Tacitean sidelights on The Master and Margarita

West, Stephanie
March 1997
International Journal of the Classical Tradition;Spring97, Vol. 3 Issue 4, p473
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
Bulgakov's use of Tacitus' "Annals" in "The Master and Margarita" repays attention. Tacitus inspired his invention of Pilate's pre-Judaean career, the governor's physical courage being illustrated by flashbacks to the battle of Idistaviso (Ann. 2.16-18), while Tacitus' description of the operation of the law relating to maiestas (minuta) and of the proliferation of treason trials under Tiberius pervades Bulgakov's account of Pilate's confrontation with Jesus. The infallibly efficient chief of secret police, Afranius, has so much in common with the Praetorian Prefect Afranius Burrus, who plays a leading role in Tacitus' account of Nero's reign, that Bulgakov must have intended the reader to see a connection between these two ruthless pragmatists; here too we may suspect that he was inventing an earlier career for a well-known figure. The relevance of Tacitus' account of the Julio-Claudians to Stalin's regime is obvious enough.


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