Magazine article The Spectator

Belonging to the Emperor

Magazine article The Spectator

Belonging to the Emperor

Article excerpt

Since the emperor is going through a bad patch at the moment, his News International slaves had better watch out. One bloodbath may not be enough for the old monster. They can expect to have to bend even more obsequiously to his commands over the coming months if their positions are to remain secure.

Imperial life was a nightmare for Romans. They needed all the selfdefence mechanisms they could muster against its insecurities. The emperor Caligula, Seneca tells us, imprisoned the son of Pastor, a distinguished Roman, because of his foppish hairstyle. Pastor begged for his life, so Caligula immediately had the son executed, but invited Pastor to dinner the same day. Pastor turned up, old and gout-ridden as he was, and ate and drank as if nothing had happened, without signs of grief or remorse. 'Why, you ask?' Seneca goes on, and answers: habebat alterum - he had another son.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus (once a slave) pointed out the humiliations involved: 'If you wish to be consul, you must stay up all night, run back and forth, kiss hands, say and do many slavish things, send many people gifts and, to some, presents every day. …

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