Suetonius, Nero


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[Sections 1-10] [Sections 11-20] [Sections 21-30] [Sections 31-40]
[Sections 41-50] [Sections 51-57]


This unit has four main aims:

  1. To extend your ability to read, understand and translate accurately and fluently into idiomatic English a significant Latin historical/biographical work;
  2. To develop an insight into the techniques and attitudes of a major Roman biographer whose works became a model for biography in the Middle Ages;
  3. To provide an understanding of the history and politics of the early Roman imperial period, one of the most important and tumultuous periods in ancient history;
  4. To identify key elements of Silver Age Latin grammar and syntax, comparing and contrasting them with orthodox Classical usage.


We assume for the purposes of this programme that you have access to B. H. Warmington's annotated edition of Nero (Bristol Classical Press, 1977).

It is important that you do everything you can through your own efforts with a particular portion of the text before reading the relevant notes and translation: try it as a piece of unseen translation, write up unknown vocabulary (there is no shortage of unusual words in Suetonius), study Warmington's commentary. What follows is not intended to provide a solution to problems of which you are as yet unaware and which you yourself have not yet tackled, but rather to guide, confirm, correct and supplement your own enterprise.

We shall study the whole of the text in the original Latin. As Warmington makes almost no reference to grammar, the following commentary will contain many notes on grammar to help your understanding of the text. A minority of these, which appear in red, are significant enough to be regarded as fair game for an examination question.

You will find it helpful to begin by reading:

  1. Warmington's introduction, pp. 2-10;
  2. the article on Suetonius in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford, 3rd edition, 1996, henceforth referred to as OCD), pp. 1451-1452;
  3. the article on Nero, OCD pp. 1037-1038;
  4. the article on Roman biography, OCD 242-243.
In the notes below reference will be made to the following by the abbreviations given in brackets:

Barrett, D. S., Greek and Roman Coins in the University of Queensland (Department of Classics and Ancient History, UQ, 2nd revised edition, 1982) (GRC)
Bradley, K. R., Suetonius' Life of Nero: An Historical Commentary (Collection Latomus Volume 157, Brussels, 1978 (Bradley)*
Fowler, H. W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press, London, 1937) (MEU)
Gildersleeve, B. L. & Lodge, G., Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar (Macmillan, London, 3rd edition, 1943) (GL)
Kennedy, B.H., rev. Mountford, J. The Revised Latin Primer (Longmans Green, London, 1958) (KMP)
Mountford, J. F., ed., 'Bradley's Arnold' Latin Prose Composition (Longmans Green, London, 1938) (MBA)
Hornblower, Simon & Spaworth, Anthony, eds, The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford University Press, London, 3rd edition, 1996) (OCD)
Ramsay, William, rev. Lanciani, Rodolfo, A Manual of Roman Antiquities (Griffin, London, 18th edition, 1894) (R-L)
Stevenson, Seth W., A Dictionary of Roman Coins (Seaby, London, 1964) (Stevenson)
Woodcock, E. C., A New Latin Syntax (Methuen, London, 1959) (Woodcock)

* Bradley's detailed and excellent historical commentary was completed in 1975 but not published until 1978. Warmington's annotated edition was published in 1977. As a result, Warmington has no reference to Bradley, which is extremely regrettable. (Bradley makes no reference to Warmington either.) The commentary, therefore, is forced to refer to Bradley constantly, usually by including excerpts as required. These are often abridged and sometimes slightly adapted. In a very small number of instances, where Bradley presents an unusually lengthy discussion of an important matter, you are asked to consult the work yourself, or your notes supply a summary. Bradley's own references are usually omitted. These too you can follow up for yourself if necessary. Certainly, Bradley's exhaustive comparisons of sources and chronological discussions are not essential for undergraduate purposes. The same may be said of the numerous cases where he introduces other scholars' theories or interpretations only to reject them. But much of importance remains which is included in the commentary.

Copyright: Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Queensland
Subject Development: Mr D S Barrett, MA
Web Development: Mr Gayle Paltridge, BA

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Last revised: December 11, 2000