Tacitus on the Germans

 

Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian, prose stylist, senator, consul and provincial governor.  He lived roughly from 56 AD to after 117 AD. He wrote a famous description of the German tribes, their lives, and customs, called Germania. Read it.

“For myself, I accept the view that the peoples of Germany have never contaminated themselves by intermarriage with foreigners but remain of pure blood, distinct and unlike any other nation.  One result of this is that their physical characteristics, in so far as one can generalize about so large a population, are always the same: fierce-looking blue eyes, reddish hair, and big frames – which, however, can exert their strength only by means of violent effort. They are less able to endure toil or fatiguing tasks and cannot bear thirst or heat, though their climate has inured them to cold spells and the poverty of their soils to hunger.”

What I most admire in books written before late 20th century governmental and self-imposed censorship is the treatment of different peoples in terms that are always more accurate than not because they are racial, tribal, or national, as appropriate.

It is not racist to discuss races in racial terms. What is so shocking to us is that people did so freely and without malice or condescension before about 1960. This is what they were like, these authors tell us.

You can read the same unselfconscious frankness in Thomas Jefferson’s discussion of black people in his Notes on Virginia or Francis Parkman’s descriptions of the Hurons, Iroqouis, French and English in his great works of early North American history.

That is what was so surprizing about these authors: their complete freedom to describe people as they saw them, without a Human Rights Commission on their back.

We are not living in a time of intellectual freedom. We are living in a time that future generations may well call a Great Darkness.