023) Latin Eye-Witness: Agrippina--Murder, Mayhem, Motherhood

The sister, wife and mother of emperors—she slept with one, murdered one, and was murdered by the other. The most notorious and most powerful woman of the Roman Empire, Agrippina used sex, deception, and violence to achieve supreme power and wealth. Sister of Caligula, and the last wife of her uncle, Claudius, she manipulated and murdered to make her son Nero emperor. Though his equal in power for many years, she eventually became his victim: The ancient historian Suetonius describes how Nero attempted several amusingly elaborate schemes, including a collapsing roof in her bedroom and a collapsing boat that would toss her into the sea and drown her; but since Agrippina was both canny and an excellent swimmer, he was forced to resort to less imaginative measures: Tacitus describes how, when Nero finally sent soldiers to stab her, Agrippina pointed to her womb, indicating that they should strike at the place that had borne him.

In this course, we will read excerpts of ancient historians (in bilingual Latin-English format), as well as modern perspectives on Agrippina, and view excerpts of various film and television representations of the character. There is an optional class trip to the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Handel’s Agrippina, featuring Joyce DiDonato and countertenor Iestyn Davies.   

TEXT: All required texts will be supplied by the instructor. Recommended Texts: Wheelock’s Latin, 7th Edition (Harper Collins, 2011); Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum—Vol. 1, II (Loeb Classical Library, No. 31, 38): bilingual text, translated by J.C. Rolfe; Oxford Pocket Latin-English dictionary (2005)