Tacitus en het toneel van Nero | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 53, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 0165-8204
  • E-ISSN: 2667-1573



On the basis of a broad perspective on theatricality and tragedy in imperial Rome this article argues that theatrical and tragic elements play an important role in the episode on the death of Nero’s mother Agrippina in Tacitus’ 14.1-10. These elements fall into three categories: 1) theatricality, 2) generic, tragic elements and 3) allusions to specific tragic texts. These evocations of the (tragic) stage serve to underscore Tacitus’ characterization of the reign of Nero and of imperial Roman society in general as fundamentally artificial. Tacitus’ use of tragic material does not reflect an Aristotelian, tragic vision of history, but rather stresses the theatricality of the historical events, drawing upon a cultural memory of Nero and Agrippina as the creators of, and actors in, their own farcical world. At the same time the episode is presented by Tacitus as the paradigmatic starting point of Nero’s engagement in various forms of spectacle entertainment (, 14.11-22). In Tacitus’ presentation of the aftermath of the murder theatricality and spectacle represent a moral decline characterized by and , reflecting Tacitus’ moral concerns.


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