AbstractI argue that the prologue of Tacitus' Agricola is at pains to maintain for the work the option to be important or to be inconsequential. The goal of this effort is to anticipate a spectrum of possible receptions: if the work is welcomed by its audiences, it can serve as the first step in a prestigious literary career; if it meets with indifference or hostility, Tacitus' already-existing social self can find protection behind the claims to limited importance. In the first section, I describe the rhetorical strategies through which Tacitus advances this doubled set of claims. In the second, I discuss Agricola's relationship to Sallust's monographs and adduce for comparison Pliny the Younger's career as a Catullan poet; I show that claims to write after the manner of a canonical author directly serve the aim of ““keeping options open.””

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