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Offending the Powerful: Tacitus’ Dialogus de Oratoribus and Safe Criticism

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This paper argues that the character of Curiatius Maternus in Tacitus’ Dialogus de Oratoribus is consistent throughout the dialogue in his attitude to the imperial regime. Maternus begins the dialogue in outright dissent, while in the second half he appears to be an apologist for the regime. Accepting the ironic reading of Maternus’ concluding speech, this paper asserts that Maternus shifts to figured speech in reaction to M. Aper, who expresses solidarity with the political values and rhetorical style of the delatores, and Vipstanus Messalla, the half-brother of the delator M. Aquilius Regulus. Confronted with such individuals, Maternus recognizes he must change the tenor of his language. Thus, his concluding speech is ironic critique consistent with his earlier dissent.

Affiliations: 1: Xavier University Department of Classics 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45208, USA, Email:


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