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'Ferox Scelerum?' A note on Tacitus, 'Annals' 4.12.2.

nam Seianus ubi videt mortem Drusi inultam interfectoribus, sine maerore publico esse, ferox scelerum et quia prima provenerant, volutare secum, quonam modo Germanici liberos perverteret, quorum non dubia successio.

Commentators on this passage have drawn attention to the unusual genitive in the phrase ferox stelerum, 'fierce in his crimes': 'this adj. seems here alone to take an objective genitive', says Furneaux, while Martin and Woodman state that 'the dependent genitive of an external attribute, evidently on the analogy of its use with personal characteristics (e.g. Ovid, Met. 8.613 mentis), seems unparalleled and is perhaps intended to suggest that Sejanus' criminality was innate'. Most commentators add a reference to Sallust's description of Jugurtha as sceleribus suis ferox (Jug. 14.21), but that passage is no help as a parallel for the construction, since it gives the ablative usual after ferox in Tacitus and other writers to describe the reason for ferocity (cf. Agr. 27.1 fama ferox, Hist .1.51.1 ferox praeda, Ann. 1.3.4 robore corporis stolide ferocem, TLL 6.567.76ff.).

As Martin and Woodman rightly note, this is the only passage in classical Latin where ferox is found with a genitive which does not refer to the ferocious person's mind or character, i.e. a genitive which is not a genitive of 'sphere' (on this see E. Lofstedt, Syntactica(2) (Malmo, 1956) 1.172-4). The other instances of a genitive construction after ferox quoted in TLL (6.568.42ff.) may be listed, since there are so few. Four of the five refer to the mind and provide no possible parallel for ferox scelerum: Ovid, Met. 8.613 mentisque ferox, Tacitus, Ann. 1.32.2 animi ferox, SHA Aurelian 32.3 animi ferox, Prudentius, Perist. 3.32 ingeniique ferox. The fifth is Tacitus Hist. 1.35.1, [equitum plerique ac senatorum] nimii verbis, linguae feroces, where balance with the preceding phrase would suggest that linguae is a genitive governed by feroces ('ferocious in tongue'). Feroces is in fact only the reading of two late manuscripts and therefore probably a conjecture; the Mediceus, the sole authoritative manuscript, reads ferocis, and linguae ferocis would be a perfectly acceptable genitive of quality of a Tacitean kind (cf. e.g. Ann. 4.29.1 Lentulus senectutis extremae, 6.30.3 [Gaetulicus] effusae clementiae). If feroces is accepted, the genitive after ferox can still be avoided by reading the easy conjecture lingua (Georges and Heraeus), the usual ablative. But even if one accepts linguae as genitive after ferox, ferox linguae is no real parallel for ferox scelerum. Lingua can be regarded as a personal and internal attribute, and is therefore clearly analogous with nouns such as animus and mens; no such argument is available for scelus, clearly an external and non-personal attribute, especially in the plural, which seems to refer specifically to acts of wickedness rather than the attribute of wickedness itself.

Of course, anomalous uses of the genitive are not unknown in Tacitus (see the collections of material by A. Draeger, Uber Syntax und Stil des Tacitus(3) (Leipzig, 1882), 18-35 and H. Furneaux, The Annals of Tacitus I: Books 1-6(2), H. F. Pelham and C. D. Fisher (eds.) [Oxford, 1896], 50-53). Genitives apparently analogous to that of ferox scelerum appear at Annals 4.53.1 pervicax irae and 12.22.1 atrox odii, but in each case the noun which follows refers to an internal and not an external attribute. Two further passages look more promising: Annals 13.46.3 procax otii et potestatis temperantior and Annals 14.33.2 laborum segnes. But neither is truly parallel. At Annals 13.46.3 the construction of procax otii is surely influenced by that of potestatis temperantior (for the genitive after temperans cf. Terence Ph. 271 famae temperans, Pliny Pan. 52.5 temperans gaudii). At Annals 14.33.2 the words laborum segnes are both conjectural (laborum is from Lipsius, segnes from Mercerius; the Mediceus reads aliorum insignes, clearly corrupt) and perhaps not a reliable parallel for that reason; but if they are accepted, the genitive construction here is clearly a Grecism, imitating the genitive found after [Greek Text Omitted]a[Rho][Gamma]os (cf. esp. Plato, Laws 8.835d [Greek Text Omitted] and id.ib. 7.806a, Aeschylus Sept. 411, Euripides I.A. 1000). The shift from ablative to genitive after ferox admits of no such natural explanation, and seems highly dubious.

Here, as often, we should recall that the text of Annals 1-6 descends from a single manuscript, and that corruption is always a possibility. The problematic syntax of ferox scelerum is easily removed by the change of a single letter; read instead ferax scelerum, 'fertile in crime'. The corruption is of course an easy one, and found in the manuscripts of Tacitus; compare Ann. 1.41.3 where editors read Beroaldus' obsistunt for the manuscripts' absistunt. This emendation replaces a highly anomalous construction with one which is not only regular (cf. TLL 6.488.72ff., 489.72ff.) but also Tacitean: cf. Annals 4.72.3 ingentium beluarum feraces saltus, 'woods fertile in mighty beasts'. The metaphorical use of ferax is no problem; cf. TLL 6.489.44ff. and especially Livy 9.16.19 illa aetate, qua nulla virtutum feracior fuit, of which the sense at Annals 4.12.2 is a neat reversal. One might also compare Horace, Odes 3.6.17 fecunda culpae saecula; ferax for a male is paralleled at SHAM. Aurelius 16.4 (of M. Aurelius) multo melior et feracior ad virtutes, and the similarly 'female' fecundus is used of a male at Valerius Flaccus 5.204 fecundi proles Iovis. The image is also well suited to the context, where it gives real point to the et linking ferax scelerum to quia prima provenerant: provenire can be seen like ferax as a metaphor from agriculture, referring to the shooting or springing up of plants - cf. Tacitus, Agr. 12.5 solum praeter oleam vitemque et cetera calidioribus terris oriri sueta patiens frugum pecudumque fecundum: tarde mitescunt, cito proveniunt; OLD s.v. provenio 3. Sejanus, having seen his evil designs achieve their first shoots in the death of Drusus, moves to put into practice the further criminal plans with which his mind is burgeoning.

S. J. HARRISON Corpus Christi College, Oxford
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Author:Harrison, S.J.
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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