Scholia Reviews ns 4 (1995) 16.

Donna W. Hurley, An Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius' Life of C. Caligula. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1993. Pp. xviii + 230. ISBN 1-55540-881-8. US$19.95.

John Jackson
Rhodes University, Grahamstown

The main surprise, as I read H.'s commentary, was to discover that she had not consulted David Wardle's thesis.(1) Wardle's much fuller commentary focuses on literary, historical and historiographical matters, such as the place of the Caligula in Suetonius' series on the Caesars, the structure of this Life, its relationship to a range of other sources on the period, the sources which might have been available to Suetonius, his possible dependence on them and his originality, which according to Wardle is to be found in the choice of biographical form and the application of categories associated with imperial panegyric. Although it is possible that H.'s original text had to be reduced for the purposes of publication, one might still have expected her to treat these kinds of issues more fully than she has: the title is not quite borne out by the text of the commentary.

On some individual points H.'s judgements seem unsatisfactory. For example, what did Caligula mean when he ordered his troops assembled at the English Channel to pick up sea-shells (Cal. 46)? H. thinks the order was to do with pearls (pp. 168-9). Although there is some ingenuity in the explanation, it seems far-fetched and probably relies too much on a connection she sees between Caligula and Julius Caesar (see below). More convincing is the explanation of Balsdon that Caligula wished to insult mutinous soldiers.(2) But that is a difficult problem, which may never be satisfactorily resolved. On another bizarre action - the construction of a bridge of boats in the manner of Xerxes (Hdt. 7.33-37) across the Bay of Baiae - Suetonius, according to H., views the event positively (Cal. 19) and emphasises here Caligula's `ingenuity' (p. 74) rather than his `irresponsible excess' (p. 73), which is reserved for a later chapter (Cal. 32.1). While it may be significant that Suetonius uses the same verb (excogitare `think up', `devise') three times in connection with the same event, there is no reason to suppose that there is anything positive about his view of it: several other uses of this verb by Suetonius refer to obviously reprehensible behaviour (e.g. Tib. 43.1, Ner. 29); also the phrase novum et inauditum `new and unheard of' (used of the Baiae spectaculum `spectacle') can safely be assumed to be pejorative, whether in Suetonius (cf. Cal. 40) or elsewhere (e.g. Cicero Pis. 48, Sest. 30, Caec. 36).(3) Perhaps H. sees the section on apparently commendable actions (Cal. 19)as more self-contained than it really is. Elsewhere, however, she does refer to the inclusion of non- commendable behaviour before the `division' in Cal. 22.1 (Cal. 10.2, see below).

H. emphasises parallels between Caligula and Julius Caesar. On the final chapter she writes (p. 216): `Suetonius makes the comparison between the two Gaius Julius Caesars his emphatic point. The biography that began with Germanicus . . . ends fittingly with Julius Caesar. The early promise had been reduced to a second rate dictatorship.' Although the point may have some validity, H. seems to make too much of it. If anything, the ending of the Caligula is anticlimactic, and Suetonius' equivocal attitude to Julius Caesar tends to reduce a contrast between these two figures. It would be more fruitful to explore parallels with Domitian and particularly Nero: indeed the structure of the Nero, with its morally based `division' (Ner. 19.3), like that in the Caligula, does much to invite such a comparison. (H. hints at parallels between Caligula and Nero, but could have given them more emphasis.)

In general, the lack of reference to Suetonius' other Caesars appears to be a weakness in H.'s book. One might argue that this is not strictly relevant to the title, but an understanding of which rubrics were important to Suetonius does have some bearing on how each Caesar is presented. H. covers Suetonian treatment of saevitia `savagery' (p. 111) and physical appearance (p. 178) fairly well, but her references to public office (p. 62) and education (p. 189) are sketchy. On matters of vocabulary too, H. is not specific enough about Suetonian usage: generalisations such as `Suetonius seems fond of adjectives . . . ' (p. 25) are regrettable. However, her references to the T.L.L. can be informative. Yet it is odd that Howard and Jackson's index does not appear to have been used.(4)

But there are many good features about H.'s book. It is clear that her research into the period has been thorough, and her reconstruction of the events in Caligula's life, neatly summarised in the Introduction (pp. xi-xii), is convincing. Too numerous to discuss in detail are H.'s excellent notes on a variety of subjects: law, politics, the army, social custom and religion. What of issues relating specifically to Caligula? In her commentary (pp. 19-28) on Suetonius' discussion of Caligula's birthplace (Cal. 8), she is not brow- beaten (as some modern scholars are) by Suetonius' display of learning,(5) but points out significant flaws in his argument: Suetonius' discussion of puerperium `childbirth' (Cal. 8.3) is `pedantic' and `does nothing further to refute Pliny's argument' (p. 23); the background to Augustus' letter to Agrippina (Cal. 8.4) (upon which Suetonius bases much of his argument) is far from clear; and Suetonius fails to make the point that the journey made by Gaius from Rome (Cal. 8.5) was his first. Similar criticisms are made by Baldwin,(6) who also points out (p. 160) Suetonius' inconsistency in rejecting some verses because of their anonymity but in using such material elsewhere. (It is a little disappointing that H.'s only reference to Baldwin is found in the bibliography.) A particularly interesting theory offered by H. is that people who had benefited under Caligula claimed after his assassination that he had wanted to kill them: `All Rome wanted to be thought among his enemies once it was safe' (p. xvii). One of H.'s best contributions is on the subject of Caligula's physical and mental health. H. has some fascinating insights, with a conclusion that is sensible and balanced: `There is no need to choose between the schizophrenic and the inexperienced innocent . . . It is possible to provide context and rationale for most of his erratic actions and still leave room for a seriously flawed individual at their center' (p. xiv).

On Suetonius' structure and literary technique in the Caligula, H. makes several useful comments, especially on the rubrics used in this Life, the transitions between them, and the `division' (Cal. 22.1) between the apparently commendable actions of the princeps and his deplorable actions as a monstrum. (Perhaps a schematic outline of the Life should have been included.) Unlike some translators of Suetonius (e.g. Robert Graves in the Penguin translation), she does not ignore quasi before de principe, but notes that this word `implies that the monstrum was always waiting to emerge (Cal. 10.2)' (p. 83). In several places (e.g. pp. 12, 100) H. gives examples of the kinds of problems (mainly inconsistency) that can arise when Suetonius deals with different aspects of the same event under separate rubrics. Stylistic features - often ignored by commentators on Suetonius - are noted by H., e.g. various rhetorical techniques, variatio and the occasional awkwardness of sentence structure. However, she is too often inclined to explain the latter problem as due to compression of material from other writers (e.g. pp. viii, 22), and in so doing she may exaggerate Suetonius' dependence on his sources. H. spots several instances of irony (e.g. pp. 125, 193). It is possible that she uses this term rather indiscriminately, to cover a range of situations from mere hypocrisy to something more complex. But `irony' is an elusive concept, and her observations on the use of this device imply (refreshingly) a greater subtlety in Suetonius' writing than is usually perceived by his critics.

A nit-picking critic might be troubled by the fairly large number of printer's gremlins (more than 20, e.g. `peson' for `person' p. 24, `horde' for `hoard' p. 77), and very occasionally there is some clumsiness of expression (e.g. `Gemellus here between Claudius (above) and Gaius's sisters [Cal. 25.2] . . . shows that Suetonius . . .' [p. 50]). But on the whole H. deserves praise for her lively and succinct style.

In conclusion, H. offers much that is useful to specialists in imperial biography and even more to students of the early principate.


(1) David Wardle, An historical and historiographical commentary on Suetonius' Life of Caligula. D.Phil. thesis (Oxford 1989). This commentary is due to be published by Latomus at the end of 1994.

(2) J.P.V.D. Balsdon, The Emperor Gaius. (Oxford 1934) 92, supported by Wardle ad loc.

(3) Cf. Wardle [1] 38, 200.

(4) A. Howard & C. Jackson, Index verborum C. Suetoni Tranquilli (Cambridge, Mass., 1927).

(5) E.g. A. Wallace-Hadrill, Suetonius (London 1983) 89.

(6) B. Baldwin, Suetonius (Amsterdam 1983) 158-161.