PhD Candidate, School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty/Division: Education and Arts
PhD Thesis Title: Ancestry and Suetonius' De Vita Caesarum
Each Life of Suetonius' De Vita Caesarum is constructed carefully from the very beginning, leading the reader to a preconceived judgment of the Caesar, employing techniques from epideictic rhetoric, including the comparison of the subject with his ancestors. In nine of the twelve Lives, characterisation of the Caesar begins with a detailed family tree of the subject's ancestors. This thesis explores the role of the ancestors in the Lives as status symbols and tools of characterisation. Suetonius surpasses other biographers, such as Tacitus and Plutarch, in the extent and subtlety of his characterisation through lineage. In Suetonius, the character traits of the ancestors foreshadow similarity or emphatic contrast with the character traits of their descendants. This characterisation works because the audience expects the descendant to resemble the ancestor, and this thesis also investigates the role of nature and nurture in inherited character traits in the De Vita Caesarum.
In Chapter One, I explain the role of ancestors as status symbols in Roman society, and situate Suetonius' use of ancestors as status symbols in its social and literary context. In Chapter Two, I identify the parallels between the ancestral traits and the traits of the Caesars, and trace the patterns of inheritance and degeneration that arise from these. I argue that the parallels are sufficiently close that Suetonius can be said to have deliberately selected and shaped these ancestral anecdotes to characterise the Caesars themselves. In Chapter Three, I discuss whether virtues and vices are innate and inherited, the possible mechanisms by which Suetonius' Caesars resemble their ancestors, and the possible reasons the patterns of inheritance in Suetonius are different from those of the Republican and Flavian periods. I conclude that the ancestors are supposed to be read with their descendants in mind, and that Suetonius chose the stories he told about the ancestors with a view to shaping the characterisation of the Caesar. The character traits of the ancestors should be taken into account in future discussions of Suetonius' characterisation.
My presentation at ASCS 31 (2010) can be found published in the Proceedings at http://msc.uwa.edu.au/classics/ascs31/Garrett.pdf
I edited the NewMac 2010 Proceedings, the Humanity Journal, which can be found at http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/hss/research/publications/humanity/2010-humanity-journal.html
I presented the paper 'What's the Use of Family Trees?' at ASCS 32 (2011) in Auckland, New Zealand. The programme can be found at http://www.ascs32.com/default.asp
In 2012 I presented a paper called 'The Trouble with Tiberius' at the ASCS meeting in Melbourne, and the Classical Association Conference in Exeter, UK.