The Stock Tyrant and the Roman Emperors: The Influence of the Traditional Portrait of Tyranny on Suetonius' Caesares

Reeves, Harold, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Woodman, Anthony, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia
Hays, Bradford, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Dillery, John, Department of Classics, University of Virginia

This dissertation analyzes the influence of the epideictic rhetoric, and in particular of the traditional portrait of the tyrant drawn from invective, on Suetonius’ Caesares. Using the works of Xenophon, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, it first establishes that both the form of a Suetonian biography and the way in which Suetonius describes the ancestry and early life of each emperor, reflect the rhetorical practices traditionally employed to praise a great man in antiquity. It then demonstrates that for the substance of his portraits Suetonius turned to the stock figure of the tyrant. It traces the development of the traditional portrait of the tyrant in Greek and Roman drama, historiography, oratory, rhetoric, and political philosophy. It then shows that Suetonius portrayed the Caesars as men who not only exhibited the vices traditionally associated with the tyrant but also governed and ruled in ways consistent with the accounts of tyrannical government found in the historians and philosophers and died in the ways tyrants have always died. The Roman biographer far from being the collector of delightful trifles and salacious gossip that many have taken him for, was in fact creating a consistently political portrait of each emperor and of the principate itself.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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