Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
The Twelve Caesars Paperback – Illustrated, December 18, 2007
|New from||Used from|
Inspire a love of reading with Prime Book Box for Kids
Discover delightful children's books with Prime Book Box, a subscription that delivers new books every 1, 2, or 3 months — new customers receive 15% off your first box. Learn more.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
About the Author
James Rives teaches in the area of Classical Studies at Stanford University. He is currently serving as Review Editor for Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada.
- Item Weight : 11.3 ounces
- Paperback : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780140455168
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140455168
- Product Dimensions : 5 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Classics; Revised Edition (December 18, 2007)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0140455167
- Best Sellers Rank: #17,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Suetonius possesses a somewhat dubious reputation amongst the historian crowd as being considered the 'sensationalist writer' of antiquity. (It's like being a known writer of the 'National Enquirer' in Ancient Rome.) This causes his work to be regarded with a fair amount of skepticism & because of it the books he wrote that survived aren't taken as seriously as those of his contemporaries' such as Tacitus.
This book probably should be taken more seriously than it is, but there's so much humor injected into 'Caesars' that it's very difficult at times to refrain from laughing out loud at the often-comical events that surrounded many of these men. Suetonius' style is absolutely brimming with his emotion, his wit, his linguistic drolleries. He's freaking hilarious to read, & from what Rives has written in his introduction, Suetonius' work is remarkably accurate to boot. What does that mean? It means that the information contained in 'The Twelve Caesars' isn't a bunch of rigamarole & fabricated exaggerations that didn't really happen, Suetonius probably performed the same amount of research on this work that any other historian living in that age did for theirs. He was from an equestrian family with a credible reputation, & he was well-regarded by his contemporaries, like Pliny the Younger.
'The Twelve Caesars' is composed in a style that I had never encountered prior to reading it, & I am now hopelessly addicted to it in every way. Suetonius really doesn't follow any biographical template or guidelines throughout the course of this book. There's a format, kind of, that he uses but it's very unorthodox in its presentation, which makes it all the more endearing to me. 'The Twelve Caesars' is an informal set of twelve biographies, of varying length & subject matter, on the first twelve emperors of the Roman Empire. It's like Suetonius decided that he wanted to create this magnum opus about the twelve Caesars but he didn't really feel like following the rules that everyone else adhered to when they wrote biographies; he wanted to do it his way. And he did. Sadly, 'The Twelve Caesars' wasn't the only part of Suetonius' life in which he did not follow the rules. He served as 'ab epistulis' (this is the Roman equivalent to an imperial secretary in charge of the emperor's personal correspondences) to the emperor Hadrian until he was alleged to be having an affair with Hadrian's wife, Vibia Sabina. He was dismissed from service for the transgression.
'The Twelve Caesars' starts out with the biography of Julius Caesar & concludes in the reign of Domitian, going right up to 96 A.D. with his assassination. The base text of 'Caesars' in this edition runs in at about 310 pages, trade paperback. One of the many things I find amusing about the book is that there's very little rhyme or reason to the length of each Roman emperor's section, all of which are in chronological order (Rives touches on this in the introduction, his insights are quite engaging if the reader just takes a bit of time to study them). There are many theories as to why this occurs but I think it just comes down to Suetonius' judgment or personal preference. None of the emperors chronicled in 'The Twelve Caesars' were still ruling when 'The Twelve Caesars' was released in 121 A.D. plus Suetonius dedicated the book to a very close friend of his. He probably didn't have to worry about pleasing his editor or being politically correct, his family was powerful enough where he probably had no need to adhere to any guidelines save those which were self-imposed. If he liked a particular emperor or if he thought well of him, he probably made their biography indicative of what he felt on the man, such as he did with Augustus. And if he didn't like the emperor, or if the emperor just wasn't a good guy to begin with, that is also made abundantly clear. Galba's biography is eleven pages long, he reigned for about 6 months; Otho's section nine pages, he reigned for around 3 months. But Titus, who was a legitimate Flavian emperor & in power for two full years, is allotted six pages. Octavian, or Augustus, by whatever name you know him by, has the longest biography at 61 pages, which makes sense as his time in power was the longest, from 27 B.C. - 14 A.D. Nero's section is fairly lengthy, however in his biography Suetonius isn't chronicling the military or diplomatic successes of the Neronian era. If you know about what Nero "accomplished" during the time he was in power, I'm sure you have an idea of what kind of information it contains.
While each of the twelve biographies is intended to chronicle the respective emperor's notable accomplishments during the years they were in power, sometimes Suetonius glosses over certain subjects, people or events closely related to the ruler in question & omits others, entirely. Again, Rives' introduction does a great job of bringing these insights to the reader's attention when they go through the text of 'The Twelve Caesars'. And Suetonius does a great job of making the reader laugh his or her ass off via his witty sarcasm.
If you want to know the details of the First & Second Battles of Cremona, seek them elsewhere, because you won't find them here. But if you want to read a hilarious anecdote about Claudius trying to give a speech on Roman History but he can't quite get the words out, because he's laughing uncontrollably after seeing some fat man break a bench full of people after he tried to sit on it, then you're in the right place. Suetonius has a tendency to abruptly hurl his humor at you like a well-aimed manhole cover after discussing a serious subject for three pages. It's the little anecdotes like the one I just described with Claudius that make history come alive to me, the not-so-impressive events which suddenly make the Romans more to me than merely words, on a page, in a book.
And Suetonius' extremely imperfect writing style only adds to that degree of endearment. His sentences often go on for entire paragraphs, without surcease. He cites a joke people spread about Caesar making his co-consul's decisions for him, then explains the joke when the punchline is pretty easy to spot without an explanation. I didn't mind, it shows that Suetonius cared about the work he did being understood when people read it. He includes odd rhymes or actually documents public 'songs' meant as mockeries intended to make fun of the ruler in question, often inserting them into the text with very little explanation. He has a tendency to give so much information that the reader is bombarded with it, details on Octavian's personal grooming habits, or his favorite expressions (quicker than boiled asparagus). Caligula used to tease Caesonia & (playfully) threaten to torture her to discover why he loved her so passionately. He wasn't actually going to DO it, all sources indicate that Caligula & Caesonia were faithful to each other until their deaths. It was probably just a playful joke the two shared that ended up being documented. When Galba came to Rome from the then-backwater province of Hispania (Spain) because he wanted to just waltz in & become the emperor, he walked into a theater only to be greeted by a mocking song comparing him to some country bumpkin who had just "come down from the farm". If the Romans didn't like you, they let you know about it.
'The Twelve Caesars' is a fairly fast read, at least it was for me, & I am just a layman who looks at the work with a layman's perspective (A layperson is just a regular person without any technical area of expertise in a particular field of study). There are copious supplemental materials in this edition, such as a glossary of relevant Latin/Roman terminology, expanded notes located at the end of the volume, & numerous maps displaying the various areas of the Roman Empire at the time of 'Caesars' complete with the Roman nomenclature of the locations.
When I first started reading 'The Twelve Caesars' or 'De Vita Caesarum' in Latin, I thought it was going to be a fairly onerous task, full of boring historically-significant-but-extremely-dull information about a bunch of dead Roman guys. As you can see, it ended up being quite a bit more than that for me. Suetonius' unique writing style made all of the difference while I read through 'Caesars', that & his inclusion of humorous anecdotes & random occurrences that most people wouldn't even think twice about, let alone commit to paper. I wonder if Suetonius knew that over 2000 years after his death people would be reading his work & still enjoying it. Because if there's one thing about 'The Twelve Caesars' that is abundantly obvious it is that Suetonius wrote it with intention that it was to be enjoyed.
If you are on the fence about Roman History, or curious to see if you'd like the area of subject matter, I most emphatically would recommend 'The Twelve Caesars' to you, in the strongest possible terms. For the price, you can't go wrong with this Penguin Classics edition. It has everything you could possibly need to enrich your experience, no question.
Top reviews from other countries
Many of the offices written about are explained in an index and the provinces and countries of that time are shown on maps.
I found it to be a good, if slightly different type of, read. The order in which each Caesar was in power is correct, but the story of their individual lives isn't strictly chronological as Seutonius moves backward and forward in time as he writes.
The introduction appositely remarks that Suetonius was following, in this work, the classical format of eulogy or biography, rather than history, according to classical forms. As a result, each reign is organised topically, beginning with ancestry, going on to civic achievements, then military campaigns, then the given emperor's vices or crimes, and the manner of his death complete with warnings and omens. This means that a reader completely unacquainted with the period may find the overarching story hard to follow, and it is best to be armed with basic knowledge of it. At the same time, firstly, Suetonius does follow a loose chronological progression within each topic he addresses and within each life, and secondly his writing is really clear and easy to follow. Suetonius as historian was impressive, moreover: in addition to testimonies and oral sources, he examined written sources including letters written by the protagonists, e.g. Augustus, and official Roman records, e.g. the treasury's. This is exceptional, indeed to my knowledge unprecedented, for a classical writer. Though sometimes his sources appear to fail him, this is rare and his account is authoritative. Twelve Caesars, in addition to being easy to read, is an essential source on the early Roman Empire.