Sunday, October 02, 2016

Fortnightly Book, October 2

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was the son of a Roman tribune who served under Otho in his battles against Vitulius; through his friendship with Pliny the Younger, he became a part of the courts of Trajan and Hadrian, and, among other things, was put in charge of the imperial archives. He would later write his most famous work, De vita Caesarum, or The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, covering the Caesars from Julius to Domitian:

Julius Caesar
Augustus Caesar

In several cases, such as the reigns of Caligula and Claudius, he is one of our very sources for the reign at all. While he's not at all hesitant to give us the court gossip, some of it quite racy, he was Hadrian's secretary when he was writing it, about AD 121, and had access to sources that are no longer extant. He is also famous for his care in flagging when there are different accounts or when the common report is difficult to substantiate.

I'll be reading it in the Heritage Press (New York) edition. It has an introduction to Moses Hadas, and is the Philemon Holland translation. (Holland was a contemporary of Shakespeare.) Hadas also modernizes the translation. The illustrations are by Salvatore Fiume; there are twelve monochrome medallion portraits and twelve color reproductions based on paintings. The color illustrations are unusual -- they are, as the Sandglass for the work notes, 'tipped on', which means that they were actually printed on a higher quality paper, which was then glued by hand to the bookpage. The type is 14-point Bembo, and the binding is linen with a lithographed pattern.

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