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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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romans

Burns Night

Today I have mostly been researching Roman Feast Days that might have given Caligula an excuse to organise a party or three, and watching MTV Classic – easily the best of all the MTV channels, it turns out.  90s hour is particularly fun.

Some of the festivals include:

January 15th – Festival of the Ass

This was not a tribute to bootylicious Roman ladies, but a commemoration of the time the goddess Vesta was saved by a donkey.  Oh come on, you remember that story!  She was the daughter of Saturn the fertility god?  Known for her chastity?  In lieu of rohypnol a shady character by the name of Priapus decided to try and do the nasties with her whilst she was asleep?  But a donkey brayed and woke her up so she escaped?  Surely everyone knows this….

February 15th – Lupercalia

Celebration of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus & Remus. A load of priests got together in a cave, sacrificed a goat, and anointed the Lupercii – young blokes – with the blood. Then some other priests wiped the blood away, using milk, like the wolf would have done I suppose.  The boys then skinned the goat and ripped the hide into strips which they tied around their waists.  Oh, did I mention they were topless?  Well they were.  Then they then got pissed and ran around Rome whacking everyone they met with these goatskin thongs.   As in the aforementioned strips of hide, not the pants favoured by Sisqo.  Young women who got in the way were thought to be blessed, especially in terms of fertility and procreation.  Go them.

June 11th – Matralia

To celebrate the goddess Mater Matuta, her statue was decorated with garlands by single women or women who had been married once.  They also cooked her cakes in clay pots.  Those are the best kind of cakes, don’t you think?  One female slave was allowed into temple on this day, and as part of the festivities she’d be ritually slapped on the head and then chased out of the building.  BANTER.

Compared to his peers, you have to wonder whether Caligula was actually as eccentric as they say…

Revisionism and Excerpts

As I suspected a few posts back, Roman historians like Suetonius were pretty biased against Caligula, and had a tendency to write down the most outrageous rumours without assessing their validity in any way.  So whilst what I have written so far is stuff a bit like:

Had to have a consul executed today.  He forgot to announce my birthday in the public records.  Seriously.  A child of five could have remembered to do that.

Now I’m wondering whether he was actually as bad as all that.  The gaps in historical evidence make it hard to judge, but it seems pretty clear that it was in the interests of all the sources that survive from the time (Suetonius, Dio, Claudius, Seneca) to make Caligula out to be an evil nutjob.  So, the question is really whether to go with them and write him in a sort of cartoony, madder than a box of snakes type of way, or to take on board the revisionist work available and write him with a bit of empathy. 

My answer to this is to try both.

Perhaps I should use Incitatus [the horse he was meant to have made a consul, according to Suetonius] to upset senate a bit more.  That’s always fun – I still get a kick out of the time I made them run alongside my litter for ten miles in the blazing sun.  Served them right – all that time feasting and sitting indoors and conspiring to kill me makes them pasty and unfit.  They should try going to battle, see what that does for them.

I think I will commission a legion of men to carve Incitatus a stable of marble.  And he will have a collar blazing with precious jewels, and a manger of ivory.  I’ll have the grooms mix flakes of gold into his food, too.  He will live in as lavish and decadent a manner as the gods themselves.  Senate will be furious!  But frankly that horse is twice as clever as all of them put together.  Self important, plotting dunderheads that they are.  They’ll soon learn that they can’t have any effect on me.

January

I initially had a lot of trouble deciding on January’s book.

I thought it would be the ‘friends and family’ volume, and had vaguely planned to email everyone I was close to over the Christmas period to ask for ideas.  However, as soon as I sat down to compose said email, I knew it wasn’t going to work.  Different people were bound to want different genres, which would mean a random cacophony of characters and plot ideas more convoluted than a local authority newsletter.

What I needed was a structure – perhaps I could begin with a genre and expand it from there?  This is the format I have opted to go with, as you can see from the ‘get involved’ page.  However, January is immediate and looming and tangible; so close I can almost smell Snowmageddon 2: Snow Harder.  And I didn’t want to nag people for their ideas over the holidays lest they had been watching too many heartwarming Richard Curtis movies and ended up insisting I write a family saga about an English Rose with a heart of gold.  I’m not ready to become Joan Jonker just yet.

The solution, as it turned out, had been offered by my sister about ten seconds after I explained the project to her towards the end of November.  She thought about it for a couple of minutes, then looked at me and said “Caligula’s Blog.”

I almost dismissed it out of hand because it was too perfect a pitch.  It was a ready formed concept – all I’d have to do is research the life of Caligula and some Roman history, then write it.  Bam.  So much for the group participation stuff.

As it turns out, it’s the perfect first book for this project, because whilst I’m researching and writing it I can get this site off the ground and publicise the project so that I have something to work with for the coming months.  With that in mind, I have downloaded Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire to my phone in five volumes, as well as the Caligula volume of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus’s Lives of The Twelve Caesars which had a rather lovely comment about the legs of one of Emperor Tiberius’s generals…  I am currently trying to source a copy of I, Claudius from the library and have been told to check out Plutarch’s Lives, but if you know any other useful source material, please leave a comment!

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