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Online Introduction to

“The Life of Agricola,” by Tacitus

The Life of Agricola, is the second part of the book in the Series of “Handy Literal Translations,” on the works of Cornelius Tacitus. The first is The English Translation of Tacitus’ Germania.

Agricola, had the misfortune to be a general under some pretty oppressive Roman Emperors, so he was not noticed much in the histories. Remember, too, that it has been the fashion for 2000 years to glorify the evils of pagan societies, instead of recognising its better members. This has also helped to keep his name from being perpetuated on the lips of ‘righteous’ schoolteachers ever since the dawn of the era of Christian historians.

Tacitus was Agricola’s son-in-law, and he briefly mentions some of the miseries and repressions of honesty, the punishment of decent behavior, and the loss of free speech under a period of particularly horrible rulers of his country, before the time that he wrote this work, years after the death of his wife’s father. The fact that such a situation arose with the collusion of the senators of Rome is not over-looked. Tacitus admits his own shame at his cowardice in his introductory remarks, and again at the end of the biography.

There are lessons still to be learned about bad and immoral politicians and leaders for all of us in this book. More palatably, there is detailed information on the history of the Roman conquest of England which is largely ignored by most U. S. schools, including 2 women who led armies of Britons in revolt against their conquerors.

The biography is a short one, and the footnotes are very helpful as well. All in all, it is a painless way to learn about a period of history that I never knew much about before.

The appropriate section numbers from the Latin text, and links to the online citations have kindly been provided by Bill Thayer, the modern icon for Classical Rome, and pioneer of the Online Texts Movement. As always, this text, as well as this whole site is a whole lot better thanks to him.

Get started with The Anonymous Preface, to the English translation of The Life of Cnæus Julius Agricola, by Cornelius Tacitus.

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