Posts Tagged ‘Commodus’

Today’s Meanderings

Posted in General on October 22nd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

I am feeling a bit unsteady on my feet–beyond my unusual lack of coordination.  (When school teams were picked, I was slightly preferable to children in wheelchairs.  I could have taught St. Vitus to dance.)  On the other hand, I am not a hypochondriac but quite the opposite–a hyperchondriac.  For instance, if one of my legs fell off because of gangrene, I would hold off on going to the doctor so long as I still had the other leg.  Yes, I probably am the pinup of the medical insurance cartel.  (Your insurance adjuster may have already told you, “Why can’t you be more like Eugene!”)

So, if I am admitting to feeling light-headed–no pain, but the sensation is like sitting through three Busby Berkeley musicals–I must be rather ill. 

What are the first symptoms of swine flu? 

Lacking the stamina for a fresh lecture on history, I am going to recycle this pedantic from last year.  You probably will forgive me.

October 22:  The Wrong Exorcism

In Praise of Impotence

Posted in General, On This Day on August 31st, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

August 31st:  Happy Birthday to Emperor Commodus

Marcus Aurelius was a statesman and philosopher.   But for all of the esteem that history has conferred on the him, he did leave the Roman Empire in the hands of a teenage idiot: his son Commodus.  The  fatuous, petulant princeling, born this day in 161, possessed no distinctions other than his father’s name and a talent for carousing.  Commodus’ reign was only as good as his advisors and his temper, and the former rarely survived the latter. He hated to be distracted from his chief interest: professional sports. The emperor preoccupied himself with managing a gladiator school. His tantrums finally compelled some endangered advisors to organize a fitting plot. The imperial jock got a fatal headlock from a professional wrestler.

How could the great Marcus Aurelius have made such a foolish choice?  Stoics are not supposed to be sentimental. Furthermore, the imperial position was not hereditary. From 96 to 180, five Emperors–Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninius Pius and Marcus Aurelius–had been selected on merit.  Heredity had proved a very poor criterion for government.

First, the Roman Patrician turned out to be very unproductive–literally. All that Italian body hair (I am referring to the men) had no correlation with fertility. Augustus had only one child–a daughter. Tiberius had only one child–a son who was murdered by his wife. Nero certainly did not prolong the dynasty by kicking to death his pregnant wife. And with Caligula’s habit of “dating” his sisters, sterility was preferable. So progeny may have been a Latin term but not a Latin habit.

Given the sparsity of heirs, the Romans were almost forced to pick Emperors on merit. Then the Philosopher-Emperor had to ruin it by indulging in nepotism. Commodus proved so abysmal that his reign seemed to Edward Gibbon the appropriate beginning of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” After Commodus, the Emperors again were elevated generally on merit. Unfortunately, the merit now was one’s ability to kill your predecessor. That would explain why there were some 80 emperors in five centuries.

p.s. Today is also Caligula’s birthday, but he doesn’t need me as a publicist.

The Wrong Exorcism

Posted in General on October 22nd, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

This is the feast day of St. Albercius Marcellus, the second century bishop whose missionary efforts in Mesopotamia were so obviously successful. At least, no one killed him.

According to Christian folklore, Albercius Marcellus also was said to have exorcised Lucilla, daughter of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. That would make Albercius the patron saint of malpractice because Lucilla was the Emperor’s sane child. The good bishop apparently did not notice any of the quirks in Commodus; Hollywood has proved a little more observant.

Commodus preferred to be introduced as Hercules son of Jupiter. That certainly would have tested his father’s stoicism, but perhaps Marcus Aurelius thought that the boy would grow out of that phase. Unfortunately, inheriting the Roman Empire only further spoiled Commodus. He insisted that Rome be renamed Commodiana. And being the incarnation of Hercules, he trained to be a gladiator–although he limited his risk to killing animals. The wars in Britain and along the Danube were left to others; Commodus was busy slaughtering ostriches at the Colosseum. He was an accomplished archer, which allowed him a reasonably cautious way to kill lions.

The public was entertained, except for the patrician class being coerced into paying for the murdered menageries. His sister Lucilla was not exactly devoted to him either. In 182, just two years after his ascending the throne, she plotted his assassination. The nephew of her lover was supposed to stab the Emperor. Unfortunately, the aspiring assassin was also a cousin and he must have shared the family trait for bombastic theatrics because he proclaimed the assassination before he had accomplished it. The Praetorians had more than enough time to disarm the orating man. Of course, he was soon executed, and so was the Emperor’s nasty big sister and her lover. However, Lucilla’s husband was spared; he really was innocent of the plot. (Lucilla kept him in the dark about everything.)

In fairness to Commodus, he did not kill people as indiscriminately as he did animals. He was a megalomanical buffoon but not a monster. The young Emperor really just wanted to party rather than rule; he let his ministers run the empire and kill each other. (Just think of Commodus as a George Bush who had stayed drunk.) But after 12 years of a reign that was more mercurial than herculean, it was obvious that Commodus would never grow up; so his ministers decided that he shouldn’t grow old.

Even his mistress was involved in the plot. She tried poisoning him but apparently was not that good a cook. Someone finally thought of an appropriate sendoff; since Commodus was a jock, a professional athlete was hired to snap the Emperor’s neck. Commodus finally had a match that wasn’t fixed.

The ever-adolescent emperor (he was a callow 31) was succeeded by a mature and eminent senator who lasted less than a year, murdered by the imperial guard which then auctioned the empire off to the highest bidder. That was followed by civil war, tyrants, maniacs, more civil wars and an inexorable decline of the Empire itself.

Edward Gibbons began “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” with the reign of Commodus. If only St. Albercius had exorcised the right child.