Essays On Suetonius

Suetonius 'The Twelve Caesars'

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Suetonius "The Twelve Caesars"

If a friend asked me to tell him if it is worth it to read Suetonius' book "The Twelve Caesars", I would say it is. This book, though old, is still very interesting and informative today. It is important to note however, that the writing style of Suetonius' day was much different from our own. Some readers might be confused and exasperated with Suetonius' diction and syntax. He uses very long expressions and details to describe people and events that may not even be necessary to describe. But it is because of this extreme attention to detail that "The Twelve Cesars" is important to read.
Even if you do not like Suetonius' style, you must agree that he has achieved his goal of adequately exploring the lives of these 12 men. He wrote more than an adequate biography; he wrote an exquisite history of a very important period in the Roman world. Suetonius wrote so accurately that many historians today use his writings to describe the lives of the Caesars.
Before reading the book, I must admit I did not know very much about the Caesars that ruled Rome. I had only heard of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, and between the two, I only had a vague idea of what they did. Now after reading "The Twelve Caesars" I have a much clearer understanding of who these men were and what they did. Each one of them impacted the world in different ways, and some of their decisions still echo through the modern world. Suetonius has given me a better understanding of the Caesars and Rome.
The two Caesars that caught my attention the most were Augustus and Gaius. These two represent a stark contrast between the rulers f Rome. One was a visionary and a leader, the other was an insane megalomaniac. Suetonius did a good job of describing not only the men and their actions, but how these actions affected the Romans and the world. All of the men were important and influential, but Suetonius' description of these two captured my attention.
What impressed me most about the book was the incredible detail he used to describe people, places, events, and things. As I said, some people may find all this detail to be tedious. I however think that it was important to have such details to paint an accurate picture of ancient Rome.

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Also, the way that Suetonius presented the different Caesars' lives gave a very well-balanced view of each man. He would start off with the virtues of the men, describing their good deeds and positive influences on the citizens of Rome. Then, he would switch sides and tell of the man's most hideous vices. The end result is a mix of respect and disgust for the Caesar, which is probably the best way to look at these rulers of Rome. Each Caesar committed both wonderful and vile deeds while in power, so none are totally free from sin.
I think that Suetonius did a very good job of collecting information about the Caesars. Many times, modern historians use his writings to get a clearer view of what the Roman civilization was really like. He obviously did many years of research to get the level of detail he wanted for this book. Now, one can not know for sure that everything in Suetonius' writings is the truth, but for the most part his sources seem creditable. His use of the imperial archives of Emperor Hadrian is proof enough that he really did work diligently to have truthful information.
Of all of the Caesars, two of them captured my attention the most. First was Caesar Augustus who seemed to be a god among men. His rule was truly the golden age for the people of Rome. The other was Gaius, who is a stark contrast to Augustus. His rule plunged Rome into bankruptcy, riots, and madness. He inspired pity and hatred in equal amounts in the citizens. The fact that these two men held the same power over Rome astonishes me. Augustus was a courageous, well-balanced person. Gaius was a cowardly lunatic. These rulers made me wonder what kind of citizens were under their rule and what kind of society they lived in.
Rome in the early empire was a place of both civility and barbarianism. On one hand, they had great feats of civil engineering like the baths or the colusseum. They had the senate and the Roman army. But on the other hand, a father had the right to kill his children if he so desired. The magnificent structure of the colusseum was used for brutal gladiatorial contests and slaughters. Corruption in the government meant that anyone who displeased the Emperor would be killed. I believe that Roman society was very much driven by the majority. There were no special interest groups, so if the people wanted something there was no one to stop them. I think the Caesars used this mob rule to their advantage. Violence was a big part of their society, as it is in today's society. We are not really very different from the Romans. I think there was a balance between the good and bad aspects of life in Rome. The standard of living was the greatest the world had ever seen or would see again for a long time afterward. The rule of the Emperors was a mixed blessing, giving protection from outside enemies, but not always from inside enemies.
I think that the Emperors were usually unable to handle the job they had been given. So much wealth, power, authority, responsibility, and stress could drive any person mad. True they had ultimate authority, but they had to live forever in fear of assassinations and coups. They were suddenly responsible for the greatest nation on Earth, and whether is succeeded or failed was determined solely by their choices. Imagine having the pressure of maintaining the biggest empire in history thrust upon you. That is why many of the emperors were quite frankly insane. Take Gaius for example. He was planning on making his horse a senator. Not to mention the hundreds of people he killed or had assassinated. Although the worst, he is not the only insane emperor. All of them had people killed or tortured, and many were constantly paranoid for their own safety.
Overall, I believe that this time in history shaped the rest of the world and the future. The Caesars themselves were influential enough that rulers for thousands of years after would still use the name Caesar. The fact that we are still in awe of these men two thousand years later proves they were special. They were the absolute rulers of Rome, and they would change history.



This book is the first full book of essays on Suetonius to be published in English. It redirects focus on the author to his task as a biographer, and to the way in which his unique interests and style inform his Lives. The book begins with an introduction that assesses the originality of Suetonius as a writer and situates the essays within the context of debates and controversies over his biographical form. It is then divided into three parts, each of which contains a variety of perspectives. The first discusses formal features of Suetonian biography, such as his literary techniques, manners o ... More

This book is the first full book of essays on Suetonius to be published in English. It redirects focus on the author to his task as a biographer, and to the way in which his unique interests and style inform his Lives. The book begins with an introduction that assesses the originality of Suetonius as a writer and situates the essays within the context of debates and controversies over his biographical form. It is then divided into three parts, each of which contains a variety of perspectives. The first discusses formal features of Suetonian biography, such as his literary techniques, manners of citation and quotation, and devices of allusion and closure. The middle section is devoted to readings of the individual Lives, treating several topics—from Suetonius’ decision to begin his collection with Julius Caesar, to fictional elements in his death scene of the emperor Caligula, to the theme of solitude in his Life of Domitian. The last part examines the ways in which Suetonius transgresses the boundaries of ancient biography, by looking at his influence on epistolographers, antiquarians, commentators, and later biographers.

Keywords: Suetonius, biography, Roman Empire, narrative, closure

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2014Print ISBN-13: 9780199697106
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199697106.001.0001

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