Sunday, 5 August 2012

Tacitus Germania c.22 Germanic decision making

Tacitus (56-117) was a Roman historian and senator with a sharp eye for political machinations. In 98 he published the Germania, an ethnographical trearise about the Germanic tribes.  It is an invaluable source of information, both on their geographcal location  and on their customs. As a conservative thinker, Tacitus contrasted the simplicity and straightforwardness of  the Germanic people with the - in his eyes -  degenerated morality of the Roman upperclass.  Tacitus was soon forgotten after the decline of Rome and was almost unread  during the Middle ages. A single manuscript of the Germania was discovered in 1455 by the Italian humanist Enoch Asculanus and since then this small book has been very influential  in forming the identity of the Germans.
In chapter 22 Tactitus desribes how the Germanic tribes made their decisions under the influence of alcholand, reconsidering them the next day when sobre. Maybe a good idea for the European Parliament for overcoming the Euro-crisis!

quem plerumque in diem extrahunt: The Romans stood up before daybreak
extraho: draw forth
lavantur: medial use `they wash themselves’
saepius: often
calida (aqua) albl! calidus: warm.
plurimum (anni)
lauti: ppp of lavo and of course medial too
singulis: `for each one’
et sua cuique mensa: it seems odd that everyone had his own table, but the early Greeks had this custom too. The fact that English `dish’ and German `Tisch’ (table) both come from discus, shows us that what Tacitus calls a table, was made of a tree trunk, maybe only a couple of centimetres thick.
negotium: buissiness
nec minus saepe ad convivii: not only public feasts, but also familyfeast like at births and  marriages, but nec minus saepe (not less often) is undoubtedly an exaggeration.
diem noctemque continuare potando nulli probrum analyze as follows:
nulli probrum (est): it is a shameful deed for no one
potendo: ablative of manner `to continue in drinking’
diem noctemque: accusative of time `during day and night’
crebrus: frequent
rixa: quarrel
vinolentus: litt. `full of wine’  though the Germanic tribes were not unacquainted with wine, they mostly drunk beer,  so here vinolentos means just `drunken people’.
convicium: shouting
caedes, -is; slaughter
transiguntur `are settled’
de reconciliandis invicem inimicis: about the reconciliation of mutual enmities
adfinitas: marriage alliance. The Austrian germanist Rudolf Much (1862-1936), who wrote a still useful commentary on the Germania, remarked at this word: `wie jetzt noch unter unseren Bauern’ (like our farmers still do)
adsciscendis principibus `adopting chiefs’ We should not think of modern elections, but of the most impartant men within a tribe choosing a leader. Inherited kingship was unknown at that time amongst the Germanic tribes.
tamquam `their idea being that’, but it is more Tacitus’ idea.
take magis with pateat and incalescat: at no time their mind either is more open(….)  or is more glowing with passion for….
simplices cogitationes; not simple deliberations, but `ingenuous, frank’, however, as Tacitus is contrasting the simple life of the Germanic tribes with luxus of the Romans, the choice of this word is significant.
non astuta nec callida This in contrast to the Romans, who in Tacitus opinion were astuti et callidi
astutus: shrewd
callidus: cunning.
aperio: uncover, open.
adhuc:  furthermore
licentia loci  `in the freedom of the occasion’ licentia: abl!
detectus: uncovered
retractatur: `the matter is reconsidered’
et salva utriusque temporis ratio est  `and so due regard is paid to both times
`they deliberate when they ar unable to feign (under the infuence of alcohol), they decide when they cannot go wrong (when sobre)
And with this typical Tacitean sentence the chapter is closed.

1 comment:

  1. Puto alium historiatorem eundem methodum decisionum attribuisse aliis, forsitan Punis (si Liuius est).