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Latin Text, Study Aids with Vocabulary, and Commentary, by Mathew Owen and Ingo Gildenhard

Introduction

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 At the outset of his Annals, which was his last work, published around AD 118, Tacitus states that he wrote sine ira et studio (‘without anger or zeal’), that is, in an objective and dispassionate frame of mind devoted to an uninflected portrayal of historical truth. The announcement is part of his self-fashioning as a muckraker above partisan emotions who chronicles the sad story of early imperial Rome: the decline and fall of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (AD 14–68) in the Annals and the civil war chaos of the year of the four emperors (AD 69) followed by the rise and fall of the Flavian dynasty (AD 69–96) in the (earlier) Histories. But his narrative is far from a blow-by-blow account of Roman imperial history, and Tacitus is an author as committed as they come – a literary artist of unsparing originality who fashions his absorbing subject matter into a dark, defiant, and deadpan sensationalist vision of ‘a world in pieces’, which he articulates, indeed enacts, in his idiosyncratic Latinity.[1] To read this Latin and to come to terms with its author is not easy: ‘No one else ever wrote Latin like Tacitus, who deserves his reputation as the most difficult of Latin authors.’[2]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This introduction is designed to help you get some purchase on Tacitus and his texts.[3] We will begin with some basic facts, not least to establish Tacitus as a successful ‘careerist’ within the political system of the principate who rose to the top of imperial government and stayed there even through upheavals at the centre of power and dynastic changes (1). A few comments on the configuration of power in imperial Rome follow, with a focus on how emperors stabilized and sustained their rule (2). In our survey of Tacitus’ oeuvre, brief remarks on his so-called opera minora (his ‘smaller’ – a better label would be ‘early’ – works) precede more extensive consideration of his two great works of historiography: the Histories and, in particular, the Annals. Here issues of genre – of the interrelation of content and form – will be to the fore (3). We then look at some of the more distinctive features of Tacitus’ prose style, with the aim of illustrating how he deploys language as an instrument of thought (4). The final two sections are dedicated to the two principal figures of the set text: the emperor Nero (and his propensity for murder and spectacle) (5); and the senator Thrasea Paetus, who belonged to the so-called ‘Stoic opposition’ (6). None of the sections offers anything close to an exhaustive discussion of the respective topic: all we can hope to provide are some pointers on how to think with (and against) Tacitus and the material you will encounter in the set text.


3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 [1]    Henderson (1998).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 [2]   Woodman (2004) xxi.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 [3]  We are not trying to compete with general introductions to Tacitus and his works, of which there are plenty. We particularly recommend Ash (2006) and the two recent companions to Tacitus edited by Woodman (2009a) and Pagán (2012). See also, more generally, the companions to (Greek and) Roman historiography edited by Marincola (2007) and Feldherr (2009).

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Source: https://annals15.theclassicslibrary.com/introduction/