Archives for: June 2010, 10


Permalink 03:29:16 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 564 words, 6477 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature

Tacitus Annales III.65

This passage from Tacitus contains a famous quote which reveals more about the author himself than any broad theory of history.

I’ve tried to lay this passage out in a way that makes it more readable for Latinists not familiar with Tacitus’ style. Take each line as a separate thought, use the indents to follow the levels of subordination, and link the underlined words to connect it all and form the complete sentence:

Exequi sententias haud institui
  nisi insignis per honestum aut notabili dedecore,
    quod praecipuum munus annalium reor
      ne virtutes sileantur
      utque pravis dictis factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit.

Ceterum tempora illa adeo infecta et adulatione sordida fuere
  ut non modo primores civitatis,
    quibus claritudo sua obsequiis protegenda erat,
  sed omnes consulares,
  magna pars eorum qui praetura functi,
  multique etiam pedarii senatores
  certatim exsurgerent
  foedaque et nimia censerent.

* Exequi is an infinitive completing the meaning of haud institui; the nisi clause then gives an exception to describe the kind of sententias Tacitus does plan to exequi.
* Insignis is an i-stem adjective, so this is an accusative form (modifying sententias. Note how Tacitus uses two different grammatical forms (per honestum and the abl. of desc. notabili decore) in parallel, a favorite trick of this writer.
* -que (instead of et or atque) is quite often used to connect two clauses in Tacitus; there’s a striking example of this in the final line.
* posteritate et infamia - Hendiadys; less rhetorically this would be infamia posteritatis.
* fuere = fuerunt
* praetura - “(in) the praetorship”
* pedarii senatores - The lowest-ranking senators

This passage concludes with Tacitus ironically putting his disgust at the state of government into the mouth of its source, Tiberius himself:

Memoriae proditur
  Tiberium, quoties Curia egrederetur, Graecis verbis in hunc modum eloqui solitum “o homines ad servitutem paratos!”

Scilicet etiam illum
  qui libertatem publicam nollet
tam proiectae servientium patientiae taedebat.

* Memoriae proditur - i.e. “it is said”
* curia - abl. of separation
* eloqui - Infinitive, completes the meaning of solitum (est)
* “O homines….” - acc. of exclamation; if there is a Greek original for this I’m unfamiliar, but the sentiment is well-known, e.g., in this 2002 interview with Gore Vidal.
* patientiae - not “patience” in the good sense…
* taedebat - “disgusted"; this impersonal verb takes an acc. of the person (illum) and gen. of the thing (patientiae).



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