Vision and space in Tacitus

Myers, Matthew S. (2018) Vision and space in Tacitus. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

[img] PDF (Thesis - as examined) - Repository staff only - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (1MB)


This thesis explores the role of vision and space in the works of Tacitus. A number of recent studies have assessed the importance of vision, space, and the gaze in ancient literature, across a variety of different authors. The gaze in epic poetry has been analysed by Leigh (1997), Smith (2005), and Lovatt (2013); Feldherr (1998) has considered the role of spectacle in Livy; and Purves (2010) and Rimell (2015) have examined the role of space in Greek literature and Roman poetry respectively. Yet there has been no substantial study of these themes in Tacitus. The present work addresses this gap in scholarship by providing a wide ranging survey of visuality across the Tacitean corpus which extends from the gaze of the emperor and other individuals, to the collective gaze of the Roman populace and the gaze of the reader; within settings such as the dining room, the senate house, the city, and the battlefield. In considering this diverse material, I highlight the importance of taking a wide-ranging approach to the study of Tacitus’ visual techniques, emphasising the interrelation between disparate strands of Tacitean visuality. Such an eclectic approach reveals the centrality of vision and space to Tacitus’ ideas of power, control, corruption, and manipulation under the early principate, as well as the inherent ambiguity of Tacitus’ conception of the gaze.

The thesis begins by considering some characteristics of Tacitus’ visual technique and analysing his use of language to create visual scenes. The focus then turns to the individual gaze, in two chapters centred on the gaze of the emperor. Here the imperial gaze emerges as a dominant force that is intrinsically linked to the emperor’s power, yet is also open to manipulation and corruption. This is followed by a chapter on battles and battlefields, in which Tacitus’ use of landscape and visual description is used to explore themes of military power and control and the corrupting nature of civil war. The final main chapter considers the role of spectacle in the city of Rome in the Histories, outlining a Tacitean approach to the viewing of violent spectacle that emphasises the corruption of morals and the breakdown of societal norms. These various themes are drawn together in the concluding chapter, which highlights the role of vision and space as a central pillar in Tacitus’ exploration of power under the principate.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lovatt, Helen
Malloch, Simon
Keywords: tacitus, vision, space, gaze
Subjects: P Language and literature > PA Classical philology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 51584
Depositing User: Myers, Matthew
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2018 13:25
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 18:01

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View