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!
Statim e somno, quem plerumque in diem extrahunt, lavantur, saepius calida, ut apud quos plurimum hiems occupat. Lauti cibum capiunt: separatae singulis sedes et sua cuique mensa. Tum ad negotia nec minus saepe ad convivia procedunt armati. diem noctemque continuare potando nulli probrum. Crebrae, ut inter vinolentos, rixae raro conviciis, saepius caede et vulneribus transiguntur. Sed et de reconciliandis invicem inimicis et iungendis adfinitatibus et adsciscendis principibus, de pace denique ac bello plerumque in conviviis consultant, tamquam nullo magis tempore aut ad simplices cogitationes pateat animus aut ad magnas incalescat. Gens non astuta nec callida aperit adhuc secreta pectoris licentia loci; ergo detecta et nuda omnium mens. Postera die retractatur, et salva utriusque temporis ratio est: deliberant dum fingere nesciunt, constituunt dum errare non possunt.
extraho: draw forth
lavantur: medial use `they wash themselves’
calida (aqua) albl! calidus: warm.
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.
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’
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’.
caedes, -is; slaughter
transiguntur `are settled’
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 nullo magis tempore aut ad simplices cogitationes pateat animus aut ad magnas (res) incalescat.
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
aperio: uncover, open.
licentia loci `in the freedom of the occasion’ licentia: abl!
retractatur: `the matter is reconsidered’
`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.