This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Loeb Classical Library, and Adam Kirsch is writing a three-part celebration of the influential series in honor of its centenial. In his first essay, Kirsch examined Socrates from the (sometimes unflattering) perspectives of writers other than Plato. This month, he examines the arresting modern relevance of the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus:
With the rise of totalitarianism in Germany, Italy, and Russia, Tacitus’ descriptions of Rome under the early Caesars would no longer seem like “wild exaggerations” but daily news reports. Secret police, anonymous denunciations, constant shifts of the government “line,” whole societies cowering before the whims of rulers: Tacitus described it all, two millennia earlier. The critic Lionel Trilling, writing about Tacitus in his 1950 book The Liberal Imagination, titled his essay “Tacitus Now”: “our political education of the last decades has given us to understand the historian of imperial Rome,” Trilling declared, with his litany of “dictatorship and repression, spies and political informers, blood purges and treacherous dissension.”
You can read the whole essay here.
– JIM MUSTICH