Tuesday, 10 May 2005

Suetonius on Caligula's Sex Life



Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (b. A.D. 12, d. A.D. 41) became emperor in A.D 37. His was one of the most notorius and yet poorly documented reigns. As a boy he was nicknamed Caligula, which means 'Little Boots', by the men in the army, as he went about dressed in a soldier's uniform with matching miniature boots. He was said to be extremely cruel and his characyer appears to be that of a true psychopath. He had people executed for practicaly next to nothing, confiscated people's wealth for himself, imposed outrageously silly laws, had incestuous relations with his sisters, etc. Whatever nasty thing you can imagine, Caligula probably did it.

Suetonius provides us with plenty of gossip about Caligula, and a very intriguing paragraph on his sex life:

"He had not the slightest regard for chastity, either his own or others', and was accused of homosexual relations, both active and passive, with Marcus Lepidus, also Mnester the comedian, and various foreign hostages; moreover, a young man of a consular family, Valerius Catullus, revealed publicly that he had buggered the Emperor, and quite worn himself out in the process. Besides incest with his sisters, and a notorious passion for the prostitute Pyrallis, he made advances to almost every woman of rank in Rome; after inviting a selection of them to dinner with their husbands he would slowly and carefully examine each in turn while they passed his couch, as a purchaser might assess the value of a slave, and even stretch out his hand and lift up the chin of any woman who kept her eyes modestly cast down. Then, whenever he felt so inclined, he would send for whoever pleased him best and leave the banquet in her company. A little later he would return, showing obvious signs of what he had been about, and openly discuss his bed-fellow in detail, dwelling on her good and bad physical points and commenting on her sexual performance. To some of these unfortunates he issued, and publicly registered, divorces in the names of their absent husbands."

18 comments:

ResoluteReader said...

He also, if I remember correctly, organised palace orgies, where he "sold" wives of the nobility to other men for sex.

On the other hand, quite alot of this stuff may well have been exagerated after his death by people wanting to ingratiate themselves with later emperors.

Also Suetonius' work "Lives of the Twelve Caesers" probably wasn't written until at least 60 years after Caligula's death. Given that tales like these will often grow in the telling, and Suetonius' renowed interest in lewd details of his subjects lives, it's possible that lots of what we think we know about Caligula's sex life is exagerated.

brian said...

Wasn't Caligula the subject (and title) of a 70's Playboy movie?

The movie certainly fits the bill!

brian said...

By the way, well done with your website. Its very interesting so far!

Alterior said...

Thanks Brian! :-))))

By the way, haven't seen the movie but heard about it and yes, it is about the same emperor. Is the movie very 'detailed'? ;-)

ResoluteReader said...

Like Caligula, the stories about this film abound, some true, some not. Anyway, the truth can be found at the Internet Movie DB here

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080491/

Based, apparently on a novel by Gore Vidal.

It also has Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell in it.

lenin said...

Not based on a novel by Gore Vidal, but on a screenplay he wrote. Naturally, and quite rightly, Vidal disowns the whole thing.

If only they would make Myra Breckinridge, and have Salma Hayek play the feisty androgyne, the memory of that egregious 70s movie could be effaced forever...

Light said...

Whenever I read about Caligula, I can't but help picture him as the Viz character "Spoilt Bastard".

What I do find odd is that, by all accounts, the woman he settled on as his wife was a meek, mild, and loving woman. No accounting for taste I suppose...

lenin said...

What, his or hers?

Light said...

A bit of both; he kept threatening to torture her so she'd confess why she loved him.

As to her...God knows. She didn't seem to have much interest in power (though I'm open to correction on that score). From the accounts I've read, she seemed to genuinely love the spoilt little cockwasp.

lenin said...

Love is blind. Although in some cases it is blind, deaf, dumb, paraplegic and brain-dead. Think Chris Evans and Billie Piper.

Light said...

...or (to be characteristically bitter for a moment) me and the former Mrs Light. Wise man say: don't waste 13 years of life with body-dysmorphic, self-harming, bulimic nutjob with psychotic personality disorder.


Seems so obvious when written down...

Peter said...

light, as I recall, Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" described Caesonia as among the most perverted, depraved women in Rome. Not an unimpeachable source, of course, but your description is certainly new to me.

alterior, the film isn't nearly as bad as some claim: it was a bizarre mix of some rather good writing and history with straightforward, graphic pornography. A lot of people could have, ahem, tolerated the latter if the story - and history - hadn't appeared to take such a back seat, and at times been distorted in service of attempts at titillation.

Light said...

Hmmm...I'll have to double check my source now. I seem to recall I got that info from The Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (excellent, if rather whistle-stop), and somewhere else...perhaps Tacitus but I'm buggered if I can recall...

Wasn't Caesonia his first wife? Or perhaps that awesomely hateful brat of his?

Peter said...

Caesonia was the wife he was murdered with and the mother of the "awesomely hateful brat".

Alterior said...

Peter,

I always see Caligula on special offer at HMV (i.e. discounted), usually no more than £4.99...
I am guessing there are many who are not aware of its titillating content. I should imagine there is lots of orgy footage on that. :-)

Panther said...

Actually, the movie was made by Bob Guccione during the heyday of "Penthouse." And it's so bad they should have fumigated every theater it played in.
Apparently, Guccione snookered a lot of reputable actors to appear in it, then inserted unrelated hard-core sex scenes later and such lovely depictions as a person being force-fed wine, then having his distended belly cut open.
The worst part is that it's dull, dull, dull, devoid of anything approaching humor--worse than even most other porn flicks, which don't have its pretensions.

Panther said...

Actually, the movie was made by Bob Guccione during the heyday of "Penthouse." And it's so bad they should have fumigated every theater it played in.
Apparently, Guccione snookered a lot of reputable actors to appear in it, then inserted unrelated hard-core sex scenes later and such lovely depictions as a person being force-fed wine, then having his distended belly cut open.
The worst part is that it's dull, dull, dull, devoid of anything approaching humor--worse than even most other porn flicks, which don't have its pretensions.

Anonymous said...

We are going to have our own "Caligula" in New Milford, CT on Dec. 9th - Cox's house. Everyones invited, especially any fine trim.