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It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.

Publius Tacitus (or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus; ca. 56 – ca. 117), Roman orator, lawyer, and senator. He is considered one of antiquity's greatest historians.


To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.

Agricola (98)[edit]

In De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, Tacitus describes and praises the life of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, an eminent Roman general. It covers briefly the people and geography of Britain, where Agricola was stationed.
  • Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
    • To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.
    • Variant translations:
    • They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.
      • Loeb Classical Library edition
    • To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.
      • As translated by William Peterson
    • More colloquially: They rob, kill and plunder all under the deceiving name of Roman Rule. They make a desert and call it peace.
    • This is a speech by the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus addressing assembled warriors about Rome's insatiable appetite for conquest and plunder. The chieftain's sentiment can be contrasted to "peace given to the world" which was frequently inscribed on Roman medals. The last part solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant (they make a desert, and call it peace) is often quoted alone. Lord Byron for instance uses the phrase (in English) as follows,
      • Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
        He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.
        • Lord Byron, Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto 2, stanza 20
  • Et maiores vestros et posteros cogitate.
    • Think of your forefathers and posterity.
      • Chapter 32
  • Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris.
    • It belongs to human nature to hate those you have injured.
      • Chapter 42; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • Tu vero felix, Agricola, non vitae tantum claritate, sed etiam opportunitate mortis.
    • Thou wast indeed fortunate, Agricola, not only in the splendour of thy life, but in the opportune moment of thy death. [1]
      • Chapter 45

Germania (98)[edit]

  • The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse. For in former times, it was not by land but on shipboard that those who sought to emigrate would arrive; and the boundless and, so to speak, hostile ocean beyond us,is seldom entered by a sail from our world.
    • Chapter 2
  • They even say that an altar dedicated to Ulysses, with the addition of the name of his father, Laertes, was formerly discovered on the same spot, and that certain monuments and tombs with Greek inscriptions, still exist on the borders of Germany and Rhaetia.
    • Chapter 3
  • On the whole,one would say that their strength is in their infantry, which fights along with the cavalry; admirably adapted to the action of the latter is the swiftness of certain foot soldiers, who are picked from the entire youth of their country, and stationed in front of the line.
    • Chapter 6
  • To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes; nor may a man thus disgraced be present at the sacred rites, or enter their council; many, indeed, after escaping from battle, have ended their infamy with the halter.
    • Chapter 6
  • Mercury is the deity whom they chiefly worship, and on certain days they deem it right to sacrifice to him even with human victims.
    • Chapter 9
  • Quanquam severa illic matrimonia
    • However the marriage is there severe.
      • Start of chapter 18
    • This is in the sense that the matrimonial bond was strictly observed by the Germanic peoples, this being compared favorably against licentiousness in Rome. Tacitus appears to hold the fairly strict monogamy (with some exceptions among nobles who marry again) between Germanic husbands and wives, and the chastity among the unmarried to be worthy of the highest praise. (Ch. 18).
  • …ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges. [2]
    • …good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere. [3]
    • End of chapter 19
  • No one in Germany laughs at vice, nor do they call it the fashion to corrupt and to be corrupted.
    • Chapter 19
  • Indeed, the crowning proof of their valour and their strength is that they keep up their superiority without harm to others.
    • Chapter 35
  • Their shields are black, their bodies dyed. They choose dark nights for battle, and, by the dread and gloomy aspect of their death-like host, strike terror into the foe, who can never confront their strange and almost infernal appearance.
    • Chapter 43
  • All this is unauthenticated, and I shall leave it open.
    • Chapter 46 (last text line)

Histories (100-110)[edit]

  • It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.
    • Book I, 1
  • He possessed a peculiar talent of producing effect in whatever he said or did.
    • Book II, 80
  • Once killing starts, it is difficult to draw the line.
    • Book I, 39
  • Some might consider him as too fond of fame; for the desire for glory clings even to the best men longer than any other passion.
    • Book IV, 6
  • Deos fortioribus adesse.

Annals (117)[edit]

So obscure are the greatest events, as some take for granted any hearsay, whatever its source, others turn truth into falsehood, and both errors find encouragement with posterity.
  • Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.
    • The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government.
      • Book III, 27
    • Variant translations:
    • The more corrupt the state, the more laws.
    • And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.
  • Conspicuous by his absence.
    • Book III, 76; Lord John Russell, alluding to an expression used by him ("Conspicuous by his absence") in his address to the electors of the city of London, said, "It is not an original expression of mine, but is taken from one of the greatest historians of antiquity".
  • The images of twenty of the most illustrious families—the Manlii, the Quinctii, and other names of equal splendour—were carried before it [the bier of Junia]. Those of Brutus and Cassius were not displayed; but for that very reason they shone with pre-eminent lustre.
    • Book III, 76
  • He had talents equal to business, and aspired no higher.
    • Book VI, 39
  • He upbraided Macro, in no obscure and indirect terms, "with forsaking the setting sun and turning to the rising".
    • Book VI, 52, referring to Tiberius
  • What is today supported by precedents will hereafter become a precedent.
    • Book XI, 24
  • So true is it that all transactions of preeminent importance are wrapt in doubt and obscurity; while some hold for certain facts the most precarious hearsays, others turn facts into falsehood; and both are exaggerated by posterity.
    • Book III, 19
    • Variant: So obscure are the greatest events, as some take for granted any hearsay, whatever its source, others turn truth into falsehood, and both errors find encouragement with posterity.
  • nisi impunitatis cupido retinuisset, magnis semper conatibus adversa.
    • The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.
      • Book XV, 50, in his account of Subrius Flavus’ passing thought of assassinating Nero while the emperor sang on stage.
    • Variant translation: "but desire of escape, foe to all great enterprises, held him back."
  • cupido dominandi cunctis adfectibus flagrantior est
    • Book 15.53
      • "Lust of absolute power is more burning than all the passions"

Quotes about Tacitus[edit]

  • Tacitus has written an entire work on the manners of the Germans. This work is short, but it comes from the pen of Tacitus, who was always concise, because he saw everything at a glance.
  • "Tacitus I consider the first writer in the world without a single exception. His book is a compound of history and morality of which we have no other example."
    • Thomas Jefferson, to his grand-daughter Anne Cary Bankhead, in a letter dated 1808.

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