seemed to revive once again (13); steps were taken against the mischief of the informers, which is more or less comparable to the system of agent provocateurs of our day (14), thereby liberating public and private life from one of its worst evils; the writings of Labienus, Cremutius Cordus, and Cassius Severus, which had been considered subversive and thus prohibited, were republished (15); political prisoners were granted an amnesty, trials for lese- majesté were struck down, and laws stipulating serious punishment for this crime were repealed (16). Moreover, oppressive taxes, which burdened the small exchanges of the broad masses in particular, were remitted and relief was introduced in favor of the poorest classes when it came to the grain dole – to say nothing of the games that Caligula gave a boost, following the old formula “panem et circenses” [“Bread and Circuses”]. And so, along with the greater freedom, there seemed to dawn an era of social reforms, or at least a popular approach to economic questions.
But already in these early days of Caligula – as he was being enveloped by the cheers of a people easily roused in offering their acclamation – cautious observers would have nursed worrisome thoughts.
* * *
It was the intoxicating feeling of power, the awareness of suddenly occupying the highest position, the desire to bring about something great, and above all the urge to stand out in world history that temporarily lifted Caligula above himself. He was seized, in this extraordinary transformation of his life, by the desire to stand out through something that was essentially foreign to him, through liberalism and the cultivation of the common good. At the same time, however, troubling qualities quickly appeared. What was lacking was the solid foundation of a balanced view of life gained through inner struggles; the primary driving force behind his actions was not the desire to do good, but the ambition to be admired as the promoter of popular endeavors, and to enter into posterity as a great man (17); the character trait pervading all his measures was a nervous haste that hurried incessantly from one task to the next (18), in an abrupt and often contradictory fashion, to which was added an exceedingly dangerous urge to do everything himself.
The elimination of Macro, of which I have already spoken, should be judged essentially from this perspective. To be sure, it would appear that the relationship between the two men was not severed completely or at least not permanently, for Macro had an opportunity to offer the young emperor advice, to recommend to him moderation and circumspection (19). Yet he fared badly in his role as cautioner; he merely aroused the utmost wrath of the emperor, who then turned on him and his family in a bloody rage (20). His ungrateful treatment of Macro is especially singled out among the factors that shook Caligula’s popularity.
(14) Suetonius 15.
(15) Suetonius 16.
(16) Dio Cassius 59.6. Suetonius 15.
(17) See the revealing statement by Suetonius 16: quando maxime sua interesset ut facta quaeque posteris tradantur.
(18) Dio Cassius 59.4: [ . . . ].
(19) Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 7.
(20) Philo 8. Suetonius 26. Dio Cassius 59.10.