Within the narrative for a.d. 32, Tacitus recreates a spirited speech delivered before the Senate by the eques Marcus Terentius (Ann. 6.8), defending himself retrospectively for having been a ‘friend’ of Sejanus. This speech, the only extended speech in oratio recta to feature in Annals Book 6, is historiographically rich and suggestive.
This article first analyses the speech as a compelling piece of oratory in its own right. It then explores the provocative mirroring of another important speech in Curtius Rufus (7.1.19–40). This is where the general Amyntas, defending himself before Alexander the Great against charges of participation in an alleged conspiracy, refuses to deny his friendship with the conspirator Philotas (now dead). Scholars have rightly acknowledged the significant intertextuality of these two speeches in Curtius Rufus and Tacitus. Yet the interest in this mirroring between Amyntas and Terentius has overshadowed another important intertext. This article demonstrates how Tacitus also engages with a programmatic moment from the opening of Virgil's Aeneid when Aeolus is cajoled by Juno to unleash a devastating storm. Terentius wittily casts Tiberius as a powerful divinity whose whims had to be obeyed and himself as a helpless Aeolus doing his will.
This article demonstrates that the two passages from Virgil and Curtius Rufus underpinning Terentius’ speech work together powerfully, challenging Tacitus’ readers to reflect on the difficulties of ‘speaking to power’ and on the compromises involved for men like Terentius in negotiating the complex political realities of the imperial system.