Saturday, July 01, 2006

Feeling so Mean I Could Shoot a Man Just for Snoring 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWe’re finally going to install living room curtains so our neighbors in the apartment building across the street can’t stare into our exciting lives Rear Window style like we do into theirs. I was sitting with my legs crossed Indian style in the library stacks, rooting through a pile of decorating books for inspiration when an older man attracted my attention. He was sitting at a carrel about 10 feet away from my spot, sucking on his dentures as he gazed contemplatively out the window. He was making this horrible, wet smack in slow, maddeningly predictable intervals, like a smoke detector or Chinese Water Torture. While I was giving him the stink eye a teenage girl joined me in the aisle and began sniffling incessantly. As they battled for aural supremacy around me I wondered why some times I'm astoundingly oblivious to noise and the goings-on about me, while other times I unwillingly hone in on random ambient sounds with the laser beam focus of an autistic. The situation made me greatly sympathize with John Wesley Hardin, the Texas outlaw immortalized in those old Time Life commercials as “so mean he once shot a man once just for snoring.”

I know that we all do things to irritate each other, so I shouldn’t judge. In a memorable scene in I, Claudius, Caligula scolds his nephew for his constant coughing. His nephew insolently replies that he can’t help it - he’s sick. His coughing continues, infuriating Caligula. The next day or so Claudius greets Caligula in a hallway and asks where his nephew is. Caligula casually mentions that he has found a cure for his nephew’s cough. He snaps his fingers and a guard brings out the nephew’s head.

That’s what inbreeding? lead pipes? absolute power? meningitis? life long paranoia? will do to you. Actually, the paranoia was well deserved. Caligula's father died under suspicious circumstances, his mother was exiled and starved herself to death, another brother was thrown into a dungeon and resorted to eating the stuffing from his mattress before starving to death, etc.

And by the way, if you ever want to see England’s finest Shakespearean actors torture, murder, participate in orgies and engage in all sorts of other intrigue, decadence and vice, then watch the amazing BBC miniseries I, Claudius.

Robert Graves, the author of the books upon which the series is based, relied heavily on Suetonius’s 12 Caesars. Seutonius definitely had a political axe to grind, so I’m hoping he fabricated or at least exaggerated the cruelity, depravity and perversions of Imperial Rome. Although I was raised Episcopalian, I’ve never grasped the appeal of Christianity (I consider myself more of an ethnic Episcopalian than practicing Episcopalian) but I can see how it was an understandable reaction to the behavior going on at the time, if it truly was that bad. When I toured the catacombs of Rome, favorite hiding and gathering places of early Christians, I envisioned the Christians as termites drilling and eating out the city's foundation. Down in the dank catacombs, E pretended to be the Orkin Man. "Yeah, Emperor. You've got quite an infestation here. This is going to cost ya'."

In I, Claudius, Caligula’s antics include:

As horribly as the Romans behaved, some sure knew how to die with admirable dignity. When traitorous Praetorian guards pull out their swords to assassinate Caligula's wife, Caesonia, she sneers at them as if they are incompetent serving girls. “Don't make a mess of it," she commands them.

Fun fact: Tony Soprano’s mother is named Livia, a tip of the hat to Claudius’ scheming, vicious grandmother in I, Claudius.

If I, Claudius isn't louche and hard core enough for you, then there's always Bob Guccione's Caligula, which is also lousy with fine British actors, including one of my favorites, Helen Mirren, who plays Caesonia. No matter what role is I see her in I always think of Caligula's sister's aghast reaction when Caligula informs her that he wants to marry Caesonia. "Caesonia? But she's the most promiscuous woman in Rome!"

I wonder if that is the origin of the word caesarian.
Julius Caesar was allegedly born by this procedure. It was Roman law to perform it on dying mothers to save the baby, but it is unlikely that Julius' mother had it, since she survived into his adulthood. It probably is derived from caedere, the Latin word meaning to cut. Wikipedia has an interesting entry, but be forewarned there is a graphic picture.
I, Claudius is absolutely my favorite miniseries. Note that it dates from the mid-70s and absolutely nothing like it had ever appeared on television before.

When will you give up blogging to concentrate on writing your novel?
Hi Foxy, Amie here (Mark N's friend, frisbee lover, and Foxy Librarian afficionado). You should check out Francesco Vezzoli's Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, a film featured in this year's Whitney Biennial. It's a kneeslapper of over-the-top decadence.
Thanks for all you do to make the world a better, easier-to-understand, funnier, and more interesting place.
There's an article waiting to be written on the names in The Sopranos. E.g. off the top of my head: Artie Buco's (Buco? There's one) restaurant, exploded spectacularly early on by Silvio Dante (!), is Vesuvio. The pork store known as Satriale's was Centanni's in the pilot. Livia you mention - etc. etc.
Here's a little bit of the Caligula piece at the Whitney. http://youtube.com/watch?v=JzUrbW3nq_g&search=caligula
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