Tacitus: And Other Roman Studies

Tacitus: And Other Roman Studies

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Tacitus: And Other Roman Studies

Tacitus: And Other Roman Studies

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Excerpt

The Romans had a very just appreciation of the merit of their historians. Quintilian, in his rapid survey of the writers of his country, asserts that there are three literary forms in which they bear comparison with those of Greece. 'Satire,' he says, 'is wholly ours.... In the elegy we are their rivals.... Our historians take no lower place than theirs.'

Let us note that when Quintilian thus expressed himself he was unacquainted with the works of Tacitus, that is to say of the greatest man among them. In his time it was a question for dispute whether Sallust or Livy were preeminent. The classicists preferred Livy, who delighted them by the pure and abundant flow of his eloquence. The new school was fascinated by the vigorous strokes and the profundity of Sallust, and Martial, who liked to embody in well-turned verses the opinions of his time, had no hesitation in saying :

Crispus romana primus in historia.

To-day we rank Tacitus above the two others; he even enjoys the privilege, in the decline of classical studies, of preserving all his popularity. Not only is he read still, though the ancient authors have scarce any longer readers, but to speak of him is almost a claim to be read. I have no pretension in these few pages to exhaust all that could . . .

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