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What are the main differences between Tacitus and Thucydides?

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Q. What are the main differences between Tacitus and Thucydides? Before looking at Tacitus and Thucydides, it is important to understand that they both had different intentions as historians. The social and political contexts in which they wrote their works are very different, and they both wrote for different audiences. For these reasons alone, there are likely to be highly noticeable differences between the two. They do, however, share the intention of recording events relevant to the time period in which they account. How they do this does vary greatly. Tacitus not only preserves specific events, but he also preserves a grand annalistic tradition of writing and story-telling. This annalistic style of writing does often pose Tacitus with many problems relating to chronology, such as is the case with his account of events in Britain. The annalistic style gives an account of events as they happen each year. Events in Britain happen over a number of years, but this is not always clear from Tacitus' narrative. Thucydides is very precise in regards to chronology and describes events as they occur, avoiding the problems Tacitus encounters, and digressions such as those used by Herodotus. Tacitus' writing style is very literary and seems to be concerned with the use of language and the staging of a scene. Tacitus believes his duty is to report good and evil deeds and preserve them for posterity. ...read more.


It does differ from Tacitus, who uses a more sophisticated form of language that often loses some of its impact in translation. The way each historian uses the narrative is, in itself, unique. Although Thucydides does attempt to be objective, this is not always the case. It is clear that he considers some characters of more importance than others, and he has a clear bias towards Pericles, despite the fact that other politicians, e.g. Cleon, were also prominent at the time. Thucydides himself was Athenian, so his bias is understandable; he considers Pericles to be a great leader. There is very little emphasis on the individual - something Tacitus does tend to focus on. Although, there do seem to be very few individuals that Tacitus does actually like! He is highly critical, but this does make for interesting reading and it does reflect his purpose. Thucydides' neutral attitude does mean that his account can be seen to lack interest. Tacitus' work, on the other hand, does not even attempt to be objective, and is littered with opinion and judgement. You only have to look at the way he describes Agrippina, Claudius' wife, to see that he dislikes her immensely. But, whereas Thucydides' opinion is accidental and found in his analysis of events, Tacitus' is consistent throughout. Again, we have to remember the purpose of each historian. As Tacitus concentrates more on morality, a certain degree of moral judgment is required. ...read more.


Much of the speeches regarding the Roman occupation of Britain are clear examples of this. Caratacus' speech in particular shows Tacitus' tendency to display pity for the underdog; in the case the British. As a Roman, it is highly likely that Tacitus took an atheistic attitude to the divine and supernatural. But, he does not omit it from his work, as the annalistic writing style traditionally sees the inclusion of omens and portends, such as the death of consuls and the birth of malformed animals and children prior to the death of Claudius. This is clearly a literary device and it is doubtful that Tacitus believed them himself. It does, however, create dramatic tension and suspense in anticipation of the final event. Thucydides, although adopting a rational approach to writing history, also includes the divine. Unlike other authors, such as Herodotus, however, he does not take a credulous attitude towards it. He uses it to analyse the responses of people in events such as the plague in Athens, and how they can be interpreted in different ways after an event. It is clear that there are large differences between Tacitus and Thucydides, and that both have very different intentions as historians. It is difficult to say who is the more accurate, as they both cover very different subject matter; Tacitus, imperial Rome, and Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War. But, as far as correct factual information is concerned; Thucydides is possibly the more accurate. But, if you want to discover more than just the facts, Tacitus is possibly the more compelling of the two authors. Gemma Dale Classical Civilisation 06/05/2007 ...read more.

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