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Caligula: A Study in Roman Imperial Insanity by Ludwig Quidde (1894)

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We can probably fill in the rest of the picture, how the emperor bestowed military rank on administrative officials, quaestors, or major tax farmers, placed old soldiers in important posts in the civilian administration, sent dyed-in-the wool jurists, who had grown up in the Forum, to difficult posts along the frontiers with responsibility for relations with foreign nations, or promoted gout-ridden councilors to the head of his troupe of dancers. Our imagination will not be sufficient to picture just how mad this confusion was – this clash of ability and assignments, this mockery of sound reason, which was finally crowned by the consular horse.

* * *

The emperor believed that above this servile mass of people and estates, wildly muddled and trampled upon, he himself sat enthroned in unapproachable divine majesty, which, in his own eyes, remained fully intact even though he occasionally somersaulted down into the circus. For this is essential to this type of Caesar; he believes in his own right, thinks he has a mission, feels that he has a special relationship to God, considers himself the chosen one, and eventually demands divine worship for himself.

This seems to be the highest pinnacle of Caesarean madness, and yet the ideas of some rulers, who cannot be considered as outright sick, come perilously close to it – Friedrich Wilhelm IV, for example, moved in precisely such a mystical circle of ideas even when he was not yet completely ill. To be sure – and this is, in fact, the ignominious and pathetic foundation of the entire existence of the Caesars – the views of the masses and especially of the ruling classes in nations suffused by real monarchical sentiment often promote these kinds of ideas in dangerous ways. How else would it have been possible to demand deification for Alexander, for Caesar?

In Caligula it was evidently not merely brazen exploitation of popular views or simple political calculation that led him to demand divine veneration; rather, it was utter, naked madness that believes in the divinity of one’s self, or at least immerses itself lovingly in the idea of the same.

We can see this best in the way in which he played, as it were, with this idea. Given the paltry nature of our accounts, this is another instance in which we cannot trace the development in its entirety – the inconspicuous beginnings have not survived clearly. The fact that, as a boy, he was already appointed augur and pontifex maximus may have exerted a certain influence on his ideas. We can undoubtedly assume that he did in fact perform his functions during religious ceremonies, and that it was only natural for him to link fantastic ideas with the exercise of such functions. However, it is far more important and revealing that he loved to appear in the guise of gods and goddesses.

I have already mentioned how a quality of play-acting manifested itself in this: we must imagine how the imperial actor transported himself into the place of the depicted divinities by acting. It is indeed quite remarkable how the boundaries between reality and make-believe become blurred in persons somewhat inclined to a pathological imagination; at first they play with the idea that they have something in common with the character portrayed, in moments of particular ecstasy they feel one with him, and in cases of pronounced mental illness, they end up believing that they are permanently identical with him. When King Ludwig, as Lohengrin, sailed on his artificial lake in a swan-boat, he surely must have had moments when the distinction between make-believe and reality became blurred. Perhaps one might say: this is the illusion – extended to one’s own subject as the result of over-stimulation – that we all come to experience toward the object when artistic stimuli work on our imagination. – And now let us add the appearance before third persons and large crowds, the desire to make an impression on them, and the need to maintain a completely unnatural fiction with stronger and stronger external means! Who has not known individuals who eventually believed that they were the person and had accomplished what they had so long pretended to others and then themselves?

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