Suetonius, Caius Suetonius Tranquillus

, an ancient historian and biographer, was born at Rome about the beginning of the reign of Vespasian, perhaps in the year 70, as may be collected from his own words in the life of Nero. His father Suetonius Lenis was tribune of a legion, in the service of the emperor Otho, against Vitellius. He passed his first years probably at Romej and when grown up, applied himself to the bar. He appears to have very early acquired the friendship of the younger | Pliny, who procured for him the office of tribune and aiteru lkl.N, upon his resignation, transferred it to his kinsman, at Sdetonius’s request. He ohtained also In* him th “Jus trimn liberon.m;” a favour seldom granted, and which Pliny could not have obtained, if, besides hU great interest at court, he had not very earnestly solicited the emperor Trajan, in a letter written from Bnhynia, of which he was at that time governor. In this letter he describes Suetonius as a man of gr<at integrity, honour, a. d learning, whose manners and studies were the same with his own; and he adds, “the better I have known him, the more I have loved him. He has been rather unhappy in his marriage; and the privileges of those who have three children are upon several accounts necessary. He begs through me, therefore, that your bounty will supply what his ill fortune has denied him. I know, sir, the high value of the favour I ask but I am asking a sovereign whose indulgence to all my wishes I have long experienced. How desirous I am to obtain it, you will easily conclude, from my applying to you at this distance; which I should not have done, if it had been a mutter of indifference to me.” Suetonius advanced himself to be afterwards secretary to the emperor Adrian; but he lost that place, for not paying a due respect to the empress. Spartian, speaking of him and others involved in the same blame, uses the words “quod apud Sabinam uxorem, injussu ejus, familiarius se tune egerant, quam reverentia domus aulicae postulabat.” On the nature of this disrespect, or “too great familiarity,” critics are not agreed. Their offence probably rose only from the capricious temper of the emperor, who, we are told, treated her with great contempt himself for some reason, and permitted others also to do so under certain limitations; which limitations Suetonius and others might ignorantly transgress.

We know nothing more of Suetonius, nor of the time of his death. He wrote many books, none of which are come down to us, except his Lives of the first twelve emperors, and part of his treatise concerning the illustrious grammarians and rhetoricians; for he applied himself much to the study of grammar and rhetoric, and many are of opinion that he was a teacher. Suidas ascribes to him several works of the grammatical kind; and observes, that he wrote a book respecting the Grecian games, two upon the shows of the Romans, two upon the laws and customs of | Home, one upon the life of Cicero, or upon his books “De Republica,” and “A catalogue of the illustrious men of Rome.” Many other pieces of his are cited by various authors; and the lives of Terence, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, and Lucan, have usually gone under his name, and been printed at the end of his works, though it is not absolutely certain that they are his. His *' History of the Emperors“is a work of great value, as illustrative of the manners of the times, and the particular character of these sovereigns, but is not written strictly either in the historical or biographical form. It consists of a continued series of curious facts, related succinctly, without digressions or reflections. There is in it a character of sincerity, which shews very plainly, that the author feared and hoped for nothing, and that his pen was not directed by hatred or flattery.* Suetonius, says Politian,” has given us evident proofs of his diligence, veracity, and freedom. There is no room for any suspicion of partiality in his books; nothing is advanced out of favour, or suppressed out of fear: the facts themselves have engrossed his whole attention, and he has consulted truth in the first place.“Politian is also of opinion, that he forbore writing the lives of Nerva, Trajan, and Adrian, the emperors of his time, because he would not be tempted to disregard the love of truth. Some have blamed him for his descriptions of the horrid debaucheries of Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, which Erasmus is willing to excuse on the score of his care and fidelity as an historian; but certainly such descriptions can* not be defended, because they cannot be necessary even to fidelity itself. A good English translation was published in 1796 by Dr. Alexander Thomson, in which he softened or suppressed Suetonius’s indelicacies, without any injury to the general effect of the narrative. Suetonius speaks disrespectfully of the Christians, calling them” genus hominum superstitionis novae & maleficae, a sort of people of a new and mischievous superstition:" but Lardner has selected from him some important corroborations of the facts of gospel history.

Suetonius was first printed at Rome in 1470, fol. and was often reprinted in that century, with and without dates; since when, the best editions are those of Stephanus, 1543, 8vo “Cum notis & numismatibus a Carolo Patin,Basil, 1675, 4to “Cum notis integris Isaaci Casauboni, Lævini Torrentii, Joannis Georgii Grævii, & selectis | aliorum,” Hagae Comit. 1691, 4to. “Cum notis variorum & Pitisci,L. Bat. 1692, 2 torn. 8vo. And, “Cum notis suctioribus Pitisci,” Leovard. 1714. This last is by far the best; but there is another printed at the Hague in 1727, 4to; “In usum Delpbini,Paris, 1684, 2 torn. 4to *< Cum notis Burmanni,“1736, in 2 vols. 4to” Ernesti,“Leipsic, 1748 75, 8vo.” Oudendorp,“Leyden, 1751, 2 vols. 8vo; and” Wolfius," Leipsic, 1802, 4 vols. 8vo.1


Gen. Dict.—Plinii Epist.—Vosiius de Hist. Lat.—Saxii Onomast.