COLLOQUIUM: Cynthia Damon, UPENN, "Writing with posterity in mind: Thucydides and Tacitus on secession"

Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

Seen from a distance Thucydides and Tacitus have much in common: they are both uncomfortable authors whose unsparing commitment to revealing the truth results in grim depictions of the amoral deployment of political power—power for the sake of power—in idiosyncratic and difficult idioms. Furthermore, in recent years Thucydides has come to seem more and more like Tacitus: intense, rhetorically manipulative, adept in the use of tragic structures, emotionally powerful, even "postmodern." However, Tacitus never announces a program of Thucydides-imitation, whether pertaining to methodology, like Josephus, or theme, like Sallust. Nor do ancient commentators point to any resemblance between Tacitus and his Greek predecessor, as they do for Sallust and even Cato. But the broad similarities between the two involve important aspects of their historiographical achievements, so it is worth trying to understand the relationship. A pair of passages in which the two historians treat one of history's "repeating events"—defection from an imperial power—offers a promising terrain in which to explore Tacitus' debt to Thucydides. In examining the narratives of the Mytilenean and Batavian revolts (Thuc. 3.2-6, 8-18, 23-33, 35-50; Tac. H. 4.12-37, 54-79, 5.14-26) due attention will be given to "each new permutation of circumstances," the important proviso that Thucydides attaches to his prediction about recurrence (3.82.2).