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The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 6, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (May 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140449213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140449211
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Born in 60 A.D., Suetonius served for several years as secretary to the Roman emperor Hadrian. His years in the palaces and halls of imperial government served him well when he set out to write this oftentimes eye-popping, tell-all account of the doings of the first 12 emperors, from Julius to Domitian, who make the good fellas of Mafia renown seem tame by comparison. From Suetonius we learn that Augustus was afraid of lightning and thunder and carried a piece of seal skin as protection against them; that Caligula slept with his mother and his sister; and that Nero outlawed mimes in Rome--which may mean that he wasn't such a bad man after all. Suetonius doesn't hesitate to say when he's reporting gossip that he has not personally verified, but what gossip it is! This translation, by the noted classicist Robert Graves, serves the ancient chronicler very well indeed. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Language Notes

Text: English, Latin (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I would highly recommend this book to anyone, and am glad to see that a high school student has read and taken the time to give a review.
John Ingle
If you enjoyed Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God", the Penguin edition of Suetonius' "The Twelve Caesars" is a must-have in your collection.
Ritesh Laud
It is quite faithful to the generally jovial mood of Suetonius' work and presented with a good introduction by reputed historian Michael Grant.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

140 of 145 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Not much is known about the life of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis. He was probably born in A.D. 69--the famous 'year of four Emperors'--when his father, a Roman knight, served as a colonel in a regular legion and took part in the Battle of Baetricum.

Suetonius became a scribe and noted secretary to the military set, eventually ending up in the service of Hadrian, who was emperor from A.D. 117-138. He was dismissed for 'indiscreet behaviour' with Hadrian's empress, Sabina, but not before doing sufficient research to complete many books of a historical nature. His attempts at philosophy were much less well received, and most of his history has been overlooked by all but classical scholars, but this work, 'The Twelve Caesars' has held the imagination of more than just the scholarly set since it was first written.

Suetonius had the good fortune of speaking to eyewitnesses from the time of the early Caesars. Much of his information about Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in fact comes from those who observed and/or participated in their lives. Suetonius is in many ways more of a reporter than an historian--he would record conflicting statements without worrying about the reconciliation (this set him apart from Tacitus and other classical historians who tried to find a consistency in stories and facts.

Suetonius has been described as the tabloid journalist of ancient Rome, because not only did he not appear to check facts (which in fact is not true--he did check, he just didn't try to smooth over the conflicting facts), but he choose to concentrate on the private lives, motivations and personality quirks of his subjects rather than their grand plans, policies and military/political victories. Thus, many details of the lurid scene appear.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Plato90210 on August 12, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Suetonius provides a cogent illustration of the lives of twelve Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian by painting a vivid picture of the civic activities and licentious personal conduct of these twelve Caesars. An able biographer, Suetonius demonstrates his literary competence by authoring a text that both casual readers will find entertaining or students will find enlightening. If you're reading purely for historical quality, I suggest Livy or Tacitus. For amusing antecdotes that read more like a tabloid, "The Twelve Caesars" is worth checking out. No text better depicts the lunacy and moral incontinence of men such as Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), and Nero. Caligula's declaration of war on Neptune and collection of seashells as bounty, Claudius's edict that flatulence was legally permissible at the supper table after learning that a citizen exploded from "holding it", and Nero's construction of a collapsible boat to kill his mother makes one wonder how Rome survived for another 400 years with men like this in control during the infancy of the empire. A "must read" for students and history buffs of Ancient Rome.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on July 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So little is known today about the Caesars, that Suetonius' tell-all book about the Caesars is an absolute treasure for us to have now. Far from a dry, impartial observer, Suetonius errs on the side of playing the gossip - a choice which gives you even more insight into the culture of the Roman Empire than the text alone.

The book covers each of the twelve Caesars in order and focuses in on their backgroung before becoming Caesar, their route to becoming Caesar, their political/military/infrastructure accomplishments while Caesar, their personal habits, and finally their universally untimely deaths. (These guys all got killed pretty darn quickly by their "friends")

If it sounds like a dry topic, Suetonius over-emphasis on tabloid behaviors of the Caesars keeps it from ever getting close to dull. Highly recommended even for those who don't know the period.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By T. A. Costine on November 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Many people have called this book the original tabloid known to man. That is a good way to describe the way Twelve Caesars. We can't come to this piece of work expecting everything to be accurate and without bias. Many of the things were rumors that had spread concerning various Caesars and may not have been true. However, since it was accepted and not condemned, there is mostly likely a bit of truth to these rumors. They were consistent to the way that people saw them.

There seems to be a bit of a 'good ole days' approach to Julius Caesar and Augustus, but other primary sources back up a lot of what is written about them. Unfortunately, not a lot of primary sources like this exist so we are forced to discern the truth from the twisting or stretching of truth.

The reader may find the way that Seutonius writes difficult to follow. Obviously, it was written in a different time, so the rational historical narrative style that we would write it as today does not apply to Seutonius. Instead, he gives a family background to the various Caesars, followed by how they came to the throne, followed by the good things that they did, proceeded by the bad things they did, and wrapped up with how they died and the bad omens that preceeded their deaths. he does not seem to write chronologically as we would like him to, instead, lumped together things under different categories.

For those that have an interest in the various Caesars, it is a good read. Instead of rereading various sources that rely on Seutonius, we are able to read the primary source. But if you are looking for a 'set in stone', unbiased, straight forward history, you're not really going to get it here. Still a good, entertaining rule. If anything, it allows you to be thankful for the leadership we have today and that men such as Nero and Galba would not be allowed to rule in the US today.
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