I, Claudius: Hail Who?
December 8, 2017 8:09 PM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe
Rome, AD 40–41. Claudius is living with the ex-prostitute Calpurnia in meagre circumstances. Caligula has turned the palace into a brothel where he sells the wives of high-ranking Senate members to the highest bidder during sexual orgies and forces Claudius to take money at the door. As a joke, he arranges for Claudius to marry the much younger, extremely beautiful Messalina. Totally insane, Caligula makes his horse Incitatus a senator, and takes his legions on a campaign to Germany to put down an alleged rebellion and then to the English Channel where he attempts to do battle with Neptune, bringing back seashells as booty.
WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH?
Which leads us to... a proper Roman orgy! After weeks of waiting, we are treated to a full on orgy - well, as full on as the BBC will allow, we're not talking Caligula here. But for it's time, it was pretty shocking,with bare breasts everywhere, cavorting, messed up togas, grapes and two men kissing practically on top of the camera, which was pretty far out for the BBC in the 70s. Caligula's pregnant wife, who is older, not especially pretty and seems bizarrely sane, thanks Claudius for rescuing a new mother from the orgy, and Caligula himslef enters, in all his barely dressed glory, to discover Claudius in the act of beating up another over-enthusiastic customer. Caligula has decided to go to war in Germania. To escape the degradation of Rome.
It’s endlessly fascinating to me that Caligula is portrayed as being partially aware of his delusion. He makes multiple references to the fact that he knows he is giving his subjects impossible situations to navigate, such as demanding that the senators not celebrate his return, but then publicly berating them for following his commands. How much of his delusional behavior did he believe? I think that’s directly related to how he was “more afraid than the rest of us,” as Calpurnia put it. (Actually, I may have gotten the wrong character there. Perhaps Caesonia said that? Oh god, I can’t find it online.) I don’t think Caligula, at least in this version of him, totally believed everything he was doing. I think he was enabled to do whatever the hell he wanted with the power that he had, and he got off on getting away with everything.