Conquering Britain From Afar: Caligula and the Best Triumph

In honor of the World Cup Semi-final Match today between the former Roman Provinces of Britannia and Dalmatia, we wrote a slightly farcical post for the SCS blog. This is one of my favorite anecdotes from the Julio-Claudian Clan. It reminds me of a certain leader traveling in Europe right now.

Cassius Dio, Roman History 59.25

“Once he arrived at the ocean—as if he were about to mount a campaign against Britain—[Gaius Caligula Caesar] stationed all his soldiers on the shore and climbed on a trireme. After sailing a little from the land, he sailed back again. Then, after that, he perched on a high platform and gave the soldiers a sign for battle, even urging the trumpeters to help them. Then, suddenly, he ordered them to collect seashells.

Once he acquired all of this booty—for he obviously needed spoils for his triumphal procession—he was deeply impressed with himself, as if he had made a slave of the ocean itself. Then he gave many gifts to his soldiers. He took the seashells back to Rome so he could display his war booty to them too.

The senate had no plan for how it could take these things calmly—because it understood that he was acting as if this were a big deal, nor could it praise him in any way. For if someone showers lavish praise or weighty honors for some middling or minor accomplishment, there is a lingering suspicion of hissing or mockery for it.

And yet, once he entered the city, Caligula nearly asked for the whole senate to be killed because it did not vote him immortal honors for this…”

     ἐς δὲ τὸν ὠκεανὸν ἐλθὼν ὡς καὶ ἐν τῇ Βρεττανίᾳ στρατεύσων, καὶ πάντας τοὺς στρατιώτας ἐν τῇ ᾐόνι παρατάξας, τριήρους τε ἐπέβη καὶ ὀλίγον ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἀπάρας ἀνέπλευσε, καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο ἐπὶ βήματος ὑψηλοῦ ἱζήσας καὶ σύνθημα τοῖς στρατιώταις ὡς ἐς μάχην δούς, τοῖς τε σαλπικταῖς ἐξοτρύνας αὐτούς, εἶτ’ ἐξαίφνης ἐκέλευσέ σφισι τὰ κογχύλια συλλέξασθαι. λαβών τε τὰ σκῦλα ταῦτα (καὶ γὰρ λαφύρων δῆλον ὅτι πρὸς τὴν τῶν ἐπινικίων πομπὴν ἐδεῖτο) μέγα τε ἐφρόνησεν ὡς καὶ τὸν ὠκεανὸν αὐτὸν δεδουλωμένος, καὶ τοῖς στρατιώταις πολλὰ ἐδωρήσατο. καὶ ὁ μὲν ἐς τὴν ῾Ρώμην τὰ κογχύλια ἀνεκόμισεν, ἵνα καὶ ἐκεί-νοις τὰ λάφυρα δείξῃ· ἡ δὲ βουλὴ οὔθ’ ὅπως ἐπὶ τούτοις ἡσυχάζοι εἶχεν, ὅτι μεγαλοφρονούμενον αὐτὸν ἐπυνθάνετο, οὔθ’ ὅπως αὐτὸν ἐπαινέσειεν· ἂν γάρ τις ἐπὶ μηδεμιᾷ ἢ μικρᾷ τινι ἀνδραγαθίᾳ ἤτοι ἐπαίνους μεγάλους ἢ καὶ τιμὰς ἐξαισίους ποιῆται, διαμωκᾶσθαί τε καὶ διασιλλοῦν αὐτὴν ὑποπτεύεται. ὅμως ἐσελθὼν ἐς τὴν πόλιν τὴν μὲν βουλὴν ὀλίγου ἐδέησεν ἀπολέσαι πᾶσαν, ὅτι μὴ τὰ ὑπὲρ ἄνθρωπον αὐτῷ ἐψηφίσατο…

Suetonius, Gaius Caligula 46

“At last, as if he was about to finish the war, he had the battle line stretched out along the shore along with the ballistas and siege engines. When no one understood or had any idea what he was going to do, he suddenly ordered them to gather shells and fill their helmets and clothes, announcing that there were “the Ocean’s spoils, owed to the Capitoline and Palatine.”

He also had erected as a monument to his victory a really tall tower from which fires were meant to shine for the purpose of guiding the course of ships at night just like the lighthouse of Pharos. Once he promised to each soldier a bonus of one hundred denarii—as if this were a sign of extreme generosity—he said “Go happily away; leave here rich.”

Postremo quasi perpetraturus bellum, derecta acie in litore Oceani ac ballistis machinisque dispositis, nemine gnaro aut opinante quidnam coepturus esset, repente ut conchas legerent galeasque et sinus replerent imperavit, “spolia Oceani” vocans “Capitolio Palatioque debita,” et in indicium victoriae altissimam turrem excitavit, ex qua ut Pharo noctibus ad regendos navium cursus ignes emicarent; pronuntiatoque militi donativo centenis viritim denariis, quasi omne exemplum liberalitatis supergressus: “Abite,” inquit, “laeti, abite locupletes.”

Image result for Ancient Roman Caligula

 

Myth: Shaping Our Minds Through Pleasure and Fear

Strabo, Geography 1.2.8

“For every illiterate and uneducated person is in some way a child and delights in the same way in stories—similar as well is the case of a person educated moderately. For this person is not ruled by reason, and this is the custom from childhood. Since the marvelous is not only sweet but also frightening, there is a need for both types for children and those in the next age. We use the sweet stories to encourage children and the the frightening ones to discourage them. The Lamia, for example, is a story like this, as is that of Ephialtes and Mormolukê.

Many of those who live in cities are compelled toward certain action by incitements of myths when they hear the poets praising the mythical courageous deeds—the deeds of Herakles or Theseus—or the honors accorded from the gods or when they see Zeus in a picture, or cult image, or images signaling the mythical tale in some way. To discourage them, they have tales whenever there are punishments from the gods and fears or threats or things they have received through some tale or unexpected punishment even if they believe it has happened to other people.

For it is not possible to persuade the mass of women and every kind of common person by reason with philosophy and to encourage them to piety, and righteousness, and fidelity; but it is necessary to do this through fear. And that is not [possible] without myth-making and wonder. For the lighting, aegis, trident, torches, dragons, thyrsis-shaking, weapons of the gods, the myths and all the ancient theology, these are all things those who found states use as bogeymen for childish minds.

This was myth-making and it was a good support for the commonwealth and the political arrangement of life and the inquiry of the way things really are; the ancients pursued their childhood’s education into their later years and they supposed that every age could become sufficiently prudent through poetry. In later years, the writing of history and then philosophy entered our consciousness. But these work only for the few; poetry is more useful to the public and can fill the theaters. The poetry of Homer supersedes: but the first historians and natural philosophers were myth-makers as well.”

καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως: οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾽ οὐ μόνον ἡδὺ ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ: τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς: ἥ τε γὰρ Λάμια μῦθός ἐστι καὶ ἡ Γοργὼ καὶ ὁ Ἐφιάλτης καὶ ἡ Μορμολύκη.

οἵ τε πολλοὶ τῶν τὰς πόλεις οἰκούντων εἰς μὲν προτροπὴν ἄγονται τοῖς ἡδέσι τῶν μύθων, ὅταν ἀκούωσι τῶν ποιητῶν ἀνδραγαθήματα μυθώδη διηγουμένων, οἷον Ἡρακλέους ἄθλους ἢ Θησέως, ἢ τιμὰς παρὰ θεῶν νεμομένας, ἢ νὴ Δία ὁρῶσι γραφὰς ἢ ξόανα ἢ πλάσματα τοιαύτην τινὰ περιπέτειαν ὑποσημαίνοντα μυθώδη: εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δέ, ὅταν κολάσεις παρὰ θεῶν καὶ φόβους καὶ ἀπειλὰς ἢ διὰ λόγων ἢ διὰ τύπων ἀοράτων τινῶν προσδέχωνται, ἢ καὶ πιστεύωσι περιπεσεῖν τινας.

οὐ γὰρ ὄχλον γε γυναικῶν καὶ παντὸς χυδαίου πλήθους ἐπαγαγεῖν λόγῳ δυνατὸν φιλοσόφῳ καὶ προσκαλέσασθαι πρὸς εὐσέβειαν καὶ ὁσιότητα καὶ πίστιν, ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ διὰ δεισιδαιμονίας: τοῦτο δ᾽ οὐκ ἄνευ μυθοποιίας καὶ τερατείας. κεραυνὸς γὰρ καὶ αἰγὶς καὶ τρίαινα καὶ λαμπάδες καὶ δράκοντες καὶ θυρσόλογχα τῶν θεῶν ὅπλα μῦθοι καὶ πᾶσα θεολογία ἀρχαϊκή: ταῦτα δ᾽ ἀπεδέξαντο οἱ τὰς πολιτείας καταστησάμενοι μορμολύκας τινὰς πρὸς τοὺς νηπιόφρονας.

τοιαύτης δὲ τῆς μυθοποιίας οὔσης καὶ καταστρεφούσης εἰς τὸ κοινωνικὸν καὶ τὸ πολιτικὸν τοῦ βίου σχῆμα καὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων ἱστορίαν, οἱ μὲν ἀρχαῖοι τὴν παιδικὴν ἀγωγὴν ἐφύλαξαν μέχρι τῶν τελείων ἡλικιῶν, καὶ διὰ ποιητικῆς ἱκανῶς σωφρονίζεσθαι πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν ὑπέλαβον: χρόνοις δ᾽ ὕστερον ἡ τῆς ἱστορίας γραφὴ καὶ ἡ νῦν φιλοσοφία παρελήλυθεν εἰς μέσον. αὕτη μὲν οὖν πρὸς ὀλίγους, ἡ δὲ ποιητικὴ δημωφελεστέρα καὶ θέατρα πληροῦν δυναμένη, ἡ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Ὁμήρου ὑπερβαλλόντως: καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι δὲ ἱστορικοὶ καὶ φυσικοὶ μυθογράφοι.

Medusa Bernini 1638/1648

Bernini’s Medusa

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