Fulfills the L & S breadth requirement in Arts and Literature and Historical Studies
domi res tranquillae, eadem magistratuum uocabula; iuniores post Actiacam uictoriam, etiam senes plerique inter bella ciuium nati: quotus quisque reliquus, qui rem publicam uidisset? (Ann. 1.3.6)
“At home public life was without disturbance and the words for the magistracies were unchanged. Younger people had been born after the victory off Actium, and most of the old ones amid the wars between citizens. What fraction were left who had witnessed the Republic?”
In this course we will get to know a landmark of the literature of ancient Rome, the Ab excessu diui Augusti (conventionally known as the Annals) of Cornelius Tacitus. This partly preserved work is a narrative history of Rome from the death of the first princeps Augustus through the rule of Nero, and is the book that, more than any other, has shaped our picture of the history of Rome in those decades. The great question of the work—never spoken but continually explored—is, “What is Rome, and what are Romans, under the Principate?”
We will focus on understanding the first section of the work, which contains Tacitus’ account of Tiberius’ years as princeps (Books 1-6, covering 14-37 CE). We will read the whole account of Tiberius in English, as well as much of the first book in Latin. In the Tiberian books, we’ll encounter memorable figures—Germanicus, the elder Agrippina, Arminius, Cn. Calpurnius Piso, M. Aelius Sejanus, and above all Tiberius himself—and unforgettable scenes—the terrifying mutinies of legions on the Rhine and Danube, the memory-saturated visit to the site of the Roman calamity at the Teutoburg forest, the funeral of Germanicus, the collapse of the amphitheater at Fidenae—all presented for us in a brilliant, bizarre, refractory, and masterful Latin unlike any written before or since.
Some of the questions we will deal with: the rhetoric and practice of writing history in ancient Rome, Tacitus’ voice, problems of knowledge and expression under the Principate, the nature of power in the Annals and its relationship to language, intertextuality, Tacitus’ representation of different social categories (women, senators, common soldiers, freedmen, slaves, foreigners), and the political implications of style.
Our time in class will be spent in 1). careful translation and grammatical explication of Tacitus’ Latin and 2). interpretative discussion of our reading in the Annals, in other relevant assigned (translated) passages of Greek and Latin literature, and in modern scholarship. The main written elements of the grade will be an in-class midterm, an in-class final, and a term paper of approximately 5,000 words.
Students should have completed at least intermediate study of Latin (i.e., Latin 100 and 101 or their equivalent) before attempting this course.