Tacitus, Annals 15.20-23, 33-45

The assigned portion of text begins in medias res. We parachute right into the middle of a meeting of the Roman senate that took place towards the end of the year 62 (15.20.1). Tacitus’ account of it began in the previous paragraph (15.19) and continues until 15.22.1. The set text carries on for a bit, covering the end of AD 62 and the beginning of AD 63 (15.22.2 – 15.23), before vaulting over nine sections (15.24 – 15.32). We re-enter the narrative in 15.33 (the beginning of AD 64) and are then asked to read continuously until the end of 15.45. The text breaks off with the unsuccessful attempt by Nero to have his old tutor Seneca poisoned. There is a certain rationale behind this stopping and starting. Those in charge of setting the text excised with surgical precision those portions of the Annals that cover the military situation in the Near East, specifically Rome’s ongoing conflict with Parthia (15.1–18; 24–32). The focus of the assigned portion is squarely on Italy and Rome – the city, the senate, and, not least, the imperial court, with the corresponding personnel, in particular the emperor Nero.1

Section 1: Annals 15.20-23

Thematically, the four chapters of Annals 15.20–23 can be divided as follows:

  • i. 20.1–22.1: Report of a senate meeting that took place towards the end of AD 62 (continuing on from 15.19).
  • ii. 22.2: Review of striking prodigies that occurred in the year AD 62.
  • iii. 23.1–4: Start of Tacitus’ account of AD 63, with extensive coverage of the birth and death of Nero’s daughter Claudia Augusta.

Section 2: Annals 15.33-45

15.33–45 can be divided as follows:

  • i. 33.1–34.1: Nero’s coming-out party as stage performer
  • ii. 34.2–35.3: A look at the kind of creatures that populate Nero’s court – and the killing of an alleged rival
  • iii. 36: Nero considers, but then reconsiders, going on tour to Egypt
  • iv. 37: To show his love for Rome, Nero celebrates a huge public orgy that segues into a (publicly consummated) mock-wedding with his freedman Pythagoras
  • v. 38–41: The fire of Rome
  • vi. 42–43: Reconstructing the Capital: Nero’s New Palace
  • vii. 44: Appeasing the gods and Christians as scapegoats
  • viii. 45: Raising funds for buildings