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Tacitus writes in the Annals that ‘a historian’s foremost duty is to ensure that merit is recorded, and to confront evil deeds and words with the fear of posterity’s denunciations.’ (3.65). Throughout the Annals, Tacitus presents the reader with portraits of human courage and virtue right alongside human cruelty and hypocrisy. Michael Grant writes in his introduction to the Annals that Tacitus is a ‘humanist, and one whose contributions to our western tradition of humanism have been immense and singularly inspiring.’ (23). Through close reading of the text, analyse Tacitus’ humanism. Issues or themes you may want to consider: What is Tacitus’ conception of virtue? How does Tacitus demonstrate the potential or the limit of individual human action in the Annals? How does Tacitus depict humans making decisions? What role does the supernatural play in the world of the Annals? How does Tacitus make history meaningful? Is a consideration of Tacitus’ ‘humanism’ useful or even possible? What might Michael Grant mean by the phrase “our western tradition of humanism” and how is this a useful, or coherent, or even problematic concept?

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