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The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Suetonius , Robert Graves
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Oct 2007 Penguin Classics

An essential primary source on Roman history, Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars is a fascinating achievement of scholarship covering a critical period in the Empire. This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Latin by Robert Graves, author of I, Claudius, revised with an introduction and notes by James B. Rives.

As private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, the scholar Suetonius had access to the imperial archives and used them (along with eyewitness accounts) to produce one of the most colourful biographical works in history. The Twelve Caesars chronicles the public careers and private lives of the men who wielded absolute power over Rome, from the foundation of the empire under Julius Caesar and Augustus, to the decline into depravity and civil war under Nero and the recovery that came with his successors. A masterpiece of observation, anecdote and detailed physical description, The Twelve Caesars presents us with a gallery of vividly drawn - and all too human - individuals.

James B. Rives has sensitively updated Robert Graves's now classic translation, reinstating Latin terms and updating vocabulary while retaining the liveliness of the original. This edition contains a new chronology, further reading, glossaries, maps, notes and an introduction discussing Suetonius' life and works.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in AD69 - the famous 'year of the four Emperors'. From the letters of Suetonius' close friend Pliny the Younger we learn that he practiced briefly at the bar, avoided political life, and became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (AD117-38). Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD140.

If you enjoyed The Twelve Caesars, you might like Tacitus's The Annals of Imperial Rome, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Suetonius, in holding up a mirror to those Caesars of diverting legend, reflects not only them but ourselves: half-tempted creatures, whose great moral task is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within'

Gore Vidal


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Rev. Ed. / edition (25 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455168
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 2.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in AD69 - the famous 'year of the four Emperors'. From the letters of Suetonius' close friend Pliny the Younger we learn that he practiced briefly at the bar, avoided political life, and became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (AD117-38). Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD140.

James Rives teaches in the area of Classical Studies at Stanford University. Professor Rives is currently serving as Review Editor for Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Private Lives of Rome's Good and Bad Rulers 17 Jun 2008
Format:Paperback
The Twelve Caesars was the first ancient book I ever read. Before then I had only known Classical history from the books written by modern day historians. In the intervening years I have read many other primary sources from this period, but Suetonius's work still stands as the richest and most readable look on Rome's Emperors.

Suetonius recounts the successes and failures as well as the private lives of the first twelve rulers of Rome after the fall of the Republic . He begins with Julius Caesar, then discusses Augustus at length before covering Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

What makes the book a joy to read are the inclusion of many fascinating anecdotes - many of them are highly amusing, disgusting, bizarre or funny.
He tells us about Caesar's embarassment about his baldhead, Claudius's mocked fight with a giant whale at the port of Ostia, Augustus's love of having the hairs on his legs flattened by warm walnuts and Caligula's ban on the mention of goats in his presence. These descriptions help bring the old emperors to life - You'll never see them in the same light the next time you see a solemn bust of Galba or Domitian at a museum.

Suetonius has often been considered an unreliable witness by many historians, but Michael Grant discusses the veracity of his work at the beginning of the book, showing us that the old court historian was much more reliable and less biased than many would suppose.

Robert Graves's translation is wonderful. The text is lucid and very readable. Graves would go on to use the information gained from this work to write his seminal novels 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God', which were made into a highly acclaimed series in 1976.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Twelve Caesars 13 April 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alot of the history of Romes Caesars taught today is based on Suetonius' accounts, this book pulls no punches in its storys of 12 men who held absolute power over much of the civilised world. Its telling of Augustus' rule ( in my opinion Romes greatest Caesar) is fascinating, it is of course very pleasing to have a contemporery account of imperial Rome and suetonius gives us a rich source of information, his writings include many anecdotes which are both funny and crude, so its not to everyones taste, however we are hard pressed, i think, to find a better volume on the 12 caesars of Rome. A right riveting read.The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy classic 11 July 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Okay I probably looked a bit odd on the beach reading this amidst a sea of `sleb' biographies, but it turned out to be a real pleasure and nowhere near as tricky as I had imagined. It was both eye opening and shocking in its account of vile brutality, sadism and insanity, but you cannot call yourself even an amateur historian without a passing acquaintance with Seutonius. It's one of the easiest classics you will come across and worth the time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars listen to the audio version instead! 24 July 2013
Format:Paperback
Don't read it, hear it!

Imagine a guy from the ancient world talking in your ear. Well what are you waiting for? You can download the audio of the 12 C's and I promise you; you won't be disappointed.

Reading isn't the same as having the author speak to you and the 12 Caesars is written like a conversation, and the conversational style makes it perfect for a voice actor to read.

The voice actor actually sounds like how you would imagine a Suetonius sounding like. Pompous, easy to pass judgment, with an outrageous Victorian voice.

I read somewhere that the ancients didn't read silently, and that scrolls where meant to be read out loud. Maybe this is why Seutonius wrote the way he did?

Seutonius is meant to be heard and with our technology, we can hear him speak (in English).

Trust me, he is a great eye witness. Suetonius' eyes saw another world and he heard the gossip of the slaves playing dice under the porticos, and he wrote it down. So until they invent a time machine, the audio is almost as good as being there.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes oldies are the best. 26 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback
This book may be 2,000 years old but it's still a good read.

It's surpisingly fresh and great fun.

If you have even a passing interest in Ancient Rome then this is a must read.

Don't be put off just because the book is old. Read it! You won't regret it.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pili canis 17 Dec 2008
By Proops
Format:Paperback
This is great.
Sordid stories about 12 characters who all seem to have their good points, but for whom most are outweighed by the bad. Makes you wonder how the empire ever functioned.
Starts with Julius Caesar and works its way through Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian etc. This isn't a book for prudes.
A simpler read than Tacitus The Annals of Imperial Rome (Classics) and generally a lot more fun.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the geeks 28 July 2010
Format:Paperback
A contemporary account of the lives of 12 of the Caesars from Julius onwards. Spoiled in this Penguin version by a overly academic translation, but anyway not as good as Tacitus or as useful as a good modern history would be.

Suetonius was writing at the time of Emperor Hadrian in around 100 AD and naturally assumes that his readers have a body of background knowledge about the Roman constitution, customs and nomenclature. He rattles through the names of important and relevant contemporary figures - Pompey, Lepidus, and so forth - but then unwittingly confuses the modern reader by referring to several more souls with the same names but without explanation of who they are. It's all rather hard work requiring extensive reliance on the notes at the back and here is where the book fails in its updated `James B Rives' form; the original 1950's Robert Graves translation for Penguin tried to help the reader out by modernising the text and by adding extra words to make the meaning clear. Crucially, Graves was a poet and not a scholar so he was more interested in conveying meaning that in the strict accuracy of his translation. But Rives is a professor of classics in the US and has disastrously but proudly reverted to a strict translation, thereby forcing the reader to rely on the notes at the back. It's a rubbish formula that reduces this to a source textbook instead of a ripping yarn.

Rives has created a grindingly awful reading experience of flicking backwards and forwards between the notes, the text, the glossary and the maps and tables. This was one of the first classical texts printed as a Penguin Classic and frankly it deserves better.
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