Wednesday, April 09, 2014


In chronicling the depravities of the Emperor Caligula, the 1st century Roman historian Suetonius makes a revealing statement. From Robert Graves' very readable translation:
Besides incest with his sisters, and a notorious passion for the prostitute Pyrallis, he made advances to almost every well-known married woman in Rome; after inviting a selection of them to dinner with their husbands he would slowly and carefully examine each in turn while they passed his couch, as a purchaser might assess the value of a slave, and even stretch out his hand and lift up the chin of any woman who kept her eyes modestly cast down.
Whether it happened or not, here's a culture with its contradictions on display when the biographer interrupts a tale off incest and mass murder to primly note that the Emperor also treated wealthy matrons as if they were slaves.