Tacitus. Histories

by Daniel Russ on January 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt from Book I. This is fascinating.

 

Fortune was already, in an opposite quarter of the world, founding and making ready for a new dynasty, which from its varying destinies brought to the state joy or misery, to the emperors themselves success or doom.1 Titus Vespasianus had been dispatched by his father from Judea while Galba was still alive. The reason given out for his journey was a desire to pay his respects to the emperor, and the fact that Titus was now old enough to begin his political career.2 But the common people, who are always ready to invent, had spread the report that he had been summoned to Rome to be adopted. This gossip was based on the emperor’s age and childlessness, and was due also to the popular passion for designating many successors until one is chosen. The report gained a readier hearing from the nature of Titus himself, which was equal to the highest fortune, from his personal beauty and a certain majesty which he possessed, as well as from Vespasian’s good fortune, from prophetic oracles, and even from chance occurrences which, amid the general credulity, were regarded as omens. When Titus received certain information with regard to Galba’s death he was at Corinth, a city of Achaia, and met men there who positively declared that Vitellius had taken up arms and begun war; in his anxiety he called a few of his friends and reviewed fully the two possible courses of action: if he should go on  p163 to Rome, he would enjoy no gratitude for an act of courtesy intended for another emperor, and he would be a hostage in the hands of either Vitellius or Otho; on the other hand, if he returned to his father, the victor would undoubtedly feel offence; yet, if his father joined the victor’s party, while victory was still uncertain, the son would be excused; but if Vespasian should assume the imperial office, his rivals would be concerned with war and have to forget offences.

These considerations and others like them made him waver between hope and fear; but hope finally won. Some believed that he turned back because of his passionate longing to see again Queen Berenice; and the young man’s heart was not insensible to Berenice, but his feelings towards her proved no obstacle to action.3 He spent his youth in the delights of self-indulgence, but he showed more restraint in his own reign than in that of his father. So at this time he coasted along the shores of Achaia and Asia, leaving the land on the left, and made for the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus; from Cyprus he struck out boldly for Syria. While he was in Cyprus, he was overtaken by a desire to visit and examine the temple of Paphian Venus, which was famous both among natives and strangers. It may not prove a wearisome digression to discuss briefly the origin of this cult, the temple ritual, and the form under which the goddess is worshipped, for she is not so represented elsewhere.

 The founder of the temple, according to ancient tradition, was King Aerias. Some, however, say that this was the name of the goddess herself. A more recent tradition reports that the temple was  p165 consecrated by Cinyras,4 and that the goddess herself after she sprang from the sea, was wafted hither; but that the science and method of divination were imported from abroad by the Cilician Tamiras, and so it was agreed that the descendants of both Tamiras and Cinyras should preside over the sacred rites. It is also said that in a later time the foreigners gave up the craft that they had introduced, that the royal family might have some prerogative over foreign stock. Only a descendant of Cinyras is now consulted as priest. Such victims are accepted as the individual vows, but male ones are preferred. The greatest confidence is put in the entrails of kids. Blood may not be shed upon the altar, but offering is made only with prayers and pure fire. The altar is never wet by any rain, although it is in the open air. The representation of the goddess is not in human form, but it is a circular mass that is broader at the base and rises like a turning-post to a small circumference at the top.5 The reason for this is obscure.

Share

Related Posts:

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: