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The King Midas Tempting Touch

by on February 15, 2017

King Midas

“Be careful what you ask for”, goes the old saying. Apparently though, King Midas never heard it. Truth be told, there are a few King Midas’ in ancient history, depending on which reference you like. However, most stories relate that he was the son of Gordias and hailed from the ancient kingdom of Phrygia, somewhere around modern day central Turkey, close to Ankara.

But that’s not why Midas is a household name. No, we aren’t talking about an oil change either. We are instead referring to the Midas Touch. Most people will think about gold when hearing those two words collocated. But does everyone know the supposed story behind it? If not, read on.

The famous Roman poet, Ovid, narrates the whole story in the poem Metamorphoses. Like many tales gone awry, it begins with a god and in this case a divinity known for getting into trouble. However, this time it wasn’t only the god Dionysus, but his foster father and school master, the satyr Silenus. The old fellow had been enjoying more than enough jugs of his favorite grape drink when he wandered away drunk. Then, depending on the version you read, he either passed out in the King’s garden or was taken there by the peasants of Phrygia. Either way he ended up at King Midas’ feet. Fortunately for everyone involved, the intelligent royal recognized the inebriated satyr and recalled his divine connection. As a result he put on his best spread and entertained Dionysus’ father-like friend for 10 days and nights. Finally on the eleventh day, King Midas brought Silenus back to Dionysus in Lydia, also in central Turkey. The God was delighted to see his mate well and offered to give king Midas whatever he wished.

The avaricious monarch requested that whatever he touches turns to gold. At once Dionysus granted his wish and Midas, not surprisingly pleased, worked at once to stockpile his yellow metal reserves. Still enthusiastic, he ordered his peasants to prepare a great feast for him at the table. “So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer” (Claudian, In Rufinem).

Now the tables had turned and he abhorred his new talents. He begged Dionysus to restore him to his old self and deliver him from the clutches of starvation. The Wine God took pity and instructed King Midas to go to the river Pactolus. There the abundant stream would wash away any gold turning powers and revert items back to their previous state. King Midas happily obeyed, submerged into the waters and saw his divine gift float into the river and turn the sand bank into gold. This explained both why the river, located near the Aegean coast in Turkey, has such yellow coloring and why the dynasty, claiming Midas as their forefather, was so rich.

There is actually another story concerning Midas and some Asses’ ears – but that is for another day.

Interestingly enough, King Midas probably did exist and his (or his father’s) supposed funeral mound was discovered in the late 50’s. It was a huge burial, with the best Iron age drinking vessels ever recovered. In addition, the body of his majesty measured only 1.59 meters, or 5’2”, and no gold was found at the site.

The Dramatic Greek: One man’s non-tragic life

by on February 5, 2017

Sophocles bust

The good looking fellow himself

Some people have drama follow them wherever they go, while others just write about it. Sophocles, the prolific ancient greek playwright, was definitely the latter.  He enjoyed an ideal existence, all while changing the face of Tragedy and penning some fairly morbid ideas for future psycho-analysts, like Sigmund Freud.

 

Hailing from just outside Athens, Sophocles’ life was a far cry from the tragic situations that characterized his plays. He was born into a wealthy family, provided with an excellent education and received high positions and enviable accolades throughout his life.  As fortune would have it, he was around to witness the magnificent Greek triumph in the Persian War and was afterwards promoted to a high executive official, commanding the armed forces.  And, if all that wasn’t enough, he was also considered beautiful and graceful!

 

Nor did he die an untimely death. In fact, Sophocles did not ‘give up the ghost’ until the ripe age of 91, in the year 405 B.C. Apparently everyone knew what a lucky bloke he was, as is evident by this eulogy, found in The Muses:  “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.”

So what does this man know about Drama and Tragedy? How could such a fellow pen 123 plays, win 24 major competitions, and conceive of such anguished characters like Oedipus and Antigone without the help of a manic-depressive mother or an alcoholic father?

That we can not answer. All we do know is that he started off imitating the celebrated Aeschylus. Eventually, however, the student overtook the master, dominating the religious festivals and eclipsing Aeschylus’ in fame and fortune. We also can be certain that Sophocles’ works, at least those that have remained (a measly 7 of the original 100+) have, throughout history, influenced a plethora of great minds. Aristotle himself used Sophocles’ Oedipus the King in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) as an example of the highest achievement in tragedy. Not quite praise from Ceasar, but close!

But let us allow the man’s work to speak for itself. We begin by reading one of the most famous, poignant and powerful greek tragedies of all time. Classical Wisdom Weekly Readers are invited to discover “Oedipus Rex” for Free HERE: http://classicalwisdom.com/greek_books/oedipus-the-king/ ‎

Emperor Trump?

by on November 18, 2016

NEW YORK- “How’s everything with you post election?” our fearless leader, Anya Leonard, wrote to us on Wednesday morning.

We look out the window. Sun still shining.

We glance over our shoulder. Dog still napping on the couch.

We pick up a piece of paper, drop it, and watch it waft slowly to the floor. Laws of physics still behaving normally.

That’s a start…

All of our well-meaning liberal friends predicted utter chaos should Emperor Trump take the throne.

‘What sort of chaos?’ we wondered.

Would the Spartans tear down our city walls?

Would Rome burn anew while Donald tuned his fiddle?

Would the Visigoths storm the city, desecrate our monuments and make off with our women?

Since none of that has happened (yet) we’d like to think we’re getting off okay. You know…all things considered.

#NotMyCaesar

There may be celebration in “fly over America” where The Donald is heralded as an American hero, but the bicoastal citizens view him as tantamount to the devil.

“What the f*** is wrong with you?” bemoaned Silicon Valley investor, Dave McClure during a web summit in Lisbon last Wednesday. There is now a very real effort to have California secede from the American Republic.

Protests erupted across Manhattan following the election announcement. They congregated in Union Square and clogged up much of 5th avenue. We got caught up in the madness and had to find a different way home.

#NotMyPresident was trending as of Wednesday morning. We stop for a minute and wonder how it is that our forefathers every expressed their outrage without the advent of hash tags. How quickly would Caesar been assassinated if #NotMyEmperor had been trending in ancient Rome? How did the American founders possibly revolt without 140 characters and #NoTaxationWithoutRepresentation @BostonHarbor #TeaParty?

I guess we’ll never know…

But dear reader, you don’t pay us to cheer for the winners or howl alongside the losers. In fact, you don’t pay us at all! Which makes our observations on this matter worth at least what you pay for them.

That being said, we always viewed The Donald with guilty fascination; the way you might view a kid burning ants with a magnifying glass or a flaming garbage truck barreling through a retirement home.

He’s a scoundrel; it’s true. We even wondered, despite backlash from readers, if he might just be a tyrant. The man lacks the eloquence of Pericles or the philosophical mind of Marcus Aurelius, but he’s captured the hearts and minds of the everyman. He promises eternal glory to the empire. In that regard, perhaps Trump’s a Cesar-like leader: bold, brash, beloved. Will the Senators stab him to death?

Time will tell.

But back to the abovementioned anger.

The justification for the outrage, or so we glean, is that HRC seems to have won the popular vote. That is to say more of the unwashed voters pulled the Clinton lever. It was the Electoral College, not the popular vote, which delivered Trump his win.

“The man lacks the eloquence of Pericles or the philosophical mind of Marcus Aurelius, but he’s captured the hearts and minds of the everyman. He promises eternal glory to the empire.”

N.B. Our international readers, as well as any American readers who skipped American Gov 101, might want to brush up on the Electoral College. Try here.

“The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness,” reads a very real petition to abolish the whole shebang, “It is part of the constitution, written when communication was by pony express.”

Has the Electoral College outlived its usefulness?

A lot of our millennial friends seem sure that the answer is ‘yes’.

At Classical Wisdom, we’re never sure or unsure about anything, but always questioning. Like Socrates, we’ve only ever claimed to know nothing, and not once have we failed to live up to that standard.

But since we’re here, let’s get into it.

Tyranny Arises out of Democracy

If you want to see the consequences of a direct democracy, look no further than classical Athens.

marcus aurelius

Athens is heralded as the cradle of democracy. The caveat being that said democracy was very much a work in progress. While democracy was popular with the demos (the people) it was far from perfect. Just for starters- Socrates was executed as a result of a democratic vote. So were numerous generals and treasurers during the Peloponnesian War.

The people of Athens continuously voted for more and more military campaigns against neighboring states following the end of the Greco-Persian Wars in the early 5th century BC.

And why not?

Money was pouring in from plundered states, the citizens had regular work as oarsmen on the military Triremes (warships), and the Generals were being heralded with untold amounts of glory (political capital).

Never mind that such events led to the Peloponnesian War between the Athenian Empire and the Spartan coalition of the Peloponnese. The war would ultimately conclude with the destruction of the Athenian city wall and a brief suspension of democracy itself.

The philosopher Plato so despised democracy that he would later make the bold claim that democracy could lead only to tyranny.

Or, from the man himself…

And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.

The Republic, Book VIII

 

Elected Despotism

The American framers opted to avoid such an outcome by attempting to create, at least on paper, a democratic republic that would restrain both the conniving tendencies of politics and the winner-take-all demands of, as Madison put it in Federalist 10, “an interested and overbearing majority.”

The American founders took a page from the Roman historian, Polybius and crafted a government of “mixed regime.” Much in the way that the Roman Republic attempted to balance power between the Consuls, Senators and the people, so too did the American framers hope to stabilize the country through the checks and balances of federal branches.

And as for the “over bearing majority”, the Electoral College was created to keep them in check and avoid the mob rule of a direct election.

The obvious kicker being, and some of you might already know this, the original Electoral College system is not used today.

Originally, the Constitution allowed citizens do elect “electors” who could then deliberate and discern the wisest candidate and vote in turn on the citizens behalf.

From Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution…

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

 

These electors were supposed to be impartial, free agents who could discern the true qualifications needed for the office of Presidency and vote for a candidate who exemplified such qualities.

But in the early 1800s this plan was effectively scrapped. The electors became “voluntary party lackeys and intellectual nonentities.” The electors bowed down to the wishes of the party and the state, without the bother of impartial deliberation.

N.B. the above quote is from Chief Justice Robert Jackson, Ray v. Blair, dissent, 1952

This trend continued until the original Electoral College was replaced with the general ticket that we know today. It was not, and this is just between us chickens, the original intention of the classically-minded men who were very aware of the ebbs and flows of history; men who would have been educated in the classical ideas of the ancient world’s most prolific thinkers.

Even still, would reverting to this original system indeed give us the wise and just rulers that we so deserve? More likely it would be a replay of the massive outrage seen during the Democratic primaries when people figured out precisely what a Super Delegate actually was.

To paraphrase Churchill, democracy is the worst system of government… except for all the others.

Democracy is an experiment originating in the classical age. It was, at the start, a work in progress.

Maybe it still is.

Nothing More Demoralizing

by on October 21, 2016

By Ben Potter and Van Bryan

“Money…there’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.”

So says the 5th-century Greek playwright, Sophocles.

Now, dear reader, we’re a student of the classics. We believe that an understanding and appreciation for the literature and history of antiquity can lend us perspective. The classics teach us to think critically, ponder more thoughtfully the questions of our humanity.

That being said, we always wished that the ancient Athenian had elaborated on his claim of monetary demoralization.

What about money is demoralizing?

Is it a deficiency of money that demoralizes man?
Or perhaps an excess? Is money the root of all evil? Or is evil the root of all money?

We don’t know. We’re being Socratic and merely asking questions. We’ve only ever claimed to know nothing, and not once have we failed to live up to that standard.

Lucky for us, greater minds than ours have pondered questions of coinage. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, of the 4th century BC, had one such mind.

Perhaps our ancient forefather can lend perspective on this subject, and answer for us an age-old question: what exactly is money?

What is money?

Ancient Greece was a time of firsts for the Western World.

First democratic government? Yep.

First masterpieces in literature? Check.

First academic university? Double check. Plato AND Aristotle founded schools in the classical age.

It’s unsurprising then that the ancient Greeks were also responsible for minting some of the first coins in the Western world.

Perhaps even more unsurprising is that this was almost immediately followed by the first embezzlement scandal and an ancient version of the military-industrial complex.

See…we really are influenced by the Greeks.

coincoin
Ancient Greek Tetradrachm

Note: New subscribers to our monthly subscription can recieve their own classical gold tetradrachm for free. Learn more here.

The ancient Greek drachma enjoyed popular usage starting in the Archaic Age of Greece (around 600 BC) right up until the Roman Empire. Ancient coins were originally minted from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy, but over time gold and silver became the preferred metals.

The rising economic influence of the Greeks during the 5th century meant that the ancient drachma was widely accepted across the known world. Ancient coins have been found in Egypt, Rome, and Syria. They even reached as far as the western dwelling Celts.

But all of this so far is just nickel and dime stuff. Practice your best chin stroking, now we get philosophical.

Aristotle, a man who is often regarded as one of the most prolific and influential philosophers of the Western world, had a few ideas on money.

Unlike his predecessor and teacher, Plato, Aristotle felt no need to justify the existence of money. Being the practical guy that he was, Aristotle considered the necessity of money to be self-evident.

When the inhabitants of one country became more dependent on those of another, and they imported what they needed, and exported what they had too much of, money necessarily came into use.

 

And not to mention, Aristotle says somewhat patronizingly, …

The various necessaries of life are not easily carried about!

 

Importantly, Aristotle did not claim that money was wealth. Rather, money represented wealth.

How can that be wealth of which a man may have a great abundance and yet perish with hunger, like Midas in the fable, whose insatiable prayer turned everything that was set before him into gold?

 

Money, to Aristotle, represents olives in the orchard, vases from the potter, wine from the vineyard. Money wasn’t wealth, but it could measure wealth.

Fair enough, we’ve talked about what money is not. What, then, is money?

Well, Aristotle says that money should ideally be five things…

    1. Durable – it must survive the trials and tribulations of daily life, i.e. of being carried around in people’s pockets, purses, or even in the mouths of the newly deceased.

 

    1. Portable – a small item should be of a high value.

 

    1. Divisible – breaking a coin, either figuratively or literally, should not affect its relative value.

 

    1. Fungible – mutually exchangeable i.e. it doesn’t matter which particular coin you have as long as you have one.

 

  1. Intrinsically valuable – the coin’s material should be a worthwhile commodity (mint coins from gold not concrete).

Ignoring this 5th principle, history tells us, is what can be particularly disastrous.

The Crisis of the 3rd Century

At the outset of the Roman Empire, starting in 27 BC, the preferred Roman currency was the silver denarius. Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus, minted coins that were 95% silver.

Ah, but what good idea couldn’t be improved with a little monetary manipulation?

coins
Ancient Roman Denarius depicting Titus

The coinage was debased over the centuries; so much so that by 268 AD, there was just under .5% silver in the denarius.When questioned about the devaluation of the currency, Emperor Caracalla (who ruled from 198 to 217 AD) held up his sword and declared…

Not to worry. So long as we have these (gesturing to the sword), we shall not run short of money.

 

How do you like that for a monetary policy?!

Even non-economists can probably guess what happened next. Hyperinflation ran rampant in the Empire. Prices during this period rose as much as 1000%. This is often referred to as “the crisis of the 3rd century”.

Over the next fifty years, 26 different men would claim the seat of power, often through military force. As for Emperor Carcalla-in 217 AD his own soldiers stabbed him to death when the Emperor stopped to take a leak.

History really is fascinating…

Perhaps the madness is best summed up by the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon, when he commented that the great wonder of the Roman Empire was not that it fell, but rather that it lasted as long as it did!

Nothing More Demoralizing?

Aristotle’s ideas have been used throughout the ages in order to justify or denigrate various economic policies and innovations; from fiat printing to the most recent phenomenon of crypto-currencies.

By now we’re feeling Socratic again. Are Aristotle’s ideas on money outdated or, perhaps worse, standing in the way of progress? Or are we, like the Romans, teeing off for our own crisis of the third century?

Over the centuries the great teacher has been proven wrong (he contended that flies had four legs and that women had fewer teeth than men). So, at times, society was only able to progress once it had rejected Aristotle’s assertions. Do his ideas on sound money fall into this category of outdated philosophical fodder?

Again, we have no answers… Perhaps that’s the most demoralizing thought of all.

Ego is Your Enemy

by on October 14, 2016

This month we have been occupied with politics- discussing politics, reading The Politics, mourning the state of politics, writing about aforementioned lamentation of politics.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

No answers for certain.

Maybe your editor is a masochist. If you’re a long-time sufferer of our scribblings, then that also makes us a sadist.

This week, we continued the self-flagellation of our soul and listened to the vice presidential debate here in the States.

“So… this won’t be like the last one, right?” our girlfriend inquires with us. “These guys are like…normal people…right?”

We hate to be the one to break it to her, but figure she’s got to learn sooner or later.

“No, honey. They’re not normal people. They’re politicians.”

The Big ‘So What?’

This week, we turn away from politics, cross our fingers, and hope that the demos (people) don’t ruin the polis (State) while our back is turned.

But that isn’t to say that we aren’t talking about important stuff. Far from it!

Before putting any ink to parchment (digital ink on digital parchment, mind you) your editor always considers what we have affectionately dubbed “the big ‘so what?’”

Why should you care? Will reading this week’s newsletter make our subscribers better, smarter, more introspective people?

Or will their eyes glaze over as soon as the edition hits the inbox?

I once had a fellow university student ask me if he could contribute to our weekly mailings. He wanted to submit part of his term paper that focused on the plausibility of the Aristotelian understanding of sense organs.

“Needs more applicability,” we told him.

“Applicability? Never heard of that philosopher.”

You get the point…

The biggest hurdle your editor faces, since our beat is the ancient classics, is contending with the big ‘so what?’ Most people assume that the wisdom of classical antiquity is just that…antiquated.

The classics, most assume, might be right at home in a smoking parlor where Reginald and Irving sew elbow patches on their tweed jackets and pontificate through billowing clouds of pipe smoke.

(Click here to read our previous writings on the fictional Reginald and Irving)

But what of the hearts and minds of those of us here in the real world? The mortgage payer? The soccer mom? The entrepreneur with the scrappy young startup?

Is there room in their lives for the classics?

We think so… and we’re not the only ones.

Ego Is The Enemy

Your editor keeps busy most days, but we put aside some time this week to crack open Ego Is the Enemy, a new book from the New York Time’s bestselling author, and occasional Classical Wisdom contributor, Ryan Holiday.

…ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors. It is Scylla and Charybdis.

-Ryan Holiday (Ego Is The Enemy)

 

If you caught that classical reference at the end, there’s a reason for it. As Ryan puts it, “Like my other books, this one is deeply influenced by Stoic philosophy and indeed all the great classical thinkers.”

Ryan’s a man after our own heart- a writer who uses the wisdom of antiquity to inspire and cultivate the life of the modern citizen.

Most good ideas are old ideas, and the idea that our ego is the enemy is not just old…it’s ancient!

Hate Those Who Flatter

Ego Is The Enemy opens the first chapter by mentioning the ancient essayist and philosopher, Isocrates.

“Sometime around the year 374 B.C., Isocrates, one of the most well-known teachers and rhetoricians in Athens, wrote a letter to a young man named Demonicus. Isocrates had been a friend of the boy’s recently deceased father and wanted to pass on to him some advice on how to follow his father’s example.”

-Ryan Holiday (Ego Is The Enemy)

 

Thanks, Ryan. We’ll take it from here.

Letter to Demonicus, as the piece is known, is brief by ancient standards. You could read the whole shebang in a few minutes. All the same, the letter is filled with practical advice intended to arm the young man for the years ahead.

Isocrates warns Demonicus to “Hate those who flatter as much as those who deceive, for both, if trusted, injure those who trust them.” And that a young man of noble stock should, “Consider that propriety, a sense of shame, justice, and self-control, especially become you; for by all these a young man’s character seems to be adorned.”

Isocrates, in essence, is urging Demonicus to follow the precepts of goodness that would be later propounded by the likes of Socrates and Plato.

Plato believed that the soul was like a chariot, pulled along by two wild horses. The horses represented our desires, both noble and ignoble, and it is only through the skill of a veteran charioteer (wisdom) that we are able to control the direction of the chariot and avoid catastrophe by letting our desires run rampant.

chariot

An ego, left unchecked, has the tendency to lead to disaster and ruin. It is only through the skilled hand of virtue, wisdom, and modesty, that we are able to properly engage our soul in the necessary duties of life.

Ego, as Holiday puts it, is indeed the enemy.

The Internet Has Made You Ignoble

We usually propose that lessons from antiquity are just as important now as they were thousands of years ago. Today’s particular missive is unique in that it’s not just as important, it’s more important now than it’s ever been.

“Isocrates warns Demonicus to ‘Hate those who flatter as much as those who deceive, for both, if trusted, injure those who trust them.'”

It has never been easier than it is today to indulge in self-aggrandizement. As Holiday puts it, “Now, more than ever, our culture fans the flames of ego.”

We stick out our chest; share our perspective on social media outlets with the assumption that our opinions innately matter. Young people are taught that they, by their mere existence, are special. We are told to follow our dreams and that success is all but guaranteed.

Your editor, anecdotally, has observed old friends sink into depression or mania when the realities of the world come crashing down. They are not rock gods or movie stars by the age of 27 and are therefore cheated out of the future they were promised.

The ego has run amok. The horses have slipped the reins. The charioteer is asleep at the wheel.

If ego is the enemy, then wisdom and modesty are your allies. Our classical forbearers knew this lesson well. Socrates said…

It would be better for me… that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself.

 

Cultivate virtue and wisdom. Learn to, as Isocrates says, “hate flatterers”, and that includes the flatterer within all of us.

How important is the health of a ruler?

by on September 23, 2016

The classical age was rife with plague and disease. After all, the ancient world very often chalked up illnesses to the whims of capricious gods; and when you consider that there were open sewer systems, deplorable hygiene practices, not to mention a severe lack of penicillin, getting sick and dying weak and infirmed was par for the course.

Rulers, while able to afford a better quality of living, were not immune from disease.

From the Greek world: the statesmen Pericles was claimed by the Plague of Athens in the late 5th century BC.

It has long been believed that Julius Caesar was epileptic. Caesar’s abilities were greatly deteriorated by his sickness. It is said he collapsed while on campaign in Cordoba, Spain in 46 BC. Enfeebled by his sickness, Caesar also caused a public scandal when he refused to stand when the Senate was honoring him.

N.B. a new hypothesis states that Caesar actually suffered from mini-strokes, not seizures.

However, Rome’s first dictator perpetuo was not the only imperial ruler to succumb to illness.

It has long been suspected that Nero (37-68 AD), the supposed fiddle player, was mentally unfit for to hold the seat of power. It’s been suggested that he suffered from Histrionic personality disorder, a sickness characterized by excessive attention-seeking behavior.

Claudius
Gratus proclaims Claudius emperor
by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Emperor Claudius (10 BC- 54 AD) had remarkably poor health that lead to unsightly behavior and paranoia. Polio has been suggested as a possible diagnosis. The historian Suetonius writes how…

…his laughter was unseemly and his anger still more disgusting, for he would foam at the mouth and trickle at the nose; he stammered besides and his head was very shaky at all times, but especially when he made the least exertion.

-Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars)

 

And then there’s Caligula.

Worst-Case Scenario

 

When considering the possible impacts of poor health of a ruler, Caligula certainly takes the cake as a worst-case scenario.

Seneca the Younger claimed Caligula (12-41 AD) possessed “monstrous cruelty”. It is reported that he killed on a whim; detaching heads from bodies of anybody who had ever crossed or disagreed with him.

“How is it that a young emperor, who was initially beloved by all, turned into one of histories most infamous loons?”

During a gladiator games, they ran out of criminals to throw into the arena. So Caligula ordered his guards to haul spectators into the ring to be eaten by lions.

A citizen once insulted Caligula. As punishment, the emperor ordered the man to be beaten with chains every day. The punishment was carried out for three months before the man was eventually beheaded.

In addition to his penchant for needless murder, Caligula is accused of other odd conduct.

It is said he publically had sex with his three sisters at banquets, sometimes on the table while the food was being served. He turned the imperial palace into a brothel. He also appointed his favorite horse, Incitatus, as a priest.

Caligula didn’t just take a page from the crazy book, he might have written the entire corpus.

What was the source of his madness? How is it that a young emperor, who was initially beloved by all, turned into one of histories most infamous loons?

For the first seven months of his reign, all adored him. Then, in 37 AD, the emperor became exceedingly ill. While Caligula made a full recovery, ancient writers report that he was never the same. His dire sickness seems to have either caused, or was at least preceded, by his monstrous killings and bizarre behaviors.

…it was not long before Gaius-who was now looked upon as a saviour and benefactor, and who was expected to shower down some fresh and everlasting springs of benefits upon all Asia and Europe, so as to endow the inhabitants with inalienable happiness and prosperity, both separately to each individual and generally to the whole state-began, as the proverb has it, at home, and changed into a ferocity of disposition.

-Philo of Alexandria (On the Embassy to Gaius)

So…. how important is the health of a ruler?

Well, maybe more than you think.