Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 260, Otho

[Otho's] early wildness earned him many a beating from his father; he is said to have been in the habit of wandering about the city at night and seizing and tossing in a blanket any drunk or disabled person who crossed his path.

The interesting thing about this passage is Otho's apparent pastime in his youth: the practice of treating less fortunate people very badly by tossing them in a blanket.

Many years ago a very wise professor at the university I attended explained to the class that the strange practice of tossing someone in a blanket (which we had come across in a passage of Medieval writing, possibly Chaucer, where a character was treated in like manner) was actually a very violent act. It wasn't a simple celebratory act, which our modern, student minds had visualized as looking something like this:

Pictured: fun.
Image by Floyd Davidson

It was more an act where someone was wrapped up tightly in a blanket and beaten or tossed in the air, most likely to not be caught before hitting the ground. It was a very cruel act, and many, many years ago it was used as a form of punishment. Not something to be taken very lightly.

I found the information enlightening then, and when I came across this passage about Otho's young cruelty I remembered that old professor right away and all the bits of enlightenment he shared with me and my classmates. And those were good memories. The learning, that is, not the cruelty we learned about. Remember, the young Otho wasn't merely teasing those poor people on the streets; he was exhibiting a complete disregard for their welfare and safety.

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