Book Review: Caligula: The Mad Emperor Of Rome

Caligula: The Mad Emperor Of Rome, by Stephen Dando-Collins

This book attempts two tasks and does so unevenly. On the one hand, the author wishes to rehabilitate the reputation of Caligula to a great extent and demonstrate that he was not so bad of an emperor as many people claim and in fact had very good reasons for what he did, even though what he did is hard to determine given the historical record that we possess. On the other hand, the author struggles with the desire of many people to connect Caligula with Donald Trump as being a suitable historical comparison. Admittedly, the author does not go full anti-Trump, but there is far too much discussion of handshake style and what it may mean and far too much speculation about issues of mental health, and the author’s attempts to absolve Caligula of being a monster by considering him to be merely bi-polar does not necessarily fully clear him of his guilt for his crimes, and certainly if one looks at his short reign and its brutal end, he made a serious mistake in alienating so many people through his hijinks and his efforts at humiliating others. And of course, in seeking both to be a revisionist history that uses modern “insights” from psychology as well as a relevant work that speaks to contemporary political concerns, this is certainly a book of our time, if not a bad book by any means.

This book is 29 chapters and a bit more than 200 pages long, making its chapters generally very short. The book begins with maps, photographs, and an introduction. After that the book begins with a look at Caligula’s early childhood (1, 2), his father’s triumph (3) and violent death (4), as well as a sham of a murder trial after that (5). This is followed by how Caligula was nursed as a viper (6), while his grandmother brought down the powerful Sejanus (7). Talk about yielding the upper hand (8), showing his ambition (9), and being hailed as Caesar upon the death of Tiberius (10). After this there are chapters about his monstrous beginning (11), the death of his sister (12), his spendthrift ways (13), and his marriage (14), invasion of Germany (15), and his walking on water (16). Further chapters deal with Caligula’s phony triumph (21) after a war (20), as well as the mounting victims of his regime (22), his loss of friends (23), and the forming of (24) and execution of (25) a plot to kill him, avenged by his uncle Claudius (26), after which the author deals with Nero’s reign (27), the question of madness (28), and the supposed similarity between Caligula and Trump (29), after which the book ends with notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Was Caligula a mad emperor of Rome? That depends on what one means by mad. is it mad to sleep with the wives of others as a means of humiliating the powerful or to exhibit fits of depression and mania that made it impossible to behave in a way that would be appropriate for a Roman emperor. But this book’s defense of Caligula amounts to one of those Russian dolls that, simply reveals another aspect of madness. If Caligula was not necessarily out of his mind in the way that others would assume, the author still points out that he suffered from mental illness (in the author’s case, the assumption is manic depression, otherwise known as bi-polar disorder) that was not treated because of limitations in ancient sorcery when compared with contemporary pharmacology. Similarly, the author considers Caligula to have been massively paranoid, and that adds to the level of mental health concerns one would have about him, and the unsuitability he had in ruling over the Roman Empire or anything else. After all, those who cannot govern themselves do not deserve to govern others.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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