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

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In Caligula, his claims to deification occasionally turned into a mad farce – though that should not make us believe that he intended to mock the cult he had forced upon his subjects in order thereby to heighten the ignominy even more. He made himself the high priest of his own divinity! And he made his horse – his predilection for horses emerges also in other, completely crazy actions – his colleague in this post! (57)

* * *

Caligula’s contemporaries already considered him truly insane (58), and it is hard to understand how a modern historian could still doubt it. After all, the path toward insanity corresponds in his case to what was evidently an original, pathological inclination.

We don’t know much about his physical appearance, but we do know something. When he came to Tiberius at the age of twenty, he was tall; spindly legs, a prominent belly (59), and uncanny facial features – with sunken temples and eyes, and a broad and sinister forehead –were his outstanding physical characteristics (60). He also suffered from epilepsy and terrible insomnia (61).

Dio Cassius has left us a vivid account of his resulting restlessness, of the contradictoriness and unpredictability of his ideas and impressions (62). These are qualities of nervousness. In and of themselves, these qualities need not be pathological; they take on greater meaning only in connection with what else we know. One moment he would seek out a throng of people, another moment, solitude; he would then go on a trip. Once when he returned he was hardly recognizable, as he had grown a beard and had not cut his hair (quite against the custom of the time) (63). He was simultaneously annoyed and pleased with flatterers and those who were outspoken. Sometimes he would listen to the worst sort of things, especially from people of the lower classes; sometimes he would punish trifling matters with death. Nobody knew what to do or say, and if someone pleased him, he had to thank his luck for it, not his cleverness (64). He came up with the most nonsensical ideas, and even if they were relatively harmless, they contained a trace of malice, as for example when he sent an officer who had aroused his displeasure to King Ptolemy in Mauretania with a letter of meaningless content (65).

For the most part, though, his maliciousness, his pleasure in tormenting others, took on much worse forms. This trait, too, is reported to have already been present in his youth. He did not miss a chance to attend tortures and executions (66).

This was combined with a penchant for excesses (67). Terrible stories were told already of his boyhood years (68). Later, when he lived with Tiberius, he would visit the lairs of vice in disguise, indulging equally in sexual excesses and drunkenness (69).

(57) Dio Cassius 59.28.
(58) Tacitus, Ann. 6.45. Suetonius 50 and 51. Seneca, De constantia sapientis 18.1.>
(59) Suetonius 50. Seneca, De const. sap. 18.1.
(60) Suetonius 50.
(61) Suetonius 50.
(62) 59.4.
(63) Suetonius 24.
(64) Dio Cassius 54.4.
(65) Suetonius 55.
(66) Suetonius 11.
(67) Suetonius 36. Dio Cassius 59.3
(68) Suetonius 24.24 – See Dio Cassius 59.10.
(69) Suetonius 11. – See Philo, Legatio ad Gaium.

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