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Caligula: The Corruption of Power Paperback – 1998

3.5 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300074298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300074291
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David A. Wend on June 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Taking a pragmatic look at infamous Roman emperors like Caligula and Nero may not be a popular thing to do (after all, it is more fun to think of them simply as crazy with no redeeming characteristics) but Anthony Barrett succeeds remarkably with this well-written book.
Caligula has been portrayed as a megalomaniac in films like The Robe and as seriously disturbed in "I, Claudius" and is the view people generally accept. Ancient historians were not like their modern counterparts who seek to reveal the truth behind people and events, and are not in agreement among themselves. Rather, their concern was to relate the truth as they saw it, and a bad emperor had to be bad man.
Mr. Barrett writes well and gives us a biography that can appeal to the historian and general reader. He examines the sources and archaeological evidence to provide a well-ground appraisal of Caligula's personality. The discussion is well reasoned and Mr. Barrett presents a good deal of material to support his conclusions. There is an excellent selection on the coins, inscriptions and portraits of Caligula, and a list of his victims with source citations. The personality that emerges may not be the one who slept with his sisters and thought he was Jove but a ruthless tyrant remains.
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Format: Paperback
Anthony Barrett, in his foreword, asks that scholars and academics shouldn't be too hard on him because "Caligula: Corruption of Power" is written for the popular consumption. If academics should judge him lightly, then the average reader should render a harsh verdict. This book is thick and rambling.
Barrett, sensitive to the great controversies about the life of Caligula, demonstrates that he has done his homework and provides every little detail he can. This ultimately has the effect of slowing the book down to an unimaginably slow pace and saps the life out of what should be an intriguing biography. While there are moments of pleasure one can derive from this historical sketch - for example Caligula's non-erotic relationship with his sisters - there is much that seems to be glanced over - like Caligula's relationship with the Emperor Tiberius.
The book has little sense of narrative and reads like an extended dissertation. This makes the reader feel like an outsider. We never quite grab ahold of the story, because the real story is buried under hundred of names, and equally as many side conversations.
One can appreciate that Barrett tried to present a balanced picture of Caligula; that is, he tried to put the various sources in some kind of perspective. This book is undoubtedly well reasearched and balanced. Moreover, there is very little speculating on what made Caligula tick. At least Barrett has enough respect for the reader to let them come to their own conclusions rather than over-analyzing a person in antiquity. However, while doing so he has created a book that is not fun to read and a portrait as colorless as the ancient Roman marble statues.
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Format: Paperback
While I fully understand Professor Barrett's reason for writing this book, i.e. to give a fully rounded and balanced perspective of the reign of the first century Roman emperor Caligula, I have to say it was poorly structured and poorly executed. Professor Barrett obviously does not wish to demonize his subject by listing lurid (and possibly spurious?) details of his reign, yet he has leaned so far in the other direction that he has given us an almost Pollyannish view. I realize that we are looking back at the reign of Caligula through the haze of almost 2000 years of history and I realize that many of the people who have written on his reign were either hostile to him or simply working with incorrect information, but are we to believe that they all wrong? We all know why Caligula is such a compelling figure from history: because of the tales of the horrific nature of his reign and the debate as to whether he was, in fact, insane. Professor Barrett would have us believe that Caligula was simply a "conceited, ill-mannered, and rather irresponsible young ruler." I find it hard to believe that Caligula was murdered after four years in power simply because he was ill-mannered. The book starts with promise but goes downhill from there. Professor Barrett moves through Caligula's four years in power so fast, the reader never gets a sense, positive or negative, of what his reign was really like. While chapters discussing his campaigns in North Africa, Germany and Great Britain should be important parts of the book, the author spends so much time discussing people, places and events peripheral to the story and debating the historians that the reader comes away, at best, confused. Other chapters were discussed in this same, confusing way.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The title seems to be a bit of a misnomer for the title of Barrett's book. The reason is that while he does exploit much of Caligula's corruption, it is in essence a refutation of much of the traditional teachings about Caligula's madness and depravity. In fact, Barrett seems to discredit these common views, thereby substantially ameliorating the conventional perception of Caligula's corruption.

Point being: This is a common theme throughout the book, that of contradiction. He cites example after example from Suetonius, Dio, et al of egregious behavior by the ruler, yet invariably discredits virtually each and every bit of fact on the matter by impugning the interest of the original sources' claims.

Being merely a casual fan of the Caesars, this was not the book for me. While copiously researched and quite well-written, it reads too much like a dissertation and not enough like a book. I would highly recommend studying up a bit on Caligula for the lay reader before tackling this book. I must admit i did find much of it interesting and compelling, and for the scholar or avid Roman reader, this book seems to posit some contrarian views as well as comprehensive history and context which could greatly benefit your knowledge. But if you are just looking for an overview on C's life and a pleasurable read with a little more sizzle about his "corruption", I would recommend looking elsewhere.
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