Synopses & Reviews
The pope wanted it, Montesquieu used it, and the Nazis pilfered an Italian noble's villa to get it: the Germania, by the Roman historian Tacitus, took on a life of its own as both an object and an ideology. When Tacitus wrote a not-very-flattering little book about the ancient Germans in 98 CE, at the height of the Roman Empire, he could not have foreseen that the Nazis would extol it as "a bible," nor that Heinrich Himmler, the engineer of the Holocaust, would vow to resurrect Germany on its grounds. But the Germania inspired--and polarized--readers long before the rise of the Third Reich. In this elegant and captivating history, Christopher B. Krebs, a professor of classics at Harvard University, traces the wide-ranging influence of the Germania over a five-hundred-year span, showing us how an ancient text rose to take its place among the most dangerous books in the world.
"Harvard classics professor Krebs writes a scholarly but lucid account of the abuse of history. Written in 98 C.E. by the Roman official Tacitus, About the Origin and Mores of the Germanic Peoples was lost for centuries but resurfaced around 1500 as Germans were growing resentful of foreign domination in this case from the Catholic Church in Rome. The rediscovered book launched a primitivist myth that captivated admirers over the next 500 years, from Martin Luther to Heinrich Himmler, who loved its portrayal of ancient Germans as freedom-loving warriors, uncultured but honorable, in contrast to decadent Romans. In fact, Tacitus probably never visited Germany, Krebs notes. Rather, using books and travelers' reports, he wrote for a Roman audience who shared his romantic view of northern barbarians. Enthusiastic German readers, culminating in the Nazis, ignored Tacitus's disparaging comments, misread passages to confirm their prejudices, and proclaimed that the ancient historian confirmed their national superiority. This is an inventive analysis of, and warning against, an irresistible human yearning to find written proof of one's ideology. Illus. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The riveting story of the Germania and its incarnations and exploitations through the ages.
About the Author
Christopher B. Krebs is a classics professor at Harvard University whose academic publications include extensive work on the ancient historians and a recent contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.