Suetonius:The 12 Caesars

With Suetonius, the question has always been whether or not what he says is true.  As an important figure in Hadrian’s rule, he would have had access to the documents which could have told him the truth about his subjects. However, too much of his work seems so utterly scandalous that it is almost unbelievable. Are we supposed to believe that Tiberius had a home where he took young boys to rape them, or is this exaggeration to make a point.  Clearly the emperors were corrupted by their ultimate power, as shown by their extravagance and greed, but surely they weren’t that bad. Peeling away at Suetonius, though, and removing the exaggeration shows us all too human characteristics on such depraved men. Therefore, one presumes that Suetonius’ point is that anyone can be corrupted by such extreme power, and even the best people cannot stand having ultimate control over everything. Suetonius’ writing style is uncomplicated and easy to read, and much of what he says must be true, so it is certainly a useful source. Moreover, it is one of the most interesting historical books, mainly due to its wide selection of salacious gossip.

Best Classical Literature to read

Homer-Iliad, Odyssey
Herodotus-Histories
Plato-Republic
Aristophanes-Wasps, Birds, Clouds
Sophocles-Oedipus the King
Aeschylus-Oresteia
Euripides-Medea
Vergil-Aenied
Ovid-Metamorphoses
Horace-Odes, Epistles
Cicero-Speech against Verres
Suetonius-Twelve Caesars
Plutarch-Lives

I shall be writing on all these over the coming days and weeks. Anyone interested in classical literature should definitely read these.

Vergil’s Aenied

The Aenied is the logical follow on from the Iliad which I have previously looked at.  In it, Vergil copies much from Homer’s style.  Much about the story, also, is the same, and so there are just a few points in want to make about it.  First, the Aenied was written when Augustus had just become the emperor.  Thus there was a lot offer pressure on the poets of the day to glorify him and the empire of Rome. This is why there are so many references to Augustus as the great leader which Rome needs to survive, and a long description of the battle of Actium.  Moreover, the whole story is really about the glorification of Rome, as Aeneas has to overcome so much in order to found the city, which shows that the Romans really are a strong people. Dido, so story is one of the most tragic in all of ancient literature, and so has been preserved into modern times.  It is a story which highlights fate better than all others, as it shows that no matter how much one wants something, they cannot have it unless they are fated to.  Aeneas must found Rome and Rome will be an enemy of Carthage no matter what happens, and so Dido must be an innocent victim of the fate which brought them together.  My final point is about the role of the gods.  In the Aenied, the gods are the ones who make everything happen.  Likewise in the Iliad, where they decided the outcome no matter how well either side fought. What their role is, therefore, seems to be to highlights the helplessness of man, and emphasise the role of fate in our lives.  In Rome,  Vergil was the foremost poet for epic poetry, until Ovid’s Metamorphoses which I am reading at the moment.

Aristophanes

Aristophanes is one of my favourite writers of antiquity.  Through his characteristic satirical methods, he gives a powerful insight into the lives of ordinary Athenians during the Pelopponesian War.  His approach to the leaders of the day, especially Cleon has inspired modern satirists to find ways to mock and make light of our current leaders.  The fact that his plays often wonder prizes at competitions shows that his approach was popular, but, as was shown when he made too much fun at the expense of Cleon, he could make powerful enemies.  It seems, though, on the whole that he was well liked by his peers, as Plato says he was a friend of So crates despite the cruel mockery in The Clouds.  This shows his lighthearted nature was popular in its day.  In this entry,  I will make two key points about Aristophanes. First, he shows us that the sense of humour which is common among most of us today, was also common among the ancient Greeks.  His ludicrous storyline, such as that of The Birds, where two men encourage the birds to create a city in the sky in order to rule over both gods and men, is still funny today, as to some extent are the regular jokes about breaking wind.  My second key point is about his response to war.  Clearly he is very much against the current war and disappointed that the leaders of the day have encouraged it and refused to bring peace back, but it would be wrong to call him a pacifist.  In fact, as he shows in his praise for the veterans of Marathon in The Acharnians,  he does not hate war if the circumstances are correct, and would not give up his current life for peace, but he merely misses his former life of farming in peacetime and wants to return.  In my opinion, he is a must read from the mass of ancient literature, and for anyone who wants to laugh, read one of his comedies, and look forward to my section about tragedy.

Introduction

The aim of this blog is to organise my thoughts on some of the greatest pieces of ancient literature.  Anyone who wants to join me on this process is welcome to,  and comments and opinions will be values.  I intend to look at a number of pieces from ancient Greece and Rome and look at them in context and examine what it is about them which makes them still relevant and interesting today. 

Homer’s Iliad

Homer’s Iliad is the first piece of ancient literature which has survived to this day. As it was originally spoken rather than written down, it has been improved from generation to generation before being committed to paper.  Thus, there is much about it which makes it such an interesting story.  The tale of an ancient war, which involved warriors of epic proportions and battles which we cannot imagine draws us into the plot and moreover makes us want to read on.  One of the most interesting features of it is how it manages to encapsulate so many aspects of life and death within the story.  We can see the best warrior falling out with his arrogant leader,  and the anxiety of wives as they wait to see whether their husbands will return.  There is also great fear for the future on the side of the Trojans.  These are equally transferable to our own lives and situation,  and although the events which are described are unlikely to be replaced in our own lives,  the messages may well be.  In Hector a modern audience sees the perfect hero, willing to die for his country,, while Achilles seems cold and a angry.  To a Greek audience,  however,  this is different,  as Achilles is simply a great warrior which fights for nothing but glory, and the golden age of life was all about that.  Overall, although it is from a time so dissimilar to our own, the Iliad can show us that the people then shared many of their emotions and reactions with those we have today.  This typifies a personal favourite features of ancient literature, as it shows us that we are not so different to those who lived so long ago, and that we have much in common with them.  The Iliad is a fantastic read, however, if only for the wonderful story and magical events