Eulogies indeed were written by Arulenus Rusticus and Herennius Senecio- the one of Thrasea Paetus; the other of Helvidius Priscus. But both were treated as capital offences and the savage fury of their enemies was vented upon the books as well as the authors. (Agricola para 2 trans Mattingley London 1970)
We have seen that history is naturally subversive of the currents of popular opinion- it tends to attack the envious and support the admiring and this, as Tacitus dryly notes, is contrary to human nature. What we are yet to explore is the way that the Republic and the Empire produce different reactions to history, to that disturbing admiration. Tacitus offers us a clue here. Imperial censorship is a means of allowing the 'enemies' of eulogy to thrive- the plural is important, Tacitus is not arguing that censorship proceeds merely from the throne but that the throne and the people unite to exploit its prerogative in order to crush eulogy. Tacitus was fully aware that despotism rests upon consent as much as any other regime and that is not his quarrel with it: rather his quarrel with it is what it does to the people under its command, as we are to see. This point though is crucial and important- histories cannot be written under the empire not because the tyrant will object but because those that do object now have the prerogative powers to attack histories.
Tacitus enlarges on this later in the same passage: he links the burning of books to the fact that the Romans under the Empire are 'robbed... by informers even of the right of exchanging ideas in conversation' (Agricola para 2 trans Mattingley London 1970). The image that he presents is, as typical with Tacitus's understanding of the imperium, truly terrifying. Human thought and life has turned to become an internal activity rather than an external one: tyranny means that the only thing left to the Roman subject is their 'memories', they have lost their 'tongues' (Agricola para 2 trans Mattingley London 1970). Tacitus's portrait of this process is not meant merely to illustrate a situation but to teach us about what that situation does to the population who live under it. The student of empire must analyse the effects of the imperial system upon the people who live under it- we have seen they are silenced and that they consent to the prerogative silencing because it satisfies their envy- but Tacitus has more to say on the effects of the process upon their minds and habits of thought.
Tacitus's description is one of tyranny under Domitian- tyranny under Nerva and Trajan is a different and more benign thing: he tells us that 'Nerva harmonised the old discord between autocracy and freedom', that Trajan is 'enhancing our happiness' (Agricola para 3 trans Mattingley London 1970). But even under such virtuous princes (bear in mind that Tacitus writes under Trajan as well- he may be hinting in his first paragraphs that all is not well even now) the Roman populace are unable to use their freedom. He comments that the 'mind and its pursuits can more easily be crushed than brought to life again' (Agricola para 3 trans Mattingley London 1970). The effects of tyranny are longlasting: young men have passed into their primes, old men to the limits of their mortality without saying a single unguarded word of praise (Agricola para 3 trans Mattingley London 1970). Mental idleness has turned from a despised option into a relaxing habit (Agricola para 3 trans Mattingley London 1970). Tacitus's psychology of imperial rule comes to its culmination when he addresses the kind of history that now can be written:
I shall still find some satisfaction however unartistic and unskilled my language, in recording the bondage that we once suffered and in acknowledging the blessings we now enjoy (Agricola para 3 trans Mattingley London 1970)
This is our last irony- even the great historian himself is so effected by despotism that his only recourse as a historian is to describe it or praise it. The kind of history that Tacitus says is most laudable- eulogy- has passed and become impossible: the effect of empire is that there are only two subjects, to write about the slavery that one knew about under past emperors and to sustain the illusion that under present regimes there is perfect freedom. The mind has been taught by the blazing fires of books, the whispering of informers and the creak of the rack that anything else is dangerous and the brain has become too indolent to realise how to write another text: in Tacitus's text, Gibbon's old saying has become true and modern history is formed as the record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of human kind. Tacitus cannot write any other type of account.