When the Emperor Wasn't Divine: Patient-Doctor Interactions in Tacitus' Annals
Haverford College. Department of Classics
Place of Publication
The Daniel Gillis and Joseph Russo Prize
Table of Contents
In his Annals, a sixteen book history of the Roman Empire, the Roman historian Tacitus includes four episodes of an emperor or a member of the imperial class interacting with a doctor. Although there has been much scholarly study of ancient medicine and physicians in Roman antiquity, as well as of Tacitus' Annals, very little attention has been paid to these patient-doctor interactions in the Annals, despite the considerable sociopolitical, historical, and cultural implications inherent to medical interactions in Roman society, implications that can be used to elucidate Tacitus' text. This thesis fills this gap in Tacitean scholarship by examining the effect that the social and political undertones of these four medical interactions have on Tacitus' political history as a whole. In particular, I first examine Tacitus' representation of imperial doctors as stereotypically Greek professionals, and what consequences that ethnic labeling has on his argument about foreign influence on the principate; namely, that Greek physicians are a manifestation of a Greek influence on imperial politics that Tacitus deems negative. Then, I turn to the amorphous and muddled power dynamics of these interactions, and the ways the physicians subvert and fulfill expectations for how Roman doctors should act. From this analysis, I conclude that Tacitus' depiction of doctors is a thematic extension of his broader arguments surrounding the principate, and especially its susceptibility to foreign interference, and the unstable, contradictory nature of its authority.