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Tacitus on the Germans

Author(s): W. Beare
Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Mar., 1964), pp. 64-76
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/642633
Accessed: 23-10-2017 19:37 UTC

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS

By the late w. BEARE

ONE of the most primitive and genuine elements of Roman religion


was the feeling that some mysterious power haunted the dark
wood. Germany was pre-eminently the land of dark woods in which
the practical-minded Roman faltered and lost his way. There were the
woods along the banks of the Rhine, in which we sometimes walked in
our student days at the University of Bonn. There was the wooded
Taunus range, where we visited the reconstructed Saalburg, a fort
belonging to the limes or line of entrenchments constructed to protect
the Roman territory in south-west Germany. There was Abnoba, the
Black Forest; there was the Hercynian Forest; a vague term applied to
the vast range of wooded hills stretching a thousand miles from the
Rhine along the Danube and around Bohemia to the Carpathians;
there was the Saltus Teutoburgiensis, where in A.D. 9 Quintilius Varus
and his three legions had been wiped out by the Cherusci under their
leader Arminius in a battle which had turned the tide of history; there
was the unknown island wood where our grim ancestors, the Anglii and
the Saxones, performed the gloomy rites of the goddess Nerthus from
which none of the slave ministrants was allowed to come away alive.
Beyond lay even wilder regions and more savage peoples: the Aestii
or Esthonians, who wore boars' heads and lived on the Baltic shore,
from which they gathered amber and were astonished to receive a price
for it from the traders; the nomadic Sarmatae of central and southern
Russia, who lived in wagons and ate horse-flesh; the ferocious Fenni,
or Finns, who had no home at all, but slept on the ground and lived
on herbs and any animals they could shoot with their bone-tipped arrows,
hunting with the bow being the life of both the man and the woman,
while the babies were left with no protection against weather and wild
creatures except a sort of hovel made out of interlaced branches; and
further still the Hellusii and the Oxiones, who had the faces of men and
the bodies of animals; to the north the dead seas of the midnight sun,
the frozen Arctic Ocean, where every morning could be heard the
noise of the sun rising from the waters, and the horses drawing his
chariot could be seen.
Much of this Tacitus recognizes as mythical-based, no doubt, on
travellers' tales, especially the tales of the amber-traders. The elder

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 65
Pliny tells us of a Roman knight who travelled from
hundred miles almost due north to the mouth of the Vistula to fetch
amber for Nero's shows. Sir Mortimer Wheeler in his book Rome
Beyond the Imperial Frontiers has opened our eyes to the spread
Roman goods all over Germany and north as far as the Trondh
Fiord. But with western Germany Rome had closer links.
The sun of Mediterranean lands is bright; the air is clear; the outl
of the hills are sharp; the woods are open and usually thin; the stre
tend to dry up in the summer. The traveller from the orderly Rom
world who crosses the Rhine is in a land aut siluis horrida aut palud
foeda, 'either bristling with woods or foul with swamps'. One of t
causes which led to the destruction of Varus' army was the torren
rain, which made the tracks almost impassable. The elder Pliny, w
fought in the German wars and wrote a book about them, had seen
Hercynian forest, its huge old oaks, its elks, wild oxen, and horses
strange birds. Big rivers flow through the woods into the North
the Rhine, the Ems, the Weser, the Elbe. Sometimes we may catch
glimpse through the trees of the inhabitants-tall of stature, fair-haired
with fierce blue eyes. Perhaps, like Julius Caesar or his informant,
have seen them enjoying their favourite pastime of bathing in the river
young men and women together. That they are our distant cousin
speaking an Indo-European tongue akin to Latin, Greek, and Indian
is something unguessed at by any Roman. In their native songs th
speak of themselves as sprung from Mannus, the first man. Tacit
thinks that they belong to the soil, that they have always lived the
for who, he says, would leave the sun of Africa, Asia, or Italy and b
so long a journey in order to reach so unattractive a land? It is rain
the west, windy in the south; there are none of the orchards whi
made Italy like one huge garden.
Here and there we come across the homes of the people. The inha
tants of Mediterranean lands are town-dwellers: the scarcity of wat
has forced them to congregate on sites where it can be obtained. T
German lives alone with his family; he pitches his hut where he plea
attracted by a spring, a grove, or a level piece of ground. Even th
villages are simply clusters of separate huts, built not of stone or br
but of timber unshaped and without beauty or attractiveness, in
of timber uprights with horizontal logs or bands of wicker betwe
them, the whole daubed with mud and roofed with thatch, an open
being left for the smoke to escape. Their reason for keeping their house
separate was surely not, as Tacitus suggests, fear of fire-though t
was a natural suggestion for anyone who knew Rome, where fires w
3871.1 F

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66 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS

so common as to be a standing topic for s


made a fortune by keeping a private fire-b
hurry to the site of a fire and offer to buy
that were in danger; if the owners sold at
the fire out; if they would not sell, he let th
the German live alone was presumably that
which compels many an Englishman of today
to the comforts of urban life.
There, in these rough homes, the German children play, naked, dirty,
and tough, on the ground among the cattle-their hair so fair, indeed
white, that to Italians they seem to have the hair of old men. There
are no class-distinctions where upbringing is concerned between the
children of rich and poor. Riches are reckoned not in money but in
head of cattle. The slaves seem to Tacitus more like Italian coloni, some-
thing between peasants and serfs; they live in their own houses with
their families, they pay to the lord a rent in corn, cattle, or clothing;
the domestic duties in the lord's house are carried out by his wife and
children. His babies are suckled by their own mother, not left, as so
often in Italy, to nurses and servants. With any luck, we may be admit-
ted to one of the German homes, for they are of all men the most given
to hospitality and feasting, and they think it a crime to turn any mortal
man away from their door. While the feast lasts, we may share it; when
it ends-for even in Germany there is a limit, three days, apparently-
the host will tell us where next we can stay, and even accompany us
there; and as we take our leave, we can ask for anything which catches
our fancy, and it will be given to us ungrudgingly.
The Germans get up late: they wash in warm water-a welcome
boon in that cold climate; they often spend the whole day by the fire.
At mealtimes, unlike the Romans with their triclinium, each has a chair
and table to himself. Their food is simple-German bread, wild fruits,
fresh venison, butter, and cheese; from the barley they brew a drink
which, says Tacitus, is fermented into a sort of resemblance to wine.
They eat in moderation; their thirst is unquenchable. Roman wine
vessels from the Jutland Peninsula are found to have contained a
fermented drink made from malt and berry-juice-recalling the desic-
cated cranberry wine of Druid burials in the Bronze Age, a thousand
years earlier.
The Germans go armed to their business and their feasts, which are,
in fact, the same thing. To drink all day and all night is not considered
unusual; and the native violence of temper, the draughts of beer, and
the presence of weapons combine to produce quarrels which often lead

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 67
to bloodshed. So frequently did this happen that in la
Salic law was passed holding the survivors of the banqu
such cases. Yet it is at banquets that they transact mo
business, the appointment of chiefs, the arrangement
reconciliation of people who have quarrelled. An open
race, they act on the principle in uino ueritas: that is,
while under the influence of liquor and therefore in
on the following day they review the matter when sob
proof against error, and so they make their decision.
Their great amusement is the sword-dance: young m
perfection leap between the points of swords and spear
but simply to give pleasure to the spectators. Gamblin
they give themselves up to it in sober earnest, recklessly
possessions, and when these are lost, risking their ow
liberty on the last throw: 'ut, cum omnia defecer
nouissimo iactu de libertate et de corpore contendant'.
the loser, no matter how brave or strong, submits to b
opponent and sold in open market. To flog slaves, or
work in fetters, after the fashion of the Roman ergas
there is no guarantee that the master will not, in a s
native anger, strike his slave dead-and no penalty is
master. Such is the fate to which gambling may lead.
The German gamblers whom Tacitus describes have le
record; but from a thousand years earlier we have a po
the literature of another Indo-European people. One of
is a plaintive cry by the victim of the dice, the brown
brought him to ruin yet which he cannot resist. His w
he is an outcast; he wanders about at night, gazing y
well-ordered homes of other men. One might call gam
European vice.
The Germans of Tacitus' time (at least in the west)
money; further east they rely on barter. Sometimes o
dishes in the houses of the chiefs. They know nothin
money on interest-and what this meant to a Roman w
when we remember that an ordinary rate of interest
per cent., while loans in kind might bring in fifty p
children may inherit not merely the property but als
their parents; hence the blood-feud, as in Albania and
in Homeric Greece, blood-guilt may be redeemed b
cattle to the relatives of the dead man.
Land is communally held, and allotted to individuals annually; the

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68 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS

abundance and fertility of the soil make skilfu


according to Tacitus the only crop is corn. Ind
the house but also of the farm is often aban
old, and the invalids, while the warriors dro
home, dreaming of their next fight-strange m
Tacitus, to love idleness and hate peace! Clothi
cloak, fastened over one shoulder by a brooch,
not a complete covering for the body, but then,
whole days by the fire. The richer classes wea
body-garments-and the monuments show us
wearing trousers and sometimes shirts. We h
the hair-knot described by Tacitus; 'they com
and tie it in a knot below'. He adds, 'their chi
still more elaborately'; he is probably referring t
ing the hair in twisted tufts resembling h
done with the aid of greasy soap. The women
that their clothes are often of linen, embroi
Tacitus mean that the women too wear trousers ? There is a relief of the
Flavian age from the Roman fortress at Mainz showing a captive German
woman clad in tight long-sleeved tunic and trousers and a long linen
veil which falls from her head over her back. A coin of Marcus Aurelius
depicting 'Germany conquered' shows sleeveless tunic, trousers, and
veil. Tacitus says that the women's arms and shoulders were bare, and
also part of the breast. This is shown in the Gemma Augustea where we
see a German man with trousers and shoes, and a German woman with
sleeveless gown. And a sarcophagus of the third century A.D. gives a
pathetic picture of a captive German family; the man is wearing trousers
and mantle; the wife is in a short-sleeved gown, girt above waist, and
large mantle. Roman women wore sleeves. The freer style of the
German women's dress struck Roman observers. Julius Caesar, in the
highly interesting passage where he describes the fondness of young
German men and women for mixed bathing,' says that their dress left
a large part of the body bare. This might suggest immodesty; but
Tacitus, like Caesar, is quick to point out that where sexual morality
was concerned, the Germans were above reproach. 'Marriage is held
sacred among them, and there is no feature in their national character
more deserving of respect.' We gather that their young people lived a
vigorous, athletic life, untroubled by sex until their twentieth year.
These stalwart young women, with their bare arms and bosoms, and
their fondness for mixed bathing, might seem wanton; but woe to the
B.G. vi. 21. 5.

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 69
man who takes liberties with them. Marriage is enter
of high seriousness. The bridegroom offers not the k
might appeal to the dainty taste of a Roman woman, b
horse, and even weapons-a shield, a spear, and sw
beginning of marriage it is made clear that the b
partner of her husband's toils and dangers; together
and dare, in peace and in war; this is the meaning of t
the bridled horse, of the gift of arms. On this condi
and bear her children, handing on inviolate to them
received; and so it continues from one generation to
the secret of the German woman's chastity, uncorrup
delights of the theatre or the allurements of the ban
almost unknown. The penalty of the adulteress is se
cut off, she is stripped of her clothing, and lashed t
village. Neither youth, nor beauty, nor riches, can w
husband. 'For no one there laughs at vice, nor is mu
ferred to as "the way of the world".'
Here evidently Tacitus is contrasting the Germans
rary Rome. Accounts of remote and primitive peopl
have had their full appeal for the Roman public did
many a backward glance at things nearer home. Hen
frequent in this kind of literature, to idealize the m
the barbarians. But the Romans idealized their own
well; and there was some likelihood that the two ide
that of legendary Rome and that of contemporary ba
assimilated by the imagination of the writer. The fac
society was by now corrupt. Much as Tacitus deteste
he might have agreed with the Christian epigram
moritur et ridet-'she laughs as she dies'. So when
praise to those tribes which, like the savage Heruli, do
to marry again, he is not so much recommending their p
immolation of widows by their husbands' tombs, as
frequency of re-marriage in Rome, sometimes given
by the suspicion that the deceased partner had been a
world. On this topic Martial has an epigram (ix. 15):

Seven husbands had Chloe;


Their lives all are ended;
On each of their graves stands
A monument splendid,
Inscribed 'This was my work';
What could be more candid ?

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70 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS
The German wives accompanied their husbands eve
wives were weary of their husbands' company, li
according to Juvenal 6. 98:
The virtuous wife no sooner steps on board
Than she is sick upon her wedded lord.
The wife who's got another man in tether
Will walk the deck in any kind of weather,
And eat her luncheon, and admire the view,
Handle the ropes, and prattle to the crew.

The gods of the Germans are commemorated st


the days of the week. Caesar says that they worshi
moon; and from the Bronze Age, in the treasu
Suland, we have an illustration in bronze and gold
horse and chariot. Tacitus, using Roman name
Romana, says that they worship Mars, Mercury,
Tiu, Woden, and Thor (known to us in our Tuesd
Thursday). There is Donner, the thunder-god, arm
as Hercules was armed with a club. The hamm
lightning-stroke. But Hercules had no planet and
lightning; and so later Thor was identified with Ju
equating Woden with Mercury was perhaps that b
protectors of trade; but originally Woden was th
storm, a Wagnerian deity who led through air and fo
of the spirits of the dead. This is perhaps why, acc
was worshipped with human sacrifices. Specially
logically, is the name of the god after whom we n
French their mardi, the Germans their Dienstag.
a sky-god, perhaps the same as Zeus, Jupiter, and
soon developed into the god of war. Hence the iden
French mardi; but what is the connexion between
tag? The answer seems to be given on a Roman al
steads in Northumberland: it begins Deo MiIarti T
Mars Thingsus'. Thing is the word for the assem
the concilium. That warriors should go armed to
in the Indo-European tradition. I have read that be
Yugoslav Parliament sometimes had to have its
because of the habit of exchanging revolver-shot
the house.
Tacitus does not mention the goddess Freya, later equated with
Venus; the nature-goddess of whom he speaks is Nerthus, Mother
Earth, a fertility goddess, and the only thing he tells us about our

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 7'
ancestors, the Anglii and the Saxones (whom later he
is that they worshipped Nerthus, whose sacred wago
grove in a certain island, perhaps Zealand, or Alsen
of Jutland. In the National Museum at Copenhag
wagon from Dejbjerg in Jutland. This vehicle w
covered with a cloth, and was no doubt housed inside
kind; no one was allowed to touch it except the pri
sacerdoti concessum'). At certain times the priest wa
presence of the goddess; her wagon was then yoked
followed it reverently through the fields. Wherever
rejoicing and feasting; then, and only then, did
Saxones stop fighting; all weapons were locked u
announced that the goddess wished to be restored to
came the washing of the wagon, of the covering, a
Tacitus here expresses doubt) of the divinity herse
The final horror was that the slaves who performed
promptly drowned in the lake; hence, he says, 'a m
pious ignorance concerning the nature of that whi
but those who are about to die'.
Another remarkable religious rite is attributed to the Semnones, who
lived in the region of Berlin. At a fixed time in the year a human sacrifice
took place in a sacred wood; everyone who attended this rite had to
come bound with a cord in honour of the power of the god. If the wor-
shipper was so unlucky as to stumble and fall, he was not allowed to
get up again but must roll along the ground until he was outside the
sacred precincts.
In these passages Tacitus seems to speak of the gods as having images
and temples; yet elsewhere he says that 'the Germans think it unworthy
of the divine majesty to confine their gods within walls or to represent
them in human likeness; instead they consecrate groves and woods,
and give the names of deities to that mysterious presence which they
see by devotion alone'. Perhaps the explanation of this apparent con-
tradiction is that Tacitus is influenced by Roman feeling. Primitive
Roman religion was a worship of spirits, numina, who were not conceived
in human or indeed any visible form; and the rather shoddy an-
thropomorphism imported from Greece, though it had filled Roman
temples with statues and Roman poetry with stories of gods who were
all too human, had scarcely touched the deeper levels'of Roman feeling.
Often in the Germania we find Tacitus idealizing the practices of the
Germans because he thinks he sees in them something akin to the out-
look of early Rome. In one respect the sense of divine awe in the dark

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72 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS
wood, there is an undoubted similarity. Seneca say
thick with ancient trees of unusual height, shutting
sky with the density of interlacing branches, the
and the mystery of the spot, and the marvel of t
unbroken though above ground, compel belief th
there'. Ep. 41. 3. In such remarks the Roman spiri
touch of sensitivity and imagination.
The central fact in the life of the Germans is war. For this their men
and their women are trained; for this they rear those numerous families
of sturdy sons. War is a sport with other Germans; it is a business with
the Chatti, those Prussians of the ancient world. Shrewder than their
fellow-Germans, more disciplined, they plan the duties of the day, they
fortify themselves at night; all their strength is in their infantry, fully
equipped not only with arms but with tools and supplies; other Germans
set out as for a battle, the Chatti as for a campaign. Each of them lets
his hair and beard grow long until he has killed his man. Their bravest
warriors know nothing of home or peaceful toil; scornful of property,
they depend for the necessities of life on the generosity of their fellow
tribesmen. As the Chatti excel in infantry, so the Tencteri, who dwell
by the Rhine opposite Cologne, excel in cavalry; horsemanship is the
delight of the children, the sport of the young men, the consolation of
age. Horses are the most prized possessions, and pass not to the eldest
but to the bravest son. How much the Germans prized the horse is
shown by their habit of drawing an augury from the neighings and
snortings of horses. It is to be feared that the Romans had somewhat
fallen away from the Indo-European respect for the horse. The Roman
eques, in spite of his name, was simply a businessman. How different
are the associations of the German word Ritter! In no way did the
Germans show their regard for the horse more than by the occasional
sacrifice of the horse at the grave of its master that it might accompany
him in the next world. In England, a few years ago, two horses were
similarly immolated at the funeral of a gipsy queen. Among the war-
like German tribes a special tribute must be paid to the Langobardi, a
small people with a mighty future, who by their bravery maintain their
independence although surrounded by more numerous clans, and to
the Harii, those grim commando-troops of Silesia, who paint their
shields and their bodies black, choose the darkest nights for their raids, and
spread terror by their very appearance, a spectral army, a host from hell.
The Germans whom Tacitus describes, speaking generally and excep-
ting the Chatti, are warriors rather than soldiers. They are not business-
like military men (like Shaw's Chocolate Soldier), nor under strict

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 73
discipline; they are more successful in attack tha
they come one or two days late to their meeting
them by example rather than authority and are
them. The spring of German courage lies not in
material rewards of war, but rather in their fun
yearning for honour, die Ehre, that prevails amo
spurs. It is thought more honourable to live by
honour is the force which gathers the followers
battle honour urges the chief to excel his followe
equal their leader. Honour demands the ignomini
ard, by drowning in a swamp. The same punishm
those condemned for unnatural vice. If there should be no outlet for
martial instincts at home, honour urges the young chiefs to enrol them-
selves and their followers in the forces of other tribes. The result is
contemplated by Tacitus with admiration, envy, doubt, and foreboding.
The Roman army was recruited from all the fighting races of the Empire;
the soldiers had no bond except army discipline. The legions were
stationed on the frontiers: the Empire has a soft body and a hard shell.
The Germans went to war in the company of their relatives and friends;
even the women and children went with them, to minister to their needs,
to bind their wounds, to stimulate their valour, and to chide their weak-
ness. It was held that there was in women a divine quality which gave
them knowledge of the future. Tacitus is acquainted with the names of
certain German prophetesses, such as Veleda and Aurinia, who had
been honoured and venerated by their fellow-countrymen. The deep
and genuine respect of the Germans for their women was far removed
from servility or adulation. Here again we may suspect that Tacitus is
torn between admiration for the traditional Roman matrona, such a
woman as the mother of the Gracchi, and horror at the petticoat
government and feminine court intrigues of his own day.
When Tacitus speaks of the virtues of the Germans, he is thinking
not only of the imperfect Rome which he knew, but of the ideal Rome of
past ages which he imagined. The old Roman had been a farmer; on
the German farm, as we have seen, the children grew up dirty, naked,
and tough, playing on the ground among the cattle. The German mother
nursed her own children as the Roman mother had once done. To limit
the size of the family was, among the Germans, held disgraceful: the
wealthy Roman families were dying out from failure to reproduce them-
selves, and were replaced by heirs of slave origin. Childlessness brought
no privileges in Germany: in Rome the wealthy who had no children of
their own were attended by a throng of legacy-hunters.

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74 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS
One of the duties of the German women in war wa
the prisoners; and one of the prerogatives of the
the throats of captives in order that the blood
prophesy. We may recall Kipling's lines:

When you're wounded and stretched on Afghani


And the women come out to cut up what remain
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God like a soldier.

The frontiers of the Roman Empire followed t


and the Danube. In the angle a salient of barbaria
Italy's jugular vein. The plan of Augustus was per
from the Rhine to the Elbe, thus eliminating the
the line. Two centuries later Marcus Aurelius
establishing a new province in Bohemia when he
death. To advance the boundaries of empire so fa
would no doubt have produced other dangers; bu
Roman goods were making their way right across
tains as far north as Denmark owned splendid Ro
that as far east as the Vistula Roman coins were p
the dead as their fare for Charon. The story of Rom
is a story of missed opportunities and tragic m
never did success seem more near than in A.D. 9
Varus brought about a disaster which broke t
spirit and caused him to abandon the enterprise.
say, the tide of history turned. The opportunit
Tacitus' Germania, written in 98, is still under the s
Already he sees Roman power receding; already
have direct connexion with the Elbe. What is beyo
failed to conquer the Germans; it was the Germans w
Empire. Tacitus, brooding on the two hundre
struggle since first the Teutones and Cimbri
territory, remarks drily 'the conquest of Germany
a long time'. The best hope he can see for the Em
fate, is that its enemies shall still go on fighting am
may there remain, I pray, and endure among the
us, at any rate hate of each other; for while the d
drive it on, Fortune can vouchsafe no greater boo
our foes.' As Syme points out, this phrase, 'urg
is very like the phrase Livy uses just before the
the Gauls: 'iam urgentibus Romanam urbem fat

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TACITUS ON THE GERMANS 75
goods and luxuries, gold and silver, bronze, potte
making their way to East Prussia and the Balt
coins are found today up in Poland and Russia;
Roman world', says Wheeler, 'drew the migrat
remember Winston Churchill's words about Euro
gazed fixedly on the brilliant scene, and her gaze b
centuries were still to elapse before the sleepers
roused, in Gibbon's phrase, by 'the tremendous s
trumpet'; but the shadow of things to come i
Tacitus' sombre words. Here is history, and here
of an armageddon of trans-continental conflict, of tr
across Europe and Asia as far as China-the cosmic
the Roman Empire will go down. On which side of
sympathies ? With our kinsmen in blood and speec
have given us our civilization? It is true that the
hordes will presently submit themselves to the rule o
Christian, become Roman and establish the Holy
yet we cannot forget the prophetic words of the
I834: 'The philosopher of nature will be terrible
the demoniac energies of ancient German pan
there will awake in him that fighting folly that we f
Germans, that fights neither to kill nor to conquer b
Christianity has somewhat mitigated that brutal G
But once the leaning talisman, the Cross, is broken
old battles will flare up again. That talisman is b
come when it will pitiably collapse. Then the old
from forgotten rubble and wipe the dust of a thousa
eyes. Then at last Thor with his mighty hammer
the Gothic cathedrals.'

The Germans had no literature-no letters, even. They had songs,


and in these they preserved the memory of their deeds. Tacitus tells us
that they sang of the achievements of Arminius. One can imagine that
the Cherusci celebrated in alliterative song their victory over Varus:
Cracked skull and cleft jaw,
Splintered spear, broken sword,
Dead prefect, dead tribune!
Death to the Roman!

Bright beams our blaze tonight;


Great the Cherusci clan;
Drink we a health to thee,
Hermann, our hero!

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76 TACITUS ON THE GERMANS
The beaten army would have expressed their feelings
ferently:

Take back this message from far away to careless Rome at its work and play,
You are all that's left of our army, say, of our twenty thousand men;
Say that you saw us in the wood, where the Roman eagles are trampled in
mud;
And from Rhine to Rome it's an open road-they'll listen perhaps to you then.
Three legions struck from the muster-roll, three numbers for ever blank in
the scroll;
And the priestess waits with her knife and the bowl which the blood of Rome
must fill.
And behind our backs our hands are tied, and they move us up to the altar's
side-
One last salute from the men who died to the house on the Palatine
Where a lonely emperor calls in vain for Varus to lead us home agai
'Give back my legions to me again!'-but he looks in the face of doom
And he hears the din of a distant day, and the tramp of the Goths
Sacred Way,
And above the war the hammer of Thor in the flaming skies of Rom

The Germania is a short work; but much is said in it, and m


implied. Its terse sentences tease us into thoughts about many t
especially about the future of this great, gifted, unhappy people
Europe, it seems, can live neither with nor without. Such is the
of the author's literary skill. And to try to leave with the reade
idea of Tacitus' style, I will give as close a translation as I can
conclusion of the general part of the work, a passage obviously
as a climax and dealing with a topic of universal interest:

Their funerals are free from pomp; the only rule is that the bodi
their famous men shall be burned with certain kinds of wood. They h
garments nor spices on the pyre; they throw on the flames the man
weapons, and sometimes the body of his horse. A mound of turf fo
tomb; the high and laborious honour of a monument they dislike, a
but a burden to the dead. They are soon done with wailing and tears
slow to end their grief and sorrow. They think it fitting that women
mourn, and that men should remember.

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