aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Tacitus, Annals 14.50

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At the moment of typing (Sunday morning), in common with every other resident of England and Wales, I’m legally prohibited from revealing the name of a footballer who is attempting to prevent anyone from knowing about his alleged extra-marital affair. As this graph* and this graph reveal, his attempt has utterly and catastrophically failed, and by the time the post you’re now reading makes it onto the internet the injunction may well have been lifted, since the information it attempts to keep private is firmly in the public domain: current estimates are that about 50% of the UK population knows the name.

The whole sorry episode is an example of the Streisand Effect, a phenomenon which was by no means unknown in the Roman world. It’s discussed by the ever-cynical Tacitus:

haud dispari crimine Fabricius Veiento conflictatus est, quod multa et probrosa in patres et sacerdotes composuisset iis libris, quibus nomen ‘codicillorum’ dederat. adiciebat Tullius Geminus accusator venditata ab eo munera principis et adipiscendorum honorum ius. quae causa Neroni fuit suscipiendi iudicii, convictumque Veientonem Italia depulit et libros exuri iussit, conquisitos lectitatosque, donec cum periculo parabantur: mox licentia habendi oblivionem attulit.

A not dissimilar charge brought Fabricius Veiento to ruin. The accusation was that he had composed many lampoons against senators and priests, in those books to which he had given the name of Codicils. The prosecutor, Tullius Geminus, claimed that the favours of the emperor, and the right of receiving promotions, had also been offered for sale by him. For this reason it was Nero himself who undertook the trial. He convicted Veiento, banished him from Italy, and ordered his books to be burned. The books were sought after and eagerly read for as long as it was dangerous to get hold of them. Soon, when the possession of them was again allowed, they were forgotten about.

*The spike was even more pronounced on Saturday, eclipsing even the previous high when the name was first revealed nearly a month ago.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Tacitus

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