Tacitus the Epic Successor

Virgil, Lucan, and the Narrative of Civil War in the Histories


Allusions to the epic poets Virgil and Lucan in the writing of the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 55 – c. 120 C.E.) have long been noted. This monograph argues that Tacitus fashions himself as a rivaling literary successor to these poets; and that the emulative allusions to Virgil’s Aeneid and Lucan’s Bellum Civile in Books 1–3 of his inaugural historiographical work, the Histories, complement and build upon each other, and contribute significantly to the picture of repetitive, escalating civil war in the work. The argument is founded on the close reading of a series of related passages in the Histories, and it also broadens to consider certain narrative techniques and strategies that Tacitus shares with writers of epic.

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Biographical Note
Timothy A. Joseph, Ph.D. (2007) in Classical Philology, Harvard University, is an Assistant Professor of Classics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Review Quotes
" T.A. Joseph offers a sophisticated reading of Tacitus' Histories through the lens of intertextuality. (...) [T]his is a dense, well-thought-out study (...) which will be of interest to scholars and graduate students working not only on Tacitus, but also on Vergil, Lucan, and, more generally, on intertextuality in Latin literature.” Salvador Bartera, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2013.05.17.

" J. offers numerous deft observations which neatly encapsulate the elegance and wit of Tacitus’ Latin (...) The strength of this monograph lies in its close readings.” Rhiannon Ash, The Classical Review 63.2 (2013), pp. 457–459.
Table of contents

Introduction Tacitus the Epic Successor
Virgil, Tacitus, and the trope of repetition
Epic allusion in the Histories
Tacitus’ readers
Lucan’s death and afterlife in Ann. 15.70
Maternus and Virgil in the Dialogus
A Virgilian stylistic program: Ann. 3.55.5 and 4.32.2

Chapter 1 History as Epic
Opus adgredior
Tacitus’ expansive wars
In medias res
The catalogue of combatants
Foreshadowing in the catalogue
A model reading of civil war: Hist. 1.50
Pharsaliam Philippos
A proem in the middle
“The same anger of the gods”
“The same madness of humans”

Chapter 2 The deaths of Galba and the desecration of Rome
Galba and Priam
Additional Galban intertexts (by way of Priam?)
The scene of the crime
Galba’s death lives on
Galba and the Capitol: repetitions
A fall worse than Troy’s
More war (and more Virgil) at Rome

Chapter 3 The Battles of Cremona
The two Cremonas: repetitions
Ever fleeting commiseration
The sieges at Placentia and Cremona
Epic battles fought again at Cremona
The settlement of Cremona – into flames
A snapshot of civil war’s repetitiveness: Hist. 2.70

Chapter 4 Otho’s exemplary response
In ullum rei publicae usum
Otho the anti-Aeneas?

Epilogue “Savage even in its peace”
Civil war in the senate
“Savagery in the city” in the lost books?

All those interested in ancient historiography and epic, and in particular in the points of contact between the two genres.
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