Tac. Dial. 39, 1: Paenulae istae

To take the passage Tac. Dial. 39, 1 at face value would mean to assume that in the second half of the 1stcentury CE Roman orators would either be ordered to or habitually prefer to appear in court not in togae, but clad in paenulae cloaks. Such an assumption seems, nevertheless, to have no feet of its own, for a paenula is an item of distinctly casual clothing, and Quintilian, who discusses the outfit of an orator at length in Inst. 11, 3, 137–49, never mentions it. In this article, I suggest understanding paenulae istae metaphorically: the court cases were no longer argued in the openness of the forum, but were brought under an airtight bureaucratic roof, which is the main concern throughout chapter 39. These novelties are, like paenulae, arresting movement, they are the ‘strait jackets’ of contemporary eloquence. It may be further supposed that Tacitus had a schoolroom favourite on his mind — Cicero’s Pro Milone 54. Refs 30.

 Zeltchenko._Tac. Dial. 39, 1 Paenulae istae