What Shall We Call the Emperor?:
Naming in Suetonius's Life of C.
Lydia R. Haile
Moses Brown School
Modern scholarship on the third Roman emperor refers to him as either 'Gaius'
or 'Caligula.' This practice removes an important part of the way that
Suetonius structured the Life. Suetonius
carefully uses four episodes of naming to divide the Life into
discrete sections and give strength to the false appearance of chronology. Replacing
the carefully chosen name used in each section with an all-embracing 'Gaius'
or 'Caligula' causes this chronological support to be lost. Unlike
modern authors, Suetonius uses many names for his Caesar. The four
important phases of his life: infancy, childhood, princehood, and emperorhood,
are all marked by the assumption of names.
beginning of the Life, Suetonius calls
Germanicus the father of one C. Caesar. This son, however, may not
even be the titular Caesar; Suetonius discusses a son of Germanicus and Agrippina
whom Augustus and Livia both adored, even though he died young, and whose
name was also Gaius Caesar (Cal. 7). Shortly thereafter, Suetonius uses the long
discussion of the birthplace of the Gaius Caesar who became emperor to point
out how easily the two boys could have been confused, setting up a false
connection between the two of them in the reader's mind.
this, the soldiers give him the famous name of Caligula because he is being
dressed as one of them in miniature (Cal. 9). Suetonius
uses this episode to show how much like the mutinous soldiers this boy is
by pointing out that only he could calm the mutiny. This inauspicious
episode of naming leads into the stories of his stay on Capreae, when even
Tiberius is impressed by his cruelty and debauchery.
he assumes the purple, the people hail him as pupum and alumnum,
among other names (Cal. 13). These
hark back to his childhood, forming a connection between the mild child and
sweet young man. Again in this section, Suetonius tampers with the
chronology, putting the death of Antonia and a callous reaction to it into
the monster section; for a while, the new emperor seems to be benign.
in the monster section are different than those in the other three sections. Whereas
as boy, child, and emperor, he had been given the names, the source of the
names he takes on as he becomes a monster is concealed in an ablative absolute
(Cal. 22). These names are a jangling, confused mix;
he is simultaneously castrorum filius and pater
exercituum (Cal. 22).
These confused names show the confused mess of madness that Suetonius creates;
this section is a fitting repository for the various stories pruned from
the good sections of the Life.
avoids naming the emperor outside of these episodes; all other uses of 'Gaius'
come as he reports the stories, sayings, or motivations of others. The
name that he gives the subject of this life changes based on what part of
the life he is writing, By ignoring this feature of the Life,
modern writers remove part of Suetonius's artistry.