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Call for Papers

Reinventing Tacitus: The Dynamics of Reappropriation

An international conference at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies (Innsbruck, Austria)
September 26-27, 2024

organized by

James McNamara, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies, Innsbruck

Victoria E. Pagán, University of Florida Department of Classics

According to the Italian Renaissance philosopher and historian Francesco Guicciardini, “Cornelius Tacitus teaches those who live under tyrants quite well the way of living and governing themselves prudently, just has he teaches tyrants the ways of founding tyranny.” In the early twentieth century, Giuseppe Toffanin reframed the paradox in terms of a “red” Tacitus, champion of liberty and enemy of tyranny, and the “black” Tacitus, defender of monarchy and Realpolitik. Our project explores this phenomenon, whereby early modern interpretations of Tacitus influence later engagements in the cultural imagination. To what extent does Tacitus come pre-packaged, as it were, by pronouncements levied during a distinct period when he was radically popular and widely read? As Stephen Hinds has shown in his groundbreaking work on Latin poetry, texts accrete meaning in each successive appropriation by later classical poets. Our study, on the other hand, questions the extent to which the early modern interpretations are themselves starting points for later authors. When authors read Tacitus, to what extent are they engaging in received traditions? Is it possible to refer to Tacitus without thinking through the colored lenses of red and black?

Reinventing Tacitus closely examines and analyzes the uses of the Roman historian Tacitus since the early modern period, taking seriously the possibility of meaningful contact with Tacitus beyond superficial adornment, esoteric quotation, or learned allusion. Rather than attempt to prove unbroken continuity in the reception of Tacitus across all time periods, our project examines distinct eruptions of interest in Tacitus. As successive eras rediscover Tacitus, the echoes of previous rediscoveries either persist or die away. Ours is a study of dynamic reception that explores the influences of Tacitus on the moment as well as their effects on future iterations.

We invite papers that explore the reception of Tacitus diachronically, investigating receptions of Tacitus which bear the imprint of the early modern period. Such comparisons will illustrate continuities and breaks in the history of thought. Through recourse to the notions of reinvention and reappropriation, we hope to generate discussion that moves beyond insights about Roman historiography in general, beyond identification of the presence of Tacitus in a later text, and indeed beyond Tacitism as a distinct period. Our method aims at encouraging historically situated readings capable, as appropriate, of demonstrating both how an ancient author is reinvented in light of contemporary concerns and how the drive to understand the present through an ancient touchstone can create a sense of community across time. Through close engagement with scholars of the early modern period, we hope to initiate conversations that contribute to the history of European intellectual life, and ultimately to help us understand our own peculiar moment in a world that is increasingly either “black” or “red.”

Confirmed speakers include Claudio Buongiovanni, Professor of Latin, Università della Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli,” Naples; John-Mark Philo, UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellow 2023-24; Shushma Malik, College Lecturer, Newnham College, University of Cambridge; and Lucie Claire, Lecturer in Latin language and literature, Université de Picardie Jules Verne.

Please send abstracts of no more than 800 words to and by Friday May 10, 2024. Notifications of acceptance will be sent on Friday May 17, 2024.

Call for Papers