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Latin set book (A)


Module description

Latin set book: Tacitus' Annals (book 4) 

Tacitus Annals, an account of the history of imperial Rome from the death of Augustus to the reign of Nero (though not all of it has survived), is a work of extraordinary power and dark brilliance composed in the early second century CE. Its author has been enormously influential as a writer of history, as a political thinker - and as a literary stylist.

In this module we focus on book 4 of the Annals, which forms a crucial part of Tacitus’ account of the reign of Tiberius. But we shall also consider the Annals more generally and compare aspects of this work with Tacitus’ earlier writings (particularly the Histories). How do particular stylistic features work to generate an interpretation of the politics of the imperial court in the early first century? We shall explore Tacitus’ distinctive and oblique literary style, his devastating approach to characterisation, his masterly deployment of ambiguity. His prose scintillates with allusions to earlier historians, such as Sallust, but also to poetic works such as Virgil’s Aeneid. What role does intertextuality play in a work of history?

Using A.J. Woodman and R.H. Martin's Tacitus: Annals Book IV (Cambridge 1989/1999), we shall savour the bleak ironies of Tacitus’ prose, his characterisation of imperial Rome under the emperor Tiberius and his particular contribution to political thought.