Tacitus: Annals I, A Selection

by Roland Mayer and Katharine Radice, Bloomsbury Academic 2016, Pb 184 pages, ISBN 978-1474265980 (£12.99).

This book is one of a series published by Bloomsbury for the OCR examinations board in A-level Latin for June 2018 and 2019. The edition may of course also be useful for those not doing these examinations but who wish to read some of Tacitus’ Annals.

The Preface clearly sets out the aims of this edition, which is intended for both AS and A-level Latin candidates. The sections for each group are indicated at the foot of each page of the text.

The Introduction (pp.1-39) sets out in a very readable form all that an AS/A-level candidate would need to know before starting on the text. The section on ‘Style’ (pp.31-39) is an excellent and very necessary summary of how Tacitus uses Latin, and will be well worth regular consultation as students progress in the reading of the text; it is not the sort of information that one easily absorbs on first reading.

The Introduction contains two maps, one of Pannonia (p.25) and one of Germany (p.28), both of which, the Preface says, are reprinted from N.P. Miller’s edition of Annals I. That edition was published in 1959, and cartography has come on a lot since then. The map of Pannonia would be difficult to locate on a map of Europe if one did not already know where it was; a very small piece of the northern Adriatic (unfortunately in the same colour as the province of Dalmatia) is presumably included as an aid, but a rather wider coverage of the area would have helped. The only town in Pannonia mentioned in the text (Nauportus, ch.20; not Nauportum, as in the Index of Place Names on p.169) is not included on the map; it was in the extreme west of Pannonia, near Emona (the modern Ljubljana), which is on the map. The map of Germany is cluttered with names that are not relevant to the text. A much simpler map of provincial boundaries in the area would have been more relevant.

The text itself is clear and well laid out. Capital letters are used only for names. I noticed only one typing error: in the last line of ch.47 ‘prouvincias’ should be ‘provincias’. The text of Tacitus has never been divided into short sections as most other classical texts were. This does tend to make quick reference less easy, and inserting line numbers within each chapter might have helped with this text; it would certainly have helped to follow the commentary in longer chapters. Also inserting chapter numbers at the head of each page of the commentary, a practice followed in many older classical editions, would be an advantage.

The Commentary (pp.57-130) is excellent. It is in a very clear format and is pitched, as far as I can judge, at an appropriate level for AS/A-level students. There is much coverage of Tacitus’ style and syntax, which is a great help to those coming to Tacitus for the first time, as most students using this text will be doing.

The Vocabulary (pp.131-168) is in a clear, easily used format. I checked quite a number of words in the Vocabulary as I read the text. I found only cassus (though it does appear under in+cassum) and munia to be missing. The principal parts of tueor are usually given as tueri, tuitus (not tutus, though this is the participial adjective). When I saw coram (+acc) I wondered if old age was catching up on me and I had misremembered Kennedy’s little rhyme ‘A, ab, absque, coram, de . . .’ But no, coram does take an ablative, not an accusative.

Tacitus remains one of the finest historians in any language, though tackling him in the original Latin is not easy, certainly for those with limited experience of the language. But he really is worth the effort, and it would be difficult to find a better introduction to Tacitus than these selections from Annals I. A pity about the maps, but then I have a thing about maps . . . 

John Thorley
(Former President of Euroclassica)