Here’s an anniversary you can be excused for having missed. This past August—the 31st of the month, to be exact—marked the 2000th year after the birth of the Roman emperor Gaius, a.k.a. Caligula, in AD 12.
Now, whether you want to sleep on a new two-hour History Channel special devoted to the notorious emperor is a different matter. It’s called Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror—a reference to his short and violent reign of March 37 to January 41. The US premiere airs from 9-11 PM on Tuesday 9 October 2012. (It already debuted in Australia and NZ in time for that August anniversary; and it premieres in Italy Sunday 28 October.)
Rutgers Classics associate professor Corey Brennan plays a part in the show, that (as plugged by the History Channel) “examines controversial new theories about the man who ruled the world’s mightiest Empire with sadistic brutality”. You can see the trailer here.
The RU Classics Weblog talked with Bruce Kennedy, a Princeton Classics major (class of ’92) and award-winning TV industry veteran, who wrote and directed Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror for NorthSouth Productions. “The heart of the two-hour piece”, explains Kennedy, “is a reexamination of whether Caligula was truly evil—or simply a very very naughty guy.”
Kennedy continues: “We go through the usual Suetonius-stories with all their salaciousness: Drusilla, Incitatus, the bridge to Puteoli, picking up shells on the beach. But then we look behind and beyond them—to talk about the more plausible scenarios of what might have really happened, given his Hellenistic aspirations, his dark humor and penchant for humiliation, and the possible mutiny of his troops on the Channel, et cetera. The scenarios that point to his utter sanity—and mistreatment by later historians.”
“We have nine different guests on the show, and each addresses a different aspect of Caligula’s reign”, says Kennedy. “We shot on location in the Forum, the Appian Way, Puteoli, Lake Nemi and Capri. The show itself is structured as a string of anecdotes—some amusing, others harrowing—all told directly to camera at evocative ancient sites, punctuated by the latest scholarly analysis. And hopefully, it’s great fun!”
“I was in Rome at the time Bruce Kennedy and his team were filming their Caligula last November,” relates Brennan, “and so I was already on location, as it were. I did all my filming in one day, at various spots on the Appian Way, but the morning started quite literally with a jolt. The taxi that I grabbed to take me to the shoot got into a wreck, and the production van had to track me down standing a bit unnerved on a really uninviting stretch of the Via di Tor Carbone. [I checked on Google Maps satellite view and it doesn’t look that bad.—Ed.] But I remember cheering up when I finally met Kennedy, and saw that he had a Latin text of Suetonius in his pocket. The rest of the day was more or less a conversation, where I really welcomed the chance to trot out some of my pet ideas about Caligula. I haven’t seen the show yet, so I’m curious to see what made the cut—hopefully nothing that comes off as too quarter-baked.”
Corey Brennan was on leave of absence from Rutgers Classics for the years 2009-2012, during which time he served as Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the American Academy in Rome. This year he also appeared in two BBC multi-part television series filmed in Italy, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, and Divine Women, with presenter Bettany Hughes; each premiered in the UK in April.
The Rutgers Classics Weblog warmly thanks, in addition to Bruce Kennedy, Executive Producer Charlie DeBevoise and Post Production Supervisor Valerie Laleuf of NorthSouth Productions for their help with this post.