sábado, 23 de mayo de 2009

The Twelve Caesars

De vita Caesarum (Penguin Classics, 2007)
by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (translated from the Latin by Robert Graves and James B. Rives)
c. 125

"Gaius made parents attend their sons' executions, and when one father excused himself on the ground of ill health he provided a litter for him. Having invited another father to dinner just after the son's execution, he overflowed with good fellowship in an attempt to make him laugh and joke. He watched the manager of his gladiatorial and wild-beast shows being flogged with chains for several days running, and had him killed only when the smell of suppurating brains became insupportable. A writer of Atellan farces was burned alive in the amphitheatre, because of a single line which had an amusing double entendre. One
eques, on the point of being thrown to the wild beasts, shouted that he was innocent; Gaius brought him back, removed his tongue, and then ordered the sentence to be carried out." (The Twelve Caesars, p. 160)

Although I don't have much to say about Suetonius (c. 70 AD-c. 130 AD) that hasn't already been said before, I've got to give the guy at least a qualified thumbs-up for his "classic" status after finally getting around to reading The Twelve Caesars in its juicy entirety. While lacking Plutarch's psychological insights and Tacitus' biting way with words, these lurid imperial biographies of the Roman emperors from Julius Caesar on down to Domitian aren't without a certain scandalmongering charm. But what can you, the typical 21st-century book blogger with an inexplicable fondness for cheesy vampire novels, expect to derive from such a work? For one thing, this is as good a place as any to savor the anecdotal flavor of ancient biography in its raw and unrefined form (from a letter that Mark Antony sent to Augustus: "What has come over you? Do you object to my screwing Cleopatra? She's my wife, and it's not even as though this were anything new--the affair started nine years ago. And what about you? Is Livia Drusilla the only woman you screw? My congratulations if, when this letter arrives, you haven't screwed Tertulla or Terentilla or Rufilla or Salvia Titisenia or all of them. Does it really matter so much where or with whom you get off?" [83]). For that matter, the personal and political dirt dug up on all these masters of depravity provides plenty of lively reading moments in and of itself (i.e. the Caligula excerpt above, while extreme, is entirely typical). If Suetonius' attempts to balance the good and evil of his subjects' resumes sometimes seem a little formulaic, his persistent cataloging of an unforgettable series of "follies and crimes" (216) still casts a powerful spotlight on the Roman genius for the abuse of power at the highest levels. Too bad that other works of his such as On Abusive Words or Insults and Their Derivations and one titled On Notable Prostitutes no longer exist! (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)

4 comentarios:

  1. Ha! Very pithy recap. I enjoy reading your thoughts.

  2. Thanks, Emily, I aim to please--sometimes at least! Take care.

  3. Something about this post is very amusing to me - almost makes me want to read the book! Thanks for your intriguing thoughts. :)

  4. Sarah, it's a definite winner if you want to read up on real-life scandal and debauchery! Thanks for the visit!