Thursday, July 09, 2020
Bold Theories About Tacitus
The nineteenth century also saw the airing of some bold theories about Tacitus. John Wilson Ross (1818-87), for example, published anonymously in 1878 a study arguing that the Annals were not in fact written by Tacitus, but were a brilliant forgery concocted by the Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini, who was aided in his scheme by a helpful monk from the abbey of Fulda who transcribed the forgery. By a series of close comparative readings of the Histories (considered genuine) and the Annals (an 'immortal and wonderful forgery'),23 Ross argues that Bracciolini produced an audacious forgery in order to make himself rich and promote his own career. The theory did not win supporters, but Ross certainly constructs an exciting and dramatic narrative.24Clarence W. Mendell, Tacitus: The Man and His Work (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 219-220:
23 Ross (1878: 88). Hochart (1890) and (1894) rejects both the Histories and the Annals as forgeries. Wiener (1920) argues that the Germania is a forgery. For an overview of such (discredited) theories, see Mendell (1957: 219-20).
24 Furneaux (1896: 8-12) defends the Annals as a genuine work. In debates about authenticity, one particularly contentious passage is Annals 15.44 on Nero and the Christians.
Two curious attempts were made toward the end of the nineteenth century to prove not that Tacitus was a liar but that what purported to be his writings were fifteenth-century forgeries. W.R. Ross published anonymously in 1878 a book entitled Tacitus and Bracciolini, intended to prove that Poggio Bracciolini was the author of what had come down from antiquity under the name of Tacitus. Twelve years later P. Hochart (De l'Authenticité des Annales et des Histoires de Tacite) maintained the same thesis with a much greater show of learnng, following up by a supplementary volume. These two attempts gave ample assurance that the attack on these lines was futile, and only one further attempt of this sort has been made. That was in 1920 when Leo Wiener (Tacitus' Germania and Other Forgeries) sought in vain to prove by a bewildering display of linguistic fireworks that the Germania and, by implication other works of Tacitus were forgeries made after Arabic influence had extended into Europe.Bibliographical details:
- [John Wilson Ross,] Tacitus and Bracciolini. The Annals Forged in the XVth Century (London: Diprose & Bateman, 1878)
- P. Hochart, De l'authenticité des Annales et des Histoires de Tacite (Paris: Ernest Thorin, 1890)
- Polydore Hochart, Nouvelles considérations au sujet des annales et des histoires de Tacite (Paris: Thorin et Fils, 1894)
- Leo Wiener, Contributions Towards a History of Arabico-Gothic Culture, Vol. III: Tacitus' Germania & Other Forgeries (Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, 1920)
At unz.com, where no crackpot theory, no matter how bizarre, fails to find a welcoming home, someone calling himself "The First Millennium Revisionist" appears to take seriously the theory that the writings of Tacitus are forgeries — How Fake Is Roman Antiquity? (June 26, 2020).
I rank this one up there with the theory that Ovid was never exiled — see e.g. A.D. Fitton Brown, "The Unreality of Ovid's Tomitan Exile," Liverpool Classical Monthly 10 (1985) 18-22.