The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) By Suetonius
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As private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, the scholar Suetonius had access to the imperial archives and used them (along with eyewitness accounts) to produce one of the most colourful biographical works in history. "The Twelve Caesars" chronicles the public careers and private lives of the men who wielded absolute power over Rome, from the foundation of the empire under Julius Caesar and Augustus, to the decline into depravity and civil war under Nero and the recovery that came with his successors. A masterpiece of observation, anecdote and detailed physical description, "The Twelve Caesars" presents us with a gallery of vividly drawn - and all too human - individuals.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #2838 in Books
- Published on: 2007-12-18
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: .1 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 464 pages
About the Author
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in AD69 - the famous 'year of the four Emperors'. From the letters of Suetonius' close friend Pliny the Younger we learn that he practiced briefly at the bar, avoided political life, and became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (AD117-38). Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD140. James Rives teaches in the area of Classical Studies at Stanford University. Professor Rives is currently serving as Review Editor for Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful.
Indispensable guide to the early Roman Empire
By Marshall Lord
This is a collection of essays about the first twelve Roman rulers to bear the name Caesar. It is the definitive collection of eyewitness stories about the early emperors as they were seen by their contemporaries.
The rulers covered by this book include Julius Caesar; his adopted son Octavian who ruled as Augustus, and his descendents; the warlords who contended for power in the "Year of Four Caesars" after Nero was overthrown, and the Flavians who came out on top in that struggle.
In other words, the full list of twelve is:
If you want to understand the early Roman Empire, you need to read this book. If you are a budding novelist and want to write about the early Empire, you need to read this book. Reading Suetonius is not perhaps a sufficient condition to allow you to understand or write convincingly about the period, but it is a necessary condition.
Robert Graves, author of "I Claudius" and "Claudius the God" translated this version: not surprisingly many of the snippets of gossip and fascinating little stories from Suetonius find their way into his novels. They also find their way into every good novel about first century Rome that I have ever read, absolutely without exception.
You should not take for granted that every word of Suetonius's account is accurate. Reading carefully, you will see that where he heard two conflicting accounts of an issue or event he quotes both, usually without attempt to reconcile them. And a number of stories find their way into this account with, shall we say, less critical scrutiny than we would hope for today, though probably no less than you would expect from XXX - insert the name of a modern popular news medium you don't approve of here.)
For example, repeats uncritially the story that Nero set fire to the city of Rome, and then sang an aria as he watched the city burn. (This is story is often misquoted as Nero having fiddled while Rome burned - an impossibility since the violin had not been invented.)
Some modern historians have made a strong case that this was a clever libel spread by Nero's contemporary opponents. They argue that Nero was actually away from the city when the fire broke out, and hurried back to Rome to personally lead the fire-fighting efforts.
If they are right it does not cast doubt on Suetonius's integrity as a reporter of what was said about the emperor, because there is no dispute that the story of Nero singing while Rome burned was widely believed at the time. It was a perfect example of the old saying, "Si non e vero, e ben trovato" - if it's not true, it's well invented.
Aspects of the story certainly seem in character with many of Nero's other proclivities including his love of art, enormous vanity, and complete ruthlessness. However, the fact that it is reported as fact may illustrate that Suetonius does seem to have a propensity to repeat every snippet of gossip he heard about the early emperors, with rather less selectivity and critical judgement than other great ancient historians, such as Herodotus and Thucydides.
However, for this very reason, though perhaps he is a whisker behind Herodotus and Thucydides, or indeed Tacitus and Plutarch as a historian, Suetonius is far and away the most entertaining of the five.
The translation by Graves is very easy to read. This is one of the most important, fascinating, and informative works of ancient history which was ever written.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful.
Mine is a much earlier edition of THE TWELVE CAESARS, but it's still Robert Graves translation of Suetonius' text, so it is what it is. Suetonius was apparently quite a prolific writer, with a wide variety of titles, from LIVES OF FAMOUS WHORES to METHODS OF RECKONING TIME to his credit. Outside of a few isolated fragments, however, THE TWELVE CAESARS is his only surviving work. It begins with Julius Caesar, who was Dictator but never Emperor in the true sense, continues through Nero, who was assassinated around the time of Suetonius' birth and was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and ends with Domitian, last Emperor of the Flavian dynasty. You also get lots of helpful items included, such as family trees of the imperial families and relevant maps. Altogether, this is a very nice book.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman of the equestrian class, born around the year 69. Little is known of his life, but his friend, Pliny the Younger, tells us that he practised law briefly, avoided politics and eventually became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian. His prominent position in the palace would have been extremely helpful to his writings, providing him with ready access to imperial and senatorial archives and to people who had first-hand knowledge of the events Suetonius was writing about. He uses this material well by writing more than just a dry accounting of public events. Along with the major occurrences, we are also treated to the private lives of his subjects: personal anecdotes, scandalous details, and amusing incidents that only palace intimates would have known. Suetonius presents this material in an even-handed style, avoiding any obvious personal bias and freely admitting when he tells of something that he is unable to verify. These are lively biographies that read more like soap operas than official histories.
THE TWELVE CAESARS is a very readable and entertaining account of the lives of the first twelve Roman "Caesars". While it contains a wealth of valuable historical information, it is also very entertaining and quite suitable for the casual reader. Highly recommended for anybody with an interest in, or simple curiosity about, ancient Rome.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful.
The Best of Roman Tabloids
Don't be put off by the antiquity of this book, its a fascinating look at the tremendous heights of empirical glory and despotism that kicked off the Roman Empire. From the ravenously ambitious Julius to the brilliant government of Augustus to the mad and criminal excesses of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, Suetonius brings the first 12 emperors to life in brilliant detail and color. This book is the perfect meeting of History Channel and tabloid, a must read for any history buff, or anyone who wants a taste of the fantastic world that was ancient Rome.
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