The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome

The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome

The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome

The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome

Synopsis

"In "The History of Make-Believe, Holly Haynes acutely queries the relationship of historiography, historical reality, and symbolic representations of lived historical processes. This is a serious book, informed by wide reading, and full of startlingly original insights on some of the most prominent and significant themes in Tacitus's works. Indeed, it deserves close attention by anyone interested in the political and social strategies of high Imperial Rome."--T. Corey Brennan, author of "The Praetorship in the Roman Republic

"In Tacitus the historical truth is conveyed in literary truth-telling. Instead of leaving the two separated as we do, Holly Haynes shows that Tacitus put them together in what she calls the combination 'make-believe.' Her book shines with originality and intelligence while opening the way to Tacitus's canny wisdom."--Harvey Mansfield, author of "Machiavelli's Virtue

Excerpt

This chapter introduces the main themes of this book through analysis of passages from the Histories and other parts of the Tacitean corpus. Each passage illustrates a facet of the relationship between Roman beliefs about reality during the early Empire and Tacitus's representation of those beliefs. My thesis is that Tacitus unifies the style and content of his historiography in order to produce in the reader the experience of believing and understanding as the actors in the text do. History for Tacitus is what the agents and patients of past events believed it to be; where he is paradoxical or confusing, he reproduces paradoxes and confusion within the ideology of the period. Because he draws attention to reality as neither subjective nor objective, Tacitus's merging of style and content illustrates an ideological process that in his parlance consists of “making things up and believing them, ” where the subjective styling of reality is coterminous with the objective interpretation of it. Tacitus uses the verbal pair fingere and credere at strategic points in his narrative to illustrate this process.

This book traces Tacitus's development of the fingere / credere dynamic both backward and (slightly) forward from the year a.d. 69. the Histories shows that the death of Nero deprived Rome of the symbolic fiction of power established by Augustus. the make-believe involved in emperor deification spreads throughout the Empire and gains greater purchase on the public imagination. Tacitus suggests that a phenomenon tightly controlled by the Julio-Claudians (to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the emperor) expands and, in 69, produces a multitude of effects both bizarre and bloody: false Neros popping up all over the Empire; emperors who mistake battlegrounds for gladiatorial arenas; a public that watches the sack of Rome by Romans as if it were a spectacle. the danger of make-believe is that it erases the distinction between images and nonimages. If well or-

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