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The History of Make-Believe

The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    The History of Make-Believe
    Book Description:

    A theoretically sophisticated and illuminating reading of Tacitus, especially theHistories, this work points to a new understanding of the logic of Roman rule during the early Empire. Tacitus, in Holly Haynes' analysis, does not write about the reality of imperial politics and culture but about the imaginary picture that imperial society makes of these concrete conditions of existence-the "making up and believing" that figure in both the subjective shaping of reality and the objective interpretation of it. Haynes traces Tacitus's development of thisfingere/crederedynamic both backward and forward from the crucial year A.D. 69. Using recent theories of ideology, especially within the Marxist and psychoanalytic traditions, she exposes the psychic logic lurking behind the actions and inaction of the protagonists of theHistories. Her work demonstrates how Tacitus offers penetrating insights into the conditions of historical knowledge and into the psychic logic of power and its vicissitudes, from Augustus through the Flavians. By clarifying an explicit acknowledgment of the difficult relationship betweenresandverba,in theHistories,Haynes shows how Tacitus calls into question the possibility of objective knowing-how he may in fact be the first to allow readers to separate the objectively knowable from the objectively unknowable. Thus, Tacitus appears here as going further toward identifying the object of historical inquiry-and hence toward an "objective" rendering of history-than most historians before or since.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92955-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: Belief and Make-Believe
    (pp. 1-2)

    When the emperor Napoleon deflects his interlocutors Goethe and Wieland from the politically tricky subject of Tacitean style, he gives the appearance of a polite conversationalist who has almost forgotten his manners.¹ Although the elegance of the czar Alexander is a more appropriate subject for party talk, the emperor’s observations, the one about historiography and the other about a historical figure, have everything in common, both with one another and with the subject of Tacitean historiography as a whole. The stakes of this conversation lie in the relationship between style and content in historiography, as Napoleon finds subversive the way...

  5. 1 An Anatomy of Make-Believe
    (pp. 3-33)

    This chapter introduces the main themes of this book through analysis of passages from theHistoriesand other parts of the Tacitean corpus. Each passage illustrates a facet of the relationship between Roman beliefs about reality during the early Empire and Tacitus’s representation of those beliefs. My thesis is that Tacitus unifies the style and content of his historiography in order to produce in the reader the experience of believing and understanding as the actors in the text do. History for Tacitus is what the agents and patients of past events believed it to be; where he is paradoxical or...

  6. 2 Nero: The Specter of Civil War
    (pp. 34-70)

    Beginnings in Tacitean historiography have come under a great deal of scrutiny. Syme thought that the historian had reconsidered the beginning of theAnnalsas he progressed with the writing of it and realized how much of his material led back to the Augustan regime.¹ That Tacitus states his intent to write about that time (Ann. 3.24), and often refers even farther back to Rome pre-Julius Caesar, gives some evidence in Syme’s favor.² It is possible, however, that the complicated beginnings of both historical texts have more to do with the historian’s larger scheme to depict the discursive difficulties of...

  7. 3 Power and Simulacra: The Emperor Vitellius
    (pp. 71-111)

    Tacitus illustrates the failings of both Galba’s and Otho’s regimes through these two principes’ use of speech. As I argued in the last chapter, it is the ability to conjure and manipulate verbal images that underlies the success (however short-lived) or failure of the regime. Tacitus defines the initial stages of civil war as the reinvention of social narrative, and the first two emperors as spokesmen through whom the anarchicvolgushears definitions of itself that it either supports or rejects. Galba and Otho therefore represent the ideological crisis in terms similar to Tacitus’s own as he bends and distorts...

  8. 4 Vespasian: The Emperor Who Succeeded
    (pp. 112-147)

    AtAnnals1.7, Tacitus lists the order of those who swore allegiance to Tiberius upon his succession:Sex. Pompeius et Sex. Appuleius consules primi in verba Tiberii Caesaris iuravere, aputque eos Seius Strabo et C. Turranius, ille praetoriarum cohortium praefectus, hic annonae; mox senatus milesque et populus(“Sex. Pompeius and Sex. Appuleius the consuls swore allegiance to Tiberius Caesar first; with them were Seius Strabo and C. Turranius, the prefects of the praetorian guard and grain supply, respectively; then the Senate, army, and people”). The division ofsenatusandpopulusbymilesis more than a chance remark in the...

  9. 5 A Civil Disturbance: The Batavian Revolts
    (pp. 148-178)

    Julius Civilis’s name is almost too good to be true. His revolt is at once a civil and foreign action against Rome, a combination Tacitus locates also in his character:sed Civilis ultra quam barbaris solitum ingenio sollers et Sertorium se aut Annibalem ferens simili oris dehonestamento, ne ut hosti obviam iretur, si a populo Romano palam descivisset, Vespasiani amicitiam studiumque partium praetendit(“But Civilis, clever beyond the usual scope of a barbarian and passing himself off as Sertorius or Hannibal by means of a similar facial disfigurement, in order not to incur attack as if he were an enemy,...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-184)

    As I look back at this book, I realize finally that it is rather a long way of saying that any society consists of systems of control and the people who live within them and that the two are not mutually exclusive; indeed, it is impossible to separate the one from the other. I was always amazed, for example, at the willingness with which my peers at English boarding school would comply uncomplainingly with the most absurd rules, not because they had to, but because they seemed to believe unquestioningly that the rules were right. The typical response to “Why...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-206)
  12. References
    (pp. 207-216)
  13. Index
    (pp. 217-231)