This collection of nine essays comes from a symposium on the works of Tacitus and their influence held at Princeton University in 1990 in honor of Sir Ronald Syme, who was to have taken part in the proceedings. In the event he was prevented by death from doing so and the resulting publication, gracefully introduced by a tribute from G. W. Bowersock, has been dedicated to his memory. The spectrum of the participants’ inquiry embraces the major and minor works ( Histories and Annals, the Dialogus and Germania) as they may originally have been composed and as they survive. Aspects of their appreciation after antiquity include the appropriation of the Germania in renaissance and reformation France and Germany, the Tacitism espoused by the famous editor of his works, Iustus Lipsius, and that current in eighteenth century Britain.
Among the contributors Judith Ginsburg and Elizabeth Keitel are known for previous work on the historian, the editors for major studies of Livy and Velleius, Mark Morford for studies of Roman Stoicism and Lipsius, while Bowersock needs no introduction either as Roman historian or pupil of Syme. Christopher Pelling, Ronald Kelley and Howard Weinbrot, scholars specialising respectively in the study of Plutarch, French history from the renaissance through the revolution and English literature of the eighteenth century, complete the roster.
Their contributions are as varied as the foregoing thumb-nail prosopography might suggest and so do not readily lend themselves to uniform estimate. It may, however, be said that the articles by Ginsburg, Keitel, Luce, Pelling and Woodman are readings of Tacitus intended to illustrate the complexity of his thought and the sophisticated mechanisms of its presentation, while Morford’s is a judicious reading of Lipsius serving rather the same purpose. Bowersock, on the other hand, considering the peculiar language of Tacitus’ references to the privince of Asia in the Annals, posits an earlier legateship for him there before the proconsulate of AD 112-113 and goes on to argue that there is consequently no reason to think that the composition of his second major work did not follow expeditiously on that of the first within the principate of Trajan. The articles by Kelley and Weinbrot, as noted above, treat selectively of the historian’s political legacy in later northern Europe.
The unifying focus of the conference, as the editors note in their ample introduction, was to reflect on the development of Tacitean scholarship since Syme’s Tacitus redirected so much attention to the man and his work in 1958. I think the reader will readily concede the utility of the approach, which confirms his continuing appeal to readers across the boundaries of time, place and culture; what he will sorely miss, however, are the reflections and reactions of Sir Ronald Syme himself, a lack which cannot but diminish the collection. Sed referendum iam animum ad firmitudinem …