Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Introduction to The Annals & The Histories by Tacitus, ~117AD.

"The thousand-year delay before he was widely read, either in his native tongue or in translation, was due in part to his unchurchly disregard for Jews and Christians, which provoked the authorities' controlling wrath throughout the Middle Ages, ..." - introduction by Shelby Foote.

"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, undertood to write a continuation of Tacitus' histories no writer other than his own friend Pliny makes mention of him." - Moses Hadas.

It isn't common to have two introductions in the same book, but his one certainly jumps out due to the mutually exclusive assertions. Shelby blaming the lack of attention to the church per the Dark Ages myth. Moses claiming that the pre-Christian Romans didn't take him seriously, which begs the question of why the monks of the middle ages serving under monarchies would care about the rhetoric of an ancient Republic. The real reason for the resurrection of Tacitus is much more mundane: The invention of the printing press decreased the cost of making and distributing copies of his work, while the laws of supply and demand dictated a much greater interest in his work.

1 comment:

Livingsword said...

Hi Looney;

Tacitus is marvelous to read for those of us that appreciate his kind of works…. I have read “The Histories”, “The Agricola and Germania” and “The Annals of Imperial Rome” (my favorite of his works).

I found this Wikipedia comment upon Tacitus to be interesting:

“the Encyclopædia Britannica opined that he "ranks beyond dispute in the highest place among men of letters of all ages". His influence extends far beyond the field of history. His work has been read for its moral instruction, its gripping and dramatic narrative, and its inimitable prose style; it is as a political theorist, though, that he has been, and remains, most influential outside the field of history.”
- - FROM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus

I wonder if the nature of his style and work and its conjunction with as you said the printing press corresponding with the dramatic developments in civilization (and in translating techniques) at that time conspired to conflate Tacitus impact upon society. There are always ebbs and flows with these kinds of things, perhaps Marx’ Das Kapital may even make a come back!! (Hopefully I will be dead by then LOL)