Sailor, D. 2008. Writing and empire in Tacitus, Cambridge – Phoenix 65 (2012) 194–6

Sailor, D. 2008. Writing and empire in Tacitus, Cambridge – Phoenix 65 (2012) 194–6

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  194 PHOENIX evidence that it was ever undertaken. The Pomponia whom Quintus married was Atticus’sister, not his daughter (160), who in fact married Agrippa. The estimable Caecilia of  Pro Sexto Rosico  was not the future wife of the consul of 79 (426, but cf. T. P. Wiseman, CQ   n.s.  21 [1971] 182). Lintott has not been well served by his press: typos, mostly minor, are abundant. A paperback version, for use in university courses, is much to bedesired. All Roman historians will want to consult this book—frequently. Victoria University of Wellington W. Jeffrey Tatum Writing and Empire in Tacitus . By   Dylan Sailor . Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. 2008. Pp. xii, 321.  A big title for a big book : Sailor stakes his claim to a place in the first rank of  Tacitean scholarship, tackling head-on the great conundrum: how to reconcile Tacitusthe successful careerist with Tacitus the embittered critic of the principate? Traversingthe oeuvre from  Agricola  ’s first words to  Annals  ’ last, he proposes a stimulating thesis,supported by elegant, subtle, and novel readings of some of the most intensely scrutinizedpassages in this most elusive of authors. The book’s self-professedly “breathtaking” claim is that Tacitus’ paraded anxietiesabout the dangers of writing history and the threat of censorship are a deliberate andmisleading construct. He had no reason to fear a hostile reception from the principate:the shadows in his text are better read as an assertion of his autonomy. Other senatorstook a more precipitous route to martyrdom; for Tacitus, it is his literary output whichattempts to prove him—despite his political career—no creature of the regime. After an opening gesture with the  cursus   inscription, Chapter One gets straight to theissue of reconciling this “real” Tacitus with the “Tacitus” of the text, and the tricky choicebetween martyrdom and  obsequium . How to escape the charge of being compromised by the regime, when “Stoic martyrs” and fashionable  exitus   literature made the best routeall too obvious? Whatever Trajan’s own interests in literature and/or censorship, 1 hisstatus  qua princeps   makes him a notional source of pressure to which Tacitus must paradehis resistance. With daring spin, Tacitus brings the martyrs down a peg or two by reframing  their   deaths as  servilis patientia   (  Ann.  16.16), while making space for his ownhistoriographical project as an alternative path to the glory of regime-opposition. The second chapter explores  Agricola   in a decoction of Sailor’s own d´ebut. 2  A brilliantexposition of the proem and its difficult temporal ambiguities finds Tacitus both praisingthe new regime and creating a space for his own literary intervention in an ´elite sufferingthe after-effects of slavery. There follow readings of Agricola’s early life and career, a world of   gloria   unimpeded by an emperor’s interference; the ethnography and its symbiosisof military and literary conquest; and Agricola’s unhappy end in Rome, including a finely balanced judgment on his “suspicious” death.Chapter Three puts  Histories   1.1 under intense and sustained scrutiny. The key-wordfor Sailor is  dominantes  , defining historians, like all imperial subjects, as slaves to their 1 S. Fein,  Die Beziehungen der Kaiser Trajan und Hadrian zu den litterati   (Stuttgart 1994) deservesmention here. 2 D. Sailor, “Becoming Tacitus: Significance and Inconsequentiality in the Prologue of   Agricola  ,” Cl. Ant.  23 (2004) 139–177.  BOOK REVIEWS/COMPTES RENDUS 195emperor. In damning all history after Actium, Tacitus sets the bar for his own successalmost impossibly high: a variant, then, on other readers’ recognition that all the talk of  libertas   lost amounts to a mighty claim to  libertas   on Tacitus’ own part (and, one mightadd, reflected praise of Trajan for presiding over it). A superb excursus on 2.101 (165–171) reveals Tacitus’ Flavian predecessors stained by the narrative of infidelity within thetext. One could similarly compare the lost  veritas   of historians in 1.1 with the fawningmob’s lack of   veritas   at 1.32 (the sole reappearance of the word in  Histories  ); and thereis more to be said about the “slavery” motif, not least on the framing responsion of  dominantes   in 1.1 and  servitii   in 1.90. Finally, Sailor tries a few ways of seeing Tacitus,having rejected the imperial system in the proem, writing “outside the principate,” eachprogressively more fantastic: Stoic  sapiens  , Saturnalian licence, Tacitus as  princeps   of thepage.Chapter Four is the widest-ranging, covering  Histories   1, 3, 4, and 5 (for Book 2 theauthor settles for a long footnote on Otho’s suicide [238, n. 128]). “Otho’s Rome” isa sparkling discussion of the collapse of social stratification during the coup and Otho’sfailed attempt to reconstruct it in his second speech. In this powerful account, the dis-appointment is an evasive footnote on Otho’s  falsis nominibus   (1.37): Sailor mentionsCalgacus’ use of the same words in  Agricola   (though not the Thucydidean-Sallustianbackground), but avoids confrontation with that speech, one which poses dilemmassurely central to a book with this title. Next, the destruction of the Capitol and itsrededication: Sailor focuses on the “monumentality” of Tacitus’ text as rival to the Fla- vian rebuilding, attempts (valiantly, if ultimately vainly) to unpack Helvidius Priscus’role in 4.53, and offers an uncharacteristically rigid reading of the Druids in 4.54 (231). They are not simply “mad” in predicting Rome’s fall: recall that Vitellius along withOtho seemed chosen by the fates  velut ad perdendum imperium  (1.50), where  velut   isthe knife-edge between the ruin of the Capitol and the collapse of empire itself. Book Five earns a stimulating reading as a “narrative of sacrifice” (237), in which the destruc-tion threatening Rome is displaced onto Jerusalem: in a zero-sum game, Jerusalem’sfall guarantees Rome’s rise. Some difficult prose concludes the chapter: though Sailorhas taken a welcome step back from Haynes’s nightmarish world where signifier andsignified are severed for ever, 3 his semiotic anxieties here are less obviously produc-tive. The final chapter caps the book’s argument with a clever and persuasive reading of the triptych at the heart of   Annals   4: digression, Cremutius’ trial and Tiberius’ speech.Faced with the risk of imperial endorsement, Tacitus must generate “consequentiality”by distancing himself from the regime. The assumption that Tacitus’ works received apositive reception is allowed to stand unexamined: in fact we can say almost nothingabout it. Sailor mentions Giua’s contrary thesis in a footnote (269, n. 45) without arguingagainst it; other scholarship on Tacitus’ reception is omitted. 4 Nevertheless, the argumentthat we see Tacitus here not in fear of censorship, but  parading   fear of censorship, is 3 H. Haynes,  The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome   (Berkeley 2003). 4 For example, G. Zecchini, “La fortuna di Tacito e l’Historia Augusta,” in G. Bonamente andN. Duval (eds.),  Historiae Augustae Colloquium Parisinum  (Macerata 1991) 337–350. For Giua’sthesis, see M. Giua, “Tacito e i suoi destinatari: storia per i contemporanei, storia per i posteri,” in A. Casanova and P. Desideri (eds.),  Evento, racconto, scrittura nell’antichit ` a classica   (Florence 2003)247–268.  196 PHOENIX strong. The analysis of   tum quod   in 4.33.4 (269) is, I think, simply wrong (the argumentshifts earlier, at  ceterum  in 4.33.3), but the reading of this sentence as a whole, with itsstrong-arming of “hostile readers,” is powerful. A bonus  en route   is a study of CremutiusCordus’ earlier appearances in Seneca and Quintilian.In a provocative conclusion Sailor, tongue only half in cheek, invites us to imaginethe  Annals   as deliberately incomplete,  ` a la   Lucan (for those who believe  that  ). Certainly Koestermann’s theory that Tacitus abandoned Thrasea’s  exitus   mid-sentence, overcome by the desire to slit his own wrists, 5 is welcome light relief. At the end, though, Sailor takeshis leave with an unsatisfying conceit, that the unity of Tacitus’ voice resides “precisely . . . where we feel most keenly a contradiction between ‘our’ Tacitus and the one who failsto be the Tacitus we know” (321). No doubt it is inevitable that the conundrum that is Tacitus remains unsolved: Sailor must be right that “we cannot meaningfully pronounce”(320) on the genuineness of the “alienation effect” (321) he has explored. Still, one missesa head-on confrontation with the old thesis—which underlies in many ways Sailor’s owntracking through Tacitus’ literary career—that his works reveal a gradual descent fromoptimism to disenchantment.Even this substantial monograph would be a small space to do justice to the fullscope of   Histories   and  Annals  . Selectivity is unavoidable, though  Germania  ,  Dialogus  , andmost strikingly the  Annals   proem are loud absences. Sailor makes his case compellingly,and writes lucidly and wittily; the text is clean, and translations scrupulously accurate (if strangely variable in tone). The monstrous bibliography on Tacitus is deftly navigated with polite firmness, though one important item slipped through the net. K. Freuden-burg,  Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal   (Cambridge 2001), hassome asides which anticipate to the letter Sailor’s arguments, as for instance “An air of risk is . . . attached to Tacitus’ own telling of martyr-tales . . . . But in his case, given when he wrote, there is good reason to suspect that the risk he hints at is all air, andno risk” (220); again (236, n. 50), on the “air of defiance” in the Cordus scene, “terribly convenient, and much too highly crafted, to merit uncritical acceptance.” A regrettableoversight, perhaps, but the thesis only derives strength from this repetition: here is a Tacitus whose ironies have outwitted his readers for even longer than we thought. University of Cambridge Christopher WhittonRoman Iberia: Economy, Society and Culture.  By   Benedict Lowe . London:Duckworth. 2009. Pp. viii, 230, 6 maps, 28 figures.  The object of Lowe's book  is not to discuss the history and public monuments of Roman Iberia, but rather “to explore the economic consequences of Rome’s conquest of the Iberian Peninsula” and “the economic underpinning of the process of Romanization”(1). He does this by focusing on economic activities that have left archaeological traces: villas, wine and oil production, mining, and marine products. Cereals receive consid-erably less attention than liquid exports, by virtue of the massive quantity of survivingamphoras. It should be noted that the “society” of the subtitle is mostly limited to Italianimmigration, while the only “culture” I could detect was villa decoration. 5 E. Koestermann, “Tacitus und die Transpadana,”  Athenaeum  43 (1965) 167–208, at 207–208.
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