Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Truth About Caligula

I am writing this post after a random reader review I have received on Amazon and Goodreads.

The review says:
Back in college, a professor of mine offered us the theory that the stories of Nero's reign were outrageous pieces of propaganda design to destroy the love the people had for him. "An Unexpected Vacation" seems to begin from this theory with the emperor Caligula. This book is to be continued, and we'll see if the author intends to pursue this thinking further. But what she has now is hot, fiery Ancient Roman fantasy that will set any mild-mannered woman on fire (and those who are a bit ruder will be satisfied as well).
 This is actually true about both Nero and Caligula. I'm a history nerd (I hope I am not ruining my erotica author image by stating this fact!) and I'm quite particular about my research. The snarky, sexy, bad boy Caligula character I am writing is actually the most historically accurate Caligula you can get in the erotica market.

Most of Caligula's horrendous reputation comes from two chroniclers: Suetonius and Cassius Dio. Suetonius was born twenty eight years after Caligula's death and his main work titled The Lives of the Twelve Caesars reads like a scandalous tabloid collection. He has written terrible things about every emperor, but the stuff about Caligula ended up being the most famous. He wrote far worse things about Caligula's predecessor Tiberius but no one talks about Tiberius, no one made movies about Tiberius and most certainly no one writes erotica about Tiberius. Perhaps that is because Caligula was a smoking hot young stud and Tiberius was a hideous old man.

The other notorious things known in the pop culture about Caligula come from Cassius Dio, who was born a whopping hundred and fourteen years after Caligula's death. None of these guys who wrote the terrible, bone chilling things about Caligula had ever seen him. Caligula's contemporaries, the famous stoic philosopher Seneca included, don't mention incest relationships or sex scandals about Caligula. Well, the man was fond of sex, but it was just normal polyamory stuff, nothing gross or shocking (unless you find polyamory between consenting adults gross... I certainly don't!)

Modern scholars totally discredit those scandalous accusations. None of the modern historians take Suetonius serious. I have consulted with several people with master's and Ph.d on ancient history, including one with a degree on ancient Rome's sex life. There was no solid evidence to prove any of the notorious accusations about Caligula, including the (in)famous floating bridge he had built by having hundreds of ships tied together. Archaeologists found no evidence of that.

He did have two luxurious pleasure barges, which have been dug up from the bottom of Lake Nemi, but then again that was normal for the kings and the emperors of old. Modern day billionaires have gigantic luxury yachts and private jets. Nothing to criticize about having a pleasure barge. If you were the emperor or empress of Rome you wouldn't sail around in a fishing boat, would you?

There is this famous legend about Caligula being all crazy and making his horse a consul. The truth behind that is also different: Caligula was a smart guy with a rather dark sense of humor and the modern historians write that the whole thing stemmed from a humorous statement he made when he was telling the senators how much they sucked, in the lines of "Even my horse would be more useful  for the state than you guys if I made him a consul."

The rumors about the mass executions are also untrue. He forced one guy to sacrifice himself, to make an example of him. The guy was saying he would sacrifice himself to the gods if Caligula recovered from his illness, for the purpose of brown nosing and Caligula forced him to keep his word, to teach a lesson to the aristocrats that brown nosing is a bad thing to do. He waged a war against the nobility and in the end they killed him. And of course, since the nobility writes all the histories, they spoke ill of the man.

Common people loved Caligula and called him 'Our star.' I have read this in some essay but forgot to save the link, so I can't cite the source but I will edit this post and add the citation if I come across it.
When a big fire broke out in Rome, he handed out loads of gold solidus to the people who lost their homes, and paid extra to those who lost family members. He abolished taxes to ease the financial burden on the common people and small business owners and got harshly criticized for that too. He also tried to bring back the democratic elections and let the people elect the senators and other officials. Cassius Dio wrote 'Giving the vote to the rabble would be a disaster for the state' about that attempt. The senate and the patrician class were greatly disturbed by this idea of Caligula, and that might be part of the reason for them to plot his assassination.

You can verify some of these facts from Wikipedia and dig up academic papers to verify the rest. The long and short of it is that my Caligula is the most historically accurate one out there. I even based his character and dialogues on the real dialogues recorded by his contemporaries.

As for Nero; the common image about him sitting on top of some high place and fiddling while Rome burned is a lie. According to the reputable sources, Nero was hundreds of miles away from Rome when she burned and fiddles didn't exist back then. When Nero returned to Rome and saw the devastation he was stricken with grief and composed a sad lament with lyre, which was twisted into the infamous fiddling story by the vicious historians of the later generations. He spent a huge amount of money to rebuild Rome and compensate the people who lost their homes and property. He was an artist and not much of a statesman, so they wrote horrible things about him decades after his death just like they did to Caligula. And unfortunately all the bad stuff stuck and ended up in the common pop culture. This is indeed sad and disturbing.

Now, enough of the intellectual content. Will Caligula die in my story, or will his 21st century lover do something to save him without messing up the timeline?
You will find out when I release the rest of the series!

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