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Schulz, Verena (2015): Kalkuliertes Missverstehen? Zu Störungen der Kommunikation in Tacitus’ Annalen. In: Philologus, Vol. 159, No. 1: pp. 156-187


The communication processes between princeps and the Roman upper class, which Tacitus presents in his Annales, run strikingly counter to any model of communication based on understanding and to Grice’s conversational maxims. They can be described, instead, through two levels of communication in which certain contents are intended to be concealed and not understood. On one level, visible from the outside, the communicators allow signs to appear that are intentionally misleading and manipulated and which are intended to prevent recognition of what they really think or feel. The recipients of these messages nonetheless attempt, on the basis of these signs, to decipher what is hidden at a second level. These rhetorical-hermeneutic processes of coding and decoding are, in both cases, supposed to remain unnoticed by the other party. Tacitus thus stages breakdowns in communication that depend not on the system of signs being used, nor on the ability of the communicators, but on the power relations in force. Tacitus uses the depiction of this communication interrupted by power structures in order to construct a communicative discourse which, during the lifetimes of the emperors, remained hidden and unofficial.