The Announcement: Tacitus' Dialogus De Oratoribus as the Prelude to His Annales
CitationGlen, Leonie. 2016. The Announcement: Tacitus' Dialogus De Oratoribus as the Prelude to His Annales. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis paper investigates the chronological, contextual, and literary placement of the Dialogus de Oratoribus, a work by the Roman historian Tacitus. The work is atypical for this author, and scholars tend to situate it amongst his earlier works, the Agricola and Germania, both written shortly after the death of the emperor Domitian in 96 CE. Why did Tacitus write a dialogue on the merits and decline of public oratory, deliberately modeled on Cicero, and give it a dramatic date of 75 CE, six years into the “happy” reign of the emperor Vespasian? What is the significance of the characters and their positions? Why does the debate end not only without resolution, but even with a flourish of contradictions?
This study uses the letters of Pliny the Younger to establish a call-and-response between the two authors and thereby establish a terminus post quem for the Dialogus of 108-109, or contemporary to Book 9 of Pliny’s Epistulae. Tacitus’ use of Ciceronian intertext, referents, and historical context helps to situate the Dialogus in theme and tone as closer to the mature disillusionment of the Annales.
The Dialogus’ character of Vipstanus Messalla not only acts as a bridge from Tacitus’ Histories to the Dialogus, but, more importantly, by his kinship with one of the most infamous delatores (imperial prosecutorial informants), Messalla acts as a bridge between the Dialogus and the Annales; both works share an atmosphere of menace and fear attendant upon acts of speech. Lastly, this paper examines Tacitus’ concern with his own literary placement and the gloria that only the written word can achieve. Does this glory come only with risking one’s life to speak the truth? The trial of the historian Cremutius Cordus, in Annales 4, speaks to that concern, and the speech of Cremutius in the senate triggers a comparison with the historian’s depiction in an early work by Annaeus Seneca, his Consolatio ad Marciam, a "letter" written to Cremutius’ daughter. Seneca is a pivotal figure in the Neronian hexad of the Annales, and his name is strangely absent from the various catalogues of authors and orators in the Dialogus. Curiatius Maternus of the Dialogus, a tragedian, the man who announces that his Thyestes will say whatever his Cato has left out, acts as a metonym for tragedy and champion of the written word and thus connects the Diaolgus to the Annales further. His literary relationship to Seneca, a tragedian and Stoic philosopher, tutor and victim of the emperor Nero, becomes increasingly clear and compelling if one examines Annales 14 as a tragedy with close paralells to the praetexta Octavia and Seneca’s Oedipus.
A look at the suicide scenes and last words of Seneca, the poet Lucan (nephew of Seneca), the author Petronius, and Thrasea Paetus, the Stoic and biographer of Cato, will close the study. Throughout, a close look at diction, semantics, and other narratological devices will work to establish a strong connection between the Dialogus and the Annales and thus cement the Dialogus’ placement as not only the penultimate work of Tacitus, but an announcement for his upcoming grand finale, the Annales.
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