Diva Venus-Poppaea —her splendid temple in Campania, probably the region of her birth, was in fact only dedicated when news of the revolt of Vindex had already reached Italy—seem to provide the basis for the dramatist’s otherwise unparalleled rejection of all that Venus (read: Poppaea) stands for. Venus, the dynastic and even national ancestress is here, uniquely, no symbol of joyous, life-giving creativity. Instead, she stands revealed as the creator of nothing but death (Ch. 14.1). For such implicit denial to work, the addressee must know the (never explicitly mentioned) background—as, of course, contemporaries did.47 The erotic nature of his plot made it fairly easy for the dramatist to develop this theme of Venus-Poppaea’s lethal quality. The same is not the case, when it comes to the anti-Neronian theme presently to be examined. Nero’s much advertised, unbounded ‘generosity’ (mea liberalitas)48 was aimed at outshining that of Augustus and had benefited kings, commoners, cities,49 and, as Nero to grasp. The memory of Plautus’ mother was still honoured under the Flavians: Tac. Ann. 13.32.3; after Nero’s fall, Plautus’ friends and allies came much to the fore: note Galba’s Prefect, Cornelius Laco, his heir Piso (Hist. 1.14.1), the exiled Stoic Musonius Rufus (Ann. 14.59.1; Hist. 3.81.1; 4.10; 40.3), and the Stoic martyr Barea Soranus (Ann. 16.30.1; Hist. 4.7.2; 4.10; 4.40.3). Plautus’ surviving family retained its influence, in Tacitus’ day and beyond: Syme (1982b). 46 Champlin (2003) 127–8 convincingly sees Sen. Ep. 115.13–14 as an indirect attack on the Golden House ideology. 47 The Temple of Diva Venus-Poppaea: 260 n. 7. 48 ‘mea liberalitas’: thus ‘Nero’ in Tac. Ann. 14.56.1 responding to Seneca’s praise of his munificentia, the innumera pecunia and his munera; the emphatic ‘mea’ is typical of emperors: 137 n. 20. 49 Nero’s liberalitas to outshine that of Augustus: Suet. Nero 10.1 with Kloft (1970) 156 and Griffin (1984) 197–207; his largitiones: Tac. Ann. 15.18.3; cf. 13.18.1; 15.44.2; first to

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himself boasted, a whole province.50 This is not the kind of activity that is easy to integrate into a plot focusing on divorce and wedding. Yet, the dramatist seems remarkably eager to show this so-called merit for what it really was. And he succeeds very well, even though it is at the cost of introducing satirical remarks on Nero’s luxuria that have no relevance for the development of the plot. (In return, one is free to imagine that the resulting two-liner brought the house down.) With Seneca himself as his mouthpiece, the dramatist’s verdict on Nero’s spendthrift and, at the same time, extortionist economy is pronounced at what in terms of structure is the most emphatic point in the philosopher’s great soliloquy—at the very culmination of the long list of allegorical evils that announce the entry of Nero himself. These evils march before him, as it were, the gradual build-up showing what is most damning, thereby, of course, colouring the way the succeeding epiphany of evil is viewed (Ch. 12.1). When Nero enters it is, crucially, as the embodiment, not of liberalitas, but of luxuria, the triumphant perversion of generosity51 (Luxuria victrix, 433), which, with ‘greedy hands plunders the world’s infinite wealth—only to waste it’.52 As is amply documented, the issue of Nero’s luxuria, his irresponsible economics, was among the rebels’ loudest, most angry war cries.53 Gifts and hand-outs, vast building projects and extravagant festivals, all of it financed by taxes, confiscations54 and drastic debasements of the silver commemorate his congiaria in his coinage: RIC I2 Nero 100–2, 151–62, 394, 434–5, 501–6 from 63–6 AD with Kloft (1970) 91; Stylow (1972) 62; 210–11. His gifts to friends, cities, sanctuaries, and a king: Griffin (1984) 205–7; Kragelund (2000) 498–501. 50 In his Greek oration (ILS 8794 = SIG3 814) from late 67 (Griffin (1984) 280 n. 127) Nero boasts how he with ‘my greatness of mind’ (KB ªÆºçæÅ) had liberated the whole province. 51 Luxuria as wrongheaded, exaggerated and misjudged liberalitas that squanders and ruins (perdere) rather than gives: Curt. 8.9.23 (‘regum . . . luxuria, quam ipsi munificentiam appellant’); Quint. 4.2.77 (‘luxuria liberalitatis . . . nomine lenietur’) and Tac. Hist. 1.30.1 (‘falluntur quibus luxuria specie liberalitatis imponit: perdere iste sciet, donare nesciet’); avaritia a consequence of luxuria: Cic. Or. 2.171 ‘avaritiam si tollere voltis, mater eius est tollenda, luxuries’ and Sen. Ep. 95.33 ‘in avaritiam luxuria praeceps’ with Kloft (1970) 148. 52 Oct. 433–4 ‘Luxuria victrix orbis immensas opes/ iam pridem avaris manibus, ut perdat, rapit’; here, as at Tac. Hist. 1.16.2, where Galba speaks of Nero’s immanitas (‘cruel inhumanity’) and luxuria as the true causes of his downfall, the verdict is political, not, as often assumed, moralizing; in Tacitus, as here, luxuria refers to his economic extravagance, not his ‘debauchery’, ‘voluptez’ (sic), ‘débauches’ or ‘ausschweifender Lebenswandel’: Kragelund (2000) 494–5 (with references to the translations quoted). 53 Causes of the revolts in Gaul and Spain: Brunt (1959) 531–59 and Griffin (1984) 185 ff. present a strong case for seeing the economy as a major factor; references to such issues in the Octavia: Kragelund (2000) 502–9. 54 Protest against taxes and confiscations are prominent among the causes for discontent quoted in the sources: Dio Cass. 63.22.3 (Vindex); Spaniards protesting against Nero’s taxcollectors and Galba showing sympathy: Plut. Galba 4.1; tax-collectors lynched: Suet. Galba 12.2; similar reports from Judaea and Rome itself: Brunt (1959) 553–9; Griffin (1984) 186–7; Kragelund (2000) 509–11.

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coinage55—and all of it wasted, with Nero’s downfall leaving a huge deficit. Even on a low estimate, the cost of the investiture of Tiridates, the king of Armenia, seems to have represented a staggering three-eighths of the total annual budget. In Tacitus’ report, the sum total of Nero’s gifts and largesse amounted to the astronomical 2,200 million sesterces, figures that, whatever their accuracy, illustrate the crucial importance of this aspect for Nero’s postmortem reputation.56 The verdict of Galba and his party was that this was the result of his luxuria, a charge that would later be taken up by Vespasian. Both these emperors ostentatiously replaced it with an old-fashioned (to some embarrassingly excessive) emphasis on the virtues of ‘thrift’ (parsimonia).57 It seems telling, therefore, that the issue, somewhat wilfully, is given such prominence in the drama.58 Exile, finally, was also an issue that figured prominently during the early revolt. Exiles had from the very first sided with Vindex. When Galba, with considered, telling ceremony (Ch. 16.5) threw off his allegiance and openly called for revolt, he emphatically underscored his role as avenger and champion of those condemned, murdered, or exiled by Nero. In response, Tacitus reports, Nero’s fall was greeted with hopeful joy by the ‘sound section of the people linked to the great aristocratic houses, the clients and ex-slaves of the condemned and exiled’.59 Exiles were now recalled and in Rome they loomed large among Galba’s entourage, his heir finally being chosen from their ranks.60 For all their differences, this policy of rehabilitation continued 55 Drastic debasement of the silver coinage in 64: Walker (1978) 111 and Howgego (1995) 115–21; in Egypt, a new debased coinage replaced the old between 64 and 66: Christiansen (1987) 104 ff. Such debasements would test the loyalty of the army (sometimes made to wait for its pay: Suet. Nero 32.1), a strain on loyalty hardly helpful when revolt finally broke out: Crawford (1978) 152. 56 Nero’s expenditure: Griffin (1984) 205–7 and Champlin (2003) 330 n. 27; 2,200 m. sesterces: Tac. Hist. 1.20.1; ancient references to Nero’s luxuria have often been interpreted as moralizing condemnation of his sexual activities but when seen in their proper, pre-Christian and pre-Seven-Deadly-Sins perspective, the target is, again and again, Nero’s spendthrift economy: Kragelund (2000). 57 On Galba’s and Vespasian’s demonstrative parsimonia, anecdotes abound: Suet. Galba 12.3; Plut. Galba 16.1–2 (Galba’s miserly gifts); Tac. Hist. 2.77.3 (Mucianus complimenting Vespasian on ‘tua . . . parsimonia’); 358 n. 285 (jokes at his funeral); both could point to huge public deficits as justification: Plut. Galba 16.1–2; Tac. Hist. 4.9.1; Suet. Vesp. 16.3 with Kragelund (2000) 510–15. 58 A parallel between the dramatist’s, Galba’s, and Vespasian’s condemnation of Nero’s uninhibited spending (Oct. 426–8; 433–4; 624–8): Kragelund (2000) 494–515; Fitch (2004a) 513. 59 Tac. Hist. 1.4.3: ‘Pars populi integra et magnis domibus adnexa, clientes libertique damnatorum et exulum in spem erecti . . .’. 60 Vindex and exiles: John of Antioch fr. 120 (Mariev); an exile sailed in to be present, for all to see, when Galba renounced his allegiance: Suet. Galba 10.1; Galba’s pietas and amnesty: 313 n. 61; 328 n. 150; Tac. Hist. 2.92.2; Dio Cass. 64.3.4c; among recalled exiles were his general Antonius Primus (65.9.3; Tac. Hist. 2.86.1–2), his adopted heir Piso, and the Stoic Helvidius Priscus: id. 1.48.1; 4.6 who in gratitude arranged his funeral: Plut. Galba 28.3; Galba’s right hand, Laco, and his heir, Piso, knew each other from the house of Nero’s Stoic (Tac. Ann. 14.57.3) cousin Plautus

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under Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, the last-named repeating Galba’s proclamation of amnesty to all those condemned or exiled under Nero on charges of treason as soon as he had been proclaimed emperor. But then, as also under Galba, such benefactions soon raised new problems and caused new conflicts with the vested interests of those who had profited by the exile of their opponents or former masters.61 What matters here, however, is the emphasis that the dramatist accords the issue. The plot’s central confrontation between Nero and the one-time exile (as the dramatist emphasizes (Ch. 12.1)), Seneca, springs from Nero’s orders for the execution of two exiles (one of them a Stoic with friends and allies, who after Nero’s fall came back to prominence). The fate and threat of the exiles is central to the ensuing debate (Ch. 12.2). Nero angrily describes ‘this our city’ Rome as a hotbed of ‘ardent sympathy favouring the hopes of the exiles’.62 The drama’s protagonist is then exiled herself.63 Her tripartite trajectory not only structures the whole drama: it is at the same time accurate in mirroring the typical fate of an exile, her forced ejection from residence and patria, in this case followed by final embarkation for Pandataria, the legendary island of Imperial exile. This closing spectacle is witnessed and lamented by sympathizers, much as it often happened in real life (Ch. 15.4). Staging and settings, topoi and literary allusion—all contribute to stress the centrality of the conflict between Nero and the exiles. While this take is excellent as theatre, it is, probably tellingly, somewhat anachronistic if viewed as history. Only after 65 did exile achieve the importance to which the dramatist’s Nero refers when speaking of a capital strongly in favour of exiled ‘citizens, who are a threat to emperor and country and swelling with pride in their ancestry’,64 with the city of Rome supporting their plots to bring him down (Ch. 12.2). Far from ‘getting it right’, it may therefore well reveal something about the dramatist’s time of writing that he would go to such lengths to cast the murder of the three exiles, Plautus, Sulla, and Octavia as the overture to an all-out conflict: by this point it had still not reached the significance that it would acquire in Nero’s final years.65 Fake or real? For the reasons stated it seems increasingly implausible to see this as a dramatist, steeped in antiquarian study, with a burning desire

(309 n. 45): Hist. 1.14.1; prominence of Piso’s family among those suffering under the JulioClaudians: Murison (1993) 62–6; Kragelund (2003) 18–45. 61 Galba’s and Vespasian’s amnesties: Suet. Galba 10; Tac. Hist. 4.44.2–3; Dio Cass. 66.9.1; problems, legal, economic, and otherwise, raised by the return of the exiles: Plut. Otho 1.3; Tac. Hist. 1.90.1; 2.92.2; Dio Cass. 64.3.4b. 62 Oct. 467–8 ‘absentium cum maneat etiam ingens favor/ in urbe nostra, qui fovet spes exulum’. 63 Octavia an ‘exile’ (exul): Tac. Ann. 14.63.2; ‘relegavit’ (sc. Nero Octaviam): Suet. Nero 35.2. 64 Oct. 495–6 ‘cives principi et patriae graves/ claro tumentes genere’. 65 The dramatist’s marked sympathy for aristocratic exiles is consistent with the notion of an early date: Kragelund (1982) 50; Wiseman (2001) 16 = (2004) 267.

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to recreate a vanished world (or, of course, mindlessly copying what some later historian had concocted). Moreover, his sometimes explicit, but, in three instances, oblique and indirect manner of challenging and replacing the official Neronian version with the hideous and true image of his tyranny seems remarkably and, it is here argued, tellingly in harmony with the way many near-contemporaries appear to have seen things. They did not need to be told how things had been officially presented—for them it was sufficient to see Nero’s lies replaced by the rebels’ truth. The same holds true of the four aspects presently to be examined, here, however, with the difference that these further aspects of Nero’s post-mortem reputation seem to have been peculiar to the very early period after his fall. For a variety of reasons, they did not survive to become part of the traditions acknowledged, or aspects emphasized, by later historians.

3. TH E POPULU S R OMANUS AGAINST NERO First and perhaps most strikingly, is the dramatist’s portrayal of Nero as the enemy of the Roman people. From the outset, he holds the people in contempt: Seneca’s and later the Prefect’s objections to Nero’s plans bring out clearly his declared determination to enslave the mob (as he prefers to call it), deny it its traditional (in ‘Seneca’s’ presentation almost ‘constitutional’) rights to be heard, and, indeed, to stamp out all opposition. Their revolt sharpens the conflict and results in plans for a punitive fire to bring them to heel once and for all. This stark contrast is given an added dimension through the Chorus’s references first to regal, then republican, and finally civil war history, a trajectory underlining the Roman people’s humiliation, shown to have been at its worst under Nero’s tyranny. As previously argued (but it may be helpful to rehearse it again) this stark contrast finds a striking parallel in the way the revolt against Nero in 68 was presented.66 From the very start it was projected as a conflict between Nero, on the one side, and, on the other, the Populus Romanus, the Senate and people, the (true) res publica and, even, mankind.67

66 Parallels between the ideology reflected in the coinage slogans and that of the drama: Kragelund (1982) 41–52; Wiseman (2001) 9; (2008) 203–4; Flower (2006) 202–3; Boyle (2008) xv. Contra, Ferri (2003) 7, who wrongly claims that the use of such slogans is ‘widely paralleled in early imperial history’. In fact the phenomenon is unprecedented and/or unique, occurrences are mainly concentrated in 68–71 and, to a lesser degree, 96–7 (after Domitian): Table 16.2 and 321 n. 90–1. 67 The revolt and the res publica: cf. the inscription of Galba’s partisan Q. Pomponius Rufus, IRT 537, BELLO QV[OD] IMP. G[A]LBA PRO [RE P(ublica)] GESSIT (‘the reading given

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By far the clearest and most intriguing contemporary evidence for the deployment of slogans and war cries articulating this conflict comes from the so-called anonymous coinage minted by the rebels against Nero between April and June 68 to pay their armies. The message of this coinage was brilliantly outlined in a classic study by Colin M. Kraay that has since been refined and supplemented by the important findings of P.-H. Martin.68 What emerges is that the legends of this coinage with striking variety—but uniform tenor—mirror and supplement what contemporary and later sources report about the aims and slogans of the revolt. From the very first, when in mid-March (a fair guess being on the symbolic date of the Ides),69 Vindex gathered his supporters in Gaul and threw off his allegiance, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Revenge’ were the foremost war cries (Fig. 16.2). These slogans were taken over by Galba, then Governor of Spain when, in response to open letters from Vindex that called upon him to be ‘the liberator of mankind’ he joined the revolt soon after and became its leader.70 At a packed rally in the forum of Carthagena on 3 April (a day officially reserved for the freeing of slaves—as indeed it turned out to be), Galba declared himself a candidate, not (yet) for the purple, but for becoming the ‘Delegate of Senate and People’ in their fight for freedom.71 appears to be certain . . .’); historians imitate the style: adopting Piso Galba said (Tac. Hist. 1.16.1; cf. Plut. Galba 21.1) ‘nec mea senectus conferre plus populo Romano possit quam bonum successorem’; Plut. Galba 27.1 quotes his dying words: ˜æA  . . . N F  fiH ø fi ῾ øÆ ø ¼Ø K Ø; Tac. Hist. 1.41.2 has ‘ferirent, si ita re publica videretur’; Galba’s deference towards SPQR and mankind: 315 n. 70–1; when offered the throne by his soldiers, Verginius Rufus likewise insisted that such choice was the prerogative of ‘Senate and people’ (ªæı Æ fi ŒÆ fiH ø fi ): Dio Cass. 63.25.3. 68 Message of the anonymous coinage: Kraay (1949); Martin (1974); Howgego (1995) 73. In what follows, all coin references are to the entries in RIC I2 -II2; as for date and provenance of the anonymous coinage Martin (1974) 46 has convincingly shown that it has a uniform origin in the circle of Galba and his allies. Plut. Galba 20.2 confirms that there was such a mint: when joining the revolt, Otho, then Governor of Lusitania, contributed with his private silver and gold. 69 News of Vindex’s revolt reached Nero in Naples between 19–23 March: Suet. Nero 40.4; probably close to 23 March: Murison (1993) 5; Kragelund (2010) 568; calculating backwards and taking travel time for a messenger from Gaul to Naples into account (Rome-Marseille could be done in six days, Belgica-Rome in ten: Tac. Ann. 14.57.4; Hist. 1.12.1), one arrives at a date in the close proximity of the famous Ides of March: Hainsworth (1962) 87; the bellum Neronis: Brunt (1959) 532 ff.; Murison (1993) 1–26. 70 ‘humano generi assertorem’ Suet. Galba 9.2; ‘genus humanum’ is a slogan strongly favoured by the Galban cause: in his coinage it is very prominent (Instinsky (1947) 7–8); Vindex called for liberating the NŒıÅ (thus Dio Cass. 63.22.6); the pro-Galban proclamation from Alexandria of Tiberius Julius Alexander (OGIS ii.669) dated 6th July 68 echoes a typically Galban slogan: Kd ø Åæ Æ fi F Æ e IŁæø ªı; cf. e.g. RIC I2 Civil wars 70–7, SALVS GENERIS HVMANI and AE (2008) 1436, a dedication from Lycia praising Galba as the ø BæØ Æ e F Œ[ı]; while Galba was elected by the consensus generis humani (Tac. Hist. 1.30.2), Nero’s post-mortem reputation cast him as the ‘firebrand . . .’ and ‘enemy of the human race’, facem . . . hostem generis humani (Plin. HN 7.45–6). 71 Suet. Galba 10.1 ‘legatum (sc. Galbam) senatus ac populi R(omani)’; likewise Plut. Galba 5.2; Galba only accepted the imperial title when it was offered him by the Senate: ibid.

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The prominence of the calls for freedom is mirrored in the coinage. Liberty holding the vindicta (the rod symbolically used to free slaves) and the pilleus, the cap of liberty, the epithets LIBERATOR and ADSERTOR attached to the names of the gods favouring their cause—all this would at the time have fused with the nomen-omen quality of Vindex’s name (Ch. 13.2), thus giving added significance to the notion of gods and rebels working as ‘avengers’ and ‘champions’ bringing liberty to the enslaved. These are concepts that, once introduced, gave the anti-Neronian cause a common, overriding aim. What Vindex had started, but did not live to see established (he fell soon after in battle), was taken up by Galba who was officially proclaimed emperor when Nero had been deposed and had killed himself (9 or 11 June). This outcome was celebrated in ways that illustrate the crossover between slogans on coins and actual war cries: in Rome, for instance, the population reacted to Nero’s downfall by donning the cap of liberty; similarly, a grateful dedication from October 68 of a statue of Galba’s ‘Restored Liberty’ (SIGNVM LIBERTATIS RESTITVTAE SER. GALBAE IMPERATORIS AVGVSTI) adopts a slogan already prominent during the revolt.72 However, euphoria proved short-lived (see Timetable, Table 16.1). The assassination of Galba (15 January 69) unleashed a civil war, at first between the two short-lived, pro-Neronian pretenders, Otho and Vitellius. When Otho had been defeated, war continued, now between Vitellius and a new, this time pro-Galban and anti-Neronian pretender, Vespasian. When Vitellius had been brought down, Vespasian pointedly returned to the slogans of the early revolt,73 for instance claiming the epithet of a ‘champion of liberty’ for himself.74 What unites the war cries of the early revolt with those of Galba and the Flavians is not only the common emphasis on specific values, but also the deliberate return to emblems and slogans of powerful historic resonance. Cries for LIBERTAS had also been prominent in the coins of the late Republic,75 but perhaps the single most striking evocation of the Roman past is that of the 72 The plebs donning the cap of liberty: Suet. Nero 57.1; Dio Cass. 63.29.1 (explaining the meaning ‘as a sign of having been liberated’ ‰ MºıŁæøØ). The dedication of a SIGNVM LIBERTATIS PVBLICAE, allegedly from the Capitol, dated 15 October 68: ILS 238. 73 Gagé (1952); Ramage (1983) 209–10; Zimmermann (1995) 56–8; Levick (1999) 72–3 and Flower (2006) 209–23 are good on the not unproblematic continuity between Galba and his Flavian ‘avengers’. 74 The semantic links between ‘vindex’ and ‘assertor’ and the slogan’s early use in connection with Julius Vindex (‘adsertorem illum a Nerone libertatis’, Plin. HN 20.160): 242 n. 21; Galba was addressed by Vindex as an ‘assertorem’ (Suet. Galba 9.2); Vespasian, in his coinage, as ADSERTORI LIBERTATIS PVBLIC(AE): RIC II2 Vespasian 35; 121–4; 207–10; 252 (AD 70–1); also other protagonists of those years were praised as adsertores: Martial 7.63.10 (young Domitian, from Vitellius); Plin. Ep. 9.19.1 (Verginius Rufus, in his own epitaph); see further 318 n. 77. 75 Republican use of such L(E)IBERT(AS/ATIS) slogans: RRC nos. 428 (55 BC); 433 (54); 449 (48); 473 (45); 498–501; 506 (43–2).

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Table 16.1. Chief events in the period from the revolt of Vindex to the final victory of Vespasian. 68 AD Mid- (15?) March 68: revolt of Vindex Nero learns of revolt in Naples about 22 March 1 April: Nero dedicates sanctuary to Venus-Poppaea in Campania 3 April: Galba joins revolt and is saluted as ‘general of the Senate and Roman people’ On his return to Rome, Nero learns of Galba’s defection (c.10th April) End of May (?): Defeat of Vindex, Roman armies led by Verginius Rufus then defect from Nero 8 or 10 June: The Senate formally declares Nero an ‘enemy of the Roman people’ 9 or 11 June: abandoned and fearful of being captured, Nero commits suicide Nero’s nurses and his one-time mistress, Claudia Acte, obtain permission to bury the ashes of their master in the tomb of his father’s family, the Domitii Ahenobarbi (the Mausoleum of Augustus now being decreed out of his league) The statues of Nero and Poppaea are toppled and his cronies lynched, but in Rome there are also spontaneous manifestations honouring his memory The divinity of Poppaea and her daughter Claudia is annulled, de facto and probably also officially The Guard Prefect Tigellinus is forced to step down by his colleague Nymphidius Sabinus Nymphidius attempts a coup, but is lynched by the Praetorians September (?): Galba enters Rome as Galba Caesar Augustus Return of Nero’s exiles Trials in Senate against Nero’s informers Honours of those condemned under Nero restored Public executions of Nero’s ex-slaves, low-born friends, and the poisoner Lucusta Public burial of Nero’s family victims in Mausoleum of Augustus In the theatres, there are calls for Tigellinus’ death 69 AD—Year of the Four Emperors 1 January 69: Rhine army mutinies; on the 2 January it salutes Vitellius as Emperor 10 January: Galba learns of Rhine revolt and adopts Piso 15 January: Galba and his crown prince assassinated Otho saluted as Emperor and ‘new Nero’ Tigellinus ordered to commit suicide Statues of Nero and, above all, Poppaea are allowed to be restored (her divinity remains annulled) 14 March: Otho marches north to confront the army of Vitellius 16 April: Otho is defeated by Vitellius in North Italy and commits suicide Vitellius enters Rome 1 July: in Alexandria, army of Near East salutes Vespasian as Emperor Galbans join the Flavian cause and march on Rome On his birthday (24 September), Vitellius pays homage at tomb of Nero Statues of Galba re-erected in North Italy Siege of Rome. The Capitol in flames. Vitellius defeated and executed (22 December) 1 January 70: Vespasian sole emperor.

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Fig. 16.1. Reverse of denarius minted by the assassins of Julius Caesar in 43–42 BC. The legend EID(us) MAR(tiae) (‘The Ides of March’) and the cap of liberty flanked by daggers immortalize the date and commemorate the murder as a blow for liberty: RRC no. 508.3; for the obverse, see Fig. 5.2. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

rebels reaching back for more than a century to readopt the imagery of the legendary Brutus coin from 43–42 BC, which celebrated the murder of Caesar on ‘The Ides of March’ (Fig. 16.1).76 In its new, updated version this Imperial re-issue probably refers to a new such fateful date in March, when Vindex summoned the Gauls to revolt against Nero (Fig. 16.2). In any case, this emblem with the daggers symbolizing the great deed framing the traditional cap of liberty carried strong associations, all the way back to the primordial ‘Champion of liberty’ (vindex libertatis) Brutus, whose expulsion of the tyrant Tarquin led to the foundation of the Republic.77 Now too, there was tyranny to be brought low and a restored Commonwealth to be put in its place. There is no indication, however, that this res publica was to be without an emperor.78 Along with other sources, a parallel series of rebel coins celebrating the merits of Divine Augustus79 confirm that the aim of the revolt was a return to the ideal Augustan settlement, not to the chaos (as it was 76 Brutus coin: RIC I2 Civil wars 24–5 with Howgego (1995) 73; fame of the emblem: Crawford (1974) 741 n. 11; Dio Cass. 47.25.3. Galba’s great-grandfather one of the proscribed; similarly, the maternal grandfather of his right hand, Titus Vinius: Suet. Galba 3.2; Tac. Hist. 1.48.2; on his march to Rome Galba carried a no doubt symbolic dagger (pugio) on a chain around his neck: Suet. Galba 11; the links to the tyrannicides clearly mattered. 77 The legendary Lucius Brutus a vindex libertatis: Livy 2.1.8; Florus 1.3.9; so was Caesar’s assassin: Suet. Gramm. 30.6. 78 The aim a reformed principate, not a Republic: Kraay (1949) 142; Brunt (1959) 535; Martin (1974) 61–2; Nicols (1978) 89 ff.; Kragelund (1982) 48; Murison (1993) 31–44 (Galba a ‘constitutional legalist’). 79 The rebels’ Divus Augustus coinage: Martin (1974) 83–6.

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Fig. 16.2. Reverse of denarius minted by the rebels against Nero in spring 68. The mint master has clearly looked closely at an exemplar of Brutus’ renowned ‘Ides of March’ issue (Fig. 16.1). The legend (that begins on the obverse) spells out the aims of the revolt: P(opuli) R(omani) RESTITVTA, ‘The liberty of the Roman people restored’. In a revolt that took its beginning on or around the Ides of March and was led by men now apparently taking pride in having ancestors among Caesar’s assassins, the re-emergence of such symbolism is telling. RIC I2 Civil wars 24. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

widely seen) of the old aristocratic Republic.80 What is foreshadowed, in the slogans, public statements, and actions of the rebels is a restored res publica with an emperor chosen by the ‘consensus of gods and men’81 and respecting the rights of People and Senate. As in the Octavia (the parallel doubtless significant), the revolt condemned Nero because he was a tyrant, not because he was a princeps. His tyranny had enslaved the Roman people and taken away its rights, whereas the true paternal principate (on the original Augustan model) was the upholder of these rights (as the dramatist’s ‘Seneca’ memorably states it, Ch. 12.2). From this overall desire for a new equilibrium stems a barrage of slogans re-establishing and even inflating the ideal position of the

80 The lesson from the failure of two attempts at restoring the aristocratic Republic, in 41 (fall of Caligula and succession of Claudius) and 42 (failed revolt of Camillus), was that the army would never accept any project for a commonwealth lacking a paymaster princeps: Suet. Claud. 10.4; Joseph AJ 19.162–3; 249–50 (probably from Cluvius Rufus) with Wiseman (1991) xiv; 74; Dio Cass. 60.15.3 with Levick (1990) 29–39. 81 Cf. Tac. Hist. 1.15.1 ‘me deorum hominumque consensu ad imperium vocatum’ (Galba, of himself); similarly, 1.30.2 ‘consensus generis humani’ (again of Galba’s election); Galba insisted, repeatedly, that he had been called to his office: Dio Cass. 64.2.1; Galba a principi electo: Suet. Galba 14.2; emphasis on mankind in the Galban slogans: 315 n. 70.

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Senatus populusque Romanus and often just the Populus Romanus within the commonwealth. This change for the better was also—the coinage of the rebels seems to declare—what Rome’s gods wanted for its people, most prominently Mars, their ancestor (as the dramatist’s Chorus reminds us (Ch. 11.1)). The God of War and of March, the traditional first month of the New Year (here, surely, linked to the revolt’s promise of a new beginning), now brought ‘freedom and revenge’.82 Countermarking Nero’s coins with imprints such as P.R. (Populus Romanus) or SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus), which tellingly often disfigure his actual portrait, was another way of declaring who now reclaimed his position in the Commonwealth.83 No less telling is the appropriation of coin slogans from Nero’s coinage that celebrated his achievements, only to deny him the honours he had usurped, and return them to where they were due: veneration for ‘The Emperor’s genius’ (GENIO AVGVSTI) was now, for instance, replaced by a much varied (four diverse versions in less than three months) but uniform declaration of devotion to the ‘Genius of the Roman People’ (GENIO P(opuli) R(omani)). The iconography of such coins echoes that of Nero’s, but pointedly replaces the legend’s AVGVSTI with the P.R., thus making it clear who was now back in the saddle.84 Similarly with the ‘Emperor’s Security’ and ‘Emperor’s Victory’;85 even Nero’s ‘Military standards’ (SIGNA) had now gone over to the Roman People.86 The emphasis on the Genius of the Roman People is remarkable. Last displayed on the Roman coinage in the final decades of the Republic,87 it now returns with its echoes of a time when the people’s constitutional role was indeed different. Other such slogans, such as ‘The Blossoming of the Roman People’s Good Fortune’, FLORENTE FORTVNA P. R., also look back to the

Note the coins from between April and June with such unprecedented legends as ‘Champion of Freedom’ (ADSERTOR LIBERTATIS (with Mars (?) depicted) and ‘Mars the Liberator’ (MARS ADSERTOR); MARS VLTOR legends had not been used since Augustus, but now return in full force: ‘(To) Mars the Avenger’ MARS VLTOR and MARTI VLTORI: Martin (1974) 24–5; other gods, such as IVPPITER LIBERATOR, HERCVLES (ADSERTOR) and VOLKANVS VLTOR (the former probably an allusion to Spain, the latter perhaps to the Great Fire) also brought freedom or revenge: Kraay (1949) 139–41. 83 P.R. and SPQR countermarks: Varner (2004) 50–1. 84 Deliberate parallel and contrast between the GENIVS iconography used by Nero and the rebels: Kunckel (1974) 17; Gradel (2002) 188–9. 85 Legends like GENIO AVGVSTI, SECVRITAS AVGVSTI, and VICTORIA AVGVSTI are frequent in Nero’s coinage; for the contrast Strack (1931–37) II, 98; Kraay (1949) 142–3; Martin (1974) 54; Ramage (1983) 209. 86 The Neronian SIGNA replaced by SIGNA P.R.: Kraay (1949) 135. 87 ‘G.P.R.’: RRC no. 393; Béranger (1965) 73 detects a popularis emblem, but Crawford (1974) 733 makes a strong counter-case; what mattered to Galba’s mint master was probably the implicit emphasis on the communal versus the tyrannical. In times of trouble for the people there was special focus on the sanctuary of its Genius: Dio Cass. 47.2.3; 50.8.2. 82

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Republic.88 The gods invoked are likewise traditional. The marked prominence of ancestral MARS (Aeneas now emphatically depicted as the ancestor of the old dynasty, Fig. 16.5 (i)) in his varied roles as Liberator, Avenger, and Herald of a New Year, leads off a series of other venerable Roman gods, now described in good old-fashioned manner, such as VESTA P.R. QVIRITIVM, and I(upiter) O(ptimus) MAX(imus) CAPITOLINVS. These archaic formulas, evoking cults that by their place in ritual and calendar were almost synonymous with the res publica itself, are not previously attested in Roman coinage. Nero’s VESTA was unaligned, but here she is emphatically stressed not to be his, but the ‘Roman people’s’; and the rebels’ Jupiter is hardly by coincidence spelt out to be CAPITOLINVS (the proud cognomen of the great temple builder among Galba’s ancestors). Clearly, hallowed tradition and the gods of Rome had joined forces with those rising against Nero.89 This is not the place to examine this evidence in all its manifestations. Suffice it to say that the emphasis on liberty and on the new, more visible and more prominent position of the Populus Romanus are traits that were sustained, including when Galba accepted proclamation as emperor by Senate and people. This emphasis on the people’s active role is a trait that is entirely foreign to the coinage of Nero, and that only has a few, isolated parallels in that of his predecessors. Augustus’ acknowledgement of his role as the champion of the people’s rights (Fig. 12.2) was brief and never resumed by the mint masters of his successors.90 As illustrated in Table 16.2 this claim was, however, central to Galba’s self-representation. Leaving aside variations of inflexion and abbreviation, there are, in the coinage of the rebels, eight slogans referring to the role and prospects of the Populus Romanus. In Galba’s own coinage there are five more, among them the unprecedented and startling AVGVSTVS P.R. (‘the Emperor of the Roman People’) that memorably stresses his very special alliance with Rome’s citizens.91 88 FORT(una) P.R.: RRC nos. 440 (49 BC); F(ortuna) P.R.: 513.1 (41 BC); further such ‘republican’ echoes: Wallace-Hadrill (1981) 37–8. 89 In the coinages of Caligula and Nero, VESTA is unaligned (but with strong links to the Augustan household): cf. e.g. RIC I2 Caligula 54; Nero 61; the legend I.O. MAX. CAPITOLINVS (RIC I2 Civil wars, 42) reaches back to the foundation of the Republic; in dedications, Galba was ‘always’ (semper) the pronepos of the Catulus with the cognomen ‘Capitolinus’: Suet. Galba 2; cf. Plut. Galba 3.1; his stemma outdid that of the Julio-Claudians by beginning with Jupiter himself: ibid. 2. 90 In pre-AD 68 imperial coinage, very few legends refer to the P(opulus) R(omanus) and/or Liberty; apart from the unique LIBERTATIS P.R. VINDEX (RIC I2 Augustus 476) note LIBERTAS AVGVSTA (RIC I2 Claudius) 97 (an as) and the Neronian peace formula quoted in 321 n. 91. By contrast the coinage of the revolt in 68 has 12 references to the POPVLVS, 5 to LIBERTAS, which is not a distribution that justifies calling such legends ‘widely paralleled’: 314 n. 66. Including the period up to the fall of Domitian by no means changes the picture: between 31 BC and AD 96, such slogans are predominantly and often uniquely to be found in the brief period from 68 to 71 (inclusive). 91 The AVGVSTVS P.R. legend seems unique; so is LIBERTAS P.R.: Stylow (1972) 52; for VICTORIA P.R. there is but a parallel from Late Antiquity (Carausius): Kragelund (1982) 82

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When comparing the coinage of Galba with his adversaries, Otho and Vitellius, who both posed as successors of Nero, it is noteworthy how different in tenor their slogans were. Thus there is a far greater stress on celebrating the Table 16.2. References to the Roman people (P(opulus) R(omanus)) in the coinage of the revolt against Nero (April–June 68) and from Galba down to Trajan. Coinage minted by the armies revolting against Nero92 FLORENTE FORTUNA P.R.93 GENIVS P.R.94 GENIO P.R.95 GEN P.R.96 G. P.R.97 LIBERTAS P.R. RESTITVTA98 PAX P.R.99 PACI P.R.100 SECVRITAS P.R.101 SIGNA P.R.102 VESTA P.R. QVIRITIVM103 VICTORIA P.R.104

April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68 April–June 68

Galba AVGVSTVS P.R.105 LIBERTAS P.R.106 SECVRITAS P. ROMANI S.C.107 VICTORIA P.R.108 VICTORIA P.R. S.C.109 VICTORIA (Victory inscribing P.R. on a shield)110

June 68–January 69 June 68–January 69 June 68–January 69 June 68–January 69 June 68–January 69 June 68–January 69

Otho SECVRITAS P.R.111

January–April 69

Vitellius CONCORDIA P.R.112 SECVRITAS P. ROMANI S.C.113 VESTA P.R. QVRITIVM114

January–December 69 January–December 69 January–December 69

n. 185. Augustus has PAX, Claudius PACI AVGVSTAE and Nero PACE P.R. VBIQ. PARTA IANVM CLVSIT, but the nature and concentration of slogans like PAX P.R., PACI P.R. and PAX P. ROMANI S.C. (68; 71) are without precedent. 92 References are to the nos. in RIC I2 (Augustus-Vitellius), in Martin (1974) and RIC II2 (the Flavians). 93 94 RIC I2 Civil wars, 49. RIC I2 Civil wars, 42–6. 95 2 96 RIC I Civil wars, 1, 16–22, 79. Martin (1974) no. 28 (verified?). 97 98 RIC I2 Civil wars, 47–8. RIC I2 Civil wars, 24–5. 99 100 RIC I2 Civil wars, 10, 34. RIC I2 Civil wars, 4–7. 101 102 RIC I2 Civil wars, 37–8. RIC I2 Civil wars, 39, 50–1, 57, 63, 70a–b, 80. 103 104 RIC I2 Civil wars, 126. RIC I2 Civil wars, 12, 15. 105 106 RIC I2 Galba 33. RIC I2 Galba 157. 107 108 RIC I2 Galba 504–6. RIC I2 Galba 10–11, 98, 110–13, 148, 215–17, 233–4. 109 110 111 RIC I2 Galba 519–20. RIC I2 Galba 99–101. RIC I2 Otho 7–12. 112 2 113 2 114 RIC I Vitellius 66, 72. RIC I Vitellius 175. RIC I2 Vitellius 33.

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