Comparative Remarks οn the Prologues of Roman Historians


  • Α. ΝΙΚΟΛΑΪΔΗΣ University of Crete



This article discusses the proems of Sallust, Livy and Tacitus in an attempt to reach some conclusions from the way each of these historians makes use of the chief conventional topoi of historical prologues. We find that the least employed topos is that of de historia.
Α straight eulogy of history is actually present only in Livy, while Sallust simply acknowledges the value of history in the BJ. In the BC the same topos manifests itself in the form of the difficulties, which writing history involves. From the proems of Tacitus the topos de historia is completely absent. Regarding the topos de persona we can make the following distinctions: Sallust resorts to historiography out of disappointment at the corrupted political situation of his day and - at the same time - in order to practise his virtus animi and gain the gloria, which he could not attain by his political activity. Livy becomes a historian out of patriotic reasons; he admires the achievements of the Roman people and wants to immortalize them through his history. Finally, Tacitus turns to history out of psychological need . Ιn the case of the Agricola he may only wish to honour his father-in-law, but in the Histories and the Annales the way he denounces the intrigues, the violence and the terror of the principatus show that he felt guilty, as it were, for his personal success in such an arbitrary regime.
As for the topos de materia, Sallust and Livy explain why they deem the contents of their historical works important and useful for posterity, whereas in Tacitus the same topos is characterized, οn the one hand, by the author's strong emotional involvement in the subject or the period he is about to write and, οn the other, by the absence of any reason for the significance, value or usefulness of his history.
Yet , despite their many and impressive differences, which concern not only their ideological standpoint but also their style of writing, the proems of Sallust, Livy and Tacitus have something important in common; they are all equally permeated by the pessimistic outlook of their authors as regards the current political and moral conditions in Rome.



How to Cite

ΝΙΚΟΛΑΪΔΗΣ Α. (1988). Comparative Remarks οn the Prologues of Roman Historians. Ariadne, 4, 31–60.