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348 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Kenneth C. Schellhase. Tacitus in Renaissance Pohtical Thought. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976. Pp. xiii + 270. $16.00. Unlike many classical authors, the Roman historian Tacitus eased into the modem world on the slimmest of threads, our knowledge of his extant writings resting on three famous manuscripts. Yet the rediscovery of these works during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries provoked a flourishing interest in the great chronicler of Imperial Rome and made Tacitus a central figure in Renaissance debates on the nature of historiography. In addition, his graphic depiction of the institutions of the Empire, the political aims and methods of the Caesars, the customs and society of the primitive Germans, and the range of individual response to oppressive conditions of autocratic rule provided a rich source of inspiration for Renaissance thinkers anxious to express their own political ideas. It is the latter aspect of Tacitus's influence that Schellhase has singled out for treatment in his book, which provides a valuable survey of the varied and sometimes contradictory ways in which Renaissance authors interpreted Tacitus for political ends. Although Boccaccio knew and cited Tacitus as early as 1362, the first political usc of the rediscovered portions of the Annales and Historiae did not occur until the beginning of the fifteenth century. Following Hans Baron, Schellhase singles out for particular emphasis Leonardo Bruni's citation of Tacitus in defense of republicanism in his Laudatio Florentinae urbis, which elevated the historian to a position of prominence among Florentine humanists eager to defend their civic liberties against external aggression or erosion from within. A second major moment of Tacitean activism Schellhase locates in the early sixteenth century, when German nationalists and reformers such as Conrad Celtis and Ulrich yon Hutten utilized the Germania to excite a patriotic reaction to Italian spiritual and cultural domination, a theme which fades with the success of the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s. In Italy, meanwhile, the sixteenth century saw important changes in attitude toward Tacitus. Machiavelli cited him in both The Prince and the Discourses, though neither frequently nor with a well-defined political intent. He commends Tacltus's advice to rulers in the former work while apparently gwing a more republican reading in the latter (though 1 have reservations about Schellhase's attempt to estabhsh a consistent antimonarchical use of Tacitus in the Discorsi). With Andrea Alciato's Annotationes in Cornehum Taciturn (1517) the historian became a counsel for political "'prudence," noninvolvement in affairs of state. This mterpretation found favor both with scholars, such as Beatus Rhenanus and, later, Lipsms, and with disillusioned reformers such as Guicciardini. Schellhase discerns a hiatus of some thirty years in the political use of Tacitus during mid-century, ending with the pubhcation of Jean Bodin's Methodus adfacdem histonarum cognitionem in 1566. Bodin's Tacitus reveals the secrets of imperial rule necessary for running a well-ordered state--a complete turnabout from the republican interpretation of Bruni and his Florentine friends, but more suited to a Europe in which republics were a dying breed. Finally, with Giovanni Botero, Tacitus was coupled--and condemned--with Machiavelli as a proponent of "ragion di stato" in an anti-Tacitean reaction which was to become increasingly dominant in Counter-Reformation Italy as the sixteenth century drew to a close. Schellhase's study brings together a great deal of reformation on major and minor political thinkers to provide an overview of an important aspect of Tacitus's influence in the Renaissance. The author displays a broad famdiarity with his subject and has gone to great pains to convey a sense of the personal characteristics of the thinkers with whom he deals. His style is fast-paced and engaging, and he succeeds m bringing his subject to h|e, particularly when dealing with activists such as Bruni, Celtis, or Ulrich von Hutten. Although the book gives most emphasis to Italian, German, and French thinkers, a concluding chapter, "The Legacy of the Renaissance Political Use of Tacitus," traces developments in Spain and England and contains some information on postRenaissance attitudes. By concentrating his attention on authors who make exphclt polmcal--as opposed to philological or historical--use of Tacitus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 349-351
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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