The Best of the Worst: Caligula & Nero

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Ancient Roman History

The Best of the Worst: Caligula & Nero

“Such opposed vices, both the greatest arrogance and the greatest timidity, were to be found in the same person” (Caligula, 51). Suetonius’ quotation is vital in composing a description of a poor emperor based on the detestable characters of Caligula and Nero. It appears that both Caligula and Nero suffered from acute vanity due to their overwhelming insecurities. To appease their insecurity, both men must assert themselves superior to their predecessors rather than honoring them. To achieve this, Caligula and Nero violate the precedence of Augustus by disrespecting the Senate and pursuing a civil policy defined by cruelty and corruption.

Suetonius decorates the memorials of Caligula and Nero with an evident display of their arrogance, extensively detailing many prideful stories of both regimes. In regards to Caligula, Suetonius recounts how Caligula was not bashful in receiving titles. Caligula envisioned himself a king equaling leadership qualities of Xerxes or Alexander, while also advancing a “claim to the majesty of a god” (Caligula, 22). Suetonius demonstrates how Caligula proclaims his divinity by removing the heads off statues of Zeus and other gods only to restore them with his own head. Caligula’s disrespect towards the gods exposes his vanity and leads Suetonius to comment that “his practice never conformed to the traditional manner of Roman citizens” (Caligula, 163). Nero, too, must endure his own egotism, illustrated by his eagerness to accept titles. Nero’s laughable singing career further demonstrates his vanity. Nero, like Caligula, disrespected gods and heroes by reenacting their stories while wearing masks with “features resembled his own” (Nero, 21). Suetonius builds on this visible pride by recounting stories of how in singing competitions, Nero forced the audience to stay in their seats to the performance’s conclusion and often “proclaimed his own victory” (Nero, 24). In...
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