David Pollio

Thomas Jefferson, Tacitus, and the Value of History
By David Pollio on July 09, 2009

Towards the end of his second term as President, Thomas Jefferson received a letter from his granddaughter, who mentioned that she had been reading from the works of the Roman historian Tacitus. In his reply, Jefferson wrote: “Tacitus I consider the first writer in the world without a single exception. His book is a compound of history and morality of which we have no other example.” Given that Jefferson was extraordinarily well-read, one cannot help but wonder what he found so compelling. I would suggest that in order to understand Jefferson’s unique claims for Tacitus we need to consider two questions from Jefferson’s perspective: What is the historian’s role in a democratic republic? and Does Tacitus fulfill that role?

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Classical Architecture, Modern America
By David Pollio on June 15, 2009

On April 23rd, 2009, Dr. Caroline Winterer, Professor of History at Stanford University, delivered a presentation at Christopher Newport University entitled "George Washington, the American Revolution, and the Classical Ideal." To judge from audience reaction, the most memorable moment occurred when Dr. Winterer urged her audience to put on their "classical goggles" when viewing late eighteenth and early nineteenth century American architecture in order to understand its purpose. In the case of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Mansion House, for example, she reminded us that, despite being considered quintessentially American in style, it abounds inside and out with classical elements such as triangular pediments, Greek key patterns, Ionic pilasters, etc. Even without the benefit of a formal classical education, Washington had a basic knowledge of antiquity, which he drew upon to cultivate parallels between himself and such Roman heroes as Cincinnatus, Fabius, and Cato the Younger.

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about the author

David Pollio
David Pollio

I teach in the Classical Studies program at Christopher Newport University (Newport News, VA). My courses include various Greek and Latin authors, as well as courses on ancient culture and the classical tradition in America. My research focuses primarily on Vergil and Homer; the classical tradition; and the use of the ancient world in contemporary film.