The Worst First Citizen
Author ORCID Identifier
Bachelor of Arts
Benjamin Todd Lee
Rebecca A. Frank
Nero, Rome, Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Imperial Rome, Gender, Anal penetration, Oral penetration, Galba, Otho, Domitian, Vitellius, Historiography, Biography, Masculinity, Tropes, Bibliography, Sporus, Pythagoras, Sexuality
In his telling of the Life of Nero, Suetonius crafted an image of an archetypical tyrant that he then used throughout his other Lives. The princeps was Rome's premier citizen--as such, they needed to perform all aspects of citizenship as well as possible, especially in regards to successfully performing masculinity. Therefore, to be a good emperor was to embody male virtue; to be a bad emperor was to be effeminate and lack virtue. Suetonius crafted a rhetorical trope of the unmanly tyrant using his portrayal of Nero. This is seen most clearly in Nero 29, where Nero was sexually passive to a freedman, had public intercourse, and performed oral sex, among other improprieties. This trope was then used in the Lives of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Domitian to cast them as unqualified and tyrannical.
Passannante, Sarah Nicole, "The Worst First Citizen" (2021). Honors Papers. 838.