Duane Reed Stuart (essay date 1923)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Stuart, Duane Reed. Introduction to The Agricola, by Tacitus, pp. ix-xxvi. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923.

[In the following essay, Stuart provides a biographical sketch of Tacitus and discusses the purpose, form, and style of the Agricola.]


The books of Tacitus show vividly what manner of man he was. The works of no other ancient historian are so impregnated with the author's personality. By reading the writings of Tacitus between the lines it is easy to find out what he thought of the world in which he lived, what his convictions and what his prejudices were.

On the other hand, the information that he...

(The entire section is 4978 words.)

Moses Hadas (essay date 1942)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hadas, Moses. Introduction to The Complete Works of Tacitus, by Tacitus, edited by Moses Hadas, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, pp. ix-xxii. New York: The Modern Library, 1942.

[In the following essay, Hadas discusses Tacitus's life, career, and artistry and evaluates his trustworthiness as an historian.]

The apparent insensitivity of the Romans to their greatest historian is an exasperating accident of our faulty tradition or a melancholy commentary upon their civilization. Until the end of the fourth century when Ammianus Marcellinus, an Antiochene Greek, undertook to write a continuation of Tacitus' histories no writer other...

(The entire section is 5514 words.)

Ronald Syme (lecture date 1952)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Syme, Ronald. “Tacitus on Gaul.” In Ten Studies in Tacitus, pp. 19-29. London: Clarendon Press, 1970.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1952, Syme discusses Tacitus's treatment of the problems posed to Rome by Gaul.]

Tacitus on Gaul. The title seems paradoxical, for the name of the historian of imperial Rome is linked for ever with a small work he composed concerning the land of Germany, its tribes and their habits.

The Germania is a precious opuscule. It is unique—yet it is not original. The Germania of Tacitus belongs to a recognizable type, the ethnographical excursus or essay, and it had...

(The entire section is 4576 words.)

Ronald Syme (essay date 1958)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Syme, Ronald. “The Technique of Tacitus” and “Roman Oratory in the Annales.” In Tacitus, Vol. I, pp. 304-39. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.

[In the following excerpt, Syme analyzes Tacitus's handling of such literary devices as digressions and speeches, praising his skill in portraying assorted Roman orators as individuals.]


The matter was heterogeneous—both literary and documentary, stylized with elegance or baldly prosaic, removed by three generations or recent and personal. How was Cornelius Tacitus to evince his mastery, blending and transmuting? His principal devices are structure,...

(The entire section is 16022 words.)

F. R. D. Goodyear (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Goodyear, F. R. D. “Tacitus and the Writing of History.” In Tacitus, pp. 22-34. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

[In the following essay, Goodyear explores Tacitus's complex narrative layout and arrangement of historical events, investigating the argument that many of his reports are unreliable.]

Various analogies have been used to describe Tacitus' way of writing in his historical works. Racine called him ‘le plus grand peintre de l'Antiquité’. The analogy of painting is often pertinent, for Tacitus has supreme skill in presenting scenes visually, in catching and highlighting details of gesture and movement, not least so with crowd scenes, as in...

(The entire section is 5854 words.)

Herbert W. Benario (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Benario, Herbert W. “The Minor Works.” In An Introduction to Tacitus, pp. 22-42. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1975.

[In the following essay, Benario examines the themes of the Agricola, the Germania, and the Dialogus de oratoribus.]

Early in 98, Tacitus published his first work. It was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Agricola was a remarkable man, as great, it might be said, as a private citizen could be in this age. He was born in a.d. 40. His political career is marked by a steady advance through the cursus honorum, culminating in the consulship at an age some five years before the normal or customary...

(The entire section is 8206 words.)

Anthony J. Woodman (lecture date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Woodman, Anthony J. “Tacitus and Tiberius: The Alternative Annals.” In Tacitus and Tiberius: The Alternative “Annals,” pp. 1-22. Durham, North Carolina: University of Durham, 1985.

[In the following excerpt, originally delivered as a lecture, Woodman explores Tacitus's motives for defying expectations—particularly the rules of traditional historiography—while writing the Annals.]

At the age of eleven I went to a school where boys who came top in Latin were automatically placed top of their class. Although I personally had no objection to this endearing custom, I do not expect everyone to accept the proposition that an aptitude for Latin...

(The entire section is 8233 words.)

Ronald Mellor (essay date 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Mellor, Ronald. “The Impact of Tacitus.” In Tacitus, pp. 137-62. New York: Routledge, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Mellor presents a survey of readers’ responses to Tacitus over the last five centuries.]

Your histories will be immortal

Pliny Letter (7, 33) to Tacitus

Though Tacitus was the greatest Roman historian, it was not among Romans, nor even among historians, that he had his greatest impact. In early modern Europe Tacitus's political vision, dramatic images, and incisive moral aphorisms left their mark on poets and philosophers, princes and popes, painters...

(The entire section is 11441 words.)

Michael Grant (essay date 1996)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Grant, Michael. “Translator's Introduction.” In The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant, pp. 7-28. 1956. Revised. London: Penguin Books, 1996.

[In the following essay, Grant examines the tradition of historiography that preceded Tacitus, his moral sense and how it influenced his writing, and the difficulties a translator faces in trying to do justice to his Latin.]


The powerful personality of Cornelius Tacitus has survived in his writings, but we know extremely little of his life or his origin. Indeed, we are not even sure whether the first of his three names was Publius...

(The entire section is 8509 words.)

A. J. Woodman (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Woodman, A. J. “Introduction: The Literature of War.” In Tacitus Reviewed, pp. 1-20. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1998.

[In the following excerpt, Woodman suggests that Tacitus is better read as a poet than a traditional historian.]

It was on the last Monday in January exactly fifty years ago that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. The event has been described by Alan Bullock in his celebrated book:1

During the morning a silent crowd filled the street between the Kaiserhof and the Chancellery. … At a window of the Kaiserhof, Röhm was keeping an anxious watch on the door from which Hitler...

(The entire section is 8320 words.)

Ellen O'Gorman (essay date 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Gorman, Ellen. “Introduction: Irony, History, Reading.” In Irony and Misreading in the “Annals” of Tacitus, pp. 1-22. Cambridge, U. K: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, O'Gorman contends that the very structure of Tacitus's sentences in the Annals conveys meaning and that he deliberately uses complex and ironic passages to force readers to engage in reflection.]

The ironist aspires to be somebody who gets in on some redescription, who manages to change some parts of the vocabularies being used. The ironist wants to be a strong poet.

Michael Roth, The Ironist's...

(The entire section is 8783 words.)