Favourite Caligula story


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Suetonius says some bad stuff, but no other historians repeat him. Usually, they use Suetonius and expand it. They didn't have any problem repeating Caligula stuff.
Some contradictions here, you say that no other historians repeat Suetonious, then say they repeated the Caligula stories, and also say they usually repeat Suetonius and expand on it.

It's unfortunate that there is little we have, other than by Suetonius, of contemperory writings about Caligula. (But if you read the account of a Rabbi's (forget his name) visit to see him, the emperor's instability is apparent). We can compare what Suetonious says about Tiberius, for example, with Tacitus' description. Suetonius' story about the fisherman found by the emperor's guards near Capri, and having his skin rubbed raw, is not recorded by Tacitus and it seems a bit silly so we have reason to doubt it. They say Tacitus was inclined to damn Tiberius' memory, regarding him as another Domitian (I am not convinced) but he does include good things about him, for example the tax reliefs to towns which had suffered from earthquakes. I don't know anything that Suetonius writes about Tiberius contradicts Tacitus. I see Suetonius as a sensationalist, but I feel most of what he writes is believable.
Mar 2017
That was my fault. I didn't write clearly.

I contend:
No one seems to repeat Suetonius bad stuff about Caesar, Augustus, & Claudius.
EVERYONE seems to repeat and maybe expand Suetonius Caligula bad stuff.

The following is an example of typical history "expansion".

Caligula died 44 ACE, Suetonius 69-122(ish) ACE, Cassius Dio 155-235 ACE
Picking the middle of their lives: Suetonius wrote about 80 ACE, Cassius Dio about 190 ACE
My point: Suetonius wrote about 40 yrs after Caligula, Cassius Dio 150 yrs after --- Just from the dates, I have more faith in Suetonius

"Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them "spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine." As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos. Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, "Go your way happy; go your way rich." "
--- I can believe this, about a crazy person. Seems like Suetonius is pretty close to dry facts.

Cassius Dio:
"And when he reached the ocean, as if he were going to conduct a campaign in Britain, and had drawn up all the soldiers on the beach, he embarked on a trireme, and then, after putting out a little from the land, sailed back again. Next he took his seat on a lofty platform and gave the soldiers the signal as if for battle, bidding the trumpeters urge them on; then of a sudden he ordered them to gather up the shells. Having secured these spoils (for he needed booty, of course, for his triumphal procession), he became greatly elated, as if he had enslaved the very ocean; and he gave his soldiers many presents. The shells he took back to Rome for the purpose of exhibiting the booty to the people there as well. "
-- Wait! What's all this other stuff? A trireme? Suetonius describes a lighthouse monument, CD describes a throne. ... and trumpets? "greaty elated" ... "enslaved the ocean" ... added to make a better read. MANY presents? Exactly 100 denarii. If I counted right, S gives 27 words to shells, CD 45 .. or thereabouts.

This is a tiny insignificant example. It's just the first one I stumbled across. They both describe a resident of crazy-land. Which one sounds worse? Cassius Dio is a better "read" because it's more colorful ... with added stuff.

The longer this discussion goes on, the more disheartened I become with CD. Take the death of Caesar (88 yrs before Caligula's death):
Caesar is stabbed to death, left on the floor of the Senate, three common slaves put him on a litter and take him home. There was a funeral/funeral-games sometime later where:
"Instead of a eulogy the consul Antonius caused a herald to recite the decree of the Senate in which it had voted Caesar all divine and human honours at once, and likewise the oath with which they had all pledged themselves to watch over his personal safety; to which he added a very few words of his own. "
Cassius Dio:
"Antony aroused them still more by bringing the body most inconsiderately into the Forum, exposing it all covered with blood as it was and with gaping wounds, and then delivering over it a speech, which was very ornate and brilliant, to be sure, but out of place on that occasion. He spoke somewhat as follows: "
This is followed by 5-6 pages of quoted speech covering Caesar's history and the great things he did for Rome. The crowd is turned from "death to the dictator" to "death to the assassins." I wondered how a spontaneous speech could be quoted so well ... that's because it wasn't. CD made it up. He wanted to make a point about how great Caesar was and instead of pure narrative, he invented an Antony speech. Everyone knew that Antony was a trained orator, so he used it.
"At this deliverance of Antony's the throng was at first excited, then enraged, and finally so inflamed with passion that they sought his murderers and reproached the other senators, because while the others had slain they had looked on at the death of a man on whose behalf they had voted to offer public prayers each year, by whose Health and Fortune they had sworn their oaths, whose person they had made as inviolable as the tribunes. Then, seizing his body, some wished to convey it to the room in which he had been slaughtered, and others to the Capitol, and burn it there; but being prevented by the soldiers, who feared that the theatre and temples would be burned to the ground at the same time, they placed it upon a pyre there in the Forum, without further ado. "
This is all made up, and it just keeps going & going & going.

These two stories aren't just different, they conflict. One of them is false. I put my money on Suetonius being true.
IMHO: Suetonius is fair & balanced, Cassius Dio is biased towards creating a greater appreciation of Caesar with the Roman masses.
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