Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 32.

Brian Jones and Robert Milns, Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors. London: Duckworth, 2002. Pp. viii + 187. ISBN 1-85399-613-0. UKú12.99.

David Wardle
University of Cape Town

There is no-one more qualified to write on Suetonius and the Flavian dynasty than Brian Jones whose scholarly output over some twenty years has focussed on the biographer and the Flavian period.[[1]] For this work he has collaborated with his colleague from the University of Queensland, Robert Milns, who has produced a new translation of the three Flavian Lives which comprise Book 8 of Suetonius' De vita Caesarum.[[2]] This work aims to provide an accurate translation of Suetonius and sufficient commentary using English lemmata to make the Lives accessible to undergraduate students (and other interested readers) reading Suetonius in English.

In a review of Jones' commentary on Suetonius' Vespasian[[3]] I looked forward to a Jones commentary on Suetonius' Titus which would complete a trilogy of the Flavian Lives. This is perhaps a foretaste, but a fuller commentary with Latin lemmata is still a desideratum. Milns writes 'I have tried as far as possible to give what seems to me to be the precise and literal meaning of Suetonius' Latin. This has resulted at times in an English translation which is perhaps not as elegant or as 'racy' as some other modern English translations' (p. vii). The translation is undoubtedly accurate and students will not be misled by anachronistic titles, such as appear in Robert Graves' Penguin translation; often they will get a far better understanding of the flow of the Latin from Milns' version, although Milns often takes a thoroughly defensible decision to break long Suetonian sentences into separate units, e.g. Vesp. 1.1, 19.2, Tit. 10.1, Dom. 1.2. Sometimes the pursuit of the literal leads what seems to me a wrong nuance, e.g. Vesp. 2.1 et aviae memoriam tanto opere dilexit ut sollemnibus ac festis diebus pocillo quoque eius argenteo potare perseveravit' translated as 'he honoured the memory of his grandmother so greatly that on regular religious and festal days he also persisted in drinking from a silver cup of hers'; better than 'persisted' is Rolfe's 'he always drank' or from the notoriously literal Bohn's Classical Library 'constantly drank' (Forrester) or the 17th century Philemon Holland's 'he continued to drink'. Another feature which is mildly jarring is archaism where nothing in Suetonius' vocabulary suggests this is appropriate: e.g. statim rendered by 'straightway' (Vesp. 2.3, 7.1, Tit. 3.1 et passim); quamlibet magnum by 'be it ever so great' (Vesp. 5.6); Vesp. 5.1 in spem imperii venit-Milns' 'formed a hope of the imperial position' reads oddly.

The introduction of ten pages is an abbreviated version of what appears in Jones' Vespasian; it offers summary discussion of Suetonius' career, works, sources, Book 8 as a unit and the individual Flavian Lives (including succinct record of material in Cassius Dio which Suetonius does not include).[[4]] There is no discussion of literary issues or of Suetonius' position within ancient historiography in general or biography in particular. The commentary on Vespasian and Domitian, as one would expect, is largely a boiled-down version of what appears in Jones' two BCP commentaries. About forty per cent of the original commentaries survives, so those who want more detail, reference to wider bibliography and so on, should consult the originals. It is a model of economy and the Latinless reader is given all that he could expect of a work of this scale.[[5]] In the light of these restrictions it might seem mean to complain of work not referred to, but I note here three examples.[[6]]

The book is well produced, although it is annoying to see typographical errors from the earlier manifestations surviving into the new.[[7]]

Jones and Milns provide an excellent tool for undergraduate students studying Flavian history and in conjunction with the splendid commentary on the Flavian Books of Cassius Dio, there is no excuse for students not to consult in an easily accessible form the major primary sources and to benefit from up-to- date, balanced scholarship.[[8]]


[[1]] In addition to many articles he is the author of the following monographs: Domitian and the Senatorial Order: A Prosopographical Study of Domitian's Relationship with the Senate AD 81-96 (Philadelphia 1979); The Emperor Titus (London 1984); The Emperor Domitian (London 1992); Suetonius Domitian (London 1996); Suetonius Vespasian (London 2000).

[[2]] A revival of the collaboration which produced the very useful The Use of Documentary Evidence in the Study of Roman Imperial History (Sydney 1984), invaluable for anyone seeking to impart the skills of an ancient historian to those studying the Flavian and later period.

[[3]] Prudentia 33 (2001) 82-85.

[[4]] For a new defence of the traditional chronology of Suetonius' demise and his African birth, see D. Wardle, Historia 53 (2002) forthcoming. On the crucialdivisio in Titus, see D. Wardle, 'Suetonius: the "Change" in and "Generosity" of Titus', Antichthon 35 (2001) 64-69.

[[5]] Given the small scale of the work, it is somewhat odd to find space devoted to comparisons with Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (e.g., pp. 111, 116).

[[6]] On the Flavian building schemes in Rome, see R. H. Darwall-Smith, Emperors and Architecture: a Study of Flavian Rome (Brussels 1996); on Vespasian's dying words, see T. W. Hillard, 'Vespasian's deathbed attitude to his impending deification' in M. Dillon (ed.), Religion in the Ancient World: New Themes and Approaches (Amsterdam 1996) 193-215; on Domitian's baldness and alleged cruelty to flies, see D. F. R. Page, 'Two things which occupied Domitian' in J. P. Bews et al. (edd.), Celebratio: Thirtieth Anniversary Essays at Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario 1998) 106-15. Further reading for Vespasian is suggested in the review (above [3] 84f). For Titus, C. L. Murison, 'The death of Titus: A Reconsideration' Ancient History Bulletin 9 (1995) 135-42.

[[7]] For example, p. 46 Calig. 39; p. 85 Menanander. New slips easily corrected in subsequent editions: p. 1 Brunt 1990, i.e. Roman Imperial Themes not in bibliography; p. 113 adornements, recogised; p. 116 Dom should be italicised; p. 126 bannng.

[[8]] C. L. Murison, Rebellion and Reconstruction, Galba to Domitian: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Roman History Books 64-67 (Atlanta 1998).