Text and Context: Suetonius and Imperial Power (CLA2408)

15 credits

Suetonius’ sensational and scandalous biographies of the Roman emperors have been more influential than any other single classical source in shaping modern ideas about imperial Rome as an orgy of sex, violence, luxury and corruption of power, directly influencing works such as Robert Graves I Claudius and the recent TV series Rome. This text also provides important source material for a crucial period in Rome’s history, and is widely cited in modern scholarship as evidence for the first century of imperial rule, as well as for many aspects of Roman culture. This module will study Suetonius Lives of the Caesars in detail, examining how the author uses the ancient genre of biography to explore the question of what it means to be a Roman Emperor, and how this changes from the 1st century BC and the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, through the rule of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors to his own day. Through close analysis of passages from the set text we will explore how the author uses standard and recurrent motifs and themes such as building programmes, family relationships, death scenes, military campaigns, and sexual behaviour to characterise emperors as good or bad rulers, and investigate how he writes about the private lives of public figures as a way of thinking about the nature of power itself.