Public Discourse and Imperial Ideology in the Annals of Tacitus
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Konieczny, Michael Leonard
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CitationKonieczny, Michael Leonard. 2019. Public Discourse and Imperial Ideology in the Annals of Tacitus. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis study examines the relationship between discourse and ideology in the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus, with a particular focus on the account of the reign of Tiberius in books 1-6. I argue that Tacitus depicts the early Principate as a political system in which the legitimacy of autocratic rule depends on the emperor’s ostensible adherence to a set of fundamental ideological assumptions, the most important of which is the autonomy (libertas) of the senate. The naturalization of these assumptions depends, in turn, on the systematic patterning of public discourse in such a way that it reproduces and affirms the terms of imperial ideology. Two main categories of discourse are considered.
The utterances of individual speakers, including the emperor, in formal settings conform quite rigidly to the official “script” of imperial politics, although Tacitus probes the vulnerabilities of this script by portraying situations in which the discursive conventions of the Principate break down, whether by accident or as a result of deliberate subversion. Moreover, the systematized dissimulation of genuine sentiment results in a political environment characterized by confusion, uncertainty, and psychological strain, and much of the narrative of the Tiberian books is devoted to an examination of the tension between the suppression of private opinion and its occasional eruption into the public realm.
On the other hand, I argue that anonymous collective discourse, particularly rumor, is largely exempt from the dynamics that constrain individual speech, and thus serves as one of the primary vehicles through which criticism of imperial ideology is articulated and disseminated in the Annals. In addition, collective discourse plays an important role in the process by which political events are interpreted and organized into coherent narratives. As a result, collective discourse represents a significant check on the ideological hegemony of the regime, and, although attempts are occasionally made to control it, Tacitus usually portrays these efforts as hopelessly futile. The autonomy of collective discourse is particularly evident in the Claudian and Neronian books of the Annals, where it manifests itself above all in the context of both formal and informal instances of public spectacle.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029530
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