TACITUS: ANNALS – BOOK XV

Edited by Rhiannon Ash

CUP (2018) p/b 368pp £24.99 (ISBN 9780521269391)

Twenty-three pages of Latin attract 302 pages of comment and 42 pages of bibliography and Index. In comparison with the price of most such editions, this text and commentary in the ‘Green and Yellow’ series should be in the bargain basement section, except there is nothing ‘basement’ about it: this is a top of the range piece of work, demonstrating how fruitful the combination of philology and historical criticism can be.

A random plundering of the superb Index gives some idea of the detailed richness of A’s. commentary: grammatically, 77 entries under different types of ‘ablative’, 27 under ‘indicative for subjunctive’; for figures of speech, 103 entries under ‘alliteration’,  64 entries under ‘metaphorical usage’, 32 under ‘ellipse’, 39 under ‘uariatio’ (these last three with the Latin of each example); under ‘language’, over five columns of entries covering ‘archaising’, ‘colloquial’, ‘poetic’, ‘technical’ and ‘associated with’ no fewer than 22 authors, again with the Latin of each example – and then there is the small matter of the historical content, indexed with equal care. In other words, not a single feature of language, style, philology or subject-matter escapes A.’s eagle eye. This commentary, then, presents the user with a pudding rich in flavours to suit every academic taste, with silver threepenny bits emerging out of every page.

The eight-part Introduction sets the scene with a similar attention to detail. ‘Tacitus’ covers the historian’s career, born probably in Gallia Narbonensis around AD 56-58, shadowing orators in in Rome by AD 75, married to the daughter of Agricola two years later, praetor in AD 88, suffect consul for two months in AD 97 and proconsul in Asia in AD 112/3, dying after AD 115. A. is cautious about dating the composition and publication of Annals. ‘Sources’ discusses the ancient habit of citing them only when there was a conflict between them, but Tacitus masked them under passive or impersonal usages more than most. As well as the usual suspects—Fabius Rusticus, Cluvius Rufus—Tacitus drew on Corbulo’s memoirs, acta diurna and records of dramatic death scenes as well as ‘unspecified oral sources’. His problem was that they all tended to be hostile to Nero. A. argues that Tacitus’ picture is more nuanced than Suetonius’ and Dio’s, an emperor reacting unpredictably to events, without the brooding malice and vindictiveness typical of the normal tyrant. ‘Structure and Artistry’ picks up the point that, while Corbulo’s inconclusive campaigns in the east were as shallow as Nero’s (discussed at length in ‘Parthia and Armenia’), Tacitus regularly applied the language of war to the domestic scene, suggesting that Rome, in the person of Nero, was at war with itself. In ‘The Perils of Gloria’, A. points out that Tacitus might have been tempted to contrast an inglorious emperor with his brilliant commander Corbulo and sinuously manipulative adviser Seneca, but he resisted the temptation: both are drawn as rather compromised characters. In ‘The Pisonian conspiracy’, A. shows how Tacitus got round the secrecy in which it was shrouded by regular quotation from sources, and use of motifs from known conspiracies and assassinations, to construct a ‘thriller’. ‘Speeches, Style and Language’ brilliantly illustrates all the linguistic resources that Tacitus had at hand (see above). Finally, ‘Manuscripts’ reports on the problems associated with A and M. The text used is Heubner’s Teubner (1994). There is no app. crit., but problems are dealt with in the notes. Most commendably, A. is not afraid to punctuate far more fully than in e.g. the traditional Oxford Text, making the Latin far easier to read.

Rarely, these days, can one congratulate a publisher on the price of a text. It is very easy to congratulate an author who is so on top of, and so enthusiastic about, her material.

Peter Jones

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