The Annals

Tacitus, several editions (Google Books)

On 27 February 1663/4, Lister recorded reading The Annals by Cornelius Tacitus, a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to Nero (14-68 A.D.) The work was commonly read in the seventeenth century for its political insights.

In form the work is annalistic, a canonical form of history in antiquity, and the author often interrupted the narrative to preserve the order of events. In the Cambridge Companion to Tacitus, Alexandra Gajda states:

Readers of Roman history in early modern Europe showered praise on the timeless universality of Tacitus’ wisdom: ‘In iudgement there is none sounder, for instruction of life, for al times’, wrote the author of the English translation of the Annals and Germania. But students of Tacitus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also believed that his writings communed directly with their own present; that Tacitus revealed political truths to all ages, but most especially ‘to these our times’. Tacitus had been largely forgotten or overlooked in the medieval and early Renaissance periods, and, despite the print publication of his works in various editions from the 1470s, his relative obscurity persisted in the sixteenth century. The magisterial editions of Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) from 1574 to 1607, however, anticipated a change in scholarly and political culture in the later sixteenth century, when Tacitus enjoyed an overwhelming and unprecedented popularity. Between 1600 and 1649 at least sixty-seven editions of the Annals and Histories were printed 1

  1. Alexandra Gajda, ‘Tacitus and political thought in early modern Europe, c. 1530-c. 1640′, in The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Cambridge Collections Online. Cambridge University Press. 06 December 2012 DOI:10.1017/CCOL9780521874601.019.

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