Suetonius wrote the Twelve Caesars, perhaps the most easily read classical history (of an admittedly small number) I’ve ever read. It’s a little bit gossipy but a nice read and unlike the splendid if lengthy Thucydides he never has a sentence that lasts 8 lines of text.
It does, however, serve as an example of a problem classical history has regarding young people and those of a slightly sensitive disposition. It strolls merrily along recounting early imperial history, and out of nowhere rather despicable acts are reported. I’m not going to dwell on the worst of them, suffice to say that people easily upset will be upset, and I was surprised to be quite so affected by one of the reported actions of Tiberius.
I’m not for one moment suggesting revisionism should take place (I despise the attempt to inflict modern ethics or social norms upon books of their time, such as Mark Twain’s books). Abridged versions are a possibility, though I rather dislike those as well.
There’s plenty of swearing and violence and sex in modern literature (such as the excellent First Law Trilogy I reviewed recently, which also has some torture) but it’s rarer to have explicit references to the kind of inhuman depravity a number of Roman Emperors got up to.
Should an age limitation be set on certain books, whether recommended or binding? It’s rather hard to say. I like classical history, but have difficulty reconciling the availability (indeed, the literally free availability via Kindle and other eReaders of some electronic versions) of books with the fact that many of them contain pretty horrific episodes in human history.
Now I come to think of it, are booksellers permitted to refuse to sell a book to someone based on age alone? Should they be?
I imagine they would if a kid wanted to buy a modern book of a blatantly sexual nature, but what if they wanted to buy classical history covering the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula?
An age classification system would perhaps work, yet it just feels wrong, somehow.