Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.03.01

Jan-Wilhelm Beck, 'Germania'-'Agricola': Zwei Kapitel zu Tacitus' zwei kleinen Schriften: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Intention u. Datierung sowie zur Entwicklung ihres Verfassers, "Spudasmata" 68.   Hildesheim:  Olms Verlag, 1998.  Pp. 185.  ISBN 3-487-10742-2.  



Reviewed by Russell T. Scott, Bryn Mawr College (dscott@brynmawr.edu)
Word count: 389 words

Of the minor works of Tacitus the Germania traditionally has been the province of German scholars, the Agricola that of the English, a situation faithfully mirrored in the bibliography of this little work that embraces them both with a single chapter devoted to each. The author's intention is to review scholarly attitudes and approaches to them and to bolster one position and another with his own arguments. Chiefly at issue are the relative dates of composition and authorial intent, as B.'s title indicates, but, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails to convince readers of the correctness of the views to which he subscribes, B. has compiled a very useful Forschungsbericht which can stand on its own and will be worthy of consultation.

When one comes to what he has to say about the two works, there is less on which to comment. On the date and purpose of the Agricola he has no striking new conclusions to add to those generally attested in the literature he surveys: the Agricola need not be so early as those who view it as a pamphlet for the Histories and nothing more must think; it could have served the other purposes that have been assigned it. The results of his examination of the Germania, however, are original. B. establishes beyond doubt the negative character of the controversial phrase "urgentibus imperii fatis" (33.2), and offers a decidedly idiosyncratic view of the purpose of the work.

Scholarly debate has in general divided between those who see the Germania as a work urging conquest and those who see it as arguing for indifference. B. on the other hand explains it as a non-policy document, likening it instead to a sort of white paper, such as might have been prepared for the English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the Germans of a reunited Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall. Although it is not clear to me exactly which Romans should be substituted for the Prime Minister and her advisors--it may be assumed that there was no lack of senators who made civil careers in the Rome of Trajan and so could benefit from the somewhat anachronistic introduction to the German theater Tacitus provides--this closing figure succeeds, if only mechanically, in bringing together the separate audiences these two little works have enjoyed in modern times.

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