Suetonius’ reported invective of Nero: context and modern relevance: Part I

Invective is reported as Suetonius, having attended the court of Hadrian, possessed no direct experience of Nero; thus relied on legitimate documents. The Suda illustrated Suetonius as a Roman Grammarian (Professor of Literature); though, there is no evidence that Suetonius retained students; however, it may be supposed that his intended addressees were those undertaking study. Graves maintains The Twelve Caesars, "is a work of scholarly biography and not history at all.”

 

That observation by Graves is precisely why I have always embraced this one, by you-know-who:

 

“There is properly no history, only biography.”

 

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, History, 1841

 

Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars

 

Upon what sources did Suetonius extract: "Nero was now so universally loathed that no abuse could be found bad enough...;” what verification did he hold that Nero was unanimously detested, apart from his being an ostensibly frightful Emperor; indeed, upon what facts...when conveying this assertion of apparent condemnation? For all the lives? With hesitation and cynicism, I measured this question; however, upon closer analysis of the life of Nero, one uncovers Suetonius cited tangible references and records which corroborated his contentions, in an equitable style; for example, Suetonius' refutation of accusations against Nero on the subject of allegations of plagiarism, having referred to poetry both scribed and amended in Nero’s hand; see here a balanced work, with impartiality demonstrated in that he conveyed both virtue and vice throughout all the lives.

 

Wallace-Hadrill depicts Suetonius' text as “businesslike,” and further, affirms Suetonius was innocent of such devices as “grandeur, elaborate artistry and sweeping his reader along...;” an observation which further supports the position of his impartiality; Suetonius sought simply to enlighten. The merits of the legitimacy of biography.

 

Not much is known of his falling from favour with Hadrian; nevertheless, some aspects of Suetonius' life may be derived from supplementary exploration of the life of Hadrian; there exists no reference of Suetonius’ dismissal in his writing: further advancing contention of his impartiality; and little else, apart from an honourific public inscription in Hippo Regius and the Byzantine encyclopaedia, The Suda.

 

Other historical texts are less nonaligned, such as Thucydides text on Pericles' successors; the narrative is an unmistakable instance of encomium for Pericles, whilst employing invective for Kleon, et al.

 

The relevance of Suetonius' work to modern scholars lies in discerning the perspective of biography as an applicable genre; ancient historiography and biography diverge infinitely; Historians, such as Tacitus, are said to have manipulated reality to render the writing and events more extraordinary; furthermore, Cicero recognised rhetoric as incorporating what could or might have happened; and works rendered thusly should be received with scepticism. Suetonius expounded factual information sans predisposition or embellishment; therefore, his work is of considerable worth when seeking certainty or fact.

 

Ancient source texts

 

Graves, R. (trans.) (2007) Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars, revised edn, London, Penguin Books Ltd.

 

Warner, R. (trans) (1972) Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd

 

Modern scholarship

 

Wallace-Hadrill, A.W. (1983), Suetonius, 2nd edn, London: Bristol Classical Press

 

Woodman, A.J. (1988) Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies, London and Sydney: Croom Helm. Portland: Areopagitica Press

Comments

opher goodwin Added Sep 19, 2017 - 8:49am
I like that Emerson quote. All we know of history is what is filtered through the eyes of people. So we have a biased subjective view at best.
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 19, 2017 - 9:34am
And by now you have probably guessed that I am obsessed with Emerson.  Wallace-Hadrill's writing on Suetonius supports your view, Emerson's and mine!
Thomas Napers Added Sep 20, 2017 - 6:07am
Your first paragraph is a mess.  Suetonius, court of Hadrian, Nero, Suda, Graves, The Twelve Caesars; I have no idea who any of these people/things are.  Even your title is confusing for you reference people nobody has likely ever hear of. Certainly there is some literally guideline on how many people to introduce per sentence of writing which you violated in spades. 
 
Also, I don’t know any author who has ever titled something with an ellipsis.  I suppose that’s one way to differentiate yourself, but I think using one at the start defeats the purpose of a title.  Do you actually think anyone will read part II? 
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 20, 2017 - 6:44am
Myriad thanks for your effusive compliments; I am pleased you enjoyed the article, are well-versed in Imperial Rome and that you are eagerly awaiting part deux = )
Autumn Cote Added Sep 20, 2017 - 8:20am
While there is certainly a nicer way to say it, I think Thomas has a point.  They say the average newspaper is written for those at an 11th grade level.  I would argue one needs a PHD in literature to read most of your articles.  Not the article about cats. 
 
I also highly recommend not submitting multi-part articles.  They usually don't do very well, most likely because you dwindle your field of potential readers as many will think reading part I was a prerequisite to reading other parts.  
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 20, 2017 - 8:42am
Hey AC-- my sincere apologies if you deem my writing style elusive; the expression I employ is the same as that demonstrated in the article on my blog, which you originally sought my permission to share.
 
Whilst I take your feedback on board, there is little I can do to alter my turn of phrase or subject matter; I merely address material about which I am knowledgeable and which makes me happy; this mode of expression occurs naturally.
 
The inescapable conclusion is that perhaps my contributions are inappropriate for this forum. And with absolutely no hard feelings, I thank you for both the invitation and opportunity...
 
All the best = )
Autumn Cote Added Sep 20, 2017 - 9:04am
I think you’re coming to the wrong conclusion.  Another conclusion could be to tailor your blog postings, or write about different material, for your Writer Beat audience.  I also didn’t say your writing was elusive, I said/meant you write at a higher level that the average reader can comprehend.  It was meant partially as a compliment. 
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 20, 2017 - 9:10am
Of course; I completely understand, and I was not -- even in the slightest! -- offended or even marginally upset by what you said...
Saint George Added Sep 20, 2017 - 10:50pm
I would aver that there's no such thing as the "average reader" on WB.