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'Relating at the Appropriate Time': Tacitus’ Caligula

Panayiotis Andreou Christoforou

University College, University of Oxford

This paper explores a major section of the 'incomplete' in Tacitus: the large lacuna between books 7-11 in the Annals. Focusing on the reign of Caligula, this paper will pursue a two-pronged analysis that will explore the impact of this 'gap' in Tacitus' historiography and reception. First, I will analyse passages in the extant parts of the Annals that suggestively point to Caligula's character, actions and reign. Second, I will examine how Tacitus' Caligula has impacted modern scholarship, analysing how Caligula's treatment in Tacitus has fuelled speculation about the emperor (or, alternatively, a conscious desire to avoid speculation), and erudite attempts to explore what those books would have contained through quellenforschung of other extant authors. What the paper reveals is a rich tradition of historians who have been frustrated and inspired by Tacitus' incompleteness.

'The brief and fantastic interlude of Caligula's reign is not without significance'. Thus Sir Ronald Syme described the state of historical knowledge about Gaius Caligula, the famously depraved and purportedly mad emperor, who briefly ruled the Roman world from 37-41 CE. Unfortunately for the modern historian, Tacitus' treatment of Caligula is lost from his Annals, which included the atmosphere of Rome and the empire at his accession, Caligula's conduct in domestic and foreign affairs, and the emperor’s assassination in 41, leading to the accession of Claudius. Despite the brevity of his reign and this gap in Tacitus, these are rich moments in Roman history, which have received due consideration in modern scholarship.

I begin by analysing passages from the Annals where Caligula appears. Here, Tacitus shows an attention to Caligula and his future conduct as emperor through remarks about his character (eg. Ann. 6.20, 48), thus pointing suggestively to episodes of fuller treatment in books 7-9. Furthermore, he is attentive to the flow of his narrative, carefully furnishing abbreviated descriptions (e.g. Ann. 4.71; 11.8) whilst referring to the appropriate time and place for fuller treatment in the now-lost portions My aim is to scrutinise Tacitus' suggestive language with respect to Caligula, and how the historian whets the appetite of his readers for the Caligulan books.

Though now lost, this suggestiveness points to the desire in modern scholarship to fill in this Tacitean gap. Through analysis of Tacitus' mentions of Caligula and descriptions of his reign in other authors, scholars have supplemented Tacitus by thinking about his sources and potentially common treatments of particular episodes. For example, Syme, though cautious in his discussion on whether there were common sources describing Caligula's assassination between Tacitus’ missing books and Dio, Josephus and Suetonius ("discussion should be hopeless for Caligula"), he still leaves the door open to speculation and notes common interests between Tacitus' historiographical style and the Latin historian behind Josephus (cf. Syme (1958) 287). Thus, Tacitus’ interests and style prompted scholarly speculation about his sources and treatment of lost sections of the narrative. Despite the fact that the reign of Caligula is lost, we can still explore some of the aspects of a ‘Tacitean Caligula

Session/Panel Title

Tacitus and the Incomplete

Session/Paper Number

60.5

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