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The Unfortunate Marriage Of Gaius Silius: Tacitus And Juvenal On The Fall Of Messalina

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Chapter Summary

In the year 48, the emperor Claudius received some shocking news. His wife Messalina had surpassed all her former adulteries by publicly marrying Gaius Silius and publicly announcing her intent to divorce the emperor. This chapter looks principally at two versions of the story, those of Tacitus and Juvenal, and the ways in which they differ. Such a comparison can bring out the way this event proved useful to different authors with different agendas and different, though related, concerns about the problems intrinsic to the position of the emperor vis-a-vis the Roman elite. For Tacitus the story is the culmination of themes, all of which center around an indictment of Claudius as princeps. For Juvenal, the story's ostensible purpose is in fact a way of commenting on two of his favorite themes: the danger for elite men created by the power of the emperor and the problem of powerful women.

Keywords: Claudius; Gaius Silius; Juvenal; Messalina; Roman elite; Tacitus



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