13 November 2008
Domitian (Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla, Spain)

Domitian (Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla, Spain)

The Roman historian Tacitus (c.55-c.120) wrote three delightful monographs (Agricola, Germania, and the Dialogue on the Orators) and two monumental histories: the Histories and the Annals, a dark work that is his masterpiece. His central theme is how a wealthy man had to act in an age of tyranny: he had duties towards society that he could not honorably evade, but this was not without danger – emperors were jealous and cruel.

For centuries, scholars have praised Tacitus’ style and the depth of his analysis. Some of this praise is exaggerated (arguably, Cassius Dio is a better, less biased historian), and it cannot be denied that the ghost of Domitian, who had acted despotically but to whom Tacitus owed his career, hovers over Tacitus’ accounts of other reigns. Still, he is certainly an efficient writer who knows how to employ stereotypes to create a story that is utterly unputdownable.

I have now added an article on Tacitus to my website, and you can find it here; an earlier version was published in Ancient Warfare.


Suetonius, On Famous Men

17 July 2008
Portrait of a Roman official, first quarter of the second century (Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel)

Portrait of a Roman official, first quarter of the second century (Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel)

Suetonius is best known for the Lives of the Twelve Caesars, but that is just a part of his oeuvre, which also included such titles as Physical Defects of Men, Greek Children’s Games, Lives of Famous Prostitutes, and a dictionary that contained only terms of abuse. The twenty books of the Playground of Names and Languages culminated in a series of biographies of

Fragments survive, most of them rather short (like Passienus Crispus) but some of them still pretty long. They are now available at LacusCurtius: go here, or use one of the links above. You can find both the Latin texts and the Loeb translation.

Rhetorica ad Herennium

5 July 2008

A detail of Rhetorica on the Fontana Grande, in front of the cathedral of Perugia in Umbria.The Rhetorica ad Herennium, which is now online at LacusCurtius, is traditionally attributed to Cicero, although there is strong evidence that it was written by an earlier author. Whoever the writer may be, it is an important text: it is the oldest surviving treatise on rhetorics in Latin, and focuses less on the philosophical side of oratory (as Aristotle had done in his Rhetorics) than on the practical side. This made it, in the Middle Ages, one of the most influential classical Latin texts.