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THE Treatise on Germany and the Life of Agricola have, perhaps, been edited as frequently as any of the Latin Classics. They exhibit in a singularly convenient form the manner and genius of one of the greatest of ancient historians; and thus at once possess a great literary value, and are peculiarly useful as text-books in our Schools and Universities. About works which have been so diligently studied we can hardly expect to say much that is original. We have endeavoured, with the aid of recent editions, thoroughly to elucidate the text, explaining the various difficulties, critical and grammatical, which occur to the student. Information which is now amply supplied by the dictionaries of biography and geography we have thought it unnecessary to furnish. We have consulted
throughout, besides the older commentators, the editions of Ritter and Orelli, but we are under special obligations to the labours of the recent German editors, Wex and Kritz, an obligation which must not be measured by the extent of our references to them..
We have followed, but with some important variations, the text of Orelli. A table is given of the passages in which we have adopted a different reading
We frequently quote from our translation (published in 1868). It may be as well to explain that in some instances we have seen reason to modify the renderings there given.
LITTLE or nothing is known of the life of Tacitus except what he tells us himself, or what we may gather from the Epistles of his friend, the younger Pliny. His praenomen is a matter of doubt. It is commonly written Caius (on the authority of Sidonius Apollinaris), but it is given as Publius in the best MS. of the Annals. The name Cornelius suggests a possible connection with the great patrician Gens which was thus designated. But there was also a plebeian house of the same name, and it must be remembered that in the time of the Empire the nomina gentilia had become widely diffused. With regard to his parentage we have at least a probable conjecture to guide us. The elder Pliny was, he tells us (Nat. Hist. VII. 17), acquainted with one Cornelius Tacitus, who was then a Procurator in Belgic Gaul, and who had a son. It has been supposed that this Tacitus was the historian's father. The similarity of name, the coincidence of dates, and the probability that at some time of his life our author was familiar with the neighbourhood of North-Eastern Gaul, incline us to accept the conjecture, which is further supported by the fact that the circumstances of his career seem to imply an origin which was respectable rather than dignified. A Procurator was generally a person of Equestrian rank. About the date of his birth nothing can be certainly affirmed. It is indeed approximately fixed by several expressions used by the younger Pliny. That writer says (Epist. VII. 20) that Tacitus and himself were “nearly equal in age
and rank (aetate et dignitate propemodum aequales).” The question is how far aequales must be considered to be modified by propemodum. We think the word should be taken to imply a considerable difference. Pliny himself says, “When I was a very young man (adolescentulus) and you were at the height of your fame and reputation, I earnestly desired to imitate you.” Adolescentulus is a very vague term, but Pliny may be taken to define this application of it to himself when he tells us (Epist. v. 8) that he was in his nineteenth year when he began to speak in the Forum. He was, as he tells us himself (Epist. vi. 20), in his eighteenth year when the famous eruption of Vesuvius took place (A. D. 79), and he must therefore have been born A.D. 61 or 62. We are inclined to put the date of the birth of Tacitus at least ten years earlier. In this conclusion we are supported by the passage which we find in the third chapter of the Life of Agricola. There he speaks of those who had survived the evil days of Domitian as coming under two classes, the young men who had become old, the old who had advanced to the very verge and end of existence.' He must have included himself in the former class. The Agricola was published before the death of Nerva but after the adoption of Trajan, i.e. in the latter part of the year 97. It may surprise us that Tacitus could have spoken of himself as being then an old man. But the term senior was technically applied at Rome (Aul. Gellius, x. 28, quoting Tubero) to those who had passed their forty-fifth year. And C. Cotta (in a speech to the people preserved to us in one of the fragments of Sallust) speaks of himself, he being then forty-eight, as an old man. If Tacitus was fifty in A.D. 97, he must have been born A. D. 47;