Monday, 30 May 2005

Caligula's Idea of Fun


Bronze bust of Caligula (with a particularly menacing look)

Caligula, born in 12 A.D. and Roman emperor from 37 to 41 A.D., being one of the most twisted, weird and utterly psychotic figures in history, was not really known for his sense of humour, even though he might have thought he was the most humorous guy on earth. Suetonius gives as an example of this 'sense of humour':

"As an example of his sense of humour, he played a prank on Apelles, the tragic actor, by standing beside a staue of Jupiter and asking: 'Which of us two is greater?' When Apelles hesitated momentarily, [Caligula] had him flogged, commenting on the musical quality of his groans for mercy. He never kissed the neck of his wife or mistress without saying: 'And this beautiful throat will be cut whenever I please'."

Such was Caligula's humour. Watching others suffering was fun for him to such an extent that he would order that men were executed in front of him and very close to him, whereby he would observe their torment and death throws closely and even 'try to feel they were dying'. Having such proclivities it was not a suprise that he would enjoy the arena so very much and even have 'special' events staged just to satisfy his particular tastes and of course get rid of anyone who displeased him - and believe me, it was not difficult to displease him.

According to Suetonius he "practised many various arts as well, most enthusiastically too. he made appearances as a Thracian gladiator, as a singer, as a dancer, fought with real weapons and drove chariots in many circuses in a number of places."

11 comments:

Daldianus said...

I'm always wondering how people can be so sick and sadistic!? I feel so disgusted by such behavior because it is so utterly incomprehensible to me.

Interesting historical tidbit nevertheless! :)

Alterior said...

Yes, such behaviour is disgusting and sick. I think it is probably fair to point out that even Claudius, who was his uncle and successor and a much better emperor, enjoyed having his lunch in the arean so he could eat and watch the lunchtime executions at the same time. Yuk!
However, judging from the fact that going to the arena to watch horrific executions and fights to the death, was considered entertainment for Ancient Romans, it seems that the there were many who shared his views. However, having said that there were also many others who did not like what the arena had to offer for entertainment. It was a world in which cruelty to those less fortunate, like slaves, or to criminals, was not considered in any way a bad thing. Slaves and criminals were viewed as less than human...

Daldianus said...

Yes, that were other times then ...

But didn't the fact that a lot of people were sick of this cruel entertainment and decadent society contribute to the boost that early Christianity got in the Roman Empire? Because it promised peace, no/less violence and more equality (for women and slaves)?

Alterior said...

Well, Christianity was popular with the underpriviliged and the tormented, for obvious reasons. However, I ahve to tell you that the arena-style entertainments lasted well into the Christian era of the Roman Empire, (i.e. when Christianity had become the official religion), so I don't see any change in people's attitudes in that respect.
It is also worth mentioning that the early Christians saw nothing wrong with the actual torture of the victims etc in the arena. What the early Christians objected to was the idea of any Christian seeing such events, lest it would lead to damnation. The idea of cruelty as such, was not condemmed as it is today.

Daldianus said...

Ah ok. On the other hand they should have known better since a lot of early Christians themselves got executed in the arenas, when the religion wasn't the official religion yet?

Alterior said...

I guess they should have known better but the concept of empathy doesn't seem to have been strong amongst people who made the decisions.
Also, think of the Holy Inquisition and the people who were burnt at the stake in the name of God. All throughout history, the powerful have used persecution and torment as a means of asserting their power. I have no doubt that many early Christians would have empathised with the victims though.

HCaldwell said...

That's a good way to put. Actually, you can find quite a few examples of cruel executions and tortures (witch burning, dunking trials (drowning), and horse whippings) well into the Protestant Era. The Salem Witch Trials makes excellent reading.

Alterior said...

You remind me of someone I know... :-)

HCaldwell said...

In vita priore ego imperator Romanus fui.

Alterior said...

In your past life you were a Roman emperor you say. Interesting. :-)

Anonymous said...

Of course Gaius Caligula did not look menacing or scary! This is the way Suetonius would like us to believe, but through his coinage and portraits in the round we can see the familiar Julio-Claudian, look at Germanicus' , Nero Julius and Drusus Julius' portraits and you will see an affinity. Caligula would not have wanted to have been portrayed as a maniac!!

Joe Geranio
portraitsofcaligula.com