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Form: Cornelius.
The celebrated Roman historian, born about the year 54 A.D., apparently of an equestrian family. Nothing is known of his birthplace, and it is only a conjecture that he was born at Interamna (Terni). In his rhetorical education he came under the immediate influence of the most distinguished orators of the time, Marcus Aper and Julius Secundus, and he made his first appearance as an advocate at an early age. In 77 he married the daughter of the consul of that year, Julius Agricola, shortly before the latter's departure for Britain [Tac., Agr. 9]. In 78-79 he held the quaestorship under Vespasian,; in 80-81 he was aedile or tribune under Titus, and in 88 under Domitian. In 90 he left Rome with his wife on some official commission, and had not returned in 93, when his father-in- law died [ib. at end]. In 97, under Nerva, he was consul suffectus. He appears for the last time in active public life in 100, when, with his friend the younger Pliny, be appeared on the side of the prosecution in an important law-suit [Pliny, Ep. ii 12 Section 2]. The date of his death is unknown, but be probably survived the accession of Hadrian in 117. His writings are: (1) A dialogue on the decline of eloquence (Dialogus de Oratoribus), one of his earliest works, written apparently [under the influence of Quintilian] in the early part of the reign of Domitian, and originating in a close study of Cicero's rhetorical writings. It is one of the ablest works of the imperial age, and in language and style is so different from his later works that its genuineness has frequently been disputed. (2) The life of his father-in-law Agricola (De Vita et Moribus Iulii Agricoloe), published at the beginning of Trajan's reign, and written in dutiful commemoration of the deceased; it is in the manner of Sallust, from whom Tacitus to a large extent borrowed his style. (3) The "Germania" (De Sita, Moribus, ac Populis Germanioe), written soon after his Agricola; a description of the Germany of that time, which is founded on careful research, and is especially important as the source of all ours knowledge of the ancient history of Germany. (4) A history of his own times, from Galba to the death of Domitian (69-96), under the title Historioe, in fourteen books, of which books i-iv and the first half of v, covering not quite two years (69-70), have alone been preserved. (5) The history of the Julian house, in sixteen books, published between 115 and 117, beginning with the death of Augustus. (Hence the original title Ab Excessu divi Augusti; the usual title, Annales, rests on no authority.) Books i-iv are still complete; the latter part of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth is missing (the reign of Tiberius A.D. 14-37); while the second half of the eleventh, the whole of books xii-xiv and the first half of xv (the reign of Claudius from the year 47 and the history of Nero as far as 68) are still extant. The two principal works of Tacitus thus give us a complete history of the emperors from Tiberius to Domitian. He was probably prevented by his death from completing is design by writing an account of the reign of Augustus, from the battle of Actium, and also including the reigns of Nerva and Trajan. In both works the chronological arrangement of the materials is predominant; they are founded on the most searching and comprehensive study of the historical authorities, and are marked by a thoroughly critical spirit. Tacitus is always extremely careful to ascertain and to record the truth; he is never satisfied with a mere narrative of events, but seeks to elicit their causes from the facts themselves. He is an adept in fathoming the hidden thoughts and motives of human agents. His method of treatment is, in external appearance, entirely objective; but an undercurrent of sympathy, now sad, now cheerful, with the events related, is everwhere betraying itself. He is avowedly and resolutely impartial, and his judgment is eminently fair. It is only severe when he is dealing with wrongs done to the State, and to the moral laws of the universe. Thoroughly convinced of the value of virtue, he hates vice, which he seeks to terrify by exposing it to the ignominy of after ages. With all his admiration for the greatness of republican Rome, he is a stanch imperialist, being convinced of the necessity of the Empire for the stability of the State. In contrast with the bright elegance and richness of expression characteristic of his earliest work, as he advances in his literary activity his style becomes more sombre and pathetic, in accordance with the gloomy and tragic events which he has to describe. He becomes increasingly fond of rhetorical colouring, and avoids the ordinary diction of prose, while seeking to attain sublimity and novelty of style, less by archaisms than by an approximation to poetical expression. His grave and serious purpose finds its counterpart in his efforts to express himself with a terseness and precision which is often peculiarly pointed and epigrammatic. It is in the Annals that this last trait displays itself in its most characteristic form, and on the most extensive scale.
Type: Standard
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