Tacitus /

edited by Cynthia Damon

The Purpose of the Agricola

From Pearce, J. W. E. 1901. The Agricola of Tacitus. London: George Bell and Sons. Pp. xiii-xiv.

First and foremost the Agricola is what it professes to be — a biography of a famous man, suggested by affection and sanctioned by custom. If it contains elements more proper to history than biography, such as the preliminary account of the ethnography, geography, and history of Britain, this is probably due to the detailed imitation of Sallust's monographs, and possibly also to the wish to give importance to Agricola's achievements. Agricola is represented as the leading figure in the story of a great conquest, and not merely as the hero of a personal narrative.

Naturally bound up with the subject is an indictment of the cruel circumstances of the age, which made Agricola's virtues and talents a source of danger to himself. The 'moderation' by which he avoided this danger is insisted upon — almost defiantly — by Tacitus as the keynote of Agricola's character, and one of his strongest claims on our admiration.

The emphasis given to this point is noteworthy, and taken in connexion with the date of publication, suggests that the work had an immediate political aim. Agricola's conduct is contrasted with the ostentatious and futile op position, of others who had fallen victims to Domitian's tyranny, and whose friends saw in the death of the conciliatory Nerva and the accession of a new emperor the longed- for opportunity of vengeance on the ministers and abettors of that tyranny. Adherents of the dominant Stoic philo- (xiv) sophy, which had supplied so many martyrs to Domitian, in particular would have little sympathy with that ' moderation' which had bowed before the storm. The Agricola (cf. ch. 42, end) is an answer to this party, not only in the name of Agricola, but of Tacitus himself, and Trajan, and all other men of high character and position, who had found safety under the late tyranny by taking the 'moderate' course and adapting themselves to circumstances which they were powerless to alter.

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