Tacitus’s Latin is famously pithy, efficient, and sharp; his English translators have—for centuries—struggled to replicate that economy of style. Damon (classics, Univ. Pennsylvania; coauthor, Caesar’s Civil War) is one of the first women to translate Tacitus for a major publisher and I expect she might bring a slightly different perspective to Tacitus’s often venomous descriptions of its larger-than-life imperial women: Livia, Messalina, Poppea. What’s to look forward to in a 2,000-year-old book, the title of which many people mispronounce without the second “n”? The decades-long moral degradation of Tiberius (once an honorable imperial step-son but in the end a rotten, ruined emperor) for one thing. If that isn’t enough, add to it the death of Agrippina (poor Claudius’s fourth wife), whose boat was specially constructed at her son, the Emperor Nero’s, instructions to collapse at sea, and who, when she failed to die, demanded that her assassins stab her womb, from where her ne’er-do-well son sprung.
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