Preface and acknowledgements


This site represents an online version of the book Tacitus, Annals, 15.20­-23, 33­-45. Latin Text, Study Aids with Vocabulary, and Commentary by Mathew Owen and Ingo Gildenhard, published by Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK, in 2013. Paperback, hardback, and .pdf versions can be obtained directly from OBP. The content of this site is substantially the same as that of the book, except that, in conformance with the normal DCC editorial policy, we put macrons on the Latin text, added audio recordings, and omitted the translation. I would like to express my warm thanks to the authors and to Open Book Publishers, first, for publishing under the kind of open license that makes such re-use possible, and second for their considerable help in the preparation of the site. Particular thanks are due to Bianca Gualandi, OBP's Digital Product Manager, and to Francesca Giovannetti, who undertook the difficult task of putting the original files into HTML files that we could use. Without her work the adaptation to the DCC format would have been far more difficult. The Drupal pages and menus were created by Meagan Ayer at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Chris Francese, Dickinson College (September 23, 2016)

The emperor Nero is etched into the Western imagination as one of ancient Rome’s most infamous villains, and Tacitus’ Annals have played a central role in shaping the mainstream historiographical understanding of this flamboyant autocrat.

This section of the text plunges us straight into the moral cesspool that Rome had apparently become in the later years of Nero’s reign, chronicling the emperor’s fledgling stage career including his plans for a grand tour of Greece; his participation in a city-wide orgy climaxing in his publicly consummated “marriage” to his toy boy Pythagoras; the great fire of AD 64, during which large parts of central Rome went up in flames; and the rising of Nero’s “grotesque” new palace, the so-called “Golden House,” from the ashes of the city. This building project stoked the rumors that the emperor himself was behind the conflagration, and Tacitus goes on to present us with Nero’s gruesome efforts to quell these mutterings by scapegoating and executing members of an unpopular new cult then starting to spread through the Roman empire: Christianity.

All this contrasts starkly with four chapters focusing on one of Nero’s most principled opponents, the Stoic senator Thrasea Paetus, an audacious figure of moral fiber, who courageously refuses to bend to the forces of imperial corruption and hypocrisy.

This edition offers a portion of the original Latin text, study aids with vocabulary, and a commentary. Designed to stretch and stimulate readers, the commentary will be of particular interest to students of Latin at both A2 and undergraduate level. It extends beyond detailed linguistic analysis and historical background to encourage critical engagement with Tacitus’ prose and discussion of the most recent scholarly thought.

We welcome feedback on this edition, critical and otherwise, as well as suggestions of what further supplementary material or digital resources could be made available on this website. Please leave your comments in the comment tab on this site, or email the authors directly at the addresses given below.

The selective sampling of Latin authors that the study of set texts at A-level involves poses four principal challenges to the commentators. As we see it, our task is to: (i) facilitate the reading or translation of the assigned passage; (ii) explicate its style and subject matter; (iii) encourage appreciation of the extract on the syllabus as part of wider wholes—such as a work (in our case the Annals), an oeuvre (here that of Tacitus), historical settings (Neronian and Trajanic Rome), or a configuration of power (the principate); and (iv) stimulate comparative thinking about the world we encounter in the assigned piece of Latin literature and our own. The features of this edition try to go some way towards meeting this multiple challenge.

To speed up comprehension of the Latin, we have given a fairly extensive running vocabulary for each chapter of the text. We have not indicated whether or not any particular word is included in any “need to know” list; and we are sure that most students will not require as much help as we give. Still, it seemed prudent to err on the side of caution. We have not provided “plug in” formulas in the vocabulary list: but we have tried to explain all difficult grammar and syntax in the commentary. In addition, the questions on the grammar and the syntax that follow each chapter of the Latin text are designed, not least, to flag up unusual or difficult constructions for special attention. Apart from explicating grammar and syntax, the commentary also includes stylistic and thematic observations, with a special emphasis on how form reinforces, indeed generates, meaning. We would like to encourage students to read beyond the set text and have accordingly cited parallel passages from elsewhere in the Annals or from alternative sources, either in Latin and English or, when the source is in Greek, in English only. Unless otherwise indicated, we give the text and translation (more or less modified) according to the editions in the Loeb Classical Library. Our introduction places Tacitus and the set text within wider historical parameters, drawing on recent—and, frequently, revisionist— scholarship on imperial Rome: it is meant to provoke, as well as to inform. Finally, for each chapter of the Latin text we have included a “Stylistic Appreciation” assignment and a “Discussion Point”: here we flag up issues and questions, often with a contemporary angle, that lend themselves to open-ended debate, in the classroom and beyond.

We would like to thank the team at Open Book Publishers, and in particular Alessandra Tosi, for accepting this volume for publication, speeding it through production—and choosing the perfect reader for the original manuscript: connoisseurs of John Henderson’s peerless critical insight will again find much to enjoy in the following pages (acknowledged and unacknowledged), and we are tremendously grateful for his continuing patronage of, and input into, this series.

Ingo Gildenhard ( and

Matthew Owen (

Cover image: Aureus of Nero. Reverse (detail): Nero standing facing, radiate and togate, with branch & Victory on globe. National Heritage Institute, Bucharest. Source: Europeana

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