I don’t know if it’s my subconscious ruminating on the debased state of American politics, or just the idle curiosity to re-watch a train wreck, but I found myself viewing, for the second time, the 1979 film Caligulia with Malcolm McDowell on Netflix. I only got an hour or so into it before I decided that it was just as bad as I remember it, and finally put my finger on the reason for its badness. It’s not the sets, or the script, or the acting. It’s not even the dull pornography. It’s that the film has no moral center. There is no one, not one person in this refuse worth caring about. Monsters and fools alone abound.
Well, it worked some kind of perverse inspiration in me, because I suddenly have the yen to write another book. I want to get elbow-deep into this boyish monster, and plumb the human depths of his tyranny. I’ve lined up the books I must read:
- Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesers, because it’s been sitting in my bookshelf and I’ve never had the chance to really dig into it.
- I, Claudius and Claudius the God. I’m familiar with the BBC series, of course, but I’ve got old copies of this, too. Been wanting to read them.
- Camus’ Caligulia play. A friend of mine read this in college, and gave me the gist of the twist: Caligula, far from being insane, succumbs to the ennui of supreme power and seeks to “make the possible likely.” I like the premise of that, and it’s about time I read it.
- The obligatory myth-debunking scholarly biography.
- Possibly Allan Massie’s Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor.
I’m interested chiefly in the widely-reported notion that Caligulia believed himself a god. The Roman Empire was a time of great religious flux, as the old Republican pantheon gave way to thrilling cults from the East: Isis, Mithraism, Manichaeanism, Gnosticism, and Christianity. So I’d like to shift this most notorious emperor from Crazy to Self-Deifying.
This will naturally be a long project. Check this space for details.