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Review On Tacitus' Works

897 words - 4 pages

The following is the inaugural review of The Last Word, a semi-regular column in The Times, in which I will be reviewing books, both fiction and non-fiction, for the reading public.

Many civilizations, and especially the Greco-Roman civilization, were great recorders of the written word. One of these works, The Annals of Imperial Rome by the historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, concerns the period following the death of Augustus in A.D. 14, to the death of Nero in A.D. 68.
The text reviewed here is a superb English translation of the original Latin text by Cambridge professor Michael Grant. Although it strives valiantly to capture the essence and vitality of the original Latin, it still ...view middle of the document...

This tends to take away from the text, and leaves one vaguely suspicious of his motives. On the other hand, this would hardly have stood him apart from his classical contemporaries, who rarely strove for objectivity.
An example of this less-than-objective perspective is evident in the opening chapters, with Tacitus’ savage appraisal of the reign of Tiberius. He has little good to say about Augustus’ successor, documenting in fine detail the many atrocities and moral corruptions the emperor was responsible for, as well as the cheapening and abuse of the imperial system designed by Augustus to offer justice and stability in the face of pre-imperial republican chaos. This is a curious indictment, considering Tiberius’ reign was the farthest removed from Tacitus’ own lifetime, and of which he was likely to have the least reliable knowledge. Tacitus’ descriptive fervour is only marred by his passion for voluminous detail, as the text sometimes becomes bogged down with seemingly endless descriptions of vicious trials, retributions and executions, and the spineless sycophancy of the senate.
Where Tacitus’ undeniable brilliance is put on full display is in his account of the reign of the murderous Nero, whose extravagance and brutality bankrupted the empire and left future generations with a lasting example of the terrible consequences of unrestrained power placed in the hands of a moral degenerate. Tacitus’ descriptions of a spoiled and pampered child-man become ruler of the known world are a vivid window into Nero’s soul and motivations, and his ultimate downfall. Peppered throughout the text are withering criticisms of this...

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