Galba's speech in Tacitus' Historiae 1.15-6

Luca Grillo

Princeton University

In Historiae 1.15-16, the emperor Galba gives a speech on the occasion of the designation and adoption of his successor Piso. There are several reasons to believe that Tacitus intended to confer an important function to this speech. It is the first one in the Historiae. It touches on the highly contentious theme of emperors' succession (Keitel). It is unique to Tacitus: Suetonius and Plutarch, neither report nor even mention it (Damon). Lastly, it is the only contio of Hist. 1 which is not given in front of the praetorian guard.

1. Leaving aside the historical problem about the authenticity of these words in Galba's mouth, I intend to look at the speech from a narrative prospective. Syme first pointed at the Tacitean contrast between the speaker's words and the reality of the facts, as they emerge from the narration. I will argue that in the case of Galba, such contrast has a specific aim: what is at stake is not only the psychology of the speaker, nor the themes he brings up; but the speaker as such. The words are the means to judge the speaker, and the information previously delivered by T. is the tool in the hands of the reader to test Galba and his version and understanding of the facts.

            2. I intend to look at three motifs programmatically contained in the speech: the problem of adulatio, the function of Nero's exemplum, and the dichotomy servitus-libertas. My goal is to prove that Tacitus, while setting on stage some major topics that will be further developed, gives them a specific spin, which colors their meaning and gives out the key for understanding them also in the rest of the Historiae.

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