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

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A few stories that have come down to us show that his lust for murder should be seen as a mental illness: how he never kissed the neck of his wife or mistress without saying that this lovely throat would be cut whenever it pleased him (75), or how he burst out laughing during a pleasant meal at the thought that all it took was a nod from him and the throats of the two consuls dining at his side would be cut (76). He wished that the Roman people had a single neck (this saying has indeed become famous) so he could cut off their head in a single stroke (77). Such thoughts, and others much worse, not only simple bloodthirsty proclivities, but also the choicest ideas of torture, turned into countless bloody deeds, many of which he partnered with cynical jokes (78). The details are too horrible for me to go into.

Enough, he terrorized all of Rome with them, and still this Rome did not muster the courage to shake off the yoke of the sick man, who was raging like a bloodhound. The Senate did not dare to depose him or to decide on a regency. He was not removed by an act of the political bodies; instead, it took a conspiracy that found a willing instrument in the personal desire for revenge on the part of a deeply offended colonel of his personal guard, Cassius Chaerea (79).

So deeply had the state sunk, [a state] at whose gates the barbarism of a people still in the vigor of its youth knocked so threateningly at the time. As we now look back upon this from a safe place, we can say in spite of it all that today, when the material culture and the luxury of the upper classes can be compared once again to the conditions of the Roman Empire, we have advanced a good deal politically – of course, more than 1,800 years have passed –; for anything that would be similar to this Caesarism and the rule of Caesarean madness is so impossible under the conditions of this day and age that the entire account will strike us as a barely credible fantasy or an exaggerated satire by Roman writers on the Caesarism of their time, though by the current state of our study of the sources it is, in all its essential aspects, the sober historical truth.

(75) Suetonius 33.
(76) Suetonius 32.
(77) Suetonius 30. Dio Cassius 59.13; 30.
(78) Suetonius 29; 30.
(79) Suetonius 58. Dio Cassius 59.29. – The most detailed account in Josephus, Antiq. XIX, 1.3.

Source: Ludwig Quidde, Caligula: Eine Studie über römischen Cäsarenwahnsinn [Caligula: A Study in Roman Imperial Insanity] (1894). 25th edition. Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Friedrich, 1896, pp. 3-20.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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