In Letter 5.8 Pliny shows that in the post-Domitianic era historia has become an impossible genre, both as a vehicle for conventional moral wisdom and because of the authoritative narrative voice it necessitates. The letter's literary strategies of deferral express these problems even as its content appears to argue positively the merits of historia and compare it with those of oratio . Pliny emphasizes the insufficiency of the narrative “I”, suggesting instead the importance of dialogue as the means both toward the ethical reconstruction of post-tyrannical discourse and the literary fame for which Pliny also hopes.
The fact that vocabulum appears with far more frequency in Tacitus' texts than in any other author except for the encyclopaedists argues for his idiosyncratic usage of the term. This article argues that imperial discourse, nearly identical in structure and expression to that of the Republic but divorced from Republican connotations, provided an empty site where Roman fantasies of self-definition took strong hold, and that Tacitus uses vocabulum to indicate words and concepts that illustrate this process, particularly with reference to representations of the foreign and the past. Such a discourse was congenial for the concentration of power in the hands of one person, as it no longer expressed the conflicting desires of a community engaged in public affairs, but collectivized the public desire for an image of Roman superiority. Thus Germany and the old Republican past were easily mythologized as what Rome desired to be, but feared it was not. Tacitus' use of vocabulum highlights the words in imperial discourse that betray the gap in the political unconscious between Romans' idea of themselves as masters of the Empire and as slaves to one ruler. Nor does he position himself as an outside observer of this process, but creates an experience of it for the reader through gaps and inconsistencies within his narrative.