Monday, June 13, 2011

Tacitus:Economy in Writing - History Without Whiteout

I am re-reading Tacitus' Annals. This history is a study of the surrender of freedom by a people who pretended to live in freedom, while giving up their principles and dignity by managing to ignore their past. The Annals is a study of monsters created by the very people who abhorred monsters -Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Tiberius was Emperor contemporary to Christ's crucifixion.

Tacitus was a senator who understood Rome's capitulation to tyrants and madmen. He was born during the reign of Nero. From the time of Julius Caesar's death ( 44 BC) up to the birth of the historian, Rome's patrician, aristocratic families were obliterated in purges - murdered and their property redistributed. Patrician families allied to the Julians, Claudians & etc. prospered. Octavian became Rome's first Emperor (Imperator or Commander) Augustus Caesar; though he never led legions in battle and had his pal Agrippa win all of his battles for him and had none of the qualities of his uncle/adoptive father Gaius Julius Caesar, August boiled out propaganda and paid off those he did not murder. From Augustus through Nero, Rome went downhill.

What struck me most about the Annals was the opening paragraph. Here is pure economy in words.

A.D. 14, 15

Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years, nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of Pompeius and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus and Antonius before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil strife, subjected it to empire under the title of "Prince." But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred. Hence my purpose is to relate a few facts about Augustus- more particularly his last acts, then the reign of Tiberius, and all which follows, without either bitterness or partiality, from any motives to which I am far removed.

In one paragraph, Gaius Cornelius Tacitus explains how a Republic devolved into a tyranny through butt-kissing, bribery, and cowardice. We wonder where elected goofs like Congressman Tony Weiner spring up; how legislatures continue to turn our way of life into kleptocracy run by the same crowd; where will things turn-around. Tacitus wondered the same damn thing. We vote for it.

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