Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - an experiment

I've been very busy this summer (the whole family, really), so I haven't had the chance to contribute to this blog or my other one as much as I'd like to. I've had some ideas come and go, but by the time I've gotten a moment to sit down and plug something in I've lost hold of some of the things I've been keeping in the back of my mind. I don't fret too much about it because I don't want blogging to become a chore, but I would like to contribute a bit more than I have recently.

So, in order to stoke my creative fires a bit, I have come up with a bit of an experiment to give myself some ready-made blog fodder for whenever I get a chance to type something in. I hope this works well, and I hope it's fun. If not, I might abandon the idea, but I'll give it the ol' college try for awhile.

Some time ago I read The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Robert Graves's 1957 translation, revised by Michael Grant in 1979, published by Penguin Books in 1989). I started reading it just to see if it some old biographies written by an ancient Roman could hold my attention, and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. The combination of Suetonius, Graves, and Grant makes for an entertaining and delightful read.

Suetonius was born circa 69 A.D., and one of the high points of his career was his position as chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian. He wrote several works, but the only complete one to have survived is The Twelve Caesars. (This is too bad, really. One of his other works was titled Lives of Famous Whores, and I would have liked to have read that one.)

The Twelve Caesars details the lives of Julius Caesar and the eleven people who succeeded him - Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. You've no doubt heard about most of these historical figures, you probably know quite a bit about some, and you surely wonder who the heck the rest are, but after reading Suetonius I'm sure you would see them as truly human figures and not just marble busts in museums.

The beast, Nero. (Photo courtesy cjh1452000 on Wikipedia)

And here's my idea for an experiment: Suetonius's work as published by Penguin comes to about 300 pages. I plan to use a random number generator to select page numbers and then use each page number as the basis for a blog post. Each post will consist of a reproduction of a paragraph from a particular page along with an observation from me. If I use a different page number for each post and use each page only once, I should get about 300 posts for the effort. Even if I were to do this as often as once a day, I should end up with about a year's worth of posts.

So, here goes. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about some rulers of ancient Rome, and I hope I get as much pleasure out of writing these posts as I got out of reading the book.

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