Citizens Caesar : the emperors and control in Suetonius' Caesares

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Kim, Raymond John

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This dissertation consists of four chapters in which I consider the question of what the emperors can control, in Suetonius’ Caesares. The first chapter sets up the question of the emperors’ control with an examination of the genealogies with which Suetonius typically begins each Life. Previous interpretations of these sections have tended either to advance or to deny Suetonius’ belief in determinism. I suggest that Suetonius’ approach is more nuanced—the biographer’s Tiberius, for example, may be as arrogant as his Claudian and Livian ancestors, but Domitian is clearly neither his father Vespasian nor his brother Titus—and that Suetonius presents the genealogies in order to separate the emperor from his gens. Suetonius’ purpose in these sections is to demonstrate that the emperor is responsible for his actions regardless of what his family history or ancestry might lead one to expect. In the second chapter, I continue with the question of responsibility, but this time from the perspective of the ‘portraits’ or physical descriptions that Suetonius provides for each emperor. In place of the long-standing interpretation of physiognomy—the belief that certain physical features are signs of specific character traits (e.g., a pale complexion is a sign of effeminacy and cowardice)—I argue that Suetonius’ purpose is to examine the emperor’s behavior in relation to his body. The question, for example, is not what Caligula’s thinning hair as such tells us about the emperor, but rather what Caligula’s management of his hair tells us about him (Caligula makes looking at his hair a capital offense). Caligula cannot, in other words be held responsible for his thinning hair, but how he manages it is up to him. The third chapter considers the emperor’s control or agency from the perspective of Suetonius’ much-neglected divisiones, or leading statements that introduce and guide the rubrics which tend to be thought of as Suetonius’ trademark and which have consequently received much more scholarly attention. I argue that the judgments or opinions these leading statements frequently contain are crucial to understanding the rubrics that follow them and that they are the primary means through which Suetonius demonstrates the emperors’ responsibility for their actions. The final chapter is a demonstration of the ideas laid out in chapter 3. I use the divisiones that introduce the emperors’ deaths to ask how his subjects’ response to his behavior either does or does not condition future events. In the Galba, for instance, Suetonius notes on more than one occasion the elderly emperor’s refusal to pay his soldiers a donative. This obstinacy, Suetonius points out, made it easier for Galba’s successor Otho to achieve his disloyal goal with the help of those same disaffected soldiers. Again, the point is that the payment of the donative was entirely under Galba’s control and that, as Suetonius presents things, the people who kill Galba are the very ones whom he annoys.




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