Making Sense of Suetonius in Twelfth Century England

Making Sense of Suetonius in Twelfth Century England

Robert Kaster

In the framework of the Working Group "The Learned Practices of Canonical Texts," in his project Robert Kaster considered the approaches that two readers of the twelfth century took to the Lives of the Caesars (De vita Caesarum) by the Roman author Suetonius (ca. 69-130 CE). Like many other works of literature and history transmitted from ancient times, the Lives must frequently have been quite bewildering to the men who copied and read it; in the case of the Lives, the bewilderment would have had two main causes, one of them attributable to the nature of this particular text, the other characteristic of all Latin texts transmitted from antiquity. On the one hand, its biographies of the first twelve Roman autocrats—from Julius Caesar in the middle of the 1st century BCE to Domitian at the end of the 1st century CE—assume that the reader has at least a passing acquaintance with people, events, practices, and institutions that were unknown and, frequently, unknowable in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the text of the Lives that reached the Middle Ages was corrupt in hundreds of places, and literally unintelligible in most of those hundreds. In this essay Robert Kaster examined the very different courses that a "good reader" and a "wicked reader" took in grappling with these difficulties.

Publications

Robert A. Kaster, Guardians of Language: The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), Chapter 5, pp. 169-97.