UCT Book Award for classics scholar

13 December 2018 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 5 min.
Prof David Wardle, Head of Classics and Acting Dean of Humanities, winner of the 2018 UCT Book Award.
Prof David Wardle, Head of Classics and Acting Dean of Humanities, winner of the 2018 UCT Book Award.

Professor David Wardle’s work Suetonius: Life of Augustus has won the 2018 UCT Book Award, to be presented at today’s graduation ceremony. The book is Wardle’s third volume in Oxford University Press’s prestigious Clarendon Ancient History Series.

Suetonius: Life of Augustus has been described as a “comprehensive, historical, historiographical and literary commentary in English on the biography of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, written in the second century AD”. Suetonius was probably an African biographer. Wardle began working on the book in December 2002, but it became his main research focus from 2006.

The citation notes: “It is the first scholarly commentary to be accessible to readers without any knowledge of Latin or Greek through its use of English lemmata, while the new translation remains faithful to the original Latin.”

The annual UCT Book Award recognises outstanding works penned by UCT staff and is open to published works in any category: Monographs, textbooks, novels, collections and popular writing are eligible. Members of the UCT community can also nominate works they believe bring credit to the university.

Roman imperial history

Wardle is the former director of the School of Languages and Literatures, and currently Acting Dean of Humanities. He joined UCT as a lecturer in 1990 and was appointed professor in Classics and Ancient History in 2006. His academic specialisation is in the field of Roman imperial history and historiography, which he combines with an interest in ancient Roman religion.

He has written many articles and is the author of three other monographs, also commentaries on key texts from the Classical period: Suetonius’ Life of Caligula, Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings Book I and Cicero: On Divination Book I.

The citation explained that C Suetonius Tranquillus was a biographer and scholar who rose from relative obscurity in modern-day Algeria to serve at the head of the Roman civil service. He used his knowledge of the job of an emperor to create an evaluative framework which he used for the first biographies of Rome’s emperors.

Augustus, god emperor

Speaking at his inaugural lecture in 2009, Wardle said that according to Suetonius there were many signs and omens that Augustus was destined for not just great things, but also divinity.

“The ancient manifestations of ‘ruler cult’, reflected in more recent times by Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia and the Kims in North Korea, were overwhelmingly of a religious nature, in other words, its expression in forms of worship given to the gods.”

The Book Award citation notes that Wardle’s commentary examines the complex picture that Suetonius drew, showing how the biographer used official records, contemporary propaganda and the reactions of ordinary people to evaluate Augustus, and assesses the reliability of the account that he generates.

“Augustus completed the overthrow of Rome’s traditional form of government and initiated a form of hereditary monarchy, but, nonetheless, emerged with a reputation as a statesman. Suetonius’ analysis reveals what Romans believed about how an autocrat should exercise power.”

It concludes: “This commentary crucially examines Suetonius’ work not just as a repository of facts, but as a literary artefact carefully constructed by its author.”

Reviewers have lauded the book, describing it as “likely to be the first port of call on the subject for many years to come”, “an invaluable resource”, “absolutely invaluable” and a “work that is remarkable in every respect, which contributes by far the best commentary of the Life of Augustus to this day”.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.


Creative works and book awards

UCT recognises and celebrates major creative works and outstanding books produced by members of staff at the university.

Twin cities connect struggle and liberation sites Associate Professor Svea Josephy received a Creative Works Award for her solo exhibition, Satellite Cities, at today’s graduation. It is one of three such awards. 13 Dec 2018
Symphony of elements wins Creative Works Award Professor Hendrik Hofmeyr, of the South African College of Music, receives a Creative Works Award at today’s graduation for his composition Second Symphony – The Elements. 13 Dec 2018
Creative Works Award for Womb of Fire Dr Sara Matchett’s Creative Works Award winner, Womb of Fire, addresses how centuries of violence in South Africa continue to play out on women’s bodies. 13 Dec 2018
UCT Book Award for classics scholar Professor David Wardle’s work Suetonius: Life of Augustus has won him the 2018 UCT Book Award. 13 Dec 2018

Inspired to achieve

Read about some of our remarkable students who are graduating this season.

Four doctors, two families make it a double It’s not often that two sets of brothers who are close friends graduate from the same two faculties – and each with the title of doctor. 14 Dec 2018
Commitment, passion and dogged determination Due to graduate with a PhD in Medical Biochemistry, Kehilwe Nakedi reflects on her academic journey and the pleasure of seeing things finally fall into place. 12 Dec 2018
UCT remedies a past injustice The story of Raymond Suttner receiving his LLM from UCT almost half a century after withdrawing his thesis from examination has captured imaginations around the country. 11 Dec 2018
Unspeakable tragedy yields master’s degree When Mabuyi Mhlanga’s young daughter died in a car accident two years ago, she channelled her grief into addressing the issue of road safety around schools. 11 Dec 2018
‘I want to reach the places my father did not’ Tafadzwa Mushonga will be the first PhD graduate from the Centre for Environmental Humanities South, forging ahead from where her father left off. 10 Dec 2018
A passion for education From a young age, masterʼs graduand Sonwabo Ngcelwane has seen education as the key to rising above one’s circumstances – no matter how challenging. 10 Dec 2018
Never too late to overcome the odds PhD candidate Witness Kozanayi relied on his determination, the support and sacrifice of others, and a fascination for his homeland to fuel his academic success. 07 Dec 2018
Growing pesticide, lead threat to vultures Vultures play a vital housekeeping role in the wild, but like many African raptors they’re threatened by pesticide and heavy metal poisoning, says PhD candidate Beckie Garbett. 07 Dec 2018

Golden memories

Members of the University of Cape Town’s class of 1968 will reunite to celebrate their Golden Graduation this week. Madi Gray, a veteran of the nine-day Bremner sit-in of 1968, will be among those UCT alumni celebrating this milestone.