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Tacitus

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TACITUS, Publius Cornelius, in the judg ment of many competent critics the greatest Roman historian. Neither the time nor the place of his birth is known, but certain state ments in his own works and in the letters of the younger Pliny (the two chief sources of our in formation about him) make it probable that he was born about 55 A.D. His education, mar riage and political career all point to a family of equestrian rank, and his father was not im probably that Cornelius Tacitus who, accord ing to the elder Pliny History,) VII, 76), was procurator of Gallia Belgica. He mar ried in 78 the daughter of Gnus Julius Agri cola. the illustrious governor of Britain. He enjoyed the official favor of Vespasian and Titus, and, at least at first, of Domitian, under whom, in the year 88, he presided, as prwtor and as a member of the ancient college of the Quindecimviri at the celebration of the secular games. After his pnetorship, he was for four years absent from the capital, and was thus prevented from being present at the death of Agricola, which took place in Rome in 93. During these years he was probably acting as praetorian legate in a province, and may have gained at this time some personal knowledge of Germany. In 97 (possibly 98) he was appointed consul to succeed Verginius Rufus, over whom he pronounced an eloquent funeral oration. He was an intimate friend of the younger Pliny, few years his junior, with whom he was asso ciated, in 100, in the successful prosecution of Marius Priscus, accused of extortion by the province of Africa. According to an inscrip tion discovered in 1890 at Mylasa, in Cana, Tacitus reached, perhaps in the year 112-13, the highest post open to a senator, the pro consulship of Asia. The date of his death is not known, but, inasmuch as the extension of the empire to the Persian Gulf, which was ac complished by Trajan in 115-16, is mentioned in (Annales,' Vol. II, 61, and several years were presumably required for the completion of that work, he may have lived into the reign of Hadrian, which began 117 .k.n.

His earliest work is the (Dialog.us de Ora toribus,) written probably under Titus, 79-81. The scene of the conversation is laid in the house of the poet Maternus, in the year 74-75, and a charming discussion of the relative merits of poetry and oratory leads up to the main theme, the decline of eloquence in modern times.

The treatise abounds in true and striking re flections, and exhibits the satne power of subtle analysis that marks the later works. But the style is distinctly Ciceronian, and in its rounded smoothness, so different from the abrupt in cisiveness of the 'Histories' arid 'Annals,' shows the influence of Quintilian, who was then preaching a return from the style of Seneca to that of Cicero. For this reason the great Justus Lipsiust in 1574, attributed the 'Dialog-us' to Quintillan and since then it has been ascribed to Suetonius, Pliny and others. But the weight of evidence is decidedly in favor of the Taci tean authorship.

During the 15 years of the reign of Domi tian, years whose horror finds sombre expres sion in the opening chapter of the 'Agricola,' Tacitus published nothing. But early in 98 there appeared, in rapid succession, the 'Agri cola> and the so-called 'Germania.' The for mer, the story of the life of his father-in-law, v‘hom he evidently loved and reverenced, is a masterpiece of biographical writing. The style is no longer Ciceronian but Sallustian, rapid, terse and piquant, rising at the close to sus tained sublimity.. The second monograph is commonly known as the 'Germania,' but its exact title is differently given in the important manuscripts and cannot be determined with cer tainty. It falls into two parts. The first 27 sections deal with the physical characteristics of Germany and the institutions, beliefs and customs of the inhahitants as a whole; the re maining 19 describe the individual peculiarities of the separate tribes. The treatment is rhetor ical and ethical rather than simply scientific, so that the purpose of the essay has often been questioned and the credibility of its statements attacked. But it is regarded as on the whole a trustworthy account of Gerrnan lands and peoples, though the geogrraphy is weak and the description of the tribes in the interior may have been based upon insufficient evidence. The Germans were then the object of much interest (Trajan was in Cologne at the time of his accession) and Tacitus, writing to satisfy this curiosity, pointed out at the same time to his countrymen, the contrast between their own corrupted civilization and the vigorous sim plicity of these Northern tribes, and gave a warning of possible danger.

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