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Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classic Biography) Paperback – 26 Oct 2000
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About the Author
C. Suetonius Tranquillus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The underlying Suetonius is of course excellent but Graves does not do it justice, and signally fails to find the right English word for anything even slightly technical.
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.
The book also contains genealogical tables, maps, a discussion on coin portraits, a glossary of unfamiliar Roman terms, a Chronological table of the reigns of the emperors, a Key to place names (ancient and modern), a further reading list, and an index.
This is a must have for anyone interested in the early history of the Roman Empire, or anyone who loves Classical civilisation.
The most outrageous and unsavoury aspects of the emperors' lives seem to have been watered down as being rumours and gossip that are not necessary true.
He does succeed in presenting these twelve emperors in an impartial way. However, the events of each reign are not clearly narrated. I particularly found the events of Julius Caesar's life most difficult to follow, and was most disappointed in the historical view of Claudius (I prefer Robert Graves' view as seen in the I, Claudius TV series).
I am not convinced this book is totally accessable by the general public. I feel that a more detailed summary of Roman history would be useful.
Michael Grant clearly demonstrates that "Overwork combined with fear tends to corrupt, and continual overwork and fear corrupt absolutely - with all the greater rapidity when combined with old age or ill-health."
Also included within the book are genealogical tables, which while they are useful had people mentioned in the text missing. Julia daughter of Augustus had no line linking her to her parents.
It is a good enjoyable easy read, that quotes original documents to give a better view of the characters covered in the book. However, it would have been a better book if more of the Roman historical background was explained.
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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