Caligula: Divine Carnage by Stephen Barber Jeremy Reed

Caligula: Divine Carnage by Stephen Barber Jeremy Reed

Author:Stephen Barber, Jeremy Reed [Barber, Stephen & Reed, Jeremy]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Published: 2016-01-23T00:00:00+00:00


“Myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine”

—Roland Barthes

“We are all celebrating some funeral”

—Charles Baudelaire, Salon de 1846

AD 218 – one year after the assassination of the emperor Caracalla by conspirators led by the usurper Macrinus. Encouraged by his Syrian mother Symiamira, the fourteen-year-old Heliogabalus had taken to making up like a girl, as well as to wearing the translucent gowns his mother would adopt for the entertainment of her lovers.

For years, the androgynous youth whose real name was Varius Avitus Bassianus identified himself with the sun-god Elagabalus, worshipped at Emesa in the form of a black conical stone, universally believed to have dropped there from the sky. As blood of the Emesan dynasty, Heliogabalus could count amongst his ancestors the hieratic Kings of Sohemias, as well as Samsigeramus and his son Iamblichus, the friend of Cicero. He could attribute something of his mystical sensibility to the temple of Emesa, and to the prophecies associated with the oracle of Belos at Apamaea.

Nothing would persuade the youth that he wasn’t the living incarnation of the solar god. He knew this always in the way that a profound inner assumption strengthens in time to an absolute conviction. Heliogabalus’s relations with the god at his interior were mutually dependent, like the peach is to the stone out of which it ripens. He had decided already that he would act out the god’s instructions, no matter how significantly these dictates appeared to rupture the social fabric. Living with a god threw Heliogabalus into violent mood swings. He could be delirious with excitement or broken through a sense of dejection that he wasn’t equal to his calling. His manic tilt lifted him on a long trajectory towards the sun.

He had known since childhood that his triumphant moment would arrive. The incestuous sex he practised with his mother was part of his initiation into divine appointment. When he performed sacrificial rituals before the black phallic stone, he realised he was feeding the unappeasable need within himself to be recognised. And far more than recognised, worshipped. Heliogabalus knew his power, and that if he concentrated his psychic energies he would manifest the nuclear god at his core. Being extraordinary was his innate prerogative, and revealing it his secular mission.

Heliogabalus had to fight for his title as emperor. Born the grandson of Julia Maesa, younger sister of the empress Julia Domna, and the son of Sextus Varius Marcellus, who occupied the rank of senator under Caracalla, his mother Symiamira claimed that Heliogabalus’s real father was the murdered emperor. On the notion of that claim alone Heliogabalus won the loyal support of an army anxious to depose the despotically savage Macrinus from the imperial title.

War between the two parties broke out immediately after a total eclipse of the sun, an event interpreted as a potent sign by Elagabalus’s priesthood. It is clear that the revolt was a complete surprise to Macrinus, who misassessing the gravity of the situation left his prefect Julianus to take the initial step.


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