Over the past decade, scholars such as Ash, O’Gorman, and Haynes have taken up a cause long championed by Woodman, insisting that we must treat Tacitus’ works as literary productions before we can use them as historical documents. By remaining attentive to issues of voice, allusion, and narrative presentation, these scholars have shown how Tacitus is worthy of the kinds of intense readings we might perform on any ancient author writing in poetry or prose; in many ways they do for Tacitus what Miles, Jaeger, and Feldherr did for Livy in the 1990s. Dylan Sailor’s Writing and Empire in Tacitus continues the trend. The book is a study of Tacitus’ aims in writing his histories, rather than a historical study of the events he chooses to describe; according to Sailor, Tacitus believes that his historical works compete not only with other written works of history but also with other cultural and political modes of representation, above all those emanating from the princeps himself. As such, the study is especially concerned with those moments when Tacitus is most explicit about his aims as a historian and the purpose of historiography more broadly, such as the prefaces to the Agricola and to the Histories and the excursus preceding the trial of Cremutius Cordus (Ann. 4.32–33). But the book also ranges far beyond these self-reflexive moments, and one of the many merits of the study is Sailor’s ability to find evidence for Tacitus’ program in unexpected places.
David H. J. Larmour
Johns Hopkins University Press
O'Sullivan, T.M. (2010). [Review of the book Writing and empire in Tacitus, by D. Sailor]. American Journal of Philology, 131(1), 167-171.
American Journal of Philology