Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (/ˈtæsᵻtəs/; Classical Latin: [ˈtakɪtʊs]; c. AD 56 – after 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (AD 69). These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in AD 70. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the Annals that is four books long.
Tacitus' other writings discuss oratory (in dialogue format, see Dialogus de oratoribus), Germania (in De origine et situ Germanorum), and the life of his father-in-law, Agricola, the Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain, mainly focusing on his campaign in Britannia (De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae).
Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest Roman historians. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature. He is known for the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, as well as for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.
Signs and Wonders
81. In the course of the months which Vespasian spent at Alexandria, waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon, many miracles occurred. These seemed to be indications that Vespasian enjoyed heaven’s blessing and that the gods showed a certain leaning towards him. Among the lower classes at Alexandria was a blind man whom everybody knew as such. One day this fellow threw himself at Vespasian’s feet, imploring him with groans to heal his blindness. He had been told to make this request by Serapis the favourite god of a nation much addicted to strange beliefs. He asked that it might please the emperor to anoint his cheeks and eyeballs with the water of his mouth. A second petitioner, who suffered from a withered hand, pleaded his case too, also on the advice of Serapis: would Caesar tread upon him with the imperial foot? At first Vespasian laughed at them and refused. When the two insisted, he hesitated. At one moment he was alarmed by the thought that he would be accused of vanity if he failed. At the next, the urgent appeals of the two victims and the flatteries of his entourage made him f. sanguine of success.
Finally he asked the doctors for an opinion whether blindness and atrophy of this sort were curable by human means. The doctors were eloquent on the various possibilities. The blind man’s vision was not completely destroyed, and if certain impediments were removed his sight would return. The other victim’s limb had been dislocated, but could be put right by correct treatment. Perhaps this was the will of the gods, they added; perhaps the emperor had been chosen to perform a miracle. Anyhow, if a cure were effected, the credit would go to the ruler; if it failed, the poor wretches would have to bear the ridicule. So Vespasian felt that his destiny gave him the key to every door and that nothing now defied belief. With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.
82. This deepened Vespasian’s desire to visit the holy house of Serapis, for he wished to consult the god on matters of state. He had everyone else excluded from the temple, and went in alone, fixing his mind on the deity. Happening to glance round, he caught sight of a leading Egyptian named Basilidcs standing behind him. Now he knew that this man was detained by illness far from Alexandria at a place several days’ journey distant. He inquired of the priests whether Basilides had entered the temple that day. He also inquired of those he met whether he had been seen in the city. Finally he sent off a party on home, and ascertained that at the relevant time he had been eighty miles away. Thereupon he guessed that the vision was a divine one and that the reply to his query lay in the meaning of the name Basilides.
83. Where the god Serapis came from is a problem which has not yet been brought before the attention of the public by Roman writers. The Egyptian priests give the following account. It concerns Ptolemy, the first Macedonian king of Egypt, who did much to develop the country. While he was engaged in providing the newly-founded city of Alexandria with walls, temples and religious cults, be dreamed that he met a young man of remarkable beauty and more than human stature, who instructed him to send his most trusty courtiers to Pontus to fetch a statue of himself. This, he said, would cause the kingdom to prosper, and whatever place gave the image shelter would become great and famous. Thereupon, continues the account, this same youth appeared to ascend into heaven in a blaze of fire.
These signs and wonders impelled Ptolemy to reveal the nocturnal vision to the Egyptian priests whose practice it is to interpret such things. As they knew little of Pontus and foreign parts, he consulted an Athenian of the clan of the Eumolpidae, one Timotheus, whom he had brought over to supervise ritual, and asked him about the nature of this worship and the identity of the god...