Immagini della pagina
[blocks in formation]

from the extant inscription are noticeable, these have been shown to be rather inconsiderable or else intentional on the part of Suetonius.

This is on the presumption that the passages in question from the Monumentum Ancyranum are not deviations from the original consulted by Suetonius. In any event, it is unlikely that other manuscript editions of Augustus's account of his own achievements were then in existence. It is quite probable, therefore, that Suetonius, while secretary (ab epistulis) to the emperor Hadrian, consulted the original document in the imperial archives, as well as the will and letters of Augustus.

As to the letters of Julius, we know that many of them had been published. These and others may have been preserved

in the imperial archives. It is not unreasonable Letters of Julius

to suppose that Suetonius examined the originals.

The precision of his description of the form of Caesar's letters to the Senate suggests this inference: quas primum videtur ad paginas et formam memorialis libelli convertisse, cum antea consules et duces non nisi transversa charta scriptas mitterent.1

On the whole, however, Suetonius cannot have studied the Palatine archives long and exhaustively; his tenure of the office ab epistulis came too late and lasted too short a time. As for documents accessible to the public, those he had had time to consult before : the acta populi and other records of the times involved in his narratives.

We now come to the question of the date of the publication of the XII Caesars. Spartianus tells us 2 that Suetonius lost

his office at the same time as Septicius Clarus, i.e. Date of the

122 A.D. Joannes Lydus 3 states that the XII XII Caesars

Caesars were dedicated to Septicius Clarus, while he was praetorian prefect. The dedication and several other pages at the beginning of the Life of Julius were lost between

Writing the cou

which is

ners of

[blocks in formation]

1 Julius 56. 6.

2 Hadrian XII. 3. 3 De magistr. reipub. Romanae II. 6; Macé, Essai sur Suétone 200.

MSS., like agens sem

a Pp. 20


e been on the at the m are 5. In ns of en in vhile 3 the will

had 'ved able als.

the sixth century (the time of Joannes Lydus) and the ninth
century (the date of the Codex Memmianus). We must
therefore date the publication 119–122 A.D., but allow some
time for examination of the archives after 119 A.D. Macé 2
for several reasons thinks 121 A.D. the correct date. Probably
the twelve Lives were published, not in installments, but all
at once.

If Tacitus was dead, as he probably was, Suetonius may
have been in general estimation the most eminent author
living in 121 A.D. a kind of lesser Varro. This

year in which he enjoyed at once high official
position and the prestige which must have accompanied the
appearance of the XII Caesars, was followed by his dismissal
from office in the next year.

The story of his dismissal is very briefly told by Spartianus 3
just after the description of Hadrian's Wall in North Britain.
Writing in the time of Diocletian, Spartianus uses

the courtly language of the late third century, from office
which is hardly appropriate to the simple man-
ners of Hadrian's household. He calls Suetonius magister
epistularum, and the household, Domus aulica, and it is pos-
sible that he did not really understand the situation which he
so unsatisfactorily describes. The cause of the dismissal is
not understood; many are included, and there is not reason to
suppose that Suetonius was specially involved. He went out
of office with his protector, Septicius Clarus, and “ multi alii.
Ingenious conjecture as to the reasons is fruitless. Suetonius
was not much of a courtier. He may have displeased the
empress. Probably he did not seriously grieve over the loss of
official position, and devoted the rest of his life to studious
labors, without regret or ambition for material honors. The

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

1 The lost leaves may have amounted to one quaternio. All the known MSS., like the Memmianus, the oldest and best, begin with the words: Annum agens sextum decimum, etc. 2 Pp. 204, 205.

3 Hadrian XI. 3.

great public libraries, especially those founded by Augustus at the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, were probably the chief

scene of his labors afterwards. No doubt he had Studious

frequented them before. He may have spent his retirement

seasons of recreation at the agellus, the attractive little country place described by Pliny, which would be to him what the Sabine farm was to Horace. We have no indication of the date of his death. The number and variety of his works indicate a long life, for we know that he kept them long in hand and was slow to publish ; Suétone fut en effet avant tout un homme d'étude; il ne paraît pas avoir eu d'autre ambition dans un temps les rhéteurs devencient consuls, les grammairiens obtenaient des procuratèles. His motive in accepting office may have been to gain access to the imperial archives. He had intense curiosity, no intense

party zeal or strong prejudices; he does not have Temperament

to protest that he writes sine ira aut studio. We and methods

may discover some jealousy. for the honor of his profession. His native interest in prodigies, his taste for scandalous anecdote are obvious. Was he prone to vacillation ? His conduct in regard to the military tribunate, his timidity and superstition in regard to his case at the bar lend color to this supposition. He may well have kept several works in progress at the same time, turning from one to another as circumstances or his mood prompted. His "drawer catalogue" system of composition would favor such a habit.

But, whatever we may think of his unimpressive character and his plodding methods, we can only be grateful that he

resisted the taste of his contemporaries for “preHis chief

ciosity” and archaism. His choice of a style simple

and clear was commendable in an age of pretentious decadence. He cannot have been a mere pedant. Hadrian would not have given him so important a post of confidence, requiring tact and discretion, loyalty and urbanity. And he 1 Epp. I. 24. 2 Macé, 236.

3 Macé, 240.


was no flattering courtier even to the emperor himself. On peut observer en plus d'un passage l'ironie discrète du critique qui ne s'échauffe pas, mais qui sait sourire. Not long before his own death Pliny described him as probissimum, honestissimum, eruditissimum virum.

[blocks in formation]

The significant point in the history of Latin literature marked by Suetonius is the fact that with him biography steps into the place of history, and the same view of History history predominates in the later writers. The becomes authors of the “ Augustan History” are biog- biographical raphers, following at a greater or lesser distance in the footprints of Suetonius. Yet of biography in a true, high, artistic sense, he has no conception. He never betrays insight into the springs of character, never traces the development of fundamental traits, never apprehends the significance of the ruler's character and aims as an influence upon the world he governs. He is not an artist, but an antiquarian. His method is to form a scheme of topics, as mechanical as the drawers of a modern card catalogue, or set of pigeonholes — the same for each life. Collecting his material with conscientious thoroughness, he proceeds to sort the items and distribute them under the appropriate rubrics. The scheme is about as follows: birth, name and family history - public deeds — private life — death. The scheme is best observed where it is most elaborately carried out in the biography of his favorite emperor, Augustus — where all the parts are fully represented. In other cases there is less completeness and symmetry, for lack of material, or even some variation of arrangement. There is no attempt to cover up the framework, to conceal the scaffolding, to clothe the skeleton with the flesh and blood of a living human figure.

As Suetonius is no portrait painter, so is he also destitute of the spirit of historical criticism. He does not sufficiently dis

1 Macé, 240.

2 Ad Trai. 94.

An investi

criminate between data of great, of less, of no importance. Moreover, he has no care for style in the sense understood by

the ordinary reader; we miss the ornamental gator, not features that we are accustomed to find in most of an artist

the classical authors. His language is plain, concise and businesslike, his periods are simple and clear, without eloquence or beauty. Most characteristic of all is his economy of language, such that it has been generally acknowledged that nullum fere scriptorem tam exiguo libro tantam rerum multitudinem ac tot exquisita veteris historiae et vitae documenta comprehendisse.

He betrays no warmth of emotion, no generous admiration, scorn or pathos; shows no largeness of view; gives little evidence of his own character and feelings; is manifestly a student, an antiquarian, an investigator, with a good deal of pride in the completeness and accuracy of his information, but with a decided weakness for the marvelous and for what we should call gossip, especially if it has a flavor of scandal.

And yet when all has been said, his Lives of the XII Caesars can well stand one of the ultimate tests of good books:

they are essentially and permanently interesting. Value of the

It is not the author's personality or his literary XII Caesars

art that makes them so. They are interesting because they are packed full of vivid details concerning real men. They tell us many things that we like to know about the chief actors on the stage of early imperial history; they take us behind the scenes and introduce us to the actors, giving us a sense of intimacy with them which we never get from witnessing the stately progress of the drama shown us by the writers of formal history. Suetonius's work was a new departure in Roman historical writing. He shifted the emphasis and the central point of view to the personality of the reigning emperor, and as he shifted them they remained.

1 Roth, Suet. praef. xvi.

« IndietroContinua »