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Classical Interviews: Tacitus

Ancient World

Classical Interviews: Tacitus

Modern statue representing Tacitus outside the Austrian Parliament Building

 

By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

This is the third in a series of fictitious interviews with important characters of the ancient world. The idea of made-up interviews first appeared in the novel “Grog” by the Italian writer Giuseppe Papini, though his “interviews” were with people more contemporary. Today’s interview is with the famous Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus.

Q. Ave, Tacite. Thanks so much for receiving us. Congratulations on your new book The Annals. Do you feel that this will be your magnum opus?
A. Well, I did put a lot of effort into this work, and I’m hoping it will be read with pleasure by many generations to come. Writing about our history is a true passion for me. Though I do serve as a senator, I consider history my true vocation. Just between you and me, I sometimes get a little tired of politics! It’s my belief that people living in the future have a right to know exactly what happened in the past, and it is every historian’s duty to speak the truth in his works! It pains me to see some of my historian colleagues not respecting this core value…

Q. Do you have a favorite historian, one who has inspired you more than any other?
A. I’m very fond of the Greek historian Herodotus. His style fascinates me. He inspired me the most when I was younger and had just begun my career as a writer, back before I developed my own particular style. Although I have to be honest with you–I do find some of his stories rather hard to believe. I mean, three hundred spartans fighting against an army of a million Persian warriors! “Holy prostitution” among the Mesopotamians! I feel like saying “Herodotus, give me a break! I would love to know who your sources were!” Apart from him, Tulcidides is another writer I greatly admire. Among my own countrymen, I am also very fond of Livy and Suetonius, though I get the feeling Suetonius was less than impartial regarding Julius Caesar in his Life of the Twelve Ceasars.

Q. Your description of the German peoples was remarkably accurate. How did you manage this? Did you do any field work?
A. I collected information mainly from Roman soldiers who had fought against them. I have to say, I’m very fond of studying different cultures. If people in the future ever develop a science dedicated to this, I suggest they name it “Anthropology”. I always think Greek names sound better than Latin ones. A science like this would lead to better understanding of our fellow human beings. I can’t stand people who are ignorant of other cultures–like most Romans I know, who call everyone else a barbarian! I hope that future humans will be more civilized and embrace other people’s cultures.

Q. My favorite episode in The Annals is the speech of Calgacus. Still, there are some people who accuse you of making up the speech and even the character! What would you tell these people?
A. First of all, thanks for complimenting that part. It’s one of my favorites too! In fact, I got my information on that event from a very reliable source, a prisoner of war who was actually there when the Caledonian chieftain delivered the speech. I hope people in the
future won’t be so skeptical. I’m a serious historian! I never lie or omit the truth in any way in my writings.

Q. How is your relationship with Julius Agricola? How did he feel about your account of his campaigns in Britain?
A. My relationship with my father-in-law is very good. I admit that we used to argue fairly frequently back when I married his daughter years ago, but we’ve been getting along pretty well in the past few years. Julius is like a second father to me. In fact, he openly praised my work “De Vita Iulii Agricolae” during a banquet attended by the emperor and a number of high-ranking civil servants. I’m proud to have Julius as a father-in-law.

Q. Some people in Rome have accused you of being a traitor because you’re so critical in your writing of Rome’s empire building. What do you have to say about this?
A. I feel truly sorry for those people. I’m a pacifist, and I’m against Rome building an empire by force. I hope, one day, that foreigners (I don’t like the word “barbarian”) will see the advantages of the Roman way of life and so join our empire willingly, but we should never do it by killing people and forcing them to accept our law. Our emperor and generals should favor diplomatic solutions to international conflict and only use their swords as a last resorce—ultima ratio, as we say in Latin. An empire built by alliances with other civilizations would last forever! Just between us, though, I feel that our empire (run the way it is now) can’t possibly last more than a few more centuries.

Q. What message would you like to leave for people living in the future?
A. That history is a serious subject and essential if we are to create a better world. We should study history in order to understand our past and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. In the past few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the large number of wars the Romans have been involved in, and I sincerely hope that future generations will read my writings and come to realize the real horror of war. I hope no one in your age will say “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant” again!

Conclusion

At the end of the interview, Tacitus asked me if I had adopted a Roman name for my Latin studies. When he learned that I had chosen his name, he was so pleased that he
gave me a gift of an original manuscript of his Annals. I’m the happiest bibliophile in the world!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.

 

 

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