Some Jokes at Caesar's Expense in the Divus Iulius

John G. Nordling


Usually Suetonius presents Caesar in the Divus Iulius as the butt of other men's humor, such as one notes, for example, in carmina the soldiers sang at the Gallic triumph (49.4) or in such "virulent indictments of Caesar" (Taylor [1949] 145) as hostile orators and poets generated during the tumultuous 50s BCE (49.1.ff.; 52.3; cf. Cat. Carm. 29.5, 9; 57.1-2 and Adams [1982] 11 n. 3 and 123f., for parallels in the graffiti). Such scurrility must descend from a completely unfounded rumor that Caesar had, in his youth, been the pathic of king Nicomedes (Suet. Iul. 2.1), a smear Caesar possibly denied on oath (katômnue, Dio 43.20.4; cf. "filthy abuse," Gelzer [1968] 88 n. 1; "embarrassed all his life," Kahn [1986] 63).

When Caesar boasted he would mount up on the heads of all the senators (se... insultaturum omnium capitibus, 22.2; the phrase "refer[s] to irrumatio," Adams [1982] 200 and evidence there), a detractor  remarked that such a feat would be difficult for any woman to do (facile hoc ulli feminae fore, 22.2), an obscene jest alluding to the Nicomedes scandal.  Caesar's reply about Semiramis (cf. OCD [1996] 1383; Grimal [1986] 397-98) and the virulent Amazons should possibly be seen in relation to the type of ironic orator that also Cicero recognized Caesar to be (cf. the lost letter in Suet. Iul. 55.2; Butler and Cary [1927] 115). Caesar's ability to receive, as well as dole out, such humorous abuse (e.g., Suet. Iul. 66; Caes. BG 7.17.4; 7.40.4; BC 3.73.2; 3.80.6) enabled him to connect with persons of lower social status and thus more securely maintain his command.

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