Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Twevle Caesars - page 290, Vespasian

With his knack of apt quotation from the Greek classics, [Vespasian] once described a very tall man whose genitals were grotesquely overdeveloped as:

'Striding along with a lance which casts a preposterous shadow.'


Most of his humour, however, centred on the disreputable ways he made money; he always tried to make them sound less offensive by passing them off as jokes. One of his favorite servants applied for a stewardship on behalf of a man whose brother he claimed to be. 'Wait,' Vespasian told him, and had the candidate brought in for a private interview. 'How much commission would you have paid my servant?' he asked. The man mentioned a sum. 'You may pay it directly to me,' said Vespasian, giving him the stewardship without delay. When the servant brought the matter up again, Vespasian's advice was: 'Go and find another brother. The one you mistook for your own turns out to be mine!'

So it seems Vespasian, an emperor of Rome who was considered generous and gracious in many ways, was not above swindling his own employees if it meant getting a bit of money. And he seemed quite proud of his ingenious ways to turn a profit. In fact, if you've ever heard about a certain ruler who put a tax on the urine that people generated in his city (and then shot down his son's resistance to the awkward source of the money by saying that coins themselves do not stink), then Vespasian is the person you are thinking of.

Roman toilets.

So when you think of Vespasian, think of cleverness, graciousness, and a hunger for money.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Twevle Caesars - page 156, Caligula

Gaius Caesar was born on 31 August, A.D. 12, during the consulship shared by his father with Gaius Fonteius Capito. His birthplace is disputed. According to Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus, he was born at Tibur; but, according to Pliny the Elder, near Treveri, in the village of Ambitarvium, just above the junction of the Moselle and the Rhine. Pliny supports his view by mentioning certain local altars inscribed 'IN HONOUR OF AGRIPPINA'S PUERPERIUM' (i.e. child-bearing), also a verse, which went the rounds at Gaius' accession and suggests that he was born in the winter quarters of the legions:
Born in a barracks,
Reared in the arts of war:
A noble nativity
For a Roman Emperor!

Gaius Caesar is, of course, also known as "Caligula", a childhood nickname that stuck with him throughout his life and throughout history. Often seen as the epitome of Roman debauchery, corruption, and cruelty, he was actually quite popular in his youth and when he first became Emperor. He was also the subject of a pitiful movie that tried to be serious cinema and pornography at the same time (it was produced by Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine fame), a motion picture that has since become as infamous as its main character.

You've probably already heard about Caligula's excesses and bad decisions, though, but have you heard about his red hair?

No, really.

Yep, that's a bust of Caligula, and it has been given period colors based on the analysis of paint particles found embedded in the marble. In fact, nowadays science says that ancient marble statues were actually painted in bright colors and not left the stark, haunting white we are accustomed to seeing in museums. Whether or not that is a better aesthetic is best left up to your personal taste, but, in this case, the restoration gives us a hint as to the appearance of one of our most intriguing Roman leaders.

And we see that Caligula was a ginger.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 26, Julius Caesar

Since the Senate refused to intervene on his behalf and his opponents insisted that they would accept no compromise in a matter of such national importance [that being the disbanding of Julius Caesar's forces following the Gallic Wars and the act of relieving him of command while still in Gaul and preventing him from running for the consulship while away from Rome], Caesar crossed into Cisalpine Gaul, where he held his regular assizes, and halted at Ravenna. He was resolved to invade Italy if force were used against the tribunes of the people who had vetoed the Senate's decree disbanding his army by a given date. Force was, in effect, used and the tribunes fled towards Cisalpine Gaul; which became Caesar's pretext for launching the Civil War.

And launch it, he did. In an act of pure ambition Julius Caesar started a civil war that ended up changing the face of Western civilization. The tribunes were on Caesar's side, and they had tried to reject a Senate bill that would strip him of power and remove him from the political landscape. Caesar was not pleased, and, not long after, he crossed the Rubicon river with his army, which was considered an act of war at the time. A bloody campaign began that led to the defeat Caesar's domestic enemies. He took control of Rome, and he set himself up as the first "Caesar" in a long line of Roman rulers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - an experiment

I've been very busy this summer (the whole family, really), so I haven't had the chance to contribute to this blog or my other one as much as I'd like to. I've had some ideas come and go, but by the time I've gotten a moment to sit down and plug something in I've lost hold of some of the things I've been keeping in the back of my mind. I don't fret too much about it because I don't want blogging to become a chore, but I would like to contribute a bit more than I have recently.

So, in order to stoke my creative fires a bit, I have come up with a bit of an experiment to give myself some ready-made blog fodder for whenever I get a chance to type something in. I hope this works well, and I hope it's fun. If not, I might abandon the idea, but I'll give it the ol' college try for awhile.

Some time ago I read The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Robert Graves's 1957 translation, revised by Michael Grant in 1979, published by Penguin Books in 1989). I started reading it just to see if it some old biographies written by an ancient Roman could hold my attention, and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. The combination of Suetonius, Graves, and Grant makes for an entertaining and delightful read.

Suetonius was born circa 69 A.D., and one of the high points of his career was his position as chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian. He wrote several works, but the only complete one to have survived is The Twelve Caesars. (This is too bad, really. One of his other works was titled Lives of Famous Whores, and I would have liked to have read that one.)

The Twelve Caesars details the lives of Julius Caesar and the eleven people who succeeded him - Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. You've no doubt heard about most of these historical figures, you probably know quite a bit about some, and you surely wonder who the heck the rest are, but after reading Suetonius I'm sure you would see them as truly human figures and not just marble busts in museums.

The beast, Nero. (Photo courtesy cjh1452000 on Wikipedia)

And here's my idea for an experiment: Suetonius's work as published by Penguin comes to about 300 pages. I plan to use a random number generator to select page numbers and then use each page number as the basis for a blog post. Each post will consist of a reproduction of a paragraph from a particular page along with an observation from me. If I use a different page number for each post and use each page only once, I should get about 300 posts for the effort. Even if I were to do this as often as once a day, I should end up with about a year's worth of posts.

So, here goes. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about some rulers of ancient Rome, and I hope I get as much pleasure out of writing these posts as I got out of reading the book.

Friday, July 08, 2011

What I recently finished reading

I finally got around to reading Second Foundation, which is the third -- and as far as I am concerned, the final -- book in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. He wrote more, and I've read the "next" book in the series, Foundation's Edge, but I found it disappointing. As far as I'm concerned, the series ends here.


The plots of this book depend heavily on surprises, twists, deceptions, and characters who think they have everything figured out only to find out that they are wrong and then that they are right and then that something completely different is happening and they don't know what the hell is going on anymore. In talking about Second Foundation, it's almost impossible not to reveal something important along the way, so if you ever plan to read this book and want to get the full effect intended on a first reading, you should probably skip the rest of this post.

Second Foundation picks up where Foundation and Empire left off. The Mule has defeated the Foundation on Terminus and rules the galaxy, and now he is on a quest to find the hidden Second Foundation, an organization that exists in rumor and is said to control the progression of the Seldon Plan. This plan was put into motion 400 years ealier to guide the galaxy through the predicted 1,000 years of barbarity between the fall of the Empire and the establishment of another empire.

The Mule (with his mutant mental powers and ability to psychically convert his enemies into loyal subjects) did not fit in the Seldon Plan, and his actions have endangered the project. The Mule surmises that the Second Foundation will seek his destruction because of the danger he poses to the Plan, and he goes on a hunt to discover the location of the Second Foundationers and destroy them before they destroy him.

The first part of the book, "Search by the Mule", covers just that, the Mule's search for the Second Foundation. He sends out a two-man team to conduct the search: General Han Pritcher, a former enemy from the Foundation who has been emotionally converted by the Mule, and Bail Channis, an unconverterd, ambitious Foundationer. Ultimately the Mule is not successful. Along the way he runs into acutal Second Foundationers and finds them to be as mentally adept and challenging as he is.

I did more of my mental casting for the characters in this story, and here's what I came up with:
The Mule - As with the previous book, Foundation and Empire, I cast Emo Philips in this role.
Han Pritcher - In the previous book I pictured Hayden Christiansen in this role, but here I cast James Franco, and I mentally aged him.
Bail Channis - For some reason, I couldn't get Tim Kang out of my mind when I read his dialogue, so I went with that.

The second part of the book, "Search by the Foundation", picks up about 50 years after the events in "Search by the Mule". By this time the Mule has died, leaving no heirs and a collection of worlds and systems that rapidly falls apart as powerful generals and local warlords take over their own corners of the galaxy. The Foundation on Terminus rises to prominence again, but this time they are fully aware of the existence of the Second Foundation. The Foundationers know now that they are dupes in the Seldon Plan, doomed to be manipulated by the psychic Second Foundationers into following the Plan, willingly or not. They determine to hunt down the Second Foundation and destroy it. And they do, in a way.

For the part of Arkady Darell, the headstrong and cunning teenage girl who stows away on a voyage to uncover the Second Foundation, I cast Jenette McCurdy. (Yes, I know this person. I do have children that watch iCarly from time to time.)

For Arkady's patriotic, plotting father, Dr. Darell, I cast Brent Spiner, whom I had previously cast as Ebling Mis in Foundation and Empire.

For Pelleas Anthor, the Second Foundation's sacrificial lamb, I cast the little-known (to me) Martin Cummins, whom I first remember from the reimagined "V" television series.

And then, for the part of Homir Munn, the duped and tricked nervous historian who knows all things about the Mule, stutters, and is described by his own author as "lanky and terribly ill-at-ease", I cast another Star Trek alum (and a member of the original A-Team), Dwight Schultz.

In all, Second Foundation is another good read. I enjoyed the entire Foundation trilogy again, but, as mentioned, I won't be moving on to Foundation's Edge. It lacks the tight writing and the adventurous undertones of the first three books, and I don't care to give it another chance.

Review of Foundation here.
Review of Foundation and Empire here.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Working on stuff

I'm working on a couple of posts, but I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to finish them. I'll get around to it, though. Eventually.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Independence Day

Happy birthday, America.

Converting the masses ...

... one person, and one album at a time.

Alan at Blogonomicon has wide-ranging musical tastes, but he only just now started to explore Iron Maiden's broader musical corpus with his acquisition of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I wish him happy listening, and I hope he might check out more from Maiden in the future.

Oh, and if you've never given the band a chance yourself, think about it. You just might be surprised at what you've been missing since the early 1980s.