On the Firmness of the Wise Person XVIII

Gaius Caesar, among the other vices with which he overflowed, was possessed by a strange insolent passion for marking everyone with some note of ridicule, he himself being the most tempting subject for derision; so ugly was the paleness which proved him mad, so savage the glare of the eyes which lurked under his old woman’s brow, so hideous his misshapen head, bald and dotted about with a few cherished hairs; besides the neck set thick with bristles, his thin legs, his monstrous feet.

It would be endless were I to mention all the insults which he heaped upon his parents and ancestors, and people of every class of life.

I will mention those which brought him to ruin.

An especial friend of his was Asiaticus Valerius, a proud-spirited man and one hardly likely to put up with another’s insults quietly.

At a drinking bout, that is, a public assembly, Gaius, at the top of his voice, reproached this man with the way his wife behaved in bed.

Good gods! that a man should hear that the emperor knew this, and that he, the emperor, should describe his adultery and his disappointment to the lady’s husband, I do not say to a man of consular rank and his own friend.

Chaerea, on the other hand, the military tribune, had a voice not befitting his prowess, feeble in sound, and somewhat suspicious unless you knew his achievements.

When he asked for the watchword Gaius at one time gave him “Venus,” and at another “Priapus,” and by various means reproached the man-at-arms with effeminate vice; while he himself was dressed in transparent clothes, wearing sandals and jewellery.

Thus he forced him to use his sword, that he might not have to ask for the watchword oftener; it was Chaerea who first of all the conspirators raised his hand, who cut through the middle of Caligula’s neck with one blow.

After that, many swords, belonging to men who had public or private injuries to avenge, were thrust into his body, but he first showed himself a man who seemed least like one.

The same Gaius construed everything as an insult (since those who are most eager to offer affronts are least able to endure them).

He was angry with Herennius Macer for having greeted him as Gaius⁠—nor did the chief centurion of triarii get off scot-free for having saluted him as Caligula; having been born in the camp and brought up as the child of the legions, he had been wont to be called by this name, nor was there any by which he was better known to the troops, but by this time he held “Caligula” to be a reproach and a dishonour.

Let wounded spirits, then, console themselves with this reflection, that, even though our easy temper may have neglected to revenge itself, nevertheless that there will be someone who will punish the impertinent, proud, and insulting man, for these are vices which he never confines to one victim or one single offensive act.

Let us look at the examples of those men whose endurance we admire, as, for instance, that of Socrates, who took in good part the published and acted jibes of the comedians upon himself, and laughed no less than he did when he was drenched with dirty water by his wife Xanthippe.

Antisthenes was reproached with his mother being a barbarian and a Thracian; he answered that the mother of the gods, too, came from Mount Ida.