Lydia Spielberg

The use of loci communes in Thucydides and Tacitus

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The use of loci communes in Thucydides and Tacitus

This postdoc project concerns loci communes in the sense of universal sayings, i.e., timeless expressions of moral beliefs commonly shared by people belonging to the same cultural community or society.

They are constitutive elements of what is generally and traditionally felt to be good or bad, advisable or not, and were often used in Greco-Roman literature to steer the reader's thoughts, build an argument, or highlight an important point.

The project contributes to the overall research project by studying how Greek and Roman historians anchored their views on new and traumatic events and volatile political affairs in loci communes, especially those expressing collective values primarily in the sphere of the polity of the state and citizenship. Greek and Roman sources will be analysed and compared mutually, in order to ascertain which similarities and differences occur between Greek and Roman authors in the process of anchoring by means of loci communes.

Research subject

The project sets out to investigate how, in the works of the two major ancient historians, disruptive political events are anchored in traditional political and moral views. Thucydides (5th century BCE) describes in his History of the Peloponnesian War the war between Athens and Sparta, in which he fought himself, and which marks the fade-out of the Athenian hegemony; Tacitus (c. 55 CE - c. 120 CE) brings to life the first century CE, when the Roman republic turned out to have made way for a cruel and despotic monarchy.

The research focuses on the speeches which both authors weave into their narratives, and specifically on the use of loci communes. The loci used in the speeches will be analysed from a double perspective. First, the researcher will look at how the two historians, following the rhetorical theory, make their orators anchor their responses to events in loci, in order to present these convincingly to the audiences within the narrative. Secondly, it will be investigated if and how the loci in the speeches also serve as a means for the historians themselves to anchor their own views on political events and contemporary society, with the purpose of impressing them on their own readership.
The method used will be philological: a representative selection of speeches will be made from the three works; these will be carefully analysed in the context of the narrative in which they are placed, using the available commentaries and secondary literature, and the use of the loci will be studied against the background of contemporary rhetorical theory. Wherever possible, the speeches will be placed against the background of what is known about the events and historical speeches from other historical sources, in order to gain a clearer picture of the author’s own perspective and that of his personae.