Annals 15.35 Essay


Nero, so Tacitus implies, was such an inveterate criminal that he planned his misdeed even during hours devoted to public entertainment. That he did not even cease from plotting murder while indulging in pleasure suggests that far from being mutually exclusive voluptas and scelus coincide in Nero’s case, highlighting the emperor’s savage and sadistic cruelty. The effect is enhanced by the use of the plural for both pleasures (voluptates) and crimes (a sceleribus): Nero is a perverse and criminal polymorph. Here the victim is Decimus Junius Silanus Torquatus, one of the consuls of AD 53 (at the end of the emperor Claudius’ reign: see Annals 12.58). Like Nero, he was a great-great-grandson of Augustus – a lineage that turned him into a potential rival to the throne (see Family Tree). The murder harks back to the very beginning of Tacitus’ Nero-narrative, which poignantly starts with the death of Silanus’ brother (Annals 13.1.1–2, cited in the Introduction, Section 5). Like mother, like son, who, now fully grown-up, no longer needs parental guidance to commit murder (having honed his skills by doing away with his own mother).