Lives of the Caesars

by Suetonius

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"Make Haste Slowly"

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Context: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Roman biographer and private secretary to Emperor Hadrian, gathered all sorts of inconsequential items, as well as those of historical importance to incorporate into the biographies he wrote. His work was a model for many subsequent biographers. In his Lives of the Caesars, which includes a biography of Caesar Augustus, the historian tells of Rome's leaders. The section about Augustus gets the title of Divus Augustus because later the ruler was deified. It recounts his innovations in warfare, largely a cataloguing of them written without unity. He tried to avoid familiarity by requiring that troops be addressed as "soldiers," never as "Fellow soldiers." He refused to admit freed slaves into the ranks, since being a soldier of Rome was too high an honor for their low estate. He did not especially reward officers who had taken part in his victories, because they themselves could grant such recognition to any one whom they chose. Here is one paragraph of Suetonius's catalog of Augustus Caesar's customs. "Festina lente (Make haste slowly)" was a common Greek and Latin proverb, an expression certainly not originated by Augustus.

He thought nothing more derogatory to the character of an accomplished general than precipitancy and rashness; on which account he had frequently in his mouth those proverbs: "Make haste slowly," and "The cautious captain's better than the bold," and "That is done fast enough which is done well enough."

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