Minor Details and Obscured Lives

Historia Augusta, Opellius Macrinus by Julius Capitolinus

 “The lives of this emperors who did not last long, whether tyrants or Caesars, remain in obscurity to start with because there’s little in their private lives worth talking about. They would have never been known if they had not strived for power and we can’t say much about their reign since they didn’t rule long. Still, we will offer what has been uncovered in a range of historical materials. 

These are details worth remembering! There’s no one who hasn’t done one thing or another each day of their life. A biographer’s task is to tell those details worth knowing. Junius Cordus certainly enjoyed published the lives of emperors he saw as somewhat obscure. But he didn’t achieve very much, since he uncovered very little and less worth recalling, confessing himself that he tracked down minor details about Trajan or Pius or Marcus like how often they went outside, how they varied their meals, when they changed their clothes, and when and who they promoted.

He filled his books with gossip by pursuing these questions and writing them up when, really, minor matters like this shouldn’t be recorded or only sparingly if habits can illuminate character. People want to know about character, but only partly so that the rest of the story can be gathered from it.”

Vitae illorum principum seu tyrannorum sive Caesarum qui non diu imperaverunt in obscuro latent, idcirco quod neque de privata eorum vita digna sunt quae dicantur, cum omnino ne scirentur quidem, nisi adspirassent ad imperium, et de imperio, quod non diu tenuerunt, non multa dici possunt. nos tamen ex diversis historicis eruta in lucem proferemus, et ea quidem quae memoratu digna erunt. non enim est quisquam qui in vita non ad diem quodcumque fecerit. sed eius qui vitas aliorum scribere orditur officium est digna cognitione perscribere. et Iunio quidem Cordo studium fuit eorum imperatorum vitas edere quos obscuriores videbat. qui non multum profecit; nam et pauca repperit et indigna memoratu, adserens se minima quaeque persecuturum, quasi vel de Traiano aut Pio aut Marco sciendum sit, quotiens processerit, quando cibos variaverit et quando vestem mutaverit et quos quando promoverit. quae ille omnia exsequendo libros mythistoriis replevit talia scribendo, cum omnino rerum vilium aut nulla scribenda sint aut nimis pauca, si tamen ex his mores possint animadverti, qui re vera sciendi sunt, sed ex parte, ut ex ea cetera colligantur.

Macrinus, Bust, Capitoline Museums

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