Professor Carrico, GSI: Jerilyn Sambrooke
30 November 2016
The Circle: Sentence, Paragraph, Biography, Dynasty
In paragraph 6 of “The Life of Caligula” by Suetonius, the figure of an enclosed, circular syntactical structure is made manifest in the epigraph “safe is Rome, safe too our country, for Germanicus is safe” (411). Beginning and ending with the sentence with the word “safe” suggests that the sentence is a closed and bracketed off, independent textual unit in itself. The repetition of “safe,” where the sentence begins where it ends, and ends where it begins reinforces a sense of circularity and enclosedness—that Rome itself is a complete, discrete haven of safety due to its association with Germanicus and safety in a circular chain. The figurings and various re-figurings of the circular structure, that at once signifies beginning and ending, completion and confinement, functions to exemplify the circularity and repetition embedded within the structure of individual lives, biographical writings, and the vicious Caesarian dynasty.
In paragraph 1 of the piece, both the birth and death of Germanicus’ political career is articulated and contained within a single paragraph. The paragraph opens: “Germanicus, father of Gaius Caesar, son of Drusus and the younger Antonia, after being adopted by his paternal uncle Tiberius, held the quaestorship five years before the legal age and passed directly to the consulship” (405). The start of Germanicus’ political career is conveyed in the first sentence, only to meet its end in the fourth sentence where it is reported that he “died of a lingering illness at Antioch, in the thirty-fourth year of his age” (405). Here, the paragraph that contains both the start and demise of Germanicus’ life in close proximity functions to render his life a complete circle with a beginning and an inevitable end, a self-enclosed totality in itself. The figure of the circle serves to gesture at the mortality, and transience of human lives—that human lives are incontestably finite, self-contained, temporalities. The figure of the circular structure also gets expanded to span a whole paragraph.
Next, historical biographies—the literary representation of lives that are already inherently circular, also assume an extended circular structure. If Suetonius’ aim was to write an account of Caligula’s life, then it is also an endeavor to write about births, beginnings, ends, and deaths—which necessarily accords the form of the historical biography the structure of a circular narrative. Because Suetonius resolved to recount the the birth of Caligula “’who was born in the camp and reared ‘mid the arms of his country’” (414), he must also include the death of Caligula: “he lived twenty-nine years and ruled three years, ten months and eight days” (496) for his biography to representationally encircle Caligula’s life in a complete, cohesive account. Even Caligula, the Caesar who led a life of such debauchery and splendid glory and pomp cannot escape the logic of the circle which imposes a beginning and an end. The circular structure of individual life is in confluence with the circular structure of biographies. The figure of the circular structure gets expanded to the length of an entire text, with its circularity and enclosedness delineated over the course of the text.
Moreover, Suetonius also employs the figure of the circle, a figure that at once connotes vicious repetition but also inevitable demise—to argue that Caesarian dynastic rule has been nothing but a circular, static, unproductive, repetition, and that it must meet its ultimate demise. Suetonius informs that after Caligula’s death, “men further observed and commented on the fact that all the Caesars whose forename was Gaius perished by the sword, beginning with the one who was slain in the times of Cinna” (497). By highlighting the fact that all the Gaius Caesars died a common death by sword, Suetonius demonstrates the circularity of the lineage of Gaius Caesars who have continually reproduced the regimes and fates of their fathers and grandfathers before them. However, precisely because Caesarian rule is circular and repetitive, members of the Roman populace “proposed that the memory of the Caesars be done away with and their temples destroyed” (497). Suetonius figures the Caesarian dynasty as a circle in order to suggest that the dynasty will bring about its own end.