The Historie of Twelve Caesars. ..and newly translated into English..

London, M. Lownes, 1606


FIRST EDITION thus. 4to, pp. [xxxii], 272, 39, [i]. [[fleuron]⁴ [superscript pi]1, A-B⁶ B-Z⁶ 2A⁴, ²C⁸ ²A-B⁶. First and final blank. “Snowdon printed the preliminaries and annotations; Lownes the rest (STC and addendum). The annotations have separate register and pagination, with caption title ‘Annotations vpon C. Iulius Cæsar Dictator’ In this setting of the title page, line 10 begins ‘Togeather’”.ESTC. Woodcut printers device on title, woodcut initials and head and tail-pieces, elaborate woodcut chapter headpieces incorporating medallion portraits, bookplate of Robert S. Pirie on pastedown. Very light age yellowing, a few corners turned in, tiny tear in outer blank margin of t-p.. A fine copy in contemporary limp vellum, slightly defective at foot of spine.

First edition in English of Suetonius’ dramatic biographies of the Caesars, the important Philemon Holland translation. An excellent copy in contemporary vellum binding. Thomas Fuller, writing in the mid-17th century, included Holland among his Worthies of England, terming him “the translator general in his age, so that those books alone of his turning into English will make a country gentleman a competent library for historians”. Holland’s translation style was free and colloquial, sometimes employing relatively obscure dialect and archaic vocabulary, and often expanding on his source text in the interests of clarity. He justified this approach in prefaces to his translations of Livy and Pliny, saying that he had opted for “a meane and popular stile”, and for “that Dialect or Idiome which [is] familiar to the basest clowne”, while elaborating on the original in order to avoid being “obscure and darke”. “while the plague raged at Coventry in 1605-06, Holland translated Suetonius’ Historie of Twelve Caesars” (DNB). “When Philemon Holland published his translation of Suetonius’s Lives of the Twelve Caesars, he made it clear that the original text required additional information. Evidently believing Suetonius to have been insufficiently informative, he saw fit to elaborate upon the enmity between Caesar and Cato, explaining in the accompanying annotations the history of Caesar’s invective against Cato and Cicero by drawing on the Anticatones and other works.” Rebecca Herissone, ‘Concepts of Creativity in Seventeenth-century England.’

One of the few surviving works of Suetonius, the ‘XII Caesars’ contains the biographies of the twelve Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Each biography begins with the ancestry of the emperor portrayed, followed by his early life, political career, physical appearance and private life, a pattern that influenced mediaeval biographers. As Suetonius was secretary at the imperial palace under Trajan, he was able to consult the imperial archives, although he often followed second-hand sources that make his narrative rich in anecdotes and rather gossipy. “There is an account of Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon, and a detailed narrative of his assassination; mention of his dark piercing eyes and his attempts to conceal his baldness. Augustus is said to have been short but well-proportioned, with and aquiline nose and eye-brows that met, careless in dress, frugal, and sparing in diet … There is a vivid picture of the grotesque appearance of Caligula, of his waywardness and insane cruelties; of the awkward walk, loud guffaw, and stammer of Claudius … The life of Nero reveals much about his stage displays and his passion for horses … and that of Domitian records his restoration of the libraries which had been burnt down and his efforts to collect manuscripts.” Oxford Companion to Classical Literature.

ESTC S126802. STC 23423, with Holland’s name on the title page. Lowndes 2544.

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