The Style of Tacitus

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

In the Dialogus, as we have seen, Tacitus imitated Cicero. His finished style, seen in the Annals, is poetic and rhetorical, in accordance with the tendency of his times; but in his hands it became the most perfect instrument of his thought.

Its concise and trenchant rhetoric serves to expose with merciless sarcasm the motives of a corrupt régime; its poetical qualities enable it to portray with bold incisive strokes the dramatic moments of the tragedies of the Early Empire.

Brevity, variety, and poetical colour, instead of the full ness, symmetry, and severe purism of Cicero, are the characteristics of Tacitus' style. His brevity is seen in his preference for the non-periodic sentence, his ellipses, his use of asyndeton and zeugma, his substitution of flexion or phrases for clauses.

His variety is seen in his frequent co-ordination of simple cases with prepositional phrases. The Agricola being an early work has this variety less strongly marked than the later works.

His poetical colour is seen in his use of words and con- (xviii) structions not found in the prose of the Golden Age; in his use of bold personification and metaphor, but more especially in his dramatic descriptions and vivid word-pictures, of which the Agricola (ch. 37.2-3) offers a striking instance.