in History, Literature, Pedagogy

A bit of Tacitus for high schoolers

I’ve been thinking a bit about things that I think every student should read before walking away from Latin, and the opening of the Annales of Tacitus stands out.

urbem Romam a principio reges habuere; libertatem et consulatum L. Brutus instituit. dictaturae ad tempus sumebantur; neque decemviralis potestas ultra biennium, neque tribunorum militum consulare ius diu valuit. non Cinnae, non Sullae longa dominatio; et Pompei Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in Augustum cessere, qui cuncta discordiis civilibus fessa nomine principis sub imperium accepit.

In this passage we have the opportunity to discuss the hexameter (urbem Romam a principio reges habuere), the outlines of Roman constitutional history (from Kingdom through the various crises of the late Republic, and finally ending on the principate of Augustus), and several features both of language and rhetoric that are useful for review. We have the alternate third person plural of the perfect tense, the passive voice, and on and on.

This is a passage that could be revisited again and again as a starting point for so many discussions and as a brief road map for students.

I’m especially interested in its utility for teaching, as I’ve said, the broad outlines of constitutional history, and perhaps of having students memorize the whole selection not only for its content but as a model for the pronunciation and the rhythms of the language.

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