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docoflove1974

BBC News Viewpoint article--Mary Beard: Caligula maybe wasn't so b

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On the BBC News webpage today, on their Magazine section is this interesting tidbit of an article by Mary Beard: "Does Caligula deserve his bad reputation?". The article is in anticipation of her show which airs tonight on BBC 2.

 

For our colleagues who are able to watch it tonight, I'd be curious to hear what she really has to say in the show tonight, if she expounds upon this topic a bit more, or if it's all general fluff like we get here in the US on the History Channel. (I'm really hoping it's not the latter; I do respect her written work.)

 

The article essentially states that Caligula in all probability was not a nice dude--after all, his assassination after only 4 years on the throne would tend to lead one to think that he wasn't exactly benevolent. But her argument is that the historians of his reign did not discuss the atrocities that are attributed to him, nor anything close to it. Essentially, Caligula was demonized by Suetonius and others beyond what he probably did.

 

I've held the belief for some time that both answers are probably true. He probably did some outrageous things, and was probably psychopathic in his actions. These actions were probably the basis for the gross details that come out of the historians that wrote some 50-100 years after his death. But my gut reaction is that it probably isn't all true...could someone really be that demonic and sociopathic, and still be allowed to rule for 4 years?

 

Either way, hopefully the program will play over here in the US, or I can watch it at a later time. But for those in the UK or who have access to BBC 2 tonight, it might be worth a watch.

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Caligula's reputation seems in an upswing over recent years http://www.unrv.com/book-review/caligula-review.php and even on the history channel, as can be seen on their documentary I recently posted under numismatica/Scotland (topic drift alert... grin).

 

I abandoned an audio recording of Suetonius's 12 Caesars because it just rung so false. I mean compared to their refined level of architecture and bust sculpture. I am quite used to associating crass examples of that from crass totalitarians like Stalin, Mussolini, or Mao, and find it hard to believe the most sensationalist mud thrown at the "bad" Caesars who oversee such sublime art and engineering.

Edited by caesar novus

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I agree that Caligula gets a bad press and always had - but regardless of his faults (of which there were plainly many), I do think this is a case of no smoke without fire. He wasn't a particular easy guy to be near, and being an elite Roman in a cultural bear pit, it follows he was willing to do what he thought necessary to survive - and survive luxuriously. Further, he comes across as a young man with a serious black sense of humour and a callous disregard for others. He was also self important - on the one hand he wants the public to worship him as a god, and on the other, he had a foreign dignatary executed because he wore a fine purple cloak at the arena.

 

The idea that Claigula was mad is simply more mud - there's little evidence for mental illness as such - an idea extrapolated from his decisions which sometimes appear strange if the actual reasons are not known. Thus he says to the Senate "My horse could do a better job than yu lot" and so the story of making Incitatus a senator survives. His legions refuse to embark on a british invasion for superstitious reasons, thus Caligula gets his revenge by making his "hard as nails" soldiers collect booty from Neptune instead by picking up seashells on the beaches.

 

I don't think dismissing Suetonius is the answer. What is needed is a bit of insight and interpretation.

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Unlike MB's previous BBC 2 outings, this didn't have any big surprises for me, speaking as someone who's main interest in the Roman period lay in the early principate. However, it was casting a light on something we here seem to broadly agree with, but is a new way of looking at Caligula for the majority.

 

MB is as good as she ever is; the locations are many and varied, and the history well researched and balanced in presentation.

 

That said, we've come to expect this from that team, and I'd love to see them change up a gear and really sock something outstanding to us. I reckon they have the talent, but not the budget.

Edited by GhostOfClayton

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Either that, or they think that most poeple wouldn't be interested...a false idea, to be sure, but who knows.

 

Maybe it will take a monumental new finding--a long-lost manuscript, or the discovery of a building--that changes some element of what we know about the Romans.

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I have great respect for Mary Beard and I appreciate anyone
who challenges long-held, historical dogma. That said

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To eimply say that Caligula lasted four years and other Caesars three or four times that is not necessarily a strong argument, since it depends on circumstance as much as personality. There were some Caesars that didn't last a year and many of those were far less dodgy than Caligula.

 

In the case of Nero you have to allow for his charisma and presence. Caligula just wasn't that affable or engaging as a personality, further hampered by deliberately and persistently mocking Cassius Chaerea, the praetorian prefect and veteran soldier who was among the conspirators. Nero had plots made gainst him but had the good fortune to uncover them,

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