Spectaculorum

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Spectaculorum plurima et varia genera edidit: iuvenales, circenses, scaenicos ludos, gladiatorium munus. iuvenalibus senes quoque consulares anusque matronas recepit ad lusum. circensibus loca equiti secreta a ceteris tribuit commisitque etiam camelorum quadrigas. ludis, quos pro aeternitate imperii susceptos appellari “maximos” voluit, ex utroque ordine et sexu plerique ludicras partes sustinuerunt; notissimus eques Romanus elephanto supersidens per catadromum decucurrit; inducta Afrani togata, quae Incendium inscribitur, concessumque ut scaenici ardentis domus supellectilem diriperent ac sibi haberent; sparsa et populo missilia omnium rerum per omnes dies: singula cotidie milia avium cuiusque generis, multiplex penus, tesserae frumentariae, vestis, aurum, argentum, gemmae, margaritae, tabulae pictae, mancipia, iumenta atque etiam mansuetae ferae, novissime naves, insulae, agri. hos ludos spectavit e proscaeni fastigio. munere, quod in amphitheatro ligneo regione Martii campi intra anni spatium fabricato dedit, neminem occidit, ne noxiorum quidem. exhibuit autem ad ferrum etiam quadringentos senatores sescentosque equites Romanos et quosdam fortunae atque existimationis integrae, ex isdem ordinibus confectores quoque ferarum et varia harenae ministeria. exhibuit et naumachiam marina aqua innantibus beluis; item pyrrichas quasdam e numero epheborum, quibus post editam operam diplomata civitatis Romanae singulis optulit. inter pyrricharum argumenta taurus Pasiphaam ligneo iuvencae simulacro abditam iniit, ut multi spectantium crediderunt; Icarus primo statim conatu iuxta cubiculum eius decidit ipsumque cruore respersit. nam perraro praesidere, ceterum accubans, parvis primum foraminibus, deinde toto podio adaperto spectare consueverat.
(Suetonius, Nero 11.1-12.2)

He gave many entertainments of different kinds: the Juvenales, chariot races in the Circus, stage-plays, and a gladiatorial show. At the first mentioned he had even old men of consular rank and aged matrons take part. For the games in the Circus he assigned places to the knights apart from the rest, and even matched chariots drawn by four camels. At the plays which he gave for the “Eternity of the Empire,” which by his order were called the Ludi Maximi, parts were taken by several men and women of both the orders; a well known Roman knight mounted an elephant and rode down a rope; a Roman play of Afranius, too, was staged, entitled “The Fire,” and the actors were allowed to carry off the furniture of the burning house and keep it. Every day all kinds of presents were thrown to the people; these included a thousand birds of every kind each day, various kinds of food, tickets for grain, clothing, gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, paintings, slaves, beasts of burden, and even trained wild animals; finally, ships, blocks of houses, and farms. These plays he viewed from the top of the proscenium. At the gladiatorial show, which he gave in a wooden amphitheatre, erected in the district of the Campus Martius within the space of a single year, he had no one put to death, not even criminals. But he compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena. Even those who fought with the wild beasts and performed the various services in the arena were of the same orders. He also exhibited a naval battle in salt water with sea monsters swimming about in it; besides pyrrhic dances by some Greek youths, handing each of them certificates of Roman citizenship at the close of his performance. The pyrrhic dances represented various scenes. In one a bull mounted Pasiphae, who was concealed in a wooden image of a heifer; at least many of the spectators thought so. Icarus at his very first attempt fell close by the imperial couch and bespattered the emperor with his blood; for Nero very seldom presided at the games, but used to view them while reclining on a couch, at first through small openings, and then with the entire balcony uncovered. (tr. John C. Rolfe)

Ornarent

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Obiit tricesimo et secundo aetatis anno, die quo quondam Octaviam interemerat, tantumque gaudium publice praebuit, ut plebs pilleata tota urbe discurreret. et tamen non defuerunt qui per longum tempus vernis aestivisque floribus tumulum eius ornarent ac modo imagines praetextatas in rostris proferrent, modo edicta quasi viventis et brevi magno inimicorum malo reversuri. quin etiam Vologaesus Parthorum rex missis ad senatum legatis de instauranda societate hoc etiam magno opere oravit, ut Neronis memoria coleretur. denique cum post viginti annos adulescente me exstitisset condicionis incertae qui se Neronem esse iactaret, tam favorabile nomen eius apud Parthos fuit, ut vehementer adiutus et vix redditus sit.
(Suetonius, Nero 57)

He met his end in his thirty-second year on the anniversary of Octavia’s death, thereby provoking such great public joy that the common people ran throughout the city dressed in liberty caps. Yet there were also some who for a long time would decorate his tomb with spring and summer flowers, and would sometimes display on the rostra statues of him dressed in a toga or post his edicts as if he were still alive and would soon return to avenge himself on his enemies. Indeed, even Vologaesus, king of the Parthians, when he sent ambassadors to the senate to renew his alliance, also made an earnest appeal that the memory of Nero should be honoured. Moreover, twenty years later, when I was a young man, there was an individual of unknown origins who boasted that he was Nero, and the name was so popular with the Parthians that they gave him vigorous support and could scarcely be made to surrender him. (tr. Catharine Edwards)

 

Miti

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P. Vergilius Maro Mantuanus parentibus modicis fuit ac praecipue patre, quem quidam opificem figulum, plures Magi cuiusdam viatoris initio mercennarium, mox ob industriam generum tradiderunt, egregiaeque substantiae silvis coemendis et apibus curandis auxisse reculam. natus est Cn. Pompeio Magno M. Licinio Crasso primum consulibus Iduum Octobrium die in pago qui Andes dicitur et abest a Mantua non procul. praegnans eo mater somniavit enixam se laureum ramum, quem contactu terrae coaluisse et excrevisse ilico in speciem maturae arboris refertaeque variis pomis et floribus, ac sequenti luce cum marito rus propinquum petens ex itinere devertit atque in subiecta fossa partu levata est. ferunt infantem ut sit editus neque vagisse et adeo miti vultu fuisse, ut haud dubiam spem prosperioris geniturae iam tum daret. et accessit aliud praesagium, siquidem virga populea more regionis in puerperiis eodem statim loco depacta ita brevi evaluit tempore, ut multo ante satas populos adaequavisset; quae “arbor Vergilii” ex eo dicta atque etiam consecrata est summa gravidarum ac fetarum religione suscipientium ibi et solventium vota.
(Suetonius, Vita Vergili 1-5)

Publius Vergilius Maro was a Mantuan of humble parentage, especially with regard to his father: some have reported that he was an artisan who was a potter, many that he was at first the employee of a viator [a minor official whose main task was to summon people who had to appear before magistrates] named Magus and then a son-in-law on account of his industry, and that he built up a fortune of no mean substance by buying up woodlands and tending bees. [Virgil] was born on the Ides of October, during the first consulships of Gnaeus Pompeius the Great and Marcus Licinius Crassus [October 15, 70 b.c.e.], in a village called Andes, not far from Mantua. While pregnant with him, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a laurel branch, which took root when it touched the earth and sprang up on the spot into the form of a full-grown tree, stuffed with diverse fruits and flowers. And the following day, while she was making for the neighboring country spot with her husband, she turned aside from the path and delivered herself by childbirth in an adjacent ditch. They say that when the child was born, he did not cry, and so mild was his countenance that even then he gave no small reason to hope that his birth would prove to be auspicious. Another omen was added to this when the poplar sprout that was immediately planted in the same place, according to the custom of the region in cases of childbirth, grew up so fast that it stood level with the poplars planted long before. It was called on that account the tree of Virgil, and it was in fact made sacred by the greatest reverence of pregnant women and new mothers who took and fulfilled vows there. (tr. David Wilson-Okamura, revised by Jan M. Ziolkowski)

Consulatum

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Prasinae factioni ita addictus et deditus, ut cenaret in stabulo assidue et maneret, agitatori Eutycho comisatione quadam in apophoretis vicies sestertium contulit. Incitato equo, cuius causa pridie circenses, ne inquietaretur, viciniae silentium per milites indicere solebat, praeter equile marmoreum et praesaepe eburneum praeterque purpurea tegumenta ac monilia e gemmis domum etiam et familiam et supellectilem dedit, quo lautius nomine eius invitati acciperentur; consulatum quoque traditur destinasse.
(Suetonius, Cal. 55.2-3)

He* was so wildly keen on the Green Faction in the circus, that he used often to take his dinner in the stable and stay overnight there. At one of his parties, he gave the driver Eutychus two million sesterces in going-home presents. As for his horse Incitatus, to prevent whose disturbance he used to send his soldiers, the day before the circus games, to demand silence in the surrounding area, apart from the marble stable, the ebony manger, the purple blankets and the gem-studded collar, he also gave him a house and a household of slaves and furniture, so that guests he invited in his name might be entertained in a more refined manner. It is said, too, that he meant to make him consul.

* Caligula.

(tr. Catharine Edwards)

Dispansam

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Armorum nullo, sagittarum vel praecipuo studio tenebatur. centenas varii generis feras saepe in Albano secessu conficientem spectavere plerique atque etiam ex industria ita quarundam capita figentem, ut duobus ictibus quasi cornua efficeret. nonnumquam in pueri procul stantis praebentisque pro scopulo dispansam dexterae manus palmam sagittas tanta arte derexit, ut omnes per intervalla digitorum innocue evaderent.
(Suetonius, Dom. 19)

At his Alban retreat many people witnessed him* shoot a hundred animals of different kinds on numerous occasions and he would even deliberately shoot at the heads of some of them in such a way that two arrows seemed to make horns. Sometimes a slave would stand at a distance holding up the palm of his right hand as a target with the fingers outspread and Domitian would aim his shots with such skill that they would pass safely through the gaps between the boy’s fingers.

* Domitian.

(tr. Catharine Edwards)

Dominum

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The emperor Augustus

Domini appellationem ut maledictum et opprobrium semper exhorruit. cum spectante eo ludos pronuntiatum esset in mimo: “o dominum aequum et bonum!” et universi quasi de ipso dictum exsultantes comprobassent, et statim manu vultuque indecoras adulationes repressit et insequenti die gravissimo corripuit edicto; dominumque se posthac appellari ne a liberis quidem aut nepotibus suis vel serio vel ioco passus est atque eius modi blanditias etiam inter ipsos prohibuit. non temere urbe oppidove ullo egressus aut quoquam ingressus est nisi vespera aut noctu, ne quem officii causa inquietaret. in consulatu pedibus fere, extra consulatum saepe adoperta sella per publicum incessit. promiscuis salutationibus admittebat et plebem, tanta comitate adeuntium desideria excipiens, ut quendam ioco corripuerit, quod sic sibi libellum porrigere dubitaret, “quasi elephanto stipem.” die senatus numquam patres nisi in curia salutavit et quidem sedentes ac nominatim singulos nullo submonente; etiam discedens eodem modo sedentibus valere dicebat. officia cum multis mutuo exercuit, nec prius dies cuiusque sollemnes frequentare desiit, quam grandior iam natu et in turba quondam sponsaliorum die vexatus. Gallum Cerrinium senatorem minus sibi familiarem, sed captum repente oculis et ob id inedia mori destinantem praesens consolando revocavit ad vitam.
(Suetonius, Div. Aug. 53)

He always shrank from the title ‘Master’ as an insult and a reproach. On one occasion at the games when he was watching a farce, the line was spoken: ‘O good and just master!’ and the whole audience indicated their enthusiastic agreement, as if the words were addressed to the emperor. He immediately called a halt to their unbecoming adulation with his gesture and expression and, on the next day, reproached them most severely in an edict. Thereafter he would not even allow his children and grandchildren to call him ‘master’, whether jokingly or in earnest, and forbade them to use such obsequious titles even among themselves. Almost always his arrival at or departure from Rome or any other town was in the evening or at night so that people would not be troubled by the need to pay him respect. When consul, he went about in public places on foot and at other times in a sedan chair. All and sundry were permitted to attend his receptions, including the common people, and he acknowledged the wishes of his petitioners with such good humour that once he teased a man that he was as nervous of handing over his petition as if he were giving a present to an elephant. On days when the senate met, he always greeted the senators in the senate house, addressing each by name with no one prompting him, while they remained in their seats. Even as he left, he would pay his respects in the same manner, while they stayed seated. In the case of many, he discharged the mutual obligations of friendship, and did not fail to attend all their feast days until he was advanced in years and had once been made uncomfortable by the crowd at a betrothal ceremony. When the senator Gallus Cerrinius had suddenly lost his sight and decided to end his life by starvation, Augustus went in person to console him, though he was not a close friend, and persuaded him to live. (tr. Catharine Edwards)

Iocos

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Malcolm McDowell as Caligula

Inter varios iocos, cum assistens simulacro Iovis Apellen tragoedum consuluisset uter illi maior videretur, cunctantem flagellis discidit collaudans subinde vocem deprecantis quasi etiam in gemitu praedulcem. quotiens uxoris vel amiculae collum exoscularetur, addebat: ‘tam bona cervix simul ac iussero demetur.’ quin et subinde iactabat exquisiturum se vel fidiculis de Caesonia sua, cur eam tanto opere diligeret.
(Suetonius, Cal. 33)

Among his other jokes, he once asked the actor Apelles, when he was next to a statue of Jupiter, which of them was the greater and when Appeles hesitated to answer, he had him flayed with scourges, praising the quality of his voice, as he cried out for mercy, as delightful even when groaning. Whenever he kissed the neck of a wife or a mistress, he would add: ‘This lovely neck would be severed the minute I gave the order.’ Indeed, from time to time he would exlaim that he might even have to use torture on his own Caesonia to find out from her why he loved her so very much. (tr. Catharine Edwards)