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Suetonius
Nuremberg chronicles f 111r 1.png
Illustration of Suetonius from the Nuremberg Chronicle
Born Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus
c. AD 69
Died After c. AD 122 (aged 53–54)
Occupation Secretary, historian
Genre Biography
Subject History, biography, oratory
Literary movement Silver Age of Latin
Notable works The Twelve Caesars

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Latin: [ˈɡaːiʊs sweːˈtoːniʊs traŋˈkᶣɪlːʊs]), commonly referred to as Suetonius (/swɪˈtniəs/ SWIH-toh-NEE-əs; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire. His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of 12 successive Roman rulers from Julius Caesar to Domitian, properly titled De vita Caesarum. Other works by Suetonius concerned the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and the lives of famous writers, including poets, historians, and grammarians. A few of these books have partially survived, but many have been lost.

Life

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born about AD 69, a date deduced from his remarks describing himself as a "young man" 20 years after Nero's death. His place of birth is disputed, but most scholars place it in Hippo Regius, a small north African town in Numidia, in modern-day Algeria. It is certain that Suetonius came from a family of moderate social position, that his father, Suetonius Laetus, was a tribune belonging to the equestrian order (tribunus angusticlavius) in Legio XIII Gemina, and that Suetonius was educated when schools of rhetoric flourished in Rome.

Suetonius was a close friend of senator and letter-writer Pliny the Younger. Pliny describes him as "quiet and studious, a man dedicated to writing". Pliny helped him buy a small property and interceded with the Emperor Trajan to grant Suetonius immunities usually granted to a father of three, the ius trium liberorum, because his marriage was childless. Through Pliny, Suetonius came into favour with Trajan and Hadrian. Suetonius may have served on Pliny's staff when Pliny was imperial governor (legatus Augusti pro praetore) of Bithynia and Pontus (northern Asia Minor) between 110 and 112. Under Trajan he served as secretary of studies (precise functions are uncertain) and director of Imperial archives. Under Hadrian, he became the emperor's secretary. Hadrian later dismissed Suetonius for his alleged affair with the empress Vibia Sabina.

Works

The Twelve Caesars

Suetonius is mainly remembered as the author of De Vita Caesarum—translated as The Life of the Caesars, although a more common English title is The Lives of the Twelve Caesars or simply The Twelve Caesars—his only extant work except for the brief biographies and other fragments noted below. The Twelve Caesars, probably written in Hadrian's time, is a collective biography of the Roman Empire's first leaders, Julius Caesar (the first few chapters are missing), Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. The book was dedicated to his friend Gaius Septicius Clarus, a prefect of the Praetorian Guard in 119. The work tells the tale of each Caesar's life according to a set formula: the descriptions of appearance, omens, family history, quotes, and then a history are given in a consistent order. He recorded the earliest accounts of Julius Caesar's epileptic seizures.

Other works

Partly extant

  • De Viris Illustribus ("On Famous Men" — in the field of literature), to which belong:
    • De Illustribus Grammaticis ("Lives of the Grammarians"; 20 brief lives, apparently complete)
    • De Claris Rhetoribus ("Lives of the Rhetoricians"; 5 brief lives out of an original 16 survive)
    • De Poetis ("Lives of the Poets"; the life of Virgil, as well as fragments from the lives of Terence, Horace and Lucan, survive)
    • De Historicis ("Lives of the historians"; a brief life of Pliny the Elder is attributed to this work)
  • Peri ton par' Hellesi paidion ("Greek Games")
  • Peri blasphemion ("Greek Terms of Abuse")

The two last works were written in Greek. They apparently survive in part in the form of extracts in later Greek glossaries.

Lost works

The following list of Suetonius's lost works is from Robert Graves's foreword to his translation of the Twelve Caesars.

  • Royal Biographies
  • Roman Manners and Customs
  • The Roman Year
  • The Roman Festivals
  • Roman Dress
  • Greek Games
  • Offices of State
  • On Cicero’s Republic
  • Physical Defects of Mankind
  • Methods of Reckoning Time
  • An Essay on Nature
  • Greek Objurations
  • Grammatical Problems
  • Critical Signs Used in Books

The introduction to the Loeb edition of Suetonius, translated by J. C. Rolfe, with an introduction by K. R. Bradley, references the Suda with the following titles:

  • On Greek games
  • On Roman spectacles and games
  • On the Roman year
  • On critical signs in books
  • On Cicero's Republic
  • On names and types of clothes
  • On insults
  • On Rome and its customs and manners

The volume adds other titles not testified within the Suda.

  • On kings
  • On the institution of offices
  • On physical defects
  • On weather signs
  • On names of seas and rivers
  • On names of winds

Two other titles may also be collections of some of the aforelisted:

  • Pratum (Miscellany)
  • On various matters

Editions

  • Edwards, Catherine Lives of the Caesars. Oxford World's Classics. (Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Robert Graves (trans.), Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd, 1957)
  • Donna W. Hurley (trans.), Suetonius: The Caesars (Indianapolis/London: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011).
  • J.C. Rolfe (trans.), Lives of the Caesars, Volume I (Loeb Classical Library 31, Harvard University Press, 1997).
  • J.C. Rolfe (trans.), Lives of the Caesars, Volume II (Loeb Classical Library 38, Harvard University Press, 1998).
  • C. Suetonii Tranquilli De vita Caesarum libros VIII et De grammaticis et rhetoribus librum, ed. Robert A. Kaster (Oxford: 2016).

See also

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