Interesting Lies Triumph Over The Boring Facts

I wrote this elsewhere but I feel like posting it here for the record. It’s good info and I thought I should blog it.

Suetonius – The Lives of The 12 Caesars is the equivalent of the National Enquirer (The Sun for you Brits)
Tacitus – The Annals is the equivalent of The Wall Street Journal (The Guardian for you Brits)

Unfortunately most everything known by the layman on the street about Rome (popularized by the classic literature & theater, then movies and TV) comes from the horrendous libel of Suetonius. Tacitus is too boring for the masses (and quite unfortunately, the great minds who wrote the aforementioned literary classics…)

The conclusion: People love scandal and drama and they will take the lies if the truth is too boring (for the lack of a better word…)

Caligula had commissioned the biggest ships of the world which were colossal marvels of engineering. Their like was not seen again until the middle ages. They had separate hot and cold water piping, advanced pumping systems, even ball bearings. The advanced plumbing technology was lost after the fall of Rome and not discovered again until the middle ages. Not to mention the two huge aqueducts he had built.

But when you utter his name the first thing coming to people’s mind is the outrageous sex scandals (bulk of which were fabricated by Suetonius and Cassius Dio, who are discredited by the modern scholars like Professor John Pollini, a leading expert of ancient Mediterranean/Roman history)

The same for Nero, the same for Augustus. Augustus was deified and hero-worshipped by those scandal mongering chroniclers but he had quite a few flaws and wrongdoings. Nero never burned Rome, the man wasn’t even Rome when it burned. Neither did he fiddle watching it, fiddles didn’t even exist back then. He composed a lament with lyre, after returning to Rome and seeing the devastation there, which was twisted around as ‘Nero burned Rome and fiddled while he watched it’ and it’s now cemented solid in the collective hive memory.

It’s all good to put the scandal and drama in fiction but it’s mighty wrong when this is done to history and it becomes famous enough to replace the facts.

6 thoughts on “Interesting Lies Triumph Over The Boring Facts

  1. On the other hand, Suetonius did have access to palace archives and personal letters not read by other historians. Nor was Tacitus silent about sex scandals: see his rather harrowing descriptions of Nero’s “weddings.”
    And for a real puzzle, check out “The Secret History” by Procopius. My first reaction to that was, “Oh, this just can’t be true!” But then why did he write it? Was he suicidal? Or just the world’s biggest ingrate (Emperor Justinian, the target of much of his abuse, had treated him rather well.) Procopius makes Suetonius look like the Wall Street Journal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tacitus was a level headed guy tho, it shows in his writing. Tho he was pro-republic and not too fond of emperors, he sounds far more objective. I’m currently reading the Secret History and yes Procopios puts Suetonius to shame about the bullshit gossip mongering… Oh dear, it’s a hilarious read. Especially the part about Justinian’s head disappearing and all!


  2. Leona — fascinating post! I read Seutonius and Tacitus in college, and what I remember most is just how incredible of a writer Tacitus was (even in translation). I felt that he established an air of ‘authority’ and ‘reliability’ simply by the stately insightfulness of his prose.

    I’m also writing to drop you a line that I’ve started a blog of my own:

    You might remember me from Scott Bakker’s blog, where I’ve occasionally guest-posted and where you read a draft of some of my fantasy fiction. You asked me to let you know when I got a blog of my own going. It’s new, and will be a slow-burning affair for some time, I’m sure; but I wanted to let you know about it while I was thinking of it.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh hey! Wow, I’m happy you remembered me. I still remember the vivid details of the Szard and the mysterious necklace (I have the memory of a goldfish) I followed your new blog, I’ll be reading and commenting. (I wish my drafts were like that… but alas, I’m not a native English speaker so it’s 3 times the work for me to get them in good enough shape to show anyone)

      Tacitus is my favorite, he’s level headed and professional (even though he’s pro-republic and not so fond of the emperors), Seutonius reads like the the Turkish aunties gossiping about the neighbors they hate. If you are recruiting beta readers, count me in! Even though I have a busy schedule, I’d be more than happy to read that intriguing story of yours . Thank you for stopping by, it’s nice to be remembered 🙂


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