The first three chapters provide a brief introduction to “Agricola.” Tacitus situates his work in a larger historical context by noting that it is a tradition to record the accomplishments of great men. He also alludes to the significance of his project by referring to recent events in Roman history, namely the trials of men who have done what Tacitus himself is doing (telling the stories of great men). When the subjects and authors of these works lost favor with the emperor, they were assassinated, their families exiled, and their texts burned. Some scholars believe these events traumatized Tacitus and fueled his anti-tyranny sentiments. Those who burned the eulogies of Paetus Thrasea and Priscus Helvidius believed they could wipe out “the voice of the Roman people, the freedom of the Senate and the moral consciousness of the human race” (55). Fortunately, in Tacitus’s view, it is not “as easy to forget as to be silent,” and through their works, historians ensure the memories of these men are not lost (55).
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By writing about Agricola, Tacitus preserves his memory, a function of writing histories that Tacitus values as a way to resist tyranny and preserve freedom of thought.