n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Suetonius, Domitianus 1.1 : Nerva and Domitian

Volume 49, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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The Suetonian locus describing Domitian's sexual encounter, while no longer a puer, with his successor Nerva has long been a subject of contention. Given that the scurrilous locus was written under Hadrian, Nerva's adoptive grandfather, it is unlikely that Domitian's alleged penetration by Nerva was meant to cast the latter figure in a negative light. Rather, the locus reflects badly on Domitian, who is cast as effeminate and unworthy of his position - perhaps more so when Nerva did not exactly enjoy the most virile of reputations. Thus the original story of Nerva's penetration of his now-hated predecessor may have been fabricated for political reasons, especially in order to emphasise the virility of the new emperor at Domitian's expense. That Suetonius chose to replicate this story, even if he could not vouch for its authenticity, was in keeping with contemporary official attitudes to Domitian and his successor.

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